In case you haven’t heard: Horror is having a moment right now. Perhaps this upcoming Halloween, take some time to watch all 12 Friday the 13th movies, all seven Child’s Play movies, all nine Nightmare on Elm Street movies, all 10 Halloween movies, or all 10 Hellraiser movies. Not to mention the many sequels in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead series. But let’s say you don’t have that time (in which case I ask, What are your priorities?). Here, I’ve picked the best movie from some of the greatest horror franchises of all time. Enjoy.
The best Friday the 13th is… Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.
Part IV features my favorite version of Jason—undead and supernatural. The redneck is gone, replaced by a revenant. The black eyeholes of the mask are soulless. Jason is more than just a villain. He’s an archetype, a force. The most fun and inventive of all the Friday the 13th movies.
The best Chucky is… a tie between Child’s Play 2 and Cult of Chucky.
(Disclosure: Child’s Play creator Don Mancini is a writer-producer on my show, Channel Zero. That’s how much I love Child’s Play.) Of all the horror franchises, Child’s Play is the most fun. Child’s Play 2 is the rare first sequel that builds substantially on the original. I used to watch this on the USA network as a kid; the sight of Chucky killing the teacher in the cloakroom had some kind of visceral impact on my childhood. More than any other Child’s Play film, this one captures the helplessness of the lead and puts us in his POV. The brilliant toy store ending with its homage to John Cassavetes exploding in The Fury is maybe the greatest horror movie franchise climax ever. This is a fantastic horror film about what it’s like to be a child.
Cult of Chucky, which came out this year, is the newest in the franchise, and is the rare, thrilling late addition to a series that actually adds to it. It’s set in a stark white psychiatric institution, which conjures an atmosphere of sterility, isolation, and claustrophobia. It also heightens how trapped the victims are, and their vulnerability to Chucky’s games. The gore and kills are inventive, the humor is bizarre and awesome, and it feels like a true and appropriate successor to the rest of the films. It’s a delight.
The best Nightmare on Elm Street is… A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
Dream Warriors is the most wild, inventive, and surreal of this franchise. It has a great cast, too, with Patricia Arquette in a showcase role. The whole movie has a glorious Dario Argento feel to it. Dreams or dream logic are obviously integral to the mythology and execution of the Elm Street story, and this movie really makes use of them. It’s the best in the series at playing with the nightmare imagery. When the characters turn into puppets in one of the dreams, it’s strange and haunting. Disclosure: We ripped it off slightly in Channel Zero: Candle Cove.
The Best Halloween is… the original, of course.
What can I say here? This is a horror movie paradigm—you can’t beat it. It’s shaped the whole slasher genre. It’s a near perfect movie. There are so many images burned into my brain: Michael Myers in silhouette, carrying the body off the porch; sitting up behind Laurie Strode in the background; smashing through the slats of the closet. And to think the horror genre owes so much to a mutilated William Shatner mask.
The best Texas Chainsaw Massacre is… also the original.
The first Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the scariest movie on this list. It was terrifying when I first watched it, and terrifying still. You feel like you’re watching a documentary about a family that likes to wear the skin of people they kill. And man, do these people ever care about their family traditions. This movie has lost none of its relevance—it feels more modern than most horror movies released this year.
The best Hellraiser is… Hellbound: Hellraiser II
“HELP ME I AM IN HELL.” Kirsty is trapped in a mental hospital, but her father is trapped in hell. So she has to break out of the hospital and go get him—unless the dribbling, shrieking Cenobites don’t get her first. This is an underappreciated and deeply deranged horror sequel. Also, it features the delightful image of a person with no skin on their body casually drinking a glass of red wine.
The best Night of the Living Dead is… yep, the first one.
I saw the original Night of the Living Dead when I was a kid and then wandered dazedly into my backyard and started playing zombies with my Legos. I’ve seen it dozens of times since. To me, it hasn’t lost any power, and most people forget that it’s a pointed and relevant social satire. The characters in the house are a microcosm of paranoid 1960’s America in the grip of painful changes. Or you could just appreciate it as a claustrophobic and relentless thriller that was decades ahead of its time. “Barbara… they’re coming to get you.”
The season 2 finale of “Channel Zero” airs tonight on Syfy at 10 p.m. EST.
Scream queen Anya Taylor-Joy is a real scaredy cat: