Illuminating “Mankind’s Moral Sense”

“What Is Moral, and How Do We Know It?”, asked political scientist James Q. Wilson (1931-2012) in an article he penned for Commentary Magazine in 1993. Excerpts from that article were recently highlighted in the Wall Street Journal‘s “Notable & Quotable” section and we thought them too powerful not to share.

Take a moment to ponder the below:

“Almost every important tendency in modern thought has questioned the possibility of making moral judgments. Analytical philosophy asserts that moral statements are expressions of emotion lacking any rational or scientific basis. Marxism derides morality and religion as ‘phantoms formed in the human brain,’ ‘ideological reflexes’ that are, at best, mere sublimates of material circumstances. Nietzsche writes dismissively that morality is but the herd instinct of the individual. Existentialists argue that man must choose his values without having any sure compass by which to guide those choices. Cultural anthropology as practiced by many of its most renowned scholars claims that amid the exotic diversity of human life there can be found no universal laws of right conduct…

moral sense James Q. Wilson

“I wish to argue for an older view of human nature, one that assumes that people are naturally endowed with certain moral sentiments. We have a peculiar, fragile, but persistent disposition to make moral judgments, and we generally regard people who lack this disposition to be less than human. Despite our wars, crimes, envies, snobberies, fanaticisms, and persecution, there is to be found a desire not only for praise but for praise-worthiness, for fair dealings as well as for good deals, for honor as well as for advantage. These desires become evident when we think disinterestedly about ourselves or others…

James Q. Wilson books

“Mankind’s moral sense is not a strong beacon light, radiating outward to illuminate in sharp outline all that it touches. It is, rather, a small candle flame, casting vague and multiple shadows, flickering and sputtering in the strong winds of power and passion, greed and ideology. But brought close to the heart and cupped in one’s hands, it dispels the darkness and warms the soul.”

James Q. Wilson books


January: A Blizzard of Lists

“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order – not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.”

– Umberto Eco (Italian novelist)

The making of lists – whether it be a list of New Year’s resolutions, books to read, places to go, weekly errands and to-dos – is a comforting, reassuring way for us to gain a sense of order amidst the all too often chaotic, frenzied lives we lead.

Particularly in a New Year, as we reflect upon our accomplishments and failures of the year before and the ambitions and hopes of the year ahead, creating lists can help us us clearly define a plan for moving forward and making progress in our lives – whether on a personal, professional or spiritual level.

Self-examination books

While spontaneity and impulse serve a valuable role in our lives – igniting that whimsical childhood spirit and providing a refreshing reprieve from the doldrums of daily routine – meandering through life without a plan or goals can lend itself to a rather meaningless existence.

Consider the words below from some of the most respected minds:

  • “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” – Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter (1881-1973)
  • “The significance of a man is not in what he attains but in what he longs to attain.” – Khalil Gibran, Lebanese-American author (1883-1931)
  • “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” – Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American industrialist (1835-1919)
  • “In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.” – Henry David Thoreau, American philosopher (1817-1862)
  • “In everything the ends well defined are the secret of durable success.” – Victor Cousins, French philosopher (1792-1867)
  • “The important thing in life is to have a great aim, and the determination to attain it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer and statesman (1749-1832)
  • “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father (1706-1790)
  • “All things are ready, if our minds be so.” – William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
  • “The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to know how to live to purpose.” – Michel de Montaigne, French philosopher (1533-1592)
  • “Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.” – Seneca, ancient philosopher (4 BC-65 AD)

Of course, as the quotes above imply, it is not enough to have a plan. We must first discover and develop a sense of purpose – a sense of self – in order to create and execute on a plan that imbues our lives with significance.

famous quotes on planning

But, that’s not always easy. Which is why ATG puts forth a list of several books for the New Year that provide an opportunity for reflection and self-examination.

Happy list making and purpose-ing!

