A few months back I set a poll on one of my sites which asked horror fans to rate their top ten horror movies of all time. In this article I list the movies and explain what makes horror fans rate them so highly.
Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho terrifies audiences because it is an exploration of insanity which concludes that anyone, even the sane, can become insane and suffer terrible consequences.
The powerful theme in Alien is one of disease. The crew aboard a futuristic space vessel become infected by an alien species and hunted down in grisly fashion. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Alien is the theme it shares with Psycho: Evil is inside of us and, thus, cannot be easily escaped.
The Shining (1980)
Almost every college campus bedroom has the poster of Jack Nicholson peering through a recently-axed bathroom window, grinning in his uniquely iconic, maniacal manner. This easily deserves to be one of the top 10 horror movies of all time. Derived from the book by Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece is a haunting look at insanity and claustrophobia, as the Wife and Son of Jack Torrence are mentally abused and later on hunted down by him in a remote hotel called The Overlook. What perhaps scares us most here is the possibility that our trusted loved ones can become our worst enemies.
In Aliens we see Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) return with a rescue team to a colony where she must do battle with yet more aliens. No one believes her, of course, until it is too late and both herself and the other crew members are besieged by dozens of drooling, toothy beings. It is the claustrophobic settings here, more than the Aliens, that we find most scary.
Les Diaboliques (1955)
A boarding school headmaster is murdered by his mistress and wife who has a weak heart. They submerge his corpse in their school's swimming pool but, upon being brained, th e body has disappeared. What ensues are scenes of suspense that slowly turn the murderers insane with tension. This movie is painful and terrifying to watch as we, unwillingly, must become the killers and share their fears. Although it is one of the top 10 horror movies of all time, I would say it is - possibly - the best suspense movie of all time.
Amity Island has everything: beautiful beaches, warm weather, friendly inhabitants . . . oh, and a fifteen-foot killer great white shark! This is the original summer block buster known to all movie-goers. The theme here is man against nature. What terrifies most about Jaws is the uncompromising monster. He will not be reasoned with, he will not stop eating, and you will not escape his teeth, even if you're an expert shark fisherman. In this film only the lucky survive.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
This horror movie takes up where Frankenstein left off. Frankenstein and his monster are both stil l alive. The crazy Dr Pretorius kidnaps Frankenstein's wife and blackmails him to create another monster to become bride to the original abomination. With grave-digging, decaying corpses, re-animated living tissues, and the terrifying theme that man should not play God, this is a truly terrifying tale.
The Thing (1982)
In a remote Antarctic station, an expedition of American scientists encounters a dog, being perused by a helicopter which crashes. That same night the dog attacks both dogs and scientists and soon a shape-changing entity is loose among the survivors. The notion that evil lurks within those we trust is explored here to terrifying affect.
King Kong (1933)
When original audiences watched King Kong many of them literally ran screaming up the isles. Never had a monster been so realistically portrayed.
The Exorcist (1973)
In the Exorcist we are confronted by the ultimate evil: The Devil and his minions. Unlike serial killers or gh osts, Satan seems invincible; success feels hopeless. This terrifying film was made shocking by the use of blasphemy, a child becoming possessed and spouting obscene language; and the weakness of Good (namely an alcoholic priest) in the face of purest evil.
The top 10 horror movies of all time will, of course, change in the future, but - perhaps - the themes will remain the same. We will always be scared of inner evils (insanity), invincible evils (nature and the Devil), and monsters, of all shapes and sizes, will likely still prove to entertain and terrify!