There is no better time than the month of October to get reacquainted with the horror movie classics. I’m talking about the quintessential films that gave birth to and inspired the entire horror genre. First up is our list of The Horror Classics. If you call yourself a horror fan, then these are the black-and-white classic films you must see. The incredible work of the monster make-up artists and the timeless actors portrayals of those monsters left a lasting impression for generations of movie goers to come. The second list is what we consider The New Horror Classics. These are not exactly new anymore, but are movies mainly from the 70s and 80s that redefined the horror movie and took the genre to an all-time high. These films were so terrifying and thought-provoking that they stood the test of time and are considered among the greatest horror films ever made.
The Horror Classics
Frankenstein (1931)It’s alive! It’s alive! Boris Karloff’s career certainly was “alive” after he played the iconic role of Frankenstein’s monster in the 1931 Universal Pictures film. It’s the movie that made him an instant star. Loosely based on Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein wound up becoming one of Universal’s greatest horror films ever made.
Dracula (1931)It’s hard to picture Dracula as anyone but the Bela Lugosi version from this film. His performance was so frightening that it was reported several people actually fainted during the movie premiere. His handsome yet mysterious, suave yet menacing performance coupled with his thick Hungarian accent helped shape and define the character of Dracula forever.
The Wolf Man (1941)Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a good samaritan. Larry Talbot should know. After trying to rescue a man who is being attacked by a wolf in the woods Larry is bitten in the chest. Life will never be the same for poor Larry because now he will transform into a werewolf and terrorize the village at night. The worst thing is, he is totally unaware of his condition. The local gypsy fortuneteller warns him what is happening but Larry also suffers from denial. Lon Chaney, Jr was extremely proud of his role as the Wolf Man as he should be because it was such a wonderful and significant film about werewolves.
The Mummy (1932)The tomb of the real Tutankhamun (King Tut) was unearthed in 1922. Ten years later, audiences flocked to the movie that depicted Boris Karloff as Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian priest who was mummified for attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, the princess Ankh-es-en-amon. Reading from the Scroll of Thoth awakens Imhotep from his sarcophagus and the mummy is now free prowling the streets of Cairo in search of his beloved princess.
The Invisible Man (1933)Being invisible seems like it could be one of the greatest superhero type skills one could have. The possibilities for what one could do are endless. For chemist Dr. Jack Griffin, it’s no different except that he wants to use his newfound power to dominate the world. So it’s up to the police to stop him. Problem is, how do you catch a man who is invisible?
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)“To a new world of gods and monsters!” What an appropriate toast for there will be a new bride in town. After all, Frankenstein’s monster is a sad lonely creature who desperately needs company. Dr. Frankenstein and his former mentor, Dr. Pretorius will work together to bring the Bride to life. But will the new bride (played by Elsa Lanchester) accept the monster or reject him like all others have. The film now identified as director James Whale’s masterpiece scored big with audiences and is considered a superior film to even the original Frankenstein.
Nosferatu (1922)Nosferatu is the oldest film on our list and was an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. In fact the Stoker heirs wound up suing over the making of the film and ordered that all copies of this movie be destroyed. Fortunately copies survived and we now have one of the creepiest versions of the Dracula character ever put on film. The vampire’s name is Count Orlok played masterfully by the German actor Max Schreck. Nosferatu is now regarded as a masterpiece of cinema.
The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)From the depths of the the Amazon lives an amphibious beast unknown to man. This gill-man type creature has emerged from the “Black Lagoon” a beautiful paradise from which no one returns. The creature is following a group of expeditionists especially the beautiful Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) who are excavating in the area. Strange encounters begin to occur and the group finds themselves in grave danger. This black-and-white film was presented to audiences in 3-D!
King Kong (1933)Who could ever forget the scene where King Kong is atop New York’s Empire State Building fending off the attacks of military airplanes all while carrying Fay Wray gently in one hand. Or how about the scene when Fay Wray is kidnapped by the natives and offered as a sacrifice to the legendary beast known as “Kong”. Her shrill cries for help have cemented her in history as the original scream queen of horror.
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931)It is said that in every man there exists good and evil. Dr. Henry Jekyll was certainly a believer in that theory. He created a drug that he began to use to release the darker evil side of his personality. His alter ego, Edward Hyde, was a violent and menacing homicidal maniac. Dr. Jekyll’s life begins to spin out of control as he can no longer control the monster he transforms into. Fredric March won an Academy Award for his performance as both the desperate Dr. Jekyll and frightening Mr. Hyde.
Night Of The Living Dead (1968)It began as an innocent joke on poor Barbra. “They’re coming for you Barbra. Look there’s one of them now!” Well turns out THEY were coming for Barbra and everyone else they could find. THEY were the living dead, corpses that had reanimated and were searching for human flesh to feed on. Barbra finds Ben and together they try to fend off the zombie horde. George Romero’s classic film stunned audiences and angered others because of its gore. It also became one of the highest grossing horror films of the time.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)With so much serious horror, it was time to break things up a bit. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, the most famous comedy duo of the 1940s and 50s, did just that. In this classic horror comedy the pair come face to face with the “Big Three” Universal Monsters. Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man all make appearances in this film and are certain to give Abbott and Costello the scare of their lives.
Modern Horror Classics
The Exorcist (1973)This is the big one. The movie considered by many to be the scariest movie ever made. I would have to agree with that. It’s the story of a little girl who becomes possessed by a devil and endures the process of rotting away from the inside out. Sounds horrible unless you’re her mother who helplessly watches her daughter change from an innocent little girl to the most unholy and terrifying beast you dare imagine. Only an Exorcist can help, but it will take everything he’s got. The special effects might seem silly to some people today, but let me tell you. Those award winning effects and make-up scared the living crap out of movie goers for generations. I had nightmares for years because of this movie. The girl’s mother played by Ellen Bernstein did such a convincing job of being both helplessly depressed and horrifed throughout the film she earned herself an Oscar nomination. The movie was re-released sometime in the early 90s with never before seen footage. It scared the crap out of every single person in the audience. Still sends chills down my spine.
Halloween (1978)This is hands down the best Halloween horror movie ever made. It has become a tradition to watch this film every year on or around Halloween. The sleepy town of Haddonfield, Illinois gets terrorized on Halloween night by Michael Myers, the mysterious man who wears the notorious white mask (that was meant to look like William Shatner as Captain Kirk). He’s just escaped from a psychiatric hospital for the murder of his sister 15 years earlier. Now he is on the loose and returns to Haddonfield to continue the killing. Only Dr. Loomis, Michael’s psychiatrist knows of his intentions and tries to stop him before he kills again. John Carpenter’s classic film debuts a very young Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, the woman Michael Myers has returned to stalk on Halloween night.
Psycho (1960)How much trouble can one woman on the run get into after she’s embezzled money from her employer? Apparently alot especially after she pulled into the Bates Motel for the night. Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) is the unfortunate victim of the incredibly disturbed Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives with his mother in the big house on the hill and manages the Bates Motel. At first he seems like a pleasant and kind fellow, but there is something very very wrong with this guy and his relationship with his mother. Psycho is praised as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and is considered one of the greatest films of all time.
The Shining (1980)After watching The Shining, it was difficult for people to see Jack Nicholson as anything other than the psychotic dad that chased his family through a hotel wielding an axe while delivering that iconic line, “Here’s Johnny!” Yep, the Overlook Hotel will do that to a person. After all, your all alone in the middle of a winter blizzard and couped up in an old haunted hotel filled with ghosts. It’s bound to make a man go crazy. This film, now regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made was based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel of the same name.
