By Katze Genet
Confession time: I have rather untraditional taste when it comes to horror movies. I don’t usually care for big-budget slasher flicks, which I find more gross than frightening. I have never been such a fan of any horror movie franchise that I’ve watched more than the first two or three installments. I rarely (if ever) will watch a remake of anything. And just about any discussion of modern horror movie trends (like the usurpation of Japanese horror movie cycles by Hollywood) tend to involve arbitrary standards, personal taste, and consequent quibbling, so I would rather avoid the lot.
This list is going to be a bit different. Most of these movies aren’t really scary; several don’t technically classify as ‘horror.’ With only a very few (obvious) exceptions, about all of them could be considered family-friendly. But these are not movies that generally come up on your usual seasonal movie lists, and (in my humble opinion) they should. So if you’re looking for something a bit different than your usual fare this Hallowe’en, give one of these movies a try.
The Great Black and White Silent Movies
Sure, we all know them, but how many of you have actually sat down and
watched these masterpieces of early cinema? Our modern attention spans rarely have the patience these days, it seems, but the good news is that most of the movies are relatively brief: average length is generally only about ninety minutes or so, and the earliest movies are only shorts. The Infernal Cauldron (1903) is barely over a minute long but brilliantly done, and the beautiful Frankenstein (1910) clocks in at under thirteen minutes. Favorites of mine include Häxen (1922), Nosferatu (1922), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), and Metropolis (1927). The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) deserves an honorable mention for no other reason than for Lon Chaney Sr.’s brilliant and haunting Quasimodo.
There is a trend these days to reissue these amazing movies with modern soundtracks and even modern narration, which might be a good idea if you have little ones or if you tend to get antsy. Me, personally? I turn off all the lights, turn off all sounds, and curl up with my favorite blanket.
The Vampire Bat (1933)
Believe it or not, I actually picked up this gem at the dollar store a few years back. Featuring Fay Wray in all her cinematic glory, the movie is campy and the plot makes little sense, but it is artfully filmed and safe for the kiddos.
The Abbott and Costello Monster Movies
While I’m a Laurel and Hardy girl at heart, you can’t beat the genius of these horror spoofs. Starting with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948, and ending up with Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy in 1955, these half dozen movies are comedy gold and three feature genuine horror legends (albeit mostly Boris Karloff).
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Yes, this is film noir and not horror; so shoot me. While it might be a rather obvious choice I find this movie a lot more accessible than many period noir films, and you can’t beat it for atmospherics. Gloria Swanson, the former silent film star, is (pardon the pun) glorious as former silent film star Norma Desmond. While not scary per se it definitely has a great creepy factor.
The Bela Lugosi / Ed Wood movies
In a lot of ways these movies are rather sad, as they feature a broken-down Lugosi at the end of his life — but Ed Wood proved to be Lugosi’s last best friend and for all that he was a hack Wood tried to do right by him. Glen or Glenda? (1953) is a bit hard to stomach, but you rather just have to go for the ride; and while not horror it’s definitely dark. Bride of the Monster (1955) was supposed to be Lugosi’s comeback movie; it’s a terrible film, of course, but the ailing Lugosi managed to bring out the best of Wood’s meager talent. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), while mostly filmed long after Lugosi’s death, nevertheless features some of the last footage taken of Lugosi; besides which, Vampira is in it, and there’s aliens and zombies, too.
Originally censored in the U.S. for excessive gore, this Italian production is a masterpiece. Inspired by a Nickolai Gogol short story, it features a centuries-old vampire witch come back from the dead to curse her descendants. While the plot — and a good deal of the acting — may leave something to be desired, the atmosphere is the thing in this movie anyway. While the gore may pale in comparison to modern movies, there are definitely some grisly bits, and the whole thing is beautifully made.
The Changeling (1980)
This is a good horror flick for the younger crowd or those among us who don’t like a whole lot of blood and guts. Ostensibly (like many horror movies) it is based on real events. A composer moves across the country to start a new life following the deaths of his wife and daughter, only to discover that his new house is haunted. You will not be able to look at red rubber balls in quite the same way.
