I watch a lot of horror movies.
Like, an obscene amount of them. More than any five or six normal people you know.
I’ve loved horror since I was old enough to know what movies, or love, or horror, are. It began when I was eight years old, sneaking downstairs after my parents had gone to sleep to watch the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Alone. In the dark. Huddled as close to the TV as possible due to the volume being turned down low so I didn’t wake them. I was terrified to go to sleep for weeks.
It was amazing.
I spent the rest of my childhood watching every horror movie I could get my hands on, and I’ve never really stopped since. And since Halloween is drawing close — the time of the year when those normal people tend to become interested in horror for a short while. So I figured I’d share some of that expertise and put together some themed lists of must-see horror movies.
Since these will be lists of the top five movies of all time in some subgenre of horror, there will likely be a lot of familiar classics on there. But there’s sure to be a few surprises.
This week’s theme? House-related horror movies. I didn’t go with flat out “haunted house” movies, for reasons that will become clearer later. And sure, there are plenty of other great movies that deserve to be on the list, but there just wasn’t room.
Some honorable mentions? Home invasion movies like The Strangers and You’re Next, as well as those haunted house movies like the original versions of The Amityville Horror, The Haunting and House on Haunted Hill (and also the remake of that last one), and even a cheesy, fun one like the one I grabbed the headline from, House. No Paranormal Activity movies — or found-footage movies of any kind — though. The only time I mention those, it’s followed quickly by throwing up in my mouth a little.
(Note: Every movie on each of these lists will be based on nothing else but my personal opinions. There is nothing objective about these lists at all. Everyone will disagree with them, which, good! Watch your favorites. Or try out my suggestions. It’s Halloween — just watch as many different horror movies as possible!)
So without further ado, my top 5 house-related horror movies:
5. The Cabin in the Woods (2012, rated R)
One of the best movies ever made, hands down.
Written by geniuses Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard in a mere three days and directed by Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods dissects not only the horror genre and all of its tropes, but also why horror fans enjoy the movies they do, in ways no other movie has ever even attempted. It came out at the height of the “meta” horror/comedy craze, and though there were plenty of quality entries, it put them all to shame.
Which is funny, given I can’t say much about its plot, as its very concept is a spoiler. Watching trailers for it is a mistake, because it gives part of the movie away — granted there are still plenty of surprises along the way. What I can say about the plot? A group of college students go on a vacation in a secluded cabin in the woods, and mayhem ensues. The movie takes that cliched premise, as well as every other horror trope known to man, and molds them all into a biting commentary on why we even watch these movies — all while remaining entertaining thanks to the great cast and funny writing. It’s hilarious, gory … and, at times, hilariously gory, and it’s a movie everyone that enjoys horror movies should see at least once in their lives.
So why is it so low on this list? Well, because it’s a stretch to fit here, even with me removing the “haunted house” stipulation. The cabin itself plays the tiniest of roles. It simply needed to be somewhere.
4. The Shining (1980, rated R)
To say that The Shining is a masterpiece is underselling the truth. Loosely based on Stephen King’s novel, writer/director Stanley Kubrick strips away most of the more supernatural aspects of the haunted hotel story and makes it more about one family’s isolation, and one man’s descent into madness.
That’s what most people say when they see this movie. They look at all of the things removed from King’s original work and talk about Jack Nicholson’s performance. But the haunting elements are still present. From Nicholson’s Jack Torrance’s conversations with various apparitions to his son Danny’s twin playmates — “forever and ever and ever” — there’s plenty of spooky things beyond only Crazy Jack.
But Crazy Jack is incredible. Nicholson gives arguably his best performance as Torrance, a man who takes his family to look after a massive secluded hotel for the winter while he writes a book. And I would say that, despite his many other terrific movies, this is easily Oscar Award-winner Kubrick’s best. The movie was so good that a 2012 documentary, Room 237, was made outlining various theories about what the movie was actually about. Whereas my first pick on this list is more fun and not really scary at all, there are genuine chills and frights to be found at the Overlook Hotel.
3. The House of the Devil (2009, rated R)
There is nothing fun about The House of the Devil.
Sure, it’s a throwback movie — released in 2009 yet set in the 1980s like the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, even filmed using a lot of the same techniques from that era, right down to the bold, bright-yellow font of the title screen. But where Stranger Things draws inspiration from more light-hearted fare like The Goonies or E.T., this movie has far more in common with Rosemary’s Baby or The Amityville Horror.
Writer/director Ti West crafted this movie as if it were an Edgar Allan Poe short story, with every word, every frame, every sound building toward one climactic moment. If any movie could ever be called a slow burn, this would be the one. The tension rises and rises throughout as cash-strapped college student Samantha — played outstandingly by Jocelin Donahue — takes a questionable babysitting job or a very strange couple and realizes, too late, that the house and couple are hiding a terrible secret.
With a cast of horror all-stars like Dee Wallace, Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov and with its retro production values, The House of the Devil stands as a modern classic while trying to emulate and pay homage to the classics of old. In fact, there may even be more of that style later in the list.
2. Poltergeist (1982, rated PG)
When most people think of haunted house movies, this is the one they think of. And for good reason.
There are simply too many iconic moments from the original Poltergeist to count. Directed by Tobe Hooper — who also directed another classic in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and written by Stephen Spielberg, Poltergeist earned three Oscar nominations. Horror movies don’t typically get that kind of attention, but that’s just how good the special effects and score were in this one.
The Freeling family notices some strange goings-on in its new house, and after their young daughter has a conversation with the television — “They’re here!” — they enlist every kind of paranormal help they can. The movie has something to frighten everyone, from creepy clown dolls to animated skeletons to a tree that I swear was the exact same tree that tapped on my bedroom windy every night when I was a kid. And since it was made before the PG-13 rating existed, Hooper and Spielberg appealed the movie’s original R rating and got it knocked down to PG — which it most certainly did not deserve. The movie is not for children.
There’s not much more I can say about this one. It’s a classic. It’s incredible. Everyone knows it and has probably already seen it.
1. We Are Still Here (2015, not rated)
I fully planned on putting Poltergeist here when I began this. It was a foregone conclusion. But as I rewatched We Are Still Here (which, as of this printing, is available on Netflix), I realized something.
This is just how much I love this movie. I’m willing to put it above even an absolute classic.
Sure, its premise is unoriginal — after a tragic loss, a couple moves to a new house in a remote area, only to discover the house and its surrounding town have a terrible secret. Its writing isn’t anywhere near as clever as a movie like Cabin in the Woods — in fact, it’s serviceable at best, and it doesn’t have anything deep or meaningful to say.
We Are Still Here doesn’t need to be anything more than it is, though. It’s a work of horrific art, plain and simple.
The movie was written by Ted Geoghegan, who also made his directorial debut, and stars another crop of well-known actors in the horror community, chief among them Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, You’re Next). But the biggest stars to me are the movie’s atmosphere and pacing. Its first act tricks you into thinking this will be another slow burn — everything is subtle and builds slowly. But things quickly escalate through the second act, and the climax, well, it’s one of the most satisfying I’ve ever witnessed in a horror movie.
Which, after also citing Cabin in the Woods, is a downright ironic statement.
We Are Still Here strikes that perfect balance between chills-down-the-spine dread, well-crafted jump scares and ghastly gore effects. It tells a familiar story that is delivered by solid performances and is presented to us with great care and skill. It’s a must-watch movie.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.