I wrote this article for Blogger News Network back on 9/29/08. I still think this list is a lot of fun!
Monster movies have fascinated me for over fifty years. As with anything else, there are, of course, good ones and bad ones, and in this genre, many produced in very poor taste. Some aficionados of the genre prefer those films that are heavy on the scare and light on the gore, and my tastes certainly fall within that category. As every October rolls around, I eagerly look forward to seeing the spate of horror flicks traipsed out by the cable channels, hoping this year that they will have discovered good taste. The sixty-two films listed here represent the best overview of the more tasteful classics for you to view over the course of the thirty-one nights of October.
This is an eclectic collection that ignores a few genres such as bloody slash-o-ramas and repeated sequels, but includes many B-movies that have received acclaim for their creators’ imaginations. A few notable writers, directors, and actors, especially those from famous television series, have been listed. The list is in release date order: if an exact date is included, it is to differentiate this order. Two run times are listed wherever two versions of the film have been released. All official information listed should be credited to Amazon and its sister site, the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com). NA means the film is not available directly from Amazon as of September 2008. You may very well locate the film for rent or elsewhere. Certainly many of them are occasionally shown on television. Find a partner to squeeze during the scary parts and let the fun begin!
Dracula (February 1931 / 75 minutes / $22 Special Edition) – Bela Lugosi discovers his calling.
King Kong (April 1933 / 100 & 104 minutes / $10) – Giant monkey love sells well during The Great Depression.
The Wolf Man (December 1941 / 70 minutes / $18) – Lon Chaney, Jr., Ralph Bellamy, Claude Rains, & Bela Lugosi – The old gypsy tells her tale and America is never the same again.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (March 1943 / 74 minutes / $13) – This began the monster-meets-monster genre that we have become so familiar with today. The most unusual thing about this film is that Bela Lugosi is playing Frankenstein’s monster instead of Dracula.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (June 1948 / 83 minutes / $15) – Bela Lugosi & Lon Chaney, Jr. – This feature opened the door to a string of A/C scream fests. This one has the honor of including Frankie, Dracula, and The Wolf Man.
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (August 1953 / 76 minutes / NA) – Boris Karloff & Craig Stevens of Peter Gunn – This is one of those kid movies that I just cannot seem to get enough of: Costello steals the show, of course.
Godzilla (April 1956 / 80 minutes / $15) – The original Japanese version was released in 1954. Scenes shot in L.A. with Raymond Burr of Perry Mason were added to the version released in the U.S. in 1956.
The Werewolf (July 1956 / 79 minutes / $20 w/three other films) – This is the matinee that first showed me what a monster movie was. It’s not that great a movie, but it has stuck with me for a long time.
I Was a Teenage Werewolf (June 1957 / 76 minutes / NA) – Michael Landon of Bonanza & Little House on the Prairie – Landon’s beard was a lot messier and his teeth were awful in this teenage scream fest. I found it to be considerably scarier than The Werewolf.
Queen of Outer Space (September 7, 1958 / 80 minutes / $13) – Zsa Zsa Gabor – The DVD is available at Amazon with surprisingly outstanding reviews. She was the queen, all right, and she was hardly old enough to slap a cop in this campy sci-fi romp.
The Blob (September 12, 1958 / 82 minutes / $30) – Steve McQueen – What? There are no motorcycles in this picture? No cars, either? Did the Jolly Green Giant knock over his ketchup bottle?
The Killer Shrews (1959 / 69 minutes) – These shrews are a lot bigger than mice.
The Giant Gila Monster (1959 / 74 minutes) – The title says it all. These two were originally released together as a B&W, double-feature matinee in 1959 (no month of release is available). Both are now available at Amazon as a $13 package of both movies in both B&W and colorized versions on two DVD’s.
House on Haunted Hill (February 1959 / 75 minutes / $11) – Directed by William Castle – Vincent Price – William Castle knew how to make teens jump out of their seats with carefully crafted plots and simple B&W sets.
The Tingler (July 1959 / 82 minutes / $9) – Directed by William Castle - Vincent Price & Darryl Hickman of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis – What made this movie special was the unusually original nature of the monster and a few of its special plot details.
Psycho (June 1960 / 109 minutes / $20 Special Edition) – Directed by Alfred Hitchcock – Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles & Janet Leigh – Jamie Lee’s mom learns the danger of a shower.
Homicidal (June 1961 / 87 minutes / NA) – Directed by William Castle - Glenn Corbett from Route 66 – William Castle may have taken a rear seat in the theatre behind Hitchcock, but he certainly knew how to entertain us!
