Monday, October 22, 2012


1. Phantom of the Opera (1925) -- Classic tale of Erik (Chaney), a man  escaped from Devil's Island (where he contracted leprosy), who returns to France and hides in the catacombs and grottoes beneath the Paris Opera House stalking a beautiful young singer (Philbin) and terrorizing all in his sphere.
2. Frankenstein (1931) – It’s nothing like Mary Shelley’s novel, but director James Whale creates a visual marvel with Boris Karloff earning our sympathy as the monster. Bride of Frankenstein, the sequel to which Whale reluctantly acceded, in some ways exceeds, but the first one is the purer.

3. Dracula (1931) – No, it’s not scary, and not a bit like the book, either. But the coach rattling on up to the castle, the creak of the door, and Bela Lugosi bidding welcome are essential to the season.

4. Nosferatu (1922) – Director FW Murnau’s silent German classic re-works Bram Stoker’s novel because he couldn’t get the rights to Dracula, and makes the vampire a rat-like plague-guy. Excellently re-made in 1979 by Werner Herzog with Klaus Kinski as the abhorrence.

5. Shadow of the Vampire (2000) – Not really a solo monster film, per se, but deserves special mention as the movie that imagines what if FW Murnau got an actual vampire to play the role.

6. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Francis Ford Coppola’s vampire vision is the richest feast. Opulent, surreal images with incredible music composed by Wojciech Kilar keep this classic on the Halloween must-watch short list.

7. Mad Love (1935) – Peter Lorre as a monstrously mad doctor amazes. Has Colin Clive as a pianist who loses his hands in an accident and gets a murderer’s hands grafted on by Dr. Lorre.

8. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) – Fredric March won an Oscar for his double role as the ultimate mad doctor. His transformation into the leering, sneering, animal-like Hyde still holds up due to an ingenious use of camera lens filters.

9. Psycho (1960) – A Jekyll-and-Hyde with no mad doctor. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates evokes our sympathy in the manner of the Frankenstein monster, and a simultaneous repugnance worthy of Nosferatu. Hitchcock’s classic has it all.

10. An American Werewolf in London (1981) – The special effects that made this movie fresh are dated now, but not prohibitively.

11. The Haunting (1963) – Shirley Jackson’s haunted house story is to horror what The Sound of Music is to musicals because Robert Wise directed them both.

12. The Shining (1980) – Stephen King famously dislikes it, but the Stanley Kubrick film is the best haunted house movie ever.

13. Invaders from Mars (1953) – Early in the Cold War, movie sci-fi saw the value of…foreign invasion! Kid has hard time getting grownups to believe he saw an alien spaceship crash land in the back yard.

14. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – Works the same Cold War issue of infiltration in a smarter way because it doesn’t push anti-Commie propaganda, but rather reflects on the witch-hunt dynamic.

15. Night of the Living Dead (1968) – George Romero’s low-budget classic sets the bar for zombie stories and slowly, but inexorably, tackles prejudice.

16. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – The greatest host-woman for Devil-boy gestation story ever told.

17. The Wicker Man (1973) – In his best horror movie, Christopher Lee worked for free. Search for a missing girl on a remote island village. Avoid re-make.

18. American Gothic (1988) – A group of stranded travelers finds a freaky family, led by Rod Steiger, that practices some of that old-time religion.

19. John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) – More than the special effects, Ennio Morricone’s stark, ominous music makes this sci-fi re-make work. Antarctic researchers wake up ancient alien. A masterpiece of mood.

20. Silver Bullet (1985) – This werewolf story from Stephen King works in the context of the monster as group works a hair better than The Howling.

21. Sleepy Hollow (1999) – Tim Burton’s vision of Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman legend removes all doubt of the specter’s existence, and incorporates the crimes of the town’s elite into the bargain. Drips with Gothicism and features Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane.

22. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – Bad guys George Clooney and Quintin Tarantino take hostages down to Mexico, but wind up at the wrong bar. Raunchy dialogue and over-the-top violence.

23. The Ninth Gate (1999) – Roman Polanski directs Johnny Depp in a hunt for a book reputed to be written by the Devil.  
24. The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) – This early Polanski film uniquely blends ‘60s camp with stylized vampire fun. Features the director as a mousy helper to a professorial stalker of the undead.

25. Young Frankenstein (1974) – Gene Wilder co-writing and starring in this horror movie send-up makes this the ultimate Mel Brooks movie.

26. Creepshow (1982) – George Romero and Stephen King’s love letter to the horror magazines of the ‘50s.

227. Re-Animator (1985) – Based on a story by HP Lovecraft and with music from Psycho. Features underrated actor Jeffrey Coombs as a med student with a serum that can re-animate the dead, kind of.

28. Army of Darkness (1992) – Hilarious tale of a store clerk (Bruce Campbell, another great underrated actor) who gets a weird book in a creepy cabin that zaps him to a Medieval, sorcery-packed past.

29. Dead Alive (1992) – Before directing The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson made a movie about a zombie-like condition spread by a Sumatran rat-monkey. 

30. Beetlejuice (1988) – Endlessly fun Tim Burton classic about a dead couple trying to rid their house of weird and scary yuppies.

31. Dark Shadows (2012) – Overshadowed by The Avengers when released, this film version of the daytime TV cult favorite is one of the best movies of 2012. Tim Burton outdoes himself in terms of pure visual style, and Johnny Depp is perfectly cast as vampire Barnabas Collins.

Art by Stewart Kirby

 Stewart Kirby writes for


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