German filmmaker Robert Wiene (pronounce that any way you like) released a silent movie in 1920 that created a new genre of film: horror. That movie is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and it set a standard that still terrifies viewers nearly 100 years later - without sound, color, or special effects. This film is patient zero for horror movie fans and whether or not this type of silent film is for you, it gives us a handy reference to look back at what the last 98 years of horror have produced.
Our friends at Rotten Tomatoes are back with a list of the best horror movie for each year since horror movies were invented. A link to the list is provided below and unlike our "75 best" list from last fall, there aren't really any statistics to play with. Rather, I found myself trying and determine from this list the first horror movie I remember seeing. And of course challenging whether there were other films released in the same year that I would have put in the #1 slot. So here goes.
Nosferatu is the definitely the oldest film on the list that I have seen, though I saw it just a few years ago. Consistently ranked as one of the top 10 horror movies ever (if not the best horror movie ever), it takes the spotlight away from patient zero and invites the argument for which film sets the standard. I don't think you can truly be a horror movie fanatic without adding this one to your watched list. Not because it is the best horror movie you will ever see (it probably won't keep you up at night), but because of its influence on the genre. And if you missed the top pick in 2000 because you were watching American Psycho, Final Destination, or What Lies Beneath, track down Shadow of the Vampire. This film is a dramatization about the making of Nosferatu and stars John Malkovich as the (shall we say crazy?) director of Nosferatu who, it is said, employed a real vampire to play the part of the vampire.
Psycho, and the original Phantom of the Opera are movies I remember seeing as a kid. But since they were released before I was born, I clearly saw them in rerun. I'm sure I didn't remember seeing The Birds as a toddler, so ditto for this film. Not appearing on this list, apparently losing the 1958 competition to The Fly, is The Blob - my first official challenge for the movie that should be on top. Perhaps I saw these on Nightmare Theater? Google that if you must.
In my head it is a tie between The Birds and The Blob for the first horror film in my memory. The dead victim lying on the floor with gaping holes for eyes pecked out by birds vs. a sigh of relief walking home from school when I saw that my house was still there and hadn't been consumed by an alien gelatinous mass. Then there is Rosemary's Baby, a film I remember watching in the living room with my mom.
Definitely the first movie on this list that I saw in the theater was Last House on the Left. Disturbing on so many levels, this movie cannot be unseen or unforgotten so I remember where I was when I saw it. This is one of those films that one can argue is not horror, and I agree. This is sadistic psycho killer but I get that the lines get blurry. It was also Wes Craven's first so a moment of silence for the master. here. However, there is a horror film that I remember seeing three years before Last House - but it is not on this list. That movie is Scream and Scream Again. I remember the guy waking up in the hospital with no legs and really nothing else. Three additional movies not on this list that I remember seeing in the theater one year before Last House, in no particular order, are The Two Headed Transplant, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, and What's the Matter with Helen? The Two Headed Transplant was a last-minute Christmas Eve activity designed get a rowdy crew to Christmas Day. I also saw three other horror movies in the theater the same year Last House on the Left was released and I only bring this up because the original Tales from the Crypt is the clear winner for the first scary movie I ever saw that really scared the hell out of me. I remember ducking behind the theater seat screaming at the pumping heart. I forget how many years I spent trying to track that movie down and I finally own a copy. Holy cow, how far we have come with special effects.
Moving down the list it is almost disturbing how many horror films I saw in my teens. So if you wonder why a slasher film with a glass of wine is my idea of relaxation, well, now you know.
What you probably need to do now is tick a few of these movies off your own list OR do what I do: be the consummate critic and throw down a few challenges of your own. For that you'll need to be a horror movie Mensa or an index to all of the horror films. I posted a link to one I used so you can get started, just in case you were thinking of doing something productive. I'll help you out with some of my own thoughts.
The Exorcist lost to Don't Look Now, Halloween lost to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Omen went down to Carrie. This appears to have started a Stephen King era despite the fact that only two of his films made top slots. Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining was the second and ironic since King criticized it so openly and bitterly that Kubrick sold him back the film rights if King would just...stop...complaining. I have a love/hate relationship with this film.
I was happy to see The Conjuring in the #1 slot for 2013 as it continues to top my list of the scariest movie ever. The Cabin in the Woods ruled the previous year, which I totally agree with and wonder what I was doing in 2012 that caused me to miss this one the first time around. I am disappointed that Insidious did not make the list, losing to Let Me In. Although it isn't really fair for me to judge since I haven't seen Let me In. I will get right on that to be fair.
I conclude my commentary with a final shot at Get Out. Not that it was a horrible movie - it wasn't. It was just a bad horror movie - social political commentaries annoy me when they mess with my horror. And also because It was such an awesome film that was shoved in the back seat of this list and that's just wrong. Watch them both, as they are worthy, but It is the superior horror film.
So … what is the earliest horror movie you remember? And what #1 films would you unseat with your own favorites? I know I have added a few movies from this list to my queue and with Halloween just four short months away, it's time to get busy.