Figure 1 shows a pumpkin I carved over ten years ago—not from a template, but freehand from a photo. I like horror films, as you may have guessed. Once a year, Halloween comes around and legitimizes this one; one of my favourite genres! (Again, I must differentiate “horror” from “slasher” movies. A slasher movie, one that concentrates only on the gore, and hurting people, is usually one that won’t interest me. Unless, for example, it’s intentionally “over the top” as a sort of “black humour” thing; the other kind of slasher that I will watch is one that is deliberately humourous. I have little or no interest in gore for gore’s sake. There are exceptions, however.) And I like supernatural as well as psychological horror—even “animal” horror.
To me, horror movies are ones that succeed in scaring the audience, and I don’t mean “jump” scares, where Jones the cat jumps out unexpectedly. I’m talking about movies like Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House (as opposed to the new TV series, which has totally changed the dynamic of the story as well as neglecting Hill House itself as the reason for the evil; or the remake—the 1999 movie with Liam Neeson, which focused more on the CGI than Jackson’s story). This movie, filmed in black and white, has more scary atmosphere and good acting, than any remake, be it TV or movie. Unfortunately, this kind of movie doesn’t come along very often.
Back in the ‘80s, I used to do “minute” movie reviews (60 seconds) for a local AM station. So I’ll do these as “micro” reviews, and I’ll try to convey the sense and tone of the movie, and whether I think it’s good horror. These will be in no particular order and will include some very old stuff. Please don’t forget, this is entirely subjective and by no means complete; these are movies I found scary for one reason or another. The list is off the top of my head—and every time I think of a new one, I have to resist the temptation to add another, or it would be dozens of movies long; it’s just a fun thing for Halloween.
Just so you know that there’s “nothing new under the sun,” Figure 2 shows German actor Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, a silent 1928 melodrama with horrific overtones. Look familiar? Can you say “The Joker”? Sure, I knew you could! I learned of this film through 4SJ “Forry” Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland back in the 1960s. Haven’t seen it; can’t rate it, but others say 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn: Bruce Campbell; Necronomicon Ex Mortis (Book of the Dead) calls up Deadites; Kanda; Bruce needs a hand. Need I say more? 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Okay, I touched on it before. The Haunting: Evil house, vulnerable people, superb supernatural creepiness. Extremely scary! Julie Harris, Claire Bloom. 5¤¤¤¤¤s.
Nightmare on Elm Street: Dead child killer returns from grave to kill again; teens are killed in dreams, die in reality; teen-age Johnny Depp; Freddy Krueger. 1 remake, 7 sequels. 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Frankenstein (1931): A classic; not really scary for modern audiences, but a seminal movie. “Mad” Doctor Fronkonsteen… er, Frankenstein makes non-Lego “monster.” Boris Karloff; Igor; angry Villagers; Grr, Argh! 5¤¤¤¤¤s.
The Wicker Man (1973). Edward Woodward. Britt Ekland. Summerisle. Christopher Lee. Christians vs. Pagans! (She offers, he refuses. He loses!) 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Hannibal Lecter! Jodie Foster; Anthony Hopkins! “I ate his liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti”; “It puts the lotion in the basket.” Classic!4 ¤¤¤¤+s.
The Thing (1982): Remake closer to the original John W. Campbell story, “Who Goes There?” Kurt Russell. Antarctica; alien saucer lands; paranoia supreme! Who’s real? Keith David: “We’ll just wait here a while…” 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): Emotionless pod people! Just like in The Thing, who’s human? Kevin McCarthy! (National paranoia about communism….) Scary! 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
American Werewolf in London (1981): “Stay off the moors!” Dead Griffin Dunne eating bacon; Jenny Agutter (okay, she’s not scary); dead people in the movie theatre! “You gotta kill yourself, David.” 4 ¤¤¤¤s!
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): The best remake; Pod people again!; Leonard Nimoy; Donald Sutherland; Brooke Adams. San Francisco paranoia! Who can you trust? 4 ¤¤¤¤s!
The Others (2001); Governess and children think there’s ghosts! Atmospheric; suspenseful; Similar to Sixth Sense in that it has surprise ending. Nicole Kidman. 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Alien (1979): Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None in space; Sigourney Weaver; chestburster; H.R. Giger aliens; acid for blood! Okay, one “jump scare”—Jones the cat! 5¤¤¤¤¤s!
Get Out (2017): Jordan Peele directing; Daniel Kaluuya; “meet the parents”; interracial fear; tense and involving. Again, who can you trust? Solid 4 ¤¤¤¤s!
Rosemary’s Baby (1968): Roman Polanski directing; Mia Farrow; Ruth Gordon; Rosemary’s preggers; the Dakota; Devilish goings-on. Tight, suspenseful, supernatural-based conspiracy. 4+ ¤¤¤¤+s.
Dracula (1931): Tod Browning directing. After Nosferatu, the granddaddy of vampire movies! Bela Lugosi; Renfield; Children of the Night—what music they make (“Swan Lake,” actually)! 5 ¤¤¤¤¤s.
Don’t Look Now (1973): Venice (Italy); Donald Sutherland; Julie Christie; dead daughter; red coat; psychic warnings; tense and suspenseful. 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Halloween (1978): first and best “slasher” film; Michael Myers! (Not the comedian); Jamie Lee Curtis; John Carpenter directing and music; taut and suspenseful, but much in it has become a cliché. Myers kills and kills again. 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Psycho (1960): Alfred Hitchcock’s classic take on Robert Bloch’s story about a boy who loved his mother. Janet Leigh; Tony Perkins; Bernard Hermann’s signature score. Shower scene; Bates Motel. 5 ¤¤¤¤¤s!
Nosferatu (1922): F. W. Murnau’s plagiarized version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula! First film version; Max Schreck as Count Orlok. Sinister; atmospheric; silent. Extremely well worth watching! 5 ¤¤¤¤¤s.
Jaws (1975): First and best shark movie; Robert Shaw; Richard Dreyfuss; “We need a bigger boat”; scary and tense; Don’t go in the water! 5 ¤¤¤¤¤s.
The Exorcist (1973); William Friedkin’s “demonic possession” opus; Linda Blair; pea soup; “Your mother [does unmentionable things] in Hell!”; frightening! 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Train to Busan (2016); Korean “undead” film; like Resident Evil meets 28 Days Later; stellar special effects; characters you can empathize with; frightening and involving! 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Hellraiser (1987); Clive Barker; “Lament Configuration” puzzle box; Cenobites and Pinhead; Doug Bradley; pain and pleasure demons!; creepy as Hell itself. 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
The Descent (2005): Claustrophobic movie; six female cavers (spelunkers); trapped in cave with crawling cannibals! Gory and scary! 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Jeepers Creepers (2001): Justin Long (“Mac” commercial guy); what is the Creeper?; flying ugly people eater!; unkillable?; where did he get those peepers? 4 ¤¤¤¤s.
Night of the Living Dead (1968); might as well end with this George Romero movie. This started the whole “zombie” craze. Undead rise from their graves; munch on the living. Add a little racial tension—black man as hero; trapped in old house; “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”; still excellent after 50 years! 4+ ¤¤¤¤+s. So there you have a list of twenty-eight movies I found—and in many cases still find—scary. How does your list compare? Let me know!
N.B.: Watched the new Halloween. Scary? Not really. Suspense/tension? A little bit. But Laurie’s been preparing for Michael Myers for 40 years and this is the best she could do? Meh. 2+ ¤¤+s because I’m feeling generous.
Comments? Let me know what you think; did you like this or not? I’m not afraid of negative comments; I almost always learn something from them. So please drop me a line, won’t you? My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!