Black Sunday (February 1961 / 83 minutes / $8) – Barbara Steele of the 1991 Dark Shadows series – The restored version of this Italian classic is currently available with 78 outstanding reviews for the new DVD release at Amazon. I knew from the very first scene that this is what vampires and witches were all about. If you choose to watch only one pre-Dracula ’79 vampire movie, this should be it.
Pit and the Pendulum (August 1961 / 80 minutes / $10) – Directed by Roger Corman – Screenplay by Richard Matheson – Vincent Price & Barbara Steele – This one was selected from the slate of movies produced by the same crew because it features Barbara Steele and the plot is one of the more memorable of this group.
The Raven (January 1963 / 86 minutes / NA) – Directed by Roger Corman – Screenplay by Richard Matheson – Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff & Jack Nicholson – This is one of the more unusual storylines shown by this crew in The Sixties.
The Birds (March 1963 / 119 minutes / $15) – Directed by Alfred Hitchcock – Tippi Hedren (Melanie Griffith’s mom), Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, & Suzanne Pleshette of The Bob Newhart Show – This seemed at the time to be the first attempt at the release of a truly A-rated (as opposed to B-movie) monster or horror film. Shot in color with big-name stars, this film introduced an idea that would later be extrapolated upon by Stephen King: create the monster from some benign entity in our everyday lives.
The Tomb of Ligeia (January 1965 / 81 minutes / $13) – Directed by Roger Corman - Vincent Price – This is the film in this Sixties series that is most often overlooked, but I have always felt it was the queen of the crop. It’s not so much monstrous and scary as it is unusually engrossing and carefully detailed. Like the last three movies on this list, Ligeia is as much a love story as it is a fright fest.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (January 1968 / TV / 120 minutes / $13) – Jack Palance – This is the best version of the classic Stevenson tale you will see on any size screen.
Rosemary’s Baby (June 1968 / 136 minutes / $7) – Written by Ira Levin – Screenplay by Roman Polanski – Mia Farrow – This film carried the A-grade horror movie to the next level, and made Mia Farrow a star and Roman Polanski a celebrity.
The Night Stalker (January 1972 / TV / 74 minutes / $10) – Written by Richard Matheson – Darren McGavin of Riverboat, Claude Akins of Murder, She Wrote, & Larry Linville of M*A*S*H – Has there ever been a better attempt made by a television movie to rival theatrical releases in the traditional monster movie genre? This movie pilot of the television series was actually scary!
The Girl Most Likely to… (November 6, 1973 / TV / 73 minutes / $10) – Written by Joan Rivers - Stockard Channing from The West Wing & Ed Asner from The Mary Tyler Moore Show & Lou Grant – This is such an unusual and little-known movie that I had to include it here. A homely young woman is mistreated horribly in a social context by a number of men she dates. After plastic surgery improves (and changes) her appearance, she hunts them down and kills them, each in a deliciously appropriate manner.
Frankenstein: The True Story (November 30, 1973 / TV / 182 minutes / $15) – James Mason, Michael Sarrazin, David McCallum of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Jane Seymour of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman & Agnes Moorehead of Bewitched – This is the best, most realistic expression of the monster classic.
The Exorcist (December 1973 / 122 & 132 minutes / $12) – Written by William Peter Blatty – Directed by William Friedkin - Linda Blair & Ellen Burstyn – We all know this movie redefined the word blockbuster. Who would ever have thought that people would stand in line to buy advanced tickets to see green vomit in a matinee?
Scream of the Wolf (January 1974 / TV / 78 minutes / NA) – Screenplay by Richard Matheson – Peter Graves of Fury and Mission Impossible & Clint Walker of Cheyenne – The appeal of this movie is mostly to see a pair of legendary primetime heroes of The Sixties act in a monster movie in which one of them is probably the villain.
Dracula (February 1974 / TV / 100 minutes / $13) – Jack Palance – screenplay by Richard Matheson – Jack Palance brings another classic performance to television.
The Stepford Wives (February 1975 / TV / 115 minutes / $13) – Written by Ira Levin (author of Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil, & No Time for Sergeants) – Katherine Ross, Paula Prentiss of He & She & Tina Louise of Gilligan’s Island – Don’t let that silly, trashy, theatrical remake of this television classic spoil your appetite for robotic women.
Jaws (June 1975 / 124 minutes / $10) – Directed by Steven Spielberg – Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss & Robert Shaw – I went swimming in the ocean off the Florida coast the day after watching Jaws in its first run, so what else is new? It never ages.
The Omen (June 1976 / 111 minutes / $15) – Gregory Peck & Lee Remick – The 2006 remake sucks, but this original was one of the better early attempts at making a horror movie for adults.
Carrie (November 1976 / 98 minutes / $11) – Written by Stephen King – Directed by Brian De Palma – Sissy Spacek, Nancy Allen, Amy Irving & John Travolta – The word is that Tabitha fished the manuscript out of the trash where Stephen had thrown it, and the rest is celebrity millionaire history.
King Kong (December 1976 / 134 minutes / $10) – Jeff Bridges plays the stowaway scientist hero, Jessica Lange gets a new boyfriend with big muscles, Charles Grodin calls for the mosquito spray, and Rene Aberjonois is the same pompous jackass as he is on Benson & Boston Legal.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (August 1977 / 91 minutes / $10) – Jodie Foster & Martin Sheen of The West Wing – Teenaged Jodie plays a youngster who is acting as an adult after she has murdered her parents and buried them in the basement.
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (January 1978 / TV / 300 minutes / NA) – Written by Thomas Tryon – Bette Davis, Rosanna Arquette, Rene Auberjonois, Donald Pleasence, & Tracey Gold of Growing Pains – This is simply the best currently unavailable movie on this list. Watch it if you can find it anywhere because it’s one of the best movies ever made for television. For some reason, the movie version of Thomas Tryon’s first book, The Other, is more commonly available, but in my opinion, Harvest Home is by far the better book and movie.
Halloween (October 25, 1978 / 91 & 101 minutes / $11) – Jamie Lee Curtis & Donald Pleasence – If only all slasher movies were as good as this one. Like mother, like daughter!
Alien (May 1979 / 117 minutes / $15) – Directed by Ridley Scott – Sigourney Weaver & Tom Skerritt – Like the legendary episode in which the M*A*S*H producers write off Colonel Blake, the actors in the ship’s crew were not aware exactly how the baby alien was going to make his appearance. This movie shot monster movies into the next dimension!
Dracula (July 1979 / 109 minutes / $10) – Frank Langella & Laurence Olivier – This one was a very successful play first, and the quality of the production, dialog, and soundtrack shine throughout.
The Shining (May 1980 / 146 minutes / $10) – Written by Stephen King – Directed by Stanley Kubrick – Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall & Scatman Crothers – Everybody in it should have received an Oscar.
Altered States (December 1980 / 102 minutes / $8) – Written by Paddy Chayefsky – Directed by Ken Russell – William Hurt, Blair Brown of The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid of Hill Street Blues & Drew Barrymore – This is an outstanding psychedelic psychodrama, and I think it is Ken Russell’s most accessible work. Surprisingly, the monster movie element of Altered States is my least favorite thing about it. Drugs and silence in the tank, yes, monkeys climbing out, no, is my vote.
The Howling (April 1981 / 91 minutes / $11) – Screenplay by John Sayles – Directed by Joe Dante – Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, & Patrick Macnee of The Avengers – Don’t bother reading any of The Howling series of books because they all suck, as do all the movie sequels, but if you can see only one werewolf movie, this must be the one! The editing is tight, the soundtrack is excellent, the acting is clever, and of course, Rob Bottin raised the bar for all future monster movies. One little bit of trivia: the story goes that Spielberg liked Dee Wallace in The Howling so much that he launched her career as a movie soccer mom by casting her in E.T.
Wolfen (July 1981 / 115 minutes / $10) – Written by Whitley Strieber – Albert Finney & Gregory Hines – The book is one of the best of its genre. The movie version fails to include certain details that make the book so fascinating, but it’s still a winner.
An American Werewolf in London (August 1981 / 97 minutes / $7) – Written & Directed by John Landis – I have never liked this werewolf production as much as some do, but it is no doubt one of the best of its genre. I like the beginning and ending much better than the middle. If you like watching the dead friend deteriorate, then you might even enjoy the middle.
Poltergeist (June 4, 1982 / 114 minutes / $10) – Written by Steven Spielberg – Directed by Tobe Hooper – Craig T. Nelson of Coach, JoBeth Williams & Beatrice Straight – With big names and top production everywhere, this is the best movie about a haunting of anything.
The Thing (June 25, 1982 / 109 minutes / $10) – Directed by John Carpenter – Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley of Our House & Richard Masur of One Day at a Time – This movie made the list mostly because I like it better than John Carpenter’s other works. Horror fans seem to be divided concerning the quality and value of this remake.
The Hunger (April 1983 / 97 minutes / $15) – Written by Whitley Strieber - Directed by Tony Scott - Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie & Susan Sarandon – Strieber’s follow-up to Wolfen is weaker in both book and movie versions, but the star power is interesting. If only the rest of the movie held up to the level of the stunning opening, the opinions would probably be very different. The excitement of the tightly edited visuals and spunky Bauhaus tune deteriorates into a slow and loosely edited film.
Cujo (August 1983 / 91 minutes / $10) – Written by Stephen King – Dee Wallace & Christopher Stone – I had to pick one of the many Stephen King scripts about an otherwise commonplace and benign entity becoming a monster. Cujo happens to be my favorite of the bunch, although some of you may find a clown or an old Plymouth more frightening.
