The A&E staff picks the four most essential horror films

By The Pitt News A&E Staff

This week, the Pitt News A&E staff sealed themselves in their clandestine war room located somewhere beneath the Allegheny River and spent countless hours screaming at each other, chugging Cherikee Red and coming dangerously close to asphyxiating due to a lack of ventilation. The goal was to answer one of life’s eternal questions: What is the greatest horror film of all time? Tragically, they failed in their quest. However, they did come up with a top four and have decided to put them up to a vote on the Pitt News website.

By Shawn Cooke


Director: Alfred Hitchcock

While many remember “Psycho” for the ridiculously-iconic shower scene (there’s even a commercial parody with pistachios), the film’s real influence lies in setting a new bar for shock value in film — without showing half of modern horror’s blood and gore. We don’t need to see the knife hit flesh to be terrified. “Psycho” isn’t staged much differently than the average Hitchcock mystery, yet it contains a blood-curdling score and three major shock moments that elevate it to horror status.

Powered by a terrific turn from Anthony Perkins, “Psycho” cements Norman Bates as one of the most complex, charismatic, and sympathetic “villains” of all time. Trademark Hitchcock misdirection jerks the narrative around by frequently substituting protagonists. When all is said and done, we don’t know who we should have been rooting for — an extremely daring approach for a horror film. While the left-turn of a final scene may prevent it from being perfect, you still can’t beat “Psycho’s” influence and sheer visceral shock.

By Dylan Abbott

“The Blair Witch Project”

Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez

“The Blair Witch Project” was released in 1999, grossing more than $200 million from a shoestring budget. It consequently redefined the horror genre. Hailed as one of the most successful independent movies of all time, this success is highly attributable to its use of the “found-footage” concept and the consequential blurring of reality and fiction.

The film achieved an unprecedented mythology and speculation through the use of fake police statements and internet sites purporting the legitimacy of events — all of which, regardless of how “real” you think it is, only serves to draw you into this world of rumor and superstition. The filmmakers, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, reestablished how audiences interact with horror films. In doing so, they created a terrifyingly plausible depiction of fear.

What’s more, the film achieves intense cushion-clutching terror without the use of shrieking violin scores or drawn-out, suspense-building camera shots. They don’t even present us with the very thing we fear in all its terrible gore.

Instead, “The Blair Witch Project” relies solely on the age-old horror conceit that “it’s all in our heads.” The result is a lingering, haunting experience that will certainly make you reassess how much you want to take a stroll in the woods.

By Ian Flanagan

“The Exorcist”

Director: William Friedkin

Both a tremendous critical and financial success, the legacy of ‘The Exorcist” as the scariest film of all time (by publications including Entertainment Weekly and is still strong after 40 years of film history. William Friedkin’s “best picture”-nominated horror classic exploring the balance between good and evil through a demon-possessed young girl and a struggling priest is as potent and electrifying as it was when it was released in 1973. In terms of visceral thrills and genuine shock, few other horror films even compare to the nerve-twisting intensity of this film’s most essential scenes. 

“The Exorcist” is so effective because it focuses on the role that evil and wickedness play in the existential scheme of our world, rather than splattering as much blood as possible. Additionally, the film set precedents for many elements — head-turning, projectile vomiting and spider-walking — that have become terrifying staples of horror and have spurred cheap imitators ever since. Dramatically satisfying, emotionally involving, brilliantly acted and featuring astonishingly realistic special effects and makeup — not to mention a number of iconic shots and scenes — “The Exorcist” is not only one of the greatest horror films, but simply great filmmaking, as well.

By Allison Latzko 

“The Shining”

Stanley Kubrick

With an elevator full of blood, an eerie hotel and little Danny Torrance riding around on a Big Wheel, “The Shining” is the perfect combination of the psychological and the supernatural. It’s so artfully and meticulously filmed that I don’t think there’s another horror film that’s had such a powerful visual effect. But Kubrick’s horror masterpiece isn’t merely a spectacle. The film twists and turns like the halls of The Overlook Hotel, and viewers are left feeling helpless as they watch Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson at his absolute finest) descend into the seductive clutches of madness.

While other horror classics have fallen victim to their campy use of special effects and dated cinematographic style, “The Shining” has remained relevant thanks to Kubrick’s deft use of beautifully arranged shots and the sharpness of Nicholson’s dialogue and performance. “The Shining’s” monsters aren’t stalking the characters— they exist within them.

So cast your vote. Perhaps together we can crown one of these heavyweight contenders as the greatest horror film of all time.

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