What classifies a movie as “horror”? Is it that it makes our stomach flip into our throat in surprise? Is it that it burrows into our psyche like a parasite and stays with us, like a smell we can’t wash off? Or, perhaps, it’s that in a possible, not entirely distant reality, we realize that the events we are choosing to be entertained by aren’t all that far-fetched? What makes the listed films so potent, and the audience’s reaction to them so visceral, is the fact that no one is immune. The genuinely horrific display we’ve paid money to sit down and witness could very well happen to any one of us.
Each of the selected films has its own unique method of making the viewer squirm. Be it outright gore, fraught anticipation that leads to the mother of all jumps scares, or the psychological implications we are being forced to consider as we journey through the story alongside the characters, these movies bang on the door of our worst fears and nightmares and demand to be let in. They are able to touch the delicate nerve deep within and whisper to our subconscious just how unsafe we might be. This selection of films takes the mystique out of the horror genre and makes horror real in a way that, once we’ve been stirred by it, we are hard-pressed to wipe our minds clean of it.
Devil’s Pond, Starring Kip Pardue and Tara Reid, is a straight to video romance turned violent escape thriller begins with two young lovers, Mitch and Julianne, freshly married and going away for some alone time at a lake cottage in complete seclusion. Sounds like a relaxing, intimate start to a life together, right? Unfortunately for Reid’s character Julianne, Mitch has some frightening ulterior motives and a disturbing end-game. Experience Mitch’s descent into madness, and Julianne’s desperate attempt to regain her freedom at your own risk.
Based on the 2006 book by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is a bare bones, hopeless trudge through what used to be America after an unknown catastrophe has left the land barren and the people savage. We witness the two main characters, “Man” and “boy”, make their way across the wasteland that once was the U.S.A., barely surviving the elements and what is left of humanity. This film isn’t classed as “horror”. However, it is one that does not shy away from the “horrific”, leaving the viewer with a heaviness that follows.
Upon his release from prison, main character Henry murders indiscriminately. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is an example of the blood, guts, and gore staple of the horror genre. After all, the opening scene displays a blood-spattered female, contorted in an unnatural way, eyes wide open, yet lacking any life left in them. Often, horror is equated with suspense and boogey-men in masks. However, Henry shows us the monster without a mask who doesn’t care to hide. He simply exacts his murderous plans and moves on to the next stop and pool of victims. He greets each new interaction with a level of indifference that can be jarring.
Steve and Jenny are in love and fiercely devoted to one another. Steve whisks Jenny away to the countryside to propose. Unfortunately, a group of local, violent teenagers decide the couple is nothing more than fodder for their twisted rage games. This grisly depiction of cat and mouse does not falter in its effort to display every blood-soaked, adrenaline-rushed moment of terror the couple is forced to endure. Set in backcountry England, Eden Lake is one of a handful of films that employed the theme of “Broken Britain” to address the unease that was growing at the time surrounding the types youths depicted therein. This is not a solid choice for horror fans who enjoy the story wrapped up nice and tidy at the end.
What is it about the outdoors that makes for the most unnerving settings? Whether it’s a lake, or the woods, it’s inevitable that a sense of dread is no doubt going to come pouring in. Killing Ground is no exception. Told through the lens of a camping trip gone terribly wrong, this misadventure into the wild provides all of the fraught nerve-ending live-wire energy we’re accustomed to in a slasher flick, and no relief in sight from it. From the heart-wrenching gut punch that comes from the main characters finding a lost toddler alone in the wilderness, to the absolute gore-fest that ensues, Killing Ground is relentless.
Evoking both the terrifying aspects of the “incel” movement, which is sadly gaining more traction, along with images and memories of fans who took their “love” for their favorite celebrity too far (e.g., Yolanda Saldivar in regard to Selena Quintanilla Perez and Robert John Bardo in regard to Rebecca Schaeffer), Be My Cat: A Film for Anne nose dives into horrifying fanatic territory. Inspired by her turn as Catwoman in Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, filmmaker Adrian Tofei has compiled “found footage” in his effort to get actress Anne Hathaway to work with him. In this he has managed to bring complete unease and all-out creepiness. Be My Cat is the first in Tofei’s trilogy, followed by We Put the World to Sleep and Pure.
Revenge horror. One of the most satisfying for audiences since the hunter becomes the hunted. What happens when a typically docile family is pushed to the brink? In The Last House on the Left, We get a front row seat to the debaucherous lengths a mother and father will go to when it comes to the gang members unwittingly squatting in their house after having left their daughter for dead. This remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 masterpiece of the same name leaves nothing to the imagination when a parent’s worst nightmares – followed by their most undeniable parental instincts – have come out to play.
Inspired in part by the Manson Family Tate murders, The Strangers is a chilling exploration of isolation and paranoia that will leave viewers checking and double checking their locks. Kristen and James have planned a quiet, romantic getaway after a rejected marriage proposal has left them disconnected. Instead of the peaceful solitude they anticipated, however, they are met with a gruesome disruption. Classed as a psychological thriller, we can’t look away as we watch them both question each other’s and their own state of mind until it becomes all too clear that neither were on the slack side of sanity. Another option that leaves the viewer wanting for an understandable resolution, this film is not for the already anxious.
A remake of the 1978 film of the same name, I Spit on Your Grave holds nothing back and is unerringly brutal. Jennifer is a novelist who decides to rent a remote cabin for privacy while she works. She has the grave misfortune of running into a group of men with no qualms about sexually assaulting and killing her. She narrowly escapes their grasp and turns the tables in a most graphic and unforgiving way. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself unable to stomach some of the more graphic scenes. There is no grace permitted here.
The Girl Next Door is perhaps one of the most difficult to view as it centers on a young lady, Meg, left in her Aunt Ruth’s care after the death of her, and her sister Susan’s parents. It is indeed horrific in that it spares nothing in displaying the vile and unrelenting cruelty inflicted upon Meg, not only by her aunt, but by her cousins and the neighborhood boys at Aunt Ruth’s insistence. If you are a parent, this may be a particularly difficult watch for you. The film is based on the tragic murder of Sylvia Likens and is dedicated to her memory.
While the horror genre may at times be designed to titillate or provide a campy, fun jump scare or two, there are certain films that cut right to the quick and leave us wondering. Like the pictures listed here, this specific niche of horror is indeed difficult to watch as it taps into that intentionally quieted section of our minds that reminds us, we never really are safe from our fellow man’s worst inclinations. What we are more accurately in danger from is the indifference, or the outright malice that may just be hiding behind a friendly face, or the guise of romantic partnership, or nature herself. Whether it’s the elements that seem out to get us, or those people we’ve so innocently chosen to surround ourselves with, we can never be too sure or too careful. Therein lies the true terror.