Without question, horror is my favourite genre of film. Regular readers (hi Dad) will know that I tend to get deeply invested into new hobbies for around six weeks, but watching horror movies is one of those things that’s been a part of me for a long time now. It’s not been consigned to the scrap heap just yet.

I think I was probably first hooked to horror by The Blair Witch Project when I was about twelve years old. There had been a rumour around my school that the movie was a real documentary and that the actors had been missing since it’s release, so when I watched it for the first time and saw the events surrounding their disappearance, I absolutely pooed my pants.

Basement scene from The Blair Witch Project 1999
The Blair Witch Project – The scene often replayed in my teenaged nightmares

I quickly became fascinated by the feeling of being terrified. I guess it was cathartic to be scared of something that couldn’t actually hurt you. What ‘terrifying’ means to me has changed over the years, but initially, it was spooky ghosts and jump scares. Worth mentioning at this point there will be spoilers throughout this post.

One of my favourite scary films as a young teenager was House On Haunted Hill, a movie about strangers competing for $1m each if they could spend one night in a haunted lunatic asylum. I probably watched it about a dozen times and the ending always shat me up; there was something petrifying about the way the evil spirit of the house consumed everything in its path. I would later learn this evil spirit was called ‘The Darkness’, a fact which caused the movie to somewhat lose it’s scariness around 2003.

House On Haunted Hill villain, The Darkness
The Darkness – I Believe In A Thing Called 90’s CGI

Another banger from this era is Cube. It might not be a traditional horror movie and the acting is pretty atrocious, but the premise is brilliant. For those of you who haven’t seen it; a handful of strangers wake up in a cube-shaped room. They eventually learn they’re imprisoned in a giant trap, consisting of thousands of individual rooms which move around one another in a seemingly random order, making escape nearly impossible. Some rooms are booby trapped. People die in a gruesome ways.

It’s one of those movies that get their horror from asking you ‘what would you do in this situation?’. I watched Cube again recently and found it pretty entertaining, but the CGI has aged awfully. Still, worth a watch if you’ve got 90 minutes free.

Throughout my teens I worked my way through the classics; the likes of Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and Evil Dead. I’ve got great respect for these movies but they’re not really my cup of tea.

Whilst definitely entertaining, ground-breaking, and no doubt inspiring many of the films I love, they each possess a certain campness that I’m not a huge fan of. With the exception of The Thing, I think I’m just not a fan of overt-the-top practical effects in horror movies, even though artists have done some incredible things for the genre.

Freddie Kruger from Nightmare On Elm Street
Freddie – Edward Scissorhands’ less-friendly brother

Good horror to me now, is; great acting, situational dread, good characters, subtlety, and depth. It’s also not relying on cheap jump scares. A director that does this better than anyone at the moment is Ari Aster.

His most recent film, Midsommar, is two and half hours of slowly-accumulating terror and it’s absolutely magnificent. Arguably, it’s not a horror film, it’s a break up movie. But the way Aster tells the story and juxtaposes beautifully lit, gorgeously coloured shots with a nearly overwhelming soundtrack (in particular the strings at the end of the prologue and the eerie vocal harmonies of the Hårga choir) and a crippling sense of isolation makes it an incredible watch. Also, Florence Pugh’s performance is Oscar-worthy.

Will Poulter in Midsommar
Face/Off (2019)

When I saw Aster’s first movie, Hereditary, I was blown away too. There are so many scenes that give me goosebumps it’s hard to recount them all, but a couple that particularly stick with me are the reflection scene in the school and the finale. It’s been called divisive because people don’t like the ending, but I totally bought into it and loved it. If you haven’t seen it, watch it.

Unlike Midsommar, it’s definitely a horror movie, but just like Midsommar, it’s got so much depth to it that I spent hours over the following few days reading through the fan theories, hidden details, and subtleties that I missed, and then went back and watched it again. Hereditary is deserving of a place in my top three of all time, as is Midsommar. 

Hereditary flaming man scene
Hereditary – just one of the scenes that give me chills

Number one though, is of course, The Shining. Ari Aster has made two incredibly good movies, but I’m not sure anyone will ever touch Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. I don’t think I can say anything that hasn’t already been said about this film, so if you’re interested in learning about just how deep this film goes, I’d recommend setting aside a few hours and getting stuck into YouTube.

If you haven’t seen The Shining and you like good movies, just give it a go, even if you don’t normally like horror. This isn’t a film that’s full of jump scares, nor is it not overly gory, it’s just an enthralling piece of cinema that has so much to offer and one that, I promise, will leave an impact on you for days and days afterward.

The Shining man in bear costume scene
The Man In The Bear Costume (The Shining, not Midsommar)

Like a lot of other things, I obsess over horror films. Spending hours researching films after I’ve seen them probably puts me squarely in the bracket of Film Nerd but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m looking forward to seeing Robert Eggers’ ‘The Lighthouse’ next (when it gets a UK release), he’s another modern horror director that’s up there with Ari Aster, in my opinion. 

For anyone that’s interested, here’s a list of other films I’d recommend if you want good horror.

  • The Babadook
  • Cabin In The Woods
  • Carrie (1976)
  • The Descent
  • Event Horizon
  • It (2018)
  • It Follows
  • Lake Mungo
  • Misery
  • Paranormal Activity
  • Saw
  • Train To Busan
  • The Witch (2015)
  • Wolf Creek

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