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The Best Horrors to Watch for Studying Cinema

by Annie Kapur 5 years ago in list
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Horrors From Around the World and Throughout Time

As you may be aware, studying cinema is all about having the correct resources. Many people are often scared off by the sheer amount there is to watch and think that it isn't worth wasting time over. I have (from experience) compiled a list of films from around the world that you may want to watch if you are looking to study or make a horror film. These are relatively old films as I have found watching older films helps the creative process than newer ones do; getting stuck in the commercial cycle never helps when you're making a horror film. (These are in no particular order).

Nosferatu (1922)

So here we have a relatively popular one. This film is about a vampire who lives in an old castle and taunts the man who visits him for a good, long while. It is set up as a German Orchestra and was directed by F.W Murnau.

Why should I watch it?

If you're looking to study horror cinematography, I suggest you look at the way in which static framing is used. Even though this technique is quite outdated for modern horror—it still does not take the eerie stillness from this old-time classic.

The Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Another big, popular one—this time straight out of the 60s Hollywood cult horror style. When looking at this film, we normally note the classic lighting, structure, and cinematography used to denote that this is pretty much as classic as horror gets. The film is set up in the cult-horror and gore style and was directed by the late George A. Romero.

Why should I watch it?

It doesn't take long into the watch to realise that this film set the bar for modern horror. The pure creativity that went into this film was something unheard of before. So, if you'd like to chase modern horror to its roots—you have something to work from here.

Ah, La Barbe! (1905)

Not a popular one, but still required for this list. I'm not so happy that this one isn't as known as the others—but I still hold my ground on this being an important watch for your knowledge of horror on screen. Popularised by the comedic fellow in the foreground who treats us to a laugh by eating the shaving cream, Ah, La Barbe! is actually the stuff of nightmares when you look further into the background and see that his reflection is now horribly morphing into random faces that have nothing to do with him. At a length of about 2 minutes—this short film is supposed to be comedic, but really doesn't turn out that way. It was directed by Segundo de Chomon.

Why should I watch it?

If you want to study cinema in general, or even if you want to study the art of surprise or "jump-scare", this film is a perfect example of that. The act of "jump-scare" is rooted in the morphing of the face into unexpected things and I feel that it is (even if it isn't horror) still quite frightening and uncomfortable to watch.

Here is a link to the film.

Living Hell (2000)

This film revolves around jump-scare, gore, and relies on the audience's empathy for the main character being disabled in order to get the most repulsion towards the things that happen to him as possible. The Japanese are known for their horror movies, but this one may be quite difficult to get your hands on—I have my own copy of the film, but do not have distributing rights and therefore, cannot make copies of it to share with you. But, I have seen in scarce on Amazon, if you're lucky you'll find it too. This film is repulsive as it is entertaining. It's starring Hirohito Honda (some of you may remember him from Battle Royale in which he played Kazushi Niida) and is directed by Shugo Fujii.

Why should I watch this?

I believe that this film is important for studying the subtlety of modern cinema—sometimes, it is so trapped in the tropes that it is scared to venture outwards and make itself known for something later on. The idea of destroying tropes is done quite finely in this Bergman classic; even though it pretty much failed upon first release—it has gone on to be widely studied in its visual horror and camera angles/frames. This film's use of close-ups and static frames is always something that interests us.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Directed by Ruggero Deodato, this Spanish/Italian horror film is the first of many beginnings and endings for the found-footage era. Filled with the temptations of all horror-movie makers to go on urban explorations to the edge of the universe in order to find something truly scary, this horror film feeds both physically and mentally on those watching this gore-fest.

Why should I watch it?

Notice the way it's filmed and the types of landscapes against the types of people. It is commonly noted in literature and the arts that the landscape of countrysides is pure and untainted—but the static frames of countrysides from this film seem to work against that trope. The idea of isolation is also a big question in this film—again, working against the trope that large open spaces are better than claustrophobic ones. If you can get your eyes away from all that blood and gore, of course!

