It’s Halloween, and that means it’s time to trick-or-treat or attend costume parties or seek out a local haunted house. But for me, it’s hard to find a better haunted house than my plasma TV.
I was a bit of a fraidy-cat when I was a kid. I used to sleepwalk after seeing scary movies, or if that didn’t happen, I would awake-walk into my parents’ room for a hug from Mom. In order to confront that embarrassing—if amusing—childhood demon, I became a bit of a horror buff. Hopefully my pain is your gain.
Five Movies to Watch This Halloween
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"Return of the Living Dead" (1985)
In this “cult classic,” a group of punk rock-loving teens venture out to pick up a friend from his job at a medical supply shop in Louisville, Kentucky. When a foreman opens up a military drum that was accidentally sent to the shop—which, oh-by-the-way has an UNDEAD BODY IN IT!!—all zombie-hell breaks loose.
The film is genuinely funny, has a couple of good scares, and a rockin' soundtrack, but it also injected life into the genre because all the zombies run (fast!) and most of them talk. Like this one:
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Doesn't she look familiar? Check out this zombie from "The Walking Dead."
The B-plot, featuring an Army Colonel on a mysterious, tedious, yet seemingly extremely important mission, is tied up brilliantly in the frightening, apocalyptic conclusion.
But what really puts this film over the top is that it features the best zombie of all time, Tarman. Gruesome, evil, and with just the right amount of camp, the zombie that first exclaimed “BRRAAAAAIIIIINNNNSS!!” before chowing down on the cerebral cortex of some young punk deserves a place in cinematic lore.
One of the least scary on this list, “Return of the Living Dead” is good for non-horror fans.
"Let the Right One In" (2008)
One of the best vampire films of all time. It’s a coming-of-age love story—imagine a Swedish pre-teen “Twilight” with a lot less sparkles and a lot more blood-sucking—that has become more relevant today thanks to the left’s obsession with bullying. Unlike Hollywood celebrities who think whiny PSAs and hate-crime legislation are the ways to snuff out bullies, “Let the Right One In” takes a slightly different approach: fight back with all you have. I guarantee your jaw hits the floor when the bad guys get their comeuppance.
“Let Me In,” the inappropriately titled American remake, is nearly as good as the original.
Much like how marijuana is a “gateway” drug, “Zombieland” is a gateway horror film. If you have a significant other who is uneasy with monster movies, show her this to win her over to the genre. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin journey across America to an amusement park, hilariously slaughtering the undead in the most creative ways possible. “Zombieland” is the funniest zombie film I’ve ever seen, and unlike “The Walking Dead,” for example, you become emotionally attached to its unique and sympathetic characters.
It also features one of the greatest cameos ever.
"Dawn of the Dead" (2004)
George Romero’s original is perhaps the ultimate zombie director's best film, but Zack Snyder’s remake may be the scariest living-dead flick. Though it’s a massive departure from Romero’s classic—Snyder’s version is lighter on social commentary and heavier on gore—the visionary director of “300” and “Watchmen” (and "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole") proves there’s clearly more than one way to skin a cat… or reanimate a corpse.
"The Orphanage" (2007)
An ominous, morally sophisticated character study of a woman coping with the sudden disappearance of her young child. There isn’t much violence beyond a finger being broken in broad daylight (a truly horrifying scene) and there are no cheapo scares, but impeccable direction from first-timer Juan Antonio Bayona, a moving performance from Spanish actress Belén Rueda, and a monstrous boy wearing a gunny-sack mask make “El Orfanato” truly captivating cinema.
More Scary Movies of Note
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"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974)
John Nolte’s favorite horror movie, and for good reason.
"28 Days/Weeks Later" (2002/2007)
“28 Days Later” should score points with conservative moviegoers from the very start, when we learn the fastest zombies on two feet are a product of environmental activism gone horribly wrong. Unfortunately, “Days” squanders that good will in the third act when the military starts trying to rape the women. The ship is righted with a briskly paced and beautifully shot sequel. Both are very frightening.
"The Ring" (2002)
The premise of the film sounds gimmicky: teens watch a videotape with a bunch of (really really) creepy images on it, and then they die seven days later. Stupid… right? Nuh uh... Start to finish, this is one of the scariest movies ever made. A never-better Naomi Watts and gorgeously-eerie cinematography make the momentum build to what you think is a satisfying ending, until… what did that creepy little boy just say!?!
"Day of the Dead" (1985)
The third film from the "Godfather of all Zombies" may be a left-wing screed against the military (though a very well done one), but the semi-socialized zombie Bub—who listens to headphones, salutes, and shoots guns—makes “Day” a must-see. Watch this one after “Return” and let us know whether you think Bub or Tarman is history’s top zombie.
Not a traditional horror film, but this Bennifer vehicle is every bit as ghastly as anything on this list. There are movies that are so bad that they’re good, there are movies that are so bad that there is no amount of entertainment to be gleaned from them, and then there’s “Gigli.” Scary.
One More to Watch… Any Time
In terms of horror/scary/Halloween movies, "The Exorcist" (1973) is in a class by itself. Not only is it the scariest movie of all time, it’s a clear articulation of what it means to be a Catholic and the power of faith in God.
More than anything, the story is about Father Damien Karras, a Priest struggling with his own faith, who is called to perform an exorcism on a young girl whose body and mind have been inhabited by a demon. The demon picked this innocent child to make us despair, and it’s only by overcoming his doubts and putting his full trust in God that Damien is able to triumph over pure evil.
As Christians, all of us question our beliefs periodically, and this portrayal of a priest challenges professors and other left-wing intellectuals who largely consider religious people blind dogmatists. In fact, I’d argue atheists tend to be much more dogmatic than Christians and Jews because they are more frequently than not unwavering in their denial of God.
“The Exorcist” is vulgar, disgusting, and unrelentingly terrifying, and it's also one of the greatest stories of faith and sacrifice ever portrayed on film.
That’s why any day of the year is an excellent day for an exorcism.