Candy may rot your teeth, but horror movies rot your brain. That’s
why nothing goes better with a great Halloween sugar buzz than
watching great horror flicks. It’s a tradition as American as Mom,
Apple Pie, and monsters who attack promiscuous teenagers. Turn off
the lights and crank up the surround sound, here’s my top 10 picks
Frankenstein (1931 -- Directed by James Whale) Dr. Frankenstein
tries to create life using human body parts from a local cemetery.
Overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, Frankenstein’s monster roams
the countryside trying to learn how to love himself. Angry villagers
with torches make his quest for emotional healing a real challenge.
This movie turned Boris Karloff into a household name. When asked to
play the monster, Bela Lugosi said no and regretted it for the rest
of his life. If you have cable you can catch this one early Friday
evening on TCM.
The Tingler (1959 -- Directed by William Castle -- banned in
Finland) It’s not Halloween without horror legend Vincent Price. This
movie is creepy, campy and a total hoot. Price plays a scientist who
discovers that each of us has an organism living inside our body
called the tingler. It grows stronger as your fear intensifies and
will eventually kill you unless you release your fear by screaming.
Back when this movie debuted, theaters hid vibrating gadgets in the
seats so you’d feel the tingler growing stronger. Hmmm ... it seems
like there might be a market in Van Nuys and North Hollywood for
theater seats with vibrating gadgets. “Scream! Scream for your
The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in
My Neck (1967 -- Directed by Roman Polanski) Vampires are an
essential for Halloween night and this is a very cool vampire flick.
It’s funny, scary and well crafted. Polanski must sneak into the
vampire’s castle and rescue Sharon Tate from a life of eternal
beauty, luxury and an occasional nibble on her neck. Polanski
co-wrote the story, which is beautifully photographed in cryptic
black and white.
Dawn of the Dead (1978 -- Directed by George Romero -- banned by
many nations) “Dawn of the Living Dead” is the sequel to the greatest
horror flick of all time, “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). Flesh
eating zombies now outnumber the living and civilization deteriorates
into anarchy. A small group of survivors decide to take refuge in a
shopping mall. The inside of the mall is safe, but for how long? Like
teenagers with credit cards, the zombies never stop coming. A remake
of this movie is in the works and is supposed to be released this
Alien (1979 -- Directed by Ridley Scott) “Alien” is one of the few
movies I know of where the characters look afraid because the actors
really were afraid. One day everyone entered the set and saw that the
equipment and crew were wrapped in plastic. They didn’t learn why the
plastic was needed until after they started shooting their scene. The
cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt and Harry
Dean Stanton. This one’s a roller coaster ride from start to finish.
An “Alien Versus Predator” movie is scheduled for release next year.
Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988 -- Directed by Fred Olen Ray) If
it’s Halloween then its time to watch scream queens Linnea Quigley
and Michelle Bauer do their thing. This horror/comedy is near the top
of most lists of the greatest B movies ever made. Gunnar Hansen (the
original Leatherface) leads a chainsaw worshipping cult full of
Hollywood hotties. Quigley does the sexy “virgin dance of the double
chainsaws.” Bauer covers her Elvis poster with plastic before
dismembering a guy tied to her bed. This was shot in five days and
the budget came mostly from bottle returns.
Pet Sematary (1989 -- Directed by Mary Lambert) There are a couple
of basic things I’ve learned from horror movies. One is that
travelers who leave the main road are doomed. Another is that
whenever possible you should avoid burying anyone or anything in
cursed Indian burial grounds. Whatever you bury in sour ground comes
back evil. This story about letting go comes from Stephen King and is
a reminder that sometimes dead is better. Fred Gwynne is so
incredible that you’ll forget he was once Herman Munster. The Ramones
sing the title song and that alone makes this a keeper.
Candyman (1992 -- Directed by Bernard Rose) This is a variation on
the old “Bloody Mary” game where you turn off the lights and repeat a
name while staring in a mirror. A college student decides to do her
thesis on the origin of these modern myths. Her research of the
Candyman myth takes her to a housing project where reality is so
frightening that the myths pale in comparison. Then she runs into the
really scary stuff. This is based on a story by Clive Barker.
Ringu (1998 -- Directed by Hideo Nakata -- Japanese with
subtitles)/The Ring (2002 -- Directed by Gore Verbinski) “The Ring”
is a remake of the Japanese movie “Ringu.” It’s a supernatural
thriller that follows a reporter investigating the connection between
the death of some local teens and a mysterious video tape. Anyone who
watches the tape dies within seven days. The Japanese version doesn’t
have the big budget of the U.S. remake, but it’s the original and
it’s very creepy. The U.S. version has additional plot elements that
make it more intense. I like the ending of the Japanese version, but
overall I prefer the American version.
Other titles to think about:
The Phantom of the Opera (1925 -- Directed by Rupert Julian, Lon
Chaney Sr. (uncredited), Edward Sedgwick (uncredited)) Forget the
Broadway show! Lon Chaney Sr.'s legendary makeup has given nightmares
to people from every generation. I wonder if Andrew Lloyd Weber will
make a musical love story out of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”?
Night of the Lepus (1972 -- Directed by William F. Claxton) Giant
carnivorous bunny rabbits attack a town in Arizona. Behind their
twitchy noses and fuzzy ears lurks pure evil. This is so scary that
you’ll laugh yourself to death.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977 -- Directed by Wes Craven) Often
imitated, but never duplicated, this is the tasteless classic that
made everyone want to ditch civilization and start their own clan of
inbred cannibals. The mutant named Pluto looks a lot like Peter
Garrett, the lead singer from Midnight Oil (“Beds Are Burning.”)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982 -- Directed by Tommy Lee
Wallace) Michael Myers gets killed at the end of “Halloween II” and
he was supposed to stay dead. This was going to be the beginning of a
different series of “Halloween” movies. The plot involves Stonehenge,
Irish Halloween masks, massive carnage, and annoying TV commercials.
I love the ending.
Re-animator (1985 -- Directed by Stuart Gordon) and Bride of the
Re-Animator (1990 -- Directed by Brian Yuzna) These two horror
comedies are totally over the top and make a nice double feature of
silly gore. Medical student Herbert West reanimates bodies and
anything else that he can make walk around. The low budget special
effects are great.
* JIM ERWIN, 40, is a technical writer and computer trainer.