By Lola Weber
October 27, 2020
It is crucial that the spookiest time of the year is accompanied by the scariest films there are to offer, and the horror genre might just have one of the richest histories and most extensive subgenres out of any other category. With countless styles and variations of horror films, it can be difficult to decipher which ones to choose this Halloween season, but this chronological guide can make things a little easier.
For the classics, The Exorcist (1973), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and Psycho (1960) are arguably the most important contributors to the history of horror films. Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a young woman who moves to an obscure building in New York with her husband, and soon becomes pregnant. Through experiences with peculiar neighbors, she begins to build suspicion over what might be planned for her and her baby.
Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t utilize the classic tropes of horror films involving gore and jump scares, but instead creates an eerie atmosphere through the psychology of society’s subconscious fears. This is exactly what makes the film such a masterpiece, and truly scary. Alfred Hitchcok’s Psycho is another great classic of the horror genre, portraying the story of a woman who ends up at the iconic Bates motel, where she finds the motel manager to be a true psycho.
The Exorcist, which is one of the most profitable horror films out of these classics, details the story of a young girl who is possessed by an unknown entity which leads to the girl’s mother seeking help from a priest and an exorcist. When the film first came out, theater audiences had visceral reactions of genuine horror, reactions that still occur for many to this day due to the timeless terror of The Exorcist.
Moving more towards the late 70s and early 80s, movies such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Friday the 13th (1980) had paved the way for the ‘splatter’ subgenre of horror. Splatter films place a deliberate focus on human mortality and gore, which stirred great controversy in its emergence. The iconic film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre tells the tale of a group of friends and siblings who go to visit a loved ones grave, and fall victim to the terrors of a family of cannibals.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is bound to leave your stomach turned with copious amounts of gore, and will satisfy anyone who craves the splatter aspect of horror. Friday the 13th which falls in the ‘slasher’ subgenre, also uses gore and violence in telling the story of a group of camp counselors who are terrorized at a haunted campground.
The Halloween film series that began in 1978 is another noteworthy contributor to horror, and an overall cult classic. Starting with the story of serial killer Michael Myers who escapes from prison, this extensive and highly influential series will keep any horror fan entertained.
As the 2000s came along, the SAW series had set a new standard for horror in the 21st century. In SAW, two strangers awake in a bathroom and learn that they have been kidnapped by a sadistic serial killer, and they must escape before time runs out. This is another slasher film, made on a low budget which turned out to be a huge cultural milestone in the horror genre.
Simultaneously, the lost footage genre had made its debut with hugely popular films like The Blair Witch Project (1999). Made on an extremely low budget, this movie shows the ‘lost footage’ of three film students who travel to a small town and try to document the town’s infamous murderer, the ‘Blair witch’. The use of the lost or found footage really helps make this film scary, as it gives the viewer the feeling as though everything they are watching is real.
Although many of the films maintain a relevance to current events and culture, you may want to watch something that pertains specifically to cultural events of today. The social thriller genre, which includes the previously mentioned Rosemary’s Baby has seen a huge resurgence in the last couple of years, with films such as Get Out (2017) and Midsommar (2019). Jordan Peele’s Get Out truly encompasses what a social thriller really is, and tells the story of a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family who aren’t what they initially seemed to be.
Of course, Get Out is so much more than that story, as it acts as a political commentary on social tensions and the subtle racism so prevalent in white communities. Midsommar is another horror masterpiece, and mixes psychological thrillers with the social messages of social horror. Although the sociological critiques in this film aren’t as apparent as in Get Out, through watching there are various truths that will come out. Midsommar will make you thoroughly uncomfortable.
To conclude this guide, I think it’s important that I note my personal favorite horror films. Out of this list, my top two films would definitely include Rosemary’s Baby, and Midsommar. Rosemary’s Baby is such a classic film to me, and when watching it the viewer can really realize just how influential this film is. Midsommar is truly special, with an incredible score and phenomenal performances from Florence Pugh. I have never felt as uncomfortable and uneasy than how I felt after watching Midsommar.
Although many of these aren’t ‘Halloween’ themed movies, they still are able to encapsulate the general theme of horror around this time of year. Even if you feel like horror just isn’t for you, you can always give one of the various subgenres a chance. Horror is a genre filled with variety, and there really is something for everyone!