As an author, more specifically a horror author, I get asked quite frequently about what inspires me and where I get my ideas. I'm fairly certain that most of my brain has been infused with horror culture in a blender-like fashion where countless movies, books, TV shows, video games, and comics have been rattling around and merging like some macabre centrifuge, the contents spilling out and becoming my written works. To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure where my ideas come from, but I'm pretty sure my blender theory is solid and fairly accurate.
Throughout the year, at virtually every personal appearance I make, I get asked what my favorite horror films are. Well, I have a select few I consider my top favorites, but the overall list of favorites is quite long. So, because we're only a few days away from my favorite holiday, Halloween, I thought I would drop a list of some of my favorite horror flicks.
FRIGHT NIGHT- 1985
This is a film near and dear to my heart. My mom is a huge Roddy McDowall fan, so it was pretty much a standard to see his films in our house growing up. This one, although nostalgic, is actually a great vampire film and still holds up to this day. Although simple in concept, FRIGHT NIGHT delivers with complex characters and excellent special effects. It's a great vampire tale and does it's best not to insult the horror fan while trying to pay homage to Dracula in its own right. In 2015, I got to interview Tom Holland, the writer and director, which made my love of the film even stronger.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE- 1974
I was introduced to this classic when I was ten years old. It scared me to death and instilled an irrational suspicion of strangers in my brain. With very little blood and almost zero gore, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE truly delivers on the less is more premise. A grueling and relentless exercise in terror, this film will have you white-knuckled as you grip the couch in fear.
GEORGE A. ROMERO'S NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD- 1968, DAWN OF THE DEAD- 1978, DAY OF THE DEAD- 1985
These are the seminal classics by George A. Romero, father of the modern zombie. Without him, there would be no Walking Dead. Though he made other zombie films later in his career, as well as other horror films for that matter, these three flicks are the horror lovers go-to for their undead fix. I think DAWN OF THE DEAD may be my favorite of the three, but each one is amazing in its own right. If you’re looking to see where modern zombie lore came from, look no further.
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON- 1981
Hands down, my favorite werewolf film of all time. The special effects in the transformation scene still haven’t been topped decades later. With the perfect blend of horror and drama, this film set the standard with me as to how a werewolf movie should be. Sadly, no other film had been able to duplicate the perfection AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON displays.
Surreal horror at its finest. What can I say about PHANTASM without spoiling it? Very little. It’s an atmospheric, cerebral, and terrifying film that is still analyzed to this day. It’s about adolescence, loss, growing up, death, and friendship all rolled up into a sphere that will chase you down a mausoleum hallway and drill into your forehead. With the insanely original story, as well as a sprinkle of science fiction, PHANTASM is definitely a horror film that will stick with you forever.
DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE- 1968
To me, this is the quintessential Hammer Horror film. If you’re not acquainted with Hammer Horror, stop reading this now, go look them up, and come back. I’ll wait. Now that you’re back, this Dracula film, with Christopher Lee as the titular vampire, sums up the class Hammer put into their films. With an entire library of films to choose from, this one is at the top of my list from the British film company.
If you haven’t heard of, or seen PSYCHO, you’re missing out on one of the horror films that helped define the genre. An Alfred Hitchcock classic, based on the book by Robert Bloch, PSYCHO follows Norman Bates as he manages the infamous Bates Motel while dealing with an unhealthy fixation for his mother. A definite thriller for every horror fan. While there have been a few sequels, as well as the highly popular television series Bates Motel, Hitchcock proved he was a master of horror with this macabre and twisted tale, setting PSYCHO up to be a standard for psychological horror.
THE EVIL DEAD- 1981
Sam Raimi’s independent horror classic starring the incomparable Bruce Campbell is one of my absolute all-time favorites. Full of slapstick comedy, gore, and horrifying imagery, THE EVIL DEAD pushes the limits of one’s nerves as a group of young people are tormented by evil after reading from an old book called The Necronomicon. While some consider the sequel vastly superior, THE EVIL DEAD stands out for its relentless pacing as it bombards you with non-stop scares.
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH- 1982
The original outline for the Halloween franchise was for each film to tell a different story. With the success of the original Halloween, the studio wanted a follow-up with Michael Myers. This forced John Carpenter’s plan to derail. After a moderately successful sequel, the series was handed to Tommy Lee Wallace to push forward. He delivered HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, a film both celebrated and hated from franchise fans. He kept to the original idea of each film being different, and released an installment missing the villainous Michael Myers. I saw this installment before the original, so nostalgia definitely plays a factor. However, the concept of the film is very disturbing and dark, a theme I truly love and feel is wholly original.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD- 1985
A tongue-in-cheek take on zombies, this film (while not related to the Romero saga) tells a similar tale we’ve seen before and mixes it with hilarious characters and over the top gore. While not a truly original take on the zombie movie, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is definitely a fun time for fans of the undead. With a few sequels establishing it as a franchise, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD definitely has its place in the zombie genre, especially for fans who enjoy comedy mixed with over-the-top gore.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS- 1987
As much as I love the original Elm Street, Dream Warriors is the installment I connected with the most. Maybe it was the teenagers, each with their own faults and interests, or the fact that for the first time, a hint of comedy shone through the monstrous Freddy Krueger. Whatever the reason, this installment is my “comfort food” of the franchise. You could argue that the first film is the best, and it technically is, but the third installment really hits all of the right notes with me while taking the series of films to a whole new level.
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS- 1983
Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine... need I say more? HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS takes famed horror icons and places them in the same film with outstanding results. Of course Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had been together in numerous Hammer Horror films prior, but this film brings in the amazing Vincent Price and John Carradine for a dark, twisted, and surprising tale. There's not much I can say about the plot without spoiling it, but if you haven't seen it, you're definitely in for an interesting trip.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE- 1973
Based on the book by Richard Matheson, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is definitely an unsettling and scary haunted house film. Starring Clive Revill and Roddy McDowall, this film pushes the limits of fear in what I consider to be the best haunted house film to date. With a disturbing premise, and a unique take on the genre, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE takes an interesting and original turn, especially in the final act. The film pretty much hits the ground running, but takes a subtle approach when it comes to the scares. It builds an intensity, making you question the characters' sanity up until the film's conclusion.
While there are several films on this list, there are still many, many more I can name as my favorites. If you ask me next year what my favorite horror films are, or what inspires my horror writing the most, you may get different answers. However, as of right now, these are films I feel have greatly inspired my writing in one way or another. I could spend days writing out a list of all of my inspirations, but for now I'll just go ahead and list some honorable mentions:
JAWS, THE EXORCIST, THE SHINING, CREEPSHOW, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, THE LOST BOYS, THE GATES OF HELL, SCREAM, TOURIST TRAP, HALLOWEEN, HALLOWEEN II, FRIDAY THE 13th, CEMETERY MAN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING, THE SENTINEL, THE OMEN, THE CRAZIES, THE FRIGHTENERS, DEAD ALIVE, THE HOWLING, LUCIO FULCI'S ZOMBIE, ROSEMARY'S BABY, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, ALIEN, POLTERGEIST, HELLRAISER, CABIN IN THE WOODS, RE-ANIMATOR, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, SAW, THE FOG, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, SUSPIRIA, THE FLY, and THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.
I hope you enjoyed my list and can see where some of my inspiration comes from.
Until Next Time...
Stephen J. Semones