For a few of us here in the Messenger-Inquirer newsroom, Halloween isn't a date on the calendar. It's a year-round state of mind.
Horror movies are a big deal in our particular corner of the newsroom. We'll talk about what we've seen overnight, which local video store or streaming service has the best horror catalog and whether we liked or were lukewarm toward the latest horror releases in theaters or on Netflix, Hulu or Shudder.
Between the three of us, numerous books on the genre have been read, "making of" documentaries and director commentaries have been scoured and articles have been written on the subject. For reporter Jacob Mulliken, research wasn't enough: Jacob showcased his love of the genre by making a zombie movie of his own (his flick, "Meltdown," is streaming on Amazon Prime if you want to check it out). The names Romero, Argento, Fulci and Carpenter are commonly invoked. Discussions of "fast zombies vs. slow zombies" or, "which of Jason's masks was the best?" are taken seriously.
We may not be experts on the horror genre, but we'd say our knowledge of the subject is at least above-average. But there's one question we've all struggled with: What are the best slashers, ghost stories, monster movies, cult shockers, zombie flicks and classic horror films we've ever seen?
So we began compiling lists, which we edited, cross-referenced, revamped, changed and fussed over for, well, at least a couple of days. It was hard work, not in the usual "it's time to write a news story" way, but agonizing, in the sense that we each had to leave many movies we'd love to champion off our lists (We're so sorry, "Night of the Creeps").
In the end, we picked three films from each subcategory, with particular emphasis on the ones that have stayed with us over the years. Our lists aren't the Ten Commandments of horror films: We won't fight to the death arguing "The Fog" is the best ghost story ever, if you prefer "The Others" or "The Legend of Hell House."
Our hope is you'll find one or two films here to make your Halloween season ... umm, ... un-bright. If you're already a genre fan, perhaps you'll find a few flicks here to add to your watch list. But if you're new to horror, or have avoided it until now, think of these lists as a first step in your wonderful new descent into the darkness.
1. Sleepaway Camp (1983) -- Proof that a "Friday the 13th" rip-off can aspire to greatness, "Sleepaway Camp" is spectacular garbage served up right. This film is gross, vulgar, dirty, bonkers and is filled with characters so vile you'll actively root for them to die. Yes, some of the paths the film takes, and the ideas it puts forward are ... problematic, and I'll be the first to admit it's all in terribly bad taste. But, it's awesomely fun, with some shocking moments. Also, this film also has the best killer reveal sequence in slasher history.
2. Black Christmas (1974)
3, The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
1. The Fog (1980) -- This is a sentimental pick: I remember sneaking down to watch this R-rated John Carpenter ghost story on HBO when I was 10 or 11 years old. Despite some sequences that don't exactly make sense (largely to do Carpenter deciding to add a few scenes in post-production to punch up the shocks), this paranormal revenge flick creates a somber, oppressive mood through beautiful photography, a chilling soundtrack I still listen to quite regularly, some truly unsettling ghosts and strong performances by heavyweight cast members Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, John Houseman and Jamie Leigh Curtis. It's one of my Halloween favorites.
2. Ju-On The Grudge (2002 Japanese version)
3. Hell House LLC (2015)
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) -- Tobe Hooper's masterpiece starts out unsettling, slowly ratchets up the tension and then explodes. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" claims to be a true account, and is very roughly based on the story of serial killer Ed Gein. The film has a hand-held, documentary feel -- but there's a crazy visual flair to the sets, and a lot of skill went into the guerrilla camerawork. It's also twistedly funny, has moments of heart and pathos (you WILL feel empathy for Leatherface!) and a knock-out ending that will leave you speechless. In my opinion, this was the best horror film of the 1970s.