Jaws (1975)Jaws made an entire generation fear the ocean to the point of becoming a cultural phenomenon. The movie that posed the greatest technical challenge of Steven Spielberg’s career wound up becoming one of the deepest and most intense psychological thrillers of all time. Unsuspecting beachgoers in the small New England island of Amity have just endured a brutal shark attack. The shark strikes again during the busy Fourth of July weekend. There seems to be no end to the terror this shark brings to the community of Amity. In desperation, it is agreed that the local police chief, a marine biologist and a shark hunter will go out to sea to try to put an end to the terror this creature of the deep brings. Jaws was an incredible film with a universally recognizable theme song created by John Williams that will forever remind people that Jaws is near.
American Werewolf In London (1981)If ever your hiking through the English moors be on the lookout for a pub named “The Slaughtered Lamb”. For it was here that David Kessler and his best friend Jack were first warned to stay on the road and to beware of the full moon. They didn’t listen and as a result were attacked by a beast in the night. But it wasn’t just any beast, it was a werewolf. David survives the attack but now must deal with the effects of being bitten. The result is one of the best werewolf transformations ever filmed and an Oscar win for special effects designer Rick Baker.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)If Rosemary and husband Guy had never met the Castevets, life would have been much simpler for them. The eccentric Castevets live in the same apartment building and have taken a great interest in the couple and especially Rosemary. It’s all a little weird but when Rosemary passes out and has a dream of being raped by a demonic spirit in front of Guy, the Castevets, and other tenants of the building, you can understand why she would start to suspect something was wrong with them. Things get more suspicious after she learns that she is pregnant. Will her baby be safe from harm or will it be the spawn of satan? Pregnancy is already a sensitive subject but when you couple it with satanic cults, things get really disturbing.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)What a grisly story. A group of friends fall victim to a cannibalistic family in central Texas. Among the killers is a man called Leatherface. He is most famously known for wearing a face mask made of human skin and using a chainsaw to hack his victims to death. This film, directed and produced by Tobe Hooper, was originally marketed as a true story to attract a wider audience. Well, it worked and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre gained a reputation as one of the best horror films in cinema history.
The Fog (1980)After his success with the movie Halloween in 1978, director John Carpenter released his next film The Fog. The small coastal Californian town of Antonio Bay was about to celebrate it’s 100th anniversary at the stroke of midnight. At the same time a mysteriously glowing fog rolls in off the coast and quickly engulfs the town. That’s when bad things begin to happen. In the fog are the vengeful ghosts of mariners who were killed in a shipwreck there exactly 100 years prior. The original six founders of the town had deliberately sunken the mariners ship, murdering them and stealing their gold cargo which was used to build Antonio Bay. Now the creatures in the fog will have their revenge.
The Omen (1976)What a little demon. I’m talking about Damien of course. No really he is the spawn of Satan. But his parents don’t think so. They think he is a good little boy. That is until evil things start happening around him. Like when his nanny commits suicide by publicly hanging herself during his 5th birthday party. Or when he almost kills his mother by purposefully knocking her over a second floor railing with his tricycle. No amount of spanking will cure the evil inside of the Antichrist, right Damien?
The Birds (1963)We usually think of birds as beautiful melodic creatures that peacefully fly from place to place. What would happen if all we knew about birds changed and for some unexplained reason they began to attack humans from above? This question was answered in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller The Birds. No one was safe, not the old farmer, not the school children, and not even the man pumping gas at the gas station . Birds could sweep down and attack people with such ferocity and in such large numbers that humans stood no chance. This is the film that made Tippi Hedren a star and put the sleepy California seaside town of Bodega Bay on the map for horror enthusiasts. It received critical acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Special Effects created by Walt Disney animator Ub Iwerks.
Carrie (1976)Let’s face it. High school can be downright awful, especially for Carrie White. Carrie is homely, innocent, quiet, shy and unfortunately the number one target for high school bullies. What they don’t know about Carrie is that she has supernatural powers but just hasn’t yet learned the full extent of them. All she really wants is be left alone and be accepted by her peers but she is constantly met with cruelty. That’s when bad things begin to happen. Carrie’s problems don’t end at school though. Her mother is a religious nut job who constantly abuses her both mentally and physically. Suddenly Carrie’s spirits soar after she is invited to the prom. What seems too good to be true actually is. This is all just a big dirty prank on poor Carrie. Well it’s the last prank the high school will ever play on her. Carrie will have her ultimate revenge and all will perish. Carrie is the first film adaption of a Stephen King story and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1976.
