What makes a film influential? A film may be really good – but really have no impact on the genre at large. The same can be said for successful films – there is really no correlation between the size of the box office for a film and the degree of influence the movie has on the genre, and popular culture in general. Some of the most influential films build a following over time, and sometimes you need to look back to appreciate just how influential the film is – like a stone being thrown into Crystal Lake, as time passes, you begin to see the ripples it has caused.
So, in no particular order, the entire team at Horror-Movie.ca is going to list all of the films that we feel are amongst the most influential. Tim Hannigan, Luke Franklin, Gwendolyn Kiste, Herner Klenthur, Stephanie Joyce and Jason McDonald are all contributing to this list and as noted it will evolve over time.
This list of the most influential horror movies of all time is mostly a matter of opinion–and of course, a bit of film history to back up each entry–so read on for your lesson in the most influential horror films of all time.
It probably seems funny in our modern secular society where the cultural influence of religion is slowly eroding, at least in popular culture, to understand that for many filmgoers a film featuring a girl possessed by the devil could cause significant controversy. But back in 1973, “The Exorcist” shocked the world! Audiences screamed, and protests erupted so fast it would make your head spin (sorry I couldn’t resist). The movie probably even convinced a few Catholics to go back to Church on the following Sunday to try to repent before a demon got a hold of their souls!
The film had a huge influence on culture – an influence which is still felt to this day. The images of the movie are so iconic that you could probably take a picture of Blair in full make-up anywhere in the world and it would be recognized.
Perhaps one of the biggest influences which this film had was on special make-up effects. Dick Smith’s (RIP) make-up changed the game, making Smith a god to all of the FX artists that followed. Smith made the impossible possible and brought a level of believability which had never been achieved below. Ask Savini, Botin, KNB – anyone who is anyone in make-up FX – they will all tell you that this film changed their lives.
For me personally, of all the movies I have ever seen I can still remember the impact this film had on me when I first saw it. Like many horror movies I was much too young to be watching it but when I did see I experienced a level of terror which has never been matched. The images truly haunted me and it was a few years, in my early teens, before I could watch the film again. It pushed the envelope, something quite surprising for a studio film. And to this day – more than 40 years later – it still has some of the most disturbing imagery. Nothing was sacred, no innocence was spared from corruption and, in the end – four years before “Halloween” – we understood that evil never dies. There was no easy resolution to the film, no happy ending – just the realization that evil could not be destroyed, only contained.
The influence of the film was felt across the genre as movies featuring demonic possession and evil children took off in the mid-70s. Even today, any movie featuring possession inevitably draws a comparison to “The Exorcist” and with all of the advances in CG, special effects, etc. no one has ever come close to topping what a simple rotating head and a few gallons of pea soup accomplished.
We know that “Cannibal Holocaust” was one of the first found footage films and that “The Blair Witch Project” was the first to really gain mass appeal, but the most influential film following this style of filmmaking is “Paranormal Activity.” Hate it or love it, there’s no denying that the very first Paranormal film changed the landscape of horror for better or for worse.
Much in the same way that “Halloween” inspired many slasher films, the first “Paranormal Activity” film spawned a generation of “me too” films looking to excavate the found footage goldmine. Obviously not something we want to see, but we have to have acknowledge that when it comes to having an influential impact on the horror genre, the “Paranormal” film is the most recent film to have long-lasting repercussions.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre
I saw an interview with Wes Craven once upon a time where he said “to fear the film you have to fear the filmmaker”. Anyone who has ever seen the original Texas Chain Saw feels they are in the hands of a madman by the middle of the film – completely terrified at what they have seen so far – and paralyzed by thought of what was coming next. The film was like nothing anyone had ever seen before it – a low budget grainy aesthetic that felt like you were watching a documentary, combined with unrelenting visuals of murder and unstoppable terror that took audiences through a night of hell that shocks on every level.
The movie demonstrated that you could use low budget filmmaking to your advantage to help build a sense of reality. It also demonstrates that you can give a sense of brutal violence without the use of over-the top gore. Most people would site the film as one of the most brutal films they have seen yet, if you watch closely, there is very little gore in the film. The visuals of the film are also key with Tobe Hooper showing some incredible camera work in some of the key scenes, particularly the dinner scene. The imagery is ghastly and ghoulish in a way few films have captured, and without showing any more than necessary.
