A History of Horror: Scary Movies That Have Remained Favorites

Night of the Dead was one of the original zombie movies. Source: http://www.nerdist.com

In 1968, “Night of the Living Dead” was released. The film was unique for a few reasons; it was shot in black and white at a time when color was available,  “Night of the Living Dead” is known for being one of the earliest depictions of realistic violence and was the first R-rated as well as the first zombie film (excluding White Zombie, about Bantu Tsumbies).

The plot is simple: when Hell is full, the dead walk the world again. In a time of anarchy a small group of survivors barricade themselves in a house and attempt to survive the night. However, they quarrel,fight and in the end all die because they refuse to cooperate with each other.

As big a contribution to the movie industry as the film was, the first film wasn’t a particularly exciting movie compared to the sequel that came out ten years later, “Dawn of the Dead”. With no returning characters, color film and more blood and gore than audiences in the late ’70s anticipated. And, while it is an idea hammered to death today, in the late 1970’s, no one had considered the idea of poking fun at society, this movie also had quite a bit of social commentary; comparing mall shoppers to zombies.

After two members of a SWAT team and two newscasters escape in a helicopter to a shopping mall, they lock themselves inside and defend themselves from their flesh-eating roommates. They clear the place out and even start to enjoy themselves, until the original group of survivors is confronted with a hostile biker gang and wage war against the raiders.

Improving an excellent film like “Dawn of the Dead” for a sequel is no easy task. Some do argue that George Romero’s end result, Day of the Dead was a failure. When it came out in 1985 it was originally disliked by critics and fans but eventually was accepted as a masterpiece.

We get our introduction to the bleak world that our characters live in with a nameless city completely overrun by zombies and one lone survivor screaming for help in his final moments. It’s implied that it’s been years since the last two films; the zombies are decomposed, they are hungry, and they are genuinely terrifying, unlike the ‘sleepy’ or ‘clumsy’ zombies of the past two films. The movie takes place in an underground military research facility, as scientists continue work on a cure of the zombie virus; instead, Dr. Logan, or ‘Frankenstein,’ works to teach zombies to act civilized. As a result, a zombie, Bub, begins to act like a pre-war human. This leads to a “Planet of the Apes” type situation; as the zombies start to act more civilized, the humans act more like animals.

While zombie movies are enjoyed by some, others find them stale and generic. However, few refute the excellence of Ridley Scott’s 1979 “Alien”. It is a modern remake of “IT! the Terror From Beyond”, in which a hostile alien sneaks aboard a spaceship and proceeds to kill off the human inhabitants one by one. “Alien” follows the same basic plot, with a bigger budget, clearer vision and the brains to back it all up.

“Alien” was Sigourney Weaver’s first starring role before she became one of the biggest names of the 1980’s. It also employed another big name – H.R. Giger –  to design the titular Alien, or Xenomorph. Everything from bone, cartilage and sinew to blood vessels and nerve endings has been built into this design. It is often deemed the most realistically designed fictional creature in film history. And while it rather unrealistically takes meer hours for the creature to go from the size of a parrot to a hulking 9-foot monster, the reptile/insect/who-knows-what is always changing its appearance.

The film is one the most suspenseful out there. It uses darkness, timing, and other filmmaking tricks to break your false sense of security and has the Xenomorph attack when you least expect it.

But, if one single Xenomorph can kill an entire crew effortlessly, how dangerous is dozens of them? This is the premise of “Aliens”, James Cameron’s 1986 sequel to “Alien”. Once again, this is a remake of a classic 1950’s B-movie, in this case “THEM!”, a very similar ‘bug hunt’ about the local police and the military fighting against giant 10-foot ants.

Many people saw the sequel before the first, which adds a certain level of differentiation. If you saw the first movie, you saw it from Ripley’s perspective. You knew first-hand what a ‘Xeno’ was capable of.  If “THEM!” was your first introduction to this plotline, you saw it from the Marines’ perspective and knew of the creature’s capabilities only from word of mouth. This causes different people have completely different experiences with this movie, while it seems that almost everyone loved the film, and laid the compliments on thick.

Each year around October a plethora of new horror movies come out. Some will become new favorites and some will soon be forgotten. However, there are some that have withstood the test of time and remained popular films, their prominent position not usurped by newer films. This halloween, watch one of these timeless horror movie masterpieces.

-Jonathan Rose

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