Horror films class professor ranks his favorite movies

Kerry Kadel | Arts & Entertainment

During the month of October, how could you not watch a scary movie? With all the excitement around Halloween, there’s a thrill that only the best horror flicks can ignite. From rampaging monsters to masked men and the supernatural, horror movies show the scaredy cat in all of us. I knew I wanted to write about the best scary movies to watch during October, but many of the horror movies listed as the ‘greatest of all time,’ I hadn’t seen in its entirety. I also wanted a more diverse type of movie, where it’s not all the same trope over and over again. That’s when I asked Dr. Bryan Bardine of UD’s English department if he would like to rank his favorite horror films. Dr. Bardine has been teaching his ENG 331 Horror Films class this semester, where he shows over ten horror films to his students and analyzes the stories. 

Before I had asked him what his ranking was, I asked a few questions beforehand to understand the film class; the first question being why he likes horror films, where did the like for them begin? 

“The first time I remember watching a horror film, I was about ten years old and I was flipping the channels on the TV, and The Exorcist was on [laughs] and my parents were already in bed, so I watched it and it scared the crap out of me and I’ve liked them ever since–more so since I started doing this class, but yeah, I mean some of them are just amazing movies others are just slasher films that are just, bloody and gorey. I did my little list of the ones I like and I’ve got movies from the 1930’s all the way until the last ten years.” 

I was intrigued by the range of films Dr. Bardine had listed in his ranking, which is what I was looking for knowing I wanted to write about horror movies. 

“I wasn’t trying to do that,” he said. “It’s just the way that it worked. They’re exciting, many of them are very creative, some of them get a little formulaic, some of them don’t get enough credit for how good a movie they are. I try to look beyond the general stuff to do that, I do that with the class too, obviously. For whatever reason, when I was able to start teaching film [at UD], that’s the first thing I wanted to teach. I’ve done other types of film classes too, but horror just for me, there’s a lot more depth to a lot of the ones–at least the movies that I pick–and I like to talk about that part. They’re so connected in many ways to history, what’s going on in our country or the world. So, I think they have a lot to say, or some of them have a lot to say, others don’t, but they can have a lot to say about our society and what’s happening and I think that’s something that gets lost on a lot of people.” 

Dr. Bardine had already answered my next question on why he had decided to create and teach a class on horror films. I told Dr. Bardine that I’d have to keep an eye out for a message or theme to society the next time I watched a horror movie. It was very interesting, and I didn’t think I’d be trying to connect societal themes to horror movies and their characters. It wouldn’t be seen everywhere, Dr. Bardine informed me, but in certain films you can. 

One movie he explained was Rosemary’s Baby, a 1968 horror film surrounding the time of the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, where the main character Rosemary is controlled by everyone in her life, her husband, family, and supernatural forces pertaining to the plot. The Thing (1982) was another movie mentioned, of twelve men in Antarctica trying to work together while an alien is beginning to take control over each member, and no one can figure it out due to the alien becoming the character it’s controlling. This film shows how a community breaks apart, but in the same year of its release, E.T. also released, contrasting The Thing with its “more hopeful” alien film. Dr. Bardine explained that when he teaches a film class, he teaches either horror or music (rock, punk, and metal), and taught class this past summer on racial themes in sports films. 

“But mostly I think I’ve taught the music class twice and only done the sports once and I’ve probably done the horror class, I don’t know, seven or eight times. It’s more fun too. And it’s funny when you get students who don’t like horror, but they take the class anyway. I had one student run out one time, and I don’t even [remember] what the movie was.” 

A question popped into my head while interviewing Dr. Bardine, which is what he thinks about reboots in horror movies and their franchises. 

“Well, when the original Halloween in 1978 was made, it wasn’t supposed to have a franchise. It was supposed to end with [Michael Myers] getting shot and falling onto the ground and going away [laughs], but they realized how much money they made, so they’ve made twelve more since then. Of those movies probably half…almost half, I would call really good movies, the others were…bleh. If it’s just about the money…horror movies don’t make as much as other types of movies, generally. I think they think that sometimes people are too easy to convince, and they’re not, they’ve waited for ten or twelve years for the next Halloween [2018], for the reboot to come in, and it was really good. The next, Halloween Kills was really good, Halloween Ends did not do nearly as good, and you don’t see Michael Meyers until the forty-fifth minute.” 

Dr. Bardine also explained the Scream franchise–which is one of his favorites as he has the original movie’s poster hanging in his office. He states that there’s not one bad movie out of the six from the franchise, the original being the best, but that it’s great due to its different levels each of the sequels bring. All in all, Dr. Bardine says, “Often it’s just a money grab,” 

Finally, it was time to ask Dr. Bardine his ranking of horror films, to which he provided ten movies for his list and a brief explanation why he thinks the film is the best.

I want to thank Dr. Bardine for letting me interview him, adding these movies to my watchlist, and having a newfound sense of respect for the horror film genre. I learned so much from talking with him, from learning that The Exorcist had a priest with them on set from all the suspicious activity from the set and the cast, to the way society plays a role within these movies with the goal to not only make you jump out of your seat, but to think about concepts and themes that humans interact with daily with the unexplainable events of the added supernatural.