  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2013)
  • Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (1991) 
  • Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch (2006)
  • The Road Less Traveled by Dr. M. Scott Peck (1981)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011)
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (2012)
  • The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (1997)
  • Thomas Mellon and His Times by Thomas Mellon (1885)
  • The Way of the Seal: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Succeed and Lead by ex-Navy Commander Mark Divine (2013)

All Dogs, Great and Small

“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours…Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things – a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity.”  – John Grogan, Marley and Me

Dog nonfiction books

One could say that Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan, first published in the fall of 2005, played a significant role in the most recent formation of a great wave of dog memoirs that is still going strong today, especially evident during the holiday season. Dog books are prominently displayed everywhere, each enticing and each with endearing pictures beckoning, like a puppy in the window, to be brought home.

Indeed, never has there been a better time on planet earth to be a dog. From boutique dog shops with Swarovski-studded poodle skirts and cashmere sweaters to comfy pillow beds, spas and doggie daycare buses that transport dogs to and from their homes, bed and biscuit boarding “inns”, dog-friendly restaurants and hotels, dogs today truly have never had it better. No longer toughing it out in the distant coldness of a doghouse, they have been warmly welcomed into the luxury of modern day living.

In contrast, the 69 brave dogs that accompanied Shackleton on his Arctic expedition back in 1914 could have used a warm comfy bed and biscuit after a typical day’s work pulling a loaded sledge in the arctic cold for 29 miles. The Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, Eskimo Wolfhounds and wolves all played a vital role in the expedition while developing strong bonds with members of the crew in the brutal, unforgiving conditions of the arctic.*

List of dog names
An inscription on a monument of a Newfoundland dog from 1808 by Lord Byron reads: “Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtures of Man without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog.”

No matter the living conditions – whether they be warm luxury or extreme cold – it is the bond, in any and all conditions, that dogs develop with their caretakers that so deeply stirs our emotions and causes us to ponder in wonder and amazement their devotion, loyalty and other human-like qualities.

In his book All My Dogs, Bill Henderson references Charles Darwin’s observation that there is “no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties…that they experience happiness, wonder, shame, pride, curiosity, jealousy, suspicion, gratitude, and magnanimity, plus love and sympathy.”

best dog novels

It is no surprise, then, in this sometimes lonely world, that humans are attracted to stories about the only animal whose love is always constant and true. The unconditional love, commitment and acceptance that dogs offer to their companions is, after all, why dogs are considered to be “man’s best friend.”

It is in the spirit of All Things Dogs during this “All I Want for Christmas is that Puppy in the Window” holiday season that ATG shares below some “best” books about man’s “best” friend.

Four favorite classics that will make you cry while reading aloud to your children:

  • Where the Red Fern Grows (1961) by Wilson Rawls
  • Old Yeller (1956) by Fred Gipson
  • The Incredible Journey (1960) by Sheila Burnford
  • Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight, first published as a short story in the Saturday Evening Post 1938

Classic dog books

Three recent books:

1. All My Dogs: A Life (2011) by Bill Henderson, Founder of Pushcart Press

A beautiful little book that chronicles the ups and downs of Bill Henderson’s life through the many and varied dogs who shared it: Trixie, Duke, Snopes, Ellen, Rocky, Sophie, Charlie, Airport, Opie, LuLu, Max, St. Francis of Assisi (Franny), and Sedgwick.

  • “We read biographies of great and noble people,” Henderson writes.  “They all expire. But somehow it hurts more when a great dog dies.”

true dog storiesAlso of interest: in the prelude, Henderson mentions a book by Elizabeth von Arnim, an admired literary figure, who in 1936 published one of the supposedly first modern dog/human memoirs, entitled All the Dogs of My Life. Similar to his book, it is part autobiographical and an account of the many dogs she loved: Bijou, Bildad, Cornelia, Ingraham, Ingulf, Iago, Ivo, Prince, Coco, Pincher, Knobbie, Chunkie, Woosie, and Winkie during her life in Germany, Switzerland, London, land the French Riviera.

2. Good Dog: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Loyalty (2014) by David DiBenedetto and the Editors of Garden & Gun Magazine

  • “By turns humorous, inspirational, and poignant, Good Dog offers beautifully crafted stories from such notable writers as P.J. O’Rourke, Jon Meacham, and Roy Blount, Jr.”

3. The Dog Walker (2015) by Joshua Stephens, a self-avowed anarchist who tells his “irreverent and perceptive fish-out-of-water story” about walking dogs for “powerful politicians and big corporate types.”

