The Sounds of Nightmares: The Best Horror Soundtracks

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Horror films rely on a number of factors to deliver scares, attacking as many of a viewer’s senses as possible with a carefully concocted cacophony of sight and sound. On-screen efforts are restricted to targeting our eyes and ears, though let’s be honest, if Tobe Hooper could’ve made us smell the Sawyer family home, he would. This limitation on horror’s sensory maelstrom means that sound is just as, if not more important than the visual nightmares on display. Music is as intrinsic and essential to horror as it is to a musical; each grumbling synth drone and eerie pluck of a harp can conjure dread, unease, tension and suspense from the most unlikely places. More often than not they can punctuate violence and psychological torture to the abject degree, enhancing some of the greatest standout moments in horror cinema history. Look to the stabbing staccato strings in the infamous shower scene in Psycho (1960) or the equally sudden and unnerving strings of Jaws (1975). The best horror soundtracks have inspired these new sounds for decades.

While respect must be paid to the classics, we are indeed living in a golden age of horror cinema and, as a result, an exciting and experimental time for original horror soundtracks. Recently we have seen experimental artists like Jóhann Jóhannsson and Mica Levi growing into Oscar-nominated star composers, musicians like Thom Yorke shifting into the world of movie soundtracks and even indie game composer Disasterpeace taking on the duty of decorating the brilliant It Follows (2014) with his unsettling, synth-led dreamscapes.

Without further ado, here are some of the best horror soundtracks from throughout the ages.

The Thing (1982) – Ennio Morricone

The Thing Album cover vinyl.


Kicking things off with a personal favourite of 80’s sci-fi horror, John Carpenter’s frostbitten opus The Thing stars Kurt Russel as a helicopter pilot in Antarctica, battling a shape-shifting extraterrestrial being. By this time in his career Carpenter had written original scores for every picture he released, ironically enough what is now widely known as his strongest film was actually the first to feature another composer’s music. Ennio Morricone, known for spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and his Oscar-winning music for The Hateful Eight (2015) (which included music he’d originally written for The Thing), took the helm after long conversations with Carpenter in which the director said he wanted the sound “really simple, synth-driven, effective”. The end result is just that, a sparse and minimal synth score which echoes the endless frozen desert surrounding the research base and its inhabitants’ horrific struggle. Not bad considering Morricone was shown an incomplete version of the film with little to no context on what the director wanted.

Suspiria (1977) – Goblin

Suspiria (1977) Goblin Album cover vinyl record.


For our next sonic endeavour we head to Italy for giallo/gore maestro Dario Argento’s most notable grandiose horror-mystery, Suspiria. The film follows Suzy, a ballet student who travels to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet school. Her time at the academy isn’t easy, from strange noises in the night to unexplained illnesses, but when people begin to die around her Suzy starts to uncover the terrifying history of the place.

The tinkling music-box chimes of the main theme in Suspiria are as recognisable to horror buffs as John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) theme and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells combined. Claudio Simonetti and Goblin had collaborated with Dario Argento two years earlier, having scored his film Deep Red (1975) after Argento wanted someone in the vein of Deep Purple or Pink Floyd, and had Goblin suggested to him by his producer. After the success of Deep Red (a soundtrack which sold 4 million copies) both Argento and Goblin were free to experiment with Suspiria, meaning a truly unique pairing of aural and visual stimuli was created. Whatever your tastes, it can’t be argued that Suspiria and it’s accompanying music changed the way a lot of people thought about horror, and pioneered a style all of their own.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) – Sinoia Caves

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) - Sinoia Caves


Panos Cosmatos’ 2010 sci-fi/horror debut is bleak, sparse, minimal, and in a lot of senses, slow. It is an ethereal dreamscape in which a heavily sedated woman with extrasensory perception tries to escape from a commune which has her held captive. The plot is thin and, it could be argued, merely an excuse for the aural and visual feast which it amounts to. It has been joked that Cosmatos’ work is best enjoyed under the influence of psychedelics, and for his second release as Sinoia Caves, Black Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt seemed to have taken this sentiment in stride. With sly nods to John Carpenter, Goblin, Jan Hammer and Jon McCallum, Schmidt created not a specifically referential piece of nostalgia but one that reinforces the films 80s aesthetic and contextual themes without appearing intrusive. Cosmatos creates his pieces from an almost naive love of the genre, while also retaining an originality in his art that would equally work without the inspirational ancestry to pay reference to. Thankfully, he seems to pick composers who do the same.

Mandy (2018) – Jóhann Jóhannsson

Mandy (2018) - Jóhann Jóhannsson Album cover vinly


If Mandy was Panos Cosmatos’ love letter to grindhouse and the 80’s, Jóhannson’s sonic counterpart was the perfect accompaniment. A visceral and fierce arrangement, of melancholic synths, earth-rattling guitars, somber strings and erratic percussion takes viewers through as emotional a rollercoaster as the film does. In a tragic turn, one made even more significant by the emotional depth of the composition he had just released, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson died at age 48, shortly after the film’s release. Several vinyl issues have been released of the heavy metal fever dream which includes Seattle-based experimental metal band Sunn O))) providing the moody, overdriven guitar work. In an interview, Cosmatos spoke of his planning the score with Jóhannsson: “I said, ‘I want it to feel like you’re 11 years old, and you’re in the backseat of your big brother’s Trans Am, and he’s smoking weed, and you can smell the vanilla air freshener, and the leather,” the director said. “It’s kind of scary, but it’s also exhilarating at the same time.” Cosmatos recalled that Jóhannsson paused before replying: “I know exactly what you mean.”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell album cover


Tobe Hooper’s 1974 debut classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre shocked audiences around the world in a single reverberative gasp with its unabashed and unfiltered violence, grimy aesthetic and wacky cast of insidious antagonists. The picture was helped along massively in its cumulative effect by Hooper and sound expert Wayne Bell’s nightmarish soundscapes which blur the same line between music and noise that many modern industrial and underground pop artists frequently emulate, as well as the French abstract ‘musique concrète’ movement. All focus was given to the scene, whether it be one of building tension, horrific release or a mix of both in something like a chase scene, all sound was specifically engineered to enhance the initial idea. Because of the strange and unique pairings of instruments used in each piece, the overall effect is one of just just as unsettling a nature as the horrific visual brutality on display.

Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrmann

Psycho (1960) - Bernard Herrmann Album Cover


Alfred Hitchcock is a household name in the world of horror, known best for his terrifying and suspenseful The Birds (1963), Rear Window (1954) and, of course, Psycho. Similarly, composer Bernard Herrman’s career spanned from work with Orson Welles in the Mercury Theatre writing the music for The War of the Worlds and Citizen Kane, on dozens of television programs including The Twilight Zone, and later films such as Taxi Driver (1976), whereupon shortly after he died. His work on what is perhaps Hitchcock’s best loved film has come to be one of the best known original scores in horror, particularly the staccato string attack which stabs along with our faceless killer in the infamous ‘shower scene’. Much of the score features a 7th chord that contains both major and minor intervals that film professor Royal Brown calls the ‘Hitchcock chord’. The chord is seen as allowing the films to play out a very ordinary opening scene with its major intervals, while also having the minor intervals to hint at the darkness beyond.

The Lighthouse (2019) – Mark Korven

The Lighthouse (2019) - Mark Korven album cover vinyl record


For his 2019 slow-burning, mythology-laden period chiller The Lighthouse, director Robert Eggers reunited with composer Mark Korven, the man who scored cult sci-fi/horror hit Cube (1997) and Egger’s previous horror breakout The Witch (2015). In an age awash with samey, uninspired horror soundtracks that frequently borrow heavily from Bernard Herrmann’s earlier efforts, a pairing such as Eggers and Korven is a rare and unique treat. For The Witch, Korven took a minimalist approach, utilising his own creation ‘The Apprehension Machine’, a contraption of metal rulers and bows which has been described by some as the most terrifying instrument around. While this fit with the themes and aesthetic explored in The Witch, for The Lighthouse a different approach had to be taken. Heavy use of booming brass permeates the score, echoing the raging sea which surrounds the characters, along with glassy string sections that almost seem to pour from the mysterious light itself. The score acts almost as a third character, diving into the madness the other two end up gleefully embracing.

Under The Skin (2014) – Mica Levi

Under The Skin (2014) album cover

To accompany the alien, otherworldly, uncanny feeling of Jonathan Glazer‘s sci-fi/horror Under The Skin, composer Mica Levi took a rather elemental approach to her score. The lead character in Under The Skin, played by Scarlett Johansson, is a blank-eyed extraterrestrial predator with apparently no human emotion or relatability. Of course Levi would look to György Ligeti’s strikingly impersonal and unsettling work on The Shining (1980) for inspiration. The soundtrack for Under The Skin plays out much like a thought process from something far from human, as if trying to emulate other music the way Johansson’s character tries to emulate other people. “We were looking at the natural sound of an instrument to try and find something identifiably human in it, then slowing things down or changing the pitch of it to make it feel uncomfortable,” Levi said in an interview. Sounds range from swarming dry tremolo strings, insectile digital whirring and buzzing and pitch-shifted drones that seep under the skin in a truly addictive way.

Hellraiser (1987) – Christopher Young

Hellraiser soundtrack album cover (1987) - Christopher Young. Featuring Horror Icon Pinhead


Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, shocked audiences in 1987 with a new blend of gothic, torturous horror. Featuring a mostly amoral cast of characters being tormented by the insidious Cenobites, Barker’s gleefully cruel outlook was a lot for audiences to stomach at first. So much so that production company New World Pictures decided against the avante garde synth soundtrack that John Balance and Peter Christopherson of the underground British electronica group ‘Coil’ were creating, opting instead for a more traditional approach. Thankfully this decision was backed up by the idea to use Chistopher Young (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), Sinister (2012)) and arguably one of the greatest traditional horror soundtracks was realized. Predominantly orchestral and with some synth textures added for good measure, the score weaves its way through a myriad of melodies, harmonies and interesting and emotional instrumentation to match Barker’s pitch-black, dissonant romanticism, treading the line between pain and pleasure.

The Beyond (1981) – Fabio Frizzi

The Beyond (1981) - Fabio Frizzi album cover featuring a rotting corpse


Often referred to as the ‘Godfather of Gore’, Lucio Fulci is known for a string of gruesome giallo flicks from Zombie (1979) to The New York Ripper (1982) and A Cat in the Brain (1990). His films range from grounded murder mystery to psychedelic nightmare, all retaining a healthy splattering of his signature excessive style of blood and guts. One of the most off-the-wall endeavors the Italian director ever undertook was 1981’s The Beyond, a truly wacky horror about an old hotel in Louisiana that contains an entrance to Hell. Fabio Frizzi’s score focuses on variations on a few central themes in a tasteful combination of traditional orchestration and electric progressive rock. While tailoring pieces to fit the building of tension, dreamy atmospheres and striking intensity that run throughout, Frizzi’s score provides more bass-driven funk than one might expect to hear over a scene of tarantulas eating someone’s face.

