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Dead Zombies of the Heart
Ape Culture's Horror Flick List
by Mary Elizabeth Ladd

When I was seven years old, my father moved our family from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to St. Louis, Missouri. Missouri schools were six months to a year ahead of New Mexico schools. So suddenly I went from being an average kid in New Mexico to being a remedial kid in Missouri. I was placed in the remedial (read ‘slow’) reading class with two hours of special class. And this is why I watch horror movies today.

The first thing my special class teacher told my parents was to cease and desist the reading of the bedtime story. If I wanted to know what happened to Heidi when she left that mountain, I damn well better find out for myself. I was only seven when my father inexplicably stopped reading Heidi to me. It was during the re-airing of the miniseries I, Claudius on PBS. For years I hated that stupid I, Cladius jerk. But my special class teacher made up for it when she told my parents that to encourage my reading progress, they should buy me lots of books. When the four page Scholastic Book Club catalogue came out, other kids were limited to one or two books (what they could conceivably read before the next issue); but I would come home with stacks of books. My early reading obsessions took two forms. I loved novels about homeless dogs: Lost Dogs Three; Little Dog Lost; Little Lonely Alley Dog; Dog! These were always harrowing stories about abused and abandoned dogs from the street. My other reading obsession was the heart-pumping lure of juvenile horror fiction. Starting with the thrill of Nancy Drew’s 2nd volume, The Hidden Staircase, I was hooked. The slender book When Midnight Comes by Carol Beach York almost gave me a coronary with its mysteriously evil blotch growing on that kid’s living room wall. Richard Peck novels were always good for a ghostly thrill, and The Watcher in the Woods by Florence E. Randall (later made into a movie with Bette Davis) was another favorite chiller about a ghostly kid who had disappeared into the woods years before. It was exciting stuff for a shy kid from the burbs.

I guess I was really just waiting for that perfect book: Ghost Dog.
Small paw prints on the porch….BUT NO DOG!

In high school, my friend Lisa and I rented just about every horror movie in our neighborhood video store. We saw so many, we forgot what we’d already seen. Which is why we watched the pitiful The Unholy three times. I got so scared watching Hellraiser, I wouldn’t keep the video cassette in my house. I ran it out to my Chevette for the night. Here’s a categorized list of the best from our horror movie tour with some classic horror flicks we missed thrown in. Start working out that fear muscle.

The Slashers
Gore gets dull after a while. They say it about Al and I’m saying it about slashers. I have not become desensitized to violence. I have become desensitized to 2nd-rate, low-budget special effects with all their pervasive puss, goo and blood spurting as no believable blood would spurt. Texas Chain Saw Massacre is grand-mutha of all slashers. Slashers include anything with ‘massacre’ in the title, most 80s horror, or any movie with horny teenagers in it. The hatred psycho-slashers have for teen sex is well documented.

Aliens Who Eat and/or Otherwise Brainwash Your Brain
Alien (Ridley Scott was a genius before he started butchering the legend of Hannibal Lecter); Aliens (worth seeing if you ever thought Paul Reiser was just a panda bear from TVs Mad About You); Communion; Invasion of the Body Snatchers (purists prefer the old version but the 70s remake is pretty freaky, too)

Don’t Sleep in the Woods (Nature is Scary)
Friday the 13th ; The Blair Witch Project (a pup-tent is no fortress); Swamp Thing (some monsters are our friends); The Fog.

Ghosts that Hate You and the Buildings You Live In
The Shining (get the DVD and watch the informative documentary, including rare footage of Jack Nicholson popping in and out of Jack Torrance); The Haunted (the made for TV movie from 1991 starring Sally Kirkland); The Haunting (1963 movie based on the Shirley Jackson novel…today ambiguity in ghost stories comes across as clichéd and lazy; but in black and white, somehow it works); The Amityville Horror (the book is a freight fest, as well); The Others; Poltergeist 1 and 2 (Poltergeist was a good old-fashioned-haunted-house-built-on-an-Indian-burial-ground movie. The sequel was your run-of-the-mill misfire sequel except for the show-stopping creepy old guy with the dentures from Hell thrown in…worth a look-see); The Entity; The Changling

The Evil Funhouse
Actually a subset of the more pedestrian haunted house movie: Phantasm (that evil orb!); Hellraiser (that evil cube!)

The Wronged and Vengefully Surreal
Revenge is an obsession for the not quite living, the not quite dead. Abused kids who are not quite willing to go into psycho-therapy or hire a litigation attorney to get over their bad childhoods: Nightmare on Elm Street; Hellraiser; Friday the 13th; 6th Sense (wronged ghosts making a cry for help); Carrie; Candyman

Too Slow to be Scary
Hey, if you can outrun em… why worry? This includes all mummy movies and other zombie movies with the exception of Night of the Living Dead, which is a classic horror movie not for it’s unscary zombies but for its deft storytelling and social commentary - like Barney says, it’s all about cooperation. Don’t cooperate, kids, and your brains get eaten by zombies. It’s that simple.

