It’s hard not to have recency bias when I think about films that made me love horror, because I feel that I fell in love with horror again and again in the last couple of years. Filmmakers like Luca Guadagnino (Suspiria), Ari Aster (Midsommar, Hereditary), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Coralie Fargeat (Revenge), Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), Natalie Erika James (Relic), Sion Sono (Cold Fish, Why Don’t You Play in Hell), and Julia Ducournau (Raw) have ensured that neither the pandemic or the apparent collapse of society across the world isn’t slowing the output of great horror films, and all of them have raised the bar in their own ways. But I recognize that these pieces are supposed to be about the films that made me love horror the first time, or at least the first five times, so I’ll go a little farther back. But just a little.
MAY (Lucky McKee, 2002)
“If you can’t find a friend, make one.” Lucky McKee brings body horror, creepy dolls, and an unexpectedly emotional subtext together in this 2002 film that completely rocked me almost 20 years ago. I remember picking up a copy of May from Blockbuster at random, at a time when I was a little disillusioned by the horror I was watching. The outstanding cast – Angela Bettis in the title role, Anna Faris, James Duval, and Jeremy Sisto all work perfectly together, and the unapologetic slasher vibes are relentless. From it’s opening moments to what I stand by as my favourite ending in a horror film, an ending that makes me silently mouth ‘what the fuck’ while being exactly halfway between horrified and delighted, it’s as close to a perfect movie as anything I’ve seen.
The People Under The Stairs (Wes Craven, 1991)
Wes Craven is best known for the Freddy stuff and the Scream thing, but for my money, the scariest film on this list is his 1991 film The People Under The Stairs. The ‘inbred cannibal family in a labyrinthine house’ aspect is a specific button that inspires terror in me (along with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the “Home” episode of The X-Files), and the visuals of being trapped in claustrophobic settings like the walls of a house are harrowing. All that being said, my adoration for it is because it manages to make a scathing statement on gentrification while pushing those buttons, so it’s a rewarding rewatch in that context. More than anything else on this list, The People Under The Stairs is my go-to example of how horror can communicate so much beyond just scares.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1977)
I doubt I’ll be able to say anything more substantial about this movie than Tim Murr, Biff Bam Pop’s resident Leatherface anthropologist, but I can tell you that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre film is the first film to truly worm it’s way into my brain and keep me scared long after it was over. And scary as it was, it kept me enthralled enough to keep coming back again and again. I even ponied up my time and money for the sequels and remakes which, besides Part 2, never quite recaptured the spark that the original has. What’s interesting about TCM is that when you watch it, you’ll almost always remember it being much more violent than it actually is. It conveys mood so well with sound, shadow, and misdirection that your brain fills in the gaps where almost all the real gnarly stuff is happening offscreen. From the opening monologue by a young John Larroquette to the unforgettable final sequence, one movie is plenty to cement Leatherface’s legacy in my brain forever.
Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1974)
Texas Chainsaw was one of the first films that scared me, but Suspiria wasn’t far behind. I remember my dad picking this one out at the video store based on the box alone, which contains perhaps the greatest (though grammatically incorrect) movie tagline ever – “The only thing scarier than the last 12 minutes of this film, are the first 92.” That sets a pretty high standard for the 1977 classic out of the gate, but the arresting visuals and the iconic and earwormy notes of the Goblin soundtrack let you know that Dario Argento, one of the undisputed masters of the genre, is not messing around here. Jessica Harper and her huge saucer eyes, widened in disbelief at the ghastly sights she beholds at the Tanz Academy of Dance, have a way of sticking with you and almost float in the sea of red that Argento paints onscreen. Argento and the rest of the OG giallo squad made better films than this over their careers, but Suspiria will always be my first horror love. Then Luca Guadagnino’s remake made me love this world all over again.
The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne, 2009)
Talk to me about horror for any length of time and you’ll probably be annoyed with my evangelizing Sean Byrne’s 2009 masterpiece, The Loved Ones. Turning both the slasher and final girl tropes on their heads, The Loved Ones is a criminally underseen story about unrequited teen romance, with the addition of some pretty grody torture and body horror on top. It’s all earned, though, feels garish in all the right ways, and is beautiful in its composition, its writing, and even its dissonant bubblegum pop soundtrack and aesthetic. Just as criminal as this film’s underground status is the fact that Byrne has only made one other feature film, the amazing Devil’s Candy, in his career. His movies are amazing and I have been shouting his name from the rooftops for over a decade now, wishing that he had the kind of prolific output as, say, Mike Flanagan and that his Loved Ones star Robin McLeavy was a well-known scream queen. More than anything, I want the world to love The Loved Ones like I do.
Honourable Mention: Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil (Clay Borris, 1992)
Prom Night isn’t a series that ever got much traction in the horror community and certainly not in the mainstream, and I don’t have any evidence that the fourth entry is a great or even good film. I definitely don’t expect this one to make it onto any of my fellow BBP writers lists. But Prom Night 4 is the horror film I’ve undoubtedly seen the most times, because we owned a copy due to the dumb luck of having rented it a week before our local video store went out of business, and they never came to collect. Prom Night 4 therefore feels like the horror I’m most connected to, and which I can nearly recite line-for-line, even if it’s got very little going for it on it’s own merits. Prom Night 4 feels every bit of the 1992 Canadian vibes it puts down, being clearly shot in Toronto (the scene where they drive down Toronto’s Yonge Street and you can see the iconic two-storey neon sign for Sam The Record Man is seared onto my brain) long before that was common, and it features semi-famous Canadian stars JH Wyman (Catwalk) who had a much more successful career as a screenwriter than he did as an actor, Fab Filippo (waydowntown, Are You Afraid of the Dark), and Nicole De Boer (Cube, Deep Space Nine). It’s an extremely by-the-numbers slasher with a bit of a religious theme and a less-than-compelling antagonist in Father Jonas, who may as well be Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees with their masks swapped out for a clerical collar. Prom Night 4 doesn’t even really have much to do with the prom, but I do love it in exactly the way you might treasure that one ratty-ass sweater you have with the hole in it. It’s comforting and familiar, even if it’s got major structural and style problems.