One of the great benefits of the Digital Age, in my embarrassingly considered opinion, is the ability to get just about any movie you want, in minutes, without ever leaving the couch. When I was a teenage film nerd, I literally dreamed about this.
These days you can purchase and download digital titles from iTunes or Amazon. If you have a subscription to Netflix or its competitors, you can select from their digital shelves of streaming movies. And, for the less ethically inclined, there are even some “other methods.”
But what a lot of people don’t know is that hundreds of worthwhile film classics are freely available online, in full, via YouTube and other video archives. These are films that have passed into the public domain, and the online versions are often high-quality prints that have been digitized and posted to the Internet by universities and film preservation societies.
If you’re in the market for an extemporaneous Halloween movie night, here are five recommended horror movie cult classics you can get right now. They’re good for All Hallows’ Eve parties, too. Queue ’em up and leave them running in the chill room.
Director George Romero’s indie classic more or less invented the basic zombie movie template — the shambling dead, the barricaded survivors, the alarming news reports: “So long as this situation remains, government spokesmen warn that dead bodies will continue to be transformed into the flesh-eating ghouls.” It’s like poetry, really.
Genuinely scary, Carnival of Souls is like the best Twilight Zone episode ever made. After a tragic car accident in Anytown, U.S.A., a damsel in some very weird distress encounters existential dilemmas and the world’s spookiest carnival pavilion. The eerie black-and-white images still hold up, and that organ music will mess with your head.
The king of B movies, director Roger Corman, filmed his classic horror satire in under a week — and it shows. The story concerns an aspiring California artist whose preferred medium is … murder! A goofball mashup of horror flick, teen movie, art-world satire and beatnik happening, the movie is best appreciated in the spirit of high camp.
One of the most controversial films in the history of motion pictures, Freaks caused a huge commotion upon its initial release in 1932, due largely to its cast of carnival performers with actual physical deformities. More than 80 years later, the movie still has the capacity to scare, shock, and weird you directly out. “One of us! One of us!”
Vincent Price, the best Halloween party host ever, headlines this camped-out classic as an eccentric millionaire who invites five people to spend the night in his haunted mansion. Anyone who survives gets $10,000. Strangeness ensues, including — but not limited to — dead bodies, animated skeletons, ghostly apparitions, acid vats, and Price’s psychotic purr caressing gloriously bad dialogue.
Bonus: Hitchcock Films
If you want to class the joint up a little, there are about two dozen old Alfred Hitchcock movies out there as well. The educational initiative Open Culture does a nice job of cataloging these. “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible,” Hitchcock has said. Of course, he wasn’t talking about applying that sensibility to the process of accessing his films.