Friday, October 1, 2010

Top 25: Horror Films You Should Know

With October beginning today, it’s time to roll out the next Top 25: horror movies! These are the top 25 horror movies you should know to be well-versed in horror. Again, these are not necessarily the best or the most scary, but they are the most significant.

Horror is one of the most consistently popular genres in film, with even middling movies guaranteed to make money. Why? Because audiences want to feel emotional responses to their entertainment, and no emotion is easier to evoke than fear. Fear comes in many flavors, everything from being startled or shocked to deep down psychological terror that makes you sleep with the lights on. Few movies reach that final level, but when they do they usually leave a mark on our culture. Let’s begin. . .

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968): The importance of Night of the Living Dead cannot be overstated. This film brought horror movies to adult audiences. Before this, horror was costumed monsters aimed at kids. This film also created the zombie craze which continues unabated today and established the conventions for that entire subgenre. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”

2. The Omen (1976): The Omen spawned the “Satan is coming” subgenre of horror films and gave us Damien Thorn, a figure who has entered the popular culture as a representation of pure evil. There are even indications this film influenced the American view of Satan and the Book of Revelations. And Gregory Peck playing Damien’s father made it respectable for big name stars to do horror movies. “Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.”

3. The Exorcist (1973): The Exorcist is considered by many to be the scariest movie of all time. This film brought exorcism to the public consciousness and spawned a demonic possession craze in modern horror films. It also introduced the now-clichéd idea of pitting a demon against a priest who lost his faith, and it gave us perhaps the most iconic horror image of all time: Max von Sydow standing outside Regan’s house under the lamp. “The Power of Christ compels you!”

4. Alien (1979): Alien brought modern horror into the realm of science fiction and established the conventions of that subgenre. brought modern horror into the realm of science fiction and established the conventions of that subgenre. It also involved the first female hero and it established Ridley Scott, who really redefined science fiction. “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

5. Jaws (1975): Jaws sparked a nationwide panic over and fascination with sharks, which continues to this day. It also solidified the career of Steven Spielberg. Jaws is particularly noted for waiting to reveal the monster until late in the film, so as to build suspense, though ironically this wasn’t intentional. . . they just had a hard time making the mechanical shark work. “You're gonna need a bigger boat.”

6. Halloween (1978): Halloween introduced the slasher film, though it was tame by modern standards. Halloween also gave us Michael Myers, as a masked, speechless, killing machine, who escapes a mental hospital and returns home to kill his family and everyone else in town. Myers has become the template for modern slasher villains. “He’s coming to your little town.”

7. The Shining (1980): One of the most iconic and oft-referenced horror films of all time, The Shining is the story of Jack Torrance, who goes insane while working as the winter caretaker of a haunted hotel. This movie, more than any other, defined Jack Nicholson and made Stephen King stories a staple of horror films (though, ironically, King “hated” the film). “Here’s Johnny!”

8. The Ring (2002): This film involves a young woman haunted by an evil spirit. At a time when slasher flicks had become the norm, this film opened the door for a new subgenre by importing the Japanese vision of horror in which creepy, but non-gory images (often involving children) terrorize the heroine while she tries to solve the mystery of what created the evil spirit. A whole slew of similar, remade Japanese films followed (e.g. The Grudge, Dark Water, The Eye, etc.). “He watched the tape!”

9. The Haunting (1963): The story of a group of paranormal investigators who spend several nights in a haunted house plagued by violent spirits, this film established the haunted house subgenre and all of its conventions. This film has been remade and repeatedly copied. “You may not believe in ghosts but you cannot deny terror!”

10. 28 Days Later (2002): This movie revived the slowly dying zombie subgenre (no pun intended), by introducing fast-twitch zombies. Suddenly, zombies became a whole lot more menacing. “Repent the end is extremely f**king nigh.”

11. Resident Evil (2002): Resident Evil started the craze of turning videogames into movies, something which has continued unabated ever since. It also popularized the use of scantily-clad, young women as the butt-kicking heroes, a staple in the horror/action genre. “You're all going to die down here.”

