Life is short. So many horror films – so little time. Quite the predickelment. “Hey” you say – is that even a word? No. But who has time for things like grammar, linguistics and etymology – we’ve got things like vampires, zombies and demons to discuss. And movies to watch. Lotsa movies.
I think many would agree that the films listed below are true classics of the genre – so there’s a good chance you’ve seen them all already. But if there are any films on this list you haven’t seen – I’d say sit your horror-film-lovin’ carcass down, right now, and start a watchin’.
“Listen to dem…children of de night…vhat music dey make.” Iconic lines delivered in the unmistakable voice of the actor who, to this day, is the definitive blood-sucker – the most Dracula-ist of all Draculas – Bela Lugosi. It’s like, how much more Drac could he be? The answer is none. None more Drac. Yes, the film Nosferatu, was released a full 9 years earlier, and is certainly a classic in it’s own right, but Tod Brownings’ Dracula laid the unhallowed groundwork for countless vampire flicks to come.
Girl steals money from work, leaves town, and finds an off-the-beaten-path hotel for an overnight stay. Good set up for any standard horror/suspense film, but this film is so masterfully crafted that even those who are not fans of the genre should be thoroughly entertained. And, of course, it contains one of the best-known (and most studied) 45 seconds of film in the history of cinema – the shower scene (“Mother! Oh God, mother! Blood! Blood!”). It’s unarguably among Alfred Hitchcock’s best films. If you need more convincing – the American Film Institute lists it as #14 on their list of the 100 greatest films of all time.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
OK, I’m not great with math, but I think the “equation” for this film would be something like: creepy + creepy, divided by low budget + more creepy = creepy to the 10th power. What I’m trying to say this movie is…creepy. The slow pacing, extremely low production values and amateurish acting (other than from our lead – Candace Hilligoss – who’s performance is dead on) may, at points, distract, but overall add to the pervasive feeling of unease. The story of a woman who has a series of strange experiences after a car accident gets an “A” for atmosphere. Director Herk Harvey’s one and only feature film will haunt you long after the carnival has left town.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The dead were born right here; a horror sub genre started with this film. There were other zombie films before this, but the earlier films lurked somewhere a bit closer to reality – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligiri (1920) dealt with hypnotism, and White Zombie (1932) was a tale of voodoo. It was director George Romero, who truly defined the zombie as we know it – the shuffling, rotting dead, with a big appetite for life.
Night of the Living Dead trailer
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The story of a pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) who fears that everyone around her intends to harm her unborn child. Roman Polanski’s cinematic adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel was a critical (an Oscar for best supporting actress – Ruth Gordon) and commercial success. But its biggest success may be the powerful and paralyzing sense of pure paranoia that permeates the picture.
Rosemary’s Baby Trailer
The Exorcist (1973)
The first horror film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture (it lost in that category, but won Best Adapted Screenplay), also finds itself first on many “greatest horror films of all time” lists, and with good reason. The story, of a girl possessed by the devil and a priest whose faith is fading, contains plenty of intense moments and genuine scares. One or two of the special effects may not quite hold up fully to today’s standards, but overall the make-up (by Dick Smith) is incredible, and the scenes of Reagan in full-on-possession mode (her scarred face spewing split-pea-soup-coated profanities) will find a permanent residence in your brain.
The Exorcist trailer
Richard Donner directs old-school Hollywood stars Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in this story of a diplomat and his wife who become the foster parents to the antichrist. This terrifying tale of a terror-inducing tyke on a tricycle, with it’s creative death scenes and Oscar-winning score by Jerry Goldsmith (perhaps the best horror soundtrack ever), put this way out in front of most other spawn-of-Satan flicks.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Romero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead successfully mixes horror with a healthy dose of social satire. But what really makes this flick so much fun are the “fantasy” elements that speak to the 12-year-old in all of us: living in a shopping mall, having an arsenal of weapons and an endless supply of slow moving targets, being among the last people on earth, etc. Throw in loads of comic-book-style gore and you’ve got yourself a bloody good time.
Dawn of the Dead trailer
The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous direction, Jack Nicholson’s tour-de-force performance, and Stephen Kings’ finely crafted novel (about a family who spend a winter as caretakers of a remote, haunted resort) combine for a perfect trifecta of terror. While, at times, the over-the-top sense of drama may bring some unintended humor, overall, Kubrick’s unique interpretation of the source material, the film’s poetic cinematography, and the evocative, intensely effective score, make the film truly hypnotic.
It’s a mesmerizing psychological study of the disintegration of a family – and a spooky, brilliant mood piece.
The Shining trailer
The Evil Dead (1981)
A group of college friends, off in a cabin in the woods, find the Necronomicon (a book of the dead), and high-octane-horror hijinx ensue. Sam Raimi’s generous use of blood and gore and high-energy camera work make for a wonderfully messy thrill ride of a movie. Filming some of the gore scenes in stop-motion animation gives the film an extra feeling of the bizarre. The love of the genre and the pure joy of movie-making are evident in every scene of this low-budget, frantic fright fest.
Author Stephen King’s quote says it all:
“The most ferociously original horror film of the year.”
Evil Dead trailer
Jeeze, that’s 10 already, and we’re only up to 1981. Lots more good stuff beyond that…but I guess that’ll be for another list, another time….assuming we don’t kick the bucket between now and then…