The influence of this film are far reaching from the 70s through to today. Movies like “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Wrong Turn”, and frankly any slasher film that came after owes Tobe Hooper a royalty cheque!
Perhaps one of the best horror movie titles to adapt H.P. Lovecraft themes onto a celluloid reel comes Re-Animator. This movie works in a weird, twisted and off-beat kind of way that is dripping in dead-pan humor as director Stuart Gordon’s approach to the subject of a mad scientist trying to re-animate flesh is direct and anything but bashful. Our main character is driven by an insane desire to vindicate himself as he creates living beings out of body parts, ultimately plummeting into complete madness.
The main character Herbert West gets frustrated when his experiments with the undead result in some zombified mayhem. His efforts are then thwarted by his rival, Dr. Hill (David Gale, channeling Boris Karloff) so, naturally West’s solution is to decapitate him. What happens afterwards is none other than what I think is a dry-humored attempt at Shakespearean tragedy as Dr. Hill is “re-animated” with his head in his hand. Herbert’s friend Cain begs him to stop, but being the sick scopophilacs that we are as the audience, we cant help but encourage him to do more. -Selected by Stephanie Joyce
Universal’s storied history of horror films may have begun with early silent film like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom of the Opera”, but Universal’s horror renaissance really began in 1931 with “Dracula.”
It would be impossible to say that “Dracula” isn’t influential. First off, it’s box office success and popularity (along with “Frankenstein”) helped to spark the period of classic Universal Monsters that we all know and love. A period that would lead to Universal popularizing many other classic monster legends.
We also can’t ignore the long-lasting appeal of Bela Lugosi’s depiction of the ancient vampire. No other human is so intensely intertwined with the legend of Dracula than Bela Lugosi. His persona and performance has inspired countless imitations and homages. When you talk about influence, Lugosi probably holds the longest sway over the horror genre.
White Zombie is far from the definitive zombie movie, but it certainly planted the undead seed in our pop culture subconscious. It isn’t exactly what we imagine when we think of zombies, but it introduced our culture to the concept of mindless husks that used to be human beings.
Without “White Zombie”, would we have the zombies we have today? Probably, but that movie helped to influence their creation and without it, who knows where the lineage of the undead would have started. Plus, it gave us White Zombie the band and they were pretty alright.
Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven took the slasher film into new territory with “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. The movie was high concept – a killer invading the dreams of his victims to kill them while they sleep. It was also a hard sell – Craven took the concept to numerous studios that passed on the property before New Line took a chance and spent several hundred thousand dollars on the movie.
The later films in the series got a little goofy, and probably had a bad influence on the genre at large. Killers suddenly needed a funny tag line before they could kill someone. But the first film (as well as the third, and the New Nightmare – no coincidence that Craven was involved in each) presented Freddy as he was meant to be – a sinister foe preying on victims when they are at their most vulnerable. And because Freddy operated in the dream world, Craven was able to introduce elements of fantasy into the film.
Some of the most memorable images from 80s horror can be found in the first film – Freddy’s claw coming up from the bathtub while Nancy is dozing during a bath, buckets of blood pouring from Glen’s bed after he is pulled in, Freddy coming through the wall – the list goes on and on. Most slasher films were set in a reality that would not allow them to incorporate these sorts of visuals. And once Elm Street hit many films tried to copy – most of them unsuccessfully. Freddy made the silent killer in a mask – something that defined the genre in the earlier part of the decade – seem outdated. Killers could have a personality, and horror films were never the same again.
Jaws wasn’t the first film to use a giant monster or underwater scares, but short of Godzilla, no force of nature in horror ever seeped into popular culture quite like this finned menace. While Bruce the Shark is the obvious star, the story is driven by its characters without bogging down the audience with too much back story–thereby proving you can have terror sans the usual cardboard characters.
In terms of changing the genre in subtler ways, Spielberg broke the then-cardinal rule never to kill kids or animals (RIP Alex Kintner and Pippet) yet never delved into maudlin territory with the dangerous narrative maneuver. But his 1975 sharkfest was influential beyond horror. Widely considered the first summer blockbuster, Jaws paved the way for every June to August big budget bonanza to follow. You’re gonna need a bigger marquee. – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste & Herner Klenthur
Evil Dead did for horror movies what Airplane did for Leslie Nielson’s career in comedy. It launched two of the most iconic names in horror Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi and has become one of the most revered horror films ever made. Bruce Campbell at the time was a cab driver and thanks to Evil Dead he was a part of one of the greatest american horror film franchises which includes not just Evil Dead but also Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.
