Presented as a service to horror fans everywhere.
1) The Uninvited (1944)
This spooky Ray Milland movie was one of the inspirations for Poltergeist (1982). The scent of mimosa is detected just before each ghostly appearance (which is referenced in Poltergeist). The ravishing melody of Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight” is the incredibly enchanting theme played throughout the film. This is one great creepy ghost story.
2) Dead of Night (1945)
The finest horror anthology ever made, the English film Dead of Night hosts a wonderful déjà vu framework in its structure. It contains the most chilling ventriloquist dummy story ever filmed, with Michael Redgrave as the ventriloquist. My blood still runs cold during the film’s final appearance of his dummy.
3) Grave of the Vampire (1972)
This low budget grindhouse mini-classic has one of the best openings of any horror film. William Smith (I helped land him the role as Conan’s father in Conan the Barbarian) is terrific as the unholy spawn of his mother’s rape, hunting down the vampire who committed this violation. The script is by David Chase, much better known as the creator of The Sopranos.
4) Raw Meat (aka Death Line) (1973)
Talking ‘bout grindhouses, I saw this disturbing horror romance (really!) at my favorite local Hollywood grindhouse, The World Theater (no longer in existence) — three movies for 99¢. This English tale is set in the last remnants of a forgotten tube (subway) tunnel colony living underground for over fifty years. It stars the great Donald (Halloween) Pleasence. Surprisingly touching.
5) They Came From Within (aka Shivers) (1975)
David Cronenberg’s first film is a low budget classic. The concept is pure Cronenberg: a confined colony of apartment residents rapidly fall victim to a parasite that is a combination venereal disease and aphrodisiac!
6) Dead & Buried (1981)
Another film with an absolutely brilliant opening, Dead & Buried plays like one of the best Twilight Zone episodes you have never seen. Written by Dan (Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Blue Thunder, Dark Star) O’Bannon and Ronald (Alien, Total Recall) Shusett.
7) The Company of Wolves (1984)
The second film directed by the great Neil (The Crying Game) Jordan, this horror anthology mixes classic fairy tales with werewolf lore. The amazing production design is by Anton Furst, who later went on to design Tim Burton’s Batman and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket before leaping off the top of a building at age 47, permanently ending a budding brilliant career. The movie stars Angela Lansbury, David Warner and Stephen Rea.
8) The Gate (1987)
The Gate is told from the point of view of three children who accidentally release a gaggle of demons from a hole in their backyard. There’s stop motion animation, too! For years, my young sons used The Gate as the measuring stick for scariness in other horror films (“Is it as scary as The Gate?”).
9) Body Melt (1993)
This wild roller coaster of an Australian horror film never lets up. The movie’s ad tagline was “The first phase is hallucinogenic… the second phase is glandular… and the third phase is… BODY MELT”. Woo hoo!
10) Dagon (2001)
My pal Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon directed this moody horror piece that combines H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon” and “The Shadow Over Insmouth”. It boasts what must be the longest chase in cinema history. I detect good ol’ Bernie (Swamp Thing) Wrightson’s (uncredited) influence in the design of the fish people.
11) Frailty (2001)
Before anyone else suspected how good Matthew McConaughey could be, Bill Paxton did when he cast McConaughey in Paxton’s first feature length directorial effort, Frailty. I predicted exactly where this chilling film was going — and I was completely wrong. Powers (Deadwood) Booth and Jeremy (Peter Pan) Sumter also star.
12) The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Of all the films on this list, this is the one you most likely saw. Co-written by Joss (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Whedon, it came out at the same time as Joss’ blockbuster The Avengers, so it may have gotten lost in the cinematic shuffle. I think it’s better than The Avengers; it’s certainly more original. It fools you into thinking you’re watching another garden variety teen slasher film (albeit with better dialogue) and then WHAM! — something unexpected happens and the movie is off and running. Big time thrills and fun, it stars Chris (Thor) Hemsworth, actor’s actor Richard Jenkins and Bradley (West Wing) Whitford.
Since you may have seen The Cabin in the Woods, I’ll add one more to the list for a Baker’s Dozen:
13) Viy (1967)
This epic Russian horror fantasy has one of the greatest horror sequences ever filmed. It comes near the end of the film when the film’s young priest “hero” must spend three nights alone with the corpse of a witch and demons begin oozing from the church’s walls. Co-written by the great Aleksandr Ptushko, who directed the spectacular fantasy epic (a cast of 106,000 plus 11,000 horses!) Ilya Muromets, the first widescreen Soviet film.
That’s my Baker’s Dozen. Agree? Disagree? Got obscure horror flicks you’d love to share? I’m always up for discovering something good I may have missed.
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