Sunday, October 30, 2011


Happy Halloween! ‘Tis the season to reflect on all things ghastly and ghoulish. Amazingly, no horror movies opened this weekend. And if you think last weekend’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 can hold a dripping, Gothic candle to the best in the genre, then you need to see more horror movies. Here then are ten superior genre picks for you to enjoy this Halloween. They are my all-time favorites. In descending order:

10.) THE OMEN (1976)
Hard to beat the devil when it comes to juicy scares, even if he’s slumming in the form of a little 5-year-old boy. But he’s still nasty as hell even though he’s barely out of diapers. How so? Well, his nanny hangs herself on his birthday. He causes mom Lee Remick to plunge backwards off a balcony. And photographer David Warner loses his head for that devil child. It’s a thrill ride that skirts close to ridiculous at times. (Really, Mrs. Baylock, that’s the dog you deem appropriate for a child’s pet?) But it all remains truly frightening nonetheless due to Richard Donner’s clever direction as well as Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar winning satanic choir. That chanting made even the opening titles terrifying! 

I hate the vampires in that god-awful TWILIGHT series. This is a truly special vampire tale and, for my money, the greatest horror movie in the last two decades. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's eerie tone makes this a masterpiece of dread and suspense. And the fact that both protagonist and antagonist here are children is both moving and tragic. 

8.) ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
What’s scarier than the devil? Not much, unless perhaps it’s combining the devil with the vulnerability of a woman’s pregnancy. Director Roman Polanski creates subtle scares throughout his adaption of Ira Levin’s bestseller about a lonely housewife with growing suspicions about the baby she's carrying. Polanski fills his frame with surprising sources of fright: a sprawling apartment, tiles of Scrabble, comedic neighbors who are so much more than they seem. As Rosemary, Mia Farrow gives one of horror’s greatest performances as the waif who realizes that everyone around here is in bed with the devil. (Just like she was!)

7.) CARRIE (1976)
Brian DePalma’s best film brings Stephen King’s teen shocker to vivid life. Sissy Spacek plays Carrie, a shy and odd girl who is ridiculed by her vile classmates and infantilized by her religious zealot mother at home. The story is about how Carrie grows up and learns to accept who she is. That’s why the movie starts off with Carrie having her first period. She’s becoming a woman, her own woman. And when her enemies play the most vicious of practical jokes on her at the prom, she exacts her revenge in one of cinema’s greatest freak-outs. 

6.) ALIEN (1979)
Setting is so important to horror and the claustrophobic space ship here is one of the genre’s best. The corridors are dark and cramped and scary, like a superior haunted house where the architecture is frightening even without any ghosts. The fact that H.R. Giger’s alien blends in perfectly with the Nostromo’s skeletal design enabled director Ridley Scott to steep every shot in tension. And God love the heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) who saves the cat, defeats the drooling monster, and does so in a cheeky underwear ensemble that made fanboys in the audience drool too!

5.) KING KONG (1933)
This great horror film rips my heart out. But in a good way! This beauty and the beast story is as moving as it is scary. Kong may be bad but really he’s just a big lug looking for love. And what a good boyfriend he is protecting Fay Wray from those awful creatures on Skull Island. When he falls from grace, both literally and figuratively, I tear up every time.

4.) THE EXORCIST (1973)
The first time I saw "The Exorcist" it scared the crap out of me. The possessed little girl's horrific voice, vile speech, her taunting of the priests attempting to cast the demons out – it still gives me the willies. And I've seen it a half dozen times. But what I love even more is how careful the film is in setting up the believability of the story. The first hour plays like a straight drama with her beleaguered mom Ellen Burstyn trying to find out why she's behaving so strangely. That’s what gives the second hour such power. When all hell breaks loose, what with the crabwalk down the stairs, the spinning heads, and the projectile vomiting, we’re all true believers. In my opinion, director William Friedkin and screenwriter William Peter Blatty created the scariest film of all-time.

3.) THE THING (1982)
John Carpenter took THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and remade it as a grotesquely imaginative thriller about monsters hiding in humans. The alien hides in a human host to survive, true, but the real monster hiding in man is lethal paranoia. It rears its ugly head as all the men battling the thing turn on each other, fearing that one of them is not as he seems. Aided by Kurt Russell and a supporting cadre of superb character actors, they are the greatest effect in this film with many startling FX.  

2.) JAWS (1975)
Being scared and being amused are both visceral reactions. And this film often bounces back and forth between big scares and huge laughs. Take the scene where Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) is shoveling chum into the water when, all of a sudden, the Great White emerges from the brine. Right after that shot, director Steven Spielberg cuts to Brody’s stunned reaction, his cigarette dangling precariously, his mind reeling at the size of the damn thing. Then he says that famous line to Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” I screamed. I howled. What a movie!

And my favorite horror movie of all time… 

PSYCHO (1960)
The first time I saw, it scared the bejeezus out of me. The second time I saw it, I found it quite amusing. I laughed. A lot. Oh, it still was scary, but during that second viewing, I was aware of how the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock was playing the audience. So much of the movie is quite cheeky. The great melodramatic score by Bernard Hermann really sails over the top. There are so many clues pointing to Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) as the real culprit, from his taxidermy hobby to the non-existent close-ups of his mother to lines like “Mother, uh, what is the phrase? She isn't quite herself today.” It’s an amazing film that works on so many levels. It is simultaneously sublime and a bit ridiculous. I love it and watch it every year around Halloween.

So what’s your favorite horror movie? Share your choice and be sure to tell us why you love it so. And happy haunts everyone!


  1. Loved the article Jeff, spot-on with the movies. One of my favorites is The Shining.

  2. Great post! Psycho is also my favorite horror flick of all time. It's also my favorite Hitchcock flick. I did't really consider Jaws horror, but I absolutely LOVE that movie. It's brilliant on so many levels. I featured a horror flick on my blog each Friday in October. Two of my four on your list! Rosemary's Baby and Psycho. The other two were Cujo and The Others.

  3. Juli, thanks so much! So glad you like things here. And I liked THE SHINING too. (Red rum! Red rum!)

  4. Luana, thanks for your thoughts! Glad you're following here. And I'll be following you too! I like CUJO as well (It's a very underrated frightener. Dee Wallace was so darn good in it.) And I too am fond of THE OTHERS. That creepy death photo. Yikes!