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October 31, 2012


robert Lopresti

I am a kindred spirit, not liking horror or serial killer movies, but making exceptions for Psycho and Lambs. I would add Picnic at Hanging Rock.

J. Steven York

Once again, you and I are very much alike on things, and it's a pretty good list. I'd take a pass on "The Exorcist," because it's a bit extreme for me, and because I'm generally not a fan of religious-based horror. And I haven't seen "The Ring" and have no particular desire to.

Some others I'd add:

"The Birds." A great example of the "what's going on has an explanation that is only hinted it." And though the effects are dated, that phone-booth scene is a classic.

"Tremors." A great, old-fashioned monster movie that captures that childhood "there's a monster under the bed, and if I put my feet on the floor it will get me" thing, and extends it to the whole world. Self-aware, clever, and fun.

"Psycho" and "Lambs" would go on my main list too, though I also generally loath serial killers. Once you have those two, though, the serial killer trope is done, and you don't need any more.

And, okay, thinking back on "Tremors," maybe monsters need their own list, but "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" still holds up pretty well. And both the original and the remake of "The Fly" still work for me (though I would have preferred an ending where Jeff Goldblum gets super-fly powers, dons tights, and fights crime).

Actually, that last kind of sums up part of my problem with the horror genre. So much of it is defeatist, pessimistic, and fatalistic. I kind of prefer a world-view where it's at least POSSIBLE that monsters can be destroyed, evil can be vanquished, or at least held at bay, and understanding can lead us out of darkness, even if it doesn't happen to these particular characters on this particular day. To me, the essence of tragedy is that things COULD Have turned out better. "We're all doomed," just isn't very interesting to me.

Elf Odin

The scariest movie that I've ever seen is "All the President's Men". No blood, no gore, no violence; and it was *real*.

Camille LaGuire

I so agree. I actually find most of your list over my limit. (Except maybe 3, 9, 10, and maybe 6.) My favorite Halloween movies are Arsenic and Old Lace, Wait Until Dark, and the one actual horror movie, the 1963 version of The Haunting. (Actually, on my blog post about this, I had to add Night of the Hunter because even though it's not horror, it's scary and freaky.)


Thanks for the Picnic at Hanging Rock recommendation, Bob! I've always heard that was a good movie, but I've never gotten around to watching it. From what I know of it, it would be my kind of "horror" movie: methodical, atmospheric and mysterious as opposed to turbo-charged and ultra-violent. I'll add it to my (looooonnnnnng) To Be Seen list.

I thought about including The Birds, Steve. I'm very, very fond of that movie. But I thought if I add that, I'll have to add Jaws, and I didn't want to go there. Jaws is, in my mind, one of the best films ever, period. But is it horror? It's certainly more than a drama and not quite an adventure movie (though there are moments toward the end where it feels like one). So is it horror just because a few characters meet horrific ends? I *guess* you could say the shark is a monster, even though there's nothing supernatural about it, but...I don't know. I just don't want to call Jaws horror. Anyone else care to weigh in on that?

And I hear you on the nihilism that's implicit in a lot of horror, Steve. You watch characters suffer for 90 minutes, and in the end they're all dead because THERE IS NO ESCAPE FROM THE HORROR OF LIFE!!! Meh. I get the point, but I sure as hell don't need to see it repeated over and over.

All the President's Men is a good example of a movie that builds up immense tension without any bogeymen, Ed/Elf. Well, unless you want to call G. Gordon Liddy and Nixon bogeymen, which seems entirely reasonable.

I'm with you on Arsenic and Old Lace, Camille. I rewatched it recently, and it holds up. Delightful, charming, whimsical stuff. (Being a guy who appreciates "delightful, charming, whimsical stuff" is probably a big reason I'm not, by natural inclination, a horror fan.) I also recently rewatched Night of the Hunter, and as much as I loved it I don't think I'd call it horror. Yes, Robert Mitchum's character is a terrifying psychopath, but the film isn't simply one long, relentless attack in the Halloween/Friday the 13th mold. There's an actual plot with twists and turns and machinations. I guess I'd just call it a thriller or a crime movie before I'd call it horror. You could make the same argument about Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, actually, which is one reason I didn't include them in the top 10.

