I’ve always considered myself a fan of horror. I’ve watched the requisite films and franchises dozens of times since my childhood and each year at Halloween time I break them out and watch them all, many of them multiple times. This year Becca and I started a list of horror flicks we hadn’t seen and tried to watch as many as we could. Some of them were generational classics, some were b-movie staples, and a couple were straight grindhouse fodder.
In all, I tallied 32 new movies viewed this Halloween season and I definitely discovered something in watching all those flicks: I’m more of a horror fiend than I ever thought I was. Putting on new and unseen movies was such a breath of fresh air. Watching the same old movies year in and year old had proven to be a bit stale, despite my enjoyment of each of those movies.
So below I’m going to list each film in the order in which we watched them, my personal grade, and a brief synopsis of my feelings about each.
- Note – this list only contains new watches and will not include many horror classics you might be expecting. I’ve already seen the old standards many times over. No Freddy, no Jason, no Leatherface. We cool? Let’s go.
1. Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Director: Jack Arnold
We started with a classic. You’d be surprised how many of the old Universal monster films I haven’t seen and I had been meaning to watch this for a while. My dad always talked about this series when I was a kid but I never sat down to watch it, a situation I was happy to rectify. It’s genuinely atmospheric and the underwater scenes are uniquely tense considering the age of the film. The lifeless eyes of the creature suit are, I’m sure unintentionally, creepy and otherworldly.
It’s dated and not very scary, as was expected, but I can imagine audiences being scared when it came out. It still retains a golden era charm.
2. Creepshow (1982)
Director: George A. Romero
I wrote a review of it here. Far from my favorite flick this season, but it had enough good moments to make it a worthy watch. I suppose I just expected something different considering it was a Romero and Stephen King collaboration.
3. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Director: Amy Holden Jones
So much phallic symbolism! The poster alone features terrified women in tiny clothes who look scared to get….drilled. Yeah.
You’re going to notice lots of 80’s slasher movies coming up as this list continues and this one started it off. As you may have guessed, the flick is about a massacre at a slumber party. The killer uses a power drill to skewer young girls, and a few boys. Most interestingly of note, the film was written and directed by women, and feminist women at that, so the symbolism is very intentional. I enjoyed the flick and would happily revisit it next year. It’s dumb in all the ways we expect an 80’s slasher to be and it’s competently made.
4. A Quiet Place (2018)
Director: John Krasinski
We waited until home release of this one because I knew sound control and quietness were major factors in the story and I certainly wasn’t going to depend on a theater audience to provide that. We were happily rewarded with a great film, as advertised. It’s perfectly tense and the conceit is wonderfully realized in presenting this alternate reality where silence is truly golden.
5. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Director: Dan O’Bannon
I wrote a review here. Definitely one of my favorite flicks from this Halloween season. It isn’t particularly “Halloween-y” because the flick takes place during the Summer (July 3rd to be exact), but with the comedic tone and the excellent zombie effects it fits right in with the season. There are also some great genre actors in the flick – Thom Mathews (Friday the 13th Part 6), Clu Gulager (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2), Don Calfa (Weekend at Bernie’s), and Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons – Silent Night, Deadly Night).
6. Alice Sweet Alice (1976)
Director: Alfred Sole
Another flick bathed in atmosphere that I had heard about for years. The mask the killer wears is perfectly creepy and fits the tone of the flick really well. It’s a solid little mystery with a terrifically unhinged performance from Paula E. Sheppard in the titular role. The grim 70’s vibe imbued in many of the films of the decade is all over this film.
7. Piranha (1978)
Director: Joe Dante
Cue the Jaws rip-offs! Spielberg’s seminal shark feature spawned innumerable imitators that wanted to cause similar aquatic fears, but none succeeded. Joe Dante’s flick about little flesh eating bastards was likely the best of the bunch and uses the familiar trope of military-experiment-gone-wrong to unleash the fury of the toothy marine creatures. It’s perfectly gory and has all the marks of a Roger Corman production.
8. Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Director: Barbara Peeters
More sea-born monsters! The conceit in this flick is there are fish that have been scientifically experimented on (blame science!) and they mutate into half-man/half-fish hybrids that kill men and….rape women (?!) in an effort to reproduce. Yeah, it’s weird. At this point the Jaws rip-offs have gone off the rails and into depraved, exploitive territory. I really don’t see how something like this gets made. It even peppers in a heavy dose of racism and several hate crimes.
9. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
A nice atmospheric haunted house story with some solid leading performances in James Brolin and Margot Kidder. It’s one of those movies considered a classic and it certainly isn’t a great movie or on the same level as something like Poltergeist, but it traverses it’s story well and keeps things interesting. I don’t know if this is something that becomes a seasonal watch for me, but I’m happy to have seen it.
10. Trilogy of Terror (1975)
Director: Dan Curtis
I’ll be perfectly honest, I barely remember this flick at all. Aside from the part with the little pygmy fellow on the poster, I have no recollection of it. Karen Black stars in all three stories playing different characters, but for some reason only the one story sticks out. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of my memory or if the rest of the stories aren’t memorable. This may require a re-watch just to figure it out.
11. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Director: Stephen Chiodo
A B-movie cult classic that, when you hear the title, you think, “Well, that sounds ridiculous and terrible.” And I’m here to say, it is ridiculous, but it is not terrible. It’s perfectly ridiculous in every way. Aliens that look like demonic clowns are killing people and wrapping them up in cocoons with cotton candy guns. Yes, it’s all that and more.
P.S. The theme song is unforgettably great and it camped in my brain for the majority of the last month or so. Watch the video here.
12. Sorority House Massacre (1986)
Director: Carol Frank
Now, we’re back to the massacres. This time the massacre is in a sorority house instead of a slumber party, but it’s pretty much the same deal. Seeing these titles makes you wonder if there was a massive rush to copyright them back in the 80’s, because the movies pretty much write themselves once you have the title, right? A bunch of young girls in a singular location and then a crazed killer crashes the party. This was one of the cheaper looking ones and I don’t remember it too fondly. Happy to have seen it but not likely to revisit.
13. Night of the Demons (1988)
Director: Kevin Tenney
Another cult film, and one that actually takes place on Halloween night so it was a nice seasonal watch. A bunch of punks gather to have a Halloween party in an abandoned funeral home and perform an unexpected seance that does not end well. The film has terrible acting and some horrendous dialogue, but it’s actually not bad as a whole and it has some creepy make-up effects.
It also features one of the funniest moments I’ve ever witnessed in a horror flick (towards the end, one character makes an amazing choice to save his own ass) and has one of the coolest shots I’ve seen, as well.
14. Madman (1982)
Director: Joe Giannone
This one is a nightmare. There’s a death scene where one of the characters gets decapitated by the hood of a truck, but other than that there isn’t too much to write home about.
The movie is about a crazed killer who comes out to kill at a nearby Summer camp when his name is called. “Madman Marz!”
It’s telling that even Gaylen Ross (who starred in the original Dawn of the Dead) used a fake name as her credit for this film. The killer is seemingly everywhere and the film lacks any kind of spatial continuity. I know it’s ridiculous to comment on those aspects in a movie like this, but those are the little things that could be fixed to elevate a pretty cliched story into watchable territory. Seeing movies like this makes me realize that films like Friday the 13th gained notoriety because they’re so much more competently produced than the lesser flicks in the genre.
15. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)
Director: Charles B. Pierce
Here’s another lost 70’s gem that seems to have been forgotten within the genre. It’s not as graphic as most horror flicks so it doesn’t have that feel of other bloodier slashers. The story is based on the real-life Phantom killer that terrorized Texarkana, Texas in the 1940’s and is shot in a way that doesn’t fetish-ize the murders. It’s presented as a realistic account and shows things very matter-of-factly, almost in a documentary style with voice-over detailing.