12. Poltergeist (1982): Poltergeist introduced the country to the concept of a poltergeist, not a ghost, but a malevolent force that haunts people. This has since replaced simple hauntings in films. It also created the film conventions for ghost hunters, including the types of equipment they need and their associations with colleges, and it introduced ideas like the blinding white light after death into which we are supposed to walk. This film also highlights the 1980s craze of demonizing property developers. “They’re here.”

13. Friday the 13th (1980): The story of risen-from-the-dead, hockey-mask-wearing, chainsaw-wielding Jason Voorhees, this film added a supernatural element to the silent, killing-machine character first seen in Halloween, and gave us motiveless killers who can’t be killed no matter how many times you shoot or stab them. This movie also gave us the “our friends are dying, let’s go skinny dipping” cliché as Voorhees works his way through a pack of camp counselors. This film has spawned 12 sequels to date. “They call this place Camp Blood.”

14. Scream (1996): The story of a killer who’s watched too many horror movies and decides to live them out in real life, Scream revived the horror genre for younger audiences by setting the film around teenage actors and following like a hipper, totally like cynical, tongue-in-cheek style or whatever. “Movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative!”

15. Saw (2004): Saw is basically a snuff film with little else to recommend it. But it belongs on the list because it opened the door for modern torture porn, which all but abandons story in favor of 90 minute, sadistic bloodbaths. “He doesn't want us to cut through our chains. He wants us to cut through our feet!”

16. The Blair Witch Project (1999): Shot like a home movie, this story of three film students who vanish chasing an urban legend started (and basically ended) the “found footage” horror film subgenre. “I am so scared! I don't know what's out there. We are going to die out here! I am so scared!”

17. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): Elm Street gave us Freddie Krueger, who could kill you in your dreams, made Johnny Depp a movie star (instead of a television star) and made Wes Craven a star director. This film is referenced in dozens of later films, inspired numerous sequels and copies, and encouraged slasher movies to step up the special effects game and the level of creativity. “Whatever you do don't fall asleep.”

18. The Amityville Horror (1979): The story of a father who goes insane upon moving into a house and repeats the murderous rampage of the prior owner, this film introduced the idea of a “true” horror story, which has become a bit of a cottage industry. “There's nothing like it on the market. Not at this price.”

19. The Evil Dead (1981): Gory, silly and primitive on all levels, Evil Dead is not a good film, but it is a cult classic with a large following and is well-known by horror aficionados. The story of four people in a cabin who open a doorway to hell, this film made Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi into Hollywood names. “Give me some sugar, baby!”

20. Rosemary’s Baby (1968): Rosemary learns that a coven of witches think her baby is the Antichrist, oh goody. This film made Roman Polanski famous before he became infamous. It also introduced the idea that perfectly normal looking people could be engaged in Satanism. Many of the conventions created by this film continue to dominate Satanism and witchcraft-based horror movies today, and some have suggested this film spawned the Satanic-cult-mania of the 1980s that destroyed the lives of many daycare workers. “He chose you, honey! From all the women in the world to be the mother of his only living son!”

21. Psycho (1960): Hitchcock’s classic tale of deranged serial killer Norman Bates who is compelled to kill his victims to gain the approval of his dead mother. Although this movie is tame by modern standards, it shocked audience at the time, and in many ways, is the first psychological slasher film. “She might have fooled me, but she didn't fool my mother.”

22. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): A classic film about pod people taking over a small town by replacing the inhabitants, this film expressed the American fear of 1950s communism and represented the height of 1950s-style horror. It also gave us a now-standard horror trope: the friends who seem normal, but aren’t. “Love, desire, ambition, faith - without them, life's so simple, believe me.”

23. Phantasm (1979): Phantasm is the story of a supernatural and malevolent undertaker (“the Tall Man”) who uses the dead for reasons unknown. It’s also one of those cult classics you must know to be well-versed in horror films. “You play a good game boy, but the game is finished, now you die.”

24. An American Werewolf In London (1981): Famous for special effects that were ahead of its time, this very-dark comedy follows a teenage American tourist in London who gets bitten by a werewolf and tries to figure out how to stop killing people. “Kill yourself, David, before you kill others.”

