By John Dempsey, Staff Writer
In the thick of spooky season? There’s no better way to celebrate than a horror movie marathon. And somewhere between Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and The Exorcist, with a giant tub of popcorn and a double-helping of earth-crumbling screams… do you ever stop to think about the titles of these scary movies we love so much?
Well, you know we do—we’re so obsessed with words it’s scary! And this Halloween season we analyzed thousands of horror movie titles to better understand what makes them so creepy. What words seemingly scare us most and appear most frequently in these movie titles? It’s a question we had to ask and analyze.
But before we share the top 10 words in horror movie titles (and some classic recommendations for each word), some caveats. First, our data set was thorough but couldn’t possibly include every single horror movie ever made. It does, however, include subgenres like horror comedy. Lastly, we didn’t include words like the or of or highly common title numbers (like II or Two). But don’t worry—there are plenty of sequels represented!
That’s enough of a suspenseful build. Let’s get to the top 10 list of the most commonly used words in the titles of scary movies—just try not to scream!
Our list begins with the word curse. As it turns out, curses are often the cause of many horrors in scary movies. A number of old movies add to the tally here, including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). The Mummy’s Curse (1944) is here, too, and this mummy movie is part of a scary series that would get rebooted into an action movie franchise starring Brendan Fraser.
We also need to mention The Amityville Curse (1990), Curse of the Puppet Master (1998), and Curse of Chucky (2013) just to give attention to some horror franchises that won’t get a lot of love in this list. We’ll put an end to the curse by mentioning Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995). Speaking of Halloween and Mr. Myers…
Trick or treat! Halloween is number 9 on our list, but it doesn’t seem fair. Why? Because a single movie franchise accounted for most of the titles we could find! Horror fans may already know this, but there are actually 13 films in the Halloween series that began with the original Halloween in 1978.
This franchise is also a prime example of one notable trend in the data: the ludicrous number of sequels with equally ludicrous titles. For instance, there’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) and 2009’s Halloween II, which is actually the 10th film in the series and the second one named Halloween II. As a bonus bit of trivia, the franchise also features three movies simply named Halloween. Spooky!
No horror list would be complete without Dracula, or big bad Vlad himself, and here he is at the eighth spot. Of course, these vampire films include Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi, who would become forever known (and typecast) as Dracula and would establish perhaps the most commonly imitated pop culture depiction of Bram Stoker’s monster. Another notable Dracula film is Horror of Dracula (1958), which was the first in a series of movies that saw Christopher Lee play our favorite vampire. The notably weird Blood for Dracula (1974) is also known as Andy Warhol’s Dracula in the United States, even though Andy Warhol had nothing to do with it.
Well, this isn’t good. Nope, it’s evil, and it’s number seven on our list. Our scary movie fans shouldn’t be surprised that the Evil Dead series played a part here (and will appear again). What may be more surprising is that the seven Resident Evil movies bumped up evil on the list. Gamers will of course be familiar with the Resident Evil video game series, a staple in the horror genre in gaming. Other examples of evil movies include See No Evil (2006) and Deliver Us From Evil (2014).
We aren’t done yet, but final takes the sixth spot on our list. Unsurprisingly, the Final Destination series of films contributed five entries to the tally. However, there’s something seriously amiss here. The word final doesn’t mean what we think it means when it comes to movie titles. Don’t believe us?
Well, the list of “final” movies includes 1992’s Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (it wasn’t), 1981’s Omen III: The Final Conflict (not the last Omen movie), and 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (well, you know the drill by now). Even more egregious, there’s Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter (1994), Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984), and Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010). For those who don’t know, none of these movies were remotely close to “the final chapter” of their respective franchises.
Who turned out the lights? If you squint, you can see that dark earned spot number five. This category presents a variety of films. Some examples include The Old Dark House (1932), In A Dark Place (2006), and Dark Circles (2013). You also have Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010), which was co-written by Guillermo Del Toro. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) because Elvira makes any list more fun. Last and most certainly least, there’s Alone in the Dark (2005) by the filmmaker Uwe Boll, which is often described as one of the worst horror movies ever made.
Vampire swoops in at number four. Let’s kick things off with The Return of the Vampire (1943), starring Bela Lugosi. This film is not officially related to Lugosi’s Dracula movie, and the vampire doesn’t have a name—but you can’t fool us. It’s totally Dracula. We’ll add to the list Interview with the Vampire (1994), based on the 1976 Anne Rice novel. Other contributors include Shadow of the Vampire (2000), The Vampire Bat (1933), and Mark of the Vampire (1935). Finally, we have Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a 1992 horror comedy film. Yes, you read that right. The film didn’t quite match what writer Joss Whedon had envisioned, so Whedon decided to make his own TV show, which turned out to be much more memorable.
Night takes the bronze medal, which is pretty impressive considering the word nightmare was in its own category—sorry, Freddy! Some notable films here include The Night Flier (1997), based on a Stephen King story, and Fright Night (1985), the directorial debut of the same Tom Holland who would direct the Child’s Play series of horror films. More films that contributed to night’s total include 30 Days of Night (2007), Dead of Night (1945), Prom Night (1980), Hell Night (1981), Night of the Creeps (1986), and Night of the Lepus (1972).
Step inside and welcome our number two spot, house. It seems the real estate market is booming in horror-land, because we’ve got plenty of haunted houses out there. Some older examples include House of Wax (1953) and House on Haunted Hill (1959). Another notable example is The Last House on the Left (1972), the debut film of director Wes Craven (horror fans just might recognize his name). Our terrifying real estate listings also include House of Frankenstein (1944), The Legend of Hell House (1973), House of 1000 Corpses (2003), and The House with Laughing Windows (1976).
The most common word in horror movie titles—and the number one spot on our list—is dead. Interestingly, it my have been the undead that helped the word dead shamble to the highest spot on the list. Of course, let’s give credit to Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the rest of George Romero’s zombie movie series for helping boost the word dead. In addition to the first film, you have Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), and Survival of the Dead (2009). Elsewhere, we also have The Walking Dead (1936), Isle of the Dead (1945), Dead Silence (2007), Dead Ringers (1988), Dead Alive (1992), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), and Shaun of the Dead (2004).
Dead often appeared alongside other entries in this list. In addition to Night of the Living Dead, you have The Evil Dead franchise, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Dead of Night (1945), and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995).