Scariest Movies to Watch on Halloween – Redux Edition
It’s that wonderful, frightful, cool and creepy time of year again, when everything including the leaves on the trees are dying and our taste buds are craving sugary sweets and pies made from the guts of our jack-o-lanterns. It’s October, which means Halloween is nearly upon us! Get you costumes completed, your home haunts constructed and your candy collected for trick’r treaters, because you have to make time to watch some of the scariest movies this time of year.
In an effort to assist you in your cinematic scare-fest, we’ve come up with a list of the scariest movies to watch on Halloween… with one caveat. We have excluded virtually all “slasher” flicks. Why? Well, let’s just say we all know them, we all love them on some level, but really… don’t we all want something more in our scary movies? In honor of this horrific holiday and it’s greatest scary movie, we’ve left John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) in tact, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any other slasher films on this list.
We ran this list last year and decided to dust off the cobwebs with the addition of some new frights!
So sit back, pull your honey close and your popcorn closer, and prepare to have the daylights scared out of you as you make your way through the scariest movies to watch on Halloween.
TRICK R TREAT (2007)
Let’s kick off the list in what’s become many Geeks favorite Halloween movies to watch – TRICK ‘R TREAT. In the tradition of Creepshow and Tales From the Crypt comes four interwoven tales set on Halloween night: a high-school principal who moonlights as a vicious serial killer, a young virgin whose quest for that special someone takes a gruesome turn, a group of teens who carries out a cruel prank with disastrous consequences, and a cantankerous old man who battles a mischievous trick-or-treating demon.
On Monday night (October 29) during a special fan screening of the cult horror classic, director Michael Dougherty announced the sequel – TRICK ‘R TREAT 2 – during the Q&A session. Check it out HERE.
THE CONJURING (2013)
Tom Stockman called James Wan’s THE CONJURING, “a thoroughly enjoyable nightmare, one that you know that you can always wake up from, and one in which, at the end, no one has permanently been damaged. It’s good scary fun.” Based on the true life story, the movie tells the tale of how world renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most horrifying case of their lives.
New Line Cinema’s thriller became a global box office phenomenon in early October when it topped $300 million worldwide.
Read Tom’s review HERE.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
The horror movie to end all horror movies, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS was wildly imaginative and intensely horrific, toying with every convention of its genre while at the same time raising their stakes exponentially. Director Drew Goddard’s instant horror classic was originally released on Friday the 13th and in his 5 star review, Travis Keune told you, “Go, run to see CABIN IN THE WOODS! You will not see another horror film this good all year. If you don’t enjoy this film, you’re demented.”
Read his review HERE.
YOU’RE NEXT (2011)
“YOU’RE NEXT is a refreshing take on the home-invasion genre and exactly what horror fans need right now; a horror film that seems inspired by the classics while simultaneously paving the way for the future.” Aubrey and Paul Davison decide to celebrate their wedding anniversary by inviting their four children and their significant others to a family reunion at their remote weekend estate. But the family reunion goes awry when their home comes under siege by a mask-wearing team of crossbow-bearing assailants. The family has no idea who’s attacking them, why they’re under attack or if the attackers are inside or outside the cavernous, creaking house. All they know for certain is that nobody is safe.
Read our review HERE. The film arrives On Blu-ray And DVD January 14 .
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) may or may not be the scariest horror movie ever made (I think it is) but it’s certainly one of the most referenced, imitated, ripped off, and influential. First-timer Tobe Hooper directed with a solid sense of composition and attention to detail and forced some amazing performances from his cast. Audiences and critics at the time responded to its high level of gore, but they were wrong. It’s actually a masterpiece of restraint that Hooper made and much of its magic lies in the fact that the audience thinks they saw a no-holds-barred gore-fest when they didn’t (the scene of the Hitchhiker slicing his own hand with a knife is the only actual bloodletting in the entire film). Still, no expense is spared portraying the sadistic cruelty and unbridled lunacy of the depraved Sawyer family, which puts THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE at the top of this list.
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece mixed science fiction and horror and started a franchise that continues even today (Prometheus). The crew of the deep space towing ship Nostromo is awakened from hyper-sleep to answer a distress signal. While investigating, they discover what turns out to be hundreds of alien eggs. One of the crew is exposed to whats inside, and brings an alien on-board. The crew is hunted and killed off until only one survivor remains. That lone survivor must take a stand against the alien or die.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)
When newlyweds George and Kathy move into a new home, what should have been bliss became their biggest nightmare. The houses murderous past came back to haunt them. The film is based on the true story written by Jay Anson, and is a must-see for halloween horror lovers.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
One… Two… Freddy’s coming for you! In 1984, a monster was born that would haunt the dreams of a generation. Nightmares turned into reality when this former predator found a way into the dreams of the children on Elm Street. Despite becoming a bit campy in later years, Freddy is still a Halloween legend!
A widower allows a friend to setup auditions for women looking for a companion, but the dainty young woman he fancies turns out to be anything but shy and fragile. Takashi Miike, Japanese master of the weird and gory, takes the viewer on an odyssey of chilling psychological terror. If you think speed dating is frightening, take a stab at this film for some freak dating. If watching a movie has never made you feel squeamish, then you’ve never seen AUDITION.
Trivia: The dog bowl of vomit fed to Asami’s (Eihi Shiina) prisoner is in fact the actual vomit of actress Eihi. Takashi Miike claims that Eihi is a method actress and insisted on doing this.
More of an experimental art film than a traditional horror movie, the dialogue-free BEGOTTEN delivers on a level of creepiness rarely seen in such a fashion. Shot in black and white, intentionally low resolution and far from a typical linear story, filmmaker E. Elias Merhige has created a movie so thoroughly disturbing — and to some, controversial — that it’s become something of a cult classic. The only drawback is that the film is extremely hard to find. However, if one were to search YouTube for the film, one might be surprised to find the full-length film is out there for your demented viewing pleasure.
Plot: God disembowels himself with a straight razor. The spirit-like Mother Earth emerges, venturing into a bleak, barren landscape. Twitching and cowering, the Son Of Earth is set upon by faceless cannibals.
BEYOND, THE (1981)
Given that most Lucio Fulci films lack some semblance of logic and suspense, it is with pleasure that his 1981 classic THE BEYOND succeeds on all fronts. Part horror-mystery, part time-warp, part zombie movie, it provides the best example of Fulci’s talents as a great horror director. The premise — a young woman inherits a hotel on one of ‘The Seven Doors of Death’ (the original US release title in 1981) is very basic, but is actually necessary as the film is more a sequence of great horror moments leading to an eerie climax. Most unnerving sequence – the spiders crawling over, then eating, the librarian. Hat off to Quentin Tarantino, whose Rolling Thunder film company re-released THE BEYOND in a brand new print in the late ’90s, giving Fulci fans the opportunity to see THE BEYOND in the big screen.
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1922)
Considered by some to be the first horror film, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is thought by many film buffs to be the most influential of all silent films. The Grandfather of all Twist-Endings, the film is the most brilliant example of that dark and twisted film movement known as German Expressionism, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is a plunge into the mind of insanity that severs all ties with the rational world. Director Robert Wiene and a team of designers crafted a nightmare realm in which light, shadow and substance are abstracted, a world a demented doctor and a carnival sleepwalker perpetrate a series of ghastly murders in a small community.
Trivia: The 1990 film EDWARD SCISSORHANDS used the aesthetics of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in creating the look for the main character of Edward Scissorhands
A slumber party game turns into a horrible reality in this 1992 tale. A murderer with a hook hand waits to be beconned by saying his name in front of the mirror. “CANDYMAN… CANDYMAN… CANDYMAN!”
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)
CARNIVAL OF SOULS is an eerie, dreamlike film from 1962 about a young girl (Candace Hilligoss) hovering between life and death after “escaping” a car accident. Sort of like a purgatory on earth. Creepy and well-paced work from director Herk Harvey (who never made another feature) who injected an incredible amount of chills throughout the movie. Some of the more powerful scenes include the unexpected glimpses of a cadaverous man (Harvey) at times when you least expect it as he “pursues” the heroine. The “possessed” organ playing scene at the church and of course the abandoned seaside pavilion and it’s “dancers of death.” An outstanding little fright flick way ahead of its time.
CAT PEOPLE (1942)
CAT PEOPLE, a 1942 horror film produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur, tells the story of a young Serbian woman, Irena, who believes herself to be a descendant of a race of people who turn into cats when sexually aroused. With all the eerie cat-like reflexes, the movie is an interesting combination of the horror and early film noir. Tourneur uses shadows to set the tone and the story relies less on shock and more on mystery and suspense. Bravo awarded the film’s stalk scene the 97th spot on their “The 100 Scariest Movie Moments”
Trivia: The film was such a hit at the box office, the releases of the next two Lewton films (I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man) were delayed.
THE CHANGELING (1979)
THE CHANGELING is 1980 Canadian horror film directed by Peter Medak and starring George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere (Scott’s real-life wife). The story is based upon events that writer Russell Hunter said he experienced while he was living in the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion of Denver, Colorado. This haunted house movie genrates real fear – it isÂ everything a suspenseful horror film should be. With top notch actors, the movie contains an intelligent plot and uses no special effects or gore to obtain it’s objective.
Trivia: Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar has claimed in several interviews that this is one of his all-time favorite Horror movies, up to the point of inspiring several scenes in his films TESIS and THE OTHERS.
CHILD’S PLAY (1988)
Dolls are harmless… Right? In 1988 Chucky proved that some of the most terrifying creatures can live inside our toy box.
CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)
Hammer’s only foray into the lycanthrope legend was this powerful 1961 tale. Young Oliver Reed plays Leon who becomes a snarling vicious beast with the rise of the full moon. Here the monster evokes almost as much pity and fear as he prowls the 18th century Spanish village. The image that may truly haunt young nightmares is eight year-old Leon, sweating, his eyes open-wide and pointed teeth baring, as he strains at the bars on his bedroom window.
Trivia: Yvonne Romaine, who plays Leon’s mother, would go on to co-star with Elvis Presley in DOUBLE TROUBLE and marry lyricist Leslie Bricusse (WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) before retiring from the movies after playing the title role in 1973’s THE LAST OF SHELIA.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
“When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth,” so screamed the posters for George A Romero’s 1978 long-awaited sequel to his ground-breaking classic THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. With the addition of bright crimson color, Romero combines a story of survival with a satirical jab at consumerism when a small band of survivors turn a shopping mall into a sanctuary. This laughs take nothing away the frightening scenes of an early bloodbath at a tenement building and the final fury of a full zombie assault.
Trivia: Make-up master Tom Savini has a cameo as a part of a motorcycle gang (a role he would reprise in 2005’s LAND OF THE DEAD).
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)
Screenwriter James Gunn and director Zack Snyder took the impossible task of remaking George Romero’s 1978 zombie masterpiece — and actually achieved making the film stand on its own. A nurse, a policeman, a young married couple, a salesman, and other survivors of a flesh-eating zombie apocalypse take refuge in a suburban shopping mall. Gone are Romero’s message of “zombies are just like consumers wandering aimlessly around the shopping malls” message of the 70s. The slow, staggering zombies have been replaced with energetic “sprinting” zombies which makes the nightmare even more terrifying. Add to that an awesome prologue of the initial outbreak and a fantastic opening credits sequence playing to Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around,” and you have not only a terrific remake, but a terrific modern-day horror classic as well.
THE DESCENT (2005)
A group of friends go on a cave expedition that goes horribly wrong and one of them, already mourning over her husband’s death in a recent automobile accident, but overcome her grief and become a survivor. Few films have turned the dark into such a terrifying place as Neil Marshall’s THE DESCENT. The creatures these explorers discover in the damp depths of this cave are simplistically scary, but there’s nothing simplistic about how they’re used to make our skin crawl just before jumping out of it altogether.
Tagline: “Afraid of the dark? You will be.”
THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001)
Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is a 12-year old boy who finds himself uprooted and thrown into an orphanage after his father dies in the Spanish Civil War. Carlos soon discovers there is something dark and ominous about the orphanage, which is haunted. The orphanage houses more than wayward children; it houses dark secrets that Carlos reveals in this moody, atmospheric ghost story from Guillermo del Toro, director of HELLBOY and PAN’S LABYRINTH. The film is a smoothly flowing, eerily frightening and psychological horror bouquet of stunning visual beauty. Having been written while del Toro was in college, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE is a labor of love that took 16 years to come to life.
Trivia: The film drew influence from Carlos Gimenez’ Spanish comic book Paracuellos. The ghost’s appearance was inspired by the white-faced spirits of Japanese horror films like RINGU and JU-ON.
On the surface, director Joseph Ruben’s DREAMSCAPE is a science-fiction film, but at its core is one of the most frightening non-horror films ever made. While special effects were far from being mastered in 1984, the terror of the film comes more from the implications of what is represented on screen. Dennis Quaid stars as Alex Gardner, a psychic tortured by his own condition — not unlike Bill Bixby’s Dr. Bruce Banner. Alex is recruited by a fringe sector of the U.S. government to save the President, whose mind is trapped within a realm of dreams and nightmares, but discovers a sinister plot in play by another psychic. Co-starring Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer, the cast is rivaled only by the lasting impression the imagery of the film will surely leave on viewers. If you thought seeing A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET for the first time kept you awake at nights, wait till you experience DREAMSCAPE.
Trivia: DREAMSCAPE was only the second film (after RED DAWN) to fall under the new MPAA guidelines for PG-13 ratings, which ultimately led to the film’s only nudity involving a sex scene between Dennis Quaid and Kate Capshaw being cut.
THE EXORCIST (1973)
The most popular horror film of the 1970’s THE EXORCIST spawned a whole industry of rip-off’s and sequels, but they cannot diminish the power this movie still carries. Linda Blair is exceptional as is Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, and Max von Sydow. And the movie is so terrifying tense, it just doesn’t let up. William Friedkin’s direction and the editing are so tight and carefully done that every startling image it presents leaves a long lasting imprint in the mind. Watching it today, there is nothing dated about THE EXORCIST, which remains an effective excursion into demonic possession almost 40 years after it was first unveiled to the public.
THE EXORCIST III (1990)
Written and directed by the author of the novel on which THE EXORCIST (1973) was based, William Peter Blatty’s THE EXORCIST III is more than just an average three-quel in your typical horror movie franchise. Considered by some to be even more frightening than the original, Blatty’s contribution to his creation’s cinematic legacy is as disturbing as it is surprisingly accomplished. George C. Scott plays Kinderman, a Georgetown police lieutenant mourning the anniversary of a friend’s death — the friend being a priest from THE EXORCIST — while a serial killer terrorizes the town and has police baffled. Brad Dourif is remarkable as The Gemini Killer, delivering a spine-tingling performance as the film’s more-than-human villain. While THE EXORCIST packs a power gut-punch with its special effects and shocking scenes, THE EXORCIST III delivers just as much fear with far less flair.
Tagline: “The horror is Legion.”
THE FLY (1986)
“Be afraid, be very afraid”. The bit of dialogue became the main ad line for David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of the 50’s sci-fi classic. The main emphasis is on horror this time as scientist Jeff Goldbloom slowly takes on more insect traits, much to the shock of reporter/girlfriend Geena Davis. You’ll hold your breath waiting for the transporter pods to open and reveal each new monstrous mutation.
Trivia: Eric Stoltz plays the son of Goldbloom and Davis in the 1989 sequel THE FLY II which features John Getz reprising his role.
THE FOG (1979)
In an opening scene set at a campfire, grizzled old sea dog Mr Machen (John Houseman) warns his young audience to, “Beware the fog!”. That advice is taken to heart as the small California fishing town is besieged by an army of vengence-seeking ghosts in John Carpenter’s 1979 fearfest. The film marked the first teaming of mother-daughter scream queens Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis and features Carpenter’s then-wife Adrienne Barbeau as the radio station all-night disc jockey who tries to warn the populace. Steer clear of the dreary 2005 and stick to the original
Trivia: Carpenter named several characters after collaborators who worked with him on previous films such as Nick Castle, Tommy Wallace, and Dan O’Bannon
From the opening bars of director John Carpenter’s haunting theme through the slow dissolve on a demonic Jack-O-Lantern, 1978 movie audiences knew they were in for something…special. This low, low-budget thriller changed the face of horror cinema and opened the floodgates for a score of imitators. But they don’t diminish the impact of this classic especially in the quiet moments before the big night as we see brief glimpses of the masked Michael Myers silently, patiently waiting…
Trivia: The first person to portray Meyers AKA The Shape on-screen is producer Debra Hill. That’s her tiny hands grabbing the big knife in the POV opening scenes.
