Monday, October 11, 2010

24 of the Most Influential & Greatest Horror Movies: 1930's to the 1980's

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This is a list of movies I think have made a major contribution to the horror genre in some way over the years, some more enduring than others, but all have left an indelible impression in one way, or another on horror fans all around the world. Towards the end of the 80's horror got worse and worse with a preponderance of sequels and the better part of the 90's had little of consequence worth mentioning. This is all strictly my opinion, of course.

1. DRACULA 1931
Directed by Tod Browning

Tod Browning's Gothic horror movie may be 80 years old, but there's no denying its influence that has permeated popular culture for decades. Stoker's book has been the source of Countless (haha) cinema adaptations (including the German NOSFERATU, a silent classic from 1922), but Lugosi's portrayal is one of the most popular and considered the definitive interpretation by many. Universal made a bundle off this picture in spite of numerous set backs. Vampires remain the most popular of all the cinematic monsters, but are long overdue a stake through the heart, or some time out in the sun in my opinion.

The success of DRACULA gave birth to more B/W Gothic terror tales such as the even more popular FRANKENSTEIN (1931), THE MUMMY (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) and THE WOLF MAN (1941). Each of these films garnered numerous sequels, spin offs and crossovers. As often happened in other genres, comedy was injected into the horror iconography with 1948's ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. All these pictures have continued to be celebrated over the years by fans both old and new. In 2004, VAN HELSING, a revamped (haha) CGI heavy ode to the Universal horrors of the 30's and 40's was uniformly vilified, but did aid in getting the elder films back into the public eye once more.

Directed by Terence Fisher

Hammer Films, a production company that has become synonymous with its fanciful tales of vampires, mad doctors and other creatures of the night, came to international prominence after injecting fresh blood into the B/W Universal horror formula with this first Frank flick highlighting the villainy of the mad scientist as opposed to the monster he creates. They were also the stepping stone in increased violence shown in movies.

HORROR OF DRACULA the following year proved to be even more successful. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee have since gone down in the annals of fright filmdom as possibly the best loved personalities in horror history. Hammer's renditions of terror lasted almost as long, only it wasn't comedy that killed them off, but drastically changing trends in audience interest.

3. PSYCHO 1960
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

This creepy tale of an unhinged man and his unhealthy preoccupation with his mother precipitated the slasher genre by two decades and served as inspiration for such films as THREE ON A MEATHOOK (1972) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). Based on notorious Wisconsin madman, Ed Gein, the character of Norman Bates has long been entrenched in American pop culture. If it's not Hitchcock's most famous movie, it's the most resonant what with three sequels (the first of which took 23 years to show up), a theme park attraction and an unwanted and universally despised remake.

Directed by George A. Romero

Supremely terrifying B/W horror classic from the king of the zombies, George A. Romero who still dabbles in variously creative tales of the flesh eating dead. It's probably the single most frequently shown horror movie and easily the most bootlegged title appearing under a flurry of "company" logos. It spawned at least one like minded European zombie opus (THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE), but Romero's sequel caused a massive resurrection of the cinematic gut munchers. Romero's NIGHT was later remade by effects ace, Tom Savini in 1990.

Directed by Wes Craven

Regardless of what you think of it, Craven's savage evocation of modern barbarism carved its initials in the chests of filmgoers, film projectionists and filmmakers everywhere. Not only were there similar movies, but other productions even copied its iconic advertising campaign. David Hess was expertly vicious as Krug, so much so that people thought he WAS that character. This grubby, angry little movie has its malicious stamp all over the 1970's. It also became yet another classick that was graced with a recent remake.

Directed by William Freidkin

I was two years away from being born, so I was unable to experience this tale of demonic possession, based on some alleged true account of Devilry, until much later. Causing quite the stir and shock in patrons everywhere, it was the hot topic and ticket of the year to see all the projectile pea soup and expletive spewing that exploded from little Linda Blair's mouth. While I found THE OMEN (1976) to be far more terrifying with its threat of global annihilation of man, there's no denying that Friedkin's extremely well acted and Oscar winning horror film paved the way for it. Followed by two sequels and two prequels and the threat of a remake looms like a dark cloud over Hollywood.

Directed by Tobe Hooper

Another movie that suffered a similarly controversial fate as Romero's B/W zombie trendsetter. Unscrupulous distributors with apparent Mob ties made off with much of the profits from this supremely important and iconic piece of relentless rural Americana. The actors got little to nothing for their efforts as the film went on to become a massive success all over the world. One of the biggest, most well known and controversial movies of the decade, it was a bit much for some patrons to handle from the subject matter to the actual presentation itself. Followed by several increasingly dire sequels, it also got a decent remake and a sequel to that film, a comic book series, an infamous Atari video game and a much talked about television series has been bandied about for some time.

