One should never need an excuse to enjoy a good horror movie, but they tend to go down particularly well when the weather turns cold and Halloween looms large on the calendar. And since I occasionally like the challenge of drafting a list, now seems like a good time to throw out a completely subjective rundown of Five Horror Movies You Must Own or Watch During the Halloween Season.
These aren't necessarily the five best horror movies ever made (though they might be), but they are five movies you absolutely should pop into your player over the next two weeks to truly maximize the joys of October.
In no particular order:
Friday the 13th Part Two
directed by Steve Miner, 1981
Certainly there are "better" horror movies out there. There are titles with better stories, better acting, better direction, better cinematography. And indeed, the rest of the moives on this list can claim all of the above. But part of this movie's greatness lies in the fact that it doesn't aspire to anything beyond what it is: a bloody piece of pure exploitation. Jason was at his creepiest when he was less than superhuman -- just a deranged manchild in a hood with a homemade shack and a perverted sense of justice. Had the series stopped here we wouldn't look at it as the joke it became.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
directed by Tobe Hooper, 1974
One of the most relentless, brutal films ever made. It stands strong not just as a horror movie but as a brilliant piece of 70s American filmmaking, something of a lowbrow companion piece to films like Taxi Driver. What more really needs to be said? It's essential.
Night of the Living Dead
directed by George Romero, 1968
Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this is a great film that stands beyond its genre. The whole series is brilliant, but there's an edge to this first installment that can't be denied. The entire zombie genre, and much of the American horror tradition, owes its existence to this film. It's as amazing today as it was when it first came out, and it boasts a startlingly downbeat and thought-provoking ending.
directed by John Carpenter, 1978
More meditative and philosophical than it is gory, Halloween remains the gold standard for thoughtful horror. For all the credit it gets as the film that launched the "slasher" genre, it's more a mind fuck than anything else -- Michael Myers is a villain as well-considered as you'll ever encounter.
directed by Dario Argento, 1977
Enjoying Suspiria requires that you submit yourself to the world it creates. Once you do that, you're in for a hell of a ride. Argento's use of set pieces and music is unparalleled in the horror genre, and he is at his best here. The razor wire death scene may be the most horrifying thing ever put to film, despite the fact that it's not terribly graphic. It's a true masterpiece that remains criminally underappreciated.
Aside from the obvious elements, these films all share one thing in common: nobody wins. There's no redemption. One is left believing at the end that the brutality hasn't actually ended, but that you're simply not watching it anymore. That's the well from which true horror springs.
Turn out the lights, pour a glass (or four) of wine, and enjoy. Then thank me in November.
Also feel free to post your own top five in the comments. As always.