25. Nosferatu (1922): This is the granddaddy of them all and literally started the entire horror movie genre. However, the film has not held up nor is it particularly influential in terms of story or style, hence it is at the end of our list. “Is this your wife? What a lovely throat.”

Again, these are not necessarily the best movies or the scariest movies. John Carpenter’s The Fog and Prince of Darkness are considerably scarier than many of them. The Japanese versions of films like The Grudge and Dark Water are better than the American versions, as is Les Diaboliques. The Ninth Gate is easily my favorite Satanism story, and I truly love Something Wicked This Way Comes. And there are many historical films I’ve left off, such as anything by Lon Chaney or Bella Lugosi. But those aren’t as well-known or as influential as the films above.

Happy October!

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!


T_Rav said...

Interesting list. I've never seen most of the Satanic horror films like The Omen, simply because they freak me out too much.

Personally, I would put The Shining at the top of the list, because it's one of the few that have managed to scare me and bake my noodle at the same time--to this day, I'm not entirely sure what was going on, and somehow that makes it scarier.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big horror fan (I've only seen nine of these films plus the sequel to 28 Days Later) but I enjoyed the list.

One quick note: The Ring was released before The Grudge.

Composer Jerry Goldsmith won his only Oscar (a shame) for The Omen and even though it's just music, I won't play it at night. :-) His score for the second film is even scarier. One cue in particular features an odd synth effect which, to me, sounds like someone throwing up!

I really need to see The Exorcist again. I saw it for the first and only time at FSU almost 10 years ago and I haven't seen any of the sequels.

The funny thing about Alien was that they never intended to have a female hero. All of the characters were originally written to be of either sex.

As popular and influential as The Blair Witch Project was, it's a shame those filmmakers (UCF film grads) were never able to recapture the magic. I won't call them one-hit wonders but you'd think they'd be able to stay on the A-list just a little longer.

I love The Shining (the TV miniseries from King was just okay) and if you're interested, there's a great making-of documentary filmed by one of Kubrick's daughters. I feel bad whenever I see the footage of Kubrick berating Shelley Duvall. Some Kubrick scholar once said that The Shining was "actually" about the mistreatment of native Americans and he used a few lines of dialogue and some subtle set decorations to back up his assertion. I found the idea both fascinating and a good reason for not taking most film analysis seriously.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a horror fan at all, though I have seen a few of the films you mentioned: Jaws, The Omen, Poltergeist. I don't mind the scary aspect, it's the "blood and guts" I can't stand. I find it's really hard to forget those images. Jaws and The Omen bothered me for a long time after. The Fog was pretty good. I seem to remember that there was a little bit of blood and guts, but not as much and it was really intensely scary to me.

With regard to zombie movies - I really can't stand them. My husband-to-be and I were celebrating 2 months of dating with a really nice steak dinner when his roommate came home and put on Dawn of the Dead. Needless to say, that put a bit of a damper on our celebration!


AndrewPrice said...

T/Rav, The book is actually a lot better on The Shining. In the book, you're never really sure if the ghosts are real or if he's just going crazy and doing everything himself. The movie comes down clearly on the side of making the ghosts real.

It's ironic that King hated the film because I think it's one of the few King movies that turned out really well.

In terms of moving it up, the placement is always open for debate. I'm trying to list these (as with the prior lists) in the order of most influence on the culture and film industry, so scary isn't the only requirement -- in fact there are some on the list I truly can't stand, but they belong on the list.

You should check out The Omen and Ninth Gate, they are both extremely intelligent films!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I love horror films (but then I like most types of films). And I'm glad you enjoyed the list.

The sequel to 28 Days Later stinks, the original is much better. This should also interest you -- it's again another truly independent film (as compared to a Hollywood-independent film). Most of the major films on this list were independent films, made by small groups with minimal budgets (less than $100,000 in several instances), that struck it big and spawned whole new subgenres. Horror seems to be the last frontier where anyone can make a film and succeed.

I know that The Ring was released first, but it didn't create the stir that The Grudge did, hence I give the credit to the The Grudge. And let me repeat, the Japanese versions tend to be a lot better.

I've heard people say the Goldsmith score is one of the creepiest they've ever heard. I think it fits the film perfectly and it's really defined how Satantism films handle their scores.