  1. Halloween, 1978. “That was the beginning of the slasher craze, and I love John Carpenter, the director–I’ve got two of his movies on this list. You get this killer who’s not only human but this supernatural entity in some ways because he gets shot six times and essentially walks away, and all these horrible things happen to him but it doesn’t matter because he’s always coming back. Carpenter’s a great director, and this was Jamie Lee Curtis’s first movie and she’s played [Laurie Strode] I don’t know how many times, and she’s the first ‘final girl,’ a term used in slasher films.”
  2. Frankenstein, 1931. “I love that movie. I think Boris Karloff is a genius who plays the creature, and James Whale is a great director. I like those early Universals’ [Studios]. I’ve got a picture of Dracula up there,” and yes, he has a picture of Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula framed in his office. 
  3. The Wolfman, 1941. “George Waggner directed it. I think Lon Chaney Jr. gives an amazing performance as the lead [Larry Talbot]. Unlike Frankenstein and Dracula, those were based on novels, there’s no novel about The Wolfman, there’s werewolf lore. He gets bit or scratched by someone who’s a werewolf and he becomes one. Chaney Jr. does a really good job [of making the audience] feel empathetic for him because he doesn’t know what’s happening, and he becomes a werewolf, and when he becomes a werewolf: he kills people [laughs]. I think he does a great job in that role. 
  4. Scream, 1996. “Wes Craven directed that one and it kind of saved the slasher genre. They were down, there weren’t a lot of good ones made then, and this kind of jump started those types of movies again. When you have Wes Craven who also directed A Nightmare of Elm Street, you get these two classic slasher films with Drew Barrymore–who’s only in the first twelve minutes because she gets killed. That’s the best opening of any horror movie I’ve ever seen in Scream. It’s a great way to start the film if you watch the first twelve minutes you’ll understand.” 
  5. Sinister, 2012. “Scott Derrickson directed this one–that’s one that always freaks out my students, so I have to show it [laughs], and it’s this demon who possesses children to get their souls, and then he makes the children murder their families. One of the most horrifying scenes is when he [the demon] takes over a kid, everything gets recorded. So, the father who’s a writer, moves his family into this house where the last family had been murdered–didn’t tell his wife or his kids–so, he finds these tapes of these previous murders, and he spends one night watching them and they show how each one gets progressively more and more…disturbing. Ethan Hawke, who’s a great actor plays the lead, and you don’t know how it’s going to end, and then you see how it ends and it’s like, ‘Oh…that’s really sad.’ [laughs] But it’s really well done, that’s a really strong one.” 
  6. The Horror of Dracula, 1958. “Terence Fisher directed it and then you get Christopher Lee playing Dracula and Peter Cushing playing Van Helsing, who’s chasing him. It’s pretty close to the novel, which is really cool, and Cushing and Lee worked together probably on fifteen, twenty films. I think it’s one of the best examples of Dracula, and Christopher Lee is an amazing Dracula, he only says seven lines of words the whole movie, but the way he is so intense, the way he portrays this character–I often show this in my class, I didn’t this semester.”
  7. Rosemary’s Baby, 1968. Directed by Roman Polanski.
  8. An American Werewolf in London, 1981. “It’s got a little bit of comedy in it too, which lightens the mood a little bit. Also, one of the coolest transformation scene ever in film is when the lead actor, David Naughton [becomes the werewolf. It’s a four or five minute scene, and Rick Baker won an academy award as the special effects guy for it because you see how much pain [Naughton] is in but you also see how he’s slowly turning into this evil being. It’s not that scary, just a really cool movie. [Naughton] and his friend are on the moors in England and they get attacked by a werewolf. His friend gets killed, [Naughton] gets scratched, and his friend then comes back as a corpse–he’s the comic relief. It’s kind of funny as the movie goes along, he’s deteriorating basically, and he’s telling [Naughton], ‘You need to kill yourself or you’re gonna kill more people,’–which he does. There’s a scene toward the end when [Naughton] is in a movie theater, and his dead friend brings the deteriorating corpses of the other four or five people he’s killed. It’s gruesome but it’s also pretty funny because they’re saying, ‘Hey, look what you did, you need to end it!’” 
  9. The Thing, 1982. Directed by John Carpenter.
  10. Fright Night, 1985. “Tom Holland directed it. William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall are in it, and Chris Sarandon plays the vampire–it’s a vampire movie–[Sarandon] is great, he’s amazing as this vampire. Usually vampires have an ‘other’ who takes care of them, someone who’s not a vampire. So, Charley (William Raggsdale) loves horror movie, and he looks out his bedroom window and sees Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) and his ‘other’ bringing a coffin into the house. [Charley] sees a woman going into the house, he’d seen her earlier in the day, and his bedroom window is right across from a room in [Jerry’s] house and sees him bite her neck, and then the next day the ‘other’ is carrying the body out. [Charley] is like, ‘Oh, he’s a vampire,’ and then he tries to call the police, they think he’s nuts, he tells his girlfriend, she thinks he’s crazy. Roddy McDowell plays an actor who’s been in all sorts of horror movies, now he’s the emcee of horror shows, and that’s the show Charley always watched. So, [Charley] goes to him [for help] and the guy’s like, ‘…I just act, I don’t know…’ So then the rest of the movie is them trying to take care of the vampire, and that was one of the first movies I watched too.” 

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