Horror hasn’t always been about blood and guts being spilled. Perhaps some fans would define the “best” horror that way, but for me the best is whatever makes me feel fear. From a historical perspective, certain types of films have been prominent, also highlighting real life and fears of the time (EXAMPLE. alien invasion and nuclear war).
I’m sure this can, has and will always be debated, but being a horror fan to me, means appreciating, enjoying and being entertained by horror no matter what era it comes from.
HOW TELEVISION HAS CHANGED
Television has changed immensely since the 1950s. That and movie theaters were once the only way to view horror. Television and the edited versions from the theater with commercials added. Soon, came cable TV and soon premium channels like HBO (1972) to break up the ABC, NBC, CBS and independent model.
In 1975 the ability to record TV and then fast forward through the commercials via Betamax (eventually replaced by VHS and then DVD and then Bluray and then UHD) and then, wow, the ability to buy and watch the movies with no commercials.
And then in the 1990s the internet changed everything with TV again.
Today, my TV is getting the content not via antenna over the air or via cable, it’s all coming through the internet. Streaming channels have broken up and divided the massive movie libraries and distribute movies on a rotating cycle (some licenses are here, then there, then there, and then back here, and so on).
BUYING MOVIES HAS CHANGED, TOO
There was a time when we bought and collected DVDs like crazy. We built a library of over 700 movies before we stopped, realizing new, better formats would always be coming out, thus making our current library inferior format (and they did — Bluray, UHD, 4k, soon to be 8k and who knows what else is coming!).
Ang Lee just filmed Gemini Man⭐️⭐️ that few can even see in the native format, and only a small, few theaters can come close to screening. There arent’ any home players or televisions that can view the native format yet, either.
There will be. And in 5-10 years, what Ang Lee used to make his film will not be bleeding edge. There will be something new. Perhaps even in a few years when James Cameron rolls out all his new Avatar sequels.
At some point I realized there is a technology treadmill that I was working to buy the same content in a better format. And, so I’ve mostly stopped the neverending hamster wheel of buying content and focused more on only buying the heavily rewatchable movies. That list is much, much smaller. Those movies I’ll rebuy in better formats and/or just buy to stream for convenience wherever there is an internet connection.
Back to eras. The different eras.
So how are “classics” being defined? Any movie produced in the 1960s and earlier.
1960s and earlier
The era of Hitchcock’s superb movies Psycho and The Birds are classics. Horror in the classics era wasn’t about gore and blood, although there were some bloody horror movies. Depending on how far back we go in time, it was more about the creature, monster, the psychotic killer. Why did they kill and when were they killing vs. showing very much of how the killing occurred. An argument could be made that this type of “leave the details up to the viewer’s imagination remain the most frightening.
1970s – 1980s
In my era growing up, the 1970s and 1980s, John Carpenter’s Halloween and Friday the 13th were the “new” horror and sequels to these films could be expected at somewhat predictable intervals (every few year on Halloween, another Halloween movie). We enjoyed Stephen King and a wide variety of slasher films as fodder for nightmares, it’s the original classic films that jump started my first interest and excitement in horror movies. Showing more graphic gory kills began in these two eras, while in the past the horror was less visual and more psychological.
Then came the 1990s, the torture, game and birth of amateur/found footage horror era. The cringe horror era which seemed to focus more on self-mutilation at the hands of some sadistic mastermind (Saw) and/or a bunch of strangers brought together to figure out how they got to some strange place (Cube). Slasher mashups with mystery and horror (Scream). More of a thinking scary type of horror here. Creative ways to maim and kill people highlighted.
2000s – current
In 2000s and forward we’ve seen more technology/internet horror as well as a continued resurgence in reboots and remakes and more found footage and amateur film “real” horror. I would challenge this era among the weakest and least scary of innovative horror types.
I liked what Rob Zombie tried to do when rebooting Halloween, but it isn’t (and probably can’t be) as good as the original. It might take 100+ years before any worthwhile reboot/remake could be done with any great success. They are trying with Chucky. I think the continuation of sequels, like they’re doing with Halloween is a better path. It’s tough remaking horror when the original — the strong feeling and emotion of the original — burns fresh in the mind of people still alive.
Horror “Best Of” Lists Compiled by Others
- Famous directors pick their favorite horror film
- Horror movies that audiences loved and critics hated
- The 100 Best Horror Movies of All time by Paste Magazine
- Lamag.com list of controversial horror movies
- 2019 Horror Movies Worst To Best by Rotten Tomatoes, also see clonable Letterboxd list
- Shudder.com 31 Days of Halloween Viewing Guide for 2019 (post featured by us here)
- 30 Great Eat-The-Rich Horror Movies, via Vulture
- Cinemablend looks forward to Anticipated 2020 Horror Movies
- Best Horror Movies on Netflix in October 2019, via Polygon
- Best Original TV Horror Shows To Stream Right Now (October 2019), via PCMag