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Something to Die For: Top Five Horror Movies

By Blythe Alspaugh

October is a magical time of year filled with pumpkin-flavored everything, oversized cable-knit sweaters and brightly colored leaves falling from trees. But most importantly, it’s prime horror movie season. There’s just something about the shorter days and the approach of Halloween that makes people want to curl up in front of their television and watch children get possessed by the devil or teenagers start gutting their classmates left, right and center. With Halloween being two days away, I’m here to bring you my top five favorite horror movies that span from the ‘70s to the late ‘90s.

5. “Friday the 13th” (1980), Directed by Sean S. Cunningham

Despite past murders and deaths surrounding an abandoned campground, a group of teenagers are determined to bring the camp back to life. However, shortly after they arrive they are picked off one by one by Mrs. Vorhees (Betsy Palmer). Motivated by revenge after her son Jason drowned at the camp, because two counselors snuck away to have sex, she uses an arsenal of weapons ranging from a bowie knife to a machete to carry out her killings. By the end of the film, it’s Mrs. Vorhees against Alice (Adrienne King) in a fight to the death.

“Friday the 13th” is considered to be the first true teen slasher flick and was made after the success of John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” Despite being 35 years old, the film has remained a staple in the horror genre for many reasons and has spawned 11 sequels to the original film, including “Freddy vs. Jason”—which brings me to…

4. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), Directed by Wes Craven

A clawed-glove being forged in a dilapidated boiler room is the opening scene, ending with young Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) waking up in her bed with slashes in her nightgown that resemble the same glove. The next night, she dreams of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) killing her in her nightmare as he’s also killing her in real life, to the horror of her boyfriend who is watching. Freddy then starts targeting Rod Lane (Jsu Garcia), Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp). If you don’t wake up screaming, you don’t wake up at all.

One of Wes Craven’s first major hit films and a cult classic horror film among fans, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” brought us the truly terrifying concept of being slaughtered by your nightmares. Additionally, It brought Johnny Depp his breakout role and launched his acting career. Depp also wears crop tops—but that’s beside the point. I first watched “A Nightmare on Elm Street” earlier this year, and I was immediately hooked. Perhaps it’s because I’m a big fan of another horror film by Wes Craven. Mostly, it’s because the thought of being chased by a revenge seeking killer and possibly dying in my dreams makes me reconsider taking three-hour naps in the afternoons. Either way, it’s a film laden with impressive (yet gory) cinematography and clever plot writing, and it quickly became a favorite for me.

3. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997), Directed by Jim Gillespie

After a rousing night of underage drinking, four high school seniors (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.) accidentally hit a man on their drive home. Following the initial panic, they drag the man and dump him in the nearby ocean. In the process of disposing of the body, the man comes to and tries to attack the teenagers, but ends up slipping into the water and drowning. Julie (Hewitt), Helen (Gellar), Barry (Phillippe) and Ray (Prinze Jr.) make a pact to keep it a secret in order to secure their futures. A year later, Julie returns home from school for the summer and is greeted with a letter stating, “I know what you did last summer.” After tracking down Helen, Barry and Ray, the four of them agree to find out who saw them dump the body that past summer—and as they work on tracking the suspect down, the body count goes up.

Based off Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel by the same title, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is another teen slasher movie that gave many of the main cast their breakout roles. While it is often criticized among horror fans as being too slow and anticlimactic, I’m personally a fan of the writing and the way the story was structured. It’s not just a slasher film, which is refreshing given the rising trend in “torture porn” films that masquerade as horror movies. The careful staging of the plot and the character development makes you think that one of the four friends is behind the sudden mystery letters and random attacks until everything takes a turn. It’s what hooked me initially and has kept me coming back after nearly 20 years.

2. “Carrie” (1976), Directed by Brian De Palma

High school outcast Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is a girl brought up by her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie) in a highly religious and isolated environment. After an embarrassing incident in the showers causes her classmates to tease Carrie ruthlessly, her gym teacher disciplines them severely. Sue Snell (Amy Irving) feels sorry for being part of the teasing. As a way of making it up to Carrie, she asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to the senior prom. However, some of Carrie’s classmates don’t feel nearly as remorseful and devise a cruel plot of revenge—all of which backfires once Carrie’s peculiar mental powers are unleashed on her classmates.

“Carrie” is based off of Stephen King’s 1974 novel by the same title, and as someone who has read the book and seen the movie many times, I can attest that they are nearly identical, which is one reason why it’s one of my favorite horror films. Although the risk of the prom queen unleashing hell on everyone via telekinetic devil powers after being drenched in pig’s blood is low, the story of Carrie White and the culmination of the teasing and tribulations she had to endure both at school and at home is one that is both compelling and terrifying. The way the story unfolded in the book, and then on screen, is what initially grabbed me. Spacek’s impeccable performance as a meek and mild-mannered teenage girl who snaps once she reaches the breaking point is what makes me re-watch this film every year.

1. “Scream” (1996), Directed by Wes Craven

“Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!” This ideology spoken by the serial killer in “Scream” ties in with the main theme of the film. Life is like a movie, and for the people of Woodsboro, California, it’s a horror movie. More specifically, it’s a teen slasher flick. On the upcoming first anniversary of the death of Sidney Prescott’s mother, local teens start cropping up slashed and gutted. It starts with a phone call begetting the question “what’s your favorite scary movie?” and ends in a bloodbath at a party among the senior class.

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