Alien is a strange movie in a way, because its sequels completely leave the horror genre and end up in action land. Also, Ripley changes from "innocent" to "seasoned" in the rest of the films, i.e. becoming more like Alice from Resident Evil. But what really made Alice catch on was the sex appeal. In fact, the game developers said that the reason they chose a female lead was that they thought it would increase the number of male game players if they could stare at an attractive female character as they played the game.

I think the Blair Witch crew were one-hit wonders, but that's because their follow ups (if they were in fact involved) was just a copy of what they did in the first one. You can't do that and expect to have a long career.

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, I love horror movies... with one huge caveat: slasher films. I can't stand them. They are dull, pointless and unintelligent. They aren't scary, they are just gross. If you asked me for my top 100 favorite or most scary horror movies, you wouldn't see any slashers on the list.

I think the reason Hollywood makes so many slasher films is that it's very easy to do. Real fear is difficult because you need to find things that scare people. And different things scare different people, so it's a risky proposition. Moreover, translating that onto film requires a real subtlety that many directors lack. But slasher films are different. All you are looking to do there is combine shock with gore and gross people out. . . and we all get grossed out by the same things. So it's a lot easier to hit your target market. It also takes no writing or directing talent to say: "everyone runs into the room and the ___ will chop you all up, and the effects guys will take it from there."

Of course, slasher films are rarely memorable because they offer little to remember, though good horror films will stick with people for years. But most film making is about making quick money, not producing anything artistic or lasting, and slasher films seem to have a guaranteed minimum return. So they keep turning them out.

Writer X said...

GREAT list! I love horror movies, but the best ones have the least amount of gore, in my opinion.

THE HAUNTING remains at the top of my list. To this day, I haven't been able to watch THE EXORCIST without covering my eyes through many parts of it. And shame on me for finding my parents' hidden copy of the book. And then reading it when they didn't want me to. It still freaks me out.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I'm another one of those horror fans who doesn't much like zombie movies. You see one, you've seen them all. It's hard to develop character in a creature with no will of its own.

King may not have liked the Nicholson version of The Shining, but he did have considerable control of the remake. As the old politician said, "he shoulda stood at home." The remake was awful but I'm not sure King realized that.

I thought Nosferatu was creepily scary, very much like a genuine nightmare. But without it, we wouldn't have gotten Shadow of the Vampire, which I consider a near-great movie. The star of Nosferatu was both creepier and scarier than the vampire he played.

I put the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula near the top of my horror list, while finding Bram Stoker's Dracula nothing short of laughable. Now really. Keanu Reeves? "Yo, dude, quit looking at my neck. Whoa."

CrispyRice said...

I agree with Anon - I just can't handle blood and guts. It's why I don't do a lot of modern war movies, either. I just don't like seeing that.

On the other hand, ghosts and the supernatural freak me out more, and that's more likely to keep my up all night!

I guess I ought to be surprised at how many of the movies on your list I HAVE seen!! Great list, nice classics!

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, That is a good movie and you aren't alone in saying it scared you. Martin Scorsese has declared it the scariest film of all time!

I don't like the gore either, I see it as a cheap gimmick to hide poor story telling.

The Exorcist is a great film and I've seen it many times. I am surprised though that it continue to endure since modern audiences don't seem as interested in having to think for their horror. But that's something I truly enjoy. And the idea of demonic possession and what is happening to Regan is truly terrifying when you start thinking about it.

Ed said...

Excellent list! I would add John Carpenter's "The Thing."

@Scott, What's your connection with film soundtracks? Just a fan or are you a musician?

BevfromNYC said...

I am very sad that you did not include the 1978 film "Dracula's Dog". A true, really it was...

I am not a big fan of horror films these days, but I loved them in my youth. All the best horror films were made before directors went really graphic with the blood and guts stuff.

I have never gotten over seeing "The Exorcist". Just the music can make me cower in the corner. But I will say this, horror films were great for dates, 'cause we were free to cling to our dates during the scary parts without being "forward"!

Most of Stephen King's novels were much better than the movie versions since there is so much psych stuff going on the characters' heads that they just end up being straight horror films.

Since this is about film I must mention GWTW, though there is nothing in related to horror except maybe the horror of war...

