I love movies from all decades, and the fact that a movie was filmed in black-and-white is not enough to prevent me from seeing it. Those old Universal monster movies, starring Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, and others, are especially re-watchable. Favorites include “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Mummy,” the latter of which is leagues better than this past summer’s Tom Cruise misfire of the same name. It wasn’t long ago that TCM aired the original “The Invisible Man,” starring Claude Rains as the title character. Phenomenal special effects during the moments when Rains removes the bandages over his now-transparent face, and I can only imagine how horrifying that must have been to see on screen in 1933.
Of course, “The Invisible Man” is tame by today’s standards. Few movies made before 1970 hold up today as viable horror movies, which makes it interesting that, when I published my first top ten list on this subject four years ago, I declared Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” released in 1960, to be the genre’s all-time best. I did make sure to include a couple of old movies in my latest top ten list, although the oldest one, 1973’s “The Wicker Man,” is still four decades “newer” than “The Invisible Man.” On a more contemporary note, one of the entries, “Get Out,” was released just seven months ago!
Enough explaining! Below is my latest list – the fourth in a series – of great horror movies, ten at a time:
31) It Follows (2015): In the opening scene of “It Follows,” the camera tracks a teenage girl as she flees from her suburban Detroit home in abject terror, pursued by something we cannot see. The next morning, she’s found dead. As doe-eyed Jay (Maika Monroe, who has the makings of a new scream queen) is about to discover, the “it” in question is a sort of sexually-transmitted haunting, which can only be cured by sleeping with another person, who in turn must do the same, etc. “It Follows” is one of my new favorite horror movies, as much of it is an apparent homage to 1978’s “Halloween,” in that every moment, including the daylight scenes, is laced with an undercurrent of dread. And the cinematography, all tracking shots and wide-angle captures, is a genre high point. If you like this, see also “Halloween” (1978).
32) Get Out (2017): Horror movie, social commentary, or both? “Get Out,” from “Key & Peele” co-creator Jordan Peele, is a creepy, funny, and observant Trump-era horror film about a different kind of racism: the envy that Caucasians have towards African-Americans for their physical strength – an envy so fierce that it may even inspire said Caucasians, including this film’s Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, to kidnap said African-Americans, albeit under friendly pretenses, to “become” them. After all, what’s another missing black person in today’s America? But I’ve already said too much. Just know that the set up finds affluent white girl Rose Armitage (Allison Williams of HBO’s “Girls”) introducing her nervous black boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to her parents, leading to first, social awkwardness, and later, all-out terror. If you like this, see also “Cabin in the Woods” (2012).
33) Zombieland (2009): Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy loner with IBS, has survived the zombie apocalypse by living by a rigid code of rules that includes never getting too close to anyone. After meeting Twinkie-loving, 4×4-driving Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), as well as resourceful sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), he is surprised to find himself enjoying the company…and crushing on Wichita. Together, the quartet heads west to Pacific Playland, the amusement park of their dreams and supposedly the one place that is zombie-free. Perhaps they’ll meet Bill Murray along the way? Funny and gory in equal measure, 2009’s “Zombieland” is, with apologies to Edgar Wright, the best zombie comedy, and it seldom falters. Now nut up or shut up…and remember the double tap. If you like this, see also: “Shaun of the Dead” (2004).
34) From Hell (2001): The Hughes Brothers, who gave us “Menace II Society” and the urban heist film “Dead Presidents,” may seem like an unlikely choice to direct this atmospheric slasher movie about Jack the Ripper, but they get the tone spot-on. Or dead-on, if you prefer. In it, Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp) is called in to investigate a series of brutal murders (all prostitute, killed in London’s Whitechapel). Abberline’s opium-fueled dreams lead to visions rife with clues, and as he races to protect streetwalker Mary (Heather Graham) from meeting a similar fate as her colleagues, he is plunged deep into an abyss of depravity masked by opulence. The movie was a box office failure but is one of the best films of 2001; I rather like Roger Ebert’s take: “What it is, I think, is a Guignol about a cross-section of a thoroughly rotten society, corrupted from the top down.” If you like this, see also: “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007).
