When I was asked to compile a fun list of favorite horror films, it was an assignment I greatly welcomed because I love the genre. I’ve been a horror fan since I was a little kid, and as many of us know, it’s a genre you never really outgrow.
But having to select it down to a top ten is a tough proposition, so I’d much rather do a stream of consciousness trip for you where I report what first comes to mind when I think of great horror.
Like many fans, I grew up with the original Universal films on TV, and this was the point of entry for many back in the 50’s, when the Lugosi Dracula, Karloff Frankenstein, and Chaney Wolf-Man were playing on the tube as part of the Shock Theater package. I saw the original black and white horrors on Channel Five in L.A., and I still love going back to the roots of horror because it’s just so fun.
A lot of people today won’t watch black and white movies, and they’re really missing out, because I love the tones and textures of black and white, as well as the atmosphere it adds to a scary tale. In addition to Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf-Man, I also loved The Invisible Man, which is technically a science fiction film, and the “monster rally” flicks that brought all the big boys together like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. My two personal favorite monster mashes are House of Dracula and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Although it’s trendy to love zombies, Night of the Living Dead has always been a perennial favorite of mine, and the original Dawn of the Dead was one of my all time faves in my junior high years. Dawn proved to me that a horror film can tell an intricate, epic story, with strong characters and depth.
Same for The Exorcist, and I don’t think it’s any accident this tale of demonic possession has been a major benchmark for the genre all these years. Many movies deliver intense gore and shocks, but every time I saw The Exorcist, I would find something new in it that was engaged my intellect like no other horror film. (The first two Hellraiser films also turned my head around in the religious questions it raised in me).
As a kid of the VCR generation, I saw many horror films at home on TV, and still one of my favorites is a TV movie, Salem’s Lot. The 70’s was a big era for horror TV movies, many of them were pretty cheesy even then, but Salem’s Lot, directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw) absolutely scared the living sh*t out of me as a young tyke.
Speaking of which, for sheer, unrelenting brutality, the original Texas Chainsaw is almost a three-dimensional excursion into fear that proves that the best horror films are interactive experiences. Sifting through more of the perennials, Halloween is still a very well-crafted work that shows the ingenuity of John Carpenter right as he was taking off, and The Thing shows the ultimate peak of his skills as a director. Funny enough, my all time favorite Carpenter film isn’t a horror flick, it’s the gritty action film Assault on Precinct 13, and while it has its flaws, The Fog is also a neat little gem of a film as well.
For foreign fear, the work of Mario Bava (Black Sabbath, Danger Diabolik) always had the most style, while Dario Argento’s Suspiria is a wonderfully vibrant nightmare (I also love his Terror at the Opera, Cat O Nine Tails, and Deep Red). For sheer balls out intense violence and gore, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and The Beyond are tough to beat.
Of course, all this only scratches the surface. I could go on and on about the cheesy low budget stuff I love like Dracula Vs. Frankenstein and Plan 9 From Outer Space, but when it comes to the horror genre as most of us know it, this is usually what first comes to mind.