Sunday, September 25, 2011

Five-Star Horror Movies

I have previously mentioned (in Horror for Grown-Ups) that my career as a horror movie fan has been uneven. From the late '70s through the '80s, I hardly saw any horror films. Starting around 1990, I decided I wanted to make up for lost time and see as many classics of the genre as possible. To assist me, I turned to a book called The Horror Film: Over 700 Films on Video Cassette (Evanston, IL: CineBooks, 1989). The book only listed films on VHS, because this was before DVD and Blu-Ray, but it was still pretty thorough, and even featured a foreword by Vincent Price.

My method of using the book to find classics was simple. The Horror Film ranked movies on a five-star system, with the worst movies rating zero and the best five stars. The book had an index of all its five-star movies. They were as follows:

The Black Cat
The Body Snatcher
Bride of Frankenstein
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Curse of the Demon
Dawn of the Dead
Dead Ringers
The Evil Dead
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
The Hills Have Eyes
The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus
Horror of Dracula
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
I Walked with a Zombie
King Kong
Night of the Living Dead
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Nosferatu, the Vampire
Peeping Tom
Rosemary's Baby
The Seventh Victim
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Here were twenty-eight horror movies, by this account exceptionally good, some of which I had seen as a child (Bride of Frankenstein, Rosemary's Baby), many of which I had never seen. For years, this list was an aid to finding great horror movies I had missed. I would go into video stores and pull out my dog-eared copy of the movies I had yet to see, and walk out with an evening's viewing. This was before NetFlix and streaming video, so it wasn't always easy to find the titles. I found the last one on TV, on Turner Classic Movies, Peeping Tom, in 2005.

Having seen them all, I can say: what was the fuss about? This list contains a mix of movies I love (like Bride of Frankenstein, Psycho, and Texas Chain Saw Massacre), movies that I know are historically important but that I don't find gripping (Nosferatu, the Vampire and Vampyr), movies I think are overrated (I Walked with a Zombie and Martin), and movies I don't even think are horror movies (Dead Ringers, Eraserhead, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame). The list reveals an overzealousness on the part of the editors for the films of Sam Raimi and Val Lewton, an excessive taste for films that leaven their horror with social commentary (Peeping Tom), and a serious overlooking of certain films that had been released by the book's publication date and should have joined the five-star club--for example, The Exorcist, Jaws, The Fly (1986), Halloween, The Shining, and Alien.

Nevertheless, I am glad I spent a few years tracking down the five-star members of this book. It exposed me to corners of the genre (and even outside the genre) I might otherwise have overlooked, and it gave me something to argue against. Lists of five-star films, like all best-film lists, are highly subjective, though there are elements of objectivity that make it possible for agreement to take place and for disagreement to occur along rational lines.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

No comments: