By Matt Martin
“What’s something really scary?”
This is one of the most commonly asked questions (maybe the most asked question) in the field of renting or suggesting movies. And the very vagueness of the question, along with the similarly frustrating question “So, what’s good?” can drive even the most cinematically evolved film historian to cringe. The question, of course, has no answer. At least, no one answer. The act of watching film and television is a subjective experience. Film artistry can be debated but personal taste is somewhat trickier. What one person likes, another may hate. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And what scares one person in horror movies can be mere comedy to another. The inherent uncertainty of personal taste makes answering these questions near impossible.
But at Halloween, people take their horror movies a bit more seriously. They’ve become as inseparable from the holiday as trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns, or overpriced imported costumes. It’s part of what makes the creepy magic of Halloween work, and it sets the mood for the entire month. Just as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, so our taste in movies gets darker. And the question of what’s a really scary movie goes from playful curiosity to a solemn, serious demand. At Halloween, Americans want to have fun with their fears. And they’re pretty serious about their fun. Only the best costumes, jack-o-lanterns, and of course, horror movies will do. So when faced with a century of cinema and tens of thousands of possibilities, finding the right horror movie (or movies) that will enhance a person’s Halloween is a hit-or-miss affair.
The only solution is choices. Vast numbers of choices, selectively organized into lists based on types and time periods of horror movies, filtering out the unworthy and unnecessary, allowing the curious to explore areas they love and want to see more. Such lists reviewing the history of horror films can help narrow down and center on the perfect movie for any Halloween hangout. And for those more ambitious cinema junkies, who want to watch horror movies all month long (that would be me), a massive number of options is essential. The bottom line is a cheat sheet – one that gives an overview of the legendary and the obscure, of the familiar and the forgotten, a master list of the macabre.
So cut out, post up, scan in, and research this collection of some of the best horror movies of all kinds and all time, and spice up any monster mash with a wide array of fun and fright. Check out some old favorites and discover some new ones. Or work on seeing as many as possible over the next few years. Even take the ultimate challenge of cinema indulgence and watch as many as possible across this month. However you want it, fill your October with the movies that have come to define not only our Halloween holiday, but our collective fears as well. Whatever it takes to keep your mood spooky, your dreams creepy, and your eyes glued to a screen filled with our worst nightmares.
Now pass the candy. I don’t have a stomach ache yet.
The 25 essential “classic” horror films (pre-1960)
NOSFERATU ● FREAKS ● BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN ● THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA ● THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI ● DRACULA ● CAT PEOPLE ● THE WOLF MAN ● THE MUMMY ● THE BLACK CAT ● ISLAND OF LOST SOULS ● LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT ● THE INVISIBLE MAN ● VAMPYR ● I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE ● HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL ● THE GOLEM ● NIGHT OF THE HUNTER ● HOUSE OF WAX ● INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ● THE RAVEN ● THE OLD DARK HOUSE ● NIGHT OF THE DEMON ● KING KONG ● CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
The 90 essential “modern” horror films (1960 – 2000)
1960’S – PSYCHO ● NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD ● CARNIVAL OF SOULS ● BLACK SUNDAY ● EYES WITHOUT A FACE ● THE PIT & THE PENDULUM ● THE BIRDS ● THE HAUNTING ● MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH ● WAIT UNTIL DARK ● PEEPING TOM ● KWAIDAN ● REPULSION ● THE BLOB ● SPIDER BABY ● BLOOD FEAST
1970’S – THE EXORCIST ● JAWS ● THE SHINING ● HALLOWEEN ● ALIEN ● THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE ● ROSEMARY’S BABY ● CARRIE ● DON’T LOOK NOW ● BLACK CHRISTMAS ● LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT ● PHANTASM ● DAWN OF THE DEAD ● THE OMEN ● SUSPIRIA ● THE WICKER MAN ● ERASERHEAD ● THE DEVIL RIDES OUT ● THE AMITYVILLE HORROR ● TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) ● IT’S ALIVE ● THE HILLS HAVE EYES ● HAUSU (HOUSE – 1977) ● DEATHDREAM ● SHIVERS ● THE CRAZIES ● THE BROOD ● DERANGED ● I DRINK YOUR BLOOD
1980’S – THE THING ● A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ● HELLRAISER ● FRIGHT NIGHT ● FRIDAY THE 13TH ● THE HOWLING ● AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON ● RE-ANIMATOR ● DAY OF THE DEAD ● THE EVIL DEAD PARTS 1 & 2 ● POLTERGEIST ● THE FLY ● NEAR DARK ● MANIAC ● BASKET CASE ● CREEPSHOW ● SLEEPAWAY CAMP ● THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW ● MY BLOODY VALENTINE ● DEMONS ● VAMPIRE HUNTER D ● THE HITCHER ● RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD ● PET SEMATARY ● THE STEPFATHER
1990’S – CANDYMAN ● SILENCE OF THE LAMBS ● IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS ● JACOB’S LADDER ● DEAD ALIVE ● THE EXORCIST 3 ● FUNNY GAMES ● HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER ● CEMETARY MAN ● SCREAM ● JU-ON: THE GRUDGE ● THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT ● SLEEPY HOLLOW ● THE FRIGHTENERS ● BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA ● CRONOS ● INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE ● RINGU (THE RING) ● AMERICAN PSYCHO
The new breed – the 25 essential horror films of the last 10 years
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN ● AUDITION ● DEVIL’S BACKBONE ● SESSION 9 ● HIGH TENSION ● INSIDE ● SLITHER ● REC ● MARTYRS ● DOG SOLDIERS ● HOUSE OF THE DEVIL ● CABIN FEVER ● FEAST ● PARANORMAL ACTIVITY ● THE LOVED ONES ● THE DESCENT ● THE DEVIL’S REJECTS ● 28 DAYS LATER ● THE HOST ● OPEN WATER ● SAW ● FRAILTY ● THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE ● TRICK OR TREAT
The 20 essential horror/comedies of all time
GHOSTBUSTERS ● YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN ● ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN ● SHAUN OF THE DEAD ● EVIL DEAD 2 ● HATCHET ● KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE ● ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOS ● CRITTERS ● FIDO ● HOUSE (1986) ● NIGHT OF THE CREEPS ● VAMP ● BAD TASTE ● BUBBA HO-TEP ● BLACK SHEEP ● THE FRIGHTENERS ● MURDER PARTY ● WILD ZERO ● TREMORS ● TERROR FIRMER
The 20 essential horror movies for children
GREMLINS ● BEETLEJUICE ● SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES ● THE MONSTER SQUAD ● LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS ● WATCHER IN THE WOODS ● THE ADDAMS FAMILY ● THE WITCHES ● CORPSE BRIDE ● LADY IN WHITE ● THE GATE ● MONSTER HOUSE ● STEPHEN KING’S IT ● LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK ● NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS ● LITTLE MONSTERS ● TROLL ● GHOSTBUSTERS ● GHOULIES ● IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN!
Now, lock all the doors, turn out the lights, settle in somewhere comfortable, and cozy up a few shivers with these horror movie masterpieces as Halloween grows closer. And remember to keep your cell phone near you and charged. Didn’t you learn anything from watching horror flicks?