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Ug. Blogger just ate my brilliant response.

I think zombies make a fascinating premise, but they've kind of devolved into just "mindless" slasher flicks, which is too bad.

I think vampires are fascinating in many regards. For one thing, they appear to be the most popular supernatural creatures, but they are all over the place in the movies. The early movies were basically monster movies. Then they became 1970s schlock, kind of sadistic castle dwellers. Then they got a hip makeover in the 1980s. Then they became soft porn. And in the end, the only one I can truly call influential is Noferatu.

On King, I couldn't agree more. His remake of The Shining sucked eggs. And honestly, I neither respect nor like him. I think he hasn't written anything in the last few decades that he hasn't stolen from other films, and he seems to be a real assh~ole.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Crispy! I too am turned off by gore in movies. It's just a crutch that I would say adds nothing to the film, except that gore seems to be the only purpose to many of these films.

I'm glad you've see a lot on the list. I recommend many of the rest! They will be on the year-end test! ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I love The Thing but I couldn't see enough influence to include it on the list. . . unless you count The X-Files film copying it.

Seriously though, I catch The Thing whenever it's on.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, How negligent of me to leave GWTW or Dracula's Dog off the list! LOL!

Believe it or not, horror film audiences skew younger and female and I think the date aspect is the reason. They do make good date films.

Kings novels were much better than the films for the reason you mention. Plus, I think it's simply very difficult to create scary images that can compete with what our minds produce when we read books. (FYI, as I say above, I am not a fan of King's later works.)

There seems to be a pattern developing here... hmmm. I wonder if Hollywood is paying attention? Everyone seems turned off by the gory films. It sounds to me like there is a market opportunity here for whoever wants to be the next great horror director -- a return to gore-free horror films.

What I think is so terrifying about The Exorcist is the idea that there are things worse than just dying. In other words, is most films, the worst that can happen to you is that you die. But in this film, it really gives meaning to the idea that our souls can be made to suffer. And it's just truly creepy.

Anonymous said...

Ed -

I'm glad you asked. I'm just a fan. I can't read, write, or produce music and I can't play an instrument (it's on the bucket list!).

My favorite film composer is the aforementioned Jerry Goldsmith but I also enjoy John Williams, James Horner, Danny Elfman, Elmer Bernstein, and (lately) Michael Giacchino. I'm 27 so it's only natural I grew up with these guys. For now, I don't have as much knowledge of the Golden Age composers like Waxman, Steiner, and Tiomkin.

And thanks to changes in studio management and union rules, many boutique labels like Film Score Monthly, Intrada, and La-La Land have been mining the vaults and releasing expansions of old scores (and some that were never released at all).

Andrew -

speaking of film music, if Commentarama does any kind of Secret Santa thing, I will gladly take one of these. :-D

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, LOL! I'll keep that in mind. I guess film scores are becoming big business?

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew, the perfect example for all those Hollyweird types was the great success of "The Sixth Sense". Very scary, but no blood just suspense...probably the only good film M. Night Shamalamala (whatever) will every make.

Trust me you must NOT miss "Dracula's Dog". It's a must see. Another great film from 1979 was "Zombie". This film taught me that you can knock a Zombie over by snapping it with a towel, but they will still eat your brain eventually...

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Great example! That's one of the creepiest films I've seen and it's basically gore free. What a great movie too.

What's really funny about it, is that the first time through it's pretty terrifying. The second time through, it's more of an emotional father/son type film. And both versions are equally good!

Anonymous said...

Andrew - it's not a big business at all and many are afraid that the business will end when CD distribution ends and the studios decide to stream scores online instead.

In fact, in an interview, the gentleman who runs Intrada estimated that there are probably only 5000 hardcore film score enthusiasts in the world. You never see film scores penetrate the Billboard charts (Titanic, The Passion, and a small handful of others being exceptions).

But the good thing is that it's such a small niche so the studios don't really lose much money on it. And with the licensing deals, 99% of these releases are limited: usually anywhere between 1000 and 5000 copies.

And many albums do sell out, sometimes in hours.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It sounds like you're living in a lucky moment in time for your interest. Not only are they putting these out, but you've got a thriving little internet community?

