In my first piece for Dread Central, I wrote a love letter to my mom and all the parents just like her on account of her role in shaping my love for the horror genre. As a young kid, my mom was willing and at times eager to show me horror movies, and after several years of her sharing some of her favorites with me, I developed my own list of favorites, and soon enough, I was sharing some of those with her.
The legitimacy of that kind of parenting is still up for debate– several comments mentioned doing the same thing while others swore to wait until their kids were older before exposing them to genre titles– but it nonetheless, for better or worse (I’m leaning toward better) shaped the person I am today. I am an unabashed horror fan, and for Hooked on Horror, I’m sharing 10 of those films that played a role in shaping who I am as both a genre lover and person today.
Scream 3 was the first truly modern horror movie I was exposed to. In sixth grade, my mom rented me a VHS copy from Blockbuster (remember those?) to watch in celebration of my first day of middle school. While my siblings raced to the basement to play PlayStation or something– I was never quite sure what they did– I stayed upstairs in the living room, just ten years old, and watched Scream 3. I was obsessed. I didn’t want to return it and even considered hiding it in my drawer upstairs and feigning ignorance regarding its whereabouts. Luckily, my mom was grateful enough to let me work backward, and upon returning Scream 3, she rented me Scream 2, which I loved even more.
Scream was the last I saw– working in reverse was certainly an experience– and it ended up, like with so many of the franchise’s fans, being my favorite. It felt tailor-made for me and my generation and, in a way, it just felt cool. Being a horror fan in the early 2000s in middle school was, to some kids, unpalatable. There were stereotypes and perceptions of what being a horror fan meant, and Scream was the first movie I saw that assuaged those internalized ideals. Scream was clever, hip, and scary, and if Scream was that cool, maybe there was nothing wrong with being a horror fan.
Child’s Play (1988)
This was the first movie I saw that truly scared me. My mom had something of a perverse streak and showing a young kid a movie about what amounts to a killer toy was probably not the wisest idea. Chucky was still pretty relevant at the time, and I caught the first movie during the protracted window between Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky. As a result, Chucky was everywhere, and I used to avoid going to the mall because Chucky figured pretty prominently at both Spencer’s Gifts and Hot Topic– they had dolls in the windows, and I was petrified. Over time, though, my fear of Chucky dissolved and my love for the first entry in the long-running franchise swelled. Child’s Play is genuinely scary, pretty damn inventive, and fun.
Halloween is a classic and there’s little I can say about it that hasn’t been better said elsewhere. That said, it’s remarkable how often John Carpenter’s classic appears on these kinds of lists– Dread’s own Michelle Swope listed the film for her own Hooked on Horror entry. Halloween, for me, was the perfect gateway horror movie. A genuinely frightening filmic experience that never feels too graphic or intense for younger viewers. Halloween’s scares are more subtle, and as a result, more lasting. There are few films I want to watch more than once, let alone dozens and dozens of times. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Halloween, and I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
I haven’t exactly been subtle regarding my contention that, as the years pass, James Wan will go down as this generation’s genre maestro– think Hitchcock, Carpenter, Hooper, Craven, etc. A lot of contemporary audiences take umbrage with Wan’s style of horror, and that’s certainly fair– though I do think it has more to do with his imitators than it does his actual output– but for me, no filmmaker this generation has so successfully reinvented the wheel. With Insidious, Wan put his first of many modern spins on the classic haunted house story and its legacy is undeniable. In retrospect, it can be fun to hate on Insidious and the dozens of gauzy mimics that have come out since, but the first film in the series is undeniably terrifying. I’m not talking scary or spooky, I’m talking full-blown, unrepentant, unbridled terror. I was closing my eyes and gripping my armrest when I first saw Insidious. More than anything, Insidious is a sterling example of how after decades of film, there are still limitless possibilities in the horror genre.
Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)
Crystal Bernard (Helen from Wings) headlines this sequel to Amy Holden Jones’s The Slumber Party Massacre. The movie is a narrative and tonal mess, yes, but it’s also one of the boldest, most outrageously fun horror movies I’ve ever seen. The kills are wild, the co-eds are so, totally ‘80s, and it just feels like an exceptionally special movie. I’ve never seen anything quite like it since, and I’m not sure I ever will.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow is my favorite of the director’s outputs and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I wish he’d done more outright horror. Sleepy Hollow is another seasonal constant, a movie I make time to watch every Halloween season. Like Child’s Play, I probably saw this one too young– I was convinced the Headless Horseman lived in the woods behind a large ditch at the end of my street– but I’m glad I did. Everything about the movie is pitch-perfect. It’s a sterling example of big-budget, blockbuster horror and it deserves nearly all the praise it gets.
The Orphanage (2007)
For my birthday in eighth grade, my mom let me get a Netflix subscription. At the time, streaming didn’t exist, and Netflix was strictly a DVD-rental service. I’d read about The Orphanage online and as soon as my subscription was active, it was the first movie I added to my queue. When it arrived, I popped the disc into my mini portable DVD player and sat there just stunned after it ended. The Orphanage is one of the most heart-wrenching yet rewarding horror movies I’ve ever seen. Equal parts terrifying and poignant, The Orphanage is truly something special. I’d never really dabbled in foreign horror at that point and The Orphanage changed that, and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
This might be controversial, but I think Alexandre Aja’s remake, by most every account, is a better movie than Craven’s original. Aja, of course, had a bigger budget, modern sensibilities, and an incredibly effective cast alongside Craven’s original blueprint, and the movie is all the better for it– it feels like what Craven wanted The Hills Have Eyes to be. Aja, though, also had something else– an incredibly sadistic filmic streak. Coming off of 2003’s High Tension, Aja took the bones of the burgeoning French Extremist movement and adapted them for Western audiences. His remake is mean, brutal, and unforgiving, both upsetting and cathartic when it matters most. Hills was the first “extreme,” I guess, horror movie I ever saw, and like with The Orphanage, it opened up an entire subgenre of film I’d not yet been exposed to.
The Strangers (2008)
I almost cried in the theater when I first saw The Strangers. I was 13 and thought I was considerably tougher than I really was. When Liv Tyler pulls the curtain back, the audience is expecting nothing to be there. The Strangers is different. Tyler pulls the curtains back and sees the Man in the Mask. I screamed. I almost cried. I wanted to leave. The Strangers is a modern classic, a genuinely terrifying home invasion slasher that truly lived up to the hype. Few films from the past twenty years will be as fondly remembered as this one.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer simply felt cool. It was one of the first horror movies I felt comfortable introducing my friends to. The cast was cool, the soundtrack slammed, and the violence was considerably less graphic than Scream’s. It was edgy enough without being over the top. I watch it every July and wouldn’t want it any other way.