I get asked often what my favorite horror films are. Being a lifelong fan of horror films, books, comics, and games- I have quite a few. So many, in fact, it's truly hard to list them all.
A lot of my answer will depend on my mood. Sometimes I'm in a zombie mood, sometimes it's slasher or werewolf... but one thing is for sure: I love horror films.
Over the years, horror films have influenced me, especially my work as a writer. I've written several books of the horror genre, interviewed people in the horror industry, and written numerous articles on films, books, and games. Some may consider me an expert on the subject, but I don't. I'm just a fan of the genre and happen to know some things about it. My work in the field doesn't make me any kind of expert at all. I just grew up loving horror films and, though I have a passion for films in general, horror seems to connect with me.
Our likes and tastes are all personal and subjective, which I feel makes us unique. We all don't like the same things, so telling other what we love and are passionate about can help turn someone onto something new. To me, discovering a horror film is just as fun as watching something familiar.
So, without further ado, here are some of my personal favorite films.
The Evil Dead (1981)
There's not much I can actually say about The Evil Dead. It spawned two sequels, a remake, and a television series. It's definitely a popular franchise.
My love for this film actually started with Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. I saw it first, when I was about 10 or 11. It's mixture of comedy and gore disturbed me. I didn't know how to take it. It was lunacy.
I fell in love.
I went back and found the first film and was stunned. Though it was light on humor, it was heavy on concept. It was disturbing, scary, gory, and charming. I knew it was a low budget film, but that added to the overall charm. It made me think that somewhere, someone made a movie they wanted to make and it didn't cost them a ton of money. It made me really think about filmmaking and how things could be achieved without much money.
As a filmmaker, this was one of those films that I kept in the back of my mind, From the insane camera work, to the practical makeup fx, to the inventive concept, The Evil Dead is definitely one of my favorite horror films. Though I have a special place in my heart for the sequel, and may even like it just a little bit better, the original pulls no punches and is something to behold for fans of the genre.
Fright Night (1985)
To me, there's no better vampire film than Fright Night. When I was about 8 or 9, my mom let me watch this one. She "edited" a nude scene out, but let me watch the rest of it. To me, it was scary, funny, and had such an amazing concept, it became my favorite Vampire film of all time.
Do I like other Vampire flicks? Sure. I love Hammer Horror's Dracula films, Bram Stoker's Dracula, From Dusk Till Dawn, and many more. Vampire films are fun. Even the more comedic ones like What We Do in the Shadows can add to the lore of the undead.
But Fright Night holds a special place in my heart. One of my favorite films of all time, this take on a vampire moving next door to a teenager and nobody believing him is simply genius. It's a fresh take, and one we've seen several times since.
Not only is the cast great, including a phenomenal performance from Roddy McDowall, the script, makeup fx, and directing is top-notch. It was also great to be able to pick the writer\director's brain a few years back and ask questions I've had since I first saw it in 1985. Tom Holland delivered a masterclass in vampire horror and this is one film that takes the vampire lore to the next level.
A Nightmare on Elm St. 3: The Dream Warriors (1987)
I know this sounds odd, but I like this installment more than the first film. I love A Nightmare on Elm Street so much, but something about the third movie in the franchise just connects with me.
To me, Freddy was a bully and this was the film that the kids started really fighting back and trying to overcome. That concept always hit a chord with me, especially since I, too, was bullied as a child. So, there was something cathartic about watching teens that had things in common with me, fight their tormentor.
On the surface The Dream Warriors is just another sequel, but to me, it's when Freddy really developed into the pop culture icon he is today. It's the moment when Freddy transcended the horror genre and was literally everywhere. He was on shirts, games, posters, and even music videos. Freddy Krueger seemed to be on every television channel you could imagine.
This was the film that Freddy Krueger became Freddy Krueger. On top of that, the plot is actually really, really good. The cast is great and the concept this time around really elevated the franchise to new places, setting it up to become what it eventually became. A lot rested on this sequel and it delivered in spades.
Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)
Here's an unpopular opinion: Halloween 3 is a great film.
