Campy and Funny and Scary, a Horror Film List for Everyone
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1931):
A classic (scary) movie. Béla Lugosi was genius in all of his roles, but this one is by far the best. His hypnotic portrayal of Bram Stoker’s pseudo-villain is beyond reproach and impossible to adequately describe in words. Any movie that has been deemed by the Library of Congress as being worthy of inclusion in the United States National Film Registry is a fantastic movie. Lugosi set the bar high for horror films early on. It is the role he became famous for, and for good reason. And it’s no wonder kids still love to dress up at Halloween as the great Dracula!
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984):
When a 1000 maniacs rape your mother and you are the product of the act, it isn’t a stretch to think you might have some very major psychological issues. Freddie Krueger certainly does. The storyline is simple enough: Crazed lunatic, described by one character as “the bastard son of 1000 maniacs,” murders some kids on Elm Street he is arrested and tried; judge makes mistake and sets crazed lunatic loose; crazed lunatic gets job in, ironically it turns out, a boiler room; angry parents rightfully take matters into their own hands and burn crazed lunatic to death; in retribution, crazed lunatic finds way to invade the dreams of the kids of those parents; encase in his burnt skin and wielding finger knives, crazed lunatic sets out to make the lives of the children, well, nightmarish. The movie upped the bar for scary movies and spawned a cult following and several sequels. In fact, a remake of this classic cult horror flick is due out next year. It is a film that simply must be watched around Halloween (or any time you want to have the wits scared out of you). Be vigilant in your dreams.
The Addams Family (1991):
It’s the movie version of the classic TV show. This family of misfits are indeed creepy and spooky, mysterious and kooky, and altogether ooky. Raul Julia’s vision of John Astin’s Gomez Addams and Anjelica Huston’s portrayal of Morticia by Carolyn Jones are about as spot on as it gets. The casting was perfect in all regards actually, with Thing being the standout among those casted. Enjoy Halloween comic chills any time with family and friends with this family of characters.
Family moves into beautiful new house in the ‘burbs and is haunted by spirits of unknown origins. As it urns out, the plagued family had the misfortune of buying a house built on an Indian burial mound. The more unfortunate part is that the contractor was too lazy and cheap to move the bodies. And now there’s hell to pay. While it should be these spirits plague other families or track down the contractors and haunt them, the Freelings. The images of a young girl being pulled through a TV and a mother being sexually assaulted by an unseen force are terrifying to say the least. This was actually the first movie I ever snuck into. And the last. I was 12 years old and had nightmares for nearly a week. To this day it still creeps me out. Not for the faint of heart. A+ for a frightfully good time.
Troublingly good. The story revolves around a man, his once adulterous wife, his dead (or nearly dead) brother who had an affair with his wife, the man’s daughter and a mysterious cube that is a portal to hell. I was oddly enamored with Pinhead, the leader of the hellish angels or angelic demons called Cenobites. There was a calm and commanding presence around this creature with pins in his head. In all respects, Hellraiser is a smart horror film. You have to pay close attention to the biblical and ancient mythological allusions to understand its brilliance. A classic that just keeps getting better each time I see it.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948):
A cult favorite. Mix the comic genius of Abbott and Costello with a horror genre with Béla Lugosi’s Frankenstein monster and let the hijincks begin! The comic duo run into not only Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange; Boris Karloff turned down the role), but Dracula (Béla Lugosi) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.) in this campy flick with the premise of the Wolfman tracking down Dracula and the Monster and inadvertently getting the characters played by Abbott and Costello in the middle of the skirmish.
The Nightmare before Christmas (1993):
I’ve never been a huge fan of Tim Burton’s work, but this one is pure brilliance. When Jack Skellington opens a door from Halloween Town to Christmas Town the holidays as we know them are sure to change. Burton’s idea, combined with the stop motion filming, brings the cast of characters to life in a way that helps audiences get the full experience in much the same way as the groundbreaking special effects in The Matrix did for science fiction audiences. The stop motion is strangely appropriate for this film about the attempted usurpation of Christmas by the denizens of Halloween Town (although not what Jack originally planned when relating what he saw in Christmas Town to his fellow citizens).
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966):
That poor Charlie Brown misses the Great Pumpkin yet again. Everybody’s favorite cartoon loser is back at it again in this fun family movie. Whose heart doesn’t drop when an excited Charlie Brown turns out to only be wanted or needed as a drawing board when the girls at the Halloween party stencil a pumpkin face on his head? And who hasn’t had their heart strings pulled when all of the other kids, including Pig Pen, get loads of candy, but Charlie gets nothing?
The Shining (1980):
The eeriest words ever uttered in a film came from Jack Nicholas’ character Jack Torrance and Torrance’s son Danny-“Here’s Jonny” and “REDRUM” respectively. Watchers are given a voyeuristic peek in to a mind gone crazy. Jack’s involvement with the ghosts of dead workers and guests of the hotel and his ensuing insanity and homicidal rage cut to the core of any horror fan.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975):
Seriously. A story about Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), a hedonistic, transvestite mad scientist from the planet Transsexual and his sexual exploits during the Annual Transylvanian Convention. Who doesn’t like Tim Curry as a lovable singing transvestite? This campy “horror” film is well deserving of its long, devoted cult following and, like Dracula, has been selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.
Honorable Mentions: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad/The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949), Casper (1995), Halloween (1978), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Beetlejuice (1988), Sleepy Hollow (2016)
This Top 10 is spread out over various genres, though all can be considered Halloween movies. Listed not only are the requisite classic horror films (Dracula, Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, Hell Raiser and The Shining) but those timeless classics that can be watched by the entire family. If you watch all of ht movies in a short period of time, might I recommend the following watching order for those of you who aren’t into 10+ hours of blood, guts and gore: Rotate between from purely horror-ific to the funny and sweet ones. At any rate, have a ghoulishly good time with all of these wonderful movies.