Science Gone Amuck
Science is like sex for monsters…they hate it. Be you a prostitute or a botanist, your days are numbered: Frankenstein, Swamp Thing, Flatliners, The Fly (stick with the new version)

Historical Horror
Gothic is actually based on a true getaway weekend of ghost story telling between Mary Shelly (who wrote Frankenstein based on the experience), her hubby, the Romantic Era poet Percy Shelley, poet Lord Byron and John Polidari, often credited as the short story genesis of Dracula.

Trilogy of Terror (nothing is scarier than Karen Black on a bad day); The Believers; Angel Heart; Serpent and the Rainbow (with the added kick of being buried alive)

70s Classics
The 70s were great with their slow-paced, melodramatic horror flicks, a whole decade of high-budget, star-studded horror classics including: The Exorcist; The Omen; Rosemary’s Baby

Protagonists you can’t love forever because they turn out to be villains OR they’ve sold out to the devil and conveniently forgot about it
Sometimes you just have to let go. Don’t think twice, it’s alright: Angel Heart; Rosemary’s Baby; Unbreakable

Kids in Crisis
As if puberty isn’t hellish enough: Hell Night; Prom Night; Nightmare on Elm Street; Friday the 13th; Halloween; Slumber Party Massacre. This sub-genre of the 80s slasher recently made a comeback in the late 1990s with Urban Legends; The Faculty; I Know What You Did Last Summer

Those Crazy Kids
Little kids today! They’re sassy and they kill people: Pet Semetary; The Exorcist; The Omen

Brooklyn Heights apartment buildings, log cabins, the Dakota building in Manhattan - who knows where you’ll come across THE PORTAL TO HELL: The Sentinel; The Evil Dead; Pumpkinhead

Babysitting Satan: Satan is kinda paternal as it turns out. He’s looking for kids to adopt all the time: Rosemary’s Baby; The Omen; The Exorcist; Storm of the Century (a horribly boring movie but here again Satan just wants to leave a part of himself behind for posterity. I suppose he’s worried about immortality just like the rest of us.)

Psycho dudes (and psycho chicks)
We don’t know why they're psycho, honey, they just ARE: Silence of the Lambs (again, make sure to watch the DVD with documentary footage of wardrobe testing of Hannibal’s headgear and the Hitchcockian explication that will make your disgust for the sequel all the more literate); Misery; Cape Fear; Wait Until Dark; Dead Calm; Psycho

The End of the World
The rules for averting the end of the world are very complicated and have something to do with 7s and a vial of ancient blood. Who knew?: The 7th Sign; Demon Knight

I’m not a big fan of vampire movies, as you can see: try The Lost Boys if seeing Keifer Sutherland with fangs sounds scary…someone who would name their kid Keifer…now that’s scary. Check out some old versions of Dracula. The Francis Ford Coppola version is nothing special (aside from some sexy scenes with Gary Oldman and a lilting Annie Lennox theme song)

Animals are Eeeevil
Do I hear the animal defamation league calling? You bet I do!: Piranha; The Howling; Jaws; Cat People; Pet Semetary; The Birds; Gremlins; Cujo (my own dog, Helga’s, celebrity obsession). Where’s Ghost Dog?

Scary Toys
Am I the only one here who’s freaked out by clowns? Sure, they’re happy on the outside: Dolls; Child’s Play; Poltergeist; Killer Clowns from Outer Space

Not all psychics grow up to be John Edward with TV shows. Some need therapy from dead people, some just go batty and there’s nothing we can do about it: Stir of Echoes; 6th Sense

Too Sympathetic to be Scary
It's sure hard to be afraid of 'em when you can't blame 'em: Frankenstein; Carrie; Edward Scissorhands

Dad Has Completely Lost It
The Shining; Stepfather; Frailty

The Undefeatable Sequel
The mundane horror of our modern times: the low budget sequel, lower than B-movie budgets, so low they only allow for monster effects in the final four minutes of the movie. Good for late nights on cable when nothing else is on: Freddie Krueger movies; Michael Myers movies; Jason movies (if you know the monster on a first name basis, you getting too cozy); Children of the Corn (corn fields can be very scary so why aren’t these movies?); Witchboard; Prophecy; The Howling

Scary Moments in Unscary Movies
In the Mouth of Madness (who can forget the bell on that bicycle?); When a Stranger Calls (he’s calling from INSIDE the house)

