Inside every package, Night Worms got a printed list of Paul Tremblay's classic horror movie recommendations. Here is the list with the expanded commentary.
Favorite Horror Classics
I was instructed to stick to a 1970-1990 range, but what the heck, let’s break the rules a little bit, and pretend that 1970 is a permeable barrier. The following movies have all left indelible marks on me. Most of them, I would argue, are excellent films, while a smattering are not, but were enough to scare the kid-me. That kid was easy to scare. The adult version is kind of easy to scare too.
I’ll start with some iconic/obvious choices but hopefully, you’ll find some on here you haven’t seen before. I’m sure I’m forgetting some obvious choices and some of your favorites, but here’s what I have for now.
The Thing (1982): What else can be said about John Carpenter’s best film? Tension, claustrophobia, wow-practical effects, and a fatalistic machismo that’s almost charming.
Jaws (1976): I had shark nightmares for decades after seeing this film. Quint remains one of the most memorable characters in the history of film, and the USS Indianapolis scene is perfect.
The Exorcist (1973): The power of my list compels you! One of a handful of horror movies in the 70’s that turned the genre in driving force in Hollywood for decades to come after. I recommend reading Jason Zinoman’s SHOCK VALUE for an in-depth look at the impact of horror of the 70s.
Evil Dead II (1987): Seeing this movie for the first time was akin to the first time I heard Hukser Du or The Ramones. What is that, and I want more.
American Werewolf in London (1981): Great mix of humor and horror. My favorite werewolf movie and it’s not close. Griffin Dunn on his own is a reason to watch and the doomed budding romance is heartbreaking.
Alien (1979): This movie affected me before I saw it. I was seven going on eight years old listening to my parents talk about the movie in hushed, awe-filled tones sent me ducking under my blanket and sleeping with the light on. No other film in the franchise comes close to the claustrophobic and cosmic terror.
Pyscho (1960): The overhead shot/kill, and the reveal of mother still gives me shivers, even after all the repeated viewings.
Frankenstein (1931): The rose petal scene. Heartbreaking. And I modeled the opening chapter of my novel The Cabin at the End of the World after it.
Night of the Living Dead (1968): They’re coming to get you, Barbara. I greet my agent this way all the time. I recently watched this with my teenage daughter and was delighted the movie more than held up for her, while also being horrified/saddened that she knew what was going to happen in the end because she’s a politically aware and active person of the now.
The Shining (1980): Actually, the miniseries is superior. Kidding! Yeah, Jack starts off crazy, but the atmosphere of menace maintained throughout the movie is unmatched. It’s a movie that feels like a living thing there in the room with you.
Them! (1954): I love this movie and take weird comfort from it. Giant radioactive ants from the New Mexico desert attack LA. Easily the best of the 50s giant monster movies. Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze…
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954): Unlike Them!, which I think holds up much better today as a film (the appalling sexism in Them isn’t as in your face as it is in Lagoon), Lagoon still has the Creature, my favorite monster design. Read Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon to learn about the creature’s designer Milicent Patrick.
Quatermass and the Pit (1967): Here’s a film perhaps you haven’t seen. A Hammer film production that is the distillation of a teleplay, the film is wonderfully written and features excellent performances. Pit’s big ideas have been used in Prince of Darkness (Carpenter gives a nod to Quatermass in the end credits of his film), Lifeforce, and the subpar (to be kind) Alien prequel Prometheus. While some of the practical effects are lacking, the suspense is not. A wonderful film.
Near Dark (1987): Vampire noir? Great performances and direction.
Don’t Look Now (1973): A dreamy narrative of grief that coalesces into a shocker of an ending.
Duel (1971): Dennis Weaver yelling, “Come on,” for thirty minutes straight while fleeing from a crazed truck driver. Works for me. Weaver’s unhinged but very real performance and Spielberg’s (yes, that guy) camera direction makes this a compelling watch. This movie was always on when I was a kid, and I would always watch it.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1979): That ending, man. That ending!
The Wicker Man (1973): Another movie with a perfect affect ending. Bonus pts for Christopher Lee as a scary hippy. Watch this before Midsommar. Please.
The Dead Zone (1983): One of King’s best adaptations. I used to be able to do a mean Walken impersonation: “The ice, is gonna break!” Bad impersonations aside, the pathos Walken brings to Johnny Smith’s doomed but noble broken man is unforgettable and human.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): Flat out horrifying. The movie feels like a dirty (but never low-budget) ninety minute panic attack.
The Fly (1986): I’ve only seen it, in its entirety, once. That’s all I can handle. So grotesque and so sad and so indelibly burnt onto my brain.
Halloween (1978): In general, I’m not a fan of slasher flicks. (Sorry). But this one holds up.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): I’m still not a fan of slasher flicks, but this first, non-wisecracking Freddy gave me nightmares.
Godzilla (1954): In the US version Orson Wells narrates the fiery destruction of Tokyo. Seen as a kid, I just loved watching a giant monster. Watching it now, with post WW2 Japan as the backdrop, it’s downright disturbing. Or as disturbing as a guy in a rubber monster suit gets (further reading, Shambling Toward Hiroshima by James Morrow)
Tremors (1990): If I find this movie on TV, I can’t not watch it. Alex Keaton’s dad as a gun nut! Giant worms! Jaws on land! So much fun.
War of the Worlds (1953): I won’t watch the remake. I’m still in love with the original design of the Martian spaceships.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990): This mind-bender still packs a creepy punch. *twitches my head really fast*
The Wolf Man (1941): Might’ve been my first horror movie. Lon Cheney Jr, soft dissolve, and misty foggy woods.
Gremlins (1984): The most subversive of Christmas movies. I won’t eat after midnight. The brief Simpsons parody of the purchase of Gizmo (or in the Simpsons’ case, a cursed Krusty doll) is genius.
The Thing from Another World (1951). So what if it’s an attacking carrot. It’s still good.
Rodan (1956): Yeah, Rodan. The opening mine scene (larvae under the water) is the scariest three minutes in big-monster Japanese movies, hands down.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971): A smarter, slightly less sadistic (though no less cruel and disturbing) precursor to the lame Saw movies. That’s right, I said lame.
Fright Night (1985): Rear-window with a vampire. Plus, lots of 80s fun. You’re so cool, Brewster.
Carnival of Souls (1962): A trippy are you alive or dead story. One with unforgettable visuals and set pieces.
The Lair of the White Worm (1988): Man, I didn’t realize how many vampire movies I have on here. This one is batshit crazy.
The Last Man on Earth (1964): An effective adaptation of I Am Legend starring Vincent Price.
Dawn of the Dead (1978): Probably, and objectively should be higher. But this is my likes list. So *sticks tongue out*
Creepshow (1982): Pulpy fun.
Phase IV (1974): Weird acid-trip of an ant invasion movie with a killer soundtrack and atmosphere. This little movie has a sneaky influence on a bunch of us horror writer types including Laird Barron (see the film based on his novella -30-, They Remain) and Livia Llewellyn.
The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963): Wild camp until the truly horrifying ending.
Hellraiser/Nightbreed: I prefer reading Clive Barker to watching it (his ineffable imagination proves—to me, anyway—unfilmable in some ways), but these two films are my favorites.
Pet Semetery (1989): Solid adaptation of one of King’s scariest novels.
Night of the Hunter (1955): Remade as Cape Fear, The Simpsons still might do it better.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971): Hippies not welcomed to a small town. Mind fuckery ensues. Genuinely creepy.