The Devil’s Candy (2017) – Michael Yezerski

The Devil’s Candy (2017) - Michael Yezerski soundtrack cover image with bloody guitar


Sean Byrne’s second offering of violent, visceral horror after his 2009 shocker The Loved Ones features a metalhead artist who becomes obsessed with a demonic painting seemingly created by his subconscious, as well as a disturbed giant of a man whose existence threatens the family’s very lives. Featuring an almost perfect arrangement of existing metal music, from the earth-rattling soundscapes of Sunn 0))) to the groove laden riffing of Machine Head, the film also features an original score by Michael Yezerski. This is truly the heavy metal horror film of the 2010s, in fact any time there isn’t an actual metal band playing viewers are treated to Yezerski’s semi-industrial blend of brutal guitar shredding, atonal clangings and screechings and gut-wobbling drones. Subtlety isn’t the intent of either aural or visual elements here, rather a heart stopping face-slap from start to finish.


Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter

Halloween Soundtrack cover (1978) - John Carpenter featuring a pumpkin and knife


When John Carpenter made the legendary and timeless Halloween he was thirty years old, yet still running things like a college student. Everything he could possibly do himself, he would, including the chillingly minimal and infinitely recognizable score that would help propel his low-budget slasher to worldwide stardom. Drawing on Goblin’s sinister Suspiria score along with Bernard Herrman’s masterfully suspenseful music for Psycho, Carpenter (who recognizes himself as having zero chops as a musician) wrote a simple 5/4 piano rhythm that would end up being one of the most recognized pieces of music in horror. Like the theme from Jaws, the sparse and basic nature of the tune helps build suspense without being intrusive, allowing just enough space between notes for the horrors on screen to set in. The score features many simple, descending piano lines creating an acute sense of foreboding before the sharp, “cattle prod” keyboard stabs have viewers jumping from their seats. Proof that true art is born from limitations, Carpenter’s Halloween theme has been adopted by Pop and Hip-Hop artists alike, and remains to this day one of the most influential horror scores in existence.

References

https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/best-horror-movie-soundtracks/
https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/periods-genres/film-tv/scariest-horror-soundtracks-music-scores/
https://www.stereogum.com/2063184/best-horror-music-movies-tv-2010s/lists/ultimate-playlist/
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/the-thing-ennio-morricone-and-john-carpenters-thriller-soundtracks-get-special-rereleases-981073/
https://noisegate.com.au/behind-the-score-suspiria-by-goblin/
https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19753-sinoia-caves-beyond-the-black-rainbow-ost/

https://thequietus.com/articles/23290-texas-chainsaw-massacre-soundtrack-article
https://www.npr.org/2000/10/30/1113215/bernard-herrmanns-score-to-psycho?t=1628191357826
https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19239-mica-levi-under-the-skin-ost/
http://magazine.scoreit.org/there-is-a-light-that-never-goes-out-mark-korven-on-the-lighthouse/
https://moviemusicuk.us/2017/09/14/hellraiser-christopher-young/
https://filmschoolrejects.com/lucio-fulci-movies/2/
https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-beyond-original-motion-picture-soundtrack-mw0000012511
https://bloody-disgusting.com/news/3428439/exclusive-devils-candy-director-sean-byrne-provides-soundtrack-commentary/
https://mondoshop.com/products/the-devils-candy-original-motion-picture-soundtrack
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/35-greatest-horror-soundtracks-modern-masters-gatekeepers-choose-126190/halloween-john-carpenter-1978-126731/

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The Undying Legend of George A. Romero

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Best Of Best of Movies Featured Scary Movies and Series

It doesn’t take a horror buff to know the name George A. Romero, whose uniquely nasty brand of undead carnage has horrified theaters and households worldwide since the late 1960s. His Living Dead series is one of the chief contributors to the look, sound and overall behavior of zombies in modern culture, and Romero is often described as “iconic” within the horror genre and “Father of the Zombie Film” for his essential and influential work within the Zombie sub-genre.

Starting out in 1960, just after graduating from college, Romero began by shooting short films and television commercials before getting together with some friends in the later 60s and forming what they called Image Ten Productions, the company that would produce his first cult classic, Night of The Living Dead (1968). Since then Romero’s work has been revered and detested in just about equal measure, and here I will explore some of the more notable entries in his filmography and why they were so divisive from societal commentary to pushing the limits of horror.

George Romero passed away July of 2017. RIP to one of the greats; George Romero February 4, 1940 – July 16, 2017

When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.

George A. Romero

Night of The Living Dead (1968)

The original. The progenitor. The timeless classic which pioneered the entire zombie genre. Romero’s first major motion picture shocked audiences with its mix of graphic violence, creeping horror and sharp social commentary back in the late 60s, when all people had seen of zombies were the more focused and often voodoo-based flicks of the 30s and 40s, beginning with Victor Halperin’s 1932 opus, White Zombie. Night of The Living Dead tells the tale of a group of Pennsylvanians hiding out from the undead apocalypse in a farmhouse basement. Grim news reports detail the carnage in the surrounding areas as the group fend off the walking dead from their makeshift fortress. Being filmed in black and white certainly adds a lot to the grotesque atmosphere and hides a lot of the budgetary and technological constraints of the time, proving Romero’s first entry to be just as effectively gruesome today as it ever was.

Turns out there was a miss in the copyright of the original Night of The Living Dead so it can be readily streamed for free on many services as it is now in the Public Domain.

Stream Night of The Living Dead -1968 – free on Youtube

The Crazies (1973)

Crazies Romero Zombie Horror Movie Poster

The few films Romero released just after the critical success that was ‘Living Dead were sadly not so well received, one of these being The Crazies. The Crazies centers around a small town affected by an airborne bioweapon which causes people to become homicidal psychopaths. We follow a nurse (Lane Carroll) and her husband (W.G. McMillan) as they try to flee their infected town. When the US army turns up to control the outbreak, the chaos ramps up even more in what is, if not Romero’s best work, still a potent low-budget shocker with plenty to satisfy even discerning horror fans. Like many of Romero’s classics,The Crazies was a big enough hit to warrant a remake in 2010, with a fresh and terrifying look at the source material that some deem to be better than the original.

The Amusement Park (1975)

Romero’s The Amusement Park movie poster featuring a man who has a carousel in his head

While not exactly horror, and not exactly a feature film, Romero’s The Amusement Park is as sharp on social commentary as it is chilling. Believed lost until 2017 when a print was found and given a 4k restoration by IndieCollect, the film was originally commissioned as an educational piece on elder abuse but mothballed after completion.

Lincoln Maazel plays Martin, an elderly man on a visit to, you guessed it, an amusement park. What follows is a ride as unsettling as it may be upsetting for some, and though the metaphors on the way elderly people are treated by society are heavy handed, Maazel’s disoriented performance amongst the screaming crowds and roaring rollercoasters is as frightening as ever. The Amusement Park is Romero at the height of his vicious cynicism, a deeply unnerving psychological head trip peppered with absurdist jabs at an uncaring society. If Romero was alive to see its eventual release I’m sure he’d have more than one interesting story to tell, though to have it released at all is a blessing for any horror fan.

Dawn of The Dead (1978)

1978 Dawn of the Dead Horror Movie Poster

Ten years after his original zombie horror show Romero returned with Dawn of The Dead. While it features no characters or settings from its predecessor, this was the second film in Romero’s Living Dead series and focused on the wider effects the zombie outbreak has on society. Boasting a much larger scale and a clearly bigger budget, Dawn focuses on two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team members, a traffic reporter, and his television executive girlfriend as they seek shelter from the rotting hordes in an abandoned shopping mall. It is often regarded as one of the best zombie movies ever made for its uncompromising and shocking gore, sharply misanthropic social commentary and no-holds-barred zombie action.

Shot at the Monroeville Mall and in Pittsburgh; the special make-up effects were created by Tom Savini, also a Pittsburgh native. To this date the mall still holds an annual Zombie Fest.

Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow (1982) Movie Poster

Creepshow saw Romero leaning more into his campy tendencies with a hilarious horror/comedy anthology film based on the E.C. horror comics of the 50s. Written by, and starring none other than Stephen King himself, Creepshow is a colorful, wacky homage to pulpy low-brow horror that pays true tribute to its inspirational works. An all-star cast including Tom Savini, Leslie Nielsen and Hal Holbrook play out five brief but volatile short horror films with such stories as a rural man dealing with an extraterrestrial visitor, a man using unorthodox means of revenging his cheating wife and a terrifying monster breaking free of its holding cell and causing a path of destruction.

Day of The Dead (1985)

day of the Dead 1985 Romero Zombie horror film

Romero’s Living Dead series is back with another scathingly cynical view on society decorated with buckets of blood and gore. Day of The Dead is the third in the series and, while not considered to be as incendiary in its message and haunting in its execution as previous entries, it still has a few gruesome tricks up its sleeve. Its story sees the zombies coming together and evolving as the survivors of the outbreak hunker down in an old missile silo underground. Focus is given more to the dangers of people rather than the undead this time around, with survivors devolving into cavemen below the surface while the zombie hordes begin to thrive in their new kingdom. Day of the Dead deals with the conflicting ethos of science vs military in a ravaged Earth, demonstrating as clearly as ever that humans don’t need to be nukes into oblivion when their own idiocy can get them into a similar state.

Land of The Dead (2005)

Land Of The Dead Horror Movie Poster featuring zombies and a city

Fast forward 20 long years and Romero proved once again that his zombies simply don’t stay dead. Land of The Dead developed Romero’s concepts of human hierarchy further by splitting the surviving factions of humans into upper-class, who live out the apocalypse from the comfort of their high-rise tower block, and lower-class, who must sweat it out in the makeshift slums below. While some of the originality of the original trilogy is lost in the sometimes-on-the-nose social commentary this time around, there is plenty of flesh-eating fun to satiate the hungriest zombie fan. Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) enforces brutal class distinctions between his feudal society while a secret rebellion is in the works to overthrow him. Couple these elements with a horde of evolving zombies that are learning to adapt, and the chaos of Land of the Dead is really something to behold.

Diary of The Dead (2007)

Diary of The Dead (2007) movie poster featuring someone recording zombies in a burning city

Now here is a curveball that none saw coming. With Romero’s fifth installment in his Living Dead series he decided to change format completely and shoot the whole affair in a found-footage/documentary style. While independently produced, the film did see a theatrical release by The Weinstein Company. This entry takes place at the beginning of the outbreak, telling the tale of a group of students and their professor attempting to make a horror film in the forest. Before long the living dead hone in on the class and begin to pick them off one by one. Romero’s political edge is as prevalent as ever, with a good amount of his jabs being taken at the media and their implication in disastrous events, in this case the zombie apocalypse. There’s not a whole lot more to say about Diary of the Dead as, as entertaining and effective as it can be, the whole field starts to feel a bit trodden by this point.

Survival of The Dead (2009)

Survival of The Dead (2009) horror movie poster featuring a zombie reaching for you

A zombie virus has plagued the Earth, and one group of soldiers traverses the more rural areas to scavenge for supplies after abandoning their post. The soldiers hear of a safe haven on Plum Island, however when they get there they find a fierce battle between warring families, The O’Flynns and The Muldoons. The O’Flynns want to exterminate all zombies for good while the Muldoons want to live peacefully among their living-dead friends and family. A plot like this leaves plenty of room for Romero’s signature scathing wit, though even the most die-hard fans will admit at this point that their hero is starting to run out of ideas. Sub-par directing, questionable acting and a script that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be makes Survival of the Dead barely a footnote in the legacy that once took theaters by storm.

George Romero’s Other Works

Aside from his extensive work with Zombies he also contributed to horror with the following films and TV show.

 Martin (1978)
 Knightriders (1981) 
Monkey Shines (1988) 
The Dark Half (1993)
Bruiser (2000)

created and executive-produced the television series Tales from the Darkside, from 1983 to 1988.

I didn’t play practical jokes at home. I had a strict upbringing, which is part of my rebellion. I was raised Catholic and went to parochial school, which is why priests and nuns appear in my movies a lot, and I don’t have very much nice to say about them.

George A Romero

If you are inspired by George A. Romero like we are you can now study horror at the George Romero foundation.

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Top 10 Chainsaw Horror Movies

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10 Killer Chainsaw Horror Movies

Horror movies have given us some of the most menacing and violent on-screen villains since the dawn of cinema, though these masked maniacs are nothing without a trusty weapon with which to do their dirty work. The chainsaw is one of the most iconic weapons in horror next to Michael Myers’ kitchen knife, Jason Voorhees’ machete and Freddy Krueger’s knifed glove, and one particular Ed Gein inspired psychopath is the first to come to mind when this grisly, tree-felling tool is mentioned: Leatherface. Aside from Leatherface, there are probably more chainsaw horror movies than you might think out there.

The chainsaw has no particular style or grace, it is the choice of weapon for when your target must absolutely come to the utmost harm you can possibly befall them. It won’t just cut, it’ll carve, grind and mangle. Think you can hide indoors? Those doors better not be made of wood, or whoever’s wielding that snarling, toothed engine won’t be held back for long. Even the most hyperviolent video games aren’t complete without allowing their players to wield the chainsaw, with titles such as DOOM, Gears of War, Manhunt, Left 4 Dead and a good amount of other zombie games on the market including the weapon. That being said, the first exposure most audiences had to the flesh-ripping nature of the chainsaw was through film, so please enjoy the most heinous, violent and barbaric depictions of on-screen chainsaw violence in history.

The Wizard of Gore (1970) 

The Wizard of Gore (1970) horror movie poster featuring a drawing of a body in a top hat

Herschell Gordon Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore is arguably one of the first horror movies to bring a chainsaw to proceedings, and this early 70s forerunner to post-9/11 torture porn does so with gusto. Deranged magician Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager) invites women onto his stage show where he performs grisly illusions upon them, usually by dismembering them in some way, before having them return to their seats magically unharmed. Later, when the women begin dying for real in ways identical to their ‘deaths’ on stage, people begin to suspect there is more to Montag than simple magician’s tricks. Featuring plenty of over the top gore and an ending likely to confuse as much as it does enthral, fans of classic cult horrors should take note.

The Last House on The Left (1972)

The Last House on The Left (1972) horror movie poster featuring a woman leaning on a tree

Wes Craven, who would later carve his own legacy in the annals of American Horror, first directed a harrowing and highly sexualised revenge horror in 1972. Other than a previous adult film, this was Craven’s directorial debut and it is clear he was out to shock from the start. Later re-releases dub The Last House on The Left as “The Original Chainsaw Massacre”, though the weapon is not actually featured until the film’s final act. Rather than wince when the snarling saw is finally brandished, however, audiences will shout encouragement at its wielder as he sets it upon the man who raped and killed his daughter. This shock revenge flick has as satisfying an ending as any that came after it, and the loud, intense edge of the chainsaw is partly to thank for that.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

This is the big one, folks. Directed by Tobe Hooper and unleashed to shock unsuspecting audiences around the globe in 1974, Texas Chainsaw is not only the ultimate exercise in chainsaw-based carnage, but still remains one of the most unsettling and intense horror movies to this day. Advertised and being based on a true story it was all too real for some audience members. With a whole family of antagonists including the instantly recognizable, Ed Gein-inspired Leatherface, Hooper’s classic brings a specific flavor of nastiness that is often imitated, though never quite perfected.

Motel Hell (1980)

Motel Hell (1980) horror movie poster with a spooky motel and screaming faces

Kevin Connor’s 80s black comedy/horror centers around siblings Vincent and Ida Smith (Rory Calhoun & Nancy Parsons) who run a motel along with a food stand selling their world famous sausages. After some investigation it is revealed that the origin of their meat surplus has a gruesome connection to the disappearance of a few guests, and farmer Vincent must do everything he can to protect their secret. Featuring darkly comical gore, lively performances all round and the pig-masked Vincent brandishing a huge chainsaw, this early 80’s cult classic is perfect for those who want a good laugh with their gore. 

The Evil Dead (1981)

Evil Dead Movie Poster from 1981 featuring a hand coming from the ground grabbing a woman

The Evil Dead might not have been the first use of the chainsaw in horror history, though it is easily one of the most recognizable. It is used by protagonist Ash Williams to cut off his own possessed hand in Evil Dead 2 (1987), before he fits the tool to his dismembered stump as a gruesome prosthetic, making it all the easier to hack through the forces of darkness. It was also used to great effect in reboot Evil Dead (2013) where it is shoved down the antichrist’s throat mid-blood rain in one of the most insane climax shots ever. While the chainsaw would later become Ash’s signature in the later films, it was first introduced in the original The Evil Dead (1981) when Ash tries to slice his beloved Linda in half and can’t bring himself to, opting to bury her instead, which goes as well as one would expect. 

