Just three movies into his career, Jordan Peele has already amassed a fervid following as the latest wunderkind of the horror genre. Pivoting from his television career where he was mostly known for the Comedy Central hit series ‘Key and Peele’ to become one of the hottest commodities in all Hollywood has been the stuff of legend — a rare sight in an increasingly-homogenous industry where hardly any films bear the personal stamp of the director. That’s certainly not the case with Peele, a creative mind who has imbued each of his three feature films to date with an unmistakable sense of urgency and political conscience — not only breathing new life into a watered-down genre but addressing timely social problems with a refreshing novelty we seldom get to see in the big screen.
‘Get Out’ eschewed from generally accepted clichés to deliver a visceral portrait of race relations in North America, while ‘Us’ refined and expanded on the talent shown on his debut to provide a cautionary tale on guilt, repression and trauma that feels more urgent with each passing day.
The Oscar-winning director is once again on everyone’s lips following the release of his long-awaited third feature, ‘Nope’, a film that has been greeted with much fanfare and will surely become one of the biggest talking points of the year. Unsurprisingly for someone who has been appointed as the new poster boy of the genre, Jordan Peele’s love for horror movies runs deep, as is evident in the many nods and easter eggs that can be found throughout his work. As we celebrate his latest brain-melter, we have assessed ten films hand-picked by the man himself that should be required viewing for any Jordan Peele fan worth his salt.
1. The Fly (1986)
We all have that one particular film that we watched perhaps too soon at an impressionable age that shook us to the core and lives rent-free in our heads ever since. During an interview for the Wall Street Journal, Jordan Peele admitted to being no exception, citing David Cronenberg’s classic remake as the first horror movie that really got to him. Equal parts a cautionary tale of the dangers of playing God with science and a harrowing meditation on mortality, the film centers around an eccentric scientist who inadvertently has his DNA spliced with a housefly while running some tests on his groundbreaking teleportation device.
One can’t fault the director for losing sleep over ‘The Fly’ as a kid, because watching Seth Brundle’s body gradually decompose and mutate into a hideous man-insect hybrid is the kind of stuff that can etch into your cerebral cortex and haunt you long after the credits roll. “So scary, so inappropriate for how old I was, and yet I was able to watch it and understand it, and at the end of it, I felt less scared than I did before watching it, so that’s how I knew the power of horror.”
2. The Witch (2015)
‘Elevated horror’ is a broad term that’s been thrown around ad nauseam as of lately, and that is virtually impossible to discuss without invoking the names of Jordan Peele, Ari Aster and Robert Eggers. Not without reason have these three modern auteurs drawn countless comparisons as the newest trinity in horror cinema. All three represent a particular brand of filmmaking that favors subtle symbolism, atmospheric settings and psychological dread over cheap jump-scares, blood and gore. So, all things considered, it doesn’t come as a shocker to learn that Peele found a kindred spirit in Eggers’ earth-shattering debut, a film that explores familial dynamics through the plight of a dysfunctional Puritan family in 16th century Massachusetts who’s haunted by a sinister force in the woods.
“I really enjoyed ‘The Witch’, which had such an elevated style to it, and it really brought the gravity of introducing us to a real-life actual witch, with a capital W. I thought it was really great,” explained the director. It’s nice to know the respect goes both ways, with Eggers citing Peele’s own debut, ‘Get Out’, among his six favorite film releases of 2017.
3. Jaws (1975)
Beach attendance across North America is said to have plummeted during the summer release of Steven Spielberg’s seminal blockbuster. How many films in history can claim to have had such a strong hold on an entire nation? And that was just the least of the ‘Jaws’ effect, a film that essentially reshaped the way we perceived sharks, boats, suspense and the film industry forever. Jordan Peele is just one of many modern directors who have expressed their profound appreciation for the film, citing it as a key touchstone in the genre that influenced him “a great deal”.
“The most beautiful revelation with ‘Jaws’ was that the audience’s imagination is far more powerful than what you show them. It changes the way we think of how to tell the story of a monster.” His most observant fans may have already noticed Peele’s admiration for the 1975 film in one of his films, ‘Us’, where little Jason can be seen wearing a ‘Jaws’ logo tee at the beginning of the story. The director explained during an interview that the first thing he did after finishing the script was reach out to Steven Spielberg and ask for his blessing. “It was such a validating moment for the design of this film that we were able to get that.”
4. Candyman (1992)
“If there was no Candyman,” Peele told Empire magazine, “I don’t know that there would be a Get Out.” Racism is also at the crux of Bernard Rose’s 1992 cult favorite, a film that broke all kinds of molds in what at the time was a decisively white-centric genre like horror. Set against the backdrop of gentrified Chicago, the film follows a pair of college students who aim to unearth the truth behind Candyman, an urban legend associated with a string of murders in the scary projects of Cabrini-Green.
Thirty years on, the movie still makes salient points about prejudice, poverty and generational trauma, and connecting the dots with Peele’s own output is pretty self-evident. The fact that he co-wrote and executive-produced the 2021 spiritual sequel directed by Nina DaCosta should dispel any lingering doubts concerning his love for the source material. During an interview, Peele further revealed that if he was to assemble an Avengers-style crew of horror villains, he’d include the titular Candyman among other personal favorites such as Freddy Krueger and Chucky.
5. Halloween (1978)
Few villains have left a bigger mark among moviegoers around the globe than Michael Myers, first seen in John Carpenter’s 1978 original film as an unstoppable force of nature who escapes from a sanitarium and goes on a killing spree upon his return to his hometown. Peele rightfully cited him as the scariest horror villain of all time during an interview for the Wall Street Journal, arguing “he’s not even evil, he’s just curious. You know you can’t talk him out of whatever he wants to do.” The director also credited the film as a visual reference point that inspired the opening scene of his 2017 debut by “pulling the horror out from suburbia.”
The original ‘Halloween’ not only set the template for every slasher in the past forty years but gifted us with an iconic villain that has remained ingrained in our collective consciousness and keeps slithering back into our pop culture every once in a while. Though the mindless stream of legacy sequels has failed to recapture the genius simplicity of the original, Carpenter’s classic still feels as riveting and petrifying four decades on.