‘Tis the season for carnage. We are recommending only horror movies for this installment. We usually try to avoid overly obvious recommendations and repeat recommendations, but this time we are lifting all such restrictions. We figure a lot of people who don’t watch many horror movies make an exception in October (do it!) and might appreciate more obvious recommendations.
Michele Soavi is responsible for some of the very best efforts from the twilight of the golden age of Italian horror. Stagefright is tremendous and very much my jam. A theater troupe rehearses a play about a contemporary psychopath while they are terrorized by the very same psychopath. In an owl costume.
Gothic (1986); Lair of the White Worm (1988)
This is a pair of 80’s gems from the great Ken Russell. Gothic is about the night Mary Shelley conceived of Frankenstein and features Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley, Gabriel Byrne as Lord Byron, Julian Sands as Percy Bysshe Shelley, and an unforgettable Timothy Spall as Dr. John William Polidori. It is batshit. Lair of the White Worm is comedic folk horror with Hugh Grant and Amanda Donohoe.
Wolf Creek 2 (2014)
Genre fans only. This is a very grimy exercise in disturbing excess, but it has a sense of fun (a very depraved sense of fun).
Child’s Play (1988)
Still lit! It’s amazing how long it manages to hold out on its big reveal.
Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Barbara Peeters’ Roger Corman-produced creature feature is thoroughly messed up. She is one of many great unsung female horror directors from this era. But yeah, the premise is that fishmen seek non-consensual reproduction with human females. It doesn’t pull its punches, so proceed with caution. This is a new restoration and it looks great.
Class of 1984 (1982)
So you know all those movies where an idealistic teacher starts working at an urban school and is shocked by the violence? This is probably the single most extreme riff on the premise. It goes so far.
Blood Rage (1987)
We recommended this recently but it’s worth emphasizing: Terry and Todd are identical twins. Terry commits a brutal murder as a child and frames Todd for it. Now, many years later, Todd has escaped. All time Louise Lasser performance. This is a stellar example of American 80’s horror.
Deep Red (1975)
One of Argento’s peak masterworks and arguably the single greatest giallo, absolutely watch it if you haven’t seen it. Daria Nicolodi is peerless. This is the shorter cut, which I think is fine but there are trade offs. The pace is livelier but there are some unexplained plot developments (stuff like “wait, how did they know to look here?”). It’s worth seeing both cuts.
The second entry in Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy (the other parts are Suspira and the underrated Mother of Tears), about a trio of powerful witches who have taken up residence in a trio of creepy buildings. Suspiria is set in the Black Forest, this one is set in NYC, and Mother of Tears is set in Rome. This lacks a Claudio Simonetti score but Keith Emerson’s work here has started to grow on me. The movie itself is straight fire. It’s arguably Argento’s most abstract, surreal movie.
Another banger from Argento. Jennifer Connelly can telepathically communicate with bugs. I love it with my whole heart and I could watch it a hundred more times.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
Part of Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy. It has some of his most potent imagery and is a great introduction to his work.
Sleepaway Camp 1-3 (1983, 1988, 1989)
The gender depictions in these movies are certainly “problematic” (in contemporary parlance) but also radical and subversive. I love this series, especially parts 1 and 3. Check them out if you want classic summer camp slasher with a subversive gender twist and you aren’t too worried about offensiveness.
Prom Night (1980) and Prom Night 2: Hello Mary Lou (1987)
The first one is a classic slasher with Jamie Lee Curtis. It takes its time but the payoff is awesome. I like it but definitely prefer the sequel Hello Mary Lou, which is much campier. It’s like Carrie meets A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Amy Holden Jones’ essential slasher classic. Girl gang vs. pervert monster with death phallus power drill.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
The best horror sequel of all time, it’s the perfect comedic companion piece to the best horror movie of all time.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017)
I really love this. It’s an atmospheric slow burn set in a girl’s boarding school in the icy, desolate wasteland of upstate NY in February (my homeland). A malevolent presence seeks to exploit a young woman’s loneliness. Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton are all terrific. This is my favorite sort of haunting movie: the narrative is sparse and elusive and the setting and context are abstract and suggestive.
