Gateway Films: The 5 Films that Inspired my Obsession

I meet folks all the time who ask me how I can watch and love the movies I do. They what to know what's inspired me to immerse myself in so deep in the horror genre. My reply usually centers around how horror is the only real art form left where you can push the boundaries of expression and elicit genuine emotions. Horror films themselves as a genre are always changing, more then any other sub category of film, horror has its stages. As I write this the genre is getting over it's (terribly named) "torture porn" phase and is at the apex of the "found footage" phase. But more specifically looking back at my experience in cinema, it's the horror films from my past that have led me down the road I'm on and shown me that through film all things are possible. With that in mind let's take a look at the films that have inspired me. These are the films that I feel opened new doors and made me want to explore the genre deeper, poking around every nook and cranny until I discover all that there was to know about the genre that I love.

My Five Gateway Films

Just missed the cut:

Shallow Ground - Danny Boyle, of 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire fame, wrote and directed this devious tale centered around a group of friends trying to deal with the death of their newest roommate. It's a simple film, but the story and the performances really stand out.

Cabin Fever - Its really just a love letter to many of the films on my proper list. Fun, gory, and bat shit crazy at times. Some people hate it (my wife included) but if you love genre films, this takes everything they are about, puts it in a blender and whips up a satisfying concoction.

Ichii The Killer - The twisted world of Takashi Miike. I'm not quite sure what the film is about. It's just one gonzo situation of violence, gore and sperm (yup, real sperm) after another. Wickedly demented, it might melt your brain while watching it. Fun as hell though.

The Top 5:

Clive Barkers "Hellraiser" - I must admit that I was a little late to the Hellraiser bandwagon. Perhaps spooked by the number of sub-par sequels (don't get me started on Hellraiser II what a joke.) It took me a long time to take the plunge. And am I glad I finally did. Thinking about the film, there is one word that comes to mind and that's "clean." I don't know how else to describe it. Pinhead is very clean. Perhaps it's the accent, or the shiny leather. Pinhead just seems a lot cleaner than other movie monsters. Hellraiser is a movie with a very slow build, not something you would think of from the fucked up mind of Clive Barker. There is a lot going on early, family dynamics wise. It builds the characters, gives them depth and story. By the time the Cenobites appear, the connection to Jennifer Lawrence and her plight is already there. Barker gives the film an intelligence that not many other horror firms have. He quotes the bible at times. He builds a tremendous mythological back story. Hellraiser really becomes the thinking mans horror movie. It's like it Iron Maiden of horror, in that when it's over you want to pick up a book and read about what you just learned existed. Plus it drives my wife crazy every time I say "The box. You opened it."

Friday the 13th - I'm thinking the original here. Mrs. Voorhees in all her deranged glory. What I love about this film and what it really did was create the sympathetic mad man (or woman in this case). As fucked up as Mrs. Voorhees is, you can't help but feel a little pain of justification for what she's doing. If you've ever loved anything at all, then you empathize with her heartbreak. Where as Michael Myers is a relentless killer without justification (despite what Rob Zombie would like you to believe), Pamela Voorhees has a very real world reason to butcher those kids, something I think gets looked over when people dismiss this movie as another empty headed slasher. The other thing I love about the film is the twist. Sure now, everyone knows its Mrs. Voorhees (thank you Scream), but the first time I watched it I had no idea. It blew my mind. Sean Cunningham raises enough red herrings to keep you guessing right until Mrs. Voorhees steps into the headlights of the car. Great stuff.

Suspiria - I love Dario Argento. His work from the early 70s to the mid-80s has no parallel in my mind. Suspiria is most likely his crowning achievement. Its story is nonsensical, something about a ballerina and a killer or ghosts or witches? Who knows? Who cares? Your not watching for the writing. You're watching for the colors, the colors are what make the movie great. The last film ever shot in technicolor, it literally bleeds through the screen. It's just color after color and it's amazing. This must be what Lewis Carroll was thinking of when he looked through the looking glass. No other film has created a visual palate as appealing and frightening as Suspiria. Couple that with the hauntingly frenetic soundtrack and you get pure chaotic bliss. The film also includes the single greatest death ever captured on film. A young girl falls through the skylight, hanging herself in the process. Just an extraordinary visual, one that countless filmmakers have been ripping off for almost forty years now.

American Werewolf in London - Picture this: five year old Josh huddled behind his friend Ricky's recliner afraid to peak out at a laser disc copy of American Werewolf in London. Why was it on? For the same reason anything that traumatizing happens as a child, because there were no adults around. We repeated that ritual over and over again for at least a year. Not once did I make through the movie without having to run and hide. Not once did I make it through the night without nightmares for weeks. Now, in retrosopect it seems almost tame, almost. The transformation scene is still scary as hell. The other scene that still gets me is the chase through the London underground. The echo of the footprints against the emptiness of the station is still very powerful. There is plenty of gore too, but the great thing about the film is that it's not about the gore, and the the gore is mostly played for a lark. It taught me that movies can be many things to many people. I watch the film with people today and they laugh straight through it, and there is nothing wrong with that. There are many great comedic elements to the film. Yet, there are others like myself who have been scarred for life by some of the horrific elements in the film, and there is nothing wrong with that either.

The Last House On The Left - Again we are talking about the original here. I can still see myself standing in Media Play (RIP) debating whether or not to purchase this movie. To say it had a notorious reputation was an understatement. I knew what I held in my hands was something years of Sunday School had warned me about. I took the plunge despite knowing my soul would be damned to hell. The movie opened so may doors for me. Grind house, 70's snuff, torture porn, rape/revenge, 70s folk music...they are all here and in a abundance. The film is very hard to watch. Rob Zombie once said "No one sits home and says 'I think I'm going to watch Last House On the Left tonight.'" He's right. I think I've only made it through the film twice. When I bought it and when I showed it to my wife. It's that disturbing. But it showed me what a person can do on film. The limits that can be pushed and how boundaries can be broken. It felt like my eyes had been opened. I raced to see "The Hills Have Eyes," "I Spit On You Grave," "Peeping Tom" and what ever piece of fringe horror cinema I could get my hands on. It was one of the most exciting times of my life cinematically speaking.

There we go. The reasons why I love what I do. Check out these films.

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