The film was remade in 2013 with no Bruce Campbell and no Ash character but even despite these huge oversights I will concede that the remake overall was a great film that paid homage to the original while adding a fresh spin. Evil Dead has inspired countless horror films over the years with the most recent being the spectacular ‘Cabin in The Woods’ which featured Deadites and the possessed trees. – Selected by Herner Klenthur
I struggled a bit with this one – should it be “Phantasm” or “Phantasm II” on this list? Phantasm II has influenced everything from “Pulp Fiction” to “Supernatural”. But the original film has had the greatest impact upon the horror genre.
“Phantasm” managed to incorporate elements of fantasy and even science fiction into a thrilling horror film. Don Coscarelli is one of the true unsung heroes of the genre, and “Phantasm” is one of the most creative horror films ever made. Flying spheres, shrunken people and a villain from another dimension – “Phantasm” took horror in a wild direction and pushed the limits of its budget by creating imagery that audiences had not seen in the genre before.
The 70s featured a real shift in the horror genre away from fantasy to more realistic films. “Phantasm” demonstrated that filmmakers should only be limited by their own imaginations and not to shy away from incorporating elements from other genres into the film.
No individual has made more contributions to horror in popular culture over the past century than Stephen King. Millions upon millions of books sold and a seemingly bottomless well of terrifying inspiration that keeps generating stories that terrify over and over again.
King’s influence on horror cinema has been immeasurable – and some amazing directors have adapted his works including Kubrick, Carpenter and Cronenberg. But in my opinion, the King adaptation that has had the most influence on horror movies is Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”.
“Carrie” demonstrated that King’s work could be successfully adapted to film, notwithstanding the length, breadth, and depth of storytelling involved. And De Palma was at the top of his game. While his career has had some ups and downs, back in the late 70s it appeared that he was going to be the next Hitchcock – and “Carrie” showed the brilliant eye he had for telling stories. The use of split screen, the incredible cast – everything in this film clicked.
But there is one moment in this film which is arguably the most influential scene in modern horror history. This was the film that created the surprise ending. If you have not seen this film, or don’t remember the ending – stop reading this now and go watch it. For everyone else – you know exactly what I am referring to. The moment when Amy Irving’s character goes to lay flowers at the site where Carrie’s house stood and suddenly the hand comes up from the ground absolutely shocked me. To this day I remember the shiver that ran down my spine at that moment – I remember being afraid to turn off the light after the movie was over. And this scene has been copied ever since. The final jump scare became an essential component to horror movies – with filmmakers hoping that one good scare at the end of the film would have people leaving the theatre in fear and, perhaps, forgetting about any lesser scares the preceded it in the film.
The Blair Witch Project
This film broke new ground in many areas for horror films. First it became one of the most profitable films in cinema for quite some time until Paranormal Activity came along. Blair Witch also made popular the found footage craze. Lastly this was the first film to use the internet and word of mouth with amazing success. – Selected by Luke Franklin & Herner Klenthur
Horror of Dracula
Hammer Films ushered in a new era of horror cinema, one in which the color was more saturated and the women more buxom. With a sense of swashbuckling adventure, Horror of Dracula is like a bloodier Adventures of Robin Hood. The baddies might seem insurmountable, but our heroes come through in a grand finale.
Like a Victorian MacGyver, Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing utilizes what he’s got available–in this case, a curtain and a couple candlesticks–and defeats the world’s greatest bloodsucker. One of the first pairings of Cushing and Christopher Lee, Horror of Dracula was not the first vampire film–or the first effort to come out of Bray Studios–but it marked a moment when the horror paradigm shifted from old school restraint to unrepentant gore and sex. From Bava to grindhouse, everyone owes this film a macabre debt of gratitude. – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
Dan O’Bannon originally conceived of “Alien” as “Star Beast” – a 50s style monster movie set in space. Plagued by stomach pain most of his life, O’Bannon created a monster that grows inside a human host before bursting out and growing into a towering monster. The final film was nothing like the original idea – rather than a cheap 50s style film, Ridley Scott elevated the original source material to create a sleek post-Star Wars space film that took a simple premise that had been used many times before – a few individuals trapped in one location with something trying to kill them – and launched it into the stratosphere.
