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Horror Movies by the Decade
October 28, 2022
Halloween is this Monday, which means you have all weekend to binge some great horror movies (unless you’re like me and have already been doing that for the last month). But what should you watch? What’s something that might have slipped past you?
GLAD YOU ASKED!
I’ve been wrestling a lot with how I wanted to frame this blog. Should it be 10 great horror movies? Should it be my favorite horror movies? What’s too obvious and what’s too gnarly?
What I ultimately landed on was picking one great horror film from every decade. So you’re about to get 11 spotlighted films along with a ton of other great ones that I’ll mention along the way (for reference my shortlist included over 100). Whichever one I choose to spotlight is not necessarily my favorite from that decade though. Sometimes I just pick something cool that’s a little less seen. Ready? Here we go…
This will be the only silent film on this list because, well, this decade was primarily silent. I understand older films can be a bit of a hurdle for some and that silent films can be an even bigger hurdle but there are some truly terrific films from this decade. The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are two great Lon Chaney classics from this decade. The Swedish film The Phantom Carriage from 1921 may be a bit lighter on the horror side but features incredible effects for the time. This month I got a chance to finally see Häxan, a pseudo-documentary on witchcraft during the middle ages and holds up surprisingly well for a 100-year-old movie, really going hard at superstitions and religion. And of course, I can’t not mention the German expressionist classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Caligari was a close second to the film I decided to choose for this decade. Instead, I’m picking another German expressionist film, Nosferatu. This is one of the earliest adaptations for Dracula, but all names were changed to avoid any kind of copyright issues (even though they were still sued over it). Max Schreck delivers a perfectly creepy performance as Count Orlok. Even if you’ve never seen this, I’m sure you’ve seen images of Schreck’s eerie make-up.
This one was a really tough call to make (you’ll probably read that a lot coming up) because the 1930’s were jam packed with great horror. You’ve got the start of the Universal Monsters in 1931 with Dracula and Frankenstein. I like the latter more than the former. Two years later The Invisible Man hits screens and it’s a delightfully mean film if you’ve never seen it. After Dracula, director Tod Browning also puts out a couple of greats. His film Freaks is a personal favorite of mine (and a career destroying move for him) and The Devil-Doll is a bonkers movie, especially for 1936. There are even some great silent films like Vampyr bleeding into this decade.
But I tried to not overthink this one. My choice for you this Halloween weekend is one of my favorite movies of all time, one of the greatest sequels of all time, and my favorite of the Universal Monsters films: James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. It manages a perfect balance of tragedy, humor, and horror, with a wonderful performance from Boris Karloff as well as Colin Clive and Ernest Thesiger. And while she’s only on screen for minutes, Elsa Lanchester gives us some of the most striking and iconic imagery in horror history.
I’m probably totally wrong on this but this might be the weakest decade in terms of straight up bangers. A lot of the Universal Monsters films are deep in their later sequels even though we do get greats like The Wolf Man and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Plus, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man solidifies the Universal Monsters series as the first major cinematic universe. Some other one-off favorites of mine here are the eerie ghost story, The Uninvited, and a fun anthology called Dead by Night.
Honestly, had The Uninvited been available for streaming I probably would have picked that for this decade. But it isn’t, so I didn’t. Instead I’m going with the Jacques Tourneur directed, Val Lewton produced Cat People. Val Lewton was a little like the Jason Blum of his time and while he’d been bouncing around Hollywood for a while, Cat People was the first film he produced as head of horror for RKO. One of the things that makes this movie so striking is the brilliant use of shadows and playing around with what you don’t see.
There’s a lot of fun happening in the 1950’s. The Hammer horror films kick off with The Quatermass Xperiment, The Curse of Frankenstein, and Dracula (or Horror of Dracula to us in the states). Universal releases their final monstrous member to their Universal Monsters cast with The Creature from the Black Lagoon. We also see Vincent Price’s horror career take off this decade with classics like The Fly, House on Haunted HIll, and The Tingler.
What I picked for this decade is something I had the pleasure of seeing back on the big screen a few months ago. It’s the perfect encapsulation of 50s monster movies and it may seem like a dumb concept but it’s a ton of fun and fully aware of it’s camp. It’s indescribable… It’s indestructible… Nothing can stop it! I’m talking about The Blob. If you’re not already sold, well, it has its own theme song.
From here on out things get really tough. Do I pick the movie that helped change the horror landscape forever like Night of the Dead? Hammer is still going strong with greats like The Brides of Dracula and The Devil Rides Out. Plus, we get Robert Wise’s spooky classic, The Haunting. Carnival of Souls is a psychological nightmare horror movie that I nearly picked for this decade (in other words, watch it if you haven’t).
Instead, I decided to pick two films that fit nicely together (a cheat, I know). These are really the prototypes for slashers as we know them. Peeping Tom and Psycho were released within months of each other and we’re still feeling their influence today. The lesser known of the two, Peeping Tom, is about a man capturing the moment of death with his camera as he murders his victims. It was difficult to find for a while and now is thankfully available on most streaming services. Psycho is of course the Hitchcock classic. What else is there to really say about that one?
How on earth am I supposed to pick one movie from a decade that includes Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist, Alien, Supiria, Black Christmas, Carrie, Dawn of the Dead, Carrie, and The Wicker Man?
Well, I zag and pick something less obvious like a silly Vincent Price movie called Theatre of Blood. Now, if you haven’t seen some of the heavy hitters above, get it together and go watch some of those. But if you have, this movie is a delight. Price plays a disgraced shakespearean stage actor who gets revenge on theater critics in fun, outlandish ways. This is perfect, over-the-top Vincent Price, who is clearly having a grand time.
