It’s the time of the season when everybody starts trotting out their lists of favorite horror movies. I’ve tried doing those in the past, and maybe one day I’ll try an exhaustive one again, but this year I was just thinking about the problem with those lists, which is that they’re always populated by the same bunch of movies. The classics are classics for a reason, after all, and chances are they’re going to fill anybody’s list of favorites. So this year, I thought I’d focus on a few of my favorite horror movies that probably wouldn’t normally make anybody’s top-ten list. Are these the best movies out there? Probably not. Are they even my favorites? Maybe a few. But they’re all movies I love, and they’re all movies that tend to get forgotten. So here they are, in descending order by release date, to prevent me from having to pick favorites:
13. House of Wax (2005)
I am as surprised as anyone to have liked the 2005 remake of House of Wax. It’s really, really outside my wheelhouse, and while I’m admittedly a little obsessed with wax museum stories, that really shouldn’t be enough to get it a place on my DVD shelf, or on this list. But as I said at greater length around this time last year, it’s just surprisingly good. Director Jaume Collet-Serra brings a giallo approach and a Gothic sensibility to what is basically a backwoods slasher flick, and manages to come out the other side with a movie that I like way more than I probably should.
12. Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
Is it a horror movie? A martial arts film? A costume drama? It’s all of the above, and probably a little more besides. Brotherhood of the Wolf is one of those movies that hits almost all of my obsessions. It’s what would have happened if the weird martial arts Gothics like Captain Kronos (later on my list) had become an actual genre, and it manages to be even weirder by explaining away the seeming monster than it would have been had there actually been a werewolf or something, which is a feat not easily accomplished!
11. Night of the Creeps (1986)
Of all the movies on this list, this is probably the one that you’re most likely to see on some other favorite horror movie list, but I don’t see it on enough of them, so here it is anyway. Monster Squad director Fred Dekker’s first feature, and a movie that just gets better and better every time I watch it.
10. The Stuff (1985)
Hands down the best movie about killer yogurt that you will ever see!
9. Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
John Carpenter does his best Hitchcock in this surprisingly effective–and charming–made-for-TV thriller.
8. Piranha (1978)
Any number of Joe Dante movies could probably go onto any list of my favorites, but Piranha holds a special place in my heart, and is nowhere near as well-regarded as other favorites like Gremlins 2. There are a lot of reasons why I love Piranha, but to sum it up in just a few words: unnecessary stop-motion fishman!
7. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)
I love all Hammer films, pretty much without exception. Any list of my favorite films could almost always include all of them, and the only reason they don’t is usually because I’m incapable of picking favorites. When it comes to weird movies that I absolutely love, though, Captain Kronos is a special case. One of the most unusual vampire movies ever made, it’s also full of absolutely beautiful touches. My favorite is the part about the toads!
6. It! (1967)
Roddy McDowall does his best Norman Bates–while also sort of feeling like a Lovecraft protagonist–as a museum curator who stumbles upon a golem and uses it to do his bidding, in the second film in our lineup with an exclamation point in the title! There aren’t enough golem movies out there to begin with, so any one we get is a gem, and this one is a gem of unusual luster. It starts out pretty strange, and gets a lot stranger before the final credits roll.
5. The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
Though not actually based on anything by Edgar Allan Poe, Comedy of Terrors certainly belongs in the same spiritual company as the Corman/Price/Poe films of which it is a contemporary. While a lot of Halloween lists do (and should) include great Corman/Price/Poe films like Pit and the Pendulum (my personal favorite), Comedy of Terrors is often unjustly overlooked. Which is a shame, because it is fantastic. Boasting a cast that includes Price, Peter Lorre, a hilarious Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone, with a script by Richard Matheson and the great Jacques Tourneur behind the camera, Comedy of Terrors isn’t exactly a horror film (as the title might suggest), but it’s a perfect flick for a rainy October evening.
4. Matango (1963)
It should be pretty obvious that I love fungus monsters, and if I could convince everyone in the world to watch one movie that they’ve probably never seen, it would be Matango, also known by the wonderfully lurid titles Attack of the Mushroom People and Fungus of Terror.
3. The Undying Monster (1942)
The first–and least–of three suspense flicks that John Brahm made for Fox in the 40s and that are available in this great collection. The other two are better regarded and, frankly, just better films. Hangover Square, in particular, is a masterpiece. But The Undying Monster is my unquestioned favorite, sending a host of arrows straight to my heart. There are paranormal investigators, a supernatural mystery, and little almost M.R. Jamesian touches with the family history and curse. It also boasts what might be the most delightfully ridiculous of all the “rational explanation” endings that plagued the movies of the time.
2. Doctor X (1932)
One of only a few movies filmed in two-strip technicolor, there has never been a movie that felt more like the cover of a pulp novel than Doctor X. The pre-code storyline involves cannibalism, mad scientists, “synthetic flesh,” a big creepy house on the cliffs, and just about everything else you could ask for. It’s like a Richard Sala comic come screaming to life!
1. The Old Dark House (1932)
Quite simply one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve talked about it over and over again, going as far as writing an introduction for the novel it’s adapted from, so I’ll refrain from talking about it here. The whole thing is available on YouTube, so if you haven’t watched it before, you should do that tonight: