Halloween always leads to queries about horror favorites.
I do have a few.
No chop and slash films made my list. It doesn’t take much writing, directing or acting skill for hockey-masked creeps to prune characters like a bush or splatter their guts about this locale or that.
In other pieces I’ve written on Halloween horror movie picks, I found myself looking to the 1950s, 60s and 70s as decades when horror was at its best. As I go through this list, I am surprised to find an almost equal number of entries from each.
My two top picks are Alien from 1979 and The Shining done a year later. Both feature the one thing most horror movies fail to do. They use what you don’t see to scare you most.
It is what puts these two films at the top of most best horror lists.
This isn’t to say that in-your-face horror doesn’t work. It does. And when done right, it works very, very well. These are some that were done right and some good picks for your own weekend spookfest.
Alien — 1979 — How do you beat the horror of the alien popping out of John Hurt’s chest? What you don’t see in this one is terrifying and the marketing hook-line sums it up perfectly: In space no one can hear you scream.
The Shining — 1980 — While Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny,” doesn’t exactly follow lines from Stephen King’s outstanding horror novel, Nicholson’s slow descent into insanity and Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant directing, sets (filmed at Mount Hood's Timberline Lodge) and patient storytelling definitely make this one of the all-time best horror movies.
The Night of the Living Dead — 1968 — It’s low budget. It’s black and white. It’s horrifying. George Romero’s zombie flick set off 40 years of copycats, none of which are close to as scary.
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers — 1956 — * Note this is the original version and not the terrible Leonard Nimoy/Donald Sutherland clone from the 1978. Then Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khruschev scared us all to death when he said he’d bury us. Instead of hiding in our nuclear bomb shelters, we headed for theaters and caught great sci-fi flicks such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and wonderful horror films like this one. The picture is a metaphor for life under communism. You can’t go to sleep — ever. When you do, you wake up somebody else. Horrifying and brilliant black and white.
Rosemary’s Baby — 1968 — Satan’s kid got lots of attention in the 1960s and 70s, but the best flick of the all is this one from Roman Polanski. It has the creepiest neighbors in movie history.
The Devil’s Advocate — 1997 — Swapping pitch fork for a forked tongue, Al Pacino’s devilish Satan is a fast-talking attorney and may be the best of all time.
The Thing — 1982 — John Carpenter’s shape-shifting alien has everyone at an Antarctic outpost wondering who’s going to die next. How fun.
The Howling — 1981 — Creative special effects and terrific plot is the first to put some real bite and a nice twist to the legend of the werewolf.
Let the Right One In — 2008 — A pre-pubescent girl vampire girl befriends and protects a bullied boy. Those thinking Twilight is a creative twist on the vampire legend need to catch the real thing. This is the best vampire movie of the decade.
Humor helps horror seem more real. A couple of great films from this decade and one from the 1990s prove that:
Shaun of the Dead — 2004 — I couldn’t stop laughing. Simon Pegg’s trip to the grocery store early in the movie will hurt you.
Zombieland — 2009 — Other than Shaun of the Dead, zombies have never been funnier.
You can also dig around at your favorite video store and see if you can find some of the old Hammer Films flicks with Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. The humor is priceless.
One last note, a film that I have not seen comes highly recommended from my horror film fan critic friends. The Descent is said to be one of the better horror flicks done this decade. You’ll have to let me know on that one.
That’s my list. What are your favorite horror movies?