Happy Halloween Citizen Dame fans! As you read this you’re probably putting the finishing touches on your pumpkin, saving the best candy for yourself, and trying to figure out what to watch in-between answering the door. (Remember the horror of putting off your Halloween trip to Blockbuster and finding all the best horror movies were gone?) Well, the Dames have you covered, listing the horror movies they enjoy watching on this day. Some of us went for nostalgic favorites, others chose underrated choices, but they’re all built to give you a good scare.
Like Lauren, I tried to go with films here that I haven’t talked to death (pun totally intended).
House on Haunted Hill (1999)
Both Kim and Lauren have the original 1959 Vincent Price film on their lists, which is a great spooky old house film. But as much as I love the original, I do hold a soft spot in my heart for the 1999 remake, maybe because I saw it first. Much of what makes the original so fun is somewhat retained here – with just WAY more hyper-violence because ’90s. You get to watch Geoffrey Rush do his best take on Vincent Price, only smarmier; Famke Janssen is a great extension of Carol Ohmart’s iciness. I think the opening is creepy, as is the way the character’s move. It does become needlessly silly at points – the “house” knows how to work 1999 dial-up – but I think it’s a fun feature.
Possession is a film that truly defies explanation. I’ll sum it up as best as I can; it’s a film about a couple getting a divorce and…..shit happens. The movie is alternately cerebral, gross as hell, and blisteringly depression. And yet I watch it anytime I can, mainly because Isabelle Adjani is beauty from another world.
Tales From the Hood (1995)
As an eight-year-old white female suburbanite, I doubt I was in the demographic for people who should have enjoyed Tales From the Hood. I caught this on HBO or one of the premium channels I probably shouldn’t have been watching at 10pm and was terrified for months after this. As a kid, Clarence Williams’ take on Satan and the film’s third segment involving a demonic doll were enough to get me. As an adult, my appreciation for how this film uses horror to talk about race relations has only become more terrifying because this movie has aged (unfortunately) too well. If anything, watching this is proof that little has changed regarding police brutality, domestic violence, and racism since 1995.
The House of the Devil (2009)
Director Ti West isn’t for everyone. Hell, the movies he’s made since House of the Devil have bored me to tears, and yet this movie is a must-watch. The film follows a babysitter living in the midst of the ’80s “Satanic Panic” era who is tasked with taking care of an old woman. What West does best is showcase the growing dread that comes from being a woman alone in a house you’re not familiar with. We watch as the girl wanders around, tries to relax, and her anxiety doesn’t have to do with a monster, just being alone. It also helps that Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov are the people who employ her and anytime you see them you should run. Shout-out to a pre-Lady Bird Greta Gerwig!
The Blob (1988)
We started with a remake so let’s end with a remake. I actually hadn’t seen this film till a few months ago. I’d heard the remake of The Blob was as terrible as the original and I’d like to understand why people feel that way because this movie is FAR superior than its cheesy ’50s predecessor. This take is, at times, incredibly feminist with its female lead (played with perfect panache by Shawnee Smith), it’s got a blob that’s worth running from, it’s an allegory on everything from AIDS to corporate expansion, and it’s got a Kevin Dillon mullet working watching.
It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I can say I really do love horror films. For a long time, I enjoyed having seen them, not necessarily the actual process of watching them. I’m not a big fan of being startled, but I do love when something gets under your skin (figuratively, not literally please!). It’s fun and indulgent and, when well done, leads to the best kinds of cinematic experiences.
I wasn’t going to include this because we’re talking nostalgic movies, but did you know that 1990 was not, in fact, ten years ago? This was news to me. It’s hard to believe that Scream hit theaters 22 years ago, but apparently it’s true. The loving ode to slasher films that is also something of a parody of them while also reigniting interest in the genre is a great one and it’s my favorite scary movie.
The Thing from Another World (1951)
John Carpenter’s 1982 remake has its shining moments, but the original film about scientists at the south pole uncovering an alien life form is just so creepy. What makes it particularly effective is it was made in 1951 when horror movies were more about giving the audience just enough to let their imaginations fill in the gaps. Our minds come up with much scarier things than what Hollywood has to offer. Bonus, you can check this out on FilmStruck while you still have the chance. (Sad face!)
Dead Calm (1989)
If only Kate Winslet had seen Dead Calm before boarding the Titanic she would have known you never want to be stuck in the middle of the ocean on a boat with Billy Zane. This minimalist Australian horror movie combines three very beautiful people (Kidman’s onscreen husband is Sam Neill) for a very scary adventure on the high seas. What do you do when you’re alone on a boat with a murderer and there is no one around for thousands of miles? Being stranded in the middle of the ocean is one of my biggest fears, actually, so maybe that’s why this one worked so well on me. Or maybe because Billy Zane is just so damn terrifying.
The Lost Boys (1987)
Some of us Dames were recently engaged in a debate over who is the hottest Lost Boy. (It’s Billy Wirth, obvi.) This movie has it all. Awesome ’80s nostalgia, hot but still scary vampires that don’t sparkle in the sunlight, the Coreys! And also a metal sax solo for the ages.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Dead children are sad, but also really creepy, and this movie where Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play grieving parents is very creepy. But it’s also a really fascinating look at the grief process and it has one of the greatest jump scares ever.
If I keep reiterating my favorite horror films, I’m at the risk of repeating myself, so I’ve opted this time around to not go for my usual ones – Suspiria, Dracula, The Haunting – and instead showcase some other favorites that I don’t always mention.
