"Do you like scary movies??"
Though there’s never a bad time to watch scary movies, IMO, it’s always worth digging out a few favorites in the thriller, slasher, spooky and horrific mode as Halloween rolls around. With that in mind, here are 13 really cool scary movies you might enjoy, whether you’ve seen them before or not. Since this isn’t a “best” list, just a “cool” list, I’ll arrange ‘em chronologically in the complete post. Enjoy, and if you watch one of these that you've never seen before, let me know what you thought about it! (NOTE: large post, lots of pics inside)
Freaks (1932) dir. Tod Browning
Browning’s use of actual circus freaks in this story about manipulation, exploitation, and finally, revenge, makes it disturbing to this day. A full-sized woman pretends to love a midget, and breaks up his marriage to a fellow midget, in order to reach the fortune he supposedly owns. When the other “freaks” decide to avenge him- look out! My favorite image from this movie is of an armless, legless man crawling under the circus wagons in a storm, a knife gripped in his teeth, illuminated by lightning. Yeesh.
Night Of The Hunter (1955) dir. Charles Laughton
This is more of a thriller than a “horror movie,” but it’s also a gorgeous, surreal story about innocence and evil. Robert Mitchum is brilliant as the con-man preacher (who famously has “love” and “hate” tattooed across the knuckles of each hand) who kills a widow and then pursues her young boy and girl, seeking the money their father got in a bank heist. This is the only film actor Charles Laughton ever directed, and its visual look has inspired everything from The Nightmare Before Christmas to music videos. The scene where we see what happened to the widow (Shelley Winters) is possibly the best, creepiest scene ever in a movie.
Last House On The Left (1972) dir. Wes Craven
Craven still calls this his “grimmest” film. Shot almost documentary-style (a ploy that would pay off well for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a couple of years later) this story of an older couple wreaking violent revenge on the “druggies” who killed their daughter has several nasty, nasty shocks.
The Crazies (1973) dir. George Romero
Even though I LOVE zombie flicks, and Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead is one of my all-time favorite films, I just have to recommend this movie for now, the one he did between Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn. An experimental bio-weapon named “Trixie” accidentally gets released into a small town, causing the townspeople to fly into murderous rages. The government tries to contain the outbreak and… what to do with those infected, or the possibly infected? Plays almost like a low-budget action movie at times, with Romero’s usual populist social commentary laid on heavily throughout. (I saw this film after seeing Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… and was struck by some of the similarities, even though the tone is completely different.) Lots of great scenes of townsfolk fighting off moon-suited G-men who won’t explain why they’re breaking into their homes, and also scenes of the same townsfolk going psycho once “Trixie” infects them.
Black Christmas (1974) dir. Bob Clark
Some folks want to call Halloween the first slasher flick, but make no mistake- this Canadian low-budget flick was the origin of the species. (OK, not counting Psycho, which was kind of the pre-history of the species.) Coming out four years before that other holiday-oriented horror flick, Black Christmas pulled tricks that would become clichés in the next decade. Unlike most of the films it spawned, this movie dwells on the loss of its murdered characters (a couple of them, anyway) in a way that makes it feel dark and doomy throughout, in spite of a streak of bizarre humor that also runs though the proceedings. . (There’s a nice Christmas-related gag revealed when the name of the town is seen on the police cars in the movie… I haven’t seen this mentioned in any of the online articles about the movie, so I won’t spoil it for you, but be on the lookout.)
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977) dir. George Barry
This movie is almost too weird to describe, but I’ll try. There’s this bed in the remains of this old house, made out of a possessed tree, and when people sleep on it, it eats them. And there’s a guy trapped in a painting in the same room who is cursed to watch it all. The acting is strictly amateur, but the imagination behind this movie has to be admired. And there’s something kind of surreal and dreamlike about the whole movie… people wandering into the house when their car breaks down (of course!), later seen as fizzing skeletons as they sink into this weird yellow liquid that’s apparently inside the bed. I’m not doing it justice, but if you’re in the mood for a really different, and actually pretty good, B-movie, check this one out.
Dead & Buried (1981) dir. Gary Sherman
The audience sees travelers passing through a small New England town murdered, only to turn up later as citizens of the town, with no one apparently the wiser. The local sheriff begins to suspect occult practices are going on behind his back, involving even his schoolteacher wife. And exactly WHAT is going on at the local funeral home, run by coroner Jack Albertson? This obscure little movie deserves a MUCH wider reputation than it has gotten; it’s a horror movie, but doesn’t really fit neatly into any of the usual genres… it’s just a strange, scary story with a really, REALLY great ending.
The Howling (1981) dir. Joe Dante
This movie is apparently beloved of horror fans for its groundbreaking special effects… there are long scenes in the movie where a victim stands and waits 10 minutes for a person to change into a werewolf, and THEN attack them. I like the movie for its bizarre storyline, its (sometimes lame) attempts at social commentary, and the final “getaway” scene. Everything is obvious and played really broadly, but the ending is something special.
Phenomena (1985) dir. Dario Argento
Absolutely the coolest, WEIRDEST movie by one of my favorite directors in any genre. Argento leaves behind the gothic, primary-colored hells of his 70s films like Suspiria and Inferno, instead creating a sort of fairy tale of murder. Set in the Swiss Alps, and starring a 14-year-old Jennifer Connolly as an American at a private school, this movie has something a lot of Argento movies miss: a good (though twisted) plot. Connolly’s character can communicate with insects, and helps entomologist Donald Pleasance (!) track down the killer who’s been killing young girls and tossing their heads into the river. (NOTE: very violent, with heads going thru glass windows, scissors stuck thru hands, etc.)
Scream (1996) dir. Wes Craven
Scream spawned so many imitators, parodies, and general pop culture bad karma that it’s easy to forget how brilliant it actually is. (The intro bit with Drew Barrymore (pictured above) is both terrifically meta, and just great as a horror scene in and of itself.) The slasher genre was pretty dead (ha ha) in the mid 90s; Scream reminded a bunch of people who’d liked horror in the 80s why they liked it so much. It borrows from a bunch of others in this list, esp. Black Christmas, but in the horror genre theft is never a crime, and anyway, references to other flicks are what this movie’s all about.
Ginger Snaps (2002) dir. John Fawcett
If this movie had ever been released in the U.S. (other than on DVD), I think it’d have been a hit. From the subtle, disturbing opening scene of a mother finding her toddler playing in the yard with a severed animal paw, to having the adults in the film all try to brush off high school “bad girl” Ginger’s growing werewolf tendencies as just hormones and puberty (“But I’m growing hair on my body!”), there are so many terrific details in this film. The two teenaged leads, playing Ginger and her younger sister Brigitte, are also great. Note that in true genre style, the movie has so far inspired two crappy sequels... read the packaging carefully.
28 Days Later… (2002) dir. Danny Boyle
OK, I love zombie movies, as I’ve said, but this was just STELLAR. Grim, believable, and playing on our fears of everything from pandemics to terrorism, this movie freaks me out no matter how many times I watch it. The scene with the car stuck in the tunnel while running zombie shadows start growing on the wall is just classic. Also, unlike with a lot of horror flicks, I thought the acting in this one was great all the way around.
One Missed Call (2003) dir. Takashi Miike
From what I’ve read about Miike, this is his most commercial flick, and it’s a blast. Japanese teenagers start getting voice mail on their cell phones from three days in the future, and when they listen to it, they hear themselves, screaming while they die. Then three days pass, and sure enough… something fatal (and highly statistically improbable) happens. Creepy, imaginative, satirical, and better acted than a lot of these “J-horror” movies, it gets almost TOO twisty by the end, but still, it’s a lot of fun.