Pieces (1982)

Pieces (1982) Horror Movie Poster featuring a man with a chainsaw and a woman crawling away

Pieces is about as campy and scattershot an affair as one would expect from an early 80’s slasher. A group of college co-eds in Boston are stalked by a mysterious killer wielding a chainsaw, who steals body parts from each victim for a bloody jigsaw puzzle. Like many of its era, Pieces displays gratuitous gore, even more gratuitous nudity and a knowing edge that stops it from taking itself too seriously. What it also includes, however, are many absurd and almost random scenes that seemingly have no purpose other than to divert from an otherwise very standard and conventional plot. It is an absolute mess of a movie, but maybe that’s just your kind of thing. 

American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho Movie Poster with a Man holding a knife

Directed by Mary Harron and adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel of the same name, American Psycho is a humorous, horrifying and intriguing look at the life of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). Bateman, a wealthy investment banker from New York, is also a serial killer who moves from departing the homeless, to colleagues who annoy him, and then to random members of the public, seemingly unable to contain his psychotic urges. The film employs plenty of good humor alongside its visceral brutality, playing with the fragile ego of the unreliable narrator Bateman on such subjects as music, sex and even the business cards of his fellow bankers. One particularly harrowing scene shows Bateman chasing a prostitute around his apartment complex, completely naked and brandishing a chainsaw. As his victim descends the spiral staircase to escape, Bateman smugly allows the chainsaw to fall towards her rather than chasing her himself. The energy and menace Bale brings to his role is enough to make any lumberjack look twice at his trusted power saw.

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

Tokyo Gore Police (2008) horror movie poster with a woman holding a sword

Next up is a fantastic Japanese splatter action directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura which features, true to its name, buckets of blood and guts along with some truly bizarre weapons and mutations. Think Power Rangers but with more cybernetic body modification and gore-soaked mayhem than you can shake a severed tendon at. Rather than anyone running the the woodshed for their trusty tree-feller, the creatures that vengeful police officer Ruka (Eihi Shiina) must fight have the things coming from every orifice of their mutated bodies! Like some overblown cyberpunk nightmare, TGP comes through with some of the weirdest gore-based spectacle on offer. With raving critical and audience reviews, this serves as a perfect introduction to Japan’s infinitely obscure splatter scene, and gore movies in general, keeping things funny, interesting and completely unexpected until the final frame.

Dead Snow (2009) 

Dead Snow (2009) Horror Film Poster featuring a man with a chainsaw and a Nazi soldiers head in the snow

If there’s one thing more morally fogiveable than killing Nazis, it’s killing zombies. This 2009 Norwegian horror/comedy combines the two, along with a healthy splattering of references to the greats (Evil Dead mainly), for an end result which is as hilarious as it is gruesome. Naturally, a homage to Raimi’s classic would have been nothing without that famous buzzing blade being used to dismember a few fascist undead, and director Tommy Wirkola took great pleasure in crafting an epic battle scene between our chainsaw-wielding heroes and a horde of the rotting horrors on a snowy mountain plane. The scene in question could be placed with the likes of the famous lawnmower scene in Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992) as one of the most fun pieces of brutal mass-killing to watch on screen. Be sure to also check out the sequel.

Mandy (2018)

Mandy (2018) Horror Movie Poster with fantasy man and woman with red clouds around them

In terms of 80’s soaked grindhouse violence, Mandy has everything. A revenge plot from the deepest fever dream of the cinema obsessed Panos Cosmatos, Mandy serves to scratch an itch for all lovers of overblown gore and gut-wrenching storytelling. And if these fanatics are anything like me, then near the top of their list of hopeful scenes is the conceptually legendary, yet criminally underused, chainsaw fight. Cosmatos didn’t only decide to craft one of the greatest face-offs in recent memory, but was so proud of it that he included it on the film’s cover art. This kind of boldness and confidence is what draws me to projects such as these, and I for one am waiting with bated breath for whatever darkness Cosmatos casts over us next.

Chainsaws in Horror Movies

Well that’s a wrap on some must see chainsaw wielding maniacs. If you need more you can always dig into the iconic Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, makes for a nice binge weekend if you can stomach it. With that said we are promised a new film from the franchise in 2022. Will you be there with proper ear and eye protection as we witness the revival of Leatherface?

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Under the Sea with Leviathan, Underwater and More

Categories
Best of Movies Scary Movies and Series
Underwater horror movie poster 2020

Oceans are believed to be one of the most stunning places in the world – and they are. But like most beautiful things, these bodies of water have a dark side. They cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface and go thousands of feet in depth, to places that no human could even dream of going. What lurks on the ocean floors? Are there an underwater species we know nothing about? These are the frightening questions that plenty of horror movies have asked.

You may have heard about Underwater, the recently released science fiction/horror film starring Kristen Stewart. It follows a group of scientists who delve into the depths of the ocean, only to encounter a mysterious group of creatures who are out to destroy them. If this plot sounds a bit familiar, it’s because it is. The movie has drawn comparisons to everything from sci-fi horror classic Alien to Black Sea, as the sea monster genre has been prevalent in cinema for decades. Underwater is especially similar to a group of underwater films released right before the 90’s, featuring a few names you may remember and a giant crab that still haunts your dreams. Do you remember these sea monster films?

Leviathan – 1989

If you thought the Mosasaurus sea serpent in Jurassic World was terrifying, just wait until you meet the Leviathan. This biblical creature is referenced in a variety of ancient Hebrew literature one of the most frightening sea monsters known to man, lurking at the depths of the ocean and coming up to the surface to cause mass destruction to passing ships. While there are many interpretations on the appearance of the Leviathan, it is commonly believed to be gigantic in size and take on the appearance of a serpent – compared certain reptiles such as snakes, dragons, and crocodiles. 

