An oversized radioactive octopus wrestling with a mad scientist in a mudpit… that is the earliest image that I have of any horror movie. This B&W scene somehow made a huge impact on my 5-year-old mind, as I sat watching it on a grainy TV screen, and was in part responsible for setting me on the road of horror filmdom.

Today, I have come to realize that the scene in question was just a snippet from – of all things – Ed Wood’s notorious 1955 cheapie Bride of the Monster, a film that elicits mainly laughter in the adult me, instead of scares and awe. But oh, what an impression it made on my kindergarten self back then!

During the intervening decades, my tastes in the arena of horror have matured a bit, and the films that I deem scary these days are a bit more sophisticated in nature. (You can find some thoughts on 22 recent horror watches of mine in this month’s annual Shocktober Film column.)

The Haunting 1963For me, the most chilling horror film will probably always be The Haunting (1963), based on Shirley Jackson’s equally frightening 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House. Other close runner-ups would have to be William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (1958), which frightened the bejeebers out of me as a little kid and still manages to chill today, and the superb British horror anthology film Dead of Night (1945). And then there’s Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955), whose final segment is as scary as they come, and Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, as great a work of horrific art as was ever made… and not a little frightening, too. And oh… don’t even get me started on Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), two seminal horror masterpieces.

All of which raises the question: What is YOUR favorite scary movie, and why do you find it so very frightening to watch? I realize that this is a very subjective question, and that what is scary for one viewer might be laughable to another. One person’s lurching zombie, after all, might very well be another’s goofy clown. I am hoping perhaps that you will be able to turn me on to some great and truly chilling films that I have not already experienced. And by the way, best wishes for a fun, safe and creepy Halloween weekend!

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