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Behold my third and final entry (for this year, at least) in my Scariest Movies of All Time lists. Earlier today I did Spooky Spirits (haunted houses, ghosts, demons, witches, and curses), and Monsters (aliens, mutants, animals, critters, werewolves and vampires, and yes, zombies).
That leaves us with “Psycho Killers”–that is (mostly) human folks handy with the knife, chainsaw, garden shears, hatchet, weed whacker, or paper cutter, including serial killers, supernatural killers, and torturers.
I’ll admit, slashers are my least-favorite sub-genre of horror–aside from the obvious dehumanizing qualities, I find it tends to be the most pandering, least imaginative. However, there are some decent slasher films and some non-slasher gems.
In no particular order:
Halloween (1978, John Carpenter) — Well yeah, you have to give it up to Carpenter. I may not care much for the slasher genre he helped spawn, but he gives good dread (as opposed to just mindless hacking away).
Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock) — There aren’t a lot of older (that is, pre-1970) films on my lists. Horror is so visceral, it dates faster than other genres–the most powerful scares come from films that tap into the tenor and terrors of your time. I still admire the film making in classic horror like Whale’s Frankenstein (and Bride) or Browning’s Dracula, but they don’t frighten me. On the other hand, Psycho still packs a potent punch. It’s almost like this Hitchcock fella knew what he was doing.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven) — This was my first R-rated horror film, my first exposure to hard-core gore. But it’s Craven’s creepy creativity that endures–that and the raw, unrelenting menace Freddy carries in this first film (before he became a stand-up slasher comedian). (The not-as-good, but not-so-bad 2010 remake arrives at redbox on Tuesday.)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper) — The first “mainstream” torture-porn film, bringing with it all the sleazy, transgressive disgust that entails. Horror in the post-Manson, post-Gein age.
Scream (1996, Wes Craven) — How Wes got his groove back–thanks in to Kevin Williamson’s clever-clever meta-script; sassy performances from the young cast; and that instantly iconic Ghostface mask.
Saw (2004, James Wan) — I appreciate the franchise more in theory than in execution. (Har har.) But this first, super-cheap one is still the best–and no, it’s not the traps, it’s that hog’s-head mask and the sense of foreboding mystery (absent from the rest of the series). I also like the “non-prequel” The Collector. (Saw VI and The Collector are available from redbox.)
Audition (1999, Takashi Miike) — There’s a reason directors like Eli Roth revere Miike–he made torture porn “sophisticated and arty”–but not any less disturbing. Seventy five percent of Audition is build-up, but that last quarter makes you pay… painfully.
High Tension (2003, Alexandre Aja) — This small French gem (starring Cecile de France of Hereafter) is a deadly tight, horrifying (and very bloody) slasher thriller. (Marred only by stale stereotypes about psycho killers and homosexuality.)
The Strangers (2008, Bryan Bertino) — This one has really grown on me–again, it’s a lot of careful, masterful build up to a horrifying ending. “Because you were home.” Shudder.
Seven (1995, David Fincher) — We don’t often think of Fincher’s masterpiece as a “horror” film, but watch it again and remember how tense and terrified you were the first time. (His Zodiac is more of a procedural, but also contains some truly unsettling, scary, and suspenseful scenes.)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme) — Likewise, I tend to think of this more as a character study and crime thriller than a horror movie, but Demme’s old-school drive-in roots show through, building Lecter into a classic Gothic monster.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986, John McNaughton) — A single scene–the home invasion video tape–still haunts me with its cold, horrifying detachment.
Hostel I & II (2005, 2007, Eli Roth) — I like Eli Roth’s sick sense of humor (also on display in the disgustingly fun Cabin Fever), though he’s yet to put together a solid, top-to-bottom, start-to-finish horror film that fully works. But bless his twisted soul for trying.
The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy) — I have no idea where to put this–the original that is, not the laughably bad ’06 Cage remake. It’s not supernatural, has no monsters or psycho killers, but I can’t leave it off. Starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, it’s one of my all-time favorite horror films, so unsettling (and smart) on so many levels.
Okay, let’s hear it in the comments! What’s your pick for scariest “Psycho Killer” movie? What’d I criminally overlook?
And don’t miss the other Scary Movie lists:
We’ve covered a lot of Halloween ground at redblog this year:
- Betsey’s round-up of Not-So-Scary Redbox Halloween Movies for Families
- My Picks for some of the best horror films currently available from redbox
- Erika’s peek (between her fingers) at the new redbox mini-movie about renting the scary
- My reviews of such spooky films as the excellent House of the Devil (and the less-excellent Cabin Fever 2), 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, and Frozen (on DVD) and Paranormal Activity 2 (in theaters)
- And you can go back to years past and still check out my scariest movie moments and Erika’s Five Scariest Movies (aka, the ONLY Scary Movies she’s seen)