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10 Revolutionary Horror Films!

One of the great things about horror is that it constantly challenges us, the studios, and is a constantly a reflection of society at that given point in time. The giant monster movies of the 50’s and 60’s were based upon our fear during the Cold War. The excesses of the 80’s led to some truly outrageous shockers. Each decade had something to offer, something special. Many of these films changed the course of horror and, in many situations, the course of film itself. So join me below as I list off 10 Revolutionary Horror Films!

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari – 1920

The first true surreal, expressionist, silent horror film that defied the “normal” world around in favor of a twisted (both literally and metaphorically) landscape. The influences of this film can be felt in nearly every horror movie since its release as well as in the music world.

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame – 1923

The true beginning to the Universal movie monster series, this film locked in actor Lon Chaney as a true horror icon, perhaps the first of his kind. It also spawned numerous remakes, something we still see happening today.

King Kong – 1933

This film not only challenged the methods by which a movie was filmed, it took those challenges and ran circles around them. Seriously, if you want to have your mind blown when it comes to filmmaking techniques, find a good “Making Of” for this film, sit back, and be amazed. Many claim that Citizen Kane is one of the most influential movies when it comes to the actual art of filmmaking but I disagree. I say that King Kong is the rightful bearer of that title.

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  • tbaio

    I am very surprised to see Saw in this list. Even though it spawned many sequels, its far from quality or influential film making. If the # of sequels it spawned makes it stand out, why not include Friday the 13th?? Not to stack the decks on that last choice, however I’d have put Jaws or Silence of the Lambs down as well. Jaws created the fear of the water while Silence brought back the serial killer genre. Although I spent more time on what I’d have done differently with this list, the 9 out of 10 films here are winners. Thanks for forwarding this.

    • JonathanBarkan

      I have to admit that Jaws completely escaped me while writing this. It pretty much created the “Summer Blockbuster” phenomenon. Definitely a good choice!

    • Chrissie-Watkins

      Jaws.Yes.People were afraid to go in their damn bathtubs after that movie.

  • WalkWithMeInDarkness

    I’m a little surprised Halloween didn’t make the list. I guess because of what you said about it and other films owing a debt to Psycho (which is true). But although Psycho is, as you said, widely considered to be the first slasher, Halloween certainly seems to be the film that blew open the doors for the slasher sub-genre, truly popularizing the masked killer and giving birth to a slew of imitations (something that would happen again with the release of Scream, one of my favorites that deserves its spot on this list). I know I’m not saying anything new, I just love the opportunity to praise Halloween.

    • JonathanBarkan

      I was toying with Halloween but I realized that Psycho needed to be on here instead. It was definitely a close call though.

  • divisionbell

    Good list!! I personally would drop Saw and put Bird with the Crystal Plumage or something. Giallos had a huge influence on American slashers.

    Ahhh Caligari. The original twist ending that sooooooo many movies copied. brilliant classic!

  • Chancey289

    I think John Carpenter’s The Thing should have been on this list(maybe just because it’s still one of my favorite horror flicks). As well as Jaws.

    Found footage films have become a cancer. The only one that I truly can enjoy is Chronicle.

    I think Nosferatu also deserves a mention.

    • skinwakers

      Nosferatu should definitely be on the list. we have it on VHS and when my mom was little she and either her brother or her brother and sister would make fun of it so she told us as we watch it what they would say. some examples are:the end looks like a heart attack and when the girl was sleep-walking it would be Tippy-Toes,Tippy-Toes. i think Dracula should be on it,if it’s not already.the old House on Haunted Hill was awesome, but i don’t think its good enough for this list.same with The Birds.

  • Jc

    What about the people all the way up there in space that can’t be heard screaming? Whatever happened to Alien?

  • RobT

    Wow – Blair Witch and Saw on the list, but films that defined a genre at the time like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street are left off. Didn’t know King Kong was considered Horror.

    Here are some films that made the horror genre spin that are better suited for the top 10 compared to a few on this list.

