Halloween has arrived, meaning it’s time once again for me to recommend some horror films for your holiday viewing pleasure. (Previous suggestions here.) Here are five more fright flicks that would be great additions to any scary-movie marathon:
JACOB’S LADDER (d. Adrian Lyne, 1990)
Lyne’s psycho terror classic has Tim Robbins pretty much getting fucked with for a solid two hours, in a variety of different ways with each scenario being worse than the last. It’s the kind of film that is better left unspoiled for the uninitiated, so I’ll keep the details to a minimum. But if you’re in the mood for something dark and unsettling, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start. It’s mentally punishing on a visceral level and could very well burn itself into your brain for the rest of your living days. Notably, this film also stars actress Elizabeth Peña, who died earlier this month, in one of her very best performances. Highly recommended.
THE FOG (d. John Carpenter, 1980)
One of Carpenter’s finest, The Fog is best compared to a genuine campfire ghost story. This spooky tale of ghost pirates coming back to exact revenge on a small island town and its inhabitants has a lot going for it, not the least of which is a harrowing attack on a fishing boat and its crew — a standout moment, The film features both a stable of genre regulars, including Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook and Tom Atkins (who handily breaks the Fastest Laying of a Hitchhiker record here), and a thick atmosphere of terror and suspense that keeps your eyes glued to the screen as you anticipate what questionable decision the characters will make next. (Sure, Mrs. Kobritz, go ahead and open the fucking door already. It’s just the UPS guy knocking!) This is not to be confused with the CGI-heavy loaded diaper of a remake that dropped back in 2005, which you should avoid like the plague. Scream Factory released a stellar edition of the original on Blu ray recently, and it’s totally worth a purchase.
ANGEL HEART (d. Alan Parker, 1987)
Released in 1987, Angel Heart boasts a fantastic atmosphere that fits this noir/horror hybrid perfectly. Private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) gets hired by a mysterious individual (Robert De Niro) for a missing-persons case. What follows is a slow-burn journey for Harry as he travels down a shadowy path — bordered by the occult and awash in religious imagery — that’s hard to shake. The film was overshadowed upon its release by its infamous sex scene between Rourke and actress Lisa Bonet, but it’s got a lot more going for it than just those few minutes. Angel Heart is a true horror classic, one of the best films to come out of the 80s and a high point of Mickey Rourke’s career. It will keep you guessing until its haunting conclusion.
THE BLOB (d. Chuck Russell, 1988)
This one deserves a special mention, not just because it was penned by Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, but also for being WAY better than it has any right to be. I went to see a matinee show for this when I was a kid and was so impressed I stayed to watch it two more times afterward. I recently picked up the special edition Blu-ray (limited to 5,000 copies and no longer available at retail price) and while the special effects don’t hold up as well as they did 26 years ago, the film is still a ton of fun to watch. The Blob has everything a good horror film should have: gore, suspense, memorable deaths and likable characters. What makes it better than most genre fare is the way it plays with your expectations. The characters you assume will survive might not be the ones who actually do. The story is expertly plotted, and plenty of seeds are planted early on that pay off in big ways later in the film. The cast is great with Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith making for an enjoyable onscreen team. Fans of The Walking Dead (which Darabont developed) can also catch Jeffrey DeMunn in action if they’re paying attention. Big recommendation on this one!
DAWN OF THE DEAD (d. Zack Snyder, 2004)
Another remake that winds up being way better than it should, Snyder’s take on the 1978 George Romero classic of the same name is a great zombie apocalypse film that stays faithful to the original while standing far enough away from it to be its own thing. The zombies here aren’t the shambling type. Snyder ditches those in favor of sprinting zombies, similar to the ones introduced to us back in 1985’s cult classic Return of the Living Dead. The faster ghouls give the film a sense of urgency and are terrifying whenever they appear on the scene. Snyder pulls out all the stops with his feature-film debut, giving us a great ensemble of characters who you genuinely wind up rooting for (or, in a few cases, against) and a shitload of carnage that will make any gore hound squeal with utter delight. The first few minutes of the film alone are fantastic, as are the Johnny Cash-backed opening credits, which set the tone of the film perfectly. The unrated cut is the one to watch if you have a choice, but, either way, the film manages to avoid the pit of spikes that remakes tend to end up falling into and emerges unscathed, if happily covered in blood. Oh, and make sure to watch through the end credits.