Anyone want to try to define what qualifies a film as "horror"? It's probably a thankless task, but it might yield some interesting debate....

Camille LaGuire

Hmmm, like I said, the only thing on my Halloween list that qualifies as Horror is The Haunting (1963). And I don't like horror, so maybe I'm not a good one to define the genre....

But to me the thing that makes something into horror is how far it dips into the "uncanny valley." (If you don't know what that is, it's a term in psychology and also robotics engineering about, well, basically it's the "scary clown" syndrome: things that are very close to human but aren't get freakier as they get closer to reality.)

The antagonist is a monster/alien (not just evil). Whether it's an actual monster or force, or a human who has slipped over the line into being not human. So, imho, JAWS is horror, even though it's seen as a suspense flick. But Night of the Hunter isn't because the villain really is an understandable human villain. He is simply creepy enough to trigger that uncanny response.

The reason I put that picture on my Halloween list is because the movie itself is freaky.

But back to Jaws: I think the reason people don't often consider it to be horror is because the flavor is more of appeal to suspense and action fans. But in terms of archetype, it's not that different from Aliens. It's just that it sticks with the people dealing with the problem, not with the parts where people are NOT dealing with the problem.


Whoops, sorry, yeah, Camille -- you were very clear about Night of the Hunter not being horror, so there was no need for me to reiterate that. (I think I bit off more than I could chew in terms of the number of comments I could coherently respond to at one time!) And yes -- freaky that film is. You make a good point about the audience's visceral reaction to Mitchum. I think the same thing could be said of Frank Booth, Dennis Hopper's character in Blue Velvet. That guy is so insane and intense and unpredictable and scary he almost pushes the film into horror territory every time he's on screen.

As for Jaws, you're right: In the end it's a kill-or-be-eaten monster movie, like Alien. So I get why the horror label would apply. Yet there's so much more going on in that film, and its overall approach is so naturalistic in a 1970s way, it's still hard for me to say it belongs in the same box with Poe and Lovecraft and The Shining and Leprechaun in the Hood.

Actually, nothing belongs in a box with Leprechaun in the Hood....

Camille LaGuire


And I have to say that when I say I don't like Horror, what I don't like is the intensity. I agree that I hate to put Jaws in the same box with other horror flicks. It's a movie I love, if I head in to the kitchen to refill my pop during the opening sequence. (The death of the blond goes on MUCH too long for me.)

I've gone around and around with some people on how to categorize various genres. Sure there is plot and theme, but there's also flavor. Jaws doesn't have the same flavor as most horror, but it does have the plot and theme.

Somebody recently told me that Casablanca belongs on the "espionage" shelves. Maybe plot-wise it does, but there's a reason why it's not there in any video store in existence: the audience is mainstream and classic film. (Or you could say it's genre is "Bogie.")

Richard Prosch

I'm with you --and York's comment also strikes a chord. Though, I gotta admit a nostalgic weakness for gothic/occult TV from 1970 to about 1974. Used to huddle on the couch with Mom and watch episodes of NIGHT GALLERY and CIRCLE OF FEAR, --and my all time fave, Barbara Stanwyck in made-for-TV: THE HOUSE THAT WOULD NOT DIE.


I was never a fan of TV anthology shows, for some reason. Even The Twilight Zone left me cold. I think as a kid I always hungered for heroes and action, and that was something you wouldn't get on Night Gallery. I loved Kolchak: The Night Stalker, though. You got a different monster every week but the hero stayed the same, and he always won in the end. Maybe that's another reason I've never been huge on horror: I'm not nihilistic enough!

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