This is the film that actually went in the direction the Halloween franchise was supposed to go. Each film was supposed to be a completely new story. Halloween 2 (my favorite Michael Myers installment) killed that idea. When Halloween 3 tried to course correct the original concept of anthology films, it fell flat. People just expected Michael Myers. Personally, I think they should have named it: Season of the Witch or Season of the Witch: Halloween 3.
The concept of this film is dark. A group of witches (and warlocks) want to sacrifice as many children as they can on Halloween. How? By installing a chip into scary masks that will murder kids at a specific time through a television signal. It's kind of a brilliant concept, and one I believe was ahead of its time.
Halloween 3 is not a perfect movie by any means. It can come across as cheesy now, but I still love it. It was actually the first of the franchise I saw as a kid. At the time, I thought scary masks killing people was terrifying, but I loved it! It's one movie I enjoy watching every year.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
To me, this is the ultimate werewolf movie. Some may say that goes to The Howling or the original Wolfman, but this one is it for me.
Not only is this movie scary, it's sad and humerous. It's an emotional roller coaster that's so well written, there's not a character onscreen that doesn't tug at your heart in one way or another.
Whenever I hear the word werewolf, I think of this film. From the first time I watched it, I knew I was seeing something truly inventive and special. And, to this day, there has never been a werewolf transformation scene even come close to topping this one.
An American Werewolf in London is, to me, the pinnacle of werewolf films. There hasn't been anything since to even deliver anything close to what this film gives the viewer.
John Landis was the perfect choice to helm this film, as he brings his signature wit and charm to the script and characters, while taking the werewolf genre to new heights, offering a unique and long-lasting take on the creature.
If you haven't seen this classic film, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately. You won't regret it one bit!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
What strikes me most about this movie to this very day is the fact that something like this absolutely could happen. That's the scariest thing to me. You're minding your business and then out of nowhere, you're pulled into a bizarre nightmare of horrifying torture and death.
Again, this film could actually happen. I find that terrifying.
I originally saw this film when I was about 10 years old. Can you imagine? It's a gruelling experience. The intensity of this film is off the charts. It's psychotic, insane, and completely bizarre.
The concept of a family that catch, torture, and kill random people is just crazy. That's the thing that still sticks with me to this day. Sure, it's based on the serial killer story of Ed Gein, but it takes things to a whole new level.
Tobe Hooper set the bar with this film, a flick that has imitated, sequelized, and remade several times over. That's a testament to the originality of this film, one to this day is an 83 minute nightmare.
When I think of this movie, I can't help but think of how influential it truly is. It basically developed its own sub-genre of horror films, which is a feat not often done.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Sure, Night of the Living Dead kicked off what we all know as the modern-day zombie genre, but I have a special love for Dawn of the Dead.
To me, this may be my favorite zombie film of all time. I love others (Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead, etc.), but this one may be the cream of the crop.
I love the shopping mall aspect with the consumerism theme laying below the surface. I love the gore, the plot, the characters, and the direction. It's not only a scary film (the opening will make your jaw drop), but it's one that makes you think.
I believe that having layers in a film, even if they're subtle, is a great thing. Making you think and ponder subjects such as consumerism or materialism in a horror film are genius. On top of that, the theme of racism and misogyny sprinkled in add a depth that not many horror films can even attempt. Dawn of the Dead succeeds on all fronts.
The second film in George Romero's dead franchise, Dawn of the Dead makes its mark with an original setting, over the top gore, solid characters, and themes that stick with you long after the credits roll. If you're looking for a great zombie flick, look no further.
Just to name a few more, there's more horror films on my list of favorites:
Maximum Overdrive, The Exorcist, The Shining, Creepshow, Shaun of the Dead, The Lost Boys, Tourist Trap, Friday the 13th Part 4, Cemetery Man, The Thing, House of 1,000 Corpses, Jaws, Phantasm, and many, many more.
There's so many horror films on my favorites list, it really depends on the mood I'm in. While I went into detail on seven of them, there's so many more I love and consider a favorite.
There's a lot of films that have influenced my writing, which I wrote an entry on a couple of years ago, but when it comes down to just watching one of my favorites for fun, there may be too many to name.
One thing is for certain though, whatever horror movies you're into, there's definitely something out there for you. Keep your eyes open, read people's favorite lists, and see what's around. You never know... the next one you see may just become your next favorite horror film.
Stephen J. Semones