*If you’re looking for a name for a new puppy, consider the names of 65 of Shackleton’s dogs:

  • Alto, Amundsen,Blackie, Bob, Bo’sun, Bristol, Brownie, Buller, Bummer, Caruso, Chips, Dismal, Elliott, Fluff, Gruss, Hackenschmidt, Hercules, Jamie, Jasper, Jerry, Judge, Luke, Lupoid, Mack, Martin, Mercury, Noel, Paddy, Peter, Rodger, Roy, Rufus, Rugby, Sadie, Sailor, Saint, Sally, Sammy, Samson, Sandy, Satan, Shakespeare, Side Lights, Simian, Slippery Neck, Slobbers, Snowball, Soldier, Songster, Sooty, Spider, Split Up, Spotty, Steamer, Steward, Stumps, Sub, Sue, Surly, Swankers, Sweep, Tim, Upton, Wallaaby, Wolf

funny dog pictures

Golden retriever in sunglasses

quotes about dogs

true dog stories

unique dog breeds

In Need of a Knight or Two

“Maybe he will make thee a Knight of His Round Table – and there is no honor in all the world that can be as great as that!” – King Arthur

“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times…before the Empire.”Star Wars (Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker)

It can sometimes feel in these unsettling, turbulent and fear provoking times as though the world has grown a shade darker – particularly as the winter solstice draws near. And in dark times, it is only natural to search for a little sparkling light to guide one through the stormy seas of upheaval and distress that sometimes seems to wash over our wearied world.

Perhaps, when the world is spinning round in these “worst of times,” it would be wise to remember King Arthur and his knights in shining armor who ride into the darkness of the troubled realm, brandishing their swords and vanquishing the dark and evil forces with their chivalry.

Knights Code of Chivalry

One such “brandishing sword of light” is Ethan Hawke’s perfect little stocking-stuffer book, Rules for a Knight, a treasure for all – boy and girl, young and old – who seek a more admirable way of living.

The book tells the story of a knight who, before he goes off to battle, writes a letter to his children about how to conduct themselves in life and the world knowing that he may never return. As the publisher sums up nicely on the back cover: “He lays out the truth of the world as he sees it in a series of ruminations on solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, patience, generosity, authenticity, and love. He presents an honest and joyful accounting of what the measure of our lives should be.”

Ethan Hawke Rules for a Knight ReviewThe delightful and nostalgic story begins:

“My Dear Children, A dark wind murmurs secrets into my ear as I write to you this evening. Perhaps this whisper is only the deceitful voice of fear, but I must admit, I am afraid I will never see you again…If I return safely home from tomorrow’s battle, all the better, but should I not, then turn to these pages whenever you might look for my voice in guidance.  I do not want you children to use my untimely death, or any setback that life may deliver, as an excuse not to take responsibility for yourselves.”

“When I was a young man I didn’t know how to live. Evenings I would carouse with my friends, fighting, drinking, and wreaking havoc all through the night hours.  My mother died when she gave birth to me, and all during my teenage years I’d leaned on that tragedy as an excuse for my own destructive behavior.  Sometimes in a moment of reflection, I would seek solace in the chapel, my heart swollen with remorse over the suffering I had caused myself and others. My soul felt wild, and I could not discern for what reason I had been born. This lack of purpose weighed so heavily on me that at times I felt despondent, as if I were made of lead and sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Other times my idle nature made me feel so light and insignificant, I worried I might float away. Finally, this crisis inside me rose to a deafening drum. I decided to seek out the wisest man I could find and ask him to tell me how to live.”

One might find another “brandishing sword of light” on “how to live” in the following oath from Le Morte d’Arthur: King Arthur & the Legends of the Round Table by Sir Thomas Malory, first published in 1485:

“This is the oath of a Knight of King Arther’s Round Table and should be for all of us to take to heart. I will develop my life for the greater good. I will place character above riches, and concern for others above personal wealth, I will never boast, but cherish humility instead, I will speak the truth at all times, and forever keep my word, I will defend those who cannot defend themselves, I will honor and respect women, and refute sexism in all its guises, I will uphold justice by being fair to all, I will be faithful in love and loyal in friendship, I will abhor scandals and gossip-neither partake nor delight in them, I will be generous to the poor and to those who need help, I will forgive when asked, that my own mistakes will be forgiven, I will live my life with courtesy and honor from this day forward.”

