American actor Vincent Price, “The Master of Horror,” would have turned 107 today. Born in St. Louis, Missouri on May 27, 1911, Price would go on to make more than 30 horror flicks and become the voice of the iconic monologue in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
His love for the genre is perfectly summed in his famous quote, “It’s as much fun to scare as to be scared.”
The 6’4″ macabre spirit of Price will forever live on in hits like House on Haunted Hill, Theatre of Blood, and The Fly, so to celebrate his birthday, we’re re-watching 10 of the all-time best, iconic horror movies made before 2000.
Legend has it, Price’s favorite beer was Negra Modelo, so crack open a bottle, lock the doors, and turn on the old VHS.
No, not the 2005 Chad Michael Murry trash rendition, but the original 1953 hit starring Vincent Price himself as Professor Henry Jarrod, the talented yet murderous and deformed wax sculptor who repopulates his wax museum with dead bodies. Price is the defining and chilling presence in this film, which has forever turned us off to visiting Madame Tussauds. Fun fact: Upon its release, House of Wax was the second film ever to be released in 3-D (which had a spike in the ’50s). Another fun fact: Price’s makeup was so grotesque he wasn’t allowed to walk into some buildings on the film lot because the fake burns were too horrifying.
Before you bash a classic like The Bride of Frankenstein, hold your tongue. With a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this 1935 classic was the (hands-down better) sequel to Frankenstein. The film follows Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) as he continues in his obsessive hunt to recreate life from the dead — namely, a mate for his monster (Boris Karloff) — under the influence of his former mentor, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger). Roger Ebert hit the nail on the head when he said of the movie, “Some films age, others ripen.” The Bride of Frankenstein was satirical and deeply disturbing (notice the heavy hand of necrophilia). Universal might even try to reboot the film (please, no).
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti,” says the debonair killer/cannibal Hannibal Lecter, played by an absolutely smashing Anthony Hopkins. A Google search of iconic quotes (the source material is a book by Thomas Harris, also worth a re-read) is all we need to remind ourselves of how perfect this horror film is. For instance: “It puts the lotion on its skin,” “What became of your lamb, Clarice?” and “I’m having an old friend for dinner.” The gist: An FBI top trainee (Jodie Foster) interviews psychiatrist psychopath Hannibal Lecter, who has insight into an open case. Fun fact: The movie was released on Valentine’s Day.
The slasher indie film that made us too terrified to sleep introduced the world to disfigured dream-haunter Freddie Krueger (and sealed any red and green striped sweaters out of our wardrobe forever). Directed and written by one of horror’s greatest minds of all time, Wes Craven, Nightmare on Elm Street went on to become a franchise golden nugget (hello, eight sequels). However, the 1984 film stands as the strongest and creepiest, especially when you know it was inspired by a real newspaper article in the L.A. Times about a boy who suffered from terrible nightmares and one night died in his sleep. My advice: Watch this when you don’t have an early start the next day.
Side note: Speaking of murder, these crazy true-crime podcasts will pair nicely.
The OG version of the Americanized The Ring, this 1998 Japanese horror film, adapted from the book, Ring, by Kôji Suzuki, is centered around a simple, cursed videotape. Play the tape and you’ll die in one week. Reporter Reiko Asakawa and her husband seek to solve an old murder in order to break the curse and live. The sound work alone will make you jump, and the subtle claustrophobia and minimalism is straight-up unnerving. Plus, there’s the pale girl who pop-locks out of the TV in perhaps one of the best horror scenes ever staged.
Jack Nicholson kills it (pun intended) as Jack Torrance in the adaptation of Stephen King’s classic psychological horror, The Shining. The cocktail for madness and murder comes when you mix a family, a deserted hotel, dark secrets hidden in the walls, and a brilliant script (i.e. “Am not going to hurt you, I just want to smash your brains in.”) Stanley Kubrick’s directorial style forces you jump, bite your nails, and make plenty of excuses to go into the kitchen. The Shining is deep, smart, and brilliantly done. You can watch the film dozens of times, finding a new hidden gem each viewing and jump between theories of what the movie is really about: some say the American Indian genocide, others The Holocaust. But it’s agreed that this is one of the staple horror movies of history.
To appreciate all that is the horror genre, and to dub yourself a legit horror buff, you have to see what is considered the first-ever true horror flick: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The 1920 German silent film follows freaky hypnotist Dr. Caligari, a pair of friends who meet a deathly demise, and a hypnotized man, Cesare, who predicts the death. Even though it has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, don’t expect this to be anything like modern-day scary movies. Understand that you’re watching a rare classic that almost single-handedly shaped the horror genre into the moody, surrealist creep show we’ve come to know and love (as well as the American film noir period). Artistic value trumps half-naked chicks running from masked monsters any day.
When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth. That’s the basic premise of the 1978 zombie staple, Dawn of the Dead, in which a group of human survivors seek haven in a shopping mall. The 2004 remake is actually pretty ace too. Let’s just say, there ain’t no horror without a little zombies. Second in the Night of the Living Dead series (same universe, different characters), this independent zombie film spawned a legacy of spoofs, knock-offs, and kindred zombie wannabies. The dated makeup and gore effects hold a special place in our hearts and put to shame techy CGI (all you need is plaster and ketchup). This has always been considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made and stands as one of our favorite films, even beyond the field of horror.
The blood-drenched definition of a perfect slasher film, the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre helped us realize rural farmhouses are scary. A group of friends en-route to a homestead find themselves at the mercy of Leatherface, a murdering cannibal who, along with a button-down and tie, wears a mask made of human skin over his face and wields a chainsaw. Marketed as a true story, the plot was pure imagination. However, Leatherface was a real dude. Ed Gein was known as The Butcher of Plainfield and, well, you get the picture. The film’s extreme violence led to its ban in several countries and it sealed certain essential elements in the slasher genre, like the use of power tools and characterizations of murderers as big, bulky, and faceless figures. From start to finish: terrifying.
OK, we broke our own rule. This 2017 horror/thriller written and directed by comic powerhouse Jordan Peele will no doubt become a horror classic as time tolls on. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) travel upstate to meet her family, only to discover the girlfriend lures African American men to her twisted, homicidal family where they become the transplant bodies for old rich yuppies. Winner of an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, this horror flick paves a new, smart path through the genre, where greater social topics can be discussed through the lenses of nightmares, fears, revulsion, and terror. The plot, score, and acting are dead perfect, so watch it right away.
Thinking of turning your Vincent Price celebration into a weekend-long horror marathon? Add Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Devil’s Rejects, Carrie, Seven, Funny Games, Carnival of Souls, and Cat People (yeah, it’s not a bad horror film at all, in fact, it’s a classic), plus recent hits like A Quiet Place and The Witch.
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