One of my favorite vignettes from my dad’s childhood is his first Halloween. Because he was dressed as a cowboy, he thought he was supposed to knock on people’s doors and say, “Trigger Treat” rather than “Trick or Treat.” Apparently, he thought he was Roy Rogers that night…and if none of this makes any sense to you whatsoever, all I can say is welcome to my brain.
Anywho. HAPPY HALLOWEEN, denizens! No matter what your plans are for this festively festering holiday, I hope you have a howling great time! As for your lupine mistress, I’m opting for a quiet evening in with the Collective. We shall be viewing one of our favorite horror movies. We simply haven’t decided which one that will be just yet. But we can assure you that it will be one of the films from the following list of Loba’s Most Viewed Scary Movies.
Perhaps a few on this list might feel worn out and trite. I will be the first to admit that there are a few that I stopped watching after a while, simply because so many other movies began copying their style and they lost their horror-ific appeal. However, once the unforgiving glare of Hollywood hype and imitation dies away, the originals always rise once more, like the ever-resilient undead rising from the boggy swamps to feed once more on tasty, tasty brains.
This list is in alphabetical order since there’s no way that I could put them in order of love (I love them all so very much), but I had to put them in some kind of order. The Collective craves order, you know. Also, you may note that some of the movies that I have already claimed to love are not on this list. These would include The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Pet Sematary, and Poltergeist. Both because of the fact that I’ve already discussed them at length before and because they are each must-see classics of the genre (yeah, I’d even put Pet Sematary in this class if only because of its campy, crusty goodness), I’ve left them off this list. That should in no way be inferred as me disparaging them in any way. In fact, if you haven’t seen any of these movies, ignore the following list and take care of watching these first. That’s an order.
Oh, one more thing…there are no bloody remakes here. I’m a strong believer of the “If it ain’t broke…back the hell off” mindset, especially when it comes to the movies on this list. The originals are inimitable and irreplaceable.
- Black Christmas
- This 1974 Canadian import has all the marks of a really cheesy slasher flick: It takes place in a sorority, with a bunch of giggly, jiggly drinking girls. It’s got an over-the-top villain who likes to make obscene phone calls to said girls. It also utilizes a twist toward the end that, without revealing what it is, has been used again and again in so many horror movies. Oh, and the ending itself…I love horror movies that end like this one did. The one thing that this movie has that all its imitators don’t is the fact that all these things that sound like horror movie cliches were new and original for Black Christmas, which is considered to be the first “slasher” movie to hit the genre with all its blood-soaked gory…er, glory. Look for Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and a surprisingly dramatic Andrea Martin. Plus, John Saxon shows up as “The Helpful Cop,” a role that he will make even more famous to the genre when he returns as Nancy Thompson’s cop dad in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Here’s the original trailer. Personally, I think this trailer gives away too much and really doesn’t do the movie much justice.
- What I love most about this movie is the fact that so many people were convinced that it was real. This is one of the earliest “mockumentary” films that I can remember. I also love that this was filmed right here in Maryland. Finally, something good comes from the Old Line State! Yes, the actors who star in it hit the “overact” button way too often, and that detracts a bit, but look beyond that and you will find a fundamentally sound and strong and truly terrifying story. And it’s all presented without ever showing you a thing. Sometimes it’s all about atmosphere, and that’s the key word for this gem. The only really negative thing I can say about it, beyond the acting and the still-sour taste of its overdrive hyping, is that it can make you nauseous if you get easily jarred by frenetic motion. My advice is to pop some Dramamine and settle in for a great, old-fashioned scary campfire tale.
Blair Witch Bonus: In 1999, the Cartoon Network put together the following bumpers that they played during commercial breaks for their 25-hour Scooby Doo marathon. Someone pieced together all the bumpers for “The Scooby Doo Project” and placed them on YouTube, much to my Scooby-loving delight. Hope you enjoy, too!
- I had a difficult time deciding which Clive Barker movie I wanted on this list. I love Hellraiser and I think that Pinhead is one of the most loquacious villains to ever come from the dark underworld. But Candyman is like no other. Set in Chicago’s Cabrini Green projects, this movie dares to present us with possibly the first (and only?) horror movie villain to arise from a completely urban setting. Freddy, Jason, Michael…these guys all hang in the ‘burbs or at summer camps. But Candyman rises from areas that most would stamp with phrases like “slum” or “urban blight.” His story, in another genre, would be filled with pathos and tenderness. In this setting, Barker turns him into a silver-tongued slayer, whose silken tones capture and hypnotize his prey into a willingness to “be my victim.” Plus, Tony Todd is quite simply made of awesome. Without him as the eponymous “writing on the wall…whisper in the classroom,” I don’t think this movie would have been nearly as wonderful as it was.
- This 1962 classic is the only Hollywood-level feature film ever made by director Herk Harvey. He made mostly documentary and educational films for Centron Productions in Lawrence, Kansas. While coming back from a shoot in California, he passed by the abandoned remains of Saltair, an amusement pavilion built in 1894 on the banks of Salt Lake in Utah. He was so fascinated by the image of this place against the dusk sky that when he got back to Lawrence, he asked Centron coworker John Clifford to write him a script that would end with “a dance of the dead” at this abandoned pavilion. The end result is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. Starring Candace Hilligoss as organist Mary Henry and Harvey himself as “The Man,” this movie builds a perfectly chilling atmosphere. There are no budget-breaking special effects or CGI freak-outs. But that’s the beauty of this movie: It lives as testament that you can make an absolutely enthralling and chilling film with no bells or whistles. Just some awesome organ music and an abandoned amusement park.
- The ultimate cliche, no? Recommending Halloween for Halloween viewing? Pay no attention to the sequels or the remakes. They can only serve to detract from what I think is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. In fact, I would place this at nearly the top of my list. Together, John Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote a solid, satisfyingly scary script, which Carpenter brought to life in high cinematic style. He may have been on the ultimate of shoestring budgets when he was filming, but you sure can’t tell by looking at it. He knew the dimensions of his shots better than most directors, and he utilized every inch of the frame to full and frightening effect. One of my absolute favorite scenes from this movie is a perfect example of this talent and involves nothing more than two of the actors, a darkened hallway and a blue light bulb. Michael Myers is without a doubt my favorite “boogeyman” and the fact that he wears a slightly altered Captain Kirk mask throughout makes him even more awesome. Plus, you can witness Jamie Lee Curtis’s birth as “The Scream Queen.” As for the remake that wanted to “explore the makings of Michael Myers,” there’s no need. Dr. Loomis explains it to us perfectly: “I met him 15 years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this 6-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes. I spent 8 years trying to reach him, and then another 7 trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply…evil.” Good enough for me, Doc.
- If all you’ve ever seen is the 1999 remake of this movie, I’m so very sorry. If ever there was a reason why Hollywood shouldn’t attempt to remake a classic, that piece of fecal crust is my prime example. It defiles the name of a double-hitter joy for me: An exquisitely executed horror movie based on one of my favorite scary novels. Director Robert Wise bought the rights for the story after reading Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House, and later met with the author to discuss how she envisioned this story being brought to life on the screen. She is in fact the one who told him that one of the original titles she considered for her novel was the abbreviated “The Haunting.” What makes this movie work so well for me is the cinematography. Wise creates palpable atmosphere (I keep using that word in all these reviews! Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere! Trumps blood and gore any day) with skewed camera angles, close-ups, twisting imagery, haunting establishing shots, all surrounding the eeriest effing house you can imagine. Even if you aren’t frightened by the story itself, I’d urge anyone interested in filmmaking to check this out to observe how master directors roll. Literally and figuratively.
- “As I was going up the stair / I met a man who wasn’t there. / He wasn’t there again today / I wish, I wish he’d go away.” This is admittedly an odd pick, and not one that stands up to multiple viewings. I was going to place The Sixth Sense here for the “twist at the end” film, but I decided that was too predictable. So here instead is this 2003 offering with its fairly impressive cast, including John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Alfred Molina, Rebecca De Mornay, Clea DuVall, John C. McGinley, Jake Busey, and Pruitt Taylor Vince, who has made quite an impressive career out of his nystagmus (it’s a condition that causes your eyes to shift involuntarily). I love the big reveal at the end and still think that it was quite clever. But, like The Sixth Sense, you can only watch this one once for the scares. Any additional viewings will be just because you enjoy the story…which I do. It also sports one of the best “final lines” for any antagonist, which I quote quite frequently. What that says about me is fully up to interpretation.
- This one is a purely nostalgic pick for me. Anyone from my generation who grew up on a steady diet of horror movies will love this movie. Kevin Williamson created a smart, sharp, and genre-reverential wonder with this script. There are so many references to classic horror movies…Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho, When a Stranger Calls, The Exorcist, Friday the 13th and much, much more…it’s a cornucopia of horror movie goodness, to be sure. Add to that some incredibly quotable lines throughout, pitch-perfect performances, and a musical cue near the beginning that will spell everything out for you if you’re paying close enough attention, and you have a recipe for a movie that I have watched almost as many times as the next film on my list.
- “Tell me, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?” Want to see the inspiration for Dana Scully? Even better, want to see my favorite Jodie Foster movie AND one of my favorite scary movies? Then pop in this 1991 gem from Jonathan Demme. Based on Thomas Harris’s second “Hannibal Lecter” book (although he was merely a bit player in Red Dragon), this movie is the only horror movie to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture (it’s also in good company since only genre alums The Exorcist and Jaws have received nominations). I don’t even know how many times I’ve watched this movie, but I know that it’s well into the double digits by now. It is one of those perfect storm experiences: Amazing screenplay by Ted Tally; Oscar-winning directing by Demme; and brutally beautiful performance by EVERYONE, least of all being Foster, Anthony Hopkins (both of whom also won Oscars for this film), and Scott Glenn.
- One of my favorite directors is Robert Zemeckis. He’s responsible for bringing some of my favorite movies to life, including Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Death Becomes Her (seriously, when are you ever going to release a special edition of this one, Robert? My patience is wearing thin…), Forrest Gump, Contact…all visually breathtaking movies in which he pushed the limits of the technological capabilities in the best possible ways. So is the case with this tale. I view this as one of the few horror movies in which the CGI and special effects are used in beautifully subtle ways, never drowning out the story but rather enhancing it in all the right ways. Bottom line: This is how horror movies should utilize CGI. Not as a fill-in for the fact that you don’t actually have a story to tell, but rather as ways to make your already scary story even more jump-inducing. Besides, how can you go wrong with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer?
So there you go. I hope there’s something here that you might like to see. If not, then I will now direct you to my friend weathereye. He’s a horror hound as well, and he’s been running a Black October feature on his blog in which he’s reviewed a scary movie a day. If you can’t find something either here or at the Weather Station, then I don’t really know what to tell you 😉
I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween. Now, please excuse me. Turner Classic Movies is running a marathon of classic horror movies. I believe right now I have an appointment with The Abominable Dr. Phibes…