2. Phantasm (1979)
3. The Last House on the Left (1972)
1. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) -- Simply put, this is the darkest, most unrelenting and likely the most frightening film you'll ever see. Anchored by a horrifying quiet performance by Michael Rooker, "Henry" was so powerful and disturbing it received an "X" rating, and it couldn't find a distributor for years. Gritty, with a style that swings between art house and documentary, the film has gained a reputation as a cult classic, and is respected by serious fans of the genre. And really, it's terrifying: You'll want to make sure all your windows and doors are locked once you're finished watching this one.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
3.Carnival of Souls (1962)
1. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue/aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974) -- A Spanish-Italian-British ripoff of the original "Night of the Living Dead," this lost film is a lot of fun. In addition to the horror, there's a strange 1960s counterculture/anti-establishment vibe throughout. Ray Lovelock stars as a hilariously misanthropic hippie, battling both the newly reanimated dead and the rigid police inspector who wants nothing more than to frame Lovelock's character for the wild killings taking place. While I don't want to give too much away, I'd say the ending is considerably more grim and downbeat than you'll be expecting.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1990 Tom Savini remake)
3. Day of the Dead (1985)
1. Jaws (1975) -- Steven Spielberg took Peter Benchley's unpleasant novel (filled with thoroughly unlikeable characters) and a barely functioning mechanical shark and created one of the best horror-adventure stories in film history. The shark attacks are terrifying, the camerawork is totally Hitchcock and the deaths Spielberg shows are quite bloody and shocking. Also, Spielberg builds tremendous suspense through the photography, where you see through the shark's eyes in the moments leading up to the attacks. But "Jaws" was tremendously successful largely because the film is driven by the characters and their relationships to one another. You genuinely begin to care about their plight and their mission to protect their seaside town. I love this movie, but it ruined the ocean for me.
2. The Howling (1981)
3. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
1. Child's Play (1988) -- While many wouldn't consider this 1980s cult classic a slasher (as there are only six deaths in the first film of this franchise, four of which are attributed to the 2-foot tall villain) it certainly hits that mark in my book. Who could forget the animatronic scowl of a plastic creep who scuttles in and out of sight in somehow always darkened rooms? While many of its successors in this franchise laid on the cheese, one thing this movie did really well was sell true horror, especially to a pair of siblings in the boonies of western Kentucky who stayed up past their bedtime to watch this movie on mute in their living room. My brother and I didn't even need to hear the complete movie to be so scared we had to leap from the light switch to our bunk beds for fear Chucky would slash at our ankles from under the bed. Also, it never hurts to appreciate practicality in the current world of CGI.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
3. Friday the 13th (1980)
1. The Blair Witch Project (1999) -- This film brought in a new era of what would be called viral marketing with the early release of a (fake) documentary detailing the "disappearance" of the three lead characters, student filmmakers Heather, Joshua and Michael. They topped it off with a just-as-believable website (that is still operational to this day) which had my 12-year-old self transfixed and horrified when I first saw this at the drive-in theater. Everything from how they sold the film from the get-go set it up to be a leader in the found-footage era, to how they never really showed the Big Bag Boogeyman (or woman, in this case), made this film an all-time favorite for me. I mean, I still get freaked out and immediately check corners when I walk into my basement.
2. Hellraiser (1987)
3. The Babadook (2014)
1. Halloween (1978) -- Many would say this film helped to usher in the slasher era, featuring infamous scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis and one of the best opening sequences horror has ever seen (I mean, who could forget seeing the biggest knife ever through the viewfinder of a creepy clown mask, held by the littlest hands ever?!) This movie was far from contrived like some of its remakes (I'm looking at you, Rob Zombie). Everything from how the asylum escapees are seen in the headlights when Dr. Loomis and Nurse Chambers come up to the Smith's Grove Sanitarium to the quick glimpses of Michael creeping at Laurie Strode while she sat in class make this movie a must-see for the season, and for the horror genre. Plus, John Carpenter is a (sort of) Kentucky guy as he lived in Bowling Green for a short time and attended Western Kentucky University.
