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So, ok folks, if there’s one thing Jenny knows a thing or two about, it’s horror. I’ve been into flipping weird stuff since I was about 10 years old.
When I was wee, I loved a good read. At 9 or 10 I started reading the Point Horror series. These were super tame ‘horror’ stories that essentially all had identical storylines, usually involving babysitters and stalkers. But with a Judy Blume sort of a vibe yanno? Nancy Drew was definitely some gateway fiction for me, without a doubt.
My Mum went to a school parents’ evening when I was at junior school (elementary school?) and the teacher told her my reading was at a fairly good level, so I could probably manage something a bit more advanced. My dear old Mum took one look at my Point Horror collection and went straight out to purchase The Shining and Carrie, and at 10 years old I read ’em both. (I subsequently had Carrie confiscated by the same teacher, but there we are.)
My Mum wasn’t to be deterred though, and when I was 13 she gifted me ‘The Mammoth Book of Zombies’ which was my first introduction to both Edgar Allan Poe and M.R. James (‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar‘ is still the creepiest zombie tale I ever read, hands down.) I ended up with a super collection of old ghost stories, Arthur C Clarke compendiums, World’s Weirdest/Strangest This and That, and other splendid oddities.
Over on the other side of town, my Dad was super into a lot of British ‘uncanny’ and sci-fi, like the Quatermass films, Hammer House of Horror, and other similar weirdness. One scene from The Quatermass Xperiment stuck with me for YEARS, along with the Miss Havisham Burning To Death scene in the 1946 Great Expectations adaptation (which I sat and watched in quiet horror on a family visit to my Grandparents’ one Sunday, either before or after The Antiques Roadshow).
The BBC’s ghost story for Christmas series was always a firm favourite too, with Charles Dickens’ The Signalman and M.R. James’ Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad (1968!) particular highlights for me. I was happy to see Mark Gatiss picking up the baton a couple of years back, but I wish he’d get back to it instead of fannying about in Hollywood OMG MARK.
We all used to watch a lot of 60s/70s/80s horror in the late 80s and into the 90s. That’s because there weren’t a whole lot of re-makes being made back then I guess. I’m not against a contemporary update of an old classic in principle; I think they did a flipping fantastic job with Carrie. But check out the first-time-rounders first, because a lot of the new versions are effing awful.
But to the substance of the story, eh? I found it difficult to come up with 10 of my favourites, old and new. The first six or so were no-brainers, and then I struggled to come up with another few that I liked enough, or more than the others enough, to feature here. Some top horror films I’ve already covered when I did Vegan Mofo back in 2013. There is a really excellent list of films on this list if you want any more inspiration. In any case, I think all are top-notch late October fare, so I recommend you get the beers and pizzas in, get under a blanket and turn off the light.
(Links to FULL MOVIE on YouTube where available).
1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Most folks get the wrong idea about this film. No doubt it spawned more than one generation of zombie flicks, but I’d call this more of a sci-fi offering than pure horror. A NASA experiment gone wrong gives us a backdrop that feeds off 1950s/1960s cultural fear of The Bomb, radiation and what mankind might find in space. Legend has it that the film distributer didn’t bother with any proper copyrighting back in 1968, since they thought this inexpensively produced b-movie wouldn’t go anywhere. For that reason (or maybe another, who knows) the film is now in the public domain and so can be bought very cheaply and/or watched online. The black male character lead was unusual at the time, and given some of the film’s later scenes, many thought George Romero made a strategic choice casting Duane Jones in the lead role; Romero insisted that he simply gave the best audition.
Night of the Living Dead was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, as a film deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Did you know that the word zombie isn’t mentioned once throughout the entire movie?
Favourite quote: “No you’re right it doesn’t give them time to make funeral arrangements. The bodies must be carried to the street and…..and burned, they must be burned immediately, soak them with gasoline and burn them. The bereaved will have to forego the dubious comforts that a funeral service will give.”
2. Poltergeist (1982)
Poltergeist was a HUGE favourite in my youth. My Mum was quite strict as Mums go, or so it seemed in a lot of ways, but I remember being allowed to read (see above) and watch whatever I wanted when it came to horror stuff. I recall being able to sit through the face-scraping-off scene in Poltergeist like a CHAMP while my older brother left the room. That’s probably not something to be proud of is it?
Anyhoo. I have a massive soft spot for early Spielberg, because once upon a time he did everything so flipping well. My Mum tells me this film particularly affected her after she had children, and I think that’s testament to how brilliantly JoBeth Williams plays Diane in this film. I’d like to say Spielberg was blazing a trail when he invited the researchers into the house with their scientific equipment (hello Insidious) but there are at least a couple of earlier examples below.
I was particularly upset at Sam Raimi for even thinking about re-making this film, never mind actually doing it and then starting it off with Broke Young Couple With Happy Family Buys Curiously Cheap But Extravagant House. Urgh. I really only allowed The Amityville Horror that. Speaking of….