Body Double (October 1984 / 114 minutes / $11) – Directed by Brian De Palma – Craig Wasson & Melanie Griffith – I think this is one of the great unheralded thrillers of our time, and certainly DePalma’s best effort after Carrie.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (November 1984 / 91 minutes / $13) – Directed by Wes Craven – Robert Englund, John Saxon of Falcon Crest, & Johnny Depp – This is Wes Craven at his best, far more original than the many teenage stabbings of the Friday the 13th series. This one brought nightmares to life and made Robert Englund something of a household name.
Fright Night (August 1985 / 106 minutes / $9) – Chris Sarandon & Roddy McDowall – This may be just another vampire story plotline, but it is the best of its very specific genre.
Silver Bullet (October 1985 / 95 minutes / $8) – Written by Stephen King – Gary Busey, Corey Haim, & Everett McGill of Twin Peaks – Based on a story I have read, but few others have, entitled Cycle of the Werewolf, this is a case in which the movie is better than the book. The magic is derived from the story being told from the viewpoint of two kids, and of course, Busey is perfectly cast as the wild and crazy uncle the kids love.
Aliens (July 1986 / 137 & 154 minutes / $18) – Directed by James Cameron – Sigourney Weaver, Paul Reiser of Mad About You & Bill Paxton of Big Love – Most of us already know that the full level of scares, gunfire, and suspense crammed into this quite exceptional sequel is enough for anyone in one night!
Manhunter (August 1986 / 119 & 124 minutes / $13) – Written by Thomas Harris – Directed by Michael Mann – William Petersen of CSI & Dennis Farina of Law & Order – This little-known work should have launched William Petersen, Michael Mann, and Thomas Harris into household name status, but we all know it took the sinister mask of Anthony Hopkins to bring Manhunter to the attention of most of the public. I know you’ve seen The Red Dragon remake, but you need to see this one, too. It’s somewhat different, and probably better, easily one of the best movies on this list.
Werewolf (July 1987 / TV /90 minutes / NA) – John J. York, Lance LeGault, & Chuck Connors of The Rifleman – This is the pilot movie of what I view as Fox Network’s first attempt at a high-quality, imaginative series. Of course it was totally eclipsed by The X-Files, but that’s another story. Watch this one if you haven’t already and can find it. It’s a nice concept: the werewolf is the hero, and I positively love the music. It’s like every time the werewolf appears on screen, MTV took over the production studio.
Near Dark (October 1987 / 94 minutes / $10) – Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen & Jenette Goldstein – Some of the bug hunt crew from Aliens go after vampires in West Texas. The Tangerine Dream soundtrack is especially good.
The Serpent and The Rainbow (February 1988 / 98 minutes / $12) – Directed by Wes Craven – Bill Pullman – I felt I had to include at least one zombie film or I would receive a deluge of complaints from the undead. I am obviously not a zombie fan, but this one particularly gives me the cooties, and I mean that in a good way.
The Silence of the Lambs (February 1991 / 118 minutes / $15) – Written by Thomas Harris – Directed by Jonathan Demme - Anthony Hopkins & Jodie Foster – How could I not include the movie that made an already established, serious, English actor a household name? Although this is the favorite of most fans of the series, I clearly like Manhunter better. I guess I am somewhat more fascinated by The Tooth Fairy and his blind girlfriend than I am by a cannibal.
Dracula (November 1992 / 128 minutes / $11) – Directed by Francis Ford Coppola - Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves & Winona Ryder – I have to admit that this is my favorite movie of the whole list. Although I have never been a fan of Italian opera, this thing thunders through my screen like a snarling pack of wolves chasing a tragic couple who are deeply in love. Did I mention Gary Oldman’s hairdo and Winona’s boobs? If you’re looking for great acting, watch The Shining. If you want to grip the arms of your chair, watch Aliens. If you want to be blown away by a soundtrack, awed by elaborate sets, and wallow in the depth of a supernatural love affair, this is your movie.
Wolf (June 1994 / 125 minutes / $9) – Directed by Mike Nichols - Jack Nicholson, James Spader & Michelle Pfeiffer – This is a werewolf movie for adults in general and for people who normally don’t like monster movies in particular.
Interview with the Vampire (November 1994 / 123 minutes / $14) – Written by Anne Rice – Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater & Kirsten Dunst – I have to admit that I am a huge Anne Rice fan. I have even read some of her lengthy tomes twice. This surprisingly is one of my less favorite of her Vampire Chronicles, but it is the only one made into a movie from a screenplay she wrote, and that makes all the difference in the world. This is a high-quality production from any standpoint, and all vampire fans should most certainly see it.