I’m going to vex a few people as I skip right over Bride of Frankenstein (the Batman & Robin of Frankenstein movies) and straight into the equally campy but slightly more straight-faced second sequel. Basil Rathbone is perfect as the disdainful Wolf von Frankenstein, unwelcome heir of the now completely redesigned Castle Frankenstein.
By no means the first horror movie ever made (nor, in fact, the first Frankenstein movie ever made) but James Whale’s eternal classic is the fountainhead from which has sprung the modern horror movie. Though he would later go on to the make the deliberately silly Bride of Frankenstein (sorry folks, but it’s nowhere near as good as this film), here Whale constructs an elegantly tragic frightener that taps into the timeless theme of man playing god.
You would think that by their very nature (demonic worship of sorcery and witchcraft) all of the Harry Potter films would qualify for the harvest moon hall-of-fame. However, this third chapter is the most Halloween-themed movie of the series. In addition to the standard-issue witchery on display, this one highlights the classic Halloween tropes:
One of the most polarizing films ever made. Though I generally disdain shaky camera work, this is one of the few instances where it works in the movie’s favor, primarily because of its documentary conceit. Devoid of music or sound effects, letting natural sound flavor the mood, and utilizing a ridiculously simple premise (three kids lost in the woods, taunted by spooks), The Blair Witch Project manages to build upon itself progressively, in the process producing some genuinely terrifying footage.
A Halloween anthology that draws inspiration from multiple sources, most notably John Carpenter’s slasher classic and the Stephen King/George A. Romero collaboration Creepshow. It serves up four intertwined vignettes in classic campfire-story style. Yet where Creepshow had five distinctly separate scenarios, Trick ‘r Treat weaves them intricately together into one non-linear fright-fest.
A sweet little gem from Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer that is short and to the point. At fifteen minutes, this wordless near-literal adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Inquisition horror show conveys more dread and foreboding than most feature-length frights. Shot in stark black and white, enabling Švankmajer to take full advantage of shadows and light.
This superbly tragic ghost story is a chilling multi-mystery centering around an adopted and adoptive mother, Laura, and her torment as she sets about unraveling the fate of her son. Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona has a keen understanding for the rhythms of classic horror, as well as the eye to create a chilling aura.
Superior to George A. Romero’s rather sloppy original, Breck Eisner’s follow-up to his underappreciated Sahara is a sharply edited, briskly paced fright that has its protagonists on the run for the duration of the film. As with Romero’s … of the Dead movies, this could easily serve as a parable of war, with strange, anonymous soldiers invading the small town and the locals turning on each other.
The timeless classic that effectively launched Ridley Scott’s career. Deservedly so. What starts as a quasi-ghost story eventually turns all-out monster movie, but sophomore director Scott is in no hurry to get there. The movie unfolds in layers, each one revealing and adding to the suspense. Scott paces the film in rhythmic ebbs and truly jarring crests.
I was never a fan of the original Exorcist. Bereft of any real terror, it instead opted for high-octane shocks, predicated mostly on the concept of a fourteen-year-old actress displaying hideously vulgar behavior. The less said about its even more absurd follow-up the better. Part three is the only one in the series worth noting.