Every October I do a little check-in on all the best loved horror movies I missed in the last year. Then I forget all about those in favor of watching the same five movies I know and love.
Here they are, in no particular order:
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
This movie is so much fun it should be a crime. A semi-sequel to the original Night of the Living Dead, minus George Romero, but plus Dan O’Bannon and a heap of new-wave/punk rock style, Return epitomizes my favorite kind of Halloween movie. It’s a horror-comedy that doesn’t skimp on either aspect. The tension escalates wonderfully, while also giving the viewer some bombastically fun release in loud, goofy musical numbers and over-the-top characters. Return introduces us to the zombies-that-say-BRAAAIINS trope, and some might be surprised to learn that it was always intended to be silly. You may think you’ve seen enough zombies in movies and tv, and I definitely feel you on that. But if you haven’t seen this one yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Funny Games (2007)
Michael Haneke’s 2007 slasher is easily the most divisive film on this list, but I will ride or die for Funny Games. Many criticize the fact that it’s nearly shot-for-shot identical to the German-language ‘97 original (also by Haneke). Many dislike how it seems to thumb its nose at the audience, daring us to enjoy the sickness on display. Many simply think it’s a bog-standard thriller with some pretentious flourishes. Me, I think it’s the best thing to happen to the genre since Michael Myers developed an interest in cutlery. Haneke is constantly playing with the viewers’ experience, building tension to an unbearable level and then deflating it in a surprising way. By the end you are begging for catharsis, but the movie won’t let you off the hook that easily. Love it or hate it, it’s probably gonna stick with you.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Taika Waititi’s mockumentary may not be scary, but it’s still a perfect pick for October viewing. What We Do in the Shadows perfectly reformulates horror tropes into the best kind of shaggy-dog comedy. The stakes (har har) remain low throughout, even as the body count rises and other supernatural threats enter the picture. This movie lives and dies on the strength of its main performances, and thankfully they are transcendent. Go watch this.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Bubba Ho-Tep, like Return of the Living Dead, falls right into my movie-lovin’ sweet-spot. It has the kind of premise that will either make you an instant fan or leave you totally baffled: elderly Elvis and JFK battle a mummy attacking a Texas nursing home. Although it’s definitely a horror-comedy, it’s got some surprising cred for horror buffs; It’s adapted from a short story by legendary author Joe Lansdale, and set in his preferred milieu of East Texas. It was directed by Don Coscarelli, the writer and director of horror classic Phantasm. And of course it stars Ash Williams himself, Bruce Campbell, as The King, alongside Ossie Davis as JFK. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is how it manages to balance its campy premise with some real pathos. Campbell’s performance in particular hits some really touching notes as he comes to terms with aging in a world that no longer needs or wants him.
In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
John Carpenter is one of those directors whose works I revere to an uncomfortable degree. Between Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing, and They Live, he’s earned a lifetime pass with me. That being said, his movies haven’t always been too terribly consistent. In the midst of what could be called his professional nadir (culminating in 2001's guilty-pleasure trash Ghosts of Mars) Carpenter turned to horror literature for inspiration. Here he cobbles together some of the best bits of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos with nods to Steven King in creating horror author Sutter Cane (played by Jurgen Prochnow) and the New England town of Hobb’s End. Sam Neill stars as John Trent, the consummate skeptic, tasked to find Cane on behalf of his publisher. As you might expect, things take a turn for the supernatural; as Trent digs deeper his reality is turned upside down, and vaguely sinister omens give way to literally horrifying monstrosities. Although it’s not a direct adaptation, In the Mouth of Madness comes the closest I’ve seen to really nailing a Lovecraftian feel.
So that’s my list! Now tell me about yours! Honorable mentions go to Monster Squad, Shaun of the Dead, You’re Next, and Poltergeist.