Jerry Garcia’s favorite movie was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, a 1948 comedy/horror mashup that he says gave him “a general fascination with the bizarre” that would fuel his music career.
“There are things in this world that are really weird. I don’t think I knew that before I saw that movie, that there are things that are really weird, and there are people who are concerned with them,” Garcia said in “The Movie That Changed My Life” in 1995. “That became important to me, and I guess I thought to myself, on some level, I think I want to be concerned with things that are weird. […] It seems like fun.”
Many of my own passions are fueled by a preoccupation with the bizarre, the weird, the baroque, and the fun — chief among them horror movies and cannabis. The first time I smoked weed was kind of terrifying. I spent most of the evening wandering the streets of Salt Lake City in a paranoid haze of disorientation and massive sensory overload. Overwhelming, awesome, spooky, and hilarious, my first night stoned awakened in me a deep, primordial fascination with the unknown — a fascination that evolved into a deep love for both cannabis and horror, and the rare opportunity to write about both for a living.
And the deeper I dive into the cannabis industry, the more company I find I have. Turns out there’s a rich tradition out there of cannabis enthusiasts who’ve mastered the art of smoking weed and watching horror movies. Just as mere “scares” aren’t the only goal of a good horror film, the cannabis high is about far more than “feeling good.” If you’re doin’ ’em right, horror movies and weed offer similar modes of catharsis through similarly heightened realities, and weed’s ability to alter perception can directly enhance the sensory impact of a horror film’s visual and thematic extremes.
And like cannabis, horror has always been an integral part of the counterculture, pushing the boundaries of mainstream thought with a political, socially potent edge that, more often than not, breeds progress.
For those who dare treat themselves to a long, strange trip of thrills, chills, laughs, and some seriously dank visuals, here are 13 horror movies to watch while high this Spooky Season.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is director Tobe Hooper’s comedic take on the psychopathic, killer-hillbilly family of his groundbreaking first film, setting them loose in a world of gonzo, heavy-metal visuals, and slapstick gore. It’s funny, it’s frenetic, it’s grotesque, and it’s got a chainsaw battle between Dennis Hopper and series avatar Leatherface. Do yourself a favor, roll a blunt and watch this thing.
Make no mistake: Mandy is a film for us stoners. Nicolas Cage goes full Cage as a lumberjack whose wife is kidnapped by a cult in the woods, spurring a heavy-metal odyssey of neon, blood, and vengeance, with a few psychedelic animated sequences — not to mention the odd fake commercial from the creators of “Too Many Cooks” — along the way. It all amounts to the dankest, trippiest, most metal cinematic terror ride of recent memory.
The Shining (1980)
I have a buddy who’s made an annual tradition of waking, baking, and watching The Shining on Halloween. Couldn’t more emphatically recommend it if you’re into that sorta thing, seeing how Stanley Kubrick’s “masterpiece of modern horror” is an endless labyrinth of images and ideas — both gorgeous and terrifying — that practically begs for not one, but multiple high viewings.
If you’re feeling really adventurous and don’t mind a little recreational, mindblowing paranoia, toke up and watch Room 237, a documentary about the many obsessive, intricate fan theories surrounding The Shining, the most believable of which is that the film is an elaborate, subliminal visual essay on American colonialism and the genocide of Native Americans — heavy, but absolutely plausible.
One (or all) of the OG Universal Monster Movies
The Mummy, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon — take your pick. Practically every film in Universal’s classic monster lineup is in light, shadow, and mood. Having watched a few of these in the company of my dab rig this year, I can vouch for their ability to absolutely wow the stoned viewer with some of the greatest black-and-white cinematography ever put on film. Most of these also clock in at under 80 minutes, so they’re a low and worthwhile time lift. If you don’t like black-and-white movies, it’s because you haven’t seen these ones.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
I was bordering on stoned-out-of-my-mind the first time I watched this excellent slasher mashup, and I got completely lost in its vivid aesthetic, campy scares, and welcome laughs. Freddy vs. Jason’s visual palette deviates from the aesthetics of both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series in favor of something that not only works for both titular slasher titans but will also engross and envelop the stoned viewer. And if you haven’t seen a single Freddy or Jason movie, don’t worry — Freddy vs. Jason is as good a place as any to start.
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
Hammer Horror Productions’ ode to swinging London and vampire schlock is one of several Hammer-Dracula flicks starring Christopher Lee, the greatest cinematic Dracula of them all, according to many horror fans, including yours truly.
Setting Lee’s Dracula loose in swinging London to kill the descendants of Van Helsing, Dracula A.D. 1972 strikes a winning balance between now-gothic flair and the British-mod sensibility of its time. It’s also got a few entertaining low-budget set-pieces that are a blast to watch while high.
House is an outta-this-world Japanese haunted-house “comedy” horror film that throws down the gauntlet on any other movie you may think is the wildest thing you’ve ever watched. Six teen girls take a trip to an aunt’s home in the country, literally all sorts of supernatural chaos ensues, and every girl is slowly consumed by the house. Honestly, this film’s many psychedelic-nightmare pleasures might make it the absolute best high-watch of all time.
Most would consider Manhunter, based on Thomas Harris’s first Hannibal Lecter novel, more a thriller than a horror film, but those people haven’t enjoyed repeat viewings of this vaporwave joint in the midst of a heavy-indica haze like I have. Released five years before The Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter follows another FBI investigator, played by William Petersen of CSI fame, hunting down another serial killer with the help of a certain incarcerated, mad-genius cannibal. The plot will please all the true crime fans out there, and its minimalist fever-dream visuals and synth-heavy ’80s soundtrack make Manhunter a top-tier couch-lock movie.
I honestly don’t know why this one isn’t a bigger deal among horror devotees. Thirst offers a fresh, Rosemary’s Baby-esque take on the vampire genre, centering on a woman who’s kidnapped by a weird medical cult who believes she’s the descendent of an all-powerful, blood-sucking race. It’s got all the makings of a great horror high-watch, with haunting terror sequences, a hypnotic pace, and lush, gently ultraviolent cinematography. Take your favorite warm-blankety edible with this one and let it wash over you.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2007)
This is one of the most divisive movies in horror history. Rob Zombie takes the mythology of the original Halloween series and throws it in a grime-soaked blender, and, out of that dank-ass mush, bakes a uniquely trippy meditation on death, generational trauma, and local celebