Well, the season of ghouls and goblins is upon us. You and your sweetheart or friends may be trying to come up with some good, scary movies to watch this Halloween. In a genre flooded with bad movies like the Saw series or horrible remakes of classic films, it can be tough to weed out the truly awesome fright flicks from the groan inducing garbage that’s out there.
What follows is a list of old and new classic horror movies that you can’t go wrong with. Any of these movies will give you a real thrill ride. Even if you’ve seen them before they bear repeated viewings. If you’re like me, you’ll be watching horror movies every weekend leading up to the big day. So without further ado, here are my top ten horror movies for Halloween.
A surrealist nightmare directed by the Italian master Dario Argento, this is probably the only true horror art film you will ever see. Utilizing beautiful, dream-like sets and amazing camera work, this story of an American ballet student in Europe is full of suspense, frights and some downright disturbing imagery. Argento uses the typical horror trope of a character in an unfamiliar place to create a nightmare that builds upon itself until it reaches a crescendo of full-on terror in an intense finale. Surprisingly light on the gore for an Italian horror movie (or even a Dario Argento horror movie) it is nonetheless his masterpiece and a must see. Have no fear of its Italian origins; the film’s dialog is in English.
Night of the Living Dead
Zombies are all over the place in movies and pop-culture these days. This is the movie that started it all. Filmed on a shoestring budget in black and white, it was released in 1969 and shocked audiences with its apocalyptic vision of the dead rising up to consume the living. As a metaphor for mankind’s struggle to stave off death, the zombie siege genre has endured ever since as a staple of the horror movie plot. George A. Romero’s original film (and each subsequent entry in the series) throws in a helping of social commentary to provide some context for the horror. His movie’s scenes of cannibalism and defeatist ending opened the door for a new generation of truly dark horror movies that were more than just fun escapism.
We are, of course, referring to the 1963 original, not the ridiculous 1999 remake. Probably the best “haunted house” movie ever made; Robert Wise forgoes the camp typically found in these movies of the time and goes for a more serious approach to the material. A team of paranormal researchers investigate an old mansion to try to prove the existence of supernatural phenomena. One team-member in particular is relentlessly tormented by an entity to the point of a nervous breakdown. The real star of the film is the house itself. Wise films it so that it becomes a character all on its own. Full of nail biting moments and genuinely creepy atmosphere, this one is a true classic.
Not the 50’s movie with giant, mechanical ants but a French film about a young couple being terrorized in their secluded villa by an unknown force. Sounds like something you’ve seen a hundred times (and technically it is) but it’s done so effectively and the characters are portrayed so convincingly that you get sucked into its simple premise. The movie introduces the two main characters and spends enough time with them for you to get to know and like them. Once the film kicks into gear it never lets up and it’s so suspenseful that you will be on the edge of your seat the entire time. The whole movie makes a strong case for the “less is more” school of horror films. There is no blood or gore to speak of, instead the movie relies on solid acting and fear of the unknown to provide its scares. In fact, I don’t understand the film’s R rating and would say the movie is fine for younger (teen) viewers. Recommended for people looking for a good scare without all the graphic stuff. (French Language)
The original sci-fi horror movie that left audiences gob-struck in 1979 is just as effective thirty years later. Often imitated, never duplicated, this movie takes the haunted house and transports it to a spaceship. The crew unknowingly picks up an alien life form, which gets loose on their ship in the infamous mess hall scene. It then proceeds to hunt down and exterminate each of them one by one. What really needs to be said about this classic? It builds layer upon layer of suspense and makes the whole scenario completely plausible thanks to excellent production design, great acting and an intelligent script. To its credit, the movie still looks like it could have been made just last year. Even if you’ve seen it, watch it again.
Black Sunday (A.K.A. The Mask of Satan)
Italian director Mario Bava made this Gothic horror film in the classic tradition before he went on to make countless, bloody gore films. This black & white film pretty much embodies Halloween with its misty graveyards, cobweb covered crypts and creepy castles. Plus it’s got Barbara Steele. Its story of a vampire/witch who returns from the grave to exact revenge on the family that executed her is fairly standard stuff for horror movies of its time. However, some of the effects were considered quite gruesome for a film released in 1960. It really is a feast for the eyes and a perfect movie to put on the TV for visual flair if you are throwing a Halloween party. (English Language)
An American Werewolf in London
John Landis expertly blends horror, comedy and romance in this film about two American men backpacking through England who are attacked by a werewolf in a remote area of the Yorkshire Moors. One of the men survives and is befriended by a pretty nurse at the hospital where he wakes up. He is haunted by visions of his dead friend who warns him that on the next full moon he will turn into a horrible monster and hunt for human flesh. The movie is of course best known for its amazing transformation sequence; a scene that employs amazing, practical special effects that, in many ways, are more convincing than the CGI stuff so overused today. Not many movies can be scary, funny, sweet and ultimately sad all at the same time, but Landis pulls it off.
High Tension (Haute Tension)
This French movie has a bad reputation due to the fact that it was horribly butchered when it was released in the U.S. The English dubbing was laughable and the film was heavily edited so as to be unrecognizable from director Alexandre Aja’s original vision. As a result, it was vilified by critics and mostly ignored by audiences. I urge you to seek out the original, French language, unrated version of the film on DVD. It is a superior horror film in every way – suspenseful, psychological, violent and intense. In its final third, it introduces a twist that makes you reconsider everything that you thought you knew about what you’d been seeing. Read as little information about the movie as possible before seeing it as it will only spoil the experience for you, but be warned, this is one of the more brutally violent movies on the list. (French language)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Possibly one of the most misunderstood movies in horror history, Tobe Hooper’s 1974 film is a relentless and nerve wracking experience. It was dismissed by many at the time of its release as a tasteless exploitation film based on its title alone. The story of a group of young adults terrorized by a family of backwoods lunatics has been rehashed a million times since and the movie itself was remade into a Hollywood picture that throws out everything that makes the original so effective. The movie’s grainy, muddy look only adds to its creepiness and the chainsaw wielding Leatherface is one of horror’s most intimidating figures. Volumes of analysis can and have been written about it, but all you need to know is that it will leave you feeling like you were put through the wringer.
Once again we are talking about the original by John Carpenter here. Rob Zombie took a classic suspense film and turned it into another modern horror movie that bludgeons you in the face but isn’t really scary at all. The original is perfect example of how to build suspense and create a mysterious, evil villain that lingers in the memory long after the film is over. Not nearly as violent or gory as people who probably hadn’t even seen it made it out to be, this movie is the stuff of nightmares and created many of the cliches still used in Hollywood thrillers today. Expertly directed, this is the one to watch on Halloween night. Try to find the extended edition as the extra scenes actually enhance the film. The scene with Dr. Loomis in the asylum is especially effective. A rare horror movie that gets better every time you watch it. For an in-depth analysis of this classic movie, go here.
Many of these movies are available for streaming on Netflix. Enjoy and remember, Halloween is the HAPPIEST TIME OF THE YEAR!!!