I got the idea for this post from Fringe Void, who made a similar list of eight films, and they in turn got it from Horrific Healing’s list of ten. I thought it was such a great topic, especially since those of us who live for horror movies are always being asked for recommendations from people who don’t watch a lot of horror movies. I began with the intention of making a list of ten introductory horror films, but I got a little carried away. This list goes to eleven; also, I’ve included an alternate choice for each entry that will satisfy the niche each movie fills. Enjoy, and give me your choices in the comments. Or, make your own list and keep this thing going.
Fulci’s Zombie is my favorite movie about gut-munching undead. It’s just about the red stuff. Chances are, if someone wants a gateway into horror, they’re not looking to engage their brains. Have you ever seen a big screen showing of Zombie? It’s disgusting, especially when the main characters walk into the doctor’s house and find a buffet of the doctor’s wife in the living room. I almost had to look away. This one boasts two iconic scenes: the eyeball gouge and the zombie fighting a shark. Alternate take: Dead Alive
I’m including The Serpent and the Rainbow because I feel it is an overlooked movie by a prominent horror director. A newbie might come to Craven’s work through the Scream series or the Nightmare series, and would probably not think to watch Serpent. But for classic 80s fast paced, visually engaging, infinitely re-watchable horror, nothing beats this one for me. It’s over the top in a wonderful way. Alternate take: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness
Deep Red was my introduction to the giallo and, while it wasn’t the first Italian horror film I saw, it was the first one I became obsessed with. While Deep Red follows the giallo convention of having the main character who isn’t a detective try to solve the murders, it also includes supernatural elements to make things more intriguing. The only trouble with this being someone’s first giallo is that they might expect all giallos to be well-written and make sense! Alternate take: Torso
A top actress, creepy kids, masterful use of black and white shadows, and a work of classic literature combine to make The Innocents the perfect haunted house movie. And, of course, the question of whether the house is truly haunted or if the protagonist is just crazy is never resolved. If you’re going to watch horror movies, you have to learn to appreciate ambiguity! Alternate take: Hour of the Wolf
One entry on this list had to represent the early 80s slasher, because for many people, the slasher is horror. Prom Night fulfills all the requirements. You have a tragedy that takes place several years before the main part of the film, a bitch, a prank, a love triangle, kids trying to (or trying not to) lose their virginity, pot smoking, and bad disco dancing. What more could you want? Don’t step on the decapitated head! Alternate take: The Burning
Carnival of Souls is my favorite entry into the “dead the whole time” subgenre. Also, you can’t learn anything about horror movies without accepting the fact that sometimes they cost about $3.50, yet manage to work anyway. Director Herk Harvey hired unknowns, including himself, and came up with a movie that regularly lands on best of classic horror lists and got ridiculed by a Mike Nelson riff. Something for everyone! Alternate take: Two Thousand Maniacs!
Without pathos, horror is nothing but special effects. The Wolf Man is a great example of a tragedy horror. Lon Chaney Jr.’s character is so hopeful, so affable, so happy to be in England…and so doomed. It gets me every time. Alternate take: An American Werewolf in London
Combine the team of Cushing and Lee with everyone’s favorite Romanian count and you have the perfect Hammer horror film. As a bonus, we also have on hand the most underrated man in horror, Michael Gough. Alternate take: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Essentially, 1959’s Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan is the origin story of that ubiquitous Japanese ghost lady with the long black hair who is coming to get you. Adapted from a 19th century Kabuki play, which is turn is based on Chinese folklore, this version of Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan is considered the best cinematic version of the play. Of course, this ghostly archetype didn’t really become popular in the West until The Ring, which is why we’ll go with an alternate take of Ringu. For educational purposes.
I mentioned ambiguity above with The Innocents, but I’m prescribing another dose of it. A Tale of Two Sisters makes you question your own sanity by the end of the film, which is always a trip. Or maybe I’m just nuts. Anyway, this film is a great intro to the wonders of Korean horror. Alternate take: R-Point
I’m looking at The Exorcist as an intro to satanic horror, and as a movie that transcends the horror genre. I can only think of one movie in this subgenre that equals (or maybe surpasses) The Exorcist in quality, so I’m suggesting an alternate take of Rosemary’s Baby.