In the last entry of Saturdays with Stephen, I recounted a 1979 interview with author Stephen King in which the master of horror listed his choices for the greatest horror movies of all time. The list was interesting, particularly as a glimpse at the horror genre from the time before Freddy, Jason, and CGI.
In the conclusion of that post, I mentioned how it would be interesting to hear how Mr. King would update his list today, taking into account all of the excellent horror movies that have been made since 1979. Soon after, I discovered Mr. King has updated his list.
In the 2010 re-release of his 1981 novel Danse Macabre, a non-fiction examination of the horror genre, Mr. King included a new foreword entitled “What’s Scary,” which, without enumerating a list of “greatest horror movies of all time,” functions as a fresh look at the scary movies the author considers particularly effective.
As someone who is constantly seeking out recommendations for scary movies, whether they’re flicks I’ve never seen, or others I’ve forgotten, I find the list interesting, and if you’re reading this, you likely will too. Here’s a recap.
The Blair Witch Project. King first saw this movie in a hospital room shortly after he was struck by a car while walking on a Maine highway. “The idea is complete genius, and a big budget would have wrecked it,” King wrote, hailing it as an example of effective horror for its found footage approach and an enduring influence that would prompt hundreds of imitators.
Dawn of the Dead (2004). A fan of George Romero’s original zombie movies, King considers “genius perfected,” partly due to the opening sequence in which star Sarah Polley’s husband is murdered by the zombified girl next door. “Those first nine minutes are a sonata of anxiety.”
Last House on the Left (2009). King pulls no punches in his praise for Dennis Iliadis’ remake of the classic Wes Craven horror movie, calling it the “best horror movie of the new century.” Aside from a glaring oversight/blooper near the climax involving a microwave oven, King considers Last House a brutal examination of the “homicidal other.”
From Dusk Till Dawn. “Seventies-style bad guys” try to survive for a night in strip-club infested with vampires.
Scream. Written in near-parody style by Kevin Williamson. “Especially notable for the When a Stranger Calls riff that opens the movie. Not Drew Barrymore’s finest hour, but certainly her finest horror hour.”
Mimic. “Guillermo del Toro’s first American film and a work of brilliance and complexity.”
Event Horizon. Despite a “messy” plot, King praises Event Horizon as a “Lovecraftian terror tale in outer space.”
Pi. This is a Darren Aronofsky film, made on a tiny budget, about a “theoretical mathmetician descending into madness.” King says, “I left the theater not entirely sure of what I’d seen, but filled with feelings of deep unease. This one gets inside you.”
Deep Blue Sea. A Renny Harlin movie about genetically engineered sharks which King praises for its ability to surprise him enough to scream out loud.
Stir of Echoes. A David Koepp adaptation of a 1958 Richard Matheson novel, starring Kevin Bacon, about “what happens when an ordinary blue-collar guy starts to see ghosts, thanks to a hypnotic suggestion.”
Final Destination. “Only the first is genuinely scary, with its grim insistence that you can’t beat the Reaper; when your time is up, it’s up.”
28 Days Later. “Most notable for its opening sequences in an eerily deserted London after clueless animal rights activists have loosed a living-dead-type plague on the world.”
The Jacket. “Adrian Brody is terrific (those long-suffering eyes!) in this story of a war veteran who becomes the subject of a mad doctor’s experiments.”
The Descent. Six women are hunted by a race of humanoid monsters during a caving expedition. “What gives the movie its resonance is how the women play against each other–their very real resentments (and secrets) allow us to believe the monsters in a way that most horror movies do not.”
The Ruins. “With its cast of mostly unknowns, this would play well on a double Halloween bill with Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake.”
The Strangers. “An orchestration of growing disquiet and horror as a young couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) are set upon by a trio of psychotcis. It starts slowly and builds from unease to terror to horror.”
You can read the 2010 reissue of Danse Macabre and get King’s full explanations on why each of these movies work on a terrifying level, and others also included on the list: Pan’s Labyrinth, Snakes on a Plane, The Hitcher (2007), 1408, The Mist, Funny Games, Jeepers Creepers, The Mothman Prophecies, Eight-Legged Freaks, Shaun of the Dead, Red Lights, and Saw.
My personal feelings on this list are that it’s an excellent array of horror movies, thrillers, and spoofs. There are some I haven’t seen, like the import Red Lights, and Aronofsky’s Pi, and others I now want to see again, like The Descent, and The Ruins. There are one or two I have no desire to see again, like The Mothman Prophecies or Eight-Legged Freaks, which to me seem out of place on this otherwise excellent list, but to each their own. Tastes differ. One random note: my twelve-year old son is bothered not one bit by most “scary” movies, but found The Strangers terrifying.
What do you think of this list? Leave a comment.