Trick-or-treating, Jack-O’-Lanterns and scary movies. What better way to prepare yourself for Halloween than to binge watch the Top 5 horror films of all time, according to a Brock University expert on horror cinema.
Barry Grant, Professor in the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film, is internationally known for his research on horror and science fiction films and has written or edited more than two dozen books on the topic.
“Horror movies aim to rudely move us out of our complacency in daily life by way of negative emotions such as horror, fear, suspense, terror and disgust,” says Grant, who’s Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film released in 1984 was the first scholarly anthology on horror and helped make the genre an acceptable field of academic inquiry. “Horror addresses fears that are universally taboo and respond to historically and culturally specific anxieties.”
Grant’s research explains how these films offer a release of our own (and collective) fears by providing us with vicarious, but controlled thrills.
Although admittedly challenging, Grant gives his Top 5 picks for horror films in chronological order:
- Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)
“The film that established horror as a viable genre in Hollywood during the classic studio era and made Universal the most important studio making horror movies. With its gorgeous Expressionist design, Frankenstein and those that followed, whether they featured the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, the Wolfman or the Mummy, looked very different from the glossy kinds of movies being turned out by MGM or Paramount or the tough movies produced by Warner Bros. The film also made a star of British actor Boris Karloff, whose sensitive portrayal of the creature compensated for the drastic departures from Mary Shelley’s source novel.”
- Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
“The foundation of contemporary horror, its shocks are perfectly timed by director Alfred Hitchcock, who claimed he played the audience like a piano. Psycho brought horror home to middle America from exotic foreign places like Transylvania. Tellingly, the film begins in sunny midafternoon in a mundane hotel. The shower scene is the most famous sequence in film history along with the Odessa Steps sequence in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925).”
- Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968)
“George Romero’s independent film, made in Pittsburgh, shocked audiences then and retains its power even today. Romero rewrote zombie folklore, making the undead unquenchable cannibals as well, and in the process creating a new monster mythology that resonated with contemporary audiences on several levels. One by one the film assaults the genre’s conventions and the expectations we once brought to the horror experience.”
- The Devils (Ken Russsell, 1971)
“British enfant terrible Ken Russell was known for his flamboyant excesses and violations of British propriety. Some might well describe all his films as horrifying, although he only made two actual horror films: the campy Lair of the White Worm (1988), based on a Bram Stoker novel, and The Devils (1971), based on The Devils of Loudon by Aldous Huxley. In recounting the events that transpired during the Inquisition in 17th century Loudon, the devils of the film’s title are hardly supernatural and all too real. The hysteria, collusion and corruption detailed in the film are much more frightening than any levitating beds or rotating heads.”
- Dead Alive (A.K.A. Brain Dead) (Peter Jackson, 1992)
“There is a distinct tradition of comedy in horror, which in its more recent graphic phase has been dubbed ‘splatstick,’ a combination of the two forms. It culminates in Peter Jackson’s gorefest of sight gags, which no less an authority than Sam Raimi, director of the cult classic The Evil Dead (1981), described as ‘the intolerance of splatstick.’”
To learn more about the horror genre, read Grant’s essay on Screams on Screens: Paradigms on Horror. Grant is also doing a live YouTube interview at 12:45 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31 on the topic of De-Coding Horror.