We're in October now, which means Halloween season. However, I actually prefer to look at October as scary movie season.
Put away the romantic comedies until next summer and wait a couple of months before dusting off Jimmy Stewart's "It's A Wonderful Life." This is the month for screams, not dreams.
As much of a sucker as I have always been for the horror and science fiction genres, my favorites are those with the psychological overtones, the ones that make you think between the gore. Actually, "implied" gore can be even more frightening, and that's why many of the "slasher" movies are such hack jobs. (No pun intended.)
Here are my top 10 picks for curling up in your favorite recliner on a Friday night this time of the year. You might want to leave a light on. (I always do.)
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978): This is the movie that truly gave birth to the modern-day zombiefests we now enjoy, such as the weekly "Walking Dead" series on AMC (that returns to television later this month). Director George A. Romero's magnificent tribute to mayhem and separation of flesh from bone remains as clear in my mind as the first time I saw this masterpiece 33 years ago. One film reviewer once wrote, "Some of the goriest scenes ever committed to film." The movie was once banned in 17 countries. There is one particular scene in which a guy is trapped in one of those blood-pressure check machines often found in supermarkets that simply defies description in a family publication such as this.
2. The "Saw" movies (2004-10): I had to list the entire franchise. How can you separate such greatness? Daughter Kaysi and I made it a family ritual to attend the new "Saw" movie each Halloween and then spend hours afterward sorting through the labyrinth of clues and hints we had just witnessed -- and how they helped explain previous "Saw" elements. The "Saw" movies were always "thinking man's horror" -- but each film had several parts that made you want to crawl under your theater seat and hide.
3. The Blair Witch Project (1999): This movie did not appeal to me originally, but I finally gave in and watched once it came out on DVD. Then I couldn't get it out of my mind for weeks. The "documentary" style was a classic. The film was made on a budget of somewhere between $20,000 and $750,000 and grossed $249 million. Now that's scary.
4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): I'm not sure, but it may have been Leatherface's human flesh mask that punctuated this grisly gorefest. This is not a film to watch if your squeamish factor is on the low side.
5. Island of the Lost Souls (1933): Three things you need to know -- "animal men," "House of Pain" and "no anesthetic." Charles Laughton, who played Capt. Bligh in the original "Mutiny on the Bounty," is in this incredibly scary movie, especially for its time. It was banned in the United Kingdom until 1957. There are some interesting religious overtones, too.
6. 28 Days Later (2002): An animal right's group accidentally releases a virus that turns England's population into rage-infested zombies. Only a few humans remain to fight off the flesh-hungry hoard. This film helped give birth to the fast-moving zombie concept, as opposed to the customary "walkers." A very underrated movie with exquisite visuals of a deserted London.
7. The Night of the Living Dead (1968): By today's standards, this would be considered relatively tame, but it deserves inclusion. Without it, there would have been no "Dawn of the Dead" a decade later. This film was in black and white, which allowed us different take on the walking dead.
8. Shaun of the Dead (2004): Sometimes we need a little levity when it comes to flesh-eating zombies. This film gave us a classic back-and forth. Question: "Dead?" Answer: Dead-ish."
9. Jaws (1975): This, of course, does not fall into the natural horror category, but was there anything scarier than the first time that big shark unexpectedly came out of the water with its mouth gaping?
10. Psycho (1960): Another black and white classic, this one spotlighting the brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock. Janet Leigh is often the first name mentioned in connection with this film, but I always remember Anthony Perkins dressed up as "Mother."