Some of My Favorite Horror Films
by Laren Grey
August 31st, 2022
The dark has come, and it dumps a frightful rain onto my roof. I immediately scan through a list of my favorite horror films, like hoisting a sail in a good headwind, movies that I will watch over and over for a lifetime. I am always enthralled by the feelings of melancholy, dread, and fear brought through the art medium of film. These are spiritual experiences. You won't find slasher flicks on my list! True horror is psychological.
It's hard to believe that the book is better than the film because The Exorcist (1973) is the greatest horror film, in my opinion. I recommend watching it alone, at night, in the dark. I once fell asleep on the staircase in Georgetown. This is a film I have and will watch at least once per year. The book and audiobook (both written by and narrated by William Peter Beatty) are excellent.
Black Sunday (1960) is an Italian gothic horror film directed by Mario Bava and starring the haunting eyes of Barbara Steele. She will cast a spell on you. The original title of this movie is La Maschera del Demonio, 'The Mask of The Demon', but with America being typically and puritanically uptight (even then), any title with the word 'Demon' or 'Satan' in it was a tough sell, so it was marketed in America as 'Black Sunday'. The camera work and lighting are exceptional, leaving me scratching my head as to how they shot it in 1959 with cameras the size of VW buses.
The Plague of The Zombies
A Hammer Horror classic, The Plague of The Zombies (1966) is a ride spent at a delicious pace. A Victorian-era zombie film? Yes! Wonderfully filmed and ahead of its time. This movie influenced what we now know as the zombie genre.
Night of The Living Dead
This is the movie that changed film, Night of The Living Dead (1968) by George A. Romero. When the newscaster came on the black and white television and announced the unthinkable, it paralleled the many horrific events that shaped world history: "It has been established that persons who have recently died have been returning to life and committing acts of murder. A widespread investigation of funeral homes, morgues, and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead have been returning to life and seeking human victims. It's hard for us here to be reporting this to you, but it does seem to be a fact." Where were you the first time you heard the news that the dead were returning and killing en masse? Ultimately, this movie isn't really about zombies. It's about how different people from different backgrounds are thrust together into extreme circumstances, whether it be zombies, war, or a natural disaster.
Many say the book is better, but the book doesn't have Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and the extraordinary Scatman Crothers. Masterfully shot, The Shining (1980) delivers different flavors of madness. We've all been in over our heads, but not this far, I hope. "I'm not gonna hurt ya. You didn't let me finish my sentence. I said I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in!"
Don't even try to say it's a sci-fi movie. It just happens to be in space. Extreme uniqueness and horror, channeling the dark mind of H.R. Giger through the filmmaking prowess of Ridley Scott, Alien (1979) delivers terror in the empty helplessness of space. Not to mention that it is impossible to get seven actors of this level of talent in one film these days. Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, and Ian Holm deliver an acting clinic.
To me, the scariest part of Psycho (1960) isn't the obvious scares of the shower scene or other scenes, it's the suspense delivered by Hitchcock and the unique presence of Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. In particular, the odd cadence of Norman Bates watching Marion Crane eat a sandwich in his parlor as stuffed and mounted birds loom, and the tension of Marion Crane's inner dialogue as paranoia sets in. There is a great documentary about the shower scene called 78/52. Watch it, but don't watch the 1998 remake, lest you be guilty of heresy to the film gods.
The Curse of The Werewolf
Oliver Reed, being a real-life werewolf, was a perfect cast for the lead in The Curse of The Werewolf (1961). He's easy to fear, admire, or fall in love with. The werewolf is easy to relate to, as we have all been the outcast at some point in our lives. The lighting of black and white films was beautiful, and although The Curse of The Werewolf was in color, it was made with the light and shadow feel of black and white. To me, this is the best werewolf movie ever made.
The Devil Rides Out
The occult! Don't dabble in it! Or do! Even when Christopher Lee is the good guy, his presence in The Devil Rides Out (1968) is a continuous reminder that something mysterious is afoot and we must remain alert or we may fall into the seduction of the dark arts. But we, the viewer, can't resist and become seduced by the dark arts when Charles Grey delivers a hypnotizing spell to get others (and us) to do his will. Watch it and rewind it and watch it again. Play a game of chicken with the powers of evil! The book by Dennis Wheatley is excellent, and the audiobook narrated by Christopher Lee is a joy. Christopher Lee could read a lawnmower manual and it would chill us to the bone.
The Lost Boys
Long before lame millennial vampires, the nineteen-eighties reassured us that vampires were real. The Lost Boys (1987) along with many other vampire movies of the 80s is the proof. Watch them, but only after you have watched the classic Universal and Hammer Horror vampire films. A few 80s vampire gems to watch: Near Dark, Fright Night, The Hunger, and Vamp.
Day of The Dead
George A. Romero put the tools of the legendary special effect god Tom Savini to good use in Day of The Dead (1985), the third of his dead trilogy (Night of The Living Dead, Dawn of The Dead). They were pushing the boundaries of what could be done with practical effect at the time. But aside from the effects, we are stuck in a desperate situation that has no solution. We feel sorry for the undead as we see them as what they are: us. Don't watch the 2008 remake. Anybody who knows anything knows that zombies don't run. That's what is frightening about them. They are easy to get away from, but, eventually, you will make a mistake.
Jaws (1975) is perfect in its imperfection. We are fortunate to live in a world where Steven Spielberg wielded the great acting powers of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfus, and Robert Shaw in a great thespian dance that puts us into a whirlwind on land that equals the desperate flailing of being dragged to the depths by a giant great white shark. Read the book. Read the script. Watch the movie. I watch Jaws at least four times per year. The Indianapolis monologue delivered by Robert Shaw is one of the greatest moments in film history.
The City of The Dead
The City of The Dead (1960) drops us off and leaves us in a place we don't belong, a place where dark witchcraft has loomed since before we arrived. We are left powerless to its influence, and escape feels dreadfully impossible. The fog never lifts. The powers of darkness are too great.