Hour of the Wolf (1968)

A visually interesting film directed by Ingmar Bergman that takes on the plateau of Pan's Labyrinth (or rather, the other way around) and makes this storyline confused in the act of physical violence and metaphorical battles with existentialism. Taking on a very Oscar Wilde-esque persona about the value of art, this film makes a point about art and horror that doesn't leave you after watching the film.

Why should I watch this?

I believe that this film is important for studying the subtlety of modern cinema—sometimes, it is so trapped in the tropes that it is scared to venture outwards and make itself known for something later on. The idea of destroying tropes is done quite finely in this Bergman classic; even though it pretty much failed upon first release—it has gone on to be widely studied in its visual horror and camera angles/frames. This film's use of close-ups and static frames is always something that interests us.

American Werewolf in London (1981)

Again, an absolute classic for a film buff (or even anyone who has ever watched Michael Jackson's "Thriller"). An 80s cult classic directed by John Landis proved that visual aids can sometimes be of great assistance and make-up doesn't always mean to make someone look like the ghost of Jennet Humphrys. The pure conception of this film proved to the 80s that creativity wasn't dead and that there was still hope for horror yet (even though only two decades prior, the mark was set by The Night of the Living Dead).

Why should I watch it?

It is a visually stunning film with the transformation scene being (imho) one of the greatest scenes to ever grace the screen in any genre. The art of close-ups and extreme close-ups used in the transformation scene, as well as the editing process is something to be revered. A grand masterpiece of horror that is much more appreciated when you look closer at these underlying details.

A good idea would be to watch this alongside Michael Jackson's "Thriller" because you can really see the similarities (they are both directed by John Landis).

The House of Ghosts (1908)

Another one directed by the great Segundo de Chomon. This film, again, is supposed to be comedic but ends up being truly horrifying. At a gloried approximate 7 minutes—this film sends shivers by presenting itself as a dark comedy with undertones of pure terror.

Why should I watch it?

Again, something of a visually stunning masterpiece, especially for its day. But, the other thing you'd want to watch out for is the medium and long shots—something that isn't used much in the horror of today with the use of claustrophobic and dark spaces—this film actually opts for something more spacious and scary by using the full lengths of houses and mirrors. The idea of playing on the minds of viewers who are unsure of its horror/comedy genre is also something to be looked for. A great scale piece with stop-motion that brings us into the modern era with movies such as Scream and Haunted House and even Final Destination.

Here's the link to the film.

The Exorcist (1974)

Did you think this one was just not going to be on the list? This films is something of a modern masterpiece and is widely considered the scariest film of all time. That's got nothing to do with the visual effects of someone's head being able to spin 360 degrees around or even the make-up that makes Rags look scary as hell. It is also down to the sound, the scenery and even the lighting and cinematography.

Why should I watch it?

I cannot believe I'm answering this question, but here are your reasons. The first reason is that the lighting combined with the music, especially in the title scene with the violins is probably one of the most iconic uses of discord in cinema to date. The amount of films (including Insidious Chapter 2 and The Babadook) that have tried and failed at implementing this have only been looking to their predecessor for inspiration. The next thing you want to look for is the use of light and dark and how they are used to contrast scenes in which there is and is not the character of Rags/Reagan. Another thing you want to look out for is the use of voice, the volume, pitches, and differences in the voices—especially that of Rags and the demon inside her. Then, have a look at the scene in which the priests are saying "the power of Christ compels you" and look at how volume and pitch are used for the atmosphere. It really is a clever film.

I hope you've enjoyed this list of movies to watch if you're studying horror. Hopefully, there are many many more that you can think of—but from experience of doing it—I found these to be the greatest in my books.

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About the author

Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

150K+ Reads on Vocal

IG: @AnnieApproximately

Pronouns: (she/her/hers)

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