Ahead of Halloween, thrills and chills on the small screen


With Halloween just around the bend, here are a few suggestions for your perfect spooky movie night. No matter what scares you, there is something for everyone.

In the 1940s, creature features like “The Wolf Man” (1941) or “House of Frankenstein” (1944) showcased classic monsters that emphasized makeup effects and mood. “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948) is still hilarious for the whole family to watch together.

The 1950s continued to offer excellent monster movies such as “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) or haunted-house features such as “House on Haunted Hill” (1959), but the horror genre expanded to include films that contained social commentary in varying degrees of subtlety and explicitness. Post-war films reflected society’s fear of nuclear war and its effects on humans or the environment, government conspiracies, or alien invasions. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) or “The Blob” (1958) both featured alien lifeforms or substances that fall to earth to either assimilate or consume its inhabitants, and while the former could be viewed as either an allegory for Communism or the social conformity of the decade, the latter reflected the public’s alternating fascination with extraterrestrials as an entity of exploration and distrust of them as an invasive force. “Godzilla” (1954) and “Tarantula” (1955) exploited the newfound fear of nuclear fallout and the effects of radiation as well as the potential of the weapon to grow beyond human control.

The next decade was one of social upheaval and widespread movements for civil rights and woman’s liberation. The Birds (1963) is terrifying in its themes of nature attacking civilization with no discernible reason, but there is also an underlying fear of outsiders — especially bold, sexually forward women — that fuels the mass hysteria, and the female lead suffers for it. Repulsion (1965) is also about an independent woman, this time in Paris, who sequesters herself in her rambling, shadowy apartment and grows more paranoid of the outside world trying to get in, hallucinating (or not?) attacks by men. George Romero’s first zombie feature, “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), stars an African-American actor (Duane Jones) as the level-headed hero desperately trying to convince the other survivors in a farmhouse to follow his lead with the undead creeping closer to the door.

With the explosion of independent cinema in the 1970s, there was an emphasis on low budgets, practical effects, and unknown actors giving natural performances in horror films. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) is still a visceral feast of gore and blood, its hapless teenagers out for a joyride no match for a backwoods family of cannibals. It reinvigorated both the villain and heroine of the genre feature by introducing one beast of a serial killer in Leatherface and the iconic “Final Girl in Sally” (Marilyn Burns) who laughs maniacally as she gets away while the psycho rages behind her. Across the pond, “The Wicker Man” (1973) places its unfortunate police sergeant (Edward Woodward) amidst an island community of pagans that may be hiding the location of a missing girl, as well as other secrets of their religious order (also see the gonzo 2006 remake with Nicolas Cage — you’ll never look at bees without chuckling again). Another remake currently in production is of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo film “Suspiria,” in which a ballerina travels to an elite dance academy that may be a front for a witches’ coven. The color and camera angles alone are worthy of repeat viewings.

The teen slasher subgenre may have been kicked off in 1978 with John Carpenter’s Halloween, but the 1980s were its heyday with “Friday the 13th” (1980), “Prom Night” (1980), and “The House on Sorority Row” (1983) featuring mysterious killers out to get wayward, and often oversexed, teenagers. The tropes expanded to include supernatural or science-fiction elements such as in “Evil Dead” (1981), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and “Night of the Creeps” (1986). The early years of the decade also featured three of the most iconic genre films in this decade, including John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), John Landis’s “An American Werewolf in London” (1981), and Joe Dante’s “The Howling” (1981), while audiences received some of the best adaptations of Stephen King’s novels in “The Shining” (1980), “Christine” (1983) and “Pet Sematary” (1989). It was also a reinvigoration of body-horror sequels or remakes such as James Cameron’s “Aliens” (1986), David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986) and Chuck Russell’s “The Blob” (1988).

In the ’90s, horror went meta with hits like “Scream” (1996) and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997) where its teen casts were aware of the rules yet continued to violate them to their own detriment. When will they ever learn? We also saw the genre go legit when “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) won the “Big Five” awards at the Oscars the following spring — Best Film, Director, Actor, Actress, and (Adapted) Screenplay — the first time for a horror film and only the third time this had happened in the history of the Academy. The decade also enabled David Fincher to recover from the bureaucratic bungling of “Alien 3” (1992) to reinvent the serial-killer game with “Se7en” (1995), while Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Event Horizon” (1997) became a cult classic.

Genre films in the sombre post-9/11 2000s reflected fear of biological weapons, terroristic threats, overcrowding, unrestrained disease, pollution, and distrust of outsiders and Americans alike. Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” changed the zombie film by making the infected nimble and fast as opposed to jerky and lead-footed, the virus caused by human experimentation rather than alien contamination. “Saw” (2004) and “Hostel” (2005) were the best-known entries in the splatter-gore subgenre, featuring torture and body mortification to a nauseous degree but also challenging the public’s taste for such grotesque titillation to the point of numbness. Luckily, we did get a few chances to see strong female leads in “Ginger Snaps” (2000) and “The Descent” (2005). Though the found-footage trend begun in 1999 with “The Blair Witch Project” was already worn thin by the latter part of the decade, 2008’s “Cloverfield” featured some awesome practical and special effects as a huge insect-like monster terrorizes Manhattan and the government may be connected to its emergence.

The 2010’s continued to see horror films with social commentary, at once self-referential and innovative within the genre itself. “It Follows” (2014) and “The Witch” (2015) place female protagonists at the mercy of an unsympathetic environment or society. “Don’t Breathe” (2016) exists amidst the desolation of a once-thriving American industrial city. “Get Out” (2015) is as stifling in its remote setting as it is for its African-American lead (Daniel Kaluuya) to be in a crowd that is constantly, eerily watching him.

No matter your age or preferences, there will be something for everyone to enjoy. Happy Halloween!