Zombie is a bloody, frightening story of a young woman who travels to an island in the Caribbean with a journalist to look for her father, a scientist who has gone missing. Upon arriving at the island, they learn that a horrible phenomenon plagues the island—the dead rise with an extreme hunger, which can only be satiated by the taste of human flesh.
Lucio Fulci’s Zombie delivers an original, gory, and terrifying take on the zombie movie. Rather than a typical zombie movie that tells the story of people trying to escape from the zombie apocalypse, Zombie shows us people traveling to an island that they do not know has a major zombie problem; this simple change from the typical zombie movie formula makes it such a fresh film, the characters are going to the zombies and then must somehow find a way to escape from an entire island of them!
One of the most memorable and shudder-inducing aspects of this film is, hands-down the insane gore. In addition to lots and lots of blood, Zombie punches you in the face with horribly graphic, detailed, and downright painful-to-watch scenes depicting zombie attacks; it delivers on the gore-front like nothing else, a true delight for horror fans who think they have seen it all.
As he does in The Beyond, Fulci also provides viewers with a truly unsettling, relentless ending that actually radiates such fear, dread and helplessness that the viewer can feel it through the screen. Zombie is one of those horror movies that stays with you after the credits roll, it will shock you and horrify you every time you watch it, and will truly delight horror and zombie movie fans.
4. Cannibal Holocaust
Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust centers around a group of young, American filmmakers who never returned home from their latest project, making a documentary about the Amazon jungles and the cannibals that are said to live there; upon an expedition to the Amazon to find the group and an answer to their disappearance, film reels with all of the disturbing, horrifying and ugly footage of the trip from the beginning to the bloody end is found—Cannibal Holocaust takes us on the journey with them as the reels are watched for the first time ever.
Cannibal Holocaust is often billed as the most controversial film ever made given its graphic, grisly depictions of rape, violence and real-life on-camera animal killings that take place in the film. Despite the highly graphic and disturbing subject matter, Cannibal Holocaust is one that any serious Italian horror fan should see.
There’s much more to this film than simply being disturbing for the sake of being disturbing, it explores the darkest, most savage corners of human nature and really makes the viewer question how different those perceived as savage and those perceived as civilized actually are.
Widely considered the first found footage style horror film, the horrific events that unfold seem extremely real in fact, that it makes the film that much more disturbing and could actually bring into question how much of the film is actually fictional.
Although not for the faint of heart or weak stomached individuals, Cannibal Holocaust is truly an achievement in the genre, it horrifies, disturbs, and most importantly actually says something to the viewers and will definitely resonate for many days after a viewing.
3. Deep Red
Another Argento classic, Deep Red follows a British jazz pianist who stumbles into the scene of a brutal murder and then proceeds to work with his reporter friend to solve the murder while the murder continues to try and kill the two to keep a secret quiet.
Deep Red is a winner on multiple levels: an ultra-creepy soundtrack (as is typical for Argento), brutal and inventive murders, a shocking ending and a truly suspenseful moments that will scare any viewer to the point of being on edge for a few days after a screening. Keep in mind that all of the suspense and horror that Deep Red conveys to the audience is snugly wrapped within a mystery that is impossible not to want to solve, true to the giallo movie form.
The mystery is part of what makes Deep Red so wonderful, we are totally on edge when we know a murder is about to take place, typical of the horror movie experience; however, it extends past that and becomes a consistent feeling of suspense that centers around discovering the identity of the murderer.
This constant suspense regarding solving the film’s mystery works extremely well at pulling us further and further into the film and thus, further and further into the horror, this makes it nearly impossible not to get scared given how completely sucked into the film the viewer becomes.
As he typically does, Argento gives us yet another fantastic, creepy soundtrack in Deep Red; this time, the scary soundtrack is different in its effect – rather than conveying a nightmarish environment, and feelings of complete and total helplessness, Deep Red’s soundtrack offers us a soundtrack that is, for lack of a better word, just truly creepy, it is extremely eerie.