The movie opens with Iggy Pop in a cage lip-syncing Bauhaus’s ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead,’ and the movie only gets better from there. It’s definitely made in the eighties, and it doesn’t have a lot of action. The cast is brilliant, though, and it’s a creative take on the vampire mythos.
For all the campy classics that make the rounds every Hallowe’en season, I just don’t understand why this one isn’t just as traded as, say, Hocus Pocus or Ghostbusters. True, it gets pretty dark — it’s about a pair of serial killers, after all, and one of them is a ghost. And Jeffrey Combs is seriously twisted as FBI agent Milton Dammers. (Favorite line: ‘My body is a roadmap of pain!’) But it’s also got some great comedy, and the story is solid.
The Troma Catalogue
Based out of New York City and headed by the brilliant Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Hertz, Troma Studios offers the best in schlock horror. These aren’t even B movies, they’re Z movies (and proud of it). With titles like Redneck Zombies and Sucker: the Vampire, with great characters like Sgt. Kabukiman and The Toxic Avenger, what’s not to love? Troma-made or Troma-released movies have helped launch the careers of everyone from Vanna White and Carmen Electra to Samuel L. Jackson and Vincent D‘Onofrio. In Tromeo and Juliet, Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead delivers the opening speech (and the only Shakespeare in the entire movie). The best part? Many Troma movies are available for free on YouTube.
A Troma-released film, this one should get its own section. Made in Germany and based on a comic book, it’s rather hard to find but totally worth it. It’s a scathing social commentary, a bit of a gay rights film — and it also happens to feature a psychotic murderous prophylactic.
Cannibal! The Musical
Another Troma release that deserves its own mention. Loosely based on the story of Alferd Packer, a western prospector and cannibal, this was the college project of Matt Parker and Trey Stone of South Park fame. Already the genius behind South Park is apparent, in the crazy catchy music and slapstick horror.
Starring the great Robert Carlyle and Guy Pearce, Ravenous is also loosely based on the story of Alferd Packer; this version is dead serious. There’s a decent amount of blood, as you would expect from any good cannibal flick, but mostly this movie is just creepy — from the opening music and sequence through the disturbing end.
Technically I suppose this is a period drama, based on a stage play of the same name. However, it is a rather fictionalized account of the last days of the Marquis de Sade in the Charenton insane asylum, so you know things are going to get very, very twisted. It’s not really a scary movie, as most of the violence happens off screen; I don’t think it’s even very creepy. Plainly put, this film is beautifully sick.
Starring the great Mr. Chin himself, Bruce Campbell, as an elderly Elvis Presley, and Ossie Davis in his last role as an elderly JFK — go with me on this one. Presley and Kennedy are stuck in the same retirement home and strike up a friendship. Then the retirement home acquires a new resident, wearing tattered linens and a cowboy hat. Just watch the dang movie, will you?
Shadow of a Vampire
Max Schreck, star of the original Nosferatu, was a German actor of some renown. Maybe he was just a little too good at playing his most infamous role, though. In this alternative history of the making of Nosferatu, Max Schreck really is Count Orlok. You can imagine there are a few ’bumps’ during production. While a lesser production might have degenerated into farce, a stellar cast and crew keep the film on the straight and narrow and the result is a truly haunting piece of cinema.
John Dies at the End
There are a few good jump scares, scary critters, and creepy alternative-universe inhabitants. Characters include college dropouts and a cheesy motivational speaker with a dark secret. The plot is twisted and jumps back and forth. It’s a bit gimmicky, but you have to give props to any movie that gives away the ending in the title while still keeping you guessing almost all the way there.
I wasn’t originally interested in this one; I’ve yet to read a single book by Dean Koontz and I don’t intend to start. But Netflix kept suggesting it so I bit… wow. The nice thing about this movie being based on a Dean Koontz book is that the world is complete — there’s no inconsistencies or ‘wait, what?’ moments. It’s well made and well acted; while not a great cinematic masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it is certainly a fun ride.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
Trick ‘r Treat
Sean of the Dead
Reign of Fire
all photos are copyrighted to their respective movie studios