The Amityville Horror (1979)When unspeakable murders have occurred in a house does that leave the home itself vulnerable to evil forces? According to the Lutz family the answer is yes. After they moved into their new home at 112 Ocean Ave, Amityville New York, strange things began to happen. They were unaware that a mass murder had been committed in their house some years before. The Lutz family began reporting frightening paranormal events that were taking place in their home. Visitors became violently sick and the matriarch of the family learned that her little girl had an imaginary friend named Jody. When she looked out the little girl’s window she’s met with scary red eyes peering back at her. Was this one of the evil forces causing the tragedies around the house? The film’s effects don’t hold up as much today but the question on whether the house was really haunted had been debated for a long time. The mass murders that happened in the house was a true story but the claims of supernatural activity experienced in the home by the Lutz family had always been met with disbelief. Many people felt the Lutz family were trying to capitalize on the fame of the murders and created their own ghostly encounters so they could sell the story to Hollywood. This movie was one of the results. Real or phony. You decide.
Poltergeist (1982)After little Carol Anne placed her hands on that TV screen transmitting static and uttered the now infamous words to her parents…“There here”…life for the Freeling family would never be the same. She innocently was referring to the malevolent spirits, or poltergeists that would invade her home, paralyze her family with absolute fear and abduct her in the process. Poltergeist was written and produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame. It was a major critical and commercial success and considered one of the best films of 1982. It was so good that it was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and the clown attack scene is considered one of the scariest movie moments in history. It is one of my personal favorites and is considered by many one of the scariest movies ever made.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)While we’re on the subject of scariest movies ever, a nod must be given to Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street. Seriously, this is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. And Freddy Krueger is without a doubt one of the most terrifying villains in cinema history. This movie was brilliantly crafted to take viewers to the most disturbing places of their minds. No one is safe because this bogeyman waits for you in your dreams, a place you can’t avoid and from which you can’t really escape. I know people who were literally afraid to fall asleep after watching this film. That burned face, that red and green striped shirt and that glove with the five steak knives for fingers are now the staples of nightmares. A Nightmare On Elm Street broke new ground in the horror genre and redefined how effective a horror movie could be on an audience. It was an instant success and catapulted Wes Craven’s career putting him on the map as a one of the great horror directors of the time.
Alien (1979)When science fiction and horror collide the result is hopefully a movie like Alien. In this film the crew of a spacecraft is stalked by an extraterrestrial creature. This creature, a disturbing thing found in only the darkest of nightmares, was created by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger. The alien is huge, strong, and utterly frightening. One by one the crew members meet their fates in the most horrible ways such as the famous alien bursting out of the chest scene. What makes it so terrifying is that “in space no one can hear you scream”. Alien is a phenomenal film. It won many awards including an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and is considered one of the greatest films of all time.
The Changeling (1979)Synopsis coming soon.
Creepshow (1982)Synopsis coming soon.
Silence Of The Lambs (1991)Synopsis coming soon.
Scream (1996)Synopsis coming soon.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)Synopsis coming soon.
Nightbreed (1990)Synopsis coming soon.
Newest Horror Greats
Fortunately good horror films are still being made and enjoyed by audiences. Within the last 20 years there have been a great many good movies but a few have been embraced as new horror greats. The list below are some of those movies.
- Hereditary – (2018)
- The Witch – (2015)
- The Conjuring – (2013)
- Trick r’ Treat – (2007)
- Jeepers Creepers – (2001)
- The Babadook – (2014)
- The Ring – (2002)
- A Christmas Horror Story – (2015)
- 28 Days Later – (2003)
- The Mist – (2007)
- The Descent – (2006)