This definitive list will expand your horror palette.
Big budget horror has made a major comeback within the past few years and the genre has been reVAMPED. Thanks to films like Get Out, Hereditary, and IT the horror business found its way to the top of the box office. Even with theaters closed across the world and most production studios shut down in 2020, streaming giants keep giving us the good stuff with recent films like The Invisible Man, Shudder's La Llorona, Netflix's The Babysitter: Killer Queen and HBO Max's series Lovecraft Country.
This is a huge win for all spooky movie lovers, but let’s not forget the little guys back in B-Town!
When thinking of B-horror movies, my brain goes straight to overly campy, goretastic flicks like Street Trash, Thankskilling, Chopping Mall, Diagrams, Dead Alive...you see where I’m going with this. Technically a B-rated movie is low-budget with poor production quality that is desperately trying to claw its way onto a screen.
Of course, these cult movies are entertaining and disgustingly fun, but through the eyes of traditional film criticism they aren’t exactly cinematic masterpieces. This clearly doesn’t mean that good (depending on your taste) b-rated movies don’t exist, because…they do!
So, if you’re on the prowl for something a little different than Tromaville or Troll 2, then you’ve come to the right haunted house. We’ve curated a list of some (because there are too many) highly-acclaimed spooky B-movies for you to watch this spooky season.
Cat People (1942)
You’d think that turning into a lazy housecat would be the best thing ever, but Cat People shows us that it can be very dangerous, especially if you’re a blood-thirsty female feline in heat. From noir director Jacques Tourneur, Cat People was originally released in 1942 with a relatively small budget. It’s easily the best “cat movie” out there and earns its place in the coveted Criterion Collection.
Fashion designer Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) falls madly in love with Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) and marries him. Little does Oliver know that Irena is living with evil inside of her. An ancient Serbian curse may turn Irena into a predatory black panther if she is intimate with a man. When another woman gets too close to her husband, Irena goes on the prowl with a disastrous outcome.
Cat People is unlike any other creature feature of its time. Tourneur captured the element of fear with a dark, moody atmosphere instead of cheap-looking special effects. It’s more what you don’t see that haunts you in this sexy, psychological horror film. Cat People takes the generic creature feature genre to a new level of aesthetic and sophistication, commenting on man’s desire, passion and obsession in the wildest way.
The Blob (1958)
If a big gelatinous ball of alien goo was chasing you, you’d run too! The Blob, directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth, was released in 1958 and stars Steve McQueen in his very first film role. Even though The Blob has a ridiculous premise, it’s a classic B-horror fan favorite.
Steve McQueen plays a typical oversexed teen who claims him and his girlfriend watched a meteor crash down on earth. He alerts local police immediately as a pink gooey substance starts to ooze around town and eat people. Of course, the police think he’s just a dumb kid pulling a prank, that is, until the Blob has grown large enough to roll around and engulf entire city streets. Guess they should have listened, right?
The Blob is pure, campy (yes, I said campy) fun and entertainment. If you’re a huge fan of the movie, make sure you head to BlobFest, the films annual festival in Phoenixville, PA where this classic gem was made and check out The Colonial Theater. You can even participate in the "running out of the movie theater" scene.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Would you be able to tell the difference between your best friend and an alien Pod Person? Don’t worry, neither did an entire town in the classic B-movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Directed by Don Siegel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released in 1956 with a modest budget of 417,000 dollars but made over a million at the box office. The film quickly caught the attention of critics.
The main character Mile Binnell (Kevin McCarthy) is a doctor in the small town of Santa Mira, California. Everything about town seems normal, but his patients come to him claiming that their loved ones aren’t acting normal. At first, he tries to convince everyone that their loved ones are fine, but soon he discovers a dangerous plot being carried out by aliens. They are snatching up the townspeople and replacing them with Pod People, zombie-like creatures devoid of all human emotions. Too bad nobody believes him!
The film has two endings, one is a rather bleak outlook on the future of humanity, the other is overly happy. To this day, many agree that Invasion of the Body Snatchers still reigns as the most chilling film about alien invasion. Siegel used his tour de force as an examination of McCarthyism, which plagued the nation at the time because a politician caused mass hysteria over communist appropriation. The film also took a deep dive into anxiety and paranoia, as each scene created a sense of extreme unease.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Before M. Night Shyamalan started trying to perfect the “twist” in modern cinema, there was Sleepaway Camp, a classic teen slasher movie that ends with the most shocking twist in horror film history. Directed by Robert Hiltzik, Sleepaway Camp was released in 1982 with a budget of 350,000 dollars. It continues to play in theaters and drive-ins during Halloween, delighting horror fans everywhere.
The film begins with Angela (Felissa Rose), a shy young girl being sent away to camp with her cousin. Years earlier Angela was traumatized when her brother and father died in a boating accident. When she gets to camp, the other teens bully her and pick on her. Meanwhile, there is a slasher going around killing people in “campy” ways like burning in hot cooking oil, drowning, and a killer bee attack.
Sleepaway Camp was first noted as a cheap rip-off of Friday the 13th. The reason why it garnered so much attention and praise is because of its shocking twist ending.
You’re Next (2013)
Speaking of the slasher genre, You’re Next is one of the only modern movies that can compare to stabby cult classics of the 80s. Directed by Adam Wingood, You're Next was filmed for under a million dollars and made over 25 million at the box office. Well, that's a damn good profit if I've ever seen one.
An estranged family decides to get together and celebrate a wedding anniversary. Things are already awkward enough before they are violently attacked by psychotic masked murderers. The entire family sits down to eat dinner when surprise arrows are shot into the first victim.
You’re Next successfully combines bloody gore with some very black humor, while examining the home invasion trope under a new lens. It’s effectively terrifying and entertaining at the same time with each gory death ending in a sick, funny joke or clever twist. The final scene is one of those awkward, “should we be laughing or screaming right now?” moments.
Re-Animator flawlessly blends gory horror together with deadpan humor. Based on a tale of horror by H.P. Lovecraft, director Stuart Gordon filmed Re-Animator on location in Hollywood on a relatively low budget. When Re-Animator released in 1985, it quickly earned its status as a quirky cult classic.
It all started with a zombie cat named Rufus. Medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) arrives home from Austria after his professor mysteriously dies and enrolls in a new school. He ventures into dangerous territory when he starts using animals and severed heads for bizarre experiments. West is convinced he’s discovered how to re-animate living tissue, but he’s gone too far.
The low-budget special effects added to the film’s camp in a good way rather than cheapening the film. It’s a laugh a minute, especially when the headless corpses start walking and the bodiless heads start talking.
Dead Alive (1992)
This wouldn’t be a respectable B-horror list if I didn’t mention director Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. Before Jackson took on Tolkien, he made a gross horror flick with gag-worthy special effects and a slapstick storyline. Dead Alive was released in New Zealand in 1992 and is considered one of the goriest films to date.
Thanks to a rogue rat monkey bite, Lionel’s (Timothy Balme) mean mother turns into a rotting, flesh-eating zombie. Being a good son, he desperately tries to keep his mom alive and hides her new zombie pals in the basement. Vera starts chomping down on the entire neighborhood, putting Lionel’s relationship with his girlfriend at risk. So, Lionel does the right thing by running down hordes of zombies with a lawnmower.
The unforgettable lawnmower scene is possibly one of the bloodiest scenes of all time. Even with limbs flying high in the sky, you can help but laugh with joy because the entire scene is just one big tasteless joke. Dead Alive is full of hilarious one-liners and stomach-turning schlock that horror fans love.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi, the reigning king of B-Horror, is mainly known for the legendary Evil Dead franchise as well as the first Spider-Man trilogy. In 2009, he co-wrote and directed Drag Me to Hell, an award-winning modern take on cult classics of the past.
Loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) makes a huge mistake when she evicts a sweet little old lady from her foreclosed home. Turns out the sweet little old lady is an evil gypsy who damns Christine to burn in hell for all eternity using a button. After three full days of torture, a projectile nose bleed, and her own boyfriend (Justin Long) not believing a word she says, a forceful demon starts trying to physically drag her into the depths of hell.
Drag Me to Hell premiered at Cannes Film Festival and received critical acclaim. The film is a return to form for Raimi since the enormous success of Evil Dead. Drag Me to Hell is a scary-fun thrill ride full of Raimi’s trademark camp.
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
What kind of list would this be if I didn’t include a classic Vincent Price film? Directed by William Castle, House on Haunted Hill was released in 1959 with a budget of $300,000 and went on to make over 1.5 million at the box office. In fact, it’s probably playing at your local drive-in or streaming service right now as it’s easily Price’s most notorious film.
A sadistic millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and his scheming wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) invite seven unsuspecting strangers to their twisted party. Once the guests arrive, Loren tells them that if they survive the night in the supposed haunted house, he will pay them $10,000 each. He then hands everyone their own gun and wishes them luck. Sounds like a great party, right? Meanwhile the horrors of the house come alive while the true nature of the guests are revealed. Everything is terrifying except for the caretakers – they are just plain goofy.
House on Haunted Hill is so good that it doesn’t need to rely on heavy gore or camp to provide silly scares. The frightful story line itself is brilliant enough to hold up for almost 50 years.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George Romero (may his soul rest in peace) gave the world the most influential zombie movie in horror history. Although the film was first criticized as being extremely grotesque it eventually became quintessential in the genre. Night of the Living Dead was filmed with a budget of less than $200,000 and grossed over 30 million worldwide when it was released in 1968.
They're coming to get you Barbara! A brother and sister travel to rural Pennsylvania to visit a family gravesite. A strange man attacks Barbara (Judith O’Dea) in the cemetery, so she escapes to a dilapidated farmhouse along with a few others. They board up the doors and windows in hopes of surviving what newscasters are calling worldwide mass murder by flesh-eating undead.
Romero used taboo themes like cannibalism, the fear of confined spaces and never-ending flesh-eating zombies to create real terror. The lack of quality special effects and dark, grainy filming only added to the movie’s gruesome aesthetic. They used chocolate syrup for blood! After much critical acclaim, The Library of Congress added Night of the Living Dead to the National Film Registry in 1999 for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."
Let us know what you're watching this Spooky Season in the comments below, there is nothing we love more here than spooky boogyman movie recommendations.