The ABC’s of Horror

Happy Halloween, everyone! It’s a magical holiday where we can all celebrate the grisly, take on a good fright, and embrace all things bizarre and horrific. To celebrate the holiday, here are my ABC’s of Horror–my favorite horror film beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

A: An American Werewolf in London (1981)
John Landis’ werewolf tale is as economical as it is funny and scary. Best moment? The transformation scene in which we see Mickey Mouse looking on in fright and shock.

B: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Using the beating of a heart to pace the final 20 minutes was a stroke of genius, and the whole final act builds to a phenomenal crescendo.

C: The Changeling (1980)
Less is often more when it comes to horror. Something as simple as silence coupled with a child’s red ball bouncing down a flight of stairs in a spooky house can give viewers chills in a way that few other devices can.

D: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George Romero’s commentary on consumer culture–they’re zombies in a shopping mall, for crying out loud–gives Dawn of the Dead the teeth to make it one of the very best horror movies ever made.

E: The Exorcist (1973)
William Friedkin’s magnum opus pulls no punches in its depiction of demonic possession. It is an all out visceral assault, shocking viewers at every turn.

F: Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
Andy Warhol’s bizarre jaunt into horror features a guy fornicating with a corpse’s gall bladder. He even says “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder!” It really is a sight to behold.

G: Ginger Snaps (2000)
Using the werewolf mythology as a metaphor for a girl’s trip through puberty was quite clever. And while it seems obvious, it had only been done once before. Even then, it wasn’t done in a horror movie.

H: Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
There’s something to be said for eerie imagery when it’s coming through without spoken language, paired with heavy grain. Häxan film produces creepy visuals by the handful.

I: The Innocents (1961)
This British ghost tale drew inspiration from The Turning of the Screw and served as a forerunner for any number of “misbehaving evil children” movies.

J: Ju-On (2003)
Takashi Shimizu’s J-horror helped set the mold for so many horror films that would follow over the next eight years, and was integral in making “J-horror” a household name.

K: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Every good horror list needs a B movie, and few are as campy and fun as Killer Klowns. In one fell swoop, it manages to merge the terror of clowns, aliens, and slashers. That’s an impressive trifecta, cheesy or otherwise.

L: Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
It’s a kung-fu horror movie about vampires, produced by Hammer Studios, and it stars Peter Cushing. In other words, it’s brilliant and there’s not much else out there like it.

M: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
The mothman legend is utterly fascinating and this film does a fine job of tapping into everything that’s so eerie about the myth. Honorable mention has to go to The Monster Squad (1988), because the wolf man’s got nards.

N: Nosferatu the Vampire (1922)
Remember what I said about Häxan? How grainy, off-kilter images become so much more terrifying when presented without sound? This is another instance of that, as F.W. Murnau and Max Schreck created a horror icon for the ages.

O: The Others (2001)
The Others is the ghost story done about as well as possible, from the atmospherics to the cast of characters all the way to the twist.

P: Pitfall (1961)
Hiroshi Teshigahara weaves a wonderful tale of the working class literally being haunted by their fates. It’s as eerie as it is artful. It’s worth noting that the letter “P” was far and away the most difficult to choose, with lots of incredible candidates. Honorable mentions go to Psycho (1960); Peeping Tom (1960); Poltergeist (1982); and The Phantom Carriage (1921).

Q: Quarantine (2008)
While the pickin’s are slim for the letter Q, that should not reflect on the quality of Quarantine, which was a solid horror effort. Shaky cams are nothing new but confining it to an apartment complex infested with rabid zombies was a nice touch.

R: Raw Meat (1972)
Technically, it was first released as “Death Line” in the UK. But when I saw it, I knew it only as “Raw Meat”. Donald Pleasence helps lift this movie higher, playing a detective trying to solve a murder that was committed by a family of cannibals living in London’s underground train network.

S: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright seamlessly blended horror and romantic comedy, spackling it together with homage and his own special imprint. It’s a cult hit for a reason.