The Stone of Destiny

Consider, also, the Knights Code of Chivalry, as expressed in the French poem “Song of Roland”, which was written based on the Battle of Roncevaux in 778, during the reign of Charlemagne (date of composition between 1040 and 1115):

  • Knight of armorGod and maintain His Church
  • To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
  • To protect the weak and defenceless
  • To give succour to widows and orphans
  • To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
  • To live by honour and for glory
  • To despise pecuniary reward
  • To fight for the welfare of all
  • To obey those placed in authority
  • To guard the honour of fellow knights
  • To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
  • To keep faith
  • At all times to speak the truth
  • To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
  • To respect the honour of women
  • Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
  • Never to turn the back upon a foe

And, as expressed by the Duke of Burgundy in the 14th Century:

  • Faith
  • Charity
  • Justice
  • Sagacity
  • Prudence
  • Temperance
  • Resolution
  • Truth
  • Liberality
  • Diligence
  • Hope
  • Valour

Please note: The above lists were taken from here.

A View of One’s Own

Strolling along George IV Bridge Street in Old Town Edinburgh – a short distance from The Royal Mile – you’ll come across what appears to be “just another” coffee shop…that is, until you read the sign that says “Birthplace of Harry Potter.”

The Elephant House Harry Potter

Step inside “The Elephant House” and you’ll quickly discover why J.K. Rowling found a “home away from home” in this warm, cozy little cafe while writing the first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.*

With a view of the iconic Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the “Stone of Destiny,” towering above the city’s cobbled streets (see below), it’s little wonder she was inspired to write of a “magical world” of witchcraft and wizardry that would come to captivate the imaginations of children worldwide.

Alongside a first edition, signed copy of the book is a note from J.K. Rowling herself, in a case on display, that reads: “To the beautiful little coffee shop where the magic all began.”

Edinburgh Castle

In the hope of sharing a bit of that magic, ATG puts forth some of our favorite Harry Potter quotes taken from the seven books.

As the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) once wrote: “I pick my favorite quotations and store them in my mind as ready armor, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence.”

  • The Elephant House Edinburgh“Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels.  But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”  –Dumbledore, Order of the Phoenix
  • “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”Dumbledore, Chamber of Secrets
  • “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” –Dumbledore, Sorcerer’s Stone
  • “We must try not to sink beneath our anguish Harry, but battle on.”  –Dumbledore, Half-Blood Prince
  • “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”  – Sirius Black, Goblet of Fire
  • “People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.”  –Dumbledore, Half-Blood Prince
  • “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  –Dumbledore, Deathly Hallows
  • “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”  –Dumbledore, Prisoner of Azkaban 
  • Harry Potter Books“Ah, music.  A magic beyond all we do here!”  –Dumbledore, Sorcerer’s Stone
  • “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself plainly when you have need of him.”  –Dumbledore from Prisoner of Azkaban
  • “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind…. At these times… I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.”  Dumbledore, Goblet of Fire

*Harry Potter and the”Philosopher’s” Stone was changed to “Sorcerer’s” Stone for publication in America.

The Elephant House JK Rowling
Inside The Elephant House

Please note: ATG is “traveling” along a rosy “ridge” in a distant “realm” of sparkling light. We’ll be back at the “table” December 7th.

Grafton Street
Grafton Street; Dublin, Ireland

“How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer

As we prepare to give thanks for “all things good” and enjoy an autumn harvest feast in the company of family and friends, ATG shares the below prayer, taken from the November 26, 2014 issue of The Weekly Standard, that we think beautifully captures the spirit of Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving prayer

We thank Thee for the glory of the universe, for the light of the sun and the mellowness of the moon and for the stars in their courses whose amazing dimensions and staggering distances challenge our imagination.

We thank Thee for the beauty and utility of Thy creations, for the flowers which are the stars of the earth even as the stars are the flowers of heaven; for the fertility of the soil and the abundance of its products; for the food that is borne within its bosom and the waters that flow from its deep and inner fountains; for the air that surrounds all creatures and that holds within its invisible self the secret and power of life.

