The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Director: Robert Wiene
Where did cinematic horror begin? Many will reference early Universal monster epics or F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu. However, on-screen fear truly began with Robert Wiene’s 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. His exquisite silent film expanding horror beyond the ghost stories of early cinema into psychological and visual terror.
First screened in Berlin almost 100 years ago, the film’s design cleverly plays with sharp angles, Picasso like buildings and winding streets. Subsequently creating a vivid dream on the screen that slowly becomes a haunting nightmare. In effect creating the template for many modern filmmakers ranging from Tim Burton and David Lynch. Specifically giving birth to the carnival based horror, becoming the first film to subvert the playground of touring entertainment into a world of terror.
To this day The Cabinet of Dr Caligari feels like a nightmare of no escape. Trapping you in its surreal and haunting world while embedding itself into your mind and soul.
Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans Visage) 1960
Director: Georges Franju
Long before plastic surgery became a medical gift and nightmare in equal measure. Eyes Without a Face warned us all of the dangers implicit in the practice. Tackling the psychological damage of disfigurement alongside a fathers, guilt and maniacal need to fix his daughter. With this in mind, Georges Franju’s plays with themes ranging from Shelley’s Frankenstein to Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘The Skin I Live In‘. Creating a surreal yet terrifying journey into the human mind, perfection and misogyny. Taking the audience to the darkest corners of medical advancement, while playing with the masks we all wear.
Opening in cinemas the same year as ‘Peeping Tom‘ and ‘Psycho‘, this is a film that courted enormous controversy. However its legacy in filmmaking has been a powerful sign of its artistic impact. While it’s critique of medical advancement and visual perfection feels even more important today than it did on its release 1960.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Director: John Landis
Very few modern horror films have had the cultural impact of John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. Its mix of comedy and horror, creating a truly unique journey into friendship, mortality and physical change. Subsequently taking the classic werewolf stories of Hammer and Universal, while injecting them with gloriously dark humour.
Landis opens the film with two young American backpackers (David and Jack) in the back of sheep van, their travelling companions heading to slaughter. Consequently setting the trajectory of both boys; with one becoming a rotting corpse who walks the earth in limbo and the other becoming a werewolf who kills without control. Meanwhile, the city of London is a mere backdrop to David’s realisation that he no longer has control over his own life. His card marked back on the misty moors of the films opening act.
Comedy/horror films either excel or fall flat, the need to mix scares with laughter often leading audience confusion. However, with American Werewolf, this fine line is walked with perfection; Landis taking the audience from the darkest of humour to the scariest of scenes in a heartbeat. The film joyously revelling in its ability to defy genre boundaries. Meanwhile, Rick Bakers werewolf design and transformation remains a masterpiece of physical effects work; surpassing many of the similar effects available today through the magic of CGI.
Director: Dario Argento
Dario Argento’s 1977 shocker remains the pinnacle of 20th Century Italian horror. Argento’s film inspired by classics of the genre ranging from ‘The Cabinet of Dr Calligari’ to ‘Cat People’. In effect wrapping the audience into an atmosphere of high art, experimentation and pure horror. Its colour palette glowing like a neon sign on a misty night. While its score ripples with the unconventional. Unusually for the genre, it inhabited during the ’70s, Suspiria also shines with female empowerment in a world of witches, blood, dance and dreamlike visuals.
Once seen never forgotten, Suspiria is not only visually unique but went on to inspire countless horror films. However, its rich mix of gothic fairytale and primal fear has never truly been matched.
Director: John Carpenter
John Carpenters Halloween took the slasher horror of Texas Chainsaw and coupled it with the teen based fear of Black Christmas. In turn, giving birth to the teen slasher film we know today. Meanwhile, creating an iconic masked murderer, who gave birth to the pop culture killer, alongside a franchise that continues to develop new fans over 40 years later. All the more surprising when you consider it was made on a shoestring budget. However, Halloween new how to build on earlier films, including ‘Eyes With Out a Face.’
Bathed in the vibrant Autumnal colours of October, Halloween embodies the pagan celebration like no other film. Embedding itself with the very fabric of October 31st. And despite being widely copied in sequels and remakes the grit and grain of Carpenters film has never been matched. This is Halloween in all its wonder, imagination and fear on screen. The film now part of the holiday, and holiday part of the film.