10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark (Part 2)

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Here we go! Thanks for checking out the 10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark. I consider these films to be the foundation of a life-long obsession with horror movies. Clearly, these movies will show my age and experience. Quite frankly, that is exactly what they are supposed to do. If you want to know where Malevolent Dark is coming from, these are the films that developed that world view. Remember, these movies are in no particular order. In fact, I selected the order randomly by rolling a Dungeons and Dragons 1d10.

Part 1 of the 10 Essential Films to Know Malevolent Dark can be found here.

Amityville Horror - The infamous house at 108 Ocean Avenue
The infamous house at 108 Ocean Avenue

The Amityville Horror (1979) – Get Out!!!

The Amityville Horror has a tendency to polarize horror fans. Critics either love it or hate it. Retrospectives of the film love to call it dated and questionably authentic. To be honest, everyone has an opinion, and all opinions can be valid. However, opinions depend on context. I can’t remember exactly when I first saw this film, but I was really young. As far as haunted house films go, this was my post-graduate research after House on Haunted Hill (1959). For an impressionable youth, The Amityville Horror delivered all of the goods.

Back before The Blair Witch Project (1999), this was the closest thing we had to found footage. The movies come packaged with the claim that the events of this film are true. To a child, those claims were indiscernible from reality. From my point of view, this film was as real as the television I watched it on, and that made for a terrifying affair. The simple thought of young man murdering his family in cold blood while they slept horrified me. I came from a loving home. How could I relate to an evil of that magnitude?

The Amityville Horror offers enough scares, and many of the scares were directed at children. First there was Jody, the invisible pig that tormented the Lutz’s youngest daughter. As silly as it sounds today, the red eyes peering from the window frightened me. The children’s babysitter gets locked in the closet as she beats her fists to a bloody pulp trying to escape. One of their sons gets his hand smashed by a windows sash, and nobody in the house has the strength to free it. I could only empathize as George Lutz sped away from the home without the family dog, Harry.

The Amityville Horror traumatized a young mind. Say what you will, but I am a proud apologist for The Amityville HorrorThis film scared me as much any up until that point. Malevolent Dark considers it to be a foundational work.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) - Ken Foree as Peter
Ken Foree would become a staple of great horror movies for decades

Dawn of the Dead (1978) – When Hell Is Full, The Dead Will Walk

Choosing an entry from George Romero created quite a dilemma. Would it be prudent to choose the obvious classic that started it all, Night of the Living Dead (1968)?  Not this time, I went with the one that I have watched at least 50 times, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. In retrospect, as much as I love Night of the Living Dead, this was the right choice all along.

My first indicator that this would one day end up on this list occurred when one night I went to stay at a friends house. We were all amped up for this zombie movie that his older brother rented, but before we could watch it, his mom pulled the plug. “This is the most disgusting piece of garbage I have ever seen!”

I don’t know about disgusting, but Romero’s sequel contains some incredibly bodacious special effects by the master Tom Savini. But it contains much more than that. Dawn of the Dead paint a bleak picture. Decades before The Walking Dead, Romero described what the depth that the world would sink to when a crisis of unimaginable magnitude came upon it. What’s more, he packaged obscure social commentary that would suggest that the zombies were dead long before their heart stopped beating. Romero described a world of walking dead in terms of crass commercialism.

Romero also captured some incredible performances. Roger’s (Scott Reiniger) and Peter’s (Ken Foree) Tango and Cash act went far beyond their individual character. Futhermore, Ken Foree would find a permanent place in horror by reappearing in films by Stuart Gordon and Rob Zombie. Gaylen Ross would also show up in 1982’s slasher Madman. Nevermind the fact that Tom Savini exercises his acting chops as one of the marauding rogues.

The final icing on the cake comes in the form of an incredible soundtrack from frequent Argento collaborators Goblin.

The original Dawn of the Dead stands as a classic horror film. It is one of the best zombie films ever made.

Suspiria (1977) - Argento's use of color is simply brilliant
Dario Argento transforms the most brutal of violence into sensual art

Suspiria (1977) – Dario Argento’s Witchery

To put it quite plainly, Dario Argento’s masterstroke, Suspiria (1977) created a rift in my narrow focus world of horror. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I already had a few Italian horror films under my belt. Lucio Fulci’s Zombie comes to mind. However, no movie that I had seen brought together the mix of color, sound, music and beautifully fantastic gore like Suspiria did. It would trigger the beginning of a journey into international horror cinema that continues to this day.