Hardcore. This is a stripped-down, supremely nasty dose of nihilistic clown horror. Practical effects, very little story. What motivates the clown to do such horrible things? Well, his name is Art.
Pretty much everything Mike Flanagan has done is great and this is no exception. There’s been a recent trend of sensory deprivation horror and this is far, far better than most of the other titles. A deaf writer (Kate Siegel) at a house in the woods copes with a home invader. At 82 minutes it’s lean and efficient.
A classic of urban horror. I intend to revisit it myself
Perfect in every way. You’ve probably seen it and you’re probably due for a rewatch. I know I am.
Insidous (2010); The Conjuring (2013)
A couple bangers from James Wan. Haunting done right. Insidious is in the running for scariest PG-13 horror movie of all time. Lin Shaye owns. The Conjuring was quite popular and you’ve probably seen it but if not I highly recommend. Both of these are appropriate for non-genre fans.
The Witch (2015)
This is one of the A24 horror movies that I wholeheartedly defend. The period dialogue is awesome and the movie has a strong sense of atmosphere and setting. Anya Taylor Joy is a great talent and the movie is scary af.
Truth or Dare (2017)
For a Blumhouse movie targeted at teenagers, this pretty much rules. Evil truth or dare.
47 Meters Down (2017)
Underrated Mandy Moore shark horror. This is another rare example of exceptional PG-13 horror. It’s so scary that at one point I screamed a full-on involuntary high-pitched scream.
Train to Busan (2016)
One of the only good non-Romero zombie movies of the 21st century.
The first four movies are absolutely central to the horror canon and essential viewing for anyone interested in the genre.
Part of the peak horror pantheon, absolutely watch it if you haven’t seen it. Clive Barker’s peerless imagination is on full display.
The Beyond (1981)
The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987)
The height of 80’s splatter. Raimi’s maniacal energy is singular.
Stellar 80’s schlock with exquisite practical effects.
Well-done western cannibal horror.
Saw (2004), Saw 2 (2005), Saw 6 (2009)
I Spit on Your Grave (2011); I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013); I Spit on Your Grave 3 (2015)
Not for everyone! I repeat: not for everyone! These are dyed-in-the-wool rape-revenge movies and they are gnarly. The subgenre is not exactly in vogue right now and I completely understand why most people don’t want to put themselves through this sort of thing, but if you do want to put yourself through this sort of thing, you could do much worse than the I Spit on Your Grave extended universe. The original 1978 I Spit on Your Grave features possibly the most disturbing rape scene of all time (calling it a “scene” is perhaps misleading, given that it lasts for nearly half the movie). I was scared to watch it for most of my life and when I finally got around to it earlier this year I found that it lived up to my fears: it’s a horrible masterpiece and it should be approached with maximum caution. The remake and its sequels are far more accessible, but still quite difficult. The 2011 film follows the rough plot of the original; writer Jennifer Hills rents a quiet cabin in the country to work on her new book. She rejects the attention of various townsfolk who seethe with toxic masculinity and eventually group up to brutally attack her in her rental home. She survives despite their best efforts and returns to kill them one-by-one with brutal methods that fit their crimes. The impressive creativity of the kills elevates the movie. The 2013 sequel is quite vile and not nearly as creative. It is to the 2011 film as The Human Centipede 2 is to The Human Centipede. It doubles down on the grime. Like half the movie takes place in a literal sewer. Even a lot of people who would be into the first and third movies should probably skip the second one. But if you want max vileness, go for it. It made me physically nauseous, which is a rare accomplishment. The third one returns to Jennifer Hills, who is now living in a new city under an assumed name. There is no big rape spectacle in the movie. Instead, the action centers around a rape survivor’s support group where Hills bonds with other survivors while struggling with PTSD and ongoing violent fantasies. Harkening back to 1974’s Act of Vengeance (a very ahead of its time movie about a group of survivors who decide the police are worse than useless for rape victims and form their own support squad), it depicts members of the survivor’s group taking matters into their own hands. I think this third movie is especially interesting and unusual. The first half plays like a serious drama about a rape survivor’s group. It’s so sensitive by comparison with typical rape-revenge movies that I started to feel like it wasn’t going to be a rape-revenge movie at all. When the blood did finally start flowing, it genuinely shocked me.