The star of the film is H.R. Giger whose alien design was unlike anything seen by filmgoers before. The film is epic and yet claustrophobic, and the scene where the alien busts through the chest of its victim is a scene that has influenced every jump scare since. What could have been a simple 50s B-movie rip off became one of the scariest and most effective monster movies of all time, and every movie from John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, to “Predator” were heavily influenced by the film and likely would never have seen the light of day without the contributions of O’Bannon, Scott and Giger.
John Carpenters The Thing
When it originally hit theaters it was not an immediate success but that has not stopped it from being recognized as one of the greatest sci-fi horror films of all time. It landed #8 at the box office when it originally opened June 25th 1982 in 800 theaters but that is mainly because it went head to head with the juggernaut E.T.
To this day the special effects for The Thing are considered to be some of the best use of practical effects ever. The Thing is one of the few films where the special effects continue to hold up and illustrate that practical effects are definitely worth the time and effort.
Martyrs directed by Pascal Lugiers and released in 2008 makes the list for being one of the most shocking and emotional horror films to ever come out of France. On the surface its a film that tells the story of a young woman quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped her but it quickly spirals into complete depravity.
Martyrs is coined by many as Torture Porn but unlike films like HOSTEL which finds its entire plot being driven by violence, Martyrs has a deep moral message that is driven on the screen with its violence. Not for the faint of heart it is one of the most terrifying and poignant horror films ever made. – Selected by Herner Klenthur
One of the most influential horror movies of the last fifteen years, “Saw” created its own sub-genre of uber-violent horror films. I hate the term “torture porn”, but whatever you call it, the visceral envelope pushing death sequences that dominated horror in the early part of this century owes a great debt to “Saw”.
“Saw” goes back to an old-school approach to horror. It was a low budget film, shot on a tight shooting schedule, with a major focus on effects. The movie also found a way to take a simple concept – two men chained in a room together trying to figure out how they got there – and create a highly compelling story with an unforgettable killer. Not since the 1980s has a killer been so widely embraced in popular culture like Jigsaw. The killer had a clear motivation, and the mythology of “Saw” is one of its strongest points – what would you be prepared to do to stay alive?
“Saw” forced horror films to become smarter, effects to become bloodier, and demonstrated that high concept does not have to mean high budget. It also created a great launch pad for James Wan who, despite a few misses earlier in his career, has become one of the best filmmakers in the genre.
A complaint that many level against horror is its Eurocentric focus. Watch as white teens frolic and canoodle and get chopped into ribbons. Even the foreign films that fans long ago accepted into the fold–those of Bava and Argento, for example–still reflect Western sensibilities. But in the late 1990s, so-called conventional horror got a taste of how Eastern cultures do terror.
Though in no way the first Japanese horror film, Ringu was the breakaway hit that forced American audiences to look beyond the typical continental settings for scares. And what scares they are. The unstoppable nature of J-Horror’s villains make Jason Voorhees look like a fleeting nuisance. Ringu‘s television scene alone is one of the most iconic moments in horror history. The remake did it well but still can’t quite compare. – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
This psychological horror story about a girl who snaps after everyone in her life turns their back on her is an extremely underrated film in every respect. It’s a complex and engaging story with interesting and deep characters that exist to supplement the main character May (Angela Bettis). No characters are thrown into the story just to be killed and no one has a single line designed to pad the running time.
It reminds the audience that we don’t’ have to have high body counts, naked coeds, and excessive amounts of gore to make a great horror movie. Just make us care about the characters and the rest falls into place. Made for next to nothing, we can only pray that talent like this lies dormant somewhere else in Lucky McKee’s head (and after seeing The Woods, I feel that his masterpiece is just around the corner, but that’s another article). – Added by PoppaScotch
Friday the 13th
Speaking of horror films that ripped off the ending of “Carrie” – “Friday the 13th” was one of the few films that was successful in creating a “Carrie”-esque jump scare at the end of the film. Of course, “Carrie” was not the only film they ripped off – the entire movie was made to copy the success of “Halloween” by creating a back-story involving a kid, and then a flash forward to modern day (1980) when young people begin dying one by one at the hands of a knife-wielding killer.
