By the pricking of our thumbs, something wicked this way comes.
Halloween approaches and there is no better way to celebrate the spookiest of all holidays than with a scary movie, the cornerstone of any ghoulishly good time.
Now, you really don't need anyone to tell you that "The Exorcist," "Psycho" and "The Shining" are classics of the horror oeuvre. Heck, you're probably the kind of fear aficionado who knows your "Pan's Labyrinth" from your "Poltergeist," your "Silence of the Lambs" from your "Suspiria." And if you're anything like us (read: die-hard gore hounds) you have already sniffed out all the new contenders, from "Insidious 2" to the "Carrie" remake.
But you might not know that "Let the Right One In," "High Tension" and "Black Christmas" are some of the most memorable movies in the horror movie genre.
That's why we've come up with this list of 13 essential if lesser-known films in the canon. These are under-the-radar gems that will give even the staunchest viewer goose bumps. Some are a little campy, others arty, but they are all unforgettable in their own gasp-inducing way. Call it a connoisseur's guide to the creeps. Here are 13 horror movies you need to know.
"Black Christmas" (1974): Forget "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" -- this earlier offering is truly the most important and influential slasher film of all time. It's also arguably the best. "Black Christmas," which predated "Halloween" by four years, wrote the rule book for the modern-day slasher flick. It's a tale of a group of college coeds being stalked by an insane killer -- a plot that, through the years, has become oh-so cliche. Yet, "Black Christmas" has aged remarkably well and still delivers the creeps like few other films. Ironically, it was directed by Bob Clark, who would go on to spin an entirely different kind of holiday classic with 1983's "A Christmas Story."
"Eaten Alive" (1977): Every boy should have a pet. And Judd (played with maniacal glee by Neville Brand) definitely has one -- a pet alligator, which lives in a swamp by his hotel. You definitely want to pay your bill if you stay at Judd's place, otherwise you might end up as an alligator snack. In retrospect, Judd probably got into the wrong line of work, since he makes Norman Bates look like a kind, benevolent and utterly sane proprietor. This is one disturbing gem of a film, handled in wacko fashion by the great "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" director Tobe Hooper.
"Sleepaway Camp" (1983): Following the success of 1980's "Friday the 13th," a seemingly endless stream of teen-campers-get-mutilated flicks hit theaters. Most were cookie-cutter efforts -- but not "Sleepaway Camp." This cult classic follows the regular storyline -- teen campers do things they shouldn't do, then pay for it with their lives -- but does so in a way that feels entirely fresh and novel. It keeps viewers guessing. And, most likely, they'll guess wrong -- since "Sleepaway Camp" offers one of the most memorable twist endings in horror film history.
"Cemetery Man" (1994): This stylish Italian import directed by Michele Soavi (a student of the great Dario Argento) is one of the sexiest horror movies ever made. Studly Rupert Everett stars as the title character, Dellamorte Dellamore, a man who sees tending the cemetery, and keeping the undead at bay, as his life's work. His passion for ossuaries is only matched by his lust for a mysterious woman (Anna Falchi) who seems to keep being reborn in different forms, all of whom have the hots for him. Our buff hero must match wits with zombies, reapers and other graveyard ghouls with the help of his grunting sidekick Gnaghi. Based on the 1991 novel by Tiziano Sclavi, this movie is as existential and witty as it is steamy and the ending will leave you breathless.
"The Dentist" (1996): Don't let the title fool you, there's real horror to be found in this "Dentist"'s chair. The film stars Corbin Bernsen as Dr. Alan Feinstone, a once-tireless crusader in the war against tooth decay who becomes unglued after learning that his wife is having an affair. And an angry Dr. Feinstone is definitely not the person you want poking around your mouth. Brian Yuzna directed "The Dentist" -- and fans of his bloody, twisted "Re-Animator" series certainly won't be disappointed by this underrated offering. Let's just say that this is the last film you should show someone who is already afraid of going to see the dentist.
"High Tension" (2003): This French film definitely lives up to its name. "High Tension" is absolutely relentless in its approach, making nearly every scene feel like a true life-or-death moment. Some viewers might literally have to pause the film just to catch their breath. The storyline deals with a mysterious killer who attacks a family in a farm house -- pretty standard fare for the genre. Yet, unlike with most other horror films, the violence and scenario just feel so real in "High Tension."
"Frostbite" (2006): Move over "Twilight," this is the ultimate in kick-ass teenage vampire romps. Anders Banke dished out this cheeky Swedish mashup of horror tropes and comic pranks -- complete with hard-partying Goth girls, revenge-happy Nazis, mad scientists and spooky polar night tableaus. With a month until dawn breaks, there's no curfew on the massacre, until our heroine Saga (Grete Havneskold) comes to town. An underrated gem that nicely mixes laughs and scares, plus an ending that will shock and satisfy.
"Teeth" (2007): Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a devout Christian who has pledged chastity, until life happens. A wonderfully tart feminist tale, this cheeky teen sex comedy takes a bite out of religious zealotry and patriarchy. That's a fancy way of saying that our heroine has a secret weapon when it comes to men who try to force themselves on her. Could it her genetic mutation have something to do with the local nuclear power plant? Or is it just evolution's way of shifting the balance of power in society? Provocative questions abound in this saucy satire, which combines gender deconstruction with gross-out body-part humor and gore. Also stars John Hensley of "Nip/Tuck" fame as Dawn's stepbrother Brad.
"The Orphanage" (2007): A mother's (the captivating Belen Rueda) undying love for her vulnerable, adopted son leads her back to the orphanage where she was raised. There, alas, the lad starts meeting imaginary friends who lead the family to a mystery, a seance (conducted by Geraldine Chaplin no less) and a sinister fate. This elegant Spanish film, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, combines every parent's worst nightmare with gauzy, dreamlike apparitions that linger in the mind's eye with unsettling intensity.
"Let the Right One In" (2008): Gorgeously shot and beautifully acted, this metaphysical Swedish vampire movie will have you tearing up when you're not terrified. Little Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is so pale he's almost as white as the snow in his frigid Stockholm suburb. He's an outcast at school, bullied by the other boys, so at first his new friend. a little girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) seems like his only salvation. But as the bodies start piling up, this witty revenge tragedy gets into ever darker territory, including a twist that it may take more than one viewing to appreciate.
"Pontypool" (2008): The English language is the medium for a deadly virus in this taut psychological thriller adapted from the novel "Pontypool Changes Everything." The chilling plot spins around a shock jock radio personality who was kicked out of the big city and now reports on school bus schedules in small town Ontario until the weird day when reports start spilling in of people having brain seizures, developing strange speech patterns and wreaking hideous acts of blood spatter. In a world where words turn peaceful people into slaughtering fiends, you must shut up or die.
"Triangle" (2009): This British film has more twists and turns than the new Gold Striker Roller Coaster at Great America. It starts out simple enough, with some friends going out for a boat ride. Then, of course, people start to die. And we think we know why. But we're wrong -- repeatedly. Many fans wisely shy away from cerebral horror films, but this one actually gets better as the plot gets more complex. Plus, the ending is so satisfying -- in a sad, twisted and hopeless kind of way.
"V/H/S" (2012): It's a stunningly cohesive, and entirely scary, anthology of short horror films. The movie begins when some hoods break into a house and find a box of old VHS tapes. Curious, the intruders fire up the VCR and have a little viewing party. Bad idea. The tapes (aka, the shorts) detail some of the most bizarre and menacing death scenes imaginable. "V/H/S" is a brilliant twist on the old "found footage" concept, courtesy of some of the genre's most promising young directors.