If you’re not going to a Halloween party this year, then the next best thing is surely curling up with a some popcorn and a seriously scary movie (plus a cushion for hiding behind, obviously). But which one to pick? I’m a total horror movie nerd, so when I was asked to choose some of my faves for this blog, I couldn’t decide how to narrow it down to just 10!
In the end, I opted for one film from each decade from the 1920s till now. Whether you’re up for some silent screams, petrifying postmodernism, or ghoulish gothic, there’s a fright fest here for you. So, without further ado: be afraid. Be very afraid.
1920s – Nosferatu
Released in 1922, the German silent film, Nosferatu, was an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. When his widow sued, all know prints were supposedly destroyed but, thankfully, some survived. Truly creepy, with its angular sets, high contrast, and eerie shadows that seem to move by themselves, it’s a must-see for any vampire fan.
Further viewing: Shadow of the Vampire (2000), which plays on rumours that Nosferatu‘s lead actor, Max Schreck, was a real vampire.
1930s – Frankenstein
There are a lot of adaptations of Mary Shelley’s classic morality tale, but James Whale’s version from 1931 is my favourite. It’s super creepy and exudes gothic glamour but it’s Boris Karloff’s performance as the Monster that gets me every time. In heavy make up, even heavier boots and only able to growl, Karloff’s Monster is scary and sympathetic, and paved the way for how the Monster would be played for years to come. Plus, it gets bonus points for Mae Clarke’s a-may-zing wedding gown!
1940s – Cat People
The history of Cat People (1942) is a funny one. Film studio RKO were on the verge of going bust when they saw the success Universal were having with The Wolf Man. They recruited producer Val Lewton to make them a series of horror films using pre-tested titles and costing no more than $150,000 each. Other than that he could have free reign to do whatever he liked – and he did!
Cat People was the first film to come out of this unit and it single handedly put RKO back in the black, despite not being the crass monster movie they were after. Instead it’s a tense, suggestive piece about a Serbian woman who believes folk tales that she will turn into a killer cat and murder her American husband if her passions or jealousies are aroused. Genuinely frightening, Alfred Hitchcock himself was allegedly a fan.
1950s – Plan 9 From Outer Space
From the sublime to the ridiculous – I had to get at least one tongue-in-cheek title in here, didn’t I? Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) has the dubious honour of being called the worst film ever made. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s certainly so bad it’s good. Made by the master of terrible movies, Ed Wood Jnr., the film follows an attempted alien invasion, consisting of them raising exactly three people from the dead in a remote American cemetery filled with wobbly gravestones. It almost stars Bela Lugosi of Dracula (1931) fame, but he unfortunately died after shooting only a few scenes. Instead he was replaced by Wood’s wife’s chiropractor, who simply disguised himself by holding a cape over his face. Genius!
Further viewing: Tim Burton’s Oscar winning Ed Wood (1994) is a biopic of the man himself and his friendship with Lugosi.
1960s – The Haunting
The Haunting (1963) is one of my favourite films of all time, and is most definitely not for the faint of heart. The emotionally disturbed Eleanor signs up to take part in a study, which involves staying several nights in Hill House – a mansion with a history of horrors and paranormal events. The terror starts pretty quickly but you never see a thing. Noises abound and patterns seem to create faces in the wallpaper, yet you never see exactly what is haunting Hill House. One to watch with the lights turned low, the words ‘Whose hand was I holding?’ will remain with you a long time after it’s finished.
1970s – Halloween
If you only watch one film on Halloween, it would be kind of rude not to pick this one. It’s got it all: an escaped killer on the loose, misbehaving babysitters, kids in peril, and a fantastic everywoman heroine in Jamie Lee Curtis. Halloween (1978) is the quintessential slasher film – and shows off some cool 70s fashions to boot. Watch it as a double bill with Scream for some monstrously meta fun!
Further viewing: Friday the 13th (1980) was literally made with the remit to copy Halloween. It just does it with more gore and Kevin Bacon!
1980s – A Nightmare on Elm Street
The original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is probably my other favourite film of all time. The sequels and remake have watered down its effect somewhat over the years, but revisit Wes Craven’s classic and you’ll realise that Fred Krueger is actually terrifying. I mean, what’s more scary than someone that can kill you in your dreams? As he stalks a group of teens (including a super-young Johnny Depp!) to punish them for the sins of their parents, I’m always astounded how this is not just a great horror film, but a great film.
1990s – Scream
Scream (1996) is my other Wes Craven entry on the list. It revamped the horror genre in the mid-1990s with its postmodern, knowing cool and most people remember it as a full-on horror-comedy, but it’s fiercely frightening in its own right! The opening sequence featuring Drew Barrymore has become somewhat infamous over the years, and rightly so. I dare anyone to watch it and not be screaming at the telly for her to get away!
2000s – The House of the Devil
I’ll forgive you if The House of the Devil passed you by back in 2009, but it’s a crime that this gem remains hidden. Shot in the style of an early 1980s horror film, it follows skint Samantha as she heads off on a creepy babysitting job. Once there she discovers that she’s not actually watching a child, and there are forces in the house set on her destruction. One of the scariest films I’ve seen in recent years, it’ll have you spilling popcorn left, right and centre!
2010s – No One Lives
I had the great fortune to watch No One Lives (2012) in a crowded cinema at FrightFest 2013 and I suspect it works slightly better in that scenario – so get some friends round. This is a cheese-tastic, gore-heavy horror that sees Driver (played by Luke Evans) and his girlfriend stumble across a violent group of thugs as they drive across state. So far, so familiar. But when the gang crosses Driver, they’re in for some serious shocks as the tables are turned in a way no one would expect. Funny and gruesome, the film is a real crowd pleaser, with some wonderful eye-candy in the shape of Evans – what’s not to love?!
Remember, if you can’t go for the super scares or grisly gore because there are children present, you need to check out Mark’s blog on family friendly shivers!
Love Sarah x
PS. I blog about my favourite books over at Sarah’s Adventures in Literature Land if you fancy it!
Thank you very much to Nic Baines for the fantastic banner!
Film posters sourced using IMP Awards.