The Fearsome Five (Or, Five Scary-Movie Classics for Halloween)

We’ve reached that time of the year again–All Hollows Eve–when ghosts and goblins roam the earth.  (Of course, if you’re like me, you’re convinced they roam the earth every day, regardless of what the calendar says.)  Particularly here in the hills of Vermont, it’s a time of thinning trees, plummeting temperatures, and hard nighttime frosts as the days shorten and the wild animals forage for any and all food they can acquire before the onset of the interminable New England winter.

Halloween is also, of course, a day when many people revisit scary movies from their past.  Even folks who may not be horror fans reason that, just this one day out of the year–they ought to tune in to a fright fest.  Longtime readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of the classics–from vintage comic books to old TV shows to old movies.  And so it will likely come as no surprise that five of the scary films I recommend all date from decades ago.

Five Horror Classics for Halloween . . .

House of Wax (1953)

If there is one name that is synonymous with classic horror movies, it is Vincent Price.  From his brooding features to his unmistakable voice, Price was the perfect leading man for scary films.  Nowhere is that more evident than in House of Wax.  Price is at his spooky best in this atmospheric period thriller directed by Andre DeToth, playing a disfigured sculptor who goes to extreme and horrific measures to repopulate his wax museum, which is decimated by fire early in the movie.  The film is a period piece–with the setting turn-of-the-20th-century New York, and the suave and morose Price gives a performance to elicit nightmares.

 

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock was known as the Master of Suspense, not the Master of Horror, but he took a decided turn with Psycho.  To modern eyes, the violence in this film is nothing extraordinary, but in 1960, it was shocking.  The infamous “shower scene” scared countless millions–my own mother included!  The scene lasts only a minute on film, but it took a week to shoot.  But for me, the genius of Psycho isn’t in the murder of Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) but in the psychological makeup of the villain–Norman Bates, played superbly by Anthony Perkins.  While most remember the shower scene, I always loved the scene directly before it–when Bates and Marion have a conversation in the motel parlor.  Norman at first turns on the charm, but eventually a dark and troubled personality emerges, culminating in the line, delivered with chilling effectiveness by Perkins, “We all go a little mad sometimes.  Haven’t you?”  Halloween shivers all around.

 

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Who needs The Walking Dead when you have Dawn of the Dead?  Considered by some horror enthusiasts as the best pure horror film of all time, George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, like Psycho, was shocking in its day for the graphic violence it portrayed–again, nothing over the top by 2020s standards (which says something about our societal tastes today, perhaps?) but in 1978, it was a gut punch to moviegoers.  An apocalyptic story line, with zombies taking over the world, Dawn of the Dead grabs you by the throat and never lets go.  The movie is well known for its abandoned shopping mall setting, pitting a small core of survivors against a horde of the undead who populate the mall.  Creepy stuff.

 

Halloween (1978)

It seems fitting that the teenage daughter of Psycho‘s own Janet Leigh would make her film debut in one of the classic horror films of the 1970s.  In Halloween, Jamie Leigh Curtis plays Laurie Strode, a high school student who becomes embroiled in psychotic killer Michael Myers’s rampage.  John Carpenter’s edge-of-your-seat film took audiences by storm in the late 1970s, introducing an entire genre of slasher films that would dominate the next decade (think Friday the 13th).  Halloween, though, is different in that it is light on blood and gore (much of it implied rather than graphically shown) and heavy on suspense and thrills.  The first of its kind, in many ways, the original Halloween holds up remarkably well over forty years after its release.  Watch it alone, with the lights off.

 

The Shining (1980)

Stephen King wrote the novel, of course, and he didn’t like Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation–but, taken on its own, Kubrick’s The Shining is a movie masterpiece.  Moody, atmospheric, and haunting, the movie starts slow, developing the mood and theme and characters, and then, literally, about halfway through, all hell breaks loose.  Jack Nicholson plays the tortured Jack Torrance, and no one plays “tortured” like Nicholson.  The movie is chock-full of creepy, atmospheric, ghostly effects, and Danny, the boy with “the shining,” often steals the show.  Incidentally, The Shining has what I consider to be the most terrifying scene in cinematic history, when Danny, racing down the empty hallways of the haunted Overlook Hotel, is confronted by two murdered ghost girls.  “Come and play with us, Danny,” they tell him.  And he then sees them as they were when they were murdered, hacked to pieces.  For me, this scene is especially haunting because the ghost girls–identical twins–greatly resemble two other girls (also twins) I knew growing up.  Gets me every time.

 

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And there you have it–a quick trip down horror movie memory lane.  I hope you watch (or rewatch, as the case may be) a few!

Happy Halloween and thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Willow Croft
    Oct 31, 2021 @ 16:58:35

    Ha, there was a hallway in a dorm on a Vermont college campus that students compared to the hallway in The Shining!

    Reply

  2. joannerambling
    Oct 31, 2021 @ 20:02:59

    I don’t like scary movies

    Reply

  3. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Nov 01, 2021 @ 00:42:23

    Nice selection, Mike!

    Reply

  4. Patrice
    Nov 01, 2021 @ 15:16:27

    Heard of them all – never seen any of them totally – can’t live with that in my mind.

    Reply

  5. foodinbooks
    Nov 01, 2021 @ 22:01:06

    Great selections. I was never a zombie fan, so that’s the only one of these I’ve never seen. I’m totally with you for Halloween and The Shining. My own personal favorite horror classic is The Exorcist, which I watch every year to get into the appropriate frame of mind.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Nov 06, 2021 @ 13:07:07

      The Exorcist is terrifying! Actually probably scarier than any on this list!

      Reply

      • foodinbooks
        Nov 07, 2021 @ 14:06:28

        I was terrified by it many years ago when I 1st saw it, and on subsequent viewing it is still scary but it has a definite shock value factor that I appreciate as I’ve gotten older. It’s also a really fascinating look at a niche within the Catholic Church that have always found so intriguing.

  6. Ste J
    Nov 07, 2021 @ 10:10:38

    A bit late to the party but love all these films, Night of the Living Dead especially. I watched Halloween Kills recently, it was bloody awful!

    Reply

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