As you can probably guess from my Vintage Sci-Fi Trifecta column, I’m a fan of science fiction and horror across the ages. This is not only in written form but in film and television as well. I thought I’d tap that knowledge to bring you some great old school horror films to help pass the time until Halloween. The best thing is that all these films are now in the public domain, meaning you can watch them for free at the links provided, though they are still sold for rent on many sites like Amazon and YouTube because capitalism gotta capitalism.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
This is not only my favorite vintage sci-fi/horror film, it’s my favorite movie of all time. The acting and tone are spot on to capture Jack Finney’s 1954 novel of the consuming fear of communism, and the film launched an iconic sci-fi/horror subgenre that persists through the constant remakes (1978’s is a classic) through modern interpretations like The World’s End (2013). Invasion of the Body Snatchers tells the story of a family doctor (Kevin McCarthy) returning from a work conference to his home of Santa Mira, where his patients are beginning to feel that their loved ones “are not their loved ones.” Paranoia and tension ramp up in a slow and satisfying way straight to the climax. (Fun fact, Santa Mira is a fictional town featured in many disparate works of science fiction and horror, likely all paying homage to this film/book.)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
A horror cinema icon, House on Haunted Hill created the trope of the wealth eccentric paying people to spend one night in a haunted house – if they can survive. Staring the incomparable Vincent Price, this is a genuinely fun and scary film up to the very end. Fun fact, this is the first horror film Casandra Peterson ever watched, and it started her lifelong love of horror, ultimately leading her to create her persona Elvira.
For extra fun you can catch it on Elvira’s 40th anniversary special on Shudder.
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
This is the original adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novella “I Am Legend”, and with a screenplay written by Matheson himself it is very true to the book. Far truer, in fact, than the two remakes, Omega Man (1971) staring Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (2007) staring Will Smith, which I also enjoy to varying degrees. I have a theory that this movie is remade for every generation staring the quintessential blockbuster actor of the time, so of course The Last Man on Earth stars Vincent Price! (Prove my theory wrong.) The book and film’s hybrid vampire/zombie monsters left a permanent impression on the subgenres, and this film is one that may resonate with folks after the 2020 quarantines.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Speaking of zombies, how could I leave out the most influential zombie film of all time? George Romero functionally created the modern zombie in this film, and that alone would make it worth a watch. Lucky for us, this movie fires on all cylinders of plot, acting, and dialog. This is a timeless classic that I still go back to with friends who have never seen it and are subsequently blown away by everything about it. This has also become an iconic film in Black cinema due to the fact that the only person who knows how to handle himself is a Black man with experience living through Jim Crow. There is a lot to unpack in this movie and it is worthy of a rewatch if you haven’t revisited it in some time.
Sure, sure, everyone knows the story of Frankenstein, but if you’ve never watched James Whale’s 1931 classic then you’re missing a key part of horror cinematic history. This one is packed with emotional weight, especially from the timeless performance of Boris Karloff as the monster. Karloff took a role that many at the time would feel was silly and played it with an earnestness and compassion that created a cinema classic that will – somewhat sadly – never lose its relevance; there will always be misunderstood “creatures” that the mob will come after. This was one of the first non-children’s movies I showed my son, and I’ll never forget my then eight year old saying, “The real monster is the people from the town!”
I hope you’ll take the time to visit (or revisit) these icons of horror, and you may even spot some tricks of the cinematic trade that originated in these films.
‘Tis the season for getting spoopy, boys and ghouls, and there’s no better place to find the chills than the streaming service Shudder! I thought I’d drop in with another five recommendations, which along with my previous two installments should bring you lots of viewing pleasure.