35) Bram Stokcr’s Dracula (1992): This high-grossing, artsy film from 1992 should really be called “Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula,” considering how much of the film is singularly the director’s vision. In an original prologue that was not part of the classic novel, Vlad the Impaler so terrifies his enemies that they get to him the only way they can: by writing a letter to his beloved, telling her that he died in battle, and knowing that she’ll be so distraught that she’ll take her life. Vlad returns, so grief stricken that he renounces God and destroys his cross, which bleeds blood and damns him with eternal life. The rest, as they say, is horror movie history. Gary Oldman, caked under layers of make-up as an aging count and sporting long hair and top hat for his youthful incarnation, delivers a star-making turn. As Mina, the young woman who so resembles Vlad’s long-deceased love, Winona Ryder generates serious heat opposite Oldman. And then, for seeming comedic relief, we have Anthony Hopkins, fresh off his Oscar win for “The Silence of the Lambs,” as the scenery-chewing Van Helsing. If you like this, see also: “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (1994).
36) Sinister (2012): True crime writer Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) frequently moves his family cross-country, buying for cheap houses that were home to heinous crimes and living in them as he traces the events leading up to the reported bloodbaths. He may have placed his family in mortal danger this time; the opening scene shows a family of four hung from a tree branch by an unseen figure. Naturally (or unnaturally, perhaps), this turns out to be just one in a series of ghastly familial genocides, and a box of Super 8 videotapes in the home’s attic, as well as apparitions of a masked man-beast that the film calls Bughuul, foreshadow that it is going to happen again. Creepy and original. The sequel ain’t bad, either. If you like this, see also “Sinister 2” (2015).
37) Arachnophobia (1990): Doctor Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels), an oenophile and arachophobe, has just arrived, wife and children in tow, in the small California town of Canaima, where he has found work as the town physician. As it happens, his arrival coincides with that of a spider whose venom is especially toxic and who hitched a ride in the coffin of a local photographer who perished on an expedition to Venezuela during the film’s opening scenes. “Arachnophobia,” a modest hit from summer, 1990, was the directorial debut of Spielberg protege Frank Marshall, and you can clearly see the Spielberg-ian flourishes, particularly in camerawork, production values, and in the light humor. The film isn’t especially scary when compared to other movies on this list, but it is a fun ride and a great choice for families to watch together…with the lights on, of course. If you like this, see also “Eight Legged Freaks” (2002).
38) The Wicker Man (1973): “No, not the bees!” No…and not the dreadful Nicolas Cage turd-fest from 200. Flash back another 33 years to 1973, when this bizarre, yet highly watchable, cult movie was released. The pagan musical (of sorts) tracks the investigation of a teenage girl who went missing in the British Isles. The in-over-his-head Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) traces the clues to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, where pagan worship is de rigeur. Bond villain, Sith lord, and Middle Earth sorcerer Christopher Lee presides over the proceedings here, which include topless dancing and occult sacrifice. The whole thing, which I was fortunate to discover as part of my Intro to Film college elective’s required viewing, simply must be seen to be believed. If you like this, see also: “The Omen” (1976).
39) High Tension (2005): Released in its native France as “Haute Tension” and in the UK as “Switchblade Romance,” this grim slasher movie contains lots of high tension indeed as its female leads, Alex (Maïwenn) and Marie (Cécile de France), on a study vacation at Alex’s parents’ farm house, are relentlessly pursued by a sadistic truck driver (Philippe Nahon). He decapitates Marie’s father, slashes the mother’s throat, and shoots the brother in a cornfield…and that’s just the first half of the movie! (And no, I don’t consider that a spoiler; a real spoiler would be giving away the movie’s twist ending, which is either ingenious or ridiculous depending on how much closely attuned that portion of the movie is to the reality of the previous 85 minutes.) Gore hounds will love it. If you like this, see also: “Identity” (2003).
40) Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982): “Three more days ‘til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween/Three more days ‘til Halloween/Silver Shamrock!” You won’t be able to get that jingle out of your head after watching this unsettling film, as much of a cult classic as the aforementioned “The Wicker Man.” Michael Myers is nowhere to be found; in what was supposed to be the first of several unique Halloween sequels, each with original plots, this one finds a California doctor (Tom Atkins) agreeing to help a nubile young woman (Stacey Nelkin) investigate her father’s strange death; their research leads them to the Stepford-esque town of Santa Mira, where curfews are strictly imposed, where everyone is Irish, and where Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) heads up the Silver Shamrock Halloween mask factory while wearing a sinister smile. Though badly acted and more than a little bit (unintentionally) silly, “Season of the Witch” merits a watch every October, just like the original “Halloween” from 1978. If you like this, see also: “The Stepford Wives” (1975).
Alas, there’s the list. I may do one more compilation next October to bring my list to an even 50. I already have a few contenders in mind: “The Strangers,” “The Babadook,” “Dawn of the Dead.” Any others worth considering? Let me and your fellow Loyal Readers know by commenting below…and Happy Halloween!