So is it fair to say that “Friday the 13th” is influential? Shouldn’t we actually say that it is “Halloween” that was influential, since “Friday the 13th” copied it? The reality is that, as successful as “Halloween” was, it was really “Friday the 13th” that created the slasher craze of the 1980s. The camp setting was copied in numerous films from “The Burning” to “Sleepaway Camp”, and whereas “Halloween” was relatively bloodless, it was “Friday the 13th” that created the blood and guts craze of the early 80s. Ironically later Halloween films seemed to copy “Friday the 13th” and its sequels rather than its own origin film – forced to up the ante on the blood and guts in order to keep up.
Tom Savini is the real star of his film and, without his effects, it is unlikely that people would still be talking about this movie. Savini came off of “Dawn of the Dead” with an incredible bag of tricks, and he brought real magic to this film. I’m sure even well established effects artists were blown away with what Savini accomplished in this movie with a miniscule budget.
The other major influence of this film is the string of sequels. Prior to “Friday the 13th”, horror sequels were uncommon in the slasher world. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” had not produced a sequel before Friday, nor had “Halloween”. “Friday the 13th” became a franchise – not unlike McDonald’s or Burger King. Almost yearly a new film was unleashed and, with the popularization of home video, audiences grew and grew. After “Friday the 13th” sequels became common, and as the box office returns came in on one film, the next in the series was already underway.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining based off of the novel by Stephen King is lauded by many as the greatest horror film of all time. Jack Nicholson portrayal of a hotel caretaker who slowly looses his mind while looking after a lodge during its winter shut down was nothing short of spectacular. The Shining may not have initially won critics over but over time it has seen immense praise placed on it by filmmakers, critics, fans and most importantly Stephen King.
Up until Stanley Kubrick did The Shining Stephen King was quoted as being indifferent to the film adaptations of his novels. The Shining was the first film that not only earned the praise of us horror fans but also Stephen King himself
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Some people don’t think of this one as horror, even though the word is literally in the title. But it’s a genre film if ever there was one. There’s mayhem. There’s murder. Heck, there’s even cannibalism. Sure, Rocky Horror has comedy too, but it blends the laughs with the violence to incredibly gruesome, not slapstick, effect.
Undoubtedly, this is the longest running horror film of all-time, still playing in places like the Hollywood Theater near Pittsburgh to this day. Back in the 1970s, the midnight movie was an honored tradition among genre fans. Everything from Eraserhead and Night of the Living Dead to El Topo and Pink Flamingos cemented legacies during the witching hour. Sadly, those titles have faded from the marquee, but thanks to Rocky Horror, the midnight movie remains alive and well. – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
One of my personal favorites from horror’s last twenty years, this 1996 slasher rebooted the murderous man in the mask trope, all while employing a decisive sense of style and wit. To obliterate expectations, Wes Craven eschewed the usual no-names and cast a group of actors that included several familiar, if not A-List, stars.
And scribe Kevin Williamson’s recent Twitter tantrums notwithstanding, Scream manages to hit–and skewer–the usual horror marks with tongue firmly planted in cheek and a self-awareness unlike anything before it. Since then, the imitators have been many–the entire Scary Movie franchise, for one–but this is where a modern generation of horror fans first discovered the genre. If that’s not influence, then nothing is. – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
An American Werewolf in London
When you think of monsters such as werewolves and horror films you immediately have images of the old Universal films. But John Landis took the werewolf and brought it into the modern era. Yes “The Howling” came first, but Landis’s werewolf had an even more significant impact upon the genre, an impact so huge even the Academy of Motion Pictures had to recognize it.
Landis has a flare for comedy, and an eye for horror, and he brought both to the table in this movie. While the movie is terrifyingly serious at times, there are comedic and absurdist elements that all work in unison to make a highly entertaining film. Monsters moved from the fog and castle settings of the old Universal films to an urban metropolis and the werewolf became truly terrifying again.
The biggest influence of this film is the incredible work of “Rick Baker”. Baker’s transformation is still, for my money, the best werewolf transformation ever caught on film. The audience truly feels the pain of the transformation and the end result is a true monster – not just an actor with a bunch of hair glued on. For his efforts Baker earned the first ever Oscar for Make-up effects, with the Academy finally recognizing the incredible work being done by FX artists. Baker raised the bar, and every make-up effects artist since has tried to reach it. Baker legitimized the artistry of the make-up effects, and forced Hollywood to begin to respect and appreciate the importance of the genre.
