What you are: a casual horror film fan. What you want to be: a connoisseur who knows the difference between slasher films, giallo and torture “porn”; someone who knows who “Captain Howdy” is and where “Night of the Living Dead” was filmed. Horror 101 is for you! The first installment lists out ten films you should Netflix right away and get a crash course on quality horror. If you’ve seen six or more of these, then you’re probably more than a casual fan. Bravo to you!

1) Suspiria (1977)

Dario Argento shifted from his “giallo” period (subject of a future post) to his “supernatural” period with this moody, atmospheric film many put in the scariest films of all time.  The plot centers around an American student who arrives in Germany to enroll in what she believes is a ballet school but turns out to be a coven of witches.  Style trumps plot here though as surreal scene after scene twists the viewer down a violent rabbit hole.

2) Repulsion (1965)

Maybe you’re like my wife and won’t see a Roman Polanski film on principle.  However, if you don’t mind you’re films being written and shot by pedophilic fugitives, then you need to watch this one.  “Rosemary’s Baby” is his better known horror film, but this one is a fantastic profile of a woman slowly going mad.  Nightmarish and depressing, it’s a tour de force by a young Catherine Deneuve.

3) Freaks (1932)

Banned in the UK for 30 years, this is a film that could not and would not be made in the politically correct world we live in.  Shot with real “freaks,” it tells the story of a shallow, backstabbing trapeze artist who fools a circus midget and then it turns into a revenge story.  Hard to watch even today, but no Horror 101 student can pass without a viewing.

4) The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter is VERY hit and miss, but with this remake of the Howard Hawks classic, he gets a grand slam.  An Antarctic research group happens upon the remains of an alien and all hell breaks loose.  This films plays as straight horror, suspense and political metaphor.  Rob Bottin has a field day with his animatronics and make up effects in what today would no doubt be 100% CGI.  If you don’t own this DVD, you just aren’t a real horror fan.

5) Near Dark (1987)

What “Unforgiven” did to the Western, “Near Dark” does to the vampire film.  Completely unromantic and unerotic, this is low budget badass stuff.  More Coen brothers than Bram Stroker and not as popular as “the Lost Boys” which was released the same year, this one ages well.  For a fun drinking game and to see how many connections to the film “Aliens” you can find.

6) Tarantula (1955)

Alright, full disclosure here.  This is not a good film.  Not at all.  However, it’s a perfect example of 1950′s big bug movies.  After the nuclear age began post-Hiroshima, fear of radiation and the bomb pervaded the American psyche and Hollywood was glad to feed it with film.  Giant grasshoppers, ants, even rabbits were the monsters of the day.  All are rather silly and dated now, but if you’re enrolled in Horror 101, you need to know you’re history.  Fun trivia, Clint Eastwood plays an unbilled fighter pilot in the final scenes of the movie.

7) The Descent (2006)

Forget what anyone else says, THIS is the best horror film in the last ten years.  Gripping, claustrophobic and grim.  An all female cast goes down a cave and the shit goes bad.  This builds and builds and then grabs you and doesn’t let go.  Not even at the end.  Just make sure you watch the original ending and not the American cop out.

8) Rabid (1977)

You probably know David Cronenberg best for his wonderful recent films “Eastern Promises” or “A History of Violence”.  But did you know he started as a full fledged gory horror film auteur?  His films were more cerebral than your usual fare, though and also subject of a future post.  “Rabid” is a good example of his early period and a very worthy in the zombie genre.

9) Eraserhead (1977)

Some will argue that David Lynch’s first film is not a true horror film.  Perhaps.  However, I have never seen images on a screen that have disturbed and stuck with me as much as those in “Eraserhead”.  To this day I can’t eat Cornish game hen because of this movie.  If you don’t want to go insane, please, please, see this film completely sober.

10) Tetsuo:  the Iron Man (1989)

No relation to the recent “Iron Man”, this one definitely owes inspiration to number nine on our list.  Here’s the plot as summarized by our friends at IMDB:

A strange man known only as the “metal fetishist”, who seems to have an insane compulsion to stick scrap metal into his body, is hit and possibly killed by a Japanese “salaryman”, out for a drive with his girlfriend. The salaryman then notices that he is being slowly overtaken by some kind of disease that is turning his body into scrap metal, and that his nemesis is not in fact dead but is somehow masterminding and guiding his rage and frustration-fueled transformation.

Another one where it’s not about plot, but about nightmarish, disturbing imagery.  Sober warning applies here too.

Okay, students, you have your homework assignment.  Watch these and send your thoughts our way.  For extra credit, name the cigar smoking man in the lead photo.