Team Dread has been tasked with the daunting prospect of compiling a list of ten horror films that defined each of us as a fan and a writer and a human. These are not necessarily my favorite horror films of all time, nor is this intended to be a “best of” list. Although, several of my all-time faves (and a couple that I regard as all-time greats) did make the cut. These are, rather, genre films that spoke to me, influenced me, and really made an impact in more ways than just by being great films.
Read on for ten horror films that led to me getting “Hooked on Horror”. And make sure to hit us up on the socials to share some of the defining genre films in your life.
Dream Home is a defining feature for me because it showed me just how important it is to look beyond the boundaries of English language cinema. The screenplay, performances, and social commentary in this flick are next level. I still can’t quite understand why (after all these years) Dream Home is something of an unsung classic. This movie has opened my eyes to so many other great foreign language horror films that I may not have caught had I not stumbled across this work of art.
If you read my work or follow me on social media, you may know that I am a gay man. I bring that up here because I often felt like I didn’t fit in growing up. I wasn’t bullied relentlessly like the ladies in The Craft. But I often felt like an outsider. And seeing a film that features an ensemble cast of characters that don’t feel like they fit in was such a comfort to me. I didn’t quite realize why I identified with The Craft so much until later in life. But now, more so than ever, I realize that the flick appealed to the outsider in me. I still think of The Craft as a comfort film to this day and I continue to revisit it every chance I get.
The Strangers makes the cut because it is one of the only horror films in recent memory to truly rattle me. The home invasion trope is the most frightening (to me) of all the horror subgenres because it is based in reality. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no documented cases of a supernatural presence that appears when you say his or her name in the mirror. But home invasions do happen. And that fact violates the basic idea that we are safe in our own domicile. The sound design, the performances, and the cinematography featured in this flick keep me coming back to it time and again. And the very existence of this film gives me hope that something will truly scare me again one day.
I am a massive fan of Hitchcock and an equally big fan of Brian De Palma’s earlier work. I was tempted to put Dressed to Kill on here. But I wanted to give a broad overview and try not to make the list too heavy with any one particular influence. I love De Palma’s tendency to pay homage to Hitchcock. And Body Double is no exception. I appreciate that while he pays tribute to the work of other creators, Body Double is every bit De Palma. The director wears his inspirations on his sleeve but then he puts his own brilliant spin on his work that makes it his own. Loving De Palma has made me an even bigger fan of Hitchcock’s catalog and vice-versa. De Palma’s early output taught me that cinema can be entertaining, beautiful, and artistic all at the same time.
Is Body Double a horror movie? Well, I think it is. Some may argue that it’s a psychological thriller. And that’s ok. Neither argument is wrong. But the film undeniably has strong horror overtones.
I am not sure if I have ever been as excited to see a horror movie as I was to see Scream when it was first released. I was in high school at the time. And I remember thinking how groundbreaking it was going to be. And it was. Scream took my appreciation for horror to a whole new level and made me want to seek out the films referenced within. Doing so sent me down a rabbit hole that I may never have entered if it weren’t for the late, great Wes Craven’s love letter to the horror genre.
Is Suspiria the better movie? Yeah. I suppose it is. But as a lover of under-appreciated cinema, Inferno is the film that really speaks to me. The first time I saw this flick, it blew my mind and it continues to do so upon every repeat visit. The color scheme that is so reminiscent of Suspiria is like an assault on the senses. Not to mention that the film features some of the most breathtaking underwater cinematography I have ever seen. In a lot of ways, this was a gateway to Dario Argento for me. I saw Suspiria first but this was the flick that truly made me fall in love with him as a creative force.
The House on Sorority Row
I think this is the film that made me truly appreciate the slasher subgenre. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the first slasher pictures I saw back in the day or maybe it’s just because it’s that good. The House on Sorority Row has precisely the right amount of camp and exactly the right level of gore. The ending is quite well played and no matter how many times I revisit it, I never grow tired of it.
This is another foreign language film that completely knocked me out of my seat. It’s a little bit Alice in Wonderland and a little bit unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. This flick is so imaginative and so outside the box. It’s just unbridled creativity and the end result is an absolute delight. I don’t know if we will ever get another horror film this unique but I remain hopeful.
I get that The Gate hasn’t aged incredibly well for some people. But when I caught pieces of The Gate on Saturday morning TV as a kid, it changed me. It spoke to my inner need to be simultaneously scared and delighted by a film. I spent ages trying to figure out what it was because this was long before we had on-screen guides and even before my town got the TV Guide Channel. Finally discovering the name of the film, some years later, it was like revisiting an old friend. And I fell in love with it all over again.
I couldn’t complete this list without the inclusion of The Shining. It is an all-time great and an all-time favorite for me. The set design is among the most impressive I’ve seen in a horror picture. And the performances are nothing short of perfection. This was very much a gateway film for me. I saw it for the first time many years ago and it left me wanting more. It made me crave the sensation I get from watching a work of art that doubles as a motion picture. Hell, I even have a tattoo of the carpet pattern from the flick on my forearm. That is how much I love this movie.