Horror gets a little more visceral as we move into the second half of our journey. The relaxation of film censorship and changes in social attitudes in the 1970s meant that producers could churn out the kind of bloodthirsty cinema that would have been unthinkable a decade before. X-rated slasher movies, mind-altering psychological thrillers and embarrassingly bad American spoofs took to the screens, often with peculiar local twists provided by an increase in the availability of international films. The era between 1970 and the present day ended the cleanliness of horror, bringing us instead some of the goriest, most profoundly disturbing and utterly unforgettable films imaginable.
1970s – The Wicker Man (1973)
The seventies saw a rise in more visceral and exploitative horror. Bloodthirsty flicks such as Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre launched the American slasher tradition, whilst censorship relaxation gave directors the freedom to shock their audiences with the likes of The Exorcist. However, it was the proliferation of folk horror – a peculiar genre almost exclusively limited to the UK – that gave the decade some of its finest movies. The Wicker Man, starring Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward, combined understated British talent and quirky folk culture to create one of the most thoroughly disturbing films of all time. Village life will never be the same again.
1980s – The Shining (1980)
One of horror’s persistent virtues is its ability to poke fun at itself, in between making us change our underwear. This was never more prominent than in the eighties, with Child’s Play and The Evil Dead, which have reached legendary status for interweaving disturbing violence and supernatural terror with self-referential humour. Equally, the decade produced some of the most straight-faced, unrepentantly frightening flicks ever. While Poltergeist is a close contender for the top-spot, nothing is more nightmare-inducing, nor psychologically disturbing than Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, The Shining. The film’s creepiest moments would be etched into the retinas of viewers for generations to come, with the daemonic twins, “RED RUM”, and Jack Nicholson’s incredible performance.
1990s – The Blair Witch Project (1999)
By the nineties, the horror genre had evolved into a bizarre combination of ground-breaking frights and utter drivel. On the one hand, the decade gave us such chilling delights as The Silence of the Lambs, whereas on the other it spewed up such semi-spoof twaddle as Scream. Perhaps it is because of this that the choice for best horror film of the nineties goes to something a little more left-of-field. The Blair Witch Project not only pioneered the amateur handheld camera style of filming but also remains one of the most genuinely terrifying films around.
2000s – Saw (2004)
The early 2000s were a tumultuous time for the horror genre. Countless unimaginative, formulaic, jump-scare riddled films flooded the market, and the aftermath of this malignant cinematic tradition can still be seen today (see: Friend Request). However, certain gems were hidden within this tide of rubbish, such as cult-classic Shaun of the Dead, violently disturbing The Descent, and genuinely terrifying Japanese classics, Ju-On: The Grudge and The Ring. Though these films are iconic, none impacted the genre more than SAW. The incessantly visceral mega-hit was refreshingly story-driven and spawned countless sequels. Plus, how many horror films have been made into a Thorpe Park ride?
2010s – The Babadook (2014)
The last few years have seen a pleasing resurgence of rather unusual, low-key horror, despite Hollywood’s continued obsession with such hackneyed tropes as demonic kids and redneck serial killers. Jump-scare thriller The Woman in Black proved that Hammer Productions is still alive and kicking, whilst low-budget films such as Kill List and the delightfully macabre Prevenge are a testament to the independent cinematic potential out there. However, it is Australian psychological horror The Babadook that gets my final vote. A unique exploration of mental illness told through the story of a mother and son haunted by a sinister monster in a dapper top hat—The Babadook will linger in the darker corners of your room for months.
For a more detailed look into the greatest horror films of each decade, we recommend checking out Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness series here
Sam Young and Max Randall
Featured image courtesy of Warner Bro’s Studios via IMDB
Article image from film ‘The Babadook’ courtesy of A Thomas Mcpunk via Flickr