What’s more, the creepy soundtrack is only played just before a murder takes place—the music is creepy from the start, however when we are exposed to it in the tense moments just before a grisly murder, the music becomes even creepier; from the first time we hear it in conjunction with a murder, it gets us keyed up for a horrifying murder scene.
Deep Red has some truly brutal murders that actually make the viewer feel physical pain from just watching. To top it all off, Deep Red has an ending that no audience member will ever see coming—when a movie can give you that as well as some truly great frights and great story, then you know it’s a true winner.
2. Black Sunday
Black Sunday delivers a truly creepy story about a witch who was put to death by the people of her town; before she died she put a curse on the town and all of those who have condemned her to death. Two centuries later, the witch delivers her curse and rises to seek revenge.
As one of Mario Bava’s earlier films, Black Sunday establishes him as not only a truly fantastic filmmaker but also a director who is phenomenal at establishing a chilling mood and atmosphere. The entire film has an incredibly dreary, dark tone and atmosphere; you can feel the darkness, the pain and anger of the witch and then, when the witch takes her revenge you can feel the horror of the townspeople.
Black Sunday does an incredible job of being scary and suspenseful without trying too hard, thanks to the wonderfully detailed, dark atmosphere, the viewer is already on edge and incredibly involved in the film, so when a moment of horror does take place, it is highly effective while being extremely simple.
Simplicity in horror is something that is difficult to be done right, but when it is, it creates a scare that is very intense and haunting. Bava’s amazing dark atmosphere is simply incredible in Black Sunday, and it is highlighted by great acting from Barbara Steele who does a fantastic job of playing two different, but identical characters, a true achievement. For anybody who likes slow-burn, highly atmospheric horror films and has a soft spot for movies that have an incredibly detailed setting, Black Sunday is a must see.
Dario Argento’s beautiful and stunning masterpiece Suspiria tells the story of Susie, an American girl who travels to Germany to study at a dance academy; as strange, frightening and deadly things start happening at the school, Susie discovers that the school has not only a dark past but also very dark and evil administration who will do everything it takes to get rid of a nosy, curious student who threatens to uncover the secret and stop the dark activity that takes place in the school.
Suspiria is the first of Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy; each film focuses on one of the mothers of witchcraft, Suspiria being the mother of sighs who resides in Heidberg, Germany.
Suspiria stands out in a few ways, the most memorable of which is the absolutely creative, haunting and positively eerie soundtrack performed masterfully by Goblin. Rather than a soundtrack that is the typical orchestral type, Goblin’s music is a highly unique, spine tingling rock soundtrack; the songs made for Suspiria have a very subtle but powerful mystical element about them which makes the viewer feel even more frightened and even more transported into a nightmare than they already were from the chilling story.
The unique and powerful aspects of the film do not stop at the soundtrack- the visually striking sets and colors make the film a simultaneously beautiful and terrifying experience.
Each set in Suspiria does an impeccable job at completely physically overwhelming and overpowering the characters in the film. In turn, this overpowered, overwhelmed feeling that is conveyed in the film translates to the audience, creating immense feelings of helplessness and a feeling of always being watched.
When the beautiful, huge sets are coupled with the rich, deep colors, mystic elements from a fairy tale are very present; these fairy tale qualities give the viewer feelings of fear, dread and suspense about the evil villain that we know is there despite the fact that it cannot be seen.
Pair these feelings with the overpowered feelings we get from the scale of the sets and we, as audience-members, feel completely trapped in a nightmare, just waiting for something dreadful to happen, we are helpless. These helpless feelings are doubled when the inevitable deaths take place, each one extremely brutal and relentless. Suspiria is a visual treat and a truly frightening film even for the most seasoned of horror fans.
Author Bio: Kate Owens is a Film writer & podcaster and Glitch Artist. She has a B.A. in Communications & Culture with an emphasis in film studies from Clark University in Worcester, MA. Read Kate’s writing and see her artwork at her website http://itsonlyamovieblog.com or reach her on twitter @kateoh12 .