Also of note, this masked killer precedes other masked maniacs such as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, which is especially notable in Friday the 13th Part 2 where Jason wears the exact same bag on his head as the killer in this flick.
It does include one kill with a knife fastened to a trombone (?) that is very questionable and feels misplaced. Other than that, it’s a pretty interesting account of the terror this small town had to endure.
16. The Lost Boys (1987)
Director: Joel Schumacher
I reviewed it here. I’m happy to have finally seen this one and I promptly went out to buy the blu-ray. The Coreys, Jason Patric, and Kiefer Sutherland are all stand-outs in this moody, and a little uneven, 80’s punk vampire tale.
17. Tourist Trap (1979)
Director: David Schmoeller
And, we have the weirdness. This creepy little tale about a decrepit old wax museum is a bit of a b-movie darling for horror fans. A young man stops at a nearly vacant old tourist attraction, The Lost Oasis, to get some gas and, as he wanders through the place, he finds himself trapped in a room. The objects in the room begin attacking him in succession and he is eventually killed.
As the rest of the youngsters show up looking for their friend, the owner of this once-thriving museum graciously offers to take in and help them until they can get their truck running. But there appears to be a strange person in a mask with telekinetic powers manipulating objects and killing off the group of friends one by one.
I think I need to give it a re-watch to really be able to have a definitive opinion, but it left a mark for it’s odd tone and sheer creepiness.
18. Prom Night (1980)
Director: Paul Lynch
Jamie Lee Curtis pops up in another early slasher flick after starring in the seminal Halloween, though this flick has a little blend of John Carpenter’s classic as well as some of Brian DePalma’s Carrie. A group of kids are playing a game of hide and kill, apparently, in an abandoned building when a young girl walks in to join the fun. The kids bully her and she falls out a window to her death, prompting the group to swear never to tell anyone and run away.
The story picks up years later in high school and the kids are still friends and have never told anyone their secret. Leslie Nielsen is the dad and Jamie Lee Curtis plays the grown up sister of the slain young girl. As their Prom night nears, the guilty kids start getting getting knocked off. There is a sub-plot about an escaped mental patient who may be in town and the sheriff and patient’s psychiatrist are trying to find him before he kills more. Sound familiar?
The quality is very low and the characters are an abhorrent mess for the most part. The film never even breathes the same air as Halloween or Carrie even though it borrows several bits from each flick.
19. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Director: Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie the filmmaker is a frustrating proposition. He can go from very high (House of 1000 Corpses) to the very dregs of film (Halloween II). From what I’ve seen, he’s a man who never thought an over-indulgent slice of mayhem was ever too long. Think about that crazy dinner scene in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. That’s what Rob Zombie tries to flesh out into a full-length movie time and time again, and it only works some of the time.
The heroes in his films are assholes and this flick is like his Bonnie and Clyde mixed with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But with psychotic, murderous assholes. And in Zombie’s world, the assholes win.
The flick gets bonus points for featuring the great Ken Foree.
20. The Howling (1981)
Director: Joe Dante
Another Joe Dante entry on the list. This one steers very much clear of 1980’s An American Werewolf in London and goes for a more creepy take. I didn’t find the transformation scenes to be anywhere near the same ballpark as the brilliant one in John Landis’ groundbreaking film, but it has some crazy effects and moves the lore of the werewolf away from man-beast and into the realm of shape-shifting entity.
I may need to watch this one again because I was not very enamored with it after the first watch. As it stands, I didn’t enjoy it as much as most.
21. They Live! (1988)
Director: John Carpenter
The economic effect of the Reagan administration gets a comeuppance in John Carpenter’s late 80’s satire. Rowdy Roddy Piper and Carpenter veteran Keith David stumble upon a pair of magic sunglasses that allow the wearer to recognize the subliminal messages in advertising and to see the beings that are controlling our society with these messages. The sentiment is barely veiled and it is a pretty direct attack on consumerism. The film has built a strong cult base and for good reason. It’s a lot of fun.
