Deep within the woods lives a massive monument heralding the greatest horror movies of all time. Each week the hosts of the Midnight Murderama Podcast discuss what is a worthy enough candidate to have its likeness etched on the face of the mountain… and who should be blasted away to make room.
The sci-fi films of the 1970s and 1980s sought to redefine the genre from the schlocky “rubber suits and paper plates on strings” films of the 1950s. Society had changed, along with how we viewed the future. Star Wars had just made space cool again, but Alien set out with a slightly different goal in mind: make space scary.
Playing directly into the slasher films that were huge at the time, Ridley Scott created a future far from sleek, clean lines and shiny rockets of his predecessors. The world of Alien felt lived-in, dirty, and dangerous. It was full of creatures with mouths inside of mouths, with organisms that forcibly implant themselves in you only to rip their way out of your chest. It’s full of the tension of not knowing where the creature could be hiding, and not knowing what it would do to you if it found you. It’s rare to redefine one genre, but Alien managed to redefine both sci-fi and horror.
It’s a bold move: adapt a novel by one of the foremost horror writers… and chuck it out the window in favor of kind of “doing your own thing”. Only Stanley Kubrick would start there and end up creating a film that still defines the genre to this day. Kubrick’s lack of interest in sticking to Stephen King‘s source material means that we got to see Jack Nicolson go completely off the rails, creating a version of The Shining that blurs the lines between supernatural and madness. Haunting locations, top-notch performances, and an elevator of blood all lend themselves one of the all-time classics.
Arriving relatively late to the slasher craze, Wes Craven‘s 1984 masterpiece A Nightmare on Elm Street redefined what it meant to be the big-bad in a horror franchise. Freddy Krueger didn’t need to stalk after his victims silently because he had complete control over them in a place where no one can avoid: their dreams. This has a visceral effect on the audiences’ own fears by intermingling the work on screen with their own nightmares, leading to a terror that feels much more personal. Its societal impact cannot be overstated. Not only did it spawn a slew of sequels and imitators, but it’s almost forty years later and you’re still likely to see at least one Freddy glove popup on a kid at Halloween.
Despite a low budget, not featuring any big-name actors, and being relatively light on gore (Johnny Depp geyser notwithstanding), this film exudes the energy of a group of filmmakers with everything to prove. There’s a reason why it defined so many careers.
When The Exorcist was released in 1973, it was unlike anything else that came before it. On one hand it’s a thoughtfully paced drama full of the family conflicts and crises of faith you’d find in a Hollywood film. On the other hand it shares the same unflinching boundary pushing of what was showing at the exploitation cinemas. At the center of everything is a lot of very bad things happening to a very sweet little girl. Add this to stories of cursed sets, strange deaths involving those who worked on the film, and the “real-life” exorcisms that inspired the film and you have a movie that commands a cultural legacy that still remains strong today.