This 1972 Blaxploitation horror classic stands out in the genre as being filled in the Blaxploitation era while featuring some rather innovative storytelling. Notably, the film starts with the titular character – an African prince – meeting with Count Dracula to seek his help in suppressing the intercontinental slave trade. Dracula curses the prince and imprisons him, only to be released in 1970s Los Angeles where plot ensues. Though admittedly camp, I was genuinely impressed with many aspects of the film, especially the cinematography. This was just added to Shudder this week, so jump on it! (I should point out that although the Rotten Tomatoes score is poor, Blacula sits at five skulls on Shudder.)
For more background on Blacula’s place in Black horror, check out the Horror Noire documentary on Shudder.
The description for The Endless largely points to the directing duo’s previous movie, Spring (2014). I first heard of Spring via a Twitter recommendation from Guillermo del Toro. It is a touching “American boy goes to Europe and falls in love” romance story with a monster twist right up del Toro’s alley, and I really enjoyed it. Accordingly, the enticement of “new film by the directors of Spring” was enough for me to almost immediately watch The Endless. I was absolutely not disappointed. There are scenes that will stick with me forever, and I really loved the grounded (albeit simple) relationship story of the two brothers. This is a horror mystery that slowly builds in unexpected directions, and fans of Lovecraftian suspense/horror with zero gore with enjoy this one.
Ah, Ginger Snaps, an underappreciated gem. This one came to me by the incomparable Joe Bob Briggs. (For an extended viewing experience watch Ginger Snaps in Season 3 of The Last Drive-in With Joe Bob Briggs.) There is a lot to unpack in this late-90s (technically 2000) “goth girl” werewolf/vampire horror film. Family, sisterhood, puberty, distant teachers, sacrifice… holy crap this is a great movie. I’ve been watching a lot of werewolf movies recently, and this one really elevates the subgenre to a point rarely seen before or since. Highly recommended.
Train to Busan
It is only by unforgivable oversight that in my previous two installments of Shudder Roundups that I haven’t recommended Train to Busan. If you consider yourself a fan of zombie movies but haven’t seen this 2016 South Korean touchstone then you are out of date. South Korean filmmakers are doing really innovative things with zombie movies, and horror in general. (As I write this we’re deep in the Netflix phenomenon that is Squid Game.) The film tells the story of a wealthy South Korean business man taking his daughter on a birthday trip to his ex-wife in the city of Busan. (I concluded that the innocuous title could be Americanized as “Train to Boston”, if that helps you contextualize the film.) While on board a zombie outbreak occurs, and inevitably infiltrates the train. Already you can see there is a primo setup of unending horrors outside the train, threat from zombies inside the train, and – most importantly – threat from human passengers inside the train as a wide range of socioeconomic pressures build and explode in the pressure cooker of a sealed train car. People that (rightly) went nuts over Parasite will also want to catch this one. If you’re short on time and looking for one new horror to watch this season, for the love of The Great Pumpkin, make it this one.
(I recommend watching this one straight to take in the full cadence of the film, but as a rewatch Train to Busan was featured in Season 3 of The Last Drive-in With Joe Bob Briggs to much celebration.)
PG: Psycho Goreman
After watching this film I posted the following review to Instagram:
FUUUUUUUUUUCK THIS FUCKING MOVIE IS SO PERFECT I DIED WATCHING IT WAS RESURRECTED AND SAW GOD IN THE FORM OF A GIANT TACO PSYCHO GOREMAN IS MY RELIGION NOW.
If that wasn’t specific enough for you then allow me to elaborate.
Psycho Goreman is a near perfect homage and spoof of 1980s horror. Included are all the classics of the Cronenberg era of special effects, and the film centers around the iconic 80s horror trope of “kids getting knee deep in shit they don’t fully comprehend is terrifying.” I watched this with a buddy and our entire experience revolved around hysterical laughter while shouting “What the fuck?!” If you’re in for a bizarre (and I mean BIZARRE) sci-fi horror spoof, then I’m hard pressed to recommend a better movie. PG: Psycho Goreman is a Shudder Exclusive, and was a hell of a score for the platform.
Dr. Andrew Porwitzky is a scientist and freelance writer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, scientific articles, and essays.