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
The original plan was to abandon the Michael Myers character from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece “Halloween” and do an original Halloween holiday-themed horror film every year. The first film in this new series was “Season of the Witch” which was about a large Halloween mask-making company that has plans to kill millions of American children with something sinister hidden in Halloween masks. The film was critically panned at the time of its release, and moviegoers rejected it as well. Michael Myers returned in 1988’s “Halloween 4:The Return of Michael Myers” and would remain the focal point of the rest of the films in the series. Years later, “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” would attain cult status as a clever and fun movie that stands on its own cheesy merits.
THE HAUNTING (1963)
SCREAM…no one will hear you! RUN…and the silent foosteps will follow, for in Hill House the dead are restless!
This 1963 film is one of the scariest movies you’ll ever see. Dr. Markway, doing research to prove the existence of ghosts, investigates Hill House, a large, eerie mansion with a lurid history of violent death and insanity. With him are the skeptical young Luke, who stands to inherit the house, the mysterious and clairvoyant Theodora and the insecure Eleanor, whose psychic abilities make her feel somehow attuned to whatever spirits inhabit the old mansion. As time goes by it becomes obvious that they have gotten more than they bargained for as the ghostly presence in the house manifests itself in horrific and deadly ways.
Trivia: Director Martin Scorsese named this his favorite horror film
Could anyone other than master horror scribe turned film director Clive Barker come up with a demonic puzzle-box that unleashes the undead masochistic monsters known as the Cenobites? This landmark 1987 shocker spawned countless sequels and established Doug Bradley as Cenobite leader Pinhead as a new horror icon. The images of him and of skinned-alive Julia would be the source of many nightmares for countless film-goers.
Trivia: Star Andrew Robinson first gained movie fame as crazed “Scorpio Killer” in the original DIRTY HARRY.
THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)
Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is a college student making ends meet as a babysitter in the ’80s. When she takes a job that coincides with a full lunar eclipse, she begins to notice strange things about her clients and their ultimate intentions for her. Writer/director Ti West masterfully builds an extremely slow burn thriller centered around the young Samantha, but does so in a way that allows the viewer to develop interest in the character and concern for her well-being, allowing the jolting climax of the film to have that much more of an effect. West’s attention to detail and determination to re-imagine the genre with a less-is-more approach pays off where so many others have failed. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL co-stars genre veterans Tom Noonan and Dee Wallace.
Tagline: “Talk on the Phone. Finish Your Homework. Watch TV. Die.”
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994)
From director John Carpenter comes IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, one of the few films to truly freak me out in the theater. John Trent (Sam Neill) is an insurance investigator — the best — brought on to locate the whereabouts of a publishing house’s best seller gone missing, Sutter Cane. Certain, even cocky at first, that its all a rouse, Trent soon realizes there’s much more to this missing person case than meets the eye. As Trent begins reading Cane’s work as a way to glean clues to his whereabouts, he finds himself transposed into the writer’s fictional world of horror, or is it reality? IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is an unsettling, enigmatic work of horror that forces the viewer to question reality, blending the Stephen King style of pop horror with the darker, less sane world of H.P. Lovecraft to produce a film unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Trivia: Hobb’s End, the questionably fictional town from IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, refers to the subway station from which the alien space craft is excavated in the film FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).
THE INNKEEPERS (2011)
Ti West is a filmmaker to watch out for, as is evident with THE INNKEEPERS, the feature-length follow-up to THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. Again West showcases his attention to detail and his minimalist approach to horror films, but this time raises the bar on character development. The subtle, quirky comedy about two young attendants (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) working the last weekend before a rustic hotel closes for good gradually, methodically evolves into a ghost story. The allegedly haunted hotel’s two employees are amateur ghost hunting enthusiasts, but what they eventually realize is their innocent hobby may cost them the ultimate price. The film is as much charming as it is creepy, leaving the audience with an ending that lends perfectly to interpretation. The film co-stars Kelly McGillis.
Trivia: THE INNKEEPERS is filmed at the actual Yankee Pedlar Inn, in Torrington, Connecticut, which is said to be haunted in real life.
When Josh and Renai move into their new house, trouble finds them. Their son is trapped in a mysterious coma and they are in a race against the clock to save him before he is pulled into “The Further” forever. Makes you wan to check out your house before you move in with poltergeists, huh?
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS from 1978 is a smart remake of theÂ sci-fi adventure from the 1950’s. When filmy spores fall from space and take root in San Francisco, the city is beautifully transformed by spectacular and exotic flowers. But these lovely extraterrestrial blossoms have gruesome plans for their earthly admirers: to slowly clone their bodies and then dispose of the originals. A first-rate suspense thriller, INVASION is a chilling thrill ride that will get your heartbeat racing. From a clever screenplay by Academy Award nominee W.D. Richter, filmmaker Philip Kaufman directs an all-star cast that includes Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams and Leonard Nimoy. It’s unsettling to see everyone taken over one by one.
Trivia: Only Philip Kaufman, W.D. Richter, and Donald Sutherland knew how the film was going to end. Veronica Cartwright was not told that Sutherland’s character had been captured and became an alien. When they filmed the ending in front of San Francisco City Hall and Sutherland pointed to her, imitating the pod scream, Cartwright’s reaction of cold fear is authentic.
“There is a creature alive today. Who has survived millions of years of evolution… without change, without passion, and without logic. It lives to kill. A mindless eating machine. It will attack and devour anything. It is as if God Created The Devil And Gave Him JAWS!”
Daaaa-dum. Da-dum daaaa-dum. Dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum, DUM DUM DUM DUM. The movie that made an entire generation too afraid to go into the water. This tale of one small town sheriff trying to protect his people from a man-eating shark launched Stephen Spielberg to superstardom and, along with STAR WARS, ushered in the age of the summer blockbuster
JACOB’S LADDER (1990)
Adrian Lyne’s JACOB’S LADDER stars Tim Robins as Jacob Singer, a returning Vietnam war vet who starts to lose his mind. Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam vet attempts to discover his past while suffering from a severe case of disassociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusion, and perception of death while he sees demons throughout the city and the people he trusts are the people he should fear.JACOB’S LADDER was one of those underrated gems in the horror genre – a film that wasn’t gory and didn’t feature a wisecracking slasher villain to make it appeal to most of the horror crowd, yet it was too surreal and disturbing to interest most mainstream audiences at the time but has developed a substantial cult following.
JEEPERS CREEPERS (2001)
“Do you think he’s dead? They never are.”
The open road can prove to be terrifying when there’s a flesh eatin’ monster on the lose. Darry and Trish find out the hard way that their freshman year of college isn’t the only thing they have to fear!
Although MARTYRS (2008) is a balls-out nasty French horror film, it also has an excellent, multi-layered story. It starts as a somewhat run-of-the-mill example of the torture porn film genre – a deranged woman enters a home and kills all the members of its seemingly nice family. But as the movie progresses, it turns from a revenge story into something else – something very different. Something with more than a few shocks and surprises and the ending is complete and utter insanity! The violence is through the roof and the effects are outstanding. However, there is a payoff at the end that separates MARTYRS from the rest of your average run-of-the-mill mean-spirited horror fare, all the while perhaps becoming the meanest of the bunch. MARTYRS makes you think and for a movie like this, that’s the most horrifying thing it could possibly do. This film hits its target, for better and for worse.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
We are a zombie-obsessed culture, and that all began with this film. A landmark in both horror and independent cinema, George Romero’s movie was considered shockingly violent at the time, and was also controversial for having a black man in the lead role. Almost all the rules of zombie mechanics were established here, and they endure to this day
THE OMEN (1976)
That Damien is one cute little devil! This 1976 shock classic from director Richard Donner (who would go on to helm SUPERMAN,THE MOVIE and the LETHAL WEAPON series) gave us a new horror icon in the form of a cherubic, pre-K lad. But if you push back his curly locks you’ll see the mark of the beast! Oh oh, there’s that pounding Jerry Goldsmith score (complete with latin-chanting chorus)! You’re soon going to meet an elaborate and gruesome fate! This thriller would spawn two feature sequels, a TV movie, and a 2006 big screen remake.
Trivia: Patrick Troughton (Father Brennan) was part of a long line of actors who played the lead role in the BBC-TV sci-fi classic “Doctor Who”.
PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)
You’ll be hard-pressed as to what world is the most frightening in writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 masterwork. Is it young Ofelia’s fantasy world full of fairies and weird, horrific monsters or the reality of 1944 fascist Spain? Her cruel sadistic stepfather Captain Vidal is a more despicable creature than any she can dream up (and she’s thought up some pretty nasty beasties!).
Trivia: Doug Jones,who plays creatures Fauno and Pale Man, also plays Abe Sapien in del Toro’s HELLBOY films, and was the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007)
“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.â€œ T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
After a young, middle class couple moves into what seems like a typical suburban “starter”Â tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to. Even after the first screening of 2009’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY all kinds of people from that initial audience – men and women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s – reported having problems sleeping at night, sometimes for several nights.
“One of the things I wanted to do was create something that people could say defined horror for their generation,” concludes director Oren Peli, “the way, after Psycho, people said they would never take another shower; after Jaws and Open Water that they would never again swim in the ocean; and after Blair Witch that they would never again go camping in the woods. I figured, well, sleeping at home is something you can’t really avoid. So if I can make people scared of being at home, Paranormal Activity might do something.”
So go ahead, watch it at night and by yourself… but don’t come crying to us if you have to sleep with the light on.
In 1979, Don Coscarelli’s independent horror film “Phantasm” would attain cult status. Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), a young teenage boy who has just lost his parents, follows his brother to a funeral home where he witnesses a creepy funeral parlor owner known only as “The Tall Man” (played with creepy perfection by Angus Scrimm) lift a coffin on his own. Mike investigates further and uncovers a horrific world where the Tall Man sends out flying spheres that hunt down and attach themselves to the skulls of living victims, drill holes into their heads, suck out their lifeforce, and shrink the people into dwarf slaves. It is then up to Mike, his brother, and ice cream man Reggie Bannister to stop the Tall Man.
PHANTASM II (1988)
In 1988, Universal Studios gave Don Coscarelli free reign to make a big-budget sequel to his low budget indie “Phantasm.” The result is the rare sequel that builds on, and in many ways exceeds, its predecessor. Mike, just released from a psychiatric hospital (and now played by James LeGros) continues his journey along with the returning Reggie Bannister to stop The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). A beautiful strange girl starts to appear in Mike’s dreams. Mike assumes she’s in danger from The Tall Man and he and Reggie set out to find her before The Tall Man does. Coscarelli would end up making two more “Phantasm” films–both low-budget indies, but neither one would come close to being as frightening or entertaining as the original or this wonderful studio sequel.
In the comedy DELIRIOUS, Eddie Murphy has a mantra about haunted houses we wish all movie families would subscribe to. Watch:
EXACTLY. And do the Freelings of Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST heed the warnings? Nope. House with objects moving around by themselves. House built on Indian burial ground. A psychic telling you that the terror “knows what scares you.” TRIFECTA! That’s enough to boot regular joes and the dog out of any dwelling. Add to the fact that Carol-Anne and brother Robbie sleep in a room with a gnarly tree outside the window, a poster of ALIEN on the wall and a ominous clown sitting in a chair ready to strike. What the hell? What kind of parents do these siblings have?? Oh yeah, stoners. Steven Spielberg’s script from 1980 is so full of crazy in it’s take on what an American family does behind closed doors. Only after their daughter is missing “in the house” (ala Twilight Zone episode) do the mom and dad sober up. When Jerry Goldsmith’s brilliant score combines with Zelda Rubinstein’s “Tangina” announcement – “This house is Clean” – do we realize there’s still more terrifying scenes to come.
Body count: 1 (the bird in the cage).
Written by and adapted from Tony Burgess’ own novel, PONTYPOOL is a lesson in fearing the unknown. Director Bruce McDonald takes the audience on a journey into fear without ever leaving the inside of a radio station. When a deadly virus infects this small Ontario town, those few individuals inside the radio station must both fulfill their duties as broadcasters during such an outbreak, but must also survive themselves as they struggle to figure out how this mysterious epidemic is spreading. PONTY POOL is kind of like THE FOG, but without the ghost pirates and replace the fog with radio waves, maintaining every bit of the terror that comes with knowing death is just outside your door, but not death’s face.
Trivia: Writer Tony Burgess and director Bruce McDonald have plans for a second and third film in the series, both of which were conceived before the first.
Yeah, this is the landmark 1960 flick that made millions of moviegoers change their bathing habits. But there’s more to it than that scene (and Bernard Herriman’s staccato violins). There’s a heavy sense of dread the second Janet. Leigh heads out with the stolen money. And after the murder, as Perkins rushes about, cleaning up the room. A later scene with Martin Balsam slowly climbing the main staircase of the Bates mansion is equally unnerving. What goes up must come down as Vera Miles descends into the basement in the film’s final moments. There were two feature film sequels, a made for TV prequel, and a full-fledged 1998 remake produced, but nothing can top the original
Trivia: Before the final fade out you can spot future CADDYSHACK star Ted Knight as a state trooper guarding a jail cell.
The legendary Stan Winston may not have directly supervised creating the creature for PUMPKINHEAD, but he did direct this “grim fairy tale” starring Lance Henriksen. When a man’s son is accidentally killed by reckless teenagers, he asks an old witch to summon a large demon of vengeance to settle the score, but fails to appreciate the seriousness of such an act. The iconic tall and somewhat hunched frame of the demon with its elongated arms and long claws bask in the shadow of Pumpkinhead’s massive head. He may not be fast, but don’t fool yourself into thinking he’s a big, lumbering idiot. Outwitting this demon will certainly bring your painful end. A story as dark as its atmospheric lighting, PUMPKINHEAD looms in the viewer’s subconscious just as the demon looms in the foggy shadows just before taking his victims.
Trivia: Lance Henriksen is said to have gathered all the silver dollars used to pay for summoning the demon himself, acquiring them from multiple pawn shops. Allegedly, he claims most of them fell through the floorboards of the witch Haggis’ ramshackle cabin. For all we know, they are still there.
THE RING (2002)
Just try going to bed on your own after seeing Samara crawling out of the well and through the television in Gore Verbinski’s best film to date, THE RING. For the older kids, remember VHS tapes? For the minions, listen up. There’s an urban legend about a tape: the viewer will die seven days after watching it. Right before you die, you see “the ring.” Filled with disturbing images, this remake of the Japanese film of the same name, will have you thinking twice about letting sleeping ghosts lie at the bottom of a well.
Aidan Keller: What happened to the girl?
Rachel Keller: Samara?
Aidan Keller: Is that her name?
Rachel Keller: Mm-hmm.
Aidan Keller: Is she still in the dark place?
Rachel Keller: No. We set her free.
Aidan Keller: You helped her?
Rachel Keller: Yeah.
Aidan Keller: Why did you do that?
Rachel Keller: What’s wrong, honey?
Aidan Keller: You weren’t supposed to help her.
This is where the audience in the theater let out the big groan from the pit of their stomachs.
Trivia: In both the American and Japanese versions, the name of the little girl is connected to a story about death. The name “Samara” refers to a story retold by W. Somerset Maugham (Appointment in Samarra) about a man who meets Death in the marketplace and flees to the town of Samarra.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
Pregnancy can be a scary thing, and Roman Polanski took natal anxieties to the extreme with this movie, in which a woman slowly learns that she is bearing the seed of the devil. A sustained atmosphere of dread and paranoia, a closing-in sense of helplessness, and nude elderly people all make this one of the most unnerving films ever made.
SESSION 9 (2001)
Writer/director Brad Anderson was inspired by the creepy visage of an abandoned mental hospital in to make the intense psychological 2001horror film SESSION 9. The film stars Peter as Gordon Fleming, a new father struggling to keep his asbestos removal company afloat. Desperate to bring in some money, the normally deliberate and careful Gordon gets the contract by promising that his company can clear out the creepy deserted building in a week’s time. Assisted by his right-hand man, Phil (David Caruso), Gordon hires a crew and, pressed by the nearly impossible deadline, gets the hazardous work underway. But each man on the crew harbors a dangerous secret, and it’s only a short time before the haunted atmosphere of the asylum — where cruel and primitive means were used to control unstable patients — begins to work its dark spell on them. SESSION 9 is deliberately slow at building tension, which is driven by both character conflicts and what may or may not be supernatural rumblings. The final scenes and lines of dialogue of SESSION 9 are utterly chilling, and will stick with you for days.