T: Trick r’ Treat (2008)
This is a movie made by a horror lover, and it was made to be watched by other horror lovers. It’s the Pulp Fiction of horror, piecing together non-linear storylines made up of werewolves, slashers, ghosts, and even a tiny nod to the classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Smack in the middle of all of it is a creepy kid with a bag face who murders people with a jack o’ lantern-shaped jagged lollipop.

U: Undead (2003)
Extremely heroic farmers who punch zombie fish in the face, and utilize John Woo-style acrobatics to defeat zombies; Keystone cops thrown in for humor; and aliens hell-bent on taking over Australia (or are they?). Undead is so purposely over the top with pretty clear Peter Jackson influences.

V: The Vanishing (1988)
The Vanishing is a blast to watch as it unfolds and the ending absolutely knocked me flat.

W: The Wolf Man (1941)
This 1941 Universal creature feature is a crowning achievement of special effects and dense subtext, truly the Alpha Dog of the werewolf genre.

X: An Xmas Tale (2006)
Spanish director Paco Plaza builds a Goonies homage around an axe-wielding serial killer who has been zombified in a Santa suit. If you’re a fan of horror, I have no clue how you wouldn’t enjoy that.

Y: Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks is a comedic genius. Here, he turns his chicanery on the long history of Frankenstein pictures, especially the first few Universal Frankenstein films. What comes out is hysterical, an obvious choice for a letter that’s weak on horror options.

Z: Zombie Lake (1980)
Zombie Lake is the Lawrence of Arabia of pseudo-porn movies featuring nazi zombies. And by “zombie”, I mean “dudes in green paint that doesn’t cover their eyes or their hands”. Zombieland (2009) just missed, and only because this list would be useless without nazi zombies.


19 Comments

Filed under Movies

19 responses to “The ABC’s of Horror

  1. Great list, I agree with so many of these choices. Glad you gave THE VANISHING a mention, though for A I would have picked something more suited to my tastes, such as AUDITION or ANTICHRIST. Don’t much care for werewolf movies at all. I prefer psychological horror movies such as ANTICHRIST rather than the bloody B-movie horrors. Oh, and this is a very tough call, but for S I’d pick SUSPIRIA over SHAUN.

    • The guy who met Kevin Meany

      I have heard a lot about AUDITION but I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.

    • I don’t know that I’d consider Antichrist a horror. I guess it is, but it’s more arthouse than anything else.

      I didn’t like Suspiria much. It’s got a certain cool to it that I enjoyed but beyond that, I found it hugely disappointing after hearing so much about it for so long.

  2. I know the Q’s are tough but Quarantine? Over REC? Surely not…..

    🙂

    Great list my friend, I wouldn’t know where to start!!

    • Seconded. Just saw [REC] last week and it was incredible.

    • Pssst…. REC starts with an ‘R’.

      What was disappointing is that there were a LOT of awesome horror movies that were left off because they just happened to fall on the same letter as various classics. Dead Alive is one of my favorites, but I couldn’t very well pick it over Dawn of the Dead. P was really tough to pick. I wish I could’ve given some love to a very fun little known movie called Salvage for S, but not at the expense of Shaun of the Dead.

      And then there are other letters- like Q, for instance, or Y- where there were almost no choices at all.

  3. I don’t think I could count the amount of times I’ve seen that red ball image since “The Changeling”.

  4. ‘The Changeling’ is a very underrated movie, one that’s easy to overlook in the post-‘Saw’ age, with a fine performance by George C. Scott.

  5. Phil

    I was watching The Innocents on Saturday night, but we fell asleep (not because the movie was boring)… maybe I can finish it tonight. It’s based on The Turning of the Screw, not Taming of the Shrew, although that does make a nice rhyme.

  6. Love the list and I’ve seen most of them. I’m interested in looking up Haxan–hope it’s on Netflix 🙂

  7. Nice list. I just watched Trick’ R Treat last night. Surprisingly solid horror flick!

    • I’ll always have a special place in my heart for that movie. And Sam is such a great icon for the holiday, sort of a freakish answer to The Great Pumpkin.

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