Get ready to travel through a scary web of subgenres and all time classics.
I have always loved horror movies, even before I started studying cinema and before I focused my studies particularly on horror filmmaking. I used to watch scary movies through the night. So when the pandemic hit and I found myself with much more spare time than usual, I decided to create something different. Taking into account my hobby of drawing maps, more specifically subway maps, I started sketching a colorful subway map of horror movies. Does it sound weird? Yes, it totally does, but my goal was to make an interesting way to visualize the top 100 best horror films of all time. The first obstacle, however, was to find some ground rules around the process of choosing those 100 films. Different people from different publications had very different opinions about what films should be in such a list (and I certainly had my own), so I decided I should be less strict and increase the number of films in my project. Soon enough I found myself surrounded by more than 300 amazing horror flicks.
The final product is this intricate map that is really simple if you look at it carefully. The idea is to separate films (indicated as stations) by horror subgenres, which are represented by subway lines in different colors. While choosing the films, it came down to five major subgenres: psychological horror (that can be divided into madness/paranoia, phobia/isolation, and fanaticism/religion); supernatural horror (including ghosts/spirits, devil/hell, haunted house, possession, and witchcraft); monster movies (mythical/classical, vampire, werewolf, zombie/virus, ET/alien, and neo-monsters/animals/kaiju); killer horror (slasher and home invasion); and finally gore and torture movies (splatter and body horror). As we all know, defining a film's genre is never a clearcut job and a lot of stories comprise multiple genres and/or subgenres. To accommodate that, I tried my best to create junctions where different lines (subgenres) meet in a specific film (station) that uses those respective subgenres in its narrative. That was not possible for all the situations due to space constraints, but it still represents quite well the 300+ films I chose to be part of the map.
Click on the image to navigate the map
Just to be clear, all of these films have reasons to be in the list, but those reasons may differ. Some of them are very well known and beloved features that smashed the box office when released, like The Exorcist, Jaws, and The Sixth Sense. At the same time, there were plenty of movies that did not reach an enormous audience, but were very well received by critics and by those few lucky enough to have watched it, such as The Orphanage. Let the Right One In, and A Tale of Two Sisters. Besides those two categories, we also have some films that might not have been successful with the public and become critic darlings, but nobody can deny their efforts at innovating the genre - or any of its subgenres for that matter - as it is the case in Cannibal Holocaust, for example.
There are several insights that I could observe after committing months of my life to such a project. The first of them is that the horror genre is certainly one of the most heterogeneous and comprehensive genres out there. You are going to find all kinds of movies in this map, it encompasses centuries of filmmaking and stories that come from dozens of different countries around the world. Sure, the United States is still responsible for a large chunk of that, but we have seen some incredibly chilling motion pictures from Europe and, more recently, Asia and Latin America. And they confirm most of the things we have been hearing for so long when it comes to horror: the genre is the house of independent movies or, at least, it is a safe haven for indie filmmakers looking for some well-deserved recognition.
Diogo talks about creating the map
Examples of amazing stories that took the world by storm without the need of a gigantic budget abound in the horror genre. Since the 1970s and 1980s, with the explosion of hugely successful slashers that defined a generation, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and Friday the 13th, going through the 1990s and 2000s found footage craze that included The Blair Witch Project, REC and Paranormal Activity, all of them had minimum cost and massive profit. Even nowadays, the most talked about horror movies are independently produced by small studios or companies, including the new socio-psychological wave that includes Get Out, The Witch and Midsommar. And throughout history, we have seen directors and screenwriters that have started with small horror flicks to gradually become some of the most well-regarded filmmakers of our time, from Peter Jackson to Sam Raimi, from Taika Waititi to Guillermo del Toro. The list is much, much longer, but some of their debut films were so small they did not even meet the standards for this map.
Does that mean you only need a good idea to make the next hit horror movie? Not necessarily, but that is certainly a good start. Being creative and resourceful comes right next. Doesn't that summarize the essence of The Blair Witch Project or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Horror fans are a loyal bunch of people eager to watch some original and truly scary stories, and they will reward those who try. That is the closest you will get to a formula for success in this insane field of work. And maybe if you follow that you will be lucky enough to appear on my next map!