We thank Thee for the dignity and majesty of man, for the spirit of wisdom with which Thou didst endow him, for the vision with which he is possessed, for the sensitivity of his heart and the profound­ness of his soul. We thank Thee for the dominion that is his over all creation, for his capacity to live with all his kind and for the urge that stimulates him to search, to seek and ultimately to approach even Thee. For all these blessings we thank thee.

Quotes On Teaching, Thinking & Learning

IMG_9265As a compliment to our piece in Rose’s Ridge about trigger warnings and microaggressions on college campuses, the below paragraphs from an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, written by Helaine L. Smith, a teacher of English at a school in New York City, provides a glimmer of hope:

“What I hope my students are learning is a lesson that is not political but is essential for politics: that one must support assertions with proofs, that one must consider counterarguments, that it’s necessary to listen to what others say and that doing so may allow you to strengthen, or force you to alter, what you think.

“In other words, in a modest way, we are disciples, generations removed, of John Milton’s ‘Areopagitica,’ of the belief that truth, or as much of it as we can grasp, is arrived at not through trigger warnings but through discussion and through debate that turns on details.

“We are running hard against the current, but my students don’t know that. My aim is to teach them to love great writing and to take pleasure in the habits of mind that close reading demands. These are also the habits essential for an informed citizenry. I’m reassured that I send forth young adults who, whatever political positions they adopt, will question before they conclude, and will respect others’ rights to question and to conclude otherwise.”

Additionally, the ancient philosophers, as evidenced by the Socratic method of teaching, offered an abundance of wisdom on teaching, thinking and learning that are forever prudent to keep in mind:

SOCRATES (469-399 BC)

  • “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
  • “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

PLATO (428-348 BC)

  • “The soul is like an eye: when it sees that on which truth and Being shine, the soul perceives and understands, and is radiant with intelligence.” – The Republic
  • “Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, nor the human race, as I believe, and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.”

ARISTOTLE (384-322 BC)

  • “All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses.” – Metaphysics
  • “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” 
  • “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” 

Autumn’s Last Light & “Hot” Read

November’s “Hot” Read: City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

City on Fire Book ReviewCity On Fire – an “immersive, exuberant, boundary-vaulting novel” published in October of this year is the debut novel of Garth Risk Hallberg, an American novelist born in Louisiana who grew up in North Carolina and currently lives in New York with his wife and children. 

Here’s what people are saying:

“Locating the best of times within the worst of times is no mean trick, especially in a historical novel where the history is recent enough that many readers remember firsthand just how bad those times were. That’s the delicate and ultimately moving balancing act that Garth Risk Hallberg pulls off in ‘City on Fire,’ his ­Dickens-size descent into New York City circa 1976-77”….read more from the New York Times.

“‘The more we’re told we’re becoming readers of blogs, of texts, of tweets,’ Garth Risk Hallberg wrote in an online essay in 2010, ‘the more committing to a big book feels like an act of resistance.’ Among the standard bearers of a miniboom in maximization, he named perennial favorites David Foster Wallace, whose mega-novel ‘Infinite Jest’ sports a four-figure page count, and Jonathan Franzen, who had just published ‘Freedom’ and this year completed a hat-trick of big books with ‘Purity.’ Mr. Hallberg has now joined the movement by offering up a novel of more than 900 pages”…read more from the Wall Street Journal.

November poems

“Autumn’s Last Light”

Seize the season’s last light –
A bouquet of swirling
Golden fiery hues…

And baubles of berries,
Dangling bright – ruby red

Infuse me with autumn’s warm flame –
A liquid harvest of
Honey’d wine

While slow
The roaring fire of time
Burn the dark moments
Of this closing year.

Autumn poems

Aliens, Monsters, Jaws, and Things: 10 Scary Movies for Halloween

Best halloween movies“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) from his 1927 essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature

In the spirit of Halloween – a time of bubbling cauldrons, bloodcurdling screams and cackling spirits – ATG puts forth our top 10 picks of the scariest movies of all time, nine of which were made over 30 years ago, but hold up surprisingly well.