Abbott and Costello: Hold that Ghost (1941)
I have warm and fuzzy memories of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (once I managed to get over my childhood terror of Dracula’s googly eyes), but Hold That Ghost was actually the first Abbott and Costello horror-comedy I watched all the way through, and it’s still one of my favorites. The pair wind up stranded with some other folks at an apparently haunted house, beleaguered by ghosts. There are early versions of gags that pop up again in Meet Frankenstein, but the first half of the film conjures some proper spookiness, complete with creaking floorboards, secret passages, and candles moving on their own. Hold That Ghost also gets points for casting Joan Davis, a comedienne who more than holds her own with Costello.
Most horror fans have read H.P. Lovecraft, a writer who may not have aged very well, what with the racism and all, but who certainly crafted memorable and influential stories. Lovecraft’s work has been adapted in various forms, very rarely faithfully (no wonder, given that half his horror relies on things that are too horrible for human eyes to gaze upon. And the racism), but lends itself to the ’80s adoration of body horror. Re-Animator is ostensibly an adaptation of Lovecraft’s Herbert West: Re-Animator, in which a Frankenstein-ian doctor figures out how to bring the dead back to life, but can’t quite control the zombies who emerge. Re-Animator embeds its tongue firmly in its cheek and goes for the gusto, slapping escalating body horror, madcap performances, and some truly bizarre sexuality onto Lovecraft’s narrative. It’s insane, and I love it.
The Innocents (1961)
My favorite haunted house film is The Haunting, but The Innocents is a close second. A loose adaptation of Turn of the Screw, the film showcases a deeply disturbing Deborah Kerr as a governess to two small children who spend their days rattling around their uncle’s creepy mansion. She becomes convinced that the children are pursued and manipulated by the ghosts of a deceased gamekeeper and his lover, and so sets out to save the children. The film is a study of psychological horror, continuously asking if this is just the governess’s paranoia and psychosis or if there is actually something supernatural at work. It’s frightening and tense and horrifying, and very spooky.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
What, you thought I’d avoid talking about Argento? Pfft.
It’s been several years since I’ve slowly started filling the gaps in my giallo knowledge, but I came into the fold with the films of Dario Argento. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is not as well-known as Suspiria or Deep Red, but it’s one of his most terrifying, with the centerpiece a mostly silent murder witnessed through glass doors, as though on a film or sound stage. While later films would make more use of hallucinatory imagery and buckets of blood, there’s something deeply satisfying about Crystal Plumage’s combination of horror and restraint.
The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
We can’t talk about Halloween without talking about the King of Halloween, Vincent Price. Price made plenty of great horror films – everything from the Gothic romance with Dragonwyck to truly disturbing sadism with The Witchfinder General. But Price also found a lot of humor in his own persona, and nothing showcased it better than Comedy of Terrors. Price and Peter Lorre are like an evil Abbott and Costello, gleefully committing murder to support their failing mortuary business. Joyce Jameson is there as Price’s neglected wife, Boris Karloff gives a career-best turn as her slightly deranged father, and even Basil Rathbone and Joe E. Brown show up to round out the who’s-who of horror superstars. It’s directed by Jacques Tourneur (of Cat People fame) and written by Richard Matheson. There is absolutely nothing not to love.
Abbott and Costello: Hold That Ghost (1941)
I find myself relatively split when taking a look at the Abbott and Costello horror comedies, namely Lauren’s above mentioned Hold That Ghost vs. Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein. I love them both. However, when taking everything into consideration from a critical perspective, I think Hold That Ghost is probably just a better film. The horror is constructed into creative and fun scares, and everything is made better by the well-rounded cast surrounding the comedy duo. I’ve made no secret of my love for Richard Carlson, and Joan Davis’ work (as Lauren mentions above) is stellar. She stands out as a tremendously strong comedian in her own right, even taking the attention off Costello in a number of delightfully constructed scenes. Heck, I have a girl crush on Evelyn Ankers too…
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
I’ve talked about House on Haunted Hill a fair amount on the podcast. This is most definitely my favorite of the William Castle gimmicky horror films of the 1950s, and speaking as a coward, an occasionally creepy movie. Vincent Price is at his scene chewing best, leading an interesting cast in a quirky haunted house story. Is everything as it seems? Probably not. The movie displays some awesome (for the time) effects work involving a skeleton, and the scene shown of above resulted in yours truly having to turn on an awful lot of lights as a kid.
The ‘Burbs (1989)
Am I going to get grief for this choice? I don’t care. This is a very nostalgic choice for yours truly…it is one of Papa Pierce’s favorite films, and I’ve been watching it as long as I can remember. Tom Hanks is a delight, even though he’s still morphing into America’s Favorite Uncle as we know him today. Henry Gibson puts forward a creepy, yet entertaining performance which should have netted the comedian some more love and attention. Plus, have I mentioned Carrie freaking Fisher? While she’s stuck playing an under appreciated wife, she’s a smart and entertaining presence in a joy of a movie.
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Richard Carlson. There. I said it.
The Conjuring (2013)
I came to this movie for Patrick Wilson, and Patrick Wilson alone… and maybe Ron Livingston….anyway, when I came out this became one of my favorite horror films. The cast as a whole give grounded and interesting performances in a legitimately scary possession story (never one of my favorite brands of horror). Plus, a number of the sequences were scary enough to make me turn on lights in dark corners. Very few horror movies have done that to me.