10. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
Made on a bet by a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Manos is remarkable for its sheer ineptitude. Its story is pure archetype: a mid-American family on holiday gets stranded in the middle of nowhere and set upon by devil-worshipping cultists. What you wouldn’t guess from this description is that the entire film is slightly out-of-focus, all the voices are dubbed in by three or four people (the camera didn’t record audio), the leader of the cultists is a dead ringer for Frank Zappa, and his second-in-command, the iconic Torgo, has knees the size of watermelons.
If you can handle the awkward cinematography and weirdly redundant dialogue (“There is no way out of here! It’ll be dark soon! There is no way out of here!”) you’ll find Manos a blast. There’s also a sequence in which cultist women wrestle in lingerie, if that’s your thing.
9. Braindead (1992)
The fourth movie by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, Braindead (also known as Dead Alive) is a splatstick zombie opus featuring a cute romance subplot. Shy Lionel lives under the thumb of his domineering mother, but when she’s infected by the zombiefying bite of the Sumatran Rat Monkey, he must either assert his independence or doom New Zealand to undead holocaust. Not for the weak-stomached, Braindead pushes the envelope on gore in absurdist manner: kissing zombies bite off each others’ lips, a woman has all the flesh ripped of her skull in one pull, and Lionel is pursued by animated intestines.
Though it was made 13 years before Hostel, Braindead will test your endurance of entrail-flinging violence. Look out for minor actors who make appearances in later Jackson films.
8. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
A film by Brian de Palma, who would later direct Scarface, this is a Rocky Horroresque take on the classic Phantom of the Opera tale. Paradise‘s phantom is Winslow Leech, a rock lyricist disfigured after getting his head caught in a record press. Leech sets out to exact revenge upon greedy records exec Swan, who stole his music, but ends up making a Faustian pact with Swan in exchange for a promise of seeing his music sung by the woman he loves. When Swan double-crosses Leech, it leads to bizarre killings and lots of weird musical numbers.
Highlights include the scene in which giltter-drenched muscle-queen Beef is impaled by the phantom with a neon lightning bolt. If you know “The Time Warp” by heart, be sure to put Phantom of the Paradise on your Neftlix queue this Halloween.
7. The Horrors of Spider Island (1960)
An incredibly seedy and low-rent “horror” film, Spider Island is less concerned with inducing terror than it is with finding excuses to strip its cast of thirty female dancers down to their underwear while saxophone music plays. It’s pretty PG-rated by 2016’s standards, but its cheesiness has only increased. Watch for the film’s briefly-featured spider monster, which is clearly a man in a werewolf mask. Originally filmed in German, the film’s thirty dancers are all obviously dubbed by the same person.
Choice snippets of dialogue include, “Come and get a load of this, big boy!” to which our hero responds, “Yeah, baby! Like you swing!” See it for its misguided stabs at sexuality and its incredibly half-baked man-spider.
6. The Devil Bat (1940)
Starring Bela Lugosi at the top of his game, The Devil Bat is about a disenfranchised scientist who plans revenge upon the people whom he believes has wronged him using radiation-enhanced bats. (This was, of course, the ’40s, when exposing things to radiation made them bigger and meaner.) Lugosi marks his intended victims by tricking them into trying a special kind of aftershave which the bats have been trained to seek out. A square-jawed crack reporter is dispatched to solve the case and, of course, he does, but this is yet another horror film which is more about the villain than the hero.
See The Devil Bat if straight-out filmmaking incompetence bothers you, or if you’re a sucker for Lugosi’s dark Hungarian charisma.
5. Eegah (1962)
Richard Kiel, better known as Bond villain Jaws, stars as Eegah, a caveman who has discovered the secret to immortality via a polystyrene “rock” pool filled with water and dry ice. Eegah is come upon by a sunny young couple who must then protect him from the incursion of the modern world. The sound editing is intermittently awful: in one infamous scene, a disembodied voice shouts, “LOOK OUT FOR SNAKES!” at a volume four times higher than anything else on the soundtrack.
Eegah is quite a teen movie; see it for light amusement and “Wowzee-wow-wow, daddy-o!” brand corniness and general stupidity.
4. Night of the Lepus (1972)
a.k.a. the movie with giant rabbits. Mutant carnivorous rabbits terrorize the Southwest. A variety of photographic techniques are used to create the rabbits. The film is actually rather technically adept, and might be considered an unironic classic if not for its subject matter. Remember the giant rabbits Neo sees on the television in the Oracle’s waiting room in The Matrix? That was Night of the Lepus.
3. Bride of the Monster (1956)
The most entertaining of Plan 9 From Outer Space director Ed Wood’s films, Bride stars an aged Bela Lugosi as soviet mad scientist Dr. Erik Vornoff and Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson as Vornoff’s hulking henchbrute Lobo. There’s far too much wonderful B-movieness going on here to summarize briefly, so let me put it this way: giant rubber octopus– Bela Lugosi hypnotizes people– a stock footage alligator attacks– giant rubber octopus– a man is crushed by a huge, perfectly round boulder– Bela Lugosi delivers the line, “I will create a race of atomic supermen which will conquer the world! Buhahahaha!!” with perfect conviction– GIANT RUBBER OCTOPUS– and the whole thing ends with a huge stock footage nuclear explosion.
Pure B-film, pure brilliance, purely indispensible. If you didn’t navigate onto this page by accident, you owe it to yourself to see this film.
2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
You knew it was going to make the list, and it’s a deserved addition. Rocky Horror is equal parts earnest and satiric camp. On the day of Richard Nixon’s resignation, clean-cut young couple Brad and Janet are stranded at a castle inhabited by mad sci and sweet transvestite Dr. Frank-n-furter, Helen Kane-voiced tapdancer Columbia, Igoresque butler Riff-Raff, and a biker played by Meat Loaf. The acting is brilliantly terrible; the music is terribly brilliant.
Unless Transylvanian transsexualism offends your religious beliefs, buy this film, buy the soundtrack, and go as Magenta for Halloween.
1. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
This movie earned its way to the one spot. The immortal Vincent Price is Anton Phibes, a mastermind of horror who murders the men whom he believes were responsible for the death of his son. Hapless victims are chewed to death by vampire bats, suffocated by rigged masquerade masks, and, in one case, totally exsanguinated. Vincent Price owns the show as Phibes and even gets some of his signature organ playing in on the side. If you love old films, camp films, B-horror, or all of the above, you’ll find Phibes a must this Halloween season.