I know, I know … as a self-proclaimed lover of horror, it’s pretty ridiculous that I haven’t seen some of these movies until now, but I have an excuse: I grew up in the days of movie rentals on VHS in a small conservative town in the midst of the “satanic panic.” In short, the horror selections at the local movie rental joint really, really sucked. I must have seen Carrie, Poltergeist, and Psychos 2, 3, and 4 a hundred times, but aside from that (and the occasional showings of the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies on HBO) I pretty much had to sustain myself with weekly episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales From the Crypt.
I loved horror and watched anything and everything available to me, but looking back, there are a lot of movies I missed out on. In the days of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, however, there are no excuses for this kind of behavior, so I’ve made it my mission to watch some of the classics that slipped past me in my youth. Here they are, in no particular order.
- The House on Sorority Row (1982)
This tale of a college prank gone wrong embodies just about everything that was great about 80s horror: violence, bad acting, and scantily clad women. While probably not gory enough to satisfy the gore-fiends out there, this movie has plenty of suspense and even incorporates some murder mystery.
- A really bad band with really bad hair that plays really bad music – but does it really, really well.
- Pretty nice final showdown
- A girl named Stevie
- Pretty unimaginative death scenes
2. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Given that this came out before I was born, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised I never saw it – but I am. Alice, Sweet Alice is a surprisingly twisted tale about a little girl suspected of her own sister’s savage murder during her First Communion … and that’s just the beginning. I couldn’t take my eyes off this one for a single moment.
- Brooke Shields in her first role
- Spooky little girl horror
- Surprise ending
- That creepy mask!
- The gross, fat neighbor. Ugh. I hated that guy
3. Trilogy of Terror (1975)
A three-part horror story starring Karen Black in the roles of four different women, Trilogy of Terror is one that I’d never even heard of (somehow) until my friend and collaborator, Tamara Thorne, suggested it to me. The subject came up when we were writing our gothic thriller, The Witches of Ravencrest. We were looking for inspiration for “crazy” … and hoo boy, no one does crazy like Karen Black in the final scene with those eyes, those teeth … that knife.
- Lots of Karen Black
- Good acting
- Best doll horror ever
4. The Fog (1980)
I know! How did I not see this until now!? As the little coastal town of Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate its centennial, an impenetrably thick mist rolls across the community causing unexplainable disappearances and begging the question: What’s in the fog!?
- Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh together
- Great atmosphere
- It’s John Carpenter
- Another girl named Stevie
- I just wasn’t feeling the relationship between Jamie Lee and Tom Atkins. Awkward
5. Burnt Offerings (1976)
It’s said that this inspired Stephen King’s The Shining, and after watching it, I believe it. I also see shades of Pet Sematary and a few other things. It stars Karen Black (again) and Oliver Reed as married couple, along with their son and aunt Elizabeth (played by Bette Davis – and I’ll watch anything with her in it). When the family moves into a creepy old mansion they learn the place appears to have an eerie, supernatural influence over its residents.
- Good acting
- A secret in the attic!
- A super creepy hearse driver
- Burgess Meredith because, well, it’s Burgess Meredith
- The filming is really … “foggy.” I suspect they were going for atmosphere or something but the constant hazy pall gets distracting in some scenes
- The little boy got on my nerves. It’s not his fault. Most children do.
6. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Written (to my pleasant surprise) by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, The Slumber Party Massacre is pretty much as good as it gets. It’s got guts, glory, girls, and gore – but watch closely and you’ll see a surprisingly smart tribute to female empowerment.
- Great pacing
- Palatable levels of symbolism
- A killer with a drill
- Women with agency at a time (and in a genre) when they were customarily victims
- The line: “Hey, it’s not the size of your mouth; it’s what’s in it that counts.”
7. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
A young Jodie Foster stars in a bizarre thriller about a 12-year-old girl living alone who leads a life of secrets and danger. It doesn’t get much better than this. I actually read the book before I saw the movie – both are excellent.
- Intrigue upon intrigue upon intrigue
- Martin Sheen as a convincing and compelling villain
- The nude scene with underaged Jodie Foster. And yes, I know it’s actually her older (legal) sister standing in, but it’s still too much for me. It really needs to go IMO.
- Jodie Foster’s wig. It’s just so bad.
8. Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
While not horror per se, this film makes my list because it is horrific. From the (fantastic) book of the same name, Looking for Mr. Goodbar is the true story about a schoolteacher (Diane Keaton) who begins frequenting bars in search of various lovers with whom she can engage in increasingly violent and dangerous sexual affairs. Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t end well.
- Emotionally compelling
- A nice glimpse into the 1970 city nightlife
- Excellent closing scene
- A unique ending
- Richard Gere in a jockstrap. 😦
9. When a Stranger Calls (1979)
The infamous tale of the psychopathic killer who terrorizes the babysitter. But there’s more to this story than “The call is coming from inside the house!” When a Stranger Calls is also a cat-and-mouse thriller between a detective and his prey, as well as a psychologically sound (and sometimes even sympathetic) glimpse into the mind of a madman.
- One of the best openings in horror history
- Mainly off-screen horror – which adds to the intrigue
- Excellent characterization
- I didn’t feel as much connection to Seven-Years-Later Jill as I did High-School-Babysitter Jill
10. When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)
A surprisingly strong follow-up, When a Stranger Calls Back sees the return of Jill (who is much more empowered these days) as well as the psychopath who stalked her and the detective on his trail. It adds a new character, a young woman named Julia, who ends up in a similarly dangerous (but pleasingly unique) babysitting crisis. Like its predecessor, the majority of horror here takes place off-screen – which always makes it extra spooky (I’m haunted by the faceless man who’s entering Julia’s house for the sole purpose of moving things around.) In many ways, When a Stranger Calls Back is stronger than the prequel.
- The return of the original cast
- An extremely spooky late night visitor
- Jill’s personal growth and empowerment
- Great pacing
- Julia’s godawful early-90s female mullet. I seriously can’t even handle it.