Before we get to that list, let’s define fear, or at least paint a better picture of fear. I personally like how Stephen King breaks down fear. He explains that there are three types: The Gross-out, Horror, and Terror. The Gross-out are things that gross you out like blood, gore, or slime. The ooey-gooey and yucky bits, as it were. Horror is the scary “monsters” in the world, ranging from giant spiders to zombies. From my understanding Terror is the unseen monsters, the supernatural, or eerie things in the world. Have you ever had the feeling like someone or something is standing right behind you, but when you turn around there’s nothing there, that’s terror. Oddly enough Horror films follow that model fairly close, creating a few different sub-genres.
The sub-genres of Splatter Films or Torture Porn brings with it, a whole lot of blood and guts. These films tend to focus on the survival of a character or group of characters as they endure many tests, usually involving torture devices. These sub-genres best exemplify the gross-out because of the exorbitant amount blood and guts used.
Slasher films are in between the gross-out and horror on the “fear scale” Slasher films became very popular in the 80’s and 90’s with classic killers like Jason Voorhees, Micheal Myers, and Freddy Krueger. The films in this genre, usually deal with a killer running around killing teenagers, who are up to no good (those partaking in sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll). This genre uses a good mixture of gore and the fear of being chased by a killer to scare its audience.
Creature Features / Monster Movies I think best describes Horror on the “fear scale.” The classic horror film featured many of the common monsters that we know and love today, monster such as, vampires, werewolves, mummies, zombies, ghouls, ghosts, and Frankenstein. The monster genre has evolved over the years, sadly, into movies that aren't even that scary, Thanks Twilight. I’m glad that giant monsters and H.P Lovecraft-esk movies haven’t been glossed over by pointless teenage love stories. It is fun to see a kaiju wreck a city, every once in a while.
Terror best comes from the Supernatural and Paranormal films. This sub-genre has blown up in popularity in recent history with film such as Paranormal Activity. These films scares its audience to jump-scares that were built up via the film’s ambiance. Filmmakers in this genre achieve their scare tactics by making the “camera man” the most ominous person or thing, on screen.
Now that you have a basic idea of the different fears and how they play into the horror genre, l can reveal my top five horror franchise.
- The Evil Dead
- 28 Days Later
- Paranormal Activity
28 Days Later brought to life a new way to look at the zombie genre. The classic zombie is a re-animated corpse with a healthy appetite for brains and human flesh. In 28 Days Later, humans are infected by a highly contagious virus that causes rage in its victims. The film follows the hero character, Jim (Cillian Murphy), who awakens from a coma to find a post-apocalyptic version of London. Jim is saved from a group of infected by Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley). The rest of the film focuses on the three of them surviving this treacherous new world. 28 Days Later’s sequel, 28 Weeks Later, follows another group of survivors of the “Rage Virus”. Danny Boyle, the director of the first film, has shown interest in returning to this franchise but has been busy with other projects. I personally wouldn't mind seeing a 28 Months Later film, especially if Danny Boyle returned as director.
One of the Kings of Horror, Wes Craven, best known for the Nightmare on Elm Street / Freddy Krueger franchise brought us another set of successful Slasher films in the late 90’s. This film series changed the rules of the Slasher genre. For starters the film was more or less a satire of the Slasher genre. The film did this by making most of the main characters wildly familiar with “Scary Movies” and their clichés. The killer, Ghostface, broke the rules set forth by Slasher films, he loved, in doing so creating a new set of rules to kill by. The opening scene of the film set the tone of how the killer operates. His first victim’s death set into motion because a high school girl fails at a scary movie trivia question. I personally didn’t fall in love with this film like other Slasher film aficionados, but this franchise is one of my favorite Slashers. Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street may have paved the way for these films, but they weren't as entertaining as the Scream films.
Saw is another low-budget success story. Oddly enough, Saw’s beginnings were similar to The Evil Dead. Saw started out as a short film with the same titled with intentions to attract film studios. Unlike The Evil Dead, Saw had some success at this stage and caught their eyes of some producers at Evolution Entertainment. These producers decided to make a horror division called Twisted Pictures, allowing James Wan and Leigh Whannell to expand their short film into a feature length film. (Note: One of the producers at Twisted Pictures is Oren Koules, that such a good name.) The Saw franchise was born along with the “Torture Porn” genre. Saw isn't the first film to use gore and torture as the main element in a film, but it sure did popularize in the modern era of filmmaking. Saw was released on Halloween 2004, becoming a hit. Saw took its new popularity and created a fairly successful franchise spanning seven films, each taking the top box office spot of the Halloween weekend. To put this perceptive numerically: The seven films have made roughly 873 million worldwide (Highest: Saw III with 165 million, Lowest: Saw VI with 68 million, Average: 125 million) Compare those numbers to their budgets (Highest: Saw 3D with 17million, Lowest: Saw with 1 – 1.2 million, Average: 9 million). As you can see, the films did well at the box office. Critically the film was pretty bad. Saw has the highest review on Rotten Tomatoes topping the charts at 48% and the lowest is Saw V with 12%, giving the franchise an average rating of roughly 25%.
To be honest, I really dislike the Paranormal Activity franchise. One of the main reasons I dislike these films is the teenagers that made my job harder. I worked at an AMC theater throughout college and every new Paranormal Activity brought with it a list of problems from the crowd. Even if I didn't have those bad experiences, the films didn't really turn my crank. These films may have perfected the jump-scar, but I wasn't that scared. With all the negative remarks, you may be asking yourself; why are these films on your top five list then, surly there are better suited films? I wanted to make an effort to include at least one franchise from each horror sub-genre, also I have to give credit where credit is due. The Paranormal Activity franchise is by far one of, if not the most profitable horror film franchise. The average budget of these films is roughly 3.5 million and the first film was made for 15,000 dollars. The Paranormal Activity franchise has made just over 811.5 million. That’s a good amount of dough for a “found –footage” film. (Note: These films are directed by Oren Peli, such a good name.)