Modern horror films often give nods or homages to horror films of the past, and many current releases simply wouldn’t exist had the groundwork not been laid by these seminal projects. The genre has evolved and expanded over the years, but fans will never forget the impact certain characters and franchises have had on horror cinema.
Their legacy can be seen within the blueprints of modern horror. Whether it is a classic monster movie or a violent slasher movie, these iconic films have earned their place in the hall of fame of horror. Here are the 10 most influential horror movies.
10 The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari
Celebrating its 100th anniversary, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a movie that anyone who has studied film knows about. It is a German silent film directed by Robert Wiene, and it is one of the best examples of German expressionism. The film is laden with unique imagery, with imaginative sets and creepy character designs.
The sets are covered in sharp, curving objects with shadows that cover both the buildings and characters, and this same horror imagery can be seen in classic monster movies after such as Dracula and Frankenstein. It is considered to be one of the first horror movies, and plenty of films, horror or not, have been influenced by this film.
Nosferatu is another silent German expressionism film from 1922. It is a loose adaptation of Dracula, with the vampiric Count Orlok sucking the blood of his victims. The film relies heavily on the use of shadows, with Orlok lurking in every room.
He has an incredibly unique design that is quite different than the more elegant Dracula which is more recognizable for people. Considering this movie is made before the time of sound and special effects, the makeup here is incredible, complete with an excellent performance from Max Schreck as Orlok. Oddly enough, kids may be aware of Nosferatu, as he does make an appearance in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants.
One of the best of Universal’s classic monster movies, Frankenstein is a textbook example of humanity versus monstrosity. It tells the story of a mad scientist who creates a living being from the parts of other corpses.
The film does a great job of giving Frankenstein’s monster humanity, making him a sympathetic character. He is undeniably freaky, thanks in part to a legendary performance from Boris Karloff, but he is also misunderstood. Many monster movies take inspiration from the portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster, and everyone to this day quotes “it’s alive! It’s alive!”
Psycho revolutionized narrative in film; Hitchcock made a bold move by killing the main character halfway through the movie. It was a twist nobody saw coming and completely shocked audiences at the time and still today. Director Alfred Hitchcock had actual rules for theaters to follow while watching the movie, including not allowing anyone to show up late.
The story still contains plenty of twists and turns from there, with an ending that remains one of the best movie twists of all time. The iconic shower scene influenced slasher films by manipulating violence on screen with close-ups and rapid editing portraying a stabbing without really showing it.
6 Night Of The Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead has not aged gracefully, as much of the zombie imagery today is more cheesy than it is scary. However, director George Romero pioneered the zombie sub-genre of horror with this film.
Many zombie films take influence from Night of the Living Dead with zombie mob imagery and shots similar to this film. The special effects and makeup have allowed modern zombie movies to be more gory and violent, making this movie feel outdated. Still, if it weren’t for this movie, there may not be many of the zombie films or television shows seen today.
5 The Exorcist
The Exorcist is considered by many to be the scariest horror movie ever. It contained awesome special effects that still hold up today, creating disgusting and horrifying images. It was met with controversy upon its initial release, as it was one of the first horror movies to not hold back on violence towards kids.
Its amazing score, makeup, and scares remain iconic to many horror fans. Director Wiliam Friedkin completely changed the horror industry in terms of what could be shown on screen. There are plenty of films still coming out about demonic possession, but none frightened audiences more than this horror classic.
Jaws was the birth of the blockbuster film. Due to its immense success, it served as the beginning of the big summer blockbusters which dominate the box office every year. Jaws isn’t the scariest movie. Some even debate whether the film counts as a horror movie or not.
However, the way Steven Spielberg used the monster by keeping it hidden for most of the film built suspense with just how big and frightening the shark was. John Williams’ score influenced how musical scores could be used as an auditory cue for characters. It may not be as scary as The Exorcist, but plenty of people were hesitant of going back into the ocean after it came out.
While Halloween is not the first slasher movie, it did set up many of the cliches that are seen in horror movies. The tropes of masked killers who kill stupid, horny teenagers seen in other films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday The 13th began with Halloween.
John Carpenter directs the movie very well with brutal murders, a haunting atmosphere, and a frightening killer in Michael Meyers. The opening scene which follows a young Meyers’ perspective as he wanders around the house and kills his sister remains one of the best opening scenes in any horror movie. It still holds up well today, and many modern slashers fail to compete with this classic. Even the multiple reboots haven’t achieved the scares and iconic scenes within this movie.
2 The Shining
The Shining went for a more psychological horror film, proving horror films can still be terrifying without using jump-scares or evil killers. While The Shining does have ghosts, it is more about how isolation, especially in a creepy hotel, can have dangerous effects on the mind.
Jack Torrance’s descent into madness is haunting as the silence and his frustration bring out the worst side of him. While there are many classic moments such as the elevator filled with blood, Danny’s encounter with the twins, and “here’s Johnny,” The Shining‘s biggest impact was making audiences question their own sanity.
1 The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project is not as scary today as it was in 1999 as audiences today know that the movie is fake. However, many at the time were convinced the movie was real, especially because of the film’s advertising campaign.
The Blair Witch Project largely created the found-footage horror film, where filmmakers pretend to shoot a film like a home movie to make it seem more authentic. Not much is shown in this movie, as audiences can’t see what is horrifying the characters, but the actors do an excellent job at making the film seem real enough to convince audiences that something horrible happened. It also proved filmmakers could create a horror movie with a low budget and bring in a large box-office return, leading to popular franchises like Paranormal Activity.
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