The Hills Have Eyes
At first I found it a little hard to swallow that a man from France was lecturing me heavily on American foreign policy and global aggression. But after a year or two, it made sense that someone who doesn’t live in the country would have a totally unaltered view of world politics.
Did you ever realize that this is what the movie is about? That hidden agenda under a genuinely frightening and violent film set a new precedent for horror after it. Not only was there a message to be given to the audience, but it was done excellently around an extremely gory and entertaining movie. To stay in the minds of the critics after years have passed, just make your film say something (it really doesn’t matter what) and do it cleverly. – Selected by PoppaScotch
No list of influential horror movies is complete without a nod to one of the first and still among the best vampire flicks. The original imitator–Bram Stoker’s widow was so irked by the rip-off, she ordered every copy destroyed–Nosferatu exudes terror, due in large part to Max Schreck’s uncompromising performance.
The rules of bloodsuckers–coffins in crypts, innocent female victims, sunlight sensitivity–debuted on the Silver Screen in this 1922 feature and haven’t left the collective consciousness since. Plus, Nosferatu was a progenitor in terrifying visual effects, including that crazy rat makeup. There’s influential, and then there’s iconoclasm. Count Orlok is the ultimate rebel without a cause, creeper Templeton demeanor and all. – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
That terrible version of Godzilla with Matthew Broderick almost completely turned me off to monster movies all together. Then I saw the good (but not amazing) Cloverfield and the extremely underrated Host. Again, looking back on what made May a success was the well placed cast of characters with strong motivations, feelings, and backgrounds. The Host is mainly about a family coming together to save their daughter (also niece or granddaughter) in any way with whatever skills they could possibly contribute.
By the end of the film, one of the family members has fallen and I honestly started to tear up a bit. I cared about these characters so much that I became emotionally attached to their plight. The plight of saving a little girl from some kind of river dwelling monster… to illicit those feelings from a completely ridiculous premise solely shows why this movie was successful. Pretty much every horror movie can learn a thing or two about characters here. – Selected by PoppaScotch
Bride of Frankenstein
The mad scientist laboratory. The tiny figures under glass. That electrifying coif. Virtually every aspect of the Bride of Frankenstein has been repurposed and reimagined in the last eighty years. Heavily influenced by German expressionism–compare the Bride’s movements to Metropolis‘ female robot–James Whale’s 1935 magnum opus is Universal Horror’s most beautiful creation by far.
Although not the first horror movie by any means or even the first to star Boris Karloff, Bride of Frankenstein does something to your psyche, twisting you with its lyrical siren song. Modern audiences might find certain moments campy or overwrought, but without this entry into the horror canon, everything from Hammer Films to Young Frankenstein wouldn’t be the same. – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
Truth be told, Black Christmas is probably my favorite of the 1970s slashers. I even named it as the game-changing cut ’em up in my very first article for this site, much to the chagrin of hardcore Halloween fans. But when it comes to lasting influence, John Carpenter’s Michael Myers has got the edge over Bob Clark’s Billy.
Fictional Haddonfield, Illinois is now synonymous with a place you don’t want to spend Samhain as well as the locale for the most beloved massacre that never happened. Since 1978, every single slasher looks to Carpenter’s masterpiece for guidance and rightfully so. The setting, the casting, the music–all of it is spot-on chilling. Who knew a William Shatner mask could ever be so genuinely creepy? (Okay, maybe everyone, but still.) – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
Night of the Living Dead
My writing perch rotates but almost always involves a Pittsburgh coffee shop. This means at all times, I have an omnipresent reminder of George Romero’s beloved zombies outside my window. Quite the inspiration for a horror writer. Night of the Living Dead is one of those films that’s influenced more than we’ll ever really appreciate. There would be no Walking Dead without it. There’d be no Return of the Living Dead. Horror simply wouldn’t be the same.
