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Decades of Horror

Using personal data and crowdsourcing for film curation

Having just wrapped up another successful Robtober, I’m already thinking ahead to next year. Making a month-long schedule of horror movies is always more work than I think it will be, especially because I aim for most of the movies to be ones I haven’t seen before. As I’ve covered previously, my curation process is fairly involved, but I recently realized I’ve been ignoring a hugely valuable resource.

It’s Letterboxd, dummy

Anyone who’s paid any attention to me online for the past several years knows I’m a huge fan of Letterboxd, where I keep a film diary. In addition to logging the more than 1,000 films I’ve seen since joining the service in 2011, I’ve also methodically added to my profile another 1,100+ films I watched before my time on Letterboxd. Using the site’s powerful sorting and filtering capabilities on my personal film data can provide some useful insights into where I’ve been, and applying those same mechanisms to Letterboxd’s broader crowdsourced data can help steer where I might go next.

I usually try to have every decade since the 1920s represented in my Robtober schedules, and I’m not sure why it took me this long to realize that Letterboxd is an excellent tool for that. Inevitably, there are caveats:

  • My available personal film data is definitely not comprehensive, and it’s hard to say how incomplete it is. If we consider that just the past seven years of my film diary constitutes nearly half of my total films, it stands to reason that there’s still a lot missing.
  • Genre classifications tend to be subjective, and Letterboxd and I occasionally disagree on whether or not a film qualifies as horror.

With those things in mind, here’s how the 513 horror films currently in my Letterboxd profile break down by decade:

Decade Horror Films
1920s 6
1930s 12
1940s 5
1950s 21
1960s 31
1970s 58
1980s 135
1990s 57
2000s 113
2010s 75

The domination of the 1980s is unsurprising. It was a fertile period for horror, and I entered adolescence at the tail end of the decade, spending countless evenings jamming West Coast Video’s most lurid offerings into the VCR. Likewise, the low number of films from the 1920s makes sense, given that the film industry was smaller then, and my exploration of the silent era in general only began to pick up steam in recent years. The dearth of activity in the 1940s, however, truly surprised me. How could I have such a blind spot for horror during the golden age of film noir and Hitchcock thrillers?

Now that Letterboxd has helped me identify blind spots, it can also help me address them. Filtering all horror films on the site by decade, sorting by average user rating, and omitting the films I’ve already seen, I can put together a top-five list of recommendations from the Letterboxd community for each decade:

1920s

  1. The Phantom Carriage (1921, Victor Sjöström, Sweden)
  2. Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang, Germany)
  3. A Page of Madness (1926, Teinosuke Kinugasa, Japan)
  4. The Man Who Laughs (1928, Paul Leni, USA)
  5. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928, Jean Epstein, France)

1930s

  1. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933, Fritz Lang, Germany)
  2. The Invisible Man (1933, James Whale, USA)
  3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939, William Dieterle, USA)
  4. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931, Rouben Mamoulian, USA)
  5. Island of Lost Souls (1932, Erle C. Kenton, USA)

1940s

  1. The Night Comes Too Soon (1946, Denis Kavanagh, UK)
  2. I Walked With a Zombie (1943, Jacques Tourneur, USA)
  3. Hangover Square (1945, John Brahm, USA)
  4. Carnival of Sinners (1943, Maurice Tourneur, France)
  5. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945, Albert Lewin, USA)

1950s

  1. The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959, Nobuo Nakagawa, Japan)
  2. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957, Terence Fisher, UK)
  3. If I Should Die Before I Wake (1952, Carlos Hugo Christensen, Argentina)
  4. The Man Without a Face (1950, Juan Bustillo Oro, Mexico)
  5. House of Wax (1953, André De Toth, USA)

1960s

  1. The Cremator (1969, Juraj Herz, Czechia)
  2. Onibaba (1964, Kaneto Shindō, Japan)
  3. Kuroneko (1968, Kaneto Shindō, Japan)
  4. Mother Joan of the Angels (1961, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Poland)
  5. The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales (1960, Rogelio A. González, Mexico)

1970s

  1. Demons (1971, Toshio Matsumoto, Japan)
  2. Phantom of the Paradise (1974, Brian De Palma, USA)
  3. Legend of the Mountain (1979, King Hu, Taiwan)
  4. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, Werner Herzog, Germany)
  5. Rapture (1979, Iván Zulueta, Spain)

1980s

  1. In Just the Wink of an Eye (1981, Mike de Leon, Philippines)
  2. Angel’s Egg (1985, Mamoru Oshii, Japan)
  3. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982, Terry Hughes, USA)
  4. City of Pirates (1983, Raúl Ruiz, France)
  5. The Pied Piper (1986, Jiří Barta, Czechia)

1990s

  1. Manichitrathazhu (1993, Fazil, India)
  2. Cure (1997, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
  3. The Kingdom (1994, Lars von Trier, Morten Arnfred, Denmark)
  4. The Kingdom II (1997, Lars von Trier, Morten Arnfred, Denmark)
  5. Ghostwatch (1992, Lesley Manning, UK)

2000s

  1. Deadwood Park (2007, Eric Stanze, USA)
  2. Survive Style 5+ (2004, Gen Sekiguchi, Japan)
  3. Marble Hornets (2009, Troy Wagner, Joseph DeLage, USA)
  4. Reflections of Evil (2002, Damon Packard, USA)
  5. Hellsing Ultimate I (2006, Tomokazu Tokoro, Japan)

2010s

  1. One Cut of the Dead (2017, Shin’ichirô Ueda, Japan)
  2. Community (2012, Jason Ford, UK)
  3. The Wailing (2016, Na Hong-jin, South Korea)
  4. The Skin I Live In (2011, Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
  5. Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017, Issa López, Mexico)

Crowdsourcing has its limitations, and my opinions don’t always track with the community average, but I’m looking forward to finding out which of these are classics overdue my attention. Expect to see some of them in next year’s Robtober schedule, and if you haven’t already, sign up for Letterboxd!