    Rosemarys Baby
    The Entity
    Friday the 13th pt 1
    Nightmare on Elm Street pt 1
    Halloween pt 1
    The Howling
    American Werewolf in London
    The Omen

    Seriously, Blair, King Kong and Saw should be removed.

    Blair was only about how it was filmed and marketed, the story, and movie itself are absolutely terrible.
    King Kong is a monster movie and cutting edge special effects at the time, horrific, no.
    Saw, though smart and inventive in its killing, not revolutionary.

  • Morpheo

    Strange the Brian DePalma’s Carrie isn’t on the list. The Ending of the film created the most replicated trope in all of suspense/horror/sci-fi; The End… Or Is It?. When Carrie’s hand came out of the ground and grabbed Amy Irving’s wrist was copied in almost every film that followed. A famously quoted copycat; Friday the 13th (Jason & the canoe).

  • Taboo

    Nice list!

  • Paulochainsawmassacre

    Great list, but yeah ‘Saw’ cannot be in there if Alien isn’t. Facts and all that. ‘Saw’ also pathed the way for low standards in plot continuity, atrocious acting and poor direction, allowing James Wan to make all sorts of terrible films.

  • dnrcrs

    I am a little shocked by the lack of three films in particular.

    Jaws, Halloween, and Silence of the Lambs.

    Jaws was, arguably, the first real horror blockbuster. It aided in ushering in career of Spielberg.

    While Psycho was on here, I feel as though it had much more of a mystery element. Halloween was terrifying in the fact that Michael Myers came out of nowhere, was seemingly indestructible, and was endlessly brutal. It had an overwhelming sense of dread throughout the entire movie, and that is something I believe has not been captured since.

    Silence of the Lambs is on par with what was presented about the Exorcist as far as being critically acclaimed, and being noticed by the Academy Awards. I do believe that this was the first universally accepted, and respected, horror film. Many will argue that it isn’t a horror film, but…the main plot circles around an incarcerated cannibalistic doctor, who is helping an FBI agent track and capture a man who abducts, tortures, and skins his victims. On top of all that, he wears their skin after. If that isn’t horror, then I don’t know what is.

  • lucscs100

    I think The Ring shoudn’t be in this list, but that’s ok. I just don’t get why so many people are complaining about Saw being put in here, like it’s a bad film…

  • Henry F.

    Great list, but Rosemary’s Baby is a necessity.

  • playtonium

    Oh come on E.T. The Extra Terrestrial isn’t on this list? That was totally a horror film. LOL.
    I think the key word here is ‘revolutionary.’ Revolutionary doesn’t mean that it was good, it means it led to a significant change in the norm.
    Nightmare on Elm Street was not revolutionary to me, it simply took the slasher genre already captured by Friday the 13th and put it in a dream world. It certainly wasn’t the first to create a scary villain, nor did it spawn a new wave of films of dream-based killers except its own sequels. Nor was it mind-blowingly original… In fact Dreamscape came out the same year, and also dealt with someone entering your dreams and murdering you. NOES was a good movie though and scared the daylights out of me but it wasn’t the FIRST scary movie in the 80s (Poltergiest!) nor the first teen-slasher film (Friday the 13th.)
    Blair Witch Project, while a horrible movie, truly did start a revolution in film-making, including the breakthrough of indie horror movies into mainstream theaters and the rise of found-footage.
    Same with Saw. It sparked a long string of similarly-themed-and styled-torture-porn flicks, even though it’s questionable if the first Saw is considered torture-porn. It also for years after, influenced a new style of non-linear directing and story-telling in horror films, copied many times over.
    Alien should be on the list, I tried to find a similar film prior to 1979 but could not, and countless sci-fi films since have been built off the ‘something bad on the ship with us’ premise. I would agree with Jaws too.
    Great list!

  • @jonathanbarken I have to applaud your list of some true game changing milestones. I think that this is a great entry in the closing days of this year specifically because it stands out from the usual “top films of 2013” articles that are to come. Instead this list looks at the genre’s history as a whole rather just the last 12 months

    I wish you could have gone into more detail with each entry with regards to what they mean to you and what they mean to horror in general. My only exception is the last 3 films because I have been and remain unimpressed with the genre’s offerings (with rare exceptions) ever since the millenium clock struck 12 and you can throw in blair witch with it. Found footage, j-horror, torture porn, these are more fad fuel than influential landmarks. This notwithstanding the effort and reverence is greatly appreciated

  • Michael_M

    Whether you agree or disagree, these are always my favorite kinds of articles on BD.