Directed by Bob Clark

The man who directed the lovable tale of adolescent youth (A CHRISTMAS STORY) and one of the most popular teen sex comedies (PORKY'S) staked his claim in horror with several varied and classic examples of the form. This suspenseful spookathon was an inspiration to Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, a title that Clark was going to use if he indeed made the sequel to his Christmas shocker; which the story of said sequel contained several similarities to Carpenter's film. Clark's shocking denouement also inspired another tension filled screamer entitled WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979). Clark's movie has a gloomy power of uneasiness about it that more and more are discovering. A remake was made in 2006 that bore little resemblance to the original, but did have Clark on board as an Executive Producer.

9. JAWS 1975
Directed by Steven Spielberg

The first big summer blockbuster before STAR WARS came along and "ruined" movies for us all, Spielberg's tale of an ominous man eater beneath the ocean's waves is still a terrifying motion picture even after all these years. A rare feat for such a picture to be just as visceral now as it was then. Three sequels followed with the last one going down with the ship. It begat a cyclone of similar and predominantly inferior rip offs over the years including a Megalodon sized number of American killer shark flicks with laughable computer generated effects. Both a new JAWS film and a remake have been threatened for a long time now.

10. THE OMEN 1976
Directed by Richard Donner

It's questionable whether or not this wildly popular and oft imitated big budget Beelzebub business would have been made if not for THE EXORCIST (1973), but Richard Donner painted a frightening canvas of the end of civilization as we know it. Of all the films in the Lucifer lexicon, this one is the most famous of the 'Evil Wins' scenario. The award winning score remains a powerful composition. The first sequel featured numerous big stars dying in spectacularly gory fashion. Followed by two additional sequels, one theatrical and another made for television. A totally unnecessary remake rose from the depths of hell in 2006, but was summarily dispelled by fans bearing the seven daggers of Megiddo.

11. HALLOWEEN 1978
Directed by John Carpenter

This is one of relatively few films that gives me the creeps even to this day. Carpenter's foreboding classic is horror movie perfection and a crowning example of the stalk and slash genre. It's power lies in its ability to shock without the use of gore and the penetrating and unnerving score accomplishes what so few have been able to attain in audible terror. Chiefly responsible for the slew of slasher flicks that followed, Carpenter's influential killer classic has adopted some nine sequels including an incredibly lame remake and its own equally stupid sequel.

Directed by George A. Romero

George Romero's long awaited sequel picks up not long after the events depicted in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. If ever there was a more influential and important zombie film, this is it. Not only did it unleash a widespread contagion across European territories, but it's a rare example of an unrated film becoming a huge financial success in theaters. It not only successfully preached the end of man, but visualized the apocalypse in a wholly realistic manner. Romero has delivered six living dead pictures total so far, all with intriguingly different takes on the material. Several unrelated sequels and remakes have followed with varying degrees of success and quality.

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg

There had been many haunted house movies prior (THE HAUNTING '63, LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE '73, BURNT OFFERINGS '76), but Stuart Rosenberg's film about a maleficent abode brought big bucks to haunted homes accumulating nearly 100 million in the US alone. Again, the on screen horror was born from a novel, but this time allegedly a true supernatural occurrence. AIP was in a transitional period going from an independent to a major, although their success in the big time was short lived. The same did not hold true for this movie as there were a total of seven sequels and a recent remake.

14. ALIEN 1979
Directed by Ridley Scott

Originally to have been a Roger Corman film of alien terror, it eventually found its way to Fox where Ridley Scott turned out one of the most intensely terrifying movies of outer space horror ever seen on screen. Essentially an unacknowledged remake of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958), Scott's film also mimicked a sequence from Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965). A massive success, it was no doubt helped by STAR WARS making the final frontier fashionable again. Three sequels, a wildly successful and long running comic series and a tie in with one of the more popular four panel adaptations pairing the Xenomorph with the Predator, an alien hunter from another world. More aliens are predicted to burst onto screens everywhere in the near future.

15. FRIDAY THE 13TH 1980
Directed by Sean Cunningham

Whereas HALLOWEEN is often cited as the progenitor of the slasher sub genre, it was this modest, yet super successful gore-a-thon that gave the much reviled style of horror its true face. Tom Savini, fresh off DAWN OF THE DEAD, came into his own as a sought after effects artist. The creative kill became a rapidly popular trend giving birth to dozens of cinematic deformities over the years till the sub genre began to sputter in the mid 80's. The slasher also became the home for future Hollywood stars to cut their chops, or lose their head, prior to going on to bigger ventures. The ultimate horror franchise, FRIDAY garnered ten sequels and (so far) one remake and also an unrelated television show in the late 80's as well as a vintage video game and also a long running comic series.

