Six Scary Films For Every Taste

IF YOU LIKE: Disney Channel Original Movies, Harry Potter

THEN TRY: The Worst Witch (1986)

Starring: Fairuza Balk, Diana Rigg, Charlotte Rae, Tim Curry

Charlotte Rae, Diana Rigg, Fairuza Balk and Tim Curry in “The Worst Witch” (IMDB).

Before J.K. Rowling wrote about a boy wizard at a boarding school, there was this 70-minute made-for-TV gem, based on author Jill Murphy’s series of books. Little Mildred Hubble (Fairuza Balk, before her truly witchy appearance in The Craft), is the least skilled student at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. She can’t make a laughing potion and doesn’t even get a black cat like all the other girls, so she runs away, only to discover a fiendish plot by the principal’s evil twin sister (both played by The Facts of Life’s Charlotte Rae). Other highlights include a strict potions teacher played by Diana Rigg (Oleanna Tyrell, Game of Thrones), and a memorably laughable song sequence courtesy of international treasure Tim Curry.

IF YOU LIKE: Old-school exploitation, Chopping Mall

THEN TRY: Hellhole (1985)

Starring: Judy Landers, Ray Sharkey, Mary Woronov

Judy Landers and Ray Sharkey in “Hellhole”(Scream Factory).

Thanks to a recent release on Scream Factory, this grindhouse staple received a resurgence. Golden Globe winner (yep) Sharkey plays Silk, a murderous assassin who sets out to kill Susan (Landers) after killing her mother. But this is all just a ploy to get a film that features violent deaths, mud baths and the most over-the-top villain acting until Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but if it’s in your wheelhouse, Hellhole is a diamond in the rough.

IF YOU LIKE: Horror-comedies, Evil Dead

THEN TRY: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce

Ossie Davis and Bruce Campbell in “Bubba Ho-Tep” (Vitagraph Films).

From the director of Phantasm comes a frightening, funny and at times poignant film. Elvis Presley (Campbell) has been in hiding since switching places with an impersonator in the 70s, and lives in a nursing home in Texas. When he encounters an undead mummy feasting on the souls of his fellow residents, though, he springs into action. Elvis is accompanied by a man who claims to be John F. Kennedy (“They dyed me this color!”) and uses his walker as a deadly weapon. What else do you need in a horror comedy?

IF YOU LIKE: Goofy throwbacks, Mystery Science Theater 3000

THEN TRY: Rifftrax Live: House on Haunted Hill (2010)

Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Carolyn Craig, Richard Long

Riffed by: Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy, Michael J. Nelson

From top right, Kevin Murphy, Michael J. Nelson and Bill Corbett riff on Vincent Price in “Rifftrax Live: House on Haunted Hill” (Rifftrax).

So this is a little different. Comedy commentary site Rifftrax, founded by three former writers and cast members for Mystery Science Theater 3000, often holds live events to riff on movies like Birdemic: Shock and Terror, Starship Troopers and The Room, and one of the earliest of these events took place in 2010 with William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill. In the narrative proper, wealthy Frederick Loren (Price) holds a party inside a supposedly haunted house, but after midnight, the guests suspect the frights to be real. The film is accompanied by humor courtesy of Corbett, Murphy and Nelson, who crack jokes ranging from Alice Cooper on roller skates to the What’s Happening?!? theme.

IF YOU LIKE: Creepy atmospheres, Psycho

THEN TRY: Peeping Tom (1960)

Starring: Karlheinz “Carl” Böhm, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley

Anna Massey and Carl Böhm in “Peeping Tom” (Criterion Collection).

Released the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom was critically and commercially reviled at first, but has grown to be influential to the slasher genre and a favorite of Martin Scorsese. Reclusive cameraman Mark (Böhm, in his best-known English-language role) meets his neighbor Helen (Massey) and begins to show feelings for her. Little does she know that he is secretly a serial killer who documents his victims’ last moments on film. This is one of the first slasher films where the story is told from the viewpoint of the killer rather than one of his victims, and Powell’s career saw a resurrection upon its reemergence in the 70s.

IF YOU LIKE: Scary musicals, The Rocky Horror Picture Show

THEN TRY: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Starring: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham

William Finley in “Phantom of the Paradise” (20th Century Fox).

Arguably the best film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, Brian de Palma’s million-dollar opus trades opera for rock n’ roll, turn-of-the-century Paris for New York City, and a genius with a horrible deformity for a mousy composer. When Winslow (Finley) has his music stolen by mysterious record mogul Swan (Williams), he tries to get it back, only to be wrongfully imprisoned and have his face burned. Winslow escapes and tries to sabotage the opening of Swan’s new nightclub, the Paradise, but Swan offers him a recording contract in exchange for his soul. What follows is a mix of Hitchcock references, glam rock (courtesy of Graham as singer Beef), the story of Faust and a song score written by Williams himself.

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