NotLD was ultra low-budget and out of the Hollywood system in a time when that just wasn’t done, helping to inspire legions of indie filmmakers. Add in the Vietnam War-inspired gore and Civil Rights-era racial undertones, and you’ve got a movie that works on a lot more levels than you’d expect, considering the monsters are literally brain dead. And almost a half century later, film students and critics are still analyzing its subtext. – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
Dawn of the Dead
More recently is a film that has made its way back into the limelight, after much debate among traditional zombie fans, but still a Romero favorite, is Dawn of the Dead (both 1978 and 2004 titles). The 2004 movie is the re-make of George A. Romero’s 1978 title however, this title carries with it some iconic, and controversial twists, like fast-moving zombies and a creepy zombie baby born to two young parents in a shopping mall. Who knew a familiar and fun place to hang out could become so damn scary? Well, Romero knew this could be a perfect scaring ground for hordes of zombies to congregate at.
Although the plot of the Zack Snyder version steels the same location being the shopping mall for the majority of the movie, there are some major tweaks that make zombie fans either squeal in delight or reel in disgust, but not in the way that you think. It’s due to the “zombie purists” that want to preserve the ways of the slow, brainless zombies from the Romero days. Ultimately, I think progression is good as adding new character elements to the zombies keep things fresh. Well, as fresh as zombies can be. And what I like about Snyder’s version is its definitive ending. Spoiler alert: Let’s just say zombies win.
-Selected by Stephanie Joyce
28 Days Later
Oscar winning director Danny Boyle is a chameleon when it comes to picking out projects. 28 Days Later was his second stab at horror that was not only great at establishing characters (I know, broken record here) but was also an astounding technological achievement. Shot almost entirely on digital video, the film was able to stay under their paltry 8 million dollar budget while conveying digital and practical effects of a completely empty London. It’s important because it goes to show that even with next to no money available, filmmaking talent, storytelling, and performances can outweigh explosions and car chases. – Selected by PoppaScotch
Psycho / Peeping Tom
Like most of my lists, I’m going to cheat with a twofer. True cinematic doppelgangers, the influence of these two films diverged in very different directions over the years, only to meet up again in modern times. Psycho is remembered as the original slasher, the place where celluloid mastery collided with the lewdest of themes. It even earned Oscar nominations for Hitchcock and actress Janet Leigh. Along with The Exorcist and The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho is the closest horror’s ever come to being fully embraced by mainstream audiences and critics.
Peeping Tom, on the other hand, found itself much maligned upon release. Director Michael Powell forces the audience to see murder and mayhem and madness through the perspective of Carl Boehm’s Mark Lewis, leading one critic to call the film more horrible than a colony of lepers. Today, however, Peeping Tom stands tall with Psycho as the twin films that helped usher in an era of slashers, voyeurs, and Freudian devices. Who said you couldn’t intellectualize homicide? – Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
Ginger Snaps is one of those movies that not even the casual horror fan may know much about. It all started as a small budget Canadian werewolf flick that went on to set a new standard of horror. A lot of people will focus on the idea that the transformation into being a werewolf is used as a metaphor for puberty which is clearly the main agenda of the film (and is handled fantastically). But what I want to accent is the subtly of the actor’s performances.
Nothing is over the top, ridiculous, or falsely delivered. This is a shock because all of the leads are children with limited acting experience. That my friends is just fantastic directing. It remains influential because its sets the example that with a small budget you can create anything, as long as the talent is there. – Selected by PoppaScotch
Perhaps better than your foreign psycho that has a dark and incoherent demeanor — we have your friendly sociopath next-door, white-collar serial killer that epitomizes what it is to live the American dream… In stylishly bloody, 80s music-charged fashion. Watch the film now and you’ll know what I mean with my description. What sets this film apart from the rest is the poignant tale of American-greed and the depths to which shallow people will dig in an effort to appear “normal.”
We follow the unassuming lifestyle of white-collared businessman Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) who seeks out more daring thrills than boning his best friend’s wife or snorting blow in the club bathroom stales. What’s satisfies his greedy desires for control? Well, blood, blood and more blood of course! And who can forget such memorable scenes like when Bateman jams out to “Huey Lewis and the News” while draped in a rain poncho covering his tailor-made, high-end suite just so he can execute his arch nemesis in business with an axe? Nobody! That’s who!
The unfortunate man who Bateman kills in the scene during the epic playing of “Hip to Be Square” song is Paul (Jared Leto) who goes on (along with Bale) to win an Academy Award for acting later in their careers. And frankly the woman who directed the film, Mary Harron, should of won an Academy Award for directing. But alas, we don’t live in the golden days of horror where films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist received such well-deserved accolades. -Selected by Stephanie Joyce
What horror movies do you think have been the most influential? Let me know in the comments below!