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Halloween Treat: Horror Movie Originals

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(photo: still from F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu”)

Halloween Treat: Horror Movie Originals                   

25 original horror movies that launched a million screams.

Here at Nick Graham, we love a good original. When it comes to horror movies, many that we see today are remakes or generic rehashes, but their roots can be traced to the originals that inspired them. These movies were great or innovative enough to leave a lasting mark - on audiences as well as on the genre. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery. This Halloween, we invite you to take our crash course in horror movie originals. We’ve lined up 25 top contenders chronologically. Chances are you’ve seen some of these films, and many are worth seeing again. In any case, we’ve provided peeks at all of them. Even if you don't watch the movies in full, you can queue up the trailers for some seasonal atmosphere.

    1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1920

Robert Wiene’s silent expressionistic masterpiece influenced cinema worldwide and remains visually startling today. Its distorted sets, grotesque characters - notably Conradt Veidt as Cesare the Somnambulist - and sinister story create a nightmarish world that turns sanity and madness on their heads.

     2. Nosferatu 1922

Another silent masterpiece, F. W. Murnau’s screen adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” also proved an important influence on film art. Superbly shot, with chilling effects, Nosferatu remains uniquely atmospheric and creepy. In 1979 director Werner Herzog remade a version in homage: “Nosferatu the Vampire.”

    3. The Phantom of the Opera 1925

Lon Chaney's performance as the Phantom of the Opera is the stuff of movie legend in so far as the painful lengths he went to in achieving his makeup. His unmaking is one of the great moments of screen history – still scary today. The story has inspired numerous versions right up to the ongoing musical.

     4. Dracula 1931

Bela Lugosi's iconic performance as Dracula catapulted the Hungarian actor into the horror hall of fame, and has influenced most every characterization of the aristocratic vampire since. This together with Karl Freund’s atmospheric cinematography make Tod Browning's talking film version of Stoker’s classic unforgettable.

     5. Frankenstein 1931

1931 was a prolific year for horror cinema, having given us adaptations of two literary classics: “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” Director James Whale imbued Mary Shelly’s gothic story with new life, casting Boris Karloff in the role of a lifetime. The most influential movie monster of all, Frankenstein still walks among us. 

     6. The Mummy 1932

On the heels of Dracula’s success came The Mummy, this time with Karl Freund as full-fledged director. This is the original mummy movie, and if not terribly scary, it’s still a suitably eerie vehicle for Karloff post-Frankenstein, and its storyline of an ancient mummy seeking his reincarnated love never grows old.

     7. The Bride of Frankenstein 1935

Director James Whale’s sequel outdoes his 1931 Frankenstein, with picaresque characters, witty dialogue, expressionistic camera work, and a terrific musical score by Franz Waxman. Karloff reprises his Frankenstein, but Elsa Lanchester steals the show as the bride with the proto-punk hairdo that keeps on giving. 

     8. Werewolf of London 1935

Tame by today’s standards, this granddaddy of all werewolf movies still exudes puppyish charm, and has a cleverly shot transformation sequence that is cinematic poetry. The hairy plot entails a rare Tibetan flower that only blooms in moonlight, and begat the romantic tradition of werewolves killing the one they love most.

     9. House of Wax 3D 1953

This original version was the first 3D color horror film – and with stereophonic sound, so there are some good screams as well as visuals. Reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera, Vincent Price plays an unhinged wax sculptor disfigured in a fire, who covers live victims in hot wax for his gorily sensational wax museum.

     10. The Fly 1958

While it may seem harmless next to David Cronenberg 1986 version, the 1958 original is not to be dismissed as a mere housefly. Handsomely shot in color, the older fly provides plenty of atmosphere, some scary scenes, good performances, including horror favorite Vincent Price, and an unforgettably bizarre closing scene.

    11. Horror of Dracula 1958

The Hammer Films remake of “Dracula” launched a new reign of British horror, with classy production values, lots of negligees, cleavage, and blood – all in lurid color. Imposingly personified by Christopher Lee, who went on to star in many juicy Hammer sequels, this was the sexiest take yet on the undead.

     12. Psycho 1960

Hailed a masterpiece by cineastes, Alfred Hitchcock’s film was groundbreaking in too many ways to cover here. Suffice to say this is the original slasher film, and while its peekaboo killer and famous shower scene have spawned numerous sequels, remakes, homages and imitations, there is still only one genuine Psycho.

