It’s no coincidence that as daylight wanes, we celebrate our fear of the dark. From ghost stories on the cave wall all the way through to the multiplex, humans have told tales in the dark to elicit chills, thrills and the occasional cuddle. Film has been deeply in love with things that go bump in the night from the beginning.
From a business perspective, horror movies are almost always a good idea. They always make money. Even with almost every other genre wobbling on creaky legs, horror has still managed to dish out successful classics such as It Follows, The Witch and The Babadook in the last few years. Claustrophobic sets, low lighting and a preference for younger actors means that a horror movie can often be made for a lot less than a standard Hollywood picture. And often that sparseness can translate into quality. (As even Steven Spielberg admits, Jaws is a much better movie because the shark had to be used sparingly due to mechanical problems.)
Even as adults stay away from the theaters in droves, a good horror movie can still drive teenagers to the multiplex. And adults for their part do like a scary movie, but now it’s from the comfort of their own couches. Whether that’s for the thrills or the cuddling, I’ll let you decide.
While genre conventions can lead to repetition and formula, the best horror movies work because they serve as a mirror to our anxieties. The nuclear age produced countless mutation movies. The Cold War gave us paranoid thrillers like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s no coincidence that The Exorcist is set in Washington during the heights of the Nixon administration. Post 9/11 horror saw a boom in what was called “torture porn.” To truly scare an audience, you have to grab them by their anxieties and never let go.
So, as we get closer to Halloween, drinking our pumpkin spice lattes and inhaling individually wrapped miniature candy bars, click here for 13 spectacularly spooky films to watch with your friends or significant other.
Astute readers will recognize the steps from The Exorcist in the article illustration. The image is not a lost outtake from the film, but rather a dramatic recreation of a key scene by the author.