You would think with streaming that the numbers would increase because it doesn't cost as much to press and distribute discs? But I'm just guessing. Studios are strange creatures.

I'm much more of a casual soundtrack fan. I've got a dozen or so, and there are maybe a dozen more I would like to have -- The Black Hole being the big one I'd really like. So if you ever hear that it's coming out... drop me a line! :-)

Anonymous said...

Andrew - you expressed my thoughts exactly. And yes, I'm keeping an eye out for The Black Hole! If there are others, you can e-mail me a list and I can see what's out there. :-)

Back to the subject...

I have nothing against zombie movies but for some reason, zombies have now become this cool thing and you can't throw a rock without hitting a book about zombies in a bookstore (usually some how-to guide in the humor section). I guess it's part of the zeitgeist and will vanish when something else replaces it.

Any thoughts about The Shining and the film scholar's interpretation of it? (See my first post)

And what do you think of the idea that horror movies are a reflection of the times in which they are made?

Boris said...

Pretty awesome list, these are all older movies, though. I'm a big fan of newer, somewhat underground horror flicks like the Fangoria FrightFest movies, they're pretty awesome this year; The Tomb and Grimm Love were great.

AndrewPrice said...

Boris, Thanks! And welcome! These are older films because it's a list of influential films rather than a list of scariest films or my favorite horror films (which would include a lot of films not on the list).

I am a fan of horror movies pretty much across the board, though I'm not a huge fan of movies that just showcase gore. I've seen some of the Fangoria Fright Fest films, but I haven't seen Grimm Love or The Tomb, so it's hard for me to comment on them. I can say though, that I think the independent horror film "industry" is where the real energy and creativity is at the moment. You certainly don't see anything similar in other film genres.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, On zombies, the problem is overkill. You get a great idea that opens a subgenre and suddenly everyone runs out and starts copying what they've seen. Soon, they're everywhere.

What's worse, it only takes a minor variance for people to think they've created some new aspect to the genre... "look, these zombies are wearing hats! No one's done that!"

I think zombies are popular at the moment because they fit two current Hollywood needs -- ultra-violence AND a villain no one can sympathize with. For example, they aren't political, no one complains about their race, religion, or gender, and no one can sympathize with a creature that has no motivations at all. Even the animal rights people don't feel bad when they get killed. And since they aren't seen as sentient creatures, no one feels like the hero is a blood thirsty bastard when he tortures and kills them by the thousands.

Thus, it's very easy to use zombies as a villain, hence you see them a LOT of them.

The comedy books are just someone trying to milk the conventions of the genre.

I personally think the genre has been over-exploited at the moment and will see diminishing returns.


AndrewPrice said...

I firmly believe that horror movies are a reflection of the times/culture:

First, many of them are thinly-veiled social commentaries, like Living Dead being about racism and Body Snatchers being about communism.

Secondly, they tend to reflect the things that scare us, which are cultural in nature. For example, it's no coincidence that you don't see Satanism films coming out of Asia, where Christianity is a minor influence, or that the images in The Grudge reflect images that have scared the Japanese for ages. The white faced woman with black hair is actually a Japanese night terror that is called "old hag syndrome." In the west, this same syndrome (called "sleep paralysis") is accompanied by images of alien abduction -- which have replaced "demons," which is what Westerners used to see when this happened.

Third, what scares us changes as our views change. For example, sharks didn't interest people until we started using beaches and encountered shark attacks. Cults didn't become popular until Jim Jones. Etc.

Fourth, more fundamentally, horror films sit on the edge of what society will allow in terms of crimes, perversion and our taste for gore. For example, the fact that serial killers have become so fascinating today tells us that we no longer see a single murder as horrific, whereas in the 1950s movies about single killings were seen as horror. Similarly, our taste for gore has increased as our respect for human life has decreased and we've become calloused to suffering.

Further, I think if society reverses any of these trends, you would see it reflected in these films. In 1950, they would have arrested the makers of Saw for making a snuff film. Today, they get awards. And that's because society has changed.


AndrewPrice said...

Finally, on The Shining, it sounds like garbage.