2. The Thing (1982)
3. Alien (1979)
1. The Ritual (2017) -- I tried this Netflix original on a whim, not expecting much from it, and it was everything I wanted in horror, and more. Four friends go on a trip to Sweden following the death of their friend and supernatural/old time magical chaos ensues. This movie featured one of the most unique monsters I've seen in horror in a long time, and every spooky scene was completely unsuspected. Not to mention the imagery -- it's like Blair Witch, but in Sweden, and with some wicked flashbacks that have you tripping out and second-guessing even yourself. It's not "too" gory or jump-scary, and it hits all the right spots at the right times.
2. The House of the Devil (2009)
3. The Invitation (2015)
1. Zombie (1979) -- If you're into zombie films, books, TV shows or lore in general, this one is a must-see. It's gross, it's weird and it's funny. From the zombie vs. shark scene to the maggoty face of a just-unearthed zombie on a warpath, this Italian movie is what every zombie movie hopes it can grow up to be.
2. Dead Snow (2009)
3. 28 Days Later (2002)
1. Event Horizon (1997) -- A freaky hellish black-hole monster space ship isn't typically what you would think about when considering the biggest bad guy in all of horror, but the villain in this movie is just that. A black-hole generating contraption leaves the starship Event Horizon stranded around Neptune and a rescue crew attempts reconnaissance. Once there, the crew realizes things have gone horribly wrong, and not only that, there are supernatural forces at play. Turns out, when you try to build a bridge into the spacetime continuum, you develop a sentient demon monster that will attempt to drag you through hell. This would technically be classified as science fiction horror, but its atmosphere is every bit of scary.
2. Sunshine (2007)
3. Arachnophobia (1990)
1. Scream (1996) -- "Hello. What's your favorite scary movie?" The Wes Craven classic is one of the only even palatable horror films brought to you straight from the '90s. This overly self-deprecating genre study by master of terror Wes Craven turned horror on its ear by giving audiences all the rules. Set in the sleepy and fictional California town of Woodsboro, the film follows Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as she and her merry band of angsty high schoolers are terrorized by Ghost Face, a knife-wielding horror movie fan with a voice modifier, Nokia cell phone and one simple question, "What's your favorite scary movie?"
Whether you are on a massive horror binge, a first date or just feeling nostalgic for David Arquette or Rose McGowan, it hits all of the high notes. From Randy's (Jamie Kennedy) rules to avoid getting gutted by a man in a $15 costume, over the top blood spray and some old school jump scares and classic one-liners, "Scream" is always a people pleaser. Remember when you are watching this or any other horror movie, the virgin always makes it out alive, unless of course, you are dealing with a cult.
2. Tenebre (1982)
3. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
1. Drag Me to Hell (2009) -- "Drag Me to Hell" is about the best curse oriented flick you can ask for. Brought to life by Director Sam Raimi, the tale follows local loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) as she tries to move her way up in her bank branch. So far, her major obstacle has been her compassion, which must be a big no-no in the banking world. To impress her boss, Brown refuses to grant an elderly woman a loan extension, forcing her from her home. So, the old woman does what anyone would do in that situation -- curses her banker. After that, Brown's life turns upside down as she struggles to free her soul before her three days are up and the demon Lamia claims its prize. I suppose the lesson here is, especially to you bankers out there, if someone has one eye, a cane and a hex bag, give them the damn loan.
2. Poltergeist (1982)
3. 1408 (2007)
1. Theatre of Blood (1973) -- When it comes to classic horror, you need go no further than the more than 60 films of the late and great Vincent Price. From "Edward Scissor Hands" to "Scooby Doo," Price is the granddaddy and daddy of horror. This being said, "Theatre of Blood" is without a doubt my favorite in terms of title and story. The film follows British Shakespearean stage actor Edward Lionheart (Price) after what he believes to be his titular role in King Lear. To Lionheart's dismay, the creme de la creme of London's (England not Kentucky) theater critics pan him and deny him the coveted, best actor award, prompting Lionheart, in full view of queen and country, to leap from a balcony, cape and all, to his death in the river below.