22. Night of the Creeps (1986)
Director: Fred Dekker
Another weird horror/sci-fi blend in the lineage of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Romero’s zombie flicks. An alien slug crashes on Earth in a space pod and winds up in the brain of a homicidal maniac. The body gets frozen for science and, wouldn’t you know it, years later the body is thawed out during a fraternity prank, releasing the dormant alien. The rest of the film is a hokey b-movie filled with alien slugs and Tom Atkins. And any film with Tom Atkins is good by me, alien slugs or not.
23. Pieces (1982)
Director: Juan Piquer Simon
Oh, man. Where do I begin with this one? The tagline says it all: IT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU THINK IT IS!
An exploitation film if there ever was one, Pieces is about a killer who removes body parts from his victims in order to recreate a jigsaw puzzle he’s been obsessed with since he was a boy. It’s a depraved movie in the vein of old grindhouse cinema, with the primary goal of taking an established genre set-up and twisting it to the most hellish version.
Much the same way Maniac was, the killer in Pieces has mommy issues, though in William Lustig’s film they employ a unique narrative that actually follows the psychopathic killer as the main character. Here we get the usual woman-being-stalked-by-faceless-figure which leads to a ho-hum, clichéd murder. Though, not so clichéd, one kill features a woman getting chainsawed in half and, rest assured, we get that imagery in close-up. So, yeah….classy stuff.
24. Final Exam (1981)
Director: Jimmy Huston
By now, if the formula isn’t incredibly apparent, it should be. We have a bunch of college kids, many of them unbearable douchebags, preparing for their…final exams! But, guess what? There’s a killer on the loose! The only saving grace for this flick is that there is actually a decent person or two in the bunch to balance out the ensemble of horrible, one dimensional people. The jocks are assholes, the pretty girls are bitches, and the nice kids are insufferable (and it makes you wonder why some of these “nicer” people are friends with these awful people in the first place). The nerdy kid with wit is named “Radish” and is played by Joel S. Rice, and it’s safe to say he is the only character you’re rooting for.
As it turns out, the killer is just randomly picking people off, presumably because they are vapid and merely a means of justifying a run-time of 89 minutes. The only pleasure in watching this film is waiting to see how bad these incorrigibly terrible people are going to be slain. So, the formula works again.
25. The Prowler (1981)
Director: Joseph Zito
The film starts with a girl named Rosemary breaking up with her boyfriend via letter while he is stationed overseas in WWII in 1945. Now, if ever there was a trigger moment in a slasher film, I believe we’ve found the peak of the mountain. The genre features psychos killing their siblings, killing in the name of mommy, killing their own children, killing for no damn reason, and too many more who kill because you spoke their name, stepped on their lawn, knocked on their door, opened a puzzle box, etc. But if you’re serving a tour of duty in the worst war the world has ever seen and your significant other breaks up with you in a letter….oh, man. Needless to say, Rosemary and her new beau get shanked with a pitchfork by a man wearing Army fatigues.
So, yeah, cut to several years later and students (always punishing the students) are holding the first Graduation Dance since that tragic murder (a la My Bloody Valentine) and guess who shows up. G.I. freaking Joe. The flick is pretty good and is notable for two reasons. First, we are treated to a performance by none other than Hitchcock veteran Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train, Rope) in a silly little slasher flick. And, secondly, the kills and effects are actually quite clever and expertly done. Horror effects legend Tom Savini has pointed to this film as his finest work, which is saying A LOT, even if he did recreate his own work from Maniac in the shot-gun/head exploding scene. Some great stuff in here.
26. The Mutilator (1984)
Director: Buddy Cooper
These titles are the best.
To start, a young boy is cleaning his father’s rifles (which he is expressly forbidden to do) as a surprise for his father on his birthday. While he’s disobeying this order, he shoots and kills his mother. Dad comes home and is less than pleased with his son’s gun cleaning technique.
Several years later, the boy is grown up and we’ve found out that the tragedy has caused his father, Big Ed, to go off the deep end. But, he’s still dad, so when he asks Ed Jr. to come up to his beach house and shut it down for the season, Jr. agrees and takes his friends along with him. Once they get to the beach house, things seem a little weird and before you know it people are dying in fairly bloody ways.