Suspiria elevated the horror genre into an art form. Right from the beginning as Suzy Bannion receives a cold gust of wind, the soundtrack forebodes and builds tension. It then burns the eyes with brilliant hues of neon pink and electric blue. Just as the audience stumble in awe of the spectacle, Argento bludgeons the senses with extreme violence and gore. Yet, none of this is window dressing. The entire film is built on a foundation of old world evil, and secret covens of ancient witches.

Suspira also introduced me to the magic of Claudio Simonetti and the band that Argento would frequently collaborate with, Goblin. Never before had I experienced an soundtrack so interwoven and aware of the horror occurring around it. Quickly I stitched their relationship together with the Dawn of the Dead soundtrack.

Dario Argento’s film would also serve as my entry point to the rest of the “The Three Mothers” trilogy. More importantly, it set me off to stumble across Argento’s wonderful giallo films. Suspiria is a film that is absolutely required to know Malevolent Dark.

Burnt Offerings (1976) - Oliver Reed sites, frozen in catatonia, as his son drowns before him
Oliver Reed sites, frozen in catatonia, as his son drowns before him

Burnt Offerings (1976) – Oliver Reed, Need I Say More?

Burnt Offerings (1976) is another film that came to me by way of the Saturday Night Shocker on KPLR. Its also another film that I went into with zero knowledge of the movie, the trailer or anything else. What I found in Burnt Offerings (1976) was a very smart haunted house film that terrified me. This house did not torment its residents with slamming doors and rustling chandeliers. Instead it infected the minds and souls of its residents as it rejuvenates itself through the pain and suffering of its tenants.

To put it simply: Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, Bette Davis. What a cast! I had already been introduced to Karen Black through her work in Trilogy of Terror (1975). Then there was the great Oliver Reed, immediately recognizable from his work in Curse of the Werewolf (1961). He would also star prominently in The Brood (1976) and The Devils (1971)This guy was a literal powerhouse with his stage presence and he struggles to not steal every scene he is in.

This film stuck with me for years after first watching it. For one, Burnt Offerings has a scene where Oliver Reed watches  his son drowning while the swimming pool pulls him down. He’s unable to move and can only watch as his son continues to go under. Something about this scene kicked me in the gut. I mentioned this previously, I had no frame of reference for a father that would let his child be hurt. The idea was so foreign and terrifying for me.

Finally, the film ends very poorly for the family. They would not escape with their dog like in Amityville horror. They die and the house consumers their souls. I found the ending to be very guttural and impactful.

Burnt Offerings a great little haunted house movie that challenges some traditional spook-house clichés.

House of 1000 Corpses - More fantastic camera work
Rob Zombie showing skill behind the camera in his debut

House of 1000 Corpses (2003) – A Modern Classic By Rob Zombie

Those paying attention to details may notice that this one is not like the others. Almost exclusively, every selection on this list was filmed prior to 1990. Likewise, many of these foundational films came from my childhood. However, Rob Zombie did something in 2003 that was unexpected. He quite literally saved the horror genre for me, and his film House of 1000 Corpses might be the single biggest reason that I am writing today.

Back in the late 90’s horror films had largely lost their mojo for me. It’s not that there weren’t any good movies. There were good movies, but they all had the shimmering feel of over produced Hollywood films. Jump scares and CGI had replaced the craft of the horror film. Rob Zombie showed me that there was still gas in the horror movie tank. What’s more, Rob Zombie showed me that I was not alone in my love for good old days of horror.

Rob Zombie brought familiar faces to the table like Karen Black and Sid Haig. He showed his love for the local horror show on Saturday night. He introduced new horror icons like Captain Spaulding to the world. Zombie told a fantastically wacky story that nearly falls off the rails with its boldness. Finally he added a stylistic flair that would make Dario Argento proud without also making him feel ripped off.

House of 1000 Corpses revitalized the horror genre and gave hope to old-school horror fans looking for a way forward.

Thank you for reading the 10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark

Hopefully you enjoyed our little trip through memory lane. Obviously, throughout the years hundreds of quality horror films have gone through my fingers. Of those hundreds there are many that I love. In fact, there a few other films that could have made this list if I were just picking favorites. This was about picking the ones that made a real and lasting impact. These are the 10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark.

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