13 Days of Halloween: Day Two

Today I’d like to discuss some of my favorite horror films from the 1970’s and 1980’s. These were my formative years, and these are the movies that made a huge impression on my young mind. I don’t much care for modern horror, which is all too often just torture porn or soggy creepy kids. Here’s my top thirteen list from that golden (to me, anyway) era (which is different from last year’s list, which was my top ten horror films of all time)…

  • The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) / Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972). I’m counting these two films as one, and this is definitely a gruesome twosome. Vincent Price is the titular Doctor Phibes, who is first murdering the surgical team that allowed his wife to die on the operating table, and then murdering members of an archaeological expedition in Egypt in order to bring his wife back to life. While he, himself, has no face and is able to concoct murderously ingenious deathtraps for his victims. 
  • Theater of Blood (1973). Vincent Price is a maniacal actor who is taking revenge on the critics who snubbed him for a prestigious award by killing them in imaginative ways relating to Shakespeare’s plays. 
  • Black Christmas (1974). Psychopath is killing a bunch of sorority girls alone over Christmas break. Creates a terrific atmosphere of suspense throughout.
  • The Omen (1976). You don’t need to believe in the Bible to find Damien creepy, especially when the people around him who get to nosy start to die in various… accidents. I actually really like the next two films in the series, too; Omen 4 loses me, though.
  • Halloween (1978). This film is all about building tension. Even the most innocuous of scenes is made scary by that terrific music that John Carpenter wrote for the film. It’s only in the last half hour or so that the killing really starts, and even then there’s not a lot of gore (unlike the later films in the series).
  • Alien (1979). This is one of the best horror films ever made, that just happens to be set on a spaceship in the future. The claustrophobic atmosphere is perfect, the alien menacing and shadowy, and the acting is terrific. Yaffet Koto is probably my favorite member of the crew.
  • When a Stranger Calls (1979). Yeah, once you know the punchline, it sort of ruins the effect, but you can say the same thing about Psycho. Terrific atmosphere, and Carol Kane (whom I best know as Simka– Latka’s girlfriend from Taxi) was absolutely wonderful as the isolated, vulnerable babysitter. 
  • Terror Train (1980). This really was little more than a way to glom onto the slasher-movie boom that Halloween unleashed, and even had Jamie Lee Curtis in pretty much the same role/different name as she had had. But I still find it holds up well; the isolation of the train, the messing with identies enabled by the costumes, and a very unexpected twist at the end all combine to make a very effective slasher movie.
  • Motel Hell (1980). Farmer Vincent and his sister are creepy enough, but it turns out they intentionally wreck motorists and bury them up to their necks in the garden, sever their vocal cords so they can’t speak, and then break their necks with a tractor before turning them into sausages. Yup, great stuff for a 14 year old.
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981). I love this movie because it’s so much more than just a werewolf movie. There’s ghosts, and zombies, and all sorts of other stuff thrown in there. The special effects are great, and it’s one of those generational movies that everybody grew up seeing. 
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Perfect, just perfect. In the first film in the series especially, they really nail the dreamscape; I’ve actually had that dream where I try to run up the stairs, and my feet sink into them, so I can’t move. Wise-cracking Freddy is sinister as one would expect. 
  • The Howling (1981). This is my perfect werewolf movie. It starts off as a serial killer film, but then we find out not only that the killer is a werewolf, but he comes from a whole colony of lycanthropes. Patrick Macnee is terrific as the leader/doctor, as you might expect. Very urbane, but with a hint of menace just under the surface.

What? No Friday the 13th? Nope. Didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

2 thoughts on “13 Days of Halloween: Day Two

  1. Motel Hell! That was legendary among my friends. Some of the others were staples on the Channel 7 4:30 movie (they had devil week with Omen, Sentinel etc.)

Comments are closed.