First, I always take expert analysis with a grain of salt for two reasons: (1) Most of these people read in what they want and then they go look for evidence to back up their prejudices. That's not valid reasoning -- you can always find something to confirm your views. . . "Oh look, that desk is square, I knew this was about cubism!"

(2) If you want to get attention, you need to come up with something new and controversial. Thus, you see all kinds of experts discovering gay characters and hidden messages where none exist. It's about getting noticed. And college fosters this by requiring masters/doctorate candidates to write something "new" about an existing topic. So they learn to stretch the truth into fantasy land, a very bad habit.

In terms of the assertion itself, I think it's pretty silly. First, there is nothing in the movie that hints at an Indian cause. There is no Indian character, nor is there an Indian-related ghost. The fact that some of the decorations are Indian-related is no surprise since this hotel is situated in the West and its decorations would reflect American-western culture, which has a lot of Indian influences.

Moreover, if you look at the story, there is no hint of anything Indian. To the contrary, the book is about an alcoholic who is slowing going insane on a series of "dry drunks." He has a history of child abuse and his life is a failure, and he sees his wife and child as the cause. What sets him off are a pile of newspapers he finds in the boiler room of the Overlook, which outlined a series of murders/suicides at the hotel, mainly involving mobsters (from well after the "whites v. Indians" era). These begin to come alive for him in the form of ghosts. But it's never clear if the ghosts are real.

The movie condenses this down a bit and makes the ghosts real, but it follows the same general thinking. The ghosts are from the 1930s, the writer is a liberal from Maine, the family is a standard 1970s family (with no hint of Indian or anti-Indian ancestry), and there is no hint or suggestion of Indians or that a social criticism is intended. If anything, the social criticisms (child abuse and alcoholism) are diluted in the film.

In those circumstances, I think it's wishful thinking to read in the idea that somehow Kubrick was sending a pro-Indian message.

Anonymous said...

I found the original Shining/Indian article here.

As for everything else, I am inclined to agree. With vampires and zombies popular now, I can't help but wonder when mummies and invisible men will make a come back.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I just read the article. Let me upgrade my view of his theory to "total crap."

This guy offers nothing except his own prejudices which he confirms to himself by spinning items into symbols and then stretching those symbols well beyond the breaking point, and then taking that stretched mass of garbage and jamming it into the theory he wants to advocate. I could just as easily prove that this film is about Martians because there's a lot of red stuff in the film and at one point, one of the characters points kind of upwards. . . toward Mars! Hmmm. Creepy.

Seriously, he sees the fact that there is Calument baking powder (the most popular brand) in the pantry as a symbol that Kubrick is trying to send us a message. Good thing there weren't any fig newtons, or he would have hated this movie for it's references to Genesis.

He sees Indian decorations as proof that we're being shown a puzzle, which assumes there is a puzzle. He "assumes" that the "river of blood" flows into the ancient Indian burial ground, which he then uses as confirmation that this is about Indians. . . except there is no "river" unless you want to define it that way and it flows from the ancient Indian elevator, not from anywhere in the ground.

He see the label on the photo about a "4th of July Ball" as significant for Indians, (1) without ever realizing that it has a much more likely significance to Americans, (2) that the 4th of July is not the day the white man landed in America (as he seems to believe), or (3) that the ball in the movie is the New Year ball.

He seems to think Kubrick chose the name "Overlook" as part of a puzzle because we are "overlooking" his real meaning -- although this came straight from the book. Not to mention this is a ridiculously childish assumption.

He assumes Kubrick added a line about the hotel being built on an Indian burial ground, which again is also from the book. . . and also is already an old horror story trope.

He sees the fact that the black guy dies as evidence of racism, even though there is no hint of racism in anything about Caruthers' character or acting or death.

He (somehow) sees the father trying to kill the son as evidence of evil whites, which is total crap, and which could be use to turn almost any movie into an anti-white tirade.

He talks about the kid using an Indian trick of walking in his own footsteps to escape the father... but this is not an Indian trick, it's a soldier trick that the Indians also used. Moreover, the kid is doing no such thing, he's running all out and he's following his footprints to get back out of the maze.