3. The Amityville Horror (1979)
I’m talking about the 1979 ~classic~ here, featuring Margot Kidder as Not Lois Lane and based on the ‘true story’ of the aftermath of Ronald DeFeo, who murdered his family of 7 in the house in 1974. I have mixed feelings about this film these days; looking back, it’s clear that Ronnie DeFeo was a violent criminal who found fame (and some fortune) after killing his family, which doesn’t seem quite right. Further, the film actually focuses on the first family to move into the house after the killing, the Lutz Family. They claimed the house was haunted and fled ‘in terror’ after only a couple of weeks there. An interesting documentary charts what that experience was like for one of the Lutz children, whose life was massively impacted by those events. Nevertheless, I was sooooo fascinated by the whole Amityville franchise as a kid, I read the books, watched the films, the whole thing, so it really needed to have a place in this list.
Favourite moment: Father Delaney and the GETTT OUTTTTTTTTT incident.
4. Hellraiser (1987)
Hellraiser should really have been at the top of this list for having an influence on me at the earliest age. When I was a ween, my Dad would occasionally treat us to a trip to the local video shop, and I’d stare at the top two shelves of horror in awe. Pinhead’s face would stare back at l’il old me, and I’d wonder what unknown terrors one VHS tape could possibly contain. As soon as I could, I watched it, and obviously it didn’t give me a death frighten, but it was pretty grim.
Borne from Clive Barker’s very perverted imagination (Trent Reznor is a big fan NSFW!!1!) via a short novella, Hellraiser is a celebration of the pleasures of the flesh (erm, not really though, given the choice between sex and torture by fishing equipment I’d take the former and actually I think so would the majority) and of course, puzzles. It has a wonderfully disjointed combination of American actors/actresses and a very suburban English setting. I still very fondly remember the Halloween party where I smeared ‘I AM IN HELL HELP ME’ on the white bathroom tiles in fake blood, which is not good for the grouting, let me tell you. Ahhhh, youth. Not for the squeamish.
I literrrrally cannot pick a favourite Pinhead quote. Here is an excellent round-up of many on YouTube.
5. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Based, sort of, on the absolutely fantastic Legend of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and one of Roddy McDowell’s finest hours, this is a classic 70s haunted house flick, an early foray into the ‘rational scientists try and use science to fight ghosts’ trope.
Another super seance scene or two tips this film into the list for me. The tension between all the house’s inhabitants was much more palpable in Shirley Jackson’s novel, but nevertheless a good 70s haunting romp.
6. The Changeling (1980)
Not to be confused with The One Where Angelina Jolie’s Kid Goes Missing, this classic Canadian haunted house film from 1980 supposedly influenced horror up-n-comer Ti West (see below) and I can see why.
This film has everything you need from a halloween movie: ghosts, seance, creepy hidden rooms, the vengeance of the unquiet dead, and completely uncluttered by fripperies like sex or romance. Top notch classic scary haunted house fun.
Favourite moment: is definitely the superb seance scene. Most extensive YouTube clips are blocked due to copyright claims, but I think this is one worth digging out.
7. The Innkeepers (2012)
This is the most ~modern~ film on my list. Another classic haunted house movie, this time from above-mentioned Ti West who has tried his hand at a few horror movie tropes now, and all with great success (see also The House of the Devil and The Sacrament).
At first glance this appears like a standard teen horror flick, but it’s actually a really well paced and lovingly crafted build up of tension built around a very standard premise. Again, uncluttered by sex and romance (aside from a couple of adorably awkward moments) this is completely dedicated to a couple of staff members and guests inside an old hotel for its last weekend in business.
8. Prince of Darkness (1980)
John Carpenter, the Spielberg of the horror world (maybe?), knocked out some serious classics in his day (see: The Fog, The Thing, They Live). Having already gushed about The Fog in a previous post (back when I did Vegan MoFo) I decided to go for another JC favourite this time.
Prince of Darkness has the soundtrack brilliance you’d expect from John Carpenter; it’s a thrilling homage to science-meets-religion-meets-evil. There’s a cameo by Alice Cooper and Donald Pleasance does his usual excellent job as the sort-of-good-sort-of-not-good guy. It also has philosophy in. And maths. And the little shopkeeper dude from Tremors.
9. The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)
A homage to my hometown, fellow Manchester residents can see scenes of the city from around 00:02:30 in the above video. Aside from that, I guess it’s just another 70s horror flick set in the Peak District!
10. Santa Sangre (1989)
Not a horror film per se, anything that Alejandro Jodorowsky produces tends to be horrific in some way. This bizarro tale follows a man whose circus-master Father mutilates his Mother and then takes his own life, an act he witnesses as a young boy. Once grown, he escapes from a hospital where he rejoins his Mother, subordinated and controlled by her and forced to act as her arms (chopped off in aforementioned mutilation). Very weird and probably not one to watch with anyone you aren’t very close to because some of it is gross and awkward.
Because I am so great, I also made you guys a halloween playlist. What are you listening to?