I have a soft spot for classic movies, especially classic horror and thrillers. And by classic I mean black & white, scratchy, and often a little cheesy. I watch these movies year round, but during the Halloween season, its the most fun to watch them. There are a few that I will absolutely watch, no matter what, so don’t bug me, during this time. My all time favorite movie ever is Dracula (1931). On Halloween, or as close as I can get to it, this will be watched.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love more modern movies. Especially ones that can actually scare the crap out of me. But there are much better lists out there than what I can put together, so I’ll just go with what I know.
For this list I tried to keep it before the 70’s, just for the sake of a reference point. During the 60’s you see a sharp change in cinema, and horror especially. By time the 70’s hit, the game had completely changed.
Classic movies to watch on Halloween
(I did not include the usual Universal classics like Dracula, Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and the like just because they are given. If you aren’t watching them, then you need to stop what you are doing, completely restart the month, and do it over. Though I am hard pressed not to suggest Bride of Frankenstein, or the even creepier Abbott and Costello meet The Mummy.)
Nosferatu (1922)– The original vampire movie, predating the Count by nearly a decade. Dark and full of atmosphere, given it’s a silent movie, it also has some killer special effects. The story should be fairly familiar if you know how the story of Dracula goes, but no less as good.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)– Maybe more of an art film than horror, it is still disturbing and creepy. The manipulative Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist Cesare (played by Joker inspiration Conrad Veidt) wreck havoc over a pair of young lovers in very expressionism inspired scenes.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)– John Barrymore (Yes, Drew Barrymore’s grandfather) plays the doctor and the monster one of the most remade horror stories of all time. The ‘real time’ transformation of Jekyll to Hyde scared the crap out of audiences in it’s day. Even now, it’s still fairly impressive.
The Vampire Bat (1933)– Starring horror stalwarts Lionel Atwell and Dwight Frye, it also includes Fay Wray, who would get manhandled by King Kong later the same year. Typical of its time, the use of shadow and insinuation lead to the supernatural but winds up just being a bad guy after all. Still a fun movie to watch with a tub of popcorn in your lap.
White Zombie (1932) – Back when zombies were still a product of voodoo and not a marketing ploy for undead cannibals, this Bela Lugosi movie helped start off a whole genre of zombie flicks. (Granted, most of them reeeaallly racist) Let me state that this whole damned list would have Bela in it, if I didn’t feel the need to diversify. After Dracula, he got pigeon-holed and couldn’t lead another feature with the big studios, so he took on a lot of horror and thriller movies with ‘poverty row’ studios. White Zombie was more middle of the road. It wasn’t Dracula but still atmospheric and full of Bela’s over-the-top creepy acting.
House of Dracula (1945) – With the continued popularity of the monster movies, the studios thought it a good idea to put them all together, so they did the ‘House of..” series. They started with House of Frankenstein and by the time they got to House of Dracula, the idea had about dried up. The plans for House of the Wolf Man got turned into Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. (poor Wolfy) Dracula doesn’t make it past the first 30 minutes, and dies embarrassingly, to give you an idea of the cheese factor, but its still a great Halloween treat.
Horror Hotel (aka City of the Dead) (1960) – Satanists make good little boogeymen. Movie monsters turned more to either the Devil, or the human monster, in the 60’s. Christoper Lee stars in this smokey little tale of a young student studying the history of witchcraft for a college course. She is led to a spooky little New England town and quickly gets in over her head.
I Bury the Living (1958) – Working in a cemetery is bad enough, but when Richard Boone finds out that by changing the pins on the cemetery map from unoccupied to occupied, the owners all mysteriously die. Of course with this sort of power, things goes south rather quickly.
Any William Castle movie – From the man who brought us the original House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts, anything he puts out is going to be fun to watch in October. This is the same guy who rigged buzzers to movie chairs during the theatrical run of his movie, The Tingler. Just imagine if he would have gone into porno…..
Psycho (1960) – Anthony Perkins and the most famous shower scene in history. Need I say more? A classic for a reason.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) – Forget all the modern zombie flicks. This is where it started. Relying less on gore, and whether they can run fast or not, this movie is psychological and intense. Definitely a must watch.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) – Don’t judge. This one and Charlie Brown Christmas are my happy place.
Honorable Mentions –
The Exorcist (1973)- I am legally obligated to put this on the list because it is still one of the best horror movies ever made.
An American Werewolf in London (1981) – I’m adding this on here because it’s another one of my personal traditions. It invariably winds up on tv, at some point, and I will invariably watch it without fail. (fun fact: when I was a kid, the radio station would go off air at midnight. The local television station’s audio would bleed through sometimes. One night they were showing this movie and little Mick got to listen to the ending which is all snarling, ripping, and screaming. Then Blue Moon by The Marcels played as credits roll. Kinda traumatized me. Also might explain a lot about me)
Remember kids; stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and don’t hog all the damned popcorn.