And he uses semantics to try to turn the relationship between the ghosts and Torrance into a "treaty," which obviously means Indians... or any treaty between governments. In fact, assuming "treaty" somehow means Indians is intensely ignorant of Western history and the English language.

This guy is blinded by his own bias and he's seeing what he wants to see. I have no doubt that he could see an anti-white, pro-Indian tirade in any film you showed him. No doubt Star Wars is overtly racist because the bad guy wears black. And ET is about child abuse because the kids are trying to hide the truth from the authorities. . . the M&M's prove it man. . . it's all there if you would just open your oppressed eyes!!!

AndrewPrice said...

Theo, I only see the Top 6-10 at this point. Of those, I really enjoyed Lost Boys and I loved Salem's Lot.

I liked Interview With a Vampire as a film, but I do blame it for today's EMO vampire crazy, i.e. that seems to be the film that sexualized them and turned then into pretty boys.

The rest on the list were ok.

In terms of what I would add (off the top of my head), I really like Fright Night and From Dusk Til Dawn. I also like Blade, though I'm not sure it fits as a true vampire film. I would also add Lifeforce.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what I would add at the moment.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I would agree with you about Interview with a Vampire. I liked it, but I also hold it to be more responsible than any other film for humanizing vampires, and therefore leaving us vulnerable to the nightmare that is Twilight, otherwise known as "Only movie I've ever seen that made me want to immediately commit mass murder."

On the issue of The Shining, I never got the relevance of the Indian burial ground to it, perhaps because I'm only familiar with the movie and not the book. To the extent I've theorized about it at all, I always imagined it to be more of an allegory for modern decadence. The movie clearly implies that something very ghastly occurred at the hotel in the past, something brought on by the sins of those residing there. How this fits in with the Torrance family, I don't know; like I said, I don't fully understand what was real and what wasn't, and that's partly why I think of it as being such a good horror movie.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, That's a great subtitle for Twilight! Talk about an atrocity!

On The Shining, I honestly don't think the Indian burial ground has any meaning. In the book, one of the elements is that the staff thinks the hotel is haunted. Torrance internalizes this and that’s what gets him feeling creeped out. When he then discovers the newspapers and sees the violent history of the hotel, he starts to see ghosts. But that’s where the guestion arises, are they real or is he just imaging them? Because he simultaneously starts to go insane, you are left with the strong indication that this may all be in his head.

To explain the haunting, someone briefly mentions that the hotel may have been built on an Indian burial ground, i.e. cursed ground. But that’s about the only mention of it. No medicine man appears, there is no Indian ghost, and there is no connection to the Indiana wars (on either side). Basically, it’s just a convenient explanation for why the supernatural might be active on this spot.... it’s a standard horror story trope for why a particular spot in America is “evil.” If this were filmed in Europe, they would have replaced this with “a gypsy curse was put on the place.”

After saying this bit about the Indians, the rest of the book moves on to provide a detailed history of murders and suicides and scandals (mobsters and politicians from the prohibition era) that happened in the hotel, and they all center around a particular room. The book centers around these dead mobsters/politicians and Grady the caretaker who killed his daughters the prior year. The movie drops the mobsters and focuses only on Grady.

I honestly don’t see any hidden themes in the book or the movie. In fact, the book is quite open about its “hidden” themes -- alcoholism and child abuse. The whole book really is a question about whether there really are ghosts or if Torrance is simply going crazy, and whether Danny is covering for his father by accepting the existence of the ghosts as a defense mechanism to explain away being beaten and strangled by his father. The film was more certain that the ghosts were real, but these are still the “hidden” themes. There is nothing to tell me that the film was trying to add anything to the story. . . it really is just a pared down version of the book, it’s not an independent story with new ideas added.

Individualist said...

I noticed that "A Night at the Roxbury" did not make your list Andrew.

Oh you meant those films that were "supposed" to be horror films, right....

Seriously though that is a great list the only one I'd add would be Event Horizon. Any movie where they talk about Hell in Latin has got to be good.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, Thanks! I'm glad you approve of the list!

How could I miss Roxbury? LOL!

I'm not a big fan of Event Horizon at all (though it had great potential), but I know a lot of people really like that film. I couldn't add it to the list though because it hasn't been influential.

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