16. THE HOWLING 1981
Directed by Joe Dante

Joe Dante's simultaneously scary and self referentially funny film is one of the best Lupine horrors ever made. Yet another horror movie based on a novel, it features one of the greatest transformation scenes of all time. Pino Donaggio's score is ominously impressive. The bipedal werewolves are equally laudable and imposing at seven feet tall. A cool cast of familiar faces and a permeating atmosphere of dread drive this wonderful monster movie homage. Followed by six sequels, the bulk of which are incredibly bad.

Directed by John Landis

John Landis did what many others have failed to do since--make a horror comedy that is successful at being both with generous helpings of humor and horror. Rick Baker won an academy award for the still impressive transformation effects. The score utilizes numerous songs that have "moon" in the title. Amazingly, Landis was unable to secure the most obvious song, Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" for unknown reasons. Landis tried the same thing with vampires in 1992 with INNOCENT BLOOD. A related sequel had been in the works for years, but finally turned up in 1997 as the unrelated AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS.

18. THE EVIL DEAD 1981
Directed by Sam Raimi

Sam Raimi's gruesomely energetic take on the zombie mythos by way of demonic possession has accrued one of the greatest cult followings of all time. Fiercely innovative, this no budget wonder has some of the most kinetically vibrant gore effects seen in an independent feature. Spawning two sequels and a proposed remake, it's popularity is cemented by having been released on video and DVD seemingly more times than any other title. It's also unleashed a string of comic books and video games upon the world.

19. THE THING 1982
Directed by John Carpenter

John Carpenter took the helm of this amazing piece of visceral horror from another world. A pseudo remake of Christian Nyby's exceptional science fiction horror classic, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), Carpenter's version follows more closely the original short story both films are derived from. Rob Bottin's awe inspiring, gruesome effects work are still noteworthy today. While an enormous box office and critical bomb upon its original release, this parasitic alien assimilation terror tale has amassed a widespread cult following that has taken form in several comics series and a 2002 video game endorsed by Carpenter himself. A prequel is now in the works.

Directed by Wes Craven

The first and best of this long running, and increasingly weary franchise. Wes Craven created one of the biggest and most successful horror icons ever conceived based on a theme that appears lifted from a similar movie released several months earlier, the science fiction horror thriller, DREAMSCAPE (1984). Craven's dream killer spurred on eight sequels (if you count FREDDY VS. JASON) and a late 80's television series that lasted for two seasons. A flashy remake was recently unveiled for Freddy fans and new converts. Craven also directed a new film that appears to be a clone of his own Krueger incarnation in the film, MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010).

Directed by Dan O'Bannon

A wildly popular heavy metal-punk zombie flick the redefined the flesh eating shambler sub genre. Umberto Lenzi did running "zombies" first with NIGHTMARE CITY (1980), but Dan O'Bannon's fun and fright filled ghoul fest were not irradiated, vampiric humans, but living dead marathon runners. Professing that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was a true story, audiences got one of the absolute best and funniest 80's movies and one of the most enjoyable horror films ever made. Four escalatingly terrible sequels followed.

22. RE-ANIMATOR 1985
Directed by Stuart Gordon

Easily the best movie ever released through Empire Pictures, the Charles Band run production house "notable" for the sheer amount of crud that (briefly) oozed onto theater screens throughout the 1980's. Based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, RE-ANIMATOR is also Stuart Gordon's most fondly remembered movie as well as actor, Jeffrey Combs' most identifiable role. Deliciously funny and filled with outrageous gore, the film has amassed a healthy fan following and, like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, gave new life to zombie cinema. Two sequels followed with a third in limbo. The character of Herbert West also lived on in his own comic series.

Directed by Clive Barker

Clive Barker's directorial debut based on his own story revolves around murderous sadomasochists from another dimension and a mysterious puzzle box that brings them into our world. It makes about as much sense as putting your hand in a pool of piranhas, but is generously speckled with gore effects and gave birth to another popular horror icon--Pinhead. I've never liked any of the movies, but the film was a success leading to increasingly lesser sequels, seven so far with an eighth on the way. One of them even put Pinhead in space. A remake is also in the works and the Cenobites have also been featured in comic book format.

24. CHILD'S PLAY 1988
Directed by Tom Holland

Yet another ridiculous movie that managed to garner a steady stream of sequels and growing popularity. This small fry Freddy Krueger by way of a possessed doll is probably most notable for the controversy it became embroiled in inciting protesters that the film would stir violence in children. By the third outing, this condemnation became reality when that film was blamed as a catalyst for the mercilessly brutal murder of two year old James Bulger; the circumstances surrounding the torture/slaying was far more disturbing than anything the movies could dream up. CHILD'S PLAY got four sequels, a comic series and an upcoming (groan) remake.

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