     13. Black Sunday 1960

A horror masterpiece in its own right, Mario Bava’s film is notable for creating so much Goth atmosphere on so low a budget. Barbara Steele plays the diabolically sexy witch men can’t resist, a role that launched her into scream-queen stardom. Tim Burton has cited how Black Sunday influenced his own filmmaking.

      14. The Haunting 1963

Remade in 1999, this is the original version of Shirley Jackson’s novel “The Haunting of Hill House” and progenitor to a host of paranormal-activity movies. Directed by major director Robert Wise, expertly written, and played by a top-notch cast, this original is proof that what remains unseen is most terrifying of all.

     15. Night of the Living Dead 1968

The baby that started an epidemic of sequels and the worldwide zombie plague, before “Night of The Living Dead” zombies were largely the cause of voodoo and confined to Haitian plantations. George Romeo’s low-budget shocker effectively strikes at our most primal fears without CGI – just some good, old-fashioned makeup and raw meat.

     16. Rosemary’s Baby 1968

Remade and much imitated, Roman Polanski’s film adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel remains an inimitable class act. Effectively transposing witchcraft to a sophisticated Manhattan setting via pitch-perfect direction, stellar performances, superb camera work and music, Rosemary’s Baby is a landmark horror masterpiece.

     17. Don’t Look Now 1973

Nicolas Roeg’s film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel “Don’t Look Now” stands completely on its own. This is a thinking person’s ghost story, baroquely shot in Venice and meticulously paced, with terrific performances, spine-tingling scenes, and an ending that will scare anyone who dares look.

     18. The Exorcist 1973

Another horror masterpiece, William Friedkin’s iconoclastic adaptation of William Blatty’s book is the most imitated film in the realm of supernatural possession. Expertly scripted and played, “The Exorcist” has some famously over-the-top scenes and effects that set new standards in movie horror and still freak people out.

    19. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974

Banned in seven countries, Tobe Hooper’s extreme cult film introduced the chainsaw and the human-skin mask as new horror tropes, spurring spinoffs, sequels, prequels, a 3D remake, and was a major influence on Rob Zombie’s oeuvre. Still, nothing quite surpasses the thrills of the original Leatherface and his cannibal family.

     20. Carrie 1976

Stephen King authored two novels on our film list, the first being “Carrie.” Blandly remade in 2013, it even spawned a short-lived stage musical. But the Brian De Palma version remains a horror gem, with Sissy Spacek walking away from the killer prom a certified horror queen. No one wears pig’s blood like she does.

     21. Suspiria 1977

Italian horror and giallo maestro Dario Argento has a wide repertoire, but if you only see one of his movies, Suspiria is about as freaky as they come. Don’t worry about the plot, and take a psychedelic trip through an array of funhouse shocks and gore set in a fancy ballet school to over-the-top music by aptly named “Goblin.”

     22. Halloween 1978

John Carpenter’s relentless psycho-slasher, with his famously relentless score and Jamie Lee Curtis’ relentless screaming, have ingrained themselves into horror movie mythology, as well as into Halloween mythology itself, as is evidenced by numerous sequels, spinoffs and spoofs, and the now iconic, faceless white mask.

     23. The Shining 1980

While some fans of the Stephen King novel think the film didn’t do it justice (including King himself), Stanley Kubrick nonetheless takes the chilling story to a level of cinematic art. Superb production values and camera work, idiosyncratic performances, and a memorable cast of ghosts make this haunted resort truly shine.

     24. The Evil Dead 1981

Sam Rami’s groundbreaking horror movie combined the demonic shock of “The Exorcist” with the zany antics of The Three Stooges. Smartly derivative, the movie churns out grand guignol thrills with manic slapstick glee. The film was remade in 2013, but Rami himself made two worthy sequels: “Evil Dead 2” (1987) and “Army of Darkness” (1992)

    25. Special Double Bill: An American Werewolf in London & The Howling (1981)

A seminal year for werewolves, 1981 gave us two genre-pushing movies. John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London brilliantly updated the werewolf myth, deftly mixing horror and comedy, and delivering the most intense transformation scene ever seen by humans. Makeup artist Rick Baker won an academy award.

In The Howling, director Joe Dante (who went on to give us “Gremlins” in 1984) and screenwriter John Sayles spun a darkly comic take on lycanthropy while satirizing new age cultism, media, and werewolf mating habits.

There you have it - now go scare yourself silly.

Jorge Socarras

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