Of course, Hollywood always has its own adaptations. The 1989 film Leviathan follows a group of scientists terrorized by a mutant underwater creature that’s not exactly what the Old Testament describes. The beast in the film resembles a gigantic, hideous and scaly fish rather than a serpent – with multiple tentacles and a randomly-placed human head on its lower back. It enjoys stalking and killing due to chemical mutations by the Russians, giving this film a more modern, science-fiction take on the Leviathan found in the bible. While the creature effects were designed by critically acclaimed special effects artist Stan Winston, the action in the 1989 film is a bit outdated today. Would you be interested in seeing a Leviathan remake? 

DeepStar Six – 1989

Released in 1989 mere months before Leviathan, one of the greatest lessons to take from DeepStar Six is that no good comes from humans living underwater. A group of military and civilians join together in DeepStar Six – an experimental deep sea US Naval facility where they plan to test underwater colonization methods. With the crew already starting to grow tired of each other – and you know, the whole “living underwater with no fresh air or sunlight” scenario – they come across a man-eating sea monster out to destroy both their project and their lives. 

One Google search will bring you countless “Leviathan vs. DeepStar Six” articles, breaking down the similar plot, characters and ending scene. While neither films were box office hits, it was DeepStar Six that took a much bigger hit from the critics. It has a 0% (yes, you read that correctly) rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics looking down on everything from the film’s vision to the design of the monster. They’re not exaggerating, by the way… the thing looks like a gigantic blend of a crab and a frog. 

The Abyss – 1989

After the mediocre releases above, horror enthusiasts of the 80’s were thrilled when The Abyss made its way into theaters in August 1989. Since everything James Cameron touches turns to Oscar gold, it’s no surprise that the film was a box office hit and commercial success. The Abyss received an 89% score on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for a number of Academy Awards, even winning in the Best Visual Effects category. 

While this film gravitates away from horror and more towards science fiction, it’s still a gorgeous film that deserves a watch. It strays away from sea monsters and towards sea aliens who are friendly in nature. It emphasizes both the frightening and stunning aspects of the ocean, while reminding you that James Cameron is a seriously incredible filmmaker. 

Deep-Sea Scares 

Let’s be honest… Underwater, Leviathan, even The Abyss – none of these films have a completely foreign concept. The sea monster genre is one of the most famous in the history of film, with a creature arriving uninvited into society and seeking to destroy our lives. The sea monster and underwater horror genres combine this concept with another that’s even more terrifying – the unknown. From classics like Jaws to the modern monsters from Underwater… these films aren’t bound to become a sinking ship anytime soon. With so much still unknown the deep abyss of the ocean you better prepare your escape pod as you prepare to outrun the next sea monster from the depths.

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Werewolves Through Years of Books and Film

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Best Horror Books Best Of Best of Movies Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series
Aggressive wolf snarling
Photography by Philip Pilz

Myths and Legends of Werewolves have been popular throughout their history, not only as a source of inspiration for writers of fiction but as the fiery spark of terror that haunts the dreams of those who believe–their origin story from Petronius Arbiter’s The Satyricon has been built upon for almost two millennia has resulted in an enthusiastic following in the last century. Within medieval folklore, there are numerous tales of villages in rural areas being ripped apart by werewolves–uncontrollable beasts with blood-lust and an insatiable appetite for human flesh. By day the only evidence of their existence would be dead bodies, bloodied and torn by enormous claws, and a trail of bloody paw prints that marked their presence. As noted by Petronius and a plethora of other writers, this was centralized around the appearance of the full moon. So, while werewolves are considered exciting, dangerously fun, and possibly even a little sexy (thanks to authors like Charlaine Harris by Patricia Briggs) in today’s horror culture and paranormal fiction, they were vicious and brutal beasts that threatened the lives of villagers in the middle ages.

5 Werewolves in History

While the mythology of the Werewolf is vast, there are actually more modern historical accounts of these creatures actually existing, so we present these five Werewolves that were found throughout history.

Wolf howling near the pack
Photography by Thomas Bonometti

The Beast of Gévaudan

In the former province of Gévaudan–Lozère and Haute-Loire–in the south of France, the presence of La Bête du Gévaudan terrorized the countryside beginning in 1764 and lasting until 1767. This beast was reported as a massive wolf-like creature–about the size of the cow–that had razor-sharp claws, a mouth that housed giant fangs, and reddish-brown hair. Its head and ears were said to be shaped like a greyhound’s, with a wide chest and a back streaked with black.

In May or June of 1764 was the first known encounter with the beast, where it charged a young woman tending to her cattle in the Mercoire forest in the eastern part of Gévaudan–it is said the bulls in her herd were able to keep it at bay and finally drive it off after two attempts to charge the woman, and she was able to escape with her life. What followed was a continuous onslaught of the region against what was deemed easy prey–women, children, and men who were tending to their livestock alone in secluded pastures. Unusually, it wouldn’t target the legs or throat like a wolf might, instead it went for the head; victims that were left behind partially eaten were often with their heads completely crushed or without one at all. There was such a high volume of attacks that there was suspicion of there being more than one beast, as well as a person training these creatures to do the killings–but as the attacks continued, the supernatural quality of it increased, when it was seemingly unaffected by gunshot wounds inflicted upon it by two hunters in October 1764. Having believed they had mortally wounded the beast, they followed the blood trail to the woods the next day and instead of finding the body of the wolf, they discovered freshly slaughtered victims.

