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Here's another article I've written.� I hope you enjoy my recommendations of videos that will make any Halloween even spookier below.� Please click the following links to read a couple of other articles entombed herein:�

My "Stranger On The Third Floor" Article (A look at a Peter Lorre film gem.)

My "Ministry Of Mayhem" Article ("Mummy" movies and the High Priests that make them so much fun.)

(Unlike most of the other stories included here, which were written for special interest magazines, this piece was written for a mass market audience and published by Louisville Magazine, among other places. It's the oldest of the articles posted here, and among the most popular. If I had it to do over, at this point I would trade out a few of the recommended videos. Maybe I'll post a revised version of this story at a later date. Stay tuned...)


Night falls. A full moon rises. Fog rolls along the riverbank. And an army of ghouls descends on the city, in search of sustenance.

Is this a scene from a creaky old monster movie? Nah, it's only Halloween trick-or-treaters, making their rounds.

Now that you mention it, though, a creaky old monster movie is just the thing to pass the time between trips to the door to dole out Dum-Dums and Tootsie Rolls. Halloween and horror movies go together like mad scientists and hunchbacked henchmen. Like homicidal lunatics and shower stalls. Like giant radioactive lizards and Japanese cities.

The only problem with renting a Halloween horror movie is that there are so darn many of them to choose from. Your local Blockbuster unquestionably stocks dozens of fright flicks -- most of them unquestionably bad. How do you separate the sublime from the insipid? I humbly submit the following list of 13 can't-miss titles:

1. Carnival Of Souls (1962, black & white, 80 minutes) -- A young church organist (Candace Hilligoss) is pursued by phantoms after she survives a car crash that killed two of her friends. Director Herk Harvey suffuses every scene with a lingering sense of menace. The climax, set in an abandoned amusement park, is among the most eerie ever filmed. (Just thinking about it gives me the shivers.) After bankrolling this project himself, only to be swindled in a crooked distribution deal, Harvey returned to his day job, making industrial training films. This is his only commercial movie credit.

2. Curse Of The Demon (1958, B&W, 82 min.) -- A skeptical psychologist (Dana Andrews) has his faith in science shaken when a sinister occultist predicts the psychologist will die in exactly four days. Director Jacques Tourneur, who helmed such landmark horror shows as Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie for legendary RKO producer Val Lewton in the 1940s, employs every trick the old master taught him. Even a simple stroll through the woods becomes nightmarish. If you think old black-and-white horror films aren't scary, then you haven't seen Curse of the Demon.

3. Rosemary's Baby (1968, color, 136 min.) -- There are days in every pregnancy when mothers-to-be suffer as if they were bearing the spawn of Satan. But Rosemary (Mia Farrow) really is carrying the antichrist to term. Director Roman Polanski, in his finest work, seizes on parents' innate fears of pregnancy and childbirth and carries them to their logical endpoint. Warning: If you are expecting a child yourself, you'll want to skip this recommendation (or else spend the next few months nervously poring over self-help books).

4. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931, B&W, 90 min.) -- Fredric March won an Oscar for his stunning work in this film's title role(s). What makes his performance special isn't his ferocious Mr. Hyde, but his Dr. Jekyll, a simmering kettle of sexual frustration. Jekyll's healthy desires, suppressed by Victorian morality, become twisted and emerge as his deviant Hyde persona -- pretty racy stuff for a 1931 picture! Pretty scary stuff, too, especially during sequences in which Hyde torments his helpless mistress. Perhaps because of its liberated outlook, this picture holds up better than most films from horror's Golden Age.

5. Halloween (1978, color, 91 min.) -- The It's a Wonderful Life of Halloween. Director John Carpenter's seminal slasher flick still jolts viewers, even after a fistful of lame sequels and countless Grade-Z ripoffs. Jamie Lee Curtis is brave, industrious and endearing in her star-making role. This movie is really about Curtis, not about the faceless killer stalking her. (Most Halloween wannabes reduce their female protagonists to shrieking ciphers it's impossible to take seriously, let alone empathize with.) Because we care for Curtis, we gasp when Michael Myers springs on her with a butcher knife -- even when we know it's coming.

6. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971, color, 94 min.) -- Not for every horror fan, this bizarre film melds macabre violence with creepy music and dark humor. (Imagine a musical-comedy version of the recent movie Seven and you're on the right track.) Vincent Price deftly portrays a demented musician intent on murdering physicians who were unable to save his wife, mortally wounded in an auto accident. Price targets a dozen victims, and for each he plans a death based on the Plagues of Egypt. For instance, one of his victims is eaten alive by locusts(!). Not recommended for the faint of heart (or stomach).

7. The Mummy (1932, B&W, 78 min.) -- What's Halloween without Boris Karloff? An Egyptian priest (Karloff) is mummified alive for stealing a sacred scroll that reveals the secret of resurrection (to revive his dead lover, Anck-es-en-Amon). When he is accidentally revived from the dead by bungling archeologists, he sets his sights on a young girl he believes to be the reincarnation of Anck-es-en-Amon. This wonderful film is among the most mystical, most romantic and most frightening tales from horror's Golden Age. It bears little kinship with the long series of dreadful sequels it spawned, which featured a different mummy altogether.

8. Scream (1996, color, 100 min.) -- If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for? If you have, you probably want to see it again. This is filmmaker Wes Craven's master work. There have been scarier pictures, and funnier ones, too, but none has been as scary and funny at the same time. It's loaded with in-jokes for genre junkies and offers enough chills to satisfy even the most jaded horror veteran.

9. The Exorcist (1973, color, 122 min.) -- The top-grossing horror film of all time until Scream came along is still among the most disturbing spectacles in cinema history. As with Halloween, even when you know what's coming -- spinning heads, projectile vomiting, the works -- it's still shocking. Who can forget the scene in which Linda Blair screams at Jason Miller, "Your mother darns socks in jail!" (or something like that). The cast here (which also includes Max Von Sydow and Ellen Burstyn) is impeccable, as is William Friedkin's direction and William Peter Blatty's script. On balance, The Exorcist ranks among the dozen or so finest films of the 1970s, horror or otherwise.

10. Village Of The Damned (1960, B&W, 77 min.) -- The entire population of a remote English village simultaneously lapses into a deep sleep. Nine months later -- and on the same day -- all the young women of the village give birth to babies with blonde hair and soulless blue eyes. The children develop strange extrasensory powers and form a sort of demonic Our Gang. This is all much scarier than it sounds; trust me. Warning: Do not confuse this movie with its recent (and lousy) color remake. Check the box before you rent!

11. Horror Of Dracula (1958, color, 82 min.) -- This early classic from England's revolutionary Hammer Studios is likely the finest screen version of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Christopher Lee is menacing, yet sexy, in the title role; Peter Cushing is even better as the Count's daring nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing. Hammer was the first studio to produce gothic horror films in color, with graphic violence and gore. The fake blood that repulsed audiences 40 years ago barely registers a shudder today, but the movie, overall, remains very powerful.

12. Dawn Of The Dead (1979, color, 127 min.) -- The Horror of Dracula may have lost its gory mystique, but the mother of all "splatter" movies hasn't. Most of the story takes place in a deserted shopping mall, where a handful of human survivors battle an army of flesh-eating zombies. This allows director George Romero to mesh wry commentary on the superficial values of American culture with scenes of stark horror--zombies feasting on their victims' intestines, humans blasting zombies' heads off with shotguns, all in vivid Technicolor. A recently released director's cut includes previously unreleased bonus mayhem. Warning: You'll want to put this one on only after the kids are safely in bed--preferably at Grandma's house.

13. The Wolf Man (1941, B&W, 71 min.) -- OK, so The Wolf Man is the least frightening of the films on this list (which is why it's No. 13). But it's an undeniable classic, brimming with spooky atmosphere, doomed romance and praiseworthy acting. Lon Chaney Jr. offers a heartrending portrayal as Larry Talbot, an affable bachelor stricken with the curse of the werewolf. The Wolf Man is just the stuff for viewers who want a lighter tone for their evening, or to soothe nerves jangled by Dawn Of The Dead or The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Before deciding which films to recommend, I narrowed the field to movies that should be available at many local video stores. If you're planning on renting one of the preceding titles, however, it's worth calling ahead to make sure your store has the tape in stock and to reserve it for Halloween, before it vanishes from the shelf.

My "Stranger On The Third Floor" Article (A look at a Peter Lorre film gem.)

My "Ministry Of Mayhem" Article ("Mummy" movies and the High Priests that make them so much fun.)

Stuff To Read | All About Mark | "Buy" Mark Clark | Trivia Game | Links | Home | | Coming Soon | Support Film Preservation

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