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.
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.
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.
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.
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.