THE SHINING (1980)
THE SHINING (1980) is one of the most terrifying movies ever made because it incorporates weirdness – Jack Nicholson’s lobotomy stare from Cuckoo’s Nest, – as well as a sense of physical and psychological dread. Adapted from a Stephen King novel it tells the story of a couple (Nicholson and Shelley Duvall) and their young son (Danny Lloyd) who move to the Overlook Hotel when Jack is to serve as a caretaker. But it’s not the story that makes THE SHINING a classic; it’s the smooth transitions, the beautiful composition of symmetric screen settings, the marvel of the Steadicam which enables us to follow Danny’s tricycle floating through the Overlook’s corridors, the blood gushing from the elevator, the naked beauty who transforms into a hag. These are the images which are imprinted on the mind of the viewer even more effectively than the story itself, telling a story of their own. These are the images you think of when you talk about THE SHINING.
SILENT HOUSE (2011)
Filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau deliver a unique brand of film only a few filmmakers have attempted in the history if motion pictures. SILENT HOUSE is an effectively scary thriller that is almost entirely one character’s film and is presented as being real time. This alone makes the film that much more frightening, knowing what happens on screen is real time, every scare, every nuance, every choice and detail. Elizabeth Olsen plays Sarah, a young woman who becomes trapped inside her father’s lakeside vacation home as she struggles to survive a mysterious attacker’s relentless advances. It can be said that the most haunting house is a house not haunted, but equally dangerous… and, if its your own home, how terrifying? Olsen again proves she was the recipient of the acting genes, carrying so much of the film’s suspense on her shoulders. And the ending, well… whether you see it coming or not, its still just as unbelievably twisted.
Trivia: Much in the same vein as Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE (1948), SILENT HOUSE was shot to appear as one continuous shot, but was actually shot in 10 minute segments and then edited to hide the cuts.
SINISTER is easily one of the best horror films in recent years and plays on our basic fears, more than the visual shock of blood and gore. From director Scott Derrickson (HELLRAISER: INFERNO), SINISTER is a frightening thriller from the producer of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films. Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist who discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror.
What SINISTER does so well is to capitalize on terror in the unknown, the fear of the dark and the inherent creepiness of waiting for the inevitable to occur. Derrickson creates a canvas in many of his shots, giving the audience so much visual information to take in that its difficult to pinpoint exactly where in frame, when or how the scare will occur, but we know its coming and can’t do a damn thing about it. Making this ever more effective, Derrickson allows himself to linger on these shots, creating even more tension for a greater scare once the inevitable occurs. If you’re seeking out some fresh new horror to chew on this Halloween, you won’t find a better specimen than this.
Recent Hollywood up-and-comer and all-around purveyor of the weird, sick and/or twisted… writer/director James Gunn. SLITHER, his feature-film debut, is an experience summed up as hilarious, disgusting, disturbing and frightening all in one unmistakably entertaining package. Not since Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE (1992) has there been a film so equally repulsive and comedic, which on a very unusual level, makes the film so damn scary. How can we laugh at such things as we see ooze out of Gunn’s imagination? It’s all in the delivery. Gunn’s sense of humor works, he understands horror and comedy, he understands the human desire for witnessing the morbid from a safe distance. SLITHER takes an old genre staple of a comet landing on Earth, carrying an alien parasite and makes it his own, sparing no expense and taking no prisoners.
Trivia: James Gunn is a hometown boy, born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri to an Irish family of lawyers who began at a very young age making movie on 8mm film.
Director Dario Argento redefined horror in 1977 with his masterpiece SUSPIRIA, the CITIZEN KANE of Italian cinema, a Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tale of outrageously nightmarish proportions. Jessica Harper plays Suzy, an American ballet student, studying at an exclusive dance academy in the Black Forest of Germany. After one of the students and her friend are hideously murdered in the first of Argento’s breath-catching set-piece killings, Suzy discovers that the academy has a bizarre history and, as the body count rises, she gets involved in a hideous labyrinth of murder, black magic and madness.
I first saw SUSPIRIA at the 66 Drive-In in Crestwood (double-billed with HOUSE ON SKULL MOUNTAIN) when it was a new movie on my 16th birthday, the day I got my driver’s license. I didn’t even know who Dario Argento was at the time but I can still remember the thunder and lightning, the flamboyant colors, the awesome set-design, and the strong, pounding score by Goblin. Driven by a twisted internal logic, SUSPIRIA has the inherent structure of madness and is one the key horror films of the 1970s.
THE BIRDS (1963)
Well I think we can mark off Bodega Bay, California has a potential vacation spot, This was the site of an all-out avian attack in Hitchcock’s 1963 movie thrill ride. But what’s the most memorable scare? The onslaught at the birthday party or outside the restaurant? What about the quiet walk that precedes the discovery of Jessica Tandy’s unfortunate neighbor? How about the feathered flood that engulfs Tippi Hedren inside that bedroom? Or better yet, the schoolyard! The gathering in the playground is an iconic Hitchcock image in a film that had everyone watching the skies, not for flying saucers, but for nature’s full feathery fury.
Trivia: Things didn’t get any easier for actress Veronica Cartwright in her adult movie roles. She played one of the Nostromo crew members in 1979’s ALIEN.