However, the scorned thespian did not die, and with the help of some of London's booze-addled gutter punk community, he sets out to enact poetic revenge on those critics that cast him aside and ruined his career through his greatest performance yet; murdering them to the most notorious murder scenes in Shakespeare. From sword duals on trampolines to feeding a critic poodle pie, each act of over the top vengeance begins with a soliloquy and ends with an epitaph. "Parting is such sweet sorrow."
2. Wait Until Dark (1967)
3. The Shining (1980)
1. Evil Dead II (1987) -- "You bastards! You dirty bastards! Give me back my hand! Give me back my hand!" If you have never seen a man strap a chainsaw onto the nub of his recently self-amputated and demon-possessed hand and lay waste to a bunch of deadites, well ladies and ghouls, this is your chance. "Evil Dead II," from the mind of Sam Raimi, bleeds cult-classic. This installment of the "Evil Dead" trilogy finds Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), after he has read from the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead), has decapitated his possessed girlfriend and cut off and battled his possessed hand.
The lesson so far kids, an abandoned cabin in the woods does not a romantic getaway make and don't read from a book bound in human flesh. Ash's circumstances become more complicated when redneck turtle doves Jake and Bobby Joe and Annie Knowby, whose parents own the cabin, enter into the pandimensional fray. Afterward, all kinds of blood, possession and hijinks ensue until ultimately a portal opens taking Ash back in time to Medieval England to fulfill his destiny as the chosen one.
2. Critters (1986)
3. Re-Animator (1985)
1. Dead Alive (1992) -- This film goes to show that no matter how big you get, all film roots humbly begin bathed in blood. Dead Alive is Peter Jackson's, (Lord of the Rings), first movie. The film follows mama's boy Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) as he enjoys a visit to the zoo with his overbearing and murderous mother, Mum (Elizabeth Moody). While taking in the sights, Mum gets bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey, becomes ill and dies. However, like all zombie movies, death is only the beginning.
Cosgrove quickly takes up his caretaker mantel once again as he tries to keep the townspeople infected by his mum locked away in his stately and rundown home. Ultimately, Cosgrove has to choose between becoming one of the sinisterly perverse gaggle of walking dead or step up to save the lives of his sweetheart, Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver), the town and his mortal soul. This movie, while not incredibly scary, has everything from cutting through a zombie horde with a lawnmower to Kung Fu fighting Catholic priests to truly Freudian undertones between zombified mother and unwitting hero son. Bottom line, it's bloody, it's funny and it has absolutely no basis in reality. Make sure Mum is out of the house if you decide to join the "Dead Alive."
2. REC (2007-Spain)
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
1. Slither (2006) -- For those of you that fear creepy crawlies climbing across your hairline or spiders crawling into your mouth as you sleep, "Slither" is definitely for you. Set in small-town USA, the film follows local sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) as he and his small staff combat a plaque of alien worms. While the notion of worms may not seem daunting, these pesky visitors burrow into the flesh of their victims and take over their minds, forcing them to become mutated zombies that only want one thing, to consume everything on earth. The added bonus is that they are controlled by hive mind master mutant Grant Grant (Michael Rucker) who only wants to be with his one and only Starla (Elizabeth Banks).
Slither is a brilliantly crafted mix of "Arachnophobia," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and every person ever interviewed on television about the UFO they saw. The movie is funny, gory and cringe-worthy as the worms capture the hearts and minds of the townspeople and viewers alike through any orifice they can slither into. The overall curb appeal is that we are all freaked out by bugs and this one will leave you checking your socks, undies and boots for weeks to come.
2. Monster Squad (1987)
3. Tremors (1990)
Bobbie Hayse, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7315.
James Mayse, email@example.com, 270-691-7303, Twitter: @JamesMayse.