Meta-horror (self-referential)
Halloween: Resurrection (cheesy and low-budget yes, but comfortingly attempts to overturn run-o-the mill slasher stereotypes of minority and female characters); Scream (the ultimate in deconstruction horror); New Nightmare (Wes Craven’s intellectual precursor to Scream)

So Stupid yet Still So Horrible…don’t bother
Motel Hell, Leprechaun, Burnt Offerings; Troll (despite a hilarious Sonny Bono appearance); Child’s Play; Revenge of the anything, I was a teenage whatever, any movie with Rock and/or Roll as part of the plot. I’d like to take this opportunity to call a moratorium on heavy metal in horror movies, especially Ozzy Osbourne appearances. No offense to Ozzy…it’s just too campy and so very utterly unscary

Horror in NYC – The Angelica’s Midnight Show
Seeing a horror movie at midnight at The Angelica in New York City is one of the most unsettling experiences. Trust me. I saw The Blair Witch Project there during its opening weekend. The lobby was filled with fake character memorabilia…and it worked like a seed in our brains. Gave it that eerie touch of possible reality. And then there’s that creepy midnight Angelica crowd and the haunted look of lower Manhattan. I also saw the midnight showing of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond there. This was a very creepy Italian horror movie with it’s very own portal to hell. And speaking of the Angelica, why has Woody Allen yet to make a horror movie?

Funny Frights
Where all campy horror and funny misfires belong: Scary Movie; Frighteners; Fright Night; Killer Clowns from Outer Space; Lake Placid (Betty White makes this movie VERY funny); Transylvania 6-5000; Haunted Honeymoon; Tremors; Love at First Bite; Young Frankenstein; House; Ghostbusters; American Werewolf In London; Beetlejuice; Bordello of Blood; Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness

Crossing the Line
Why not just watch raw footage of people jumping out of buildings while you’re at it, sicko? These movies are for men only a mother could love. If you like these suckers, you really are desensitized to violence: Faces of Death; Last House on the Left; Freaks (okay, Freaks isn’t really all that bad)


Icons of Horror

John Carpenter Halloween, Body Bags (Gas Station); The Fog; Prince of Darkness (that zombie alley…very scary)

Jack Nicholson The Shining; Wolf; The Witches of Eastwick; a ton of AIP/Roger Coreman pictures including The Terror and Cry Baby Killer

Adrienne Barbeau Creepshow; The Swamp Thing; The Thing; The Fog

George Romero Creepshow; Night of the Living Dead; Dawn of the Dead

Vincent Price House of Usher; House on Haunted Hill; Edward Scissorhands; slew of other ad nauseum and bastardized Edgar Allan Poe material

Karen Black Trilogy of Terror; Children of the Corn 4; Burnt Offerings

Anthony Hopkins Audrey Rose; Magic; Bram Stokers Dracula; Silence of the Lambs; Hannibal, Red Dragon

Bette Davis Please, don’t remember Davis by her horror movies, she’s really very scary in all her pictures: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane; Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte; Burnt Offerings; The Nanny; Watcher in the Woods

Alfred Hitchcock The Birds; Psycho

Stephen King Hands down, the worst horror movies are usually movies based on his books. Horrible Stephen King horror movies include: Needful Things; It; Rose Red; Thinner (THE worst); Pet Semetary; Firestarter; Christine; Cujo; Salem’s Lot; Children of the Corn. Exceptions: Carrie; Misery; The Shining

Christopher Walken is Just Plain Scary Communion, Prophecy, Sleepy Hollow; The Sentinel; Annie Hall

Movies I Haven’t Seen But Their Titles are a Hoot
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things
The Earth Dies Screaming
Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things
Dracula Sucks
Dracula: Dead and Loving It
Grandma’s House
The Dead Hate the Living
Die Monster Die!

FYI Directives:
Don’t Look in the Basement
Don’t Answer the Phone
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Don’t Let Them In
Don’t Open the Door
Don’t Panic
Don’t Scream: It’s Only a Movie
Don’t Turn Around Lisa or You’ll Be Sorry
Don’t Go Into the House
Don’t Go Into the Woods
Don’t Go Near the Park
Don’t Go to Sleep


The Evil Dead

The Sentinel

The Changeling

The Shining

The Blair Witch Project



Night of the Living Dead

Silence of the Lambs

Don’t bother with:

I, Claudius

(I hate
I, Claudius)

Instead, try:


For a deeper elaboration of my incoherent ramblings regarding horror, read the essay in verse: Why Do You Watch Monster Movies, Mary, Why?

Great site on horror movies, with interviews and essays: House of Horrors

Another comprehensive site on horror of the past, present and future: HorrorMovies.com

Add your horror movie recommendations here.  


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