Last year on the Torn Light website I made a list of 10 movies that I felt were essential watching for the Halloween season, and this year I’ve tripled the count, and focused primarily on some deep dives into horror history, and wanted to recommend some gems I’ve uncovered over the years, some real favorites and all around high recommendations. Come shop for these movies in-store!
THE BLACK CAT (1934)
Easily one of my favorites of the horror films produced and released by Universal Pictures in the 1930’s, THE BLACK CAT combines the talents of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and director Edgar G. Ulmer into a stylish, fast paced, gothic tale of satanic sacrifice, torture, body horror and plenty more transgressive subjects, taboo especially for it’s time.
THE BEING (1983)
A real crowd pleaser! A small town in Idaho is besieged by a mutated monster created from toxic waste! One of the few but notable films directed by Blood Diner director Jackie Kong.
BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR (1989)
Shot on a low budget around Ohio State Campus in the late 80’s, BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR is a hallucinatory and mind-bending movie about nightmares, monsters and the danger of sharing your otherworldly visions. One of my highest recommendations!
THE BORDERLANDS (2013)
An incredibly effective and remarkably frightening British found-footage movie focusing on a Vatican group sent to the British West Country to investigate strange paranormal happenings in a church older than Christianity. One hell of an ending!
CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959)
A super early directoral entry into the legendary career of Mario Bava, CALTIKI concerns an inky black blob creature of ancient Mayan decent terrorizing humans the way only an ancient evil can. Super fun, with convincing special effects work for the time.
A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990)
Lucio Fulci directs this late-period offering, and also stars as a director so disturbed by the exploitation and horror films he creates, that he starts racking up a body count of his own. So wonderfully strange, with lots of bizarre ideas on screen, this is one of my very favorite movies of Fulci’s later period. Check him out dressed like Elmer Fudd!
THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1973)
Jess Franco’s Frankenstein movie! When the good doctor is killed, his daughter fights an evil warlock for possession of the monster, who in this case is a buff guy in black jeans, covered in silver paint. Loads of nudity, lots of extras in skeleton costumes, whips, spikes, colored lighting on castle walls, and of course, a shrieking half-bird woman.
THE FLYING SERPENT (1946)
A super low budget monster movie directed by one of the kings of poverty row, Sam Newfield, with an absurd Quetzalcoatl serpent creature terrorizing anyone who touches its shed feathers. Totally silly, but definitely hits all the right notes for this sort of movie!
GANJA & HESS (1973)
A truly otherworldly and psychedelic vampire art-film with a small cast and an early synthesizer score. One of the only films directed by African-American playwright and actor Bill Gunn. A real gem, one of my very favorite vampire films of all time!
More Italian-directed weirdness, this time by Umberto Lenzi, in an over the top and highly unusual haunted house movie with plenty of creepy dolls, severed heads, and a wild soundtrack. Also, the clown from Poltergeist makes a special appearance!
GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE (1987)
Lamberto Bava’s full blown monster mash! Lots of inventive creature designs, fun and effective special effects, and a great catacomb setting full of cobwebs and fog.
THE GUARDIAN (1990)
Essentially if William Friedkin made Evil Dead 3. It’s bonkers!
HORROR HOUSE ON HIGHWAY FIVE (1985)
College kids get slashed one-by-one by a psycho in a Richard Nixon mask, and the whole film has that specific sort of gritty and gross feel that is almost a warm blanket for slashers of this era. Tons of stupid dialogue, inept filmmaking with strangely artful choices, and subversive humor. A real diamond in the rough.
KNIFE + HEART (2018)
The absolute strongest modern giallo homage, with some of the most striking visuals I’ve seen in any horror movie in recent years. A gay pornography producer finds that her stars are being picked-off by a mysterious killer, and the ride to discover the truth leads to many unexpected twists and turns. Essential watching as far as modern horror goes.
KUNG-FU ZOMBIE (1981)
This is one of those kung-fu movies that for years you could find in cheap public domain DVD sets, but don’t let that deter you! It’s wild, gory, and completely ludicrous, involving undead fighters, ghastly fiends, and uh, vampires? Goes perfect with a case of beer and some ghoulish friends.
MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD
Evil forces and acid dipped horrors abound in one of the greatest carnival-set regional horrors of all time! Tons of seedy carnies and ghouls strike threatening poses, and the whole vibe is off in a really intense way. Plus, Herve Villachaiz!
MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)
Coastal California dread and unease, as a young woman ventures to a small seaside town where the locals are seemingly apart of a hypnotic, undead cult. A true mood piece and one that lingers in the mind for years after viewing.
THE NEST OF CUCKOO BIRDS (1965)
A perverse and haunting southern gothic crime story concerning bootleggers, killers and ghastly hillbillies, with a very David Lynch-like vibe. Striking black-and-white cinematography and a couple of truly memorable scares.
NIGHT OWL (1993)
A small NYC indie vampire movie, shot in black-and-white, with a real grimy feel and an impressive commitment to realistically depicting the plight of an urban undead. Featuring a very young John Leguizamo!
An incredible entry into the regional alien attack genre, with an impressive alien monster (that sort of looks like an ape/reptile hybrid) attacking a small town, with only the local townsfolk to fight it off. One of my very favorite movies. Watch for a scene that was later used for MANDY.
NOTHING UNDERNEATH (1985)
An Italian-made giallo that starts off in Wyoming (??) only to quickly revert into the Euro trappings of supermodels getting killed with scissors, with Pino Donaggio recycling his own score to BODY DOUBLE, and Donald Pleasance eating a plate of spaghetti at a Wendy’s. Fun!
ONE DARK NIGHT (1982)
A very entertaining entry into the “scary stuff happens in the mausoleum late at night” sub-genere, with some legit frightening images and a great early 80’s look, filled with purple and pink Suspiria lighting. Also, of course, there’s a psychokinetic vampire.
PREMUTOS: LORD OF THE LIVING DEAD (1987)
One of, if not the single goriest horror movies of all time! Buckets of guts and entrails explode on the screen from the warped mind of German auteur Olaf Ittenbach, in a story of historical atocities, fallen angels and war carnage. Unlike anything you’ll ever see.
THE REDEEMER: SON OF SATAN! (1978)
A typical late-70’s slasher with some extremely atypical elements. The movie begins and ends with some truly head-scratching supernatural scenes, with a comfy high-school reunion slasher story in the middle. Truly weird.
THE RUNESTONE (1991)
Completely unhinged story of a mythological Norse werewolf/baboon monster that is set to unleash the end of the world, and it’s up to the long-haired blonde guy from Die Hard to save the day by using the power of clocks. It’s INSANE.
STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP (1946)
Talk about a gem! More low budget poverty row horror, as a mysterious killer has been strangling victims located around an extremely foggy and strangely popular swamp. Check out the incredible raft-ferry used to transport locals from one side of the swamp to the other! It’s almost as impressive as the killer themselves!
THE SEVENTH CURSE (1986)
An incredible entry into the long, storied history of Hong Kong horror films! If you’ve ever wanted to see Chow Tun-Fat shoot a bazooka at an H.R. Giger alien with bat wings, have I got a movie for you!
SKINNED DEEP (2004)
A self-aware ode to films like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES, SKINNED DEEP is an absolute barn-burner, with incredible special effects and monster creations by director Gabe Bartalos. Kind of has the vibe of something you would have seen on Adult Swim at 3AM, but with some of the greatest monsters you’ll ever see on film.
THE UNKNOWN (1927)
My favorite silent film, a real tour-de-force for the legend Lon Chaney Sr., as he plays a circus performer without arms, who throws knives and lights cigarettes with his feet. When his secret love (Joan Crawford in her first role) confesses love for another man, his personal madness and complete depravity takes over. Unbelievably modern in its content, this is a great pick for an introduction to silent cinema.
THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971)
An incredibly stylish female vampire odyssey, with stunning costumes, southwest desert locations, and of course, dune-buggies. Fans of The Love Witch take note!
October 5, 2021 | News