(Okay, so I was all ready to submit this blog and decided that I can’t do a blog about movies to watch on Halloween weekend in good conscience without giving Halloween more than an offhanded mention. This movie is an absolute masterpiece that shifted horror in a pretty big way. Michael Myers is a force of evil that comes after where you live. You didn’t need to go to a spooky motel or backwoods cabin for horror. Your quiet little suburban home was no longer safe either. And it still holds up today. If you’ve never seen it, stop reading this and go watch it now.)
Are you tired of me saying at the start of every new decade how many great horror movies there are to choose from? Too bad, because the 80’s were awesome! The slasher genre was thriving with Halloween sequels (Season of the Witch is perfection), A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels (Dream Warriors rules), Friday the 13th and its sequels (Part 4 is a favorite of mine), and lesser known ones like Happy Birthday to Me and Pieces. We also get some of my favorites like Poltergeist, Killer Klowns of Outer Space, The Return of the Living Dead, An American Werewolf in London, Creepshow, and The Evil Dead (one of my top two favorites of all time). This decade is PACKED.
For my spotlight this decade I’m choosing the beginning of another long running series that’s still going strong: Child’s Play. What feels especially unique about this franchise is how original screenwriter Don Mancini has been involved with every entry of the franchise and it still remains in a singular continuity. He’s written all seven entries of the series and directed the last three. He’s even behind the TV show that started last year (which is also a blast). Whether you’ve never seen this because you’re terrified of dolls or think the concept is too goofy, I think you’ll be surprised by how simultaneously fun and mean this movie is. And of course you can’t mention this series without shouting out the terrific performance from Brad Dourif (who’s also still with the franchise).
There are some pretty big horror shifts this year. Scream released in 1996 and brought a new self-awareness to the genre. A lot of films after were either trying to imitate Kevin Williamson’s writing or just hired him like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Halloween H20 (which he basically just did a treatment for) did. Then in 1999, The Blair Witch Project releases and kick-started the found footage boom. This decade we also got Guillermo del Toro’s feature debut, Cronos, another franchise starter with Tremors, and some great sequels like Bride of Chucky and The Exorcist III.
But the spotlight this decade goes to Peter Jackson. Yes, that Peter Jackson. Before helming one of the biggest film adaptations ever, he was best known for making weird schlock horror. While his use of special effects in The Frighteners is what helped him get ready for the Rings gig, I’m recommending you track down a copy of Braindead (titled Dead Alive here in the states). This is a silly, extra gooey, and gory flick about a woman bitten by a rat-monkey that starts a zombie outbreak. It at one point held the record for most amount of fake blood used in a film with its climatic lawnmower scene using 80 gallons. This is probably the hardest film to trackdown that I’ve spotlighted but it’s well worth it. You’ll never want to eat custard again.
Now you might have made it this far and are thinking, “Surely he’s going to picture Trick ‘r Treat for the 2000s? How is he not picking holiday themed movies for this list?” And I probably should. But I should also probably pick The Descent, Shaun of the Dead, Thirst, The House of the Devil, Saw, Drag Me to Hell, The Devil’s Rejects, Session 9, Inside, The Orphanage, or Let the Right One In. But I didn’t. Deal with it.
Instead, I’m picking the next great use of the found footage format, [Rec]. A news reporter is covering the night shift of a fire department where their call results in them getting locked into a building under quarantine. This thing is a lean, mean, terrifying machine.
My last two spotlights have been pretty gory and even a little mean. So I’m thinking for this decade we’ll go with something a little lighter. That means nothing upsetting like Hereditary or Midsommar. That means nothing quite as gnarly as Green Room or Bone Tomahawk. That means nothing quite so full of dread as The Witch, Suspiria, or The Sacrament. That also means not picking a movie that’s basically rated R just for how scary it is like The Conjuring. So will I pick something fun like Happy Death Day or What We Do in the Shadows? No, not those either.
While all of those are great, I’m picking two other movies with similar set-ups (yeah, I’m cheating again this decade). I’m giving you two movies about a person being brought into a messed up family where things go awry. For You’re Next, it’s a woman showing up to her boyfriend’s family reunion that gets disrupted by a home invasion. In Ready or Not, it’s a wedding where the new bride gets stuck playing a deadly game of hide and seek. Man, big families are a mess.
Sure, we’ve barely got three years to choose from here but there’s already a nice collection of greats to choose from. This year has been a great year for horror movies. We’ve seen Nope, Barbarian, Resurrection, Men, X, and Pearl (man, Ti West is back and hitting ‘em out of the park in the same year). But even when the world being shut down for two years, we got new movies like Last Night in Soho, Freaky, Possessor, The Night House, and Saint Maud.
But one director changed the game with Saw in 2004, changed it again in 2013 with The Conjuring, and maybe changed it again (doubtful but I love this movie so darn much) in 2021. I’m talking, of course, about James Wan’s Malignant, a truly insane ride of a movie. Cashing in his Aquaman check, Wan set out to make the kind of movie you’d find on the back shelves of the video store. From the opening scene, this thing plants its flag as camp central. But it’s camp done through a master filmmaker like Wan. If you haven’t seen it, go in knowing nothing else about it and just strap in.
We hope you’ve found enough horror movies to check out during your Halloween weekend. I did my best to showcase a diverse selection of movies, wrestling way too long for something so trivial. We’ll be back next week with our usual blog content. There you’ll get helpful marketing tips. And if you ever want to discuss those, you can always reach out to us here.
Let’s BOO This!