So gather 'round the haunted TV screen (with the ghoulish DVD player), turn down the lights, and prepare to scream. My list...
...in no particular order:
1. The Frankenstein trilogy with Boris Karloff. James Whale directed the incredible Frankenstein and its sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (arguably the greatest sequel ever), while Rowland V. Lee directed the third and final Karloff film in the series, Son of Frankenstein. Though many other actors, including Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi, would don the flat head and neck bolts, no other actor, past or present, could ever approach Karloff's performance. Still holds up today, over 75 years later. Small bit of trivia: since I was a kid, my love for Frankenstein collectibles of any kind, especially if he has the flat top and bolts, rivals my love for Iron Man collectibles!
2. The classic Universal Monster movies, including Lugosi's Dracula, Chaney, Jr.'s Wolf Man, Karloff's The Mummy, The Creature From The Black Lagoon and more. These are classics in every sense of the word! Go, buy or rent, and enjoy!
3. The Exorcist. Need I say more?
4. The Haunting (1963) and The Changeling (1980); both films dealt with scary, gothic haunted homes, but weren't stylistic. Both relied on scary visuals and even scarier plots and sound effects. Both movies scared the crap out of me!
5. John Carpenter's The Thing scared me so badly when I was 13, I had nightmares for a month. It was also one of the few films I saw in 1989 on television and VHS tape that inspired me to become a filmmaker. Carpenter directs the script by Bill Lancaster, which is closer to John W. Campbell, Jr.'s story, Who Goes There?, than the classic plant-monster film from the early 1950s. Kurt Russell gives a great performance, but the true star is Rob Bottin's special makeup effects! The only time you see everything, nothing is left to the imagination, but you're still too scared to watch the screen. Take that, Invasion of the Body Snatchers!
6. Rosemary's Baby: This is another, "Need I say more?" movies. 'Nuff said!
7. An American Werewolf in London and The Howling: Both movies came out at the same time (early 1980s), with The Howling getting the first premiere. Whereas Joe Dante's The Howling (with a script co-written by the great John Sayles) was a bit campy, but still horrifying, with great makeup effects by Rob Bottin, it's the funny-scary American Werewolf by John Landis, that is the pinnacle of werewolf movies. Rick Baker won the first ever Oscar for Makeup for the crazy, pre-CGI transformation!
8. Jaws. I still shudder when I see Quint's face in total close up, screaming, as the shark makes its first bite. One of my favorite films of all time, to boot.
9. Aliens, by James Cameron, is a visceral, take-no-prisoners, edge-of-your-seat sci-fi/thriller/horror film that could possibly be the scariest movie I'd ever seen. I watched it one night, at 13 (that age when I couldn't get enough classic horror films), around 12 midnight. I convinced my mom to rent the VHS tape (circa 1989), and I was so scared and under the grip of terror that I had to stop the movie at least four times. When in 1999 I re-watched it for the first time in years, I noticed I was sitting on the edge of my seat, gripping the arm rests. I had no idea a movie could still grab hold of me like Aliens did.
10. Se7en, directed by David Fincher, is another film that relies on atmosphere and dread. I put this movie up there with the great The Silence of the Lambs as a movie you have to own! Both movies rely on the aftermath a bit, and your imagination. We never truly get a glimpse of what's going on, but we certainly see what happened to the victims. But when we're in the middle of the action, it scares the hell outta you!
11. The Fog, the original Carpenter film, not the crappy remake. This is probably one of the best ghost stories I've ever seen. Plenty of atmosphere, a great story and direction, a wonderful cast that you care about. This is how ghost stories should look. The movie, in my opinion, inspired a whole generation of films, books, television shows and more, even the old Garfield Halloween Adventure cartoon many of us saw as kids. Ghost pirates, what a concept!
12. The zombie films by George Romero, including Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead (Diary of the Dead isn't out just yet). Each film is scary in its own right, and makes a social statement on matters of the day.
13. The Fly remake, by David Cronenberg, with riveting performances by Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. The movie, another shocker that leaves little to the imagination, is quite terrifying. Makeup FX artist (and director of The Fly II) Chris Walas' work makes you dread seeing how Goldblum has mutated further into the "Brundlefly". By the way, the music is quite awesome!
So there's my list... what movies would you add or replace?