Responsible for spawning numerous sequels, cheap imitators and whole genre movements (zombies, aliens, etc.), these movies play off of man’s primal fear of the unknown, causing our imaginations to run rampant with unthinkable possibilities.

Frankenstein – Directed by James Whale, this 1931 version of Mary Shelley’s (1797-1851) classic novel Frankenstein (1818) is by far one of the scariest movies ever made. Only a few years into “talkie” movies (1929 Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer was the first ever “talkie” movie) you know you have made a scary movie when people run out of the theater throughout the movie (which is exactly what happened in 1931). The special effects, make-up, and laboratory hold up amazingly well when you consider it was made close to 75 years ago. Boris Karloff without a doubt delivers the most classic performance of the Frankenstein monster ever made.
Note: For a hilarious spoof on the original, check out one of our all time favorites, Young Frankenstein (1974) starring the always-enjoyable Gene Wilder with Cloris Leachman.

Psycho (1960) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. This is a classic that stays with you and is every traveler’s worst nightmare when checking into a sketchy motel. Even today it keeps people on their paranoid toes when taking a shower. Anthony Perkin’s intense low-key performance is unnerving and the ending is still one of the all-time best of any classic scary movie.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) directed by George Romero. This low-budget black and white has probably spawned more zombie-related movies than any other movie made. Filmed in western Pennsylvania which adds to its authenticity, a few of us have been spooked in the cemetery of the living dead where some of the filming took place. The current zombie craze is a spinoff from this cult classic. After all, what isn’t scary about being locked in a country farmhouse when hundreds of local living-dead are trying to break in and eat you!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) directed by Tobe Hooper. Another cult classic with an unknown cast set in the remote and desolate Texas outback. Unchain your imagination when viewing this scary movie and you will be running wild with fright! Being chased by a leather-faced maniac with a chainsaw is enough to get anyone’s blood pumping!

The Exorcist (1973) directed by William Friedkin. One of the few movies worth all the hype when it first came out. The spinning head scene has spun its share of jokes and is one of the most familiar and referenced movie scenes ever. Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, and Max von Sydow give very authentic and believable performances that leave you wondering: “Is there somebody inside me?”

list of halloween movies

Jaws (1975) directed by Steven Spielberg. A movie that grabs you and won’t let you go into the water on your next visit to the beach. So many classic lines – “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat” – and classic scenes, it is a hard one to top. Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, it was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard and became the first ever summer blockbuster that played in theaters all summer long. After filming was wrapped up, Dreyfus and Spielberg went to Hawaii for a vacation and couldn’t bring themselves to go in the water!
Note: The sequel is worth watching as well.

Halloween (1978) directed by John Carpenter.* Jamie Lee Curtis’s breakout performance. This movie is a real treat for teens and is considered the original “teen scream” movie that keeps you jumping out of your seat. Responsible for launching a whole new genre that is still going strong today with Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and Paranormal Activity.

top 10 horror movies Alien (1979) directed by Ridley Scott. A slow-to-start classic space thriller that picks up speed a third of the way through and continues to build to one of the scariest scenes in cinematic history (hint: My belly doesn’t feel so well). This movie put Sigourney Weaver on the map and also includes John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Harry Dean Stanton . It spawned a whole new alien genre with three sequels. Many attempts have been made to top this original space monster story and 35 years later it still hasn’t been done.

The Thing (1982) directed by John Carpenter. An all-time favorite and a rare movie remake that is 10 times better than the original. Kurt Russell, with a great character cast, gives an amazing performance of what it would be like to be stranded in Antarctica with the “THING.” A movie with one of the best opening sequences – a dog feverishly on the run from some-THING in an intense pursuit-and-capture leaves the dog exploding into a monster “THING” – that sets the stage for a wild and frightening ride to find who on the island has the THING inside of them.

Wrong Turn (2003) directed by Rob Schmidt with a largely unknown cast. A classic on-the-edge-of-your-seat movie that gives quite a fright and stays with you longer than you’d like. An easy-to-relate-to-situation that quickly turns into a nightmare will make you think twice about venturing off the beaten trail. The story takes place on the back roads of West Virginia where you will find that smart yuppies are no match for inbred hillbillies.

*For another fright from John Carpenter check out The Vampires (1998)