  • inkya

    No Blood Feast? While Psycho can be called the first slasher, Blood Feast was the first movie to revel in gore, and without it, horror would be a dry affair.

  • Danny-E

    Halloween changed everything. No Halloween…no Scream.

  • ThunderDragoon

    You have Scream but not Halloween? Halloween was, and is, MILES more revolutionary than Scream. What the fuck…

    • Hicks

      I would say A Bay of Blood and Black Christmas were more revolutionary myself.

  • VictorCrowley

    Never understood the hate on Blair Witch Project, other than everyone has different opinions. I’d rather sit through that 20 times in a row before watching another Saw film (including the first one). Saw, to me, was a flash in the pan. Not revolutionary so much as just another quick meal ticket in a sea of no creativity and flat out bad ideas. The whole premise of all the sequels is beyond ridiculous. I mean shit, how many plans, how many traps, how much could a sick and dying psychopath really set up before he died? They killed him off way too quick and the series really deteriorated after that IMO.

    With Blair Witch, can’t speak for anyone on here, but in my real life dealings with people, those who expressed they didn’t like the movie were the types who lacked imagination and creativity. They couldn’t get into the story and allow their own minds scare them. They had to have something up on the screen doing it for them. Personally, the movie worked so well for me because I could really picture such a thing really happening. Of course they killed it all with part 2. But, IMO the first one definitely deserves to be recognized, as it is.

    Psycho belongs up there, as does Halloween. While it’s true Psycho is the first of it’s kind, Halloween took those ideas and expanded them, producing something a little different that really set the tone for the next decade. Halloween may not have existed without Psycho, but I believe the cultural impact of Halloween had a greater effect.

    Lastly, where the hell is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? Made before Halloween, it should definitely be considered one of the fore-fathers of the genre.

    • Taboo


      • Taboo

        on Blair Witch that is lol

  • CaptainHowdee

    What about Black Christmas?

    • Hicks

      I second that. While Halloween kick-started the 1980’s american slasher boom Bob Clark directed the first true holiday themed american slasher 6 years earlier in 1974. Its a shame that this films always gets overlooked compared to Halloween – don’t shoot me for it but in my book it is a superior film.

      MARIO BAVA deserves a mention for one of the earliest Giallo in The Girl Who Knew Too much.

      Bava’s A Bay of Blood from 1971 should also be there. This was arguably very important in the development of the american slasher – particularly friday the 13th – by featuring kids going down to a lakehouse, getting up to no good and getting killed. F13th Part 2 even copies, exactly, two deaths from Bay. It also had 13 deaths, which was used as a promotional gimmick for Friday the 13th. Also note the use of the first-person shot from the killer’s point of view and the glimpse of the mysterious killer in the form of a glaring eye as he stalks his next victims; an aspect that could very well have influenced Black Christmas.

  • lepromatous

    Along with everyone else, I agree with some and disagree with some. Always and interesting list though… I do think that the original (obviously) Last House on the Left should be there instead of Hostel. No Last House = no Saw, Hostel, etc. Maybe even need to go further back to the Virgin Spring…

  • Chrissie-Watkins

    I didn’t like Blair Witch, and did not find it scary, just my opinion. But I agree that you really can’t deny it launched the found footage genre like no other was able to, I mean, from 2010-2012 it was like every horror film that came out was found footage. Or torture porn, of course, but that’s where Saw comes in.

  • Damienthorn

    I would put the Universal’s Monsters. It had a deep footprint and still does.

    I know Psycho is the original slasher, but i think Halloween is the real origins of all the ones we know now.

    I agree with Saw. Horror was in such a “Scream” mode (PG-13). It made gory profitable again.

    Ps I Loved Scream, but i am a fan of diversification.

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