Prologue to the Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films

Bela Lugosi as Dracula
Bela Lugosi brought Dracula to the stage and screen.

The past few years I have counted down my 100 favorite horror films on Facebook in a run up to Halloween. Horror films and literature are my chosen forms of entertainment. I have been a fan of Halloween, horror, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, werewolves, mummies, science gone wrong, and anything and everything that goes bump in the night since I was a kid. I grew up on Hammer Horror, Universal monsters, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, local Chiller Theater, Commander USA, Night Gallery and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The 1970s were the golden years for horror films and you’ll find many of the films from my countdown were made in the 70s.

This year I am bringing the countdown to The Jerry Project blog. Starting Thursday, Oct.1, I’ll feature three movies per day and tell you why I like them or what my personal connection is to the film.

I have a theory. I don’t think I am the first to posit this because I am pretty sure I got the basis from someone or something else.

I think horror movies reflect what we, as a society, are afraid of at any given time. There is one thing that seems to persist throughout the horror film genre that transcends time. But I’ll get to that one later.

When horror movies began in the 1920s, they were silent and prime examples of expressionism in many cases. Dracula became Nosferatu’s Count Orlock without permission from the Stoker estate and almost every copy was destroyed in a copyright fight won by the Stoker estate. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a wonderful example of German expressionism, explored the concepts of the unconscious mind and mind control. An early shot at The Call of Cthulhu was taken. These things explored two familiar concepts to the new moviegoer – Gothic horror and the unknown. We’ll always fear the unknown. I think it’s human nature. Technology seems to have made us a bit more adventurous.

The 1930s brought Gothic horror to the big screen in a big way. Universal gave us Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf Man – and all of the sequels. Again, familiar concepts but never before seen larger than life on screen. Masterful performances by Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Boris Karloff brought these characters to life for the first time. Moviegoers were afraid as their literary nightmares leaped off the screen.

“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make.” – Bela Lugosi as Dracula

The 1940s brought World War II and a void in horror films. War was horrific enough. “Horror” films became lighter, comedic as Abbott and Costello took their turns warding off Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster…and even the Mummy.

The 1950s ushered in the nuclear age and now we were afraid of the Russians, communists and giant bugs. Anything to do with radiation, we were scared out of our minds. Giant ants, tarantulas, octopus, numerous manners of sea creatures terrorized the country while the government and their top minds plotted solutions. We also developed a fear of creatures descending upon the Earth from outer space.

TarantulaThe late 1950s and 1960s brought all kinds of hell as Hammer resurrected the Gothic horror films of Universal from the 1930s. Free love, drug experimentation and the Vietnam conflict meant experimentation in Hollywood. The 1960s saw the rise of the satanic cult movie, numerous new horror concepts, monstrous babies, haunted house rivals, ZOMBIES, and more. George Romero introduced us and crafted the modern zombie in The Night of the Living Dead. We were afraid of a lot of the things in the 60s and the movies reflected it.

The 1970s began to define the genre as we see it today. Vampire films took on a new eroticism; the slasher film became a thing, Fear of outer space became claustrophobic and personal and demonic possession was perfected on screen. A shift started to happen in the 70s. We started to become afraid of the human monster. In many regards these monsters were transformative creatures, half human, half something else.

The 1980s really saw the slasher film take off. Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees became household names. These franchises endure today. There were plenty of creature in the woods films but the human monster really started to take shape. Familiar monsters reappeared as the always do – vampires, werewolves and the like. Moviegoers were finally exposed to Clive Barker.

The 1990s brought us more encounters with witchcraft, demons and the devil – more familiar concepts. More creatures reigned terror down on us from outer space. Japanese hauntings were imported and remade. The 1990s resembled the 1960s, we seemed to be afraid of a great many things and again, Hollywood reflected this.

The 2000s took the human monster to a new level. The Saw and Hostel franchises introduced us to a new term – torture porn. Director Eli Roth represents a new breed of horror director. He seems to have a foot in two worlds as he explores new frights and revisits old. Giant monsters come back around every decade but it’s the human monster where we are now. The depths of depravity and suffering one human being is capable of visiting upon another seem to have no bottom.

It’s important to note that the one monster, the one creature, that seems to have a place in every decade is the vampire. The one overarching character is Dracula – one of the most sinister, evil, ruthless, characters every imagined.

The two things we are still afraid of are science and the unknown. Both go hand in hand sometimes. These two themes permeate every decade of horror movies. Frankenstein was as much science fiction as it was horror – perhaps the first science fiction story written. The darkness, internal and external, the unknown, the things that go bump in the night – those things will always scare us and make for great horror movie fodder. Science, well, as long as there is belief in an all-mighty God and as long as there are scientists, there will be conflict here. Science gone wrong is a fun place to explore the horror movie genre as it crosses over into science fiction.

I love it all. True, I prefer Gothic horror. But I love anything that is capable of scaring me, frightening me, making me jump, making my skin crawl or say out loud, “holy shit.” This is my time of year. I love fall and I do so love Halloween. So, my blog readers, I do hope you enjoy the countdown, which begins in two days and remember…

…It’s only a movie.

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