Seeking the large reward that was posted for slaying the beast, soldiers and hunters traveled from far and wide to find the creature, but months passed and it was no closer to being captured or slain. After hearing of a brutal public attack of two young children, Louis XV sent a Norman squire and hunter by the name of Denneval to aid in the hunt of the beast and in February of 1765, this man began tracking it with his six best bloodhounds. He was joined by Jacques Denis, a sixteen-year-old who lost his twenty-year-old sister to the beast and sought vengeance. After hunting it for several months, Jacques was killed and Denneval retired from hunting the beast at all. The Beast continued its rampages, was shot through the eye by another hunter, fell to the ground, seemingly deceased, then rose and went for a final attack, but was met with another barrage of bullets and was at last killed. Upon examination, they determined that this beast was actually a rare wolf that was on the larger end of the reported spectrum.

This tale would seem to be fairly run of the mill in circumstances with a bloodthirsty wolf, except that after a year of peace returning to the community, in the spring of 1767 the beast was reported to have come back to life and start massacring once again. This time, they took no time assembling the largest hunting party yet, comprised of over three hundred men, as well as a man by the name of Jean Chastel; Chastel had heard rumors that the Beast of Gévaudan was actually a werewolf, so he loaded his gun with silver bullets that were blessed by a priest. Turned out that the rumors allowed him to be well-prepared, as after shooting the beast twice in the chest with these silver bullets, it was instantly killed.

During its reign of terror over the countryside of Gévaudan, it was said to kill between sixty and a hundred men, women, and children, while injuring more than thirty.

Livonia and the Hounds of God

In the late 1600s, Thiess of Kaltenbrun a man living in Jurgenburg, Livonia–what is now the Latvia and Lithuania regions–was widely believed by neighbors and peers to be a werewolf who regularly had dealings with the devil. Although it didn’t help his case that he admitted that he was one, especially during a time when an association with the devil meant a death sentence. Either way, the local authorities didn’t seem to care, since Thiess was an eighty-year-old man.

The authorities eventually had to question him on an unrelated matter in 1691, which oddly enough ended in him volunteering information about his being a werewolf. His confession to his lycanthropic lifestyle was quite strange, with no real consistency within–he said that he had stopped participating as a werewolf a decade prior, but that he and his companions would wear magical wolf pelts and turn into wolves to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day, Pentecost, and Midsummer’s Night.

His claim throughout was that werewolves were the agents of God, that they traveled to hell to battle the Devil himself and bring goods stolen by witches back to the people who lost them, but strangely also kill, cook, then eat farm animals. He also claimed that if they failed to keep the witches and demons in Hell that the community would have poor crops for the entire season. To counter the accusations that he was in league with the devil, he instead told the authorities that he and his companions were actually working for God, that they were a group of lycanthropes that were titled the “Hounds of God.” Thiess claimed that this ensured them an ascent to Heaven when they died. Eventually, when it was discovered that Thiess was not a devout Luthern and that he occasionally performed folk magic, the judge ordered Thiess to ten lashings and permanent exile.

The Wolf of Ansbach

In 1685, in what was the town of Neuses, Ansbach–now Germany–there was a wolf terrorizing and killing people; while this was not completely out of the ordinary, this particular instance coincided with the death of the cruel and unpopular chief magistrate, Michale Leicht. The people of the town believed that this wolf was Leicht who had returned from the dead as a werewolf. Once the wolf had been killed, they paraded the streets with its corpse, cut off its muzzle, then dressed in to look like Leicht, even going so far as to put a mask and a wig on it. After the parade concluded, they hung the body in a prominent position in town so that everyone could see that this creature had been killed, but eventually the wolf’s corpse was preserved and put on display at a local museum.

The Werewolf of Allariz

Manuel Blanco Romasanta, born in 1809, was thought to be Spain’s first-ever serial killer; although, there weren’t many stories other than his own to corroborate his being a werewolf. When he was accused of murder, he actually confessed to thirteen of the incidents but claimed he was cursed with Lycanthropy. When asked to display his ability to transform, he stated that he was no longer afflicted; he was eventually acquitted for four deaths, which were killed by actual wolves, but he was found guilty of the rest. Sentenced to death, but then to life in prison after being seen by a French hypnotist who believed that Romansanta was actually just delusional and had a mental illness. He passed away the same year from stomach cancer.

The Werewolf of Bedburg

Perhaps the most notorious werewolf case is that of Peter Stumpp, in Bedburg, Germany 1589; having gained his wealth as a farmer, he was accused of multiple counts of murder, cannibalism, and ultimately a werewolf. At first, thought to be the work of wolves, incidents started with the mutilated bodies of cattle, but were soon followed by townsfolk, but the creatures couldn’t be caught. In 1589, a hunting part cornered the wolf with its hounds, however, when the hunters approached they saw Peter Stumpp instead–what was more damning was that the wolf they had been hunting had had his left forepaw cut off and when they came upon Stumpp he also had his left hand cut off. After a torture-driven confession was made by Stump, he admitted that when he was twelve he had made a pact with the devil and had been given a magical wolf pelt belt which enabled him to turn into a wolf. He confessed that he had murdered and cannibalized fourteen children and two pregnant women, killing his own son, and molesting his own daughter–so Stumpp was fixed to a breaking wheel, had his flesh torn from his body with red-hot pinchers, then his limbs were broken with the blunt side of an ax so he wouldn’t rise from the grave, and he was beheaded. This is a more controversial story, as it was believed by some that he was the victim of a political witch hunt, as the Catholic church had recently seized the area and Stumpp was a Protestant convert.

These days, it seems like werewolves in the supernatural genre are a dime-a-dozen, so it’s no big surprise that there are too many movies to list here–these are just some of our favorites, but they’re also ones that have contributed greatly to the modern lore that are currently associated to the story of the werewolf. Details change from one story to the next, but the broad picture remains the same.

Movies That Have Made Werewolves Mainstream

The Wolfman (2010)
The Wolfman (2010)

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