The flick is forgettable, except for the comedically insane way in which Big Ed keeps coming back in the end. A pretty obvious influence on Broken Lizard’s Club Dread.
27. Stripped to Kill (1987)
Director: Katt Shea
Not so much a horror flick, but rather a mystery thriller. With strippers.
A stripper is burned alive and a detective has to infiltrate the strip club the girl worked at to get some details for the investigation. There’s no real hijinks, as you would normally expect in a fish-out-of-water scenario, but the detective is a terrible stripper and when the police chief finds out how undercover she is they pull the plug on the detail. But, naturally, subordination isn’t in play and she stays “undercover” to finish the case.
Like I said, it’s not a horror. The most horrific moment is when a girl is murdered and the killer fastens her to the underbelly of a semi-truck to drive the body away. It’s not great, but it’s not the worst flick on this list.
28. Chopping Mall (1986)
Director: Jim Wynorski
Here we get to combine elements of Short Circuit, Dawn of the Dead, and slasher films all in one. We have maniacal robots, a closed shopping mall, and a group of dumb kids just trying to party.
The mall is implementing new security robots to enforce policies and police against mall crimes (that’s a thing, right?) Of course the mall gets struck by lightning and the robots go from peaceful protectors to killing machines. This is not good news for the group of youngsters trying to party in the closed stores. The rest writes itself, folks. Pretty darn forgettable but it’s interesting that these unkillable killing machines with no conscience are really no different from their human counterparts in other slashers.
29. Halloween (2018)
Director: David Gordon Green
I reviewed it here. The movie is good, but not great. I’ve seen some nitpicks about the violation of Michael’s mythology, but they are only nitpicks and they don’t hold much weight when you break them down. It’s pretty easily the second best movie in the franchise and that’s good enough for me.
30. Dolls (1987)
Director: Stuart Gordon
This is a good one! When I read it was a horror movie about killer dolls I assumed it was something of a Child’s Play and Puppet Master hybrid mess, but thankfully I was wrong. A lot of the good in this movie is credited to director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) and the animation of the dolls. It’s really well made and it’s properly creepy. Sadly, the characters are a mess and so overtly cartoonish at times that it brings the film down to Earth several times. Again, the wicked need to be punished and we can’t wait to see it!
31. Night of the Comet (1984)
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Another good one! A comet is going to be skirting by the Earth and everyone is having a comet party to celebrate the celestial event. The party’s over when the comet reduces the population of the planet to piles of dust, leaving the atmosphere with an apocalyptic amber hue, and only those who were inside steel rooms during the night of the comet (get it?) are still alive. There are some who suffer from mild exposure to the comet and those people slowly turn into zombies.
Two of the survivors are sisters who were raised by their military dad and are pretty well equipped to survive. They meet a dude, then run into some other dudes who have been exposed to the comet and are claiming the mall as their own, which leads to a fun stand-off. Eventually they get in contact with some scientists who have been sheltered in an underground lab, and these people are not nice. Blame science! It’s 80’s hokey nonsense, but it’s entertaining and just ridiculous enough to keep you smiling.
32. Black Sunday (1960)
Director: Mario Bava
This one is great. It’s the feature directorial debut of Italian giallo filmmaker Mario Bava and it is a masterwork of light and shadow and spatial beauty. Every frame could be plucked out and put on canvas in gorgeous black and white and hung up on the wall as an eerie, gothic painting.
The story involves a witch who was murdered by her own brother and vows to get revenge on their descendants. 200 years later, a pair of traveling doctors stumble upon the tomb of the witch and they inadvertently awaken her. Thus, the witch begins her revenge.
Story aside, the film is beautiful with stark light and engulfing shadow filling each frame. Bava’s use of depth and space in his framing is astounding and adds such an atmosphere to the world he is building. I recommend this highly if you’re a film nerd or just love gothic films.