THE HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)
Hammer’s 1958 inaugural vampire screamfest with Christopher Lee as the Count (six more would follow) and Peter Cushing as his nemesis Dr.Van Helsing (four more) gave the Bram Stoker tale a new twist (including being the first in “blood-red” color). Dracula appears to be a cultured nobleman upon his initial meeting with Jonathan Harker until we get a full close-up later of the Count after a night of feasting on the locals (crimson eyes ablaze, blood dripping from sharp fangs). Vampire flicks would never be the same.
Trivia: Valerie Gaunt, credited here as “vampire woman”, played the Baron’s doomed housemaid/mistress in the previous year’s Hammer smash that first paired Lee and Cushing, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
THE INNOCENTS (1961)
Don’t watch this film alone on a dark, stormy evening. Effectively shot in black and white, THE INNOCENTS is fraught with menacing little Flora and Miles governed by Deborah Kerr in her finest performance. The opening song is enough to incite goosebumps! If you do decide to venture into this precursor to THE OTHERS, beware, Kerr’s character persists in wandering around the house at night with only a candelabra for light. Why do people always do that in scary films?? There’s nothing that creeps into your psyche like possessed youngsters and evil spirits.
Trivia: In an article in USA Today (August 22, 2011), Guillermo del Toro chose this as one of his six favorite “fright flicks.”
THE NIGHT STALKER (1971)
In 1972 producer Dan Curtis (creator of TV’s “Dark Shadows”) decided to take the vampire out of the cobwebbed castles of 1800’s Romania and drop him smack dab into modern-day Las Vegas. One man. a down-on-his-luck newspaper reporter named Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), knows the secret behind the string of missing ladies, but City Hall refuses to listen, mostly because it might be bad for business. Barry Atwater as Janos Skorzney is one ferocious fang-barer as he tosses the police around like ragdolls. When Kolchak finds the fiend’s lair, you’ll be shivering right along with him! This was the highest rated made-for-TV film to date (later it got a brief theatrical release) and spawned a TV movie sequel, a short-lived weekly TV series, a 2005 TV series remake starring Stuart Townsend, and a future big screen version that has Johnny Depp attached.
Trivia: BACK TO THE FUTURE director/writer team Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale sold one of their first scripts to the 1975 ” Kolchak: The Night Stalker” TV series
THE ROAD (2011)
Not many have traveled THE ROAD and lived to tell the tale! Yam Laranas’ critically acclaimed horror flick is an old-fashioned tale of teens who go for a joyride (what else?) and then vanish on an infamous and abandoned road. As investigators try to find leads to the whereabouts of the missing teens, they also unearth the road’s gruesome past that spans two decades – a history of abduction, crimes and murders. Prepare for a ghostly, freaky ride that unfolds in a slow, methodical burn. It’s one of the best films released in 2012. With THE ECHO, PATIENT X and THE ROAD on his resume, WAMG eagerly looks forward to Laranas’ next film.
THE WICKER MAN (1973)
Effectively utilizing musical numbers to create an atmosphere of tense unease, THE WICKER MAN (1973) is a film replete with religious imagery, symbolism, and detailed commentary upon the role of religion in society and its effect upon its followers. Impressively acted – particularly by Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Eklund, and Ingrid Pitt – it is the kind of film which remains embedded in the mind long after viewing, its chilling effect making it impossible to forget. After all, isn’t that what great horror should do?
THEM (2006) is a French thriller. THEM is simple in its approach, no frills. THEM is terrifying. THEM is based on true events. Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, THEM recounts what happened to Clementine and Lucas in their quaint, isolated country home. Life is good, until they wake one night to strange noises. They are not alone. Hooded strangers are terrorizing them in their own home and they feel powerless. This is inevitably how the viewer feels as well, powerless, as we watch these events occur on screen. Sometimes we see what’s coming, sometimes we don’t, at times we think we do and we are surprised. The entire time we can do nothing but witness the horror; that simple, direct, uneasy horror of feeling helpless against some faceless villain who means you harm, knowing it can all really happen… because it already has.
Trivia: According to the film’s directors, much of actress Olivia Bonamy’s performance while crawling through the narrow tunnels was a direct manifestation of fear brought on by her suffering from claustrophobia.
THE THING (1982)
“Man is the warmest place to hide.” John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of Howard Hawks’ “The Thing From Another World” is an almost perfect film. Â Scientists in the Antarctic discover an alien spacecraft buried under the ice. A shape-shifting alien gets into their camp and kills them one by one, taking the form of the person it kills. This leads to a paranoia amongst the survivors–who is the alien and who will be its next victim? Kurt Russell leads the cast of wonderful character actors which include Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur, Richard Dysart, David Clennon, and Charles Hallahan. The film has a haunting score from Ennio Morricone and fantastic practical creature and makeup effects. A true classic.
TROLL HUNTER (2010)
Norwegian mountain Trolls are dumb. And they smell bad. And they have a low red blood cell count that causes them to either explode or turn to stone when exposed to light. Just when the “Found Footage” genre was getting stale, it got a much-needed shot in the arm in 2011 with TROLLHUNTER, a mock-documentary from Norway about a dude named Hans who hunts trolls that deftly straddled satire and thrills. Ovredal deserves credit not only for attempting something different with TROLLHUNTER, but for succeeding so brilliantly at it. Seamless digital effects and the Norwegian forest locale really makes TROLLHUNTER feel like a real life fairy tale at some points. The concept of TROLLHUNTER may seem like one joke, and it is, but it builds on the joke effectively as the get progressively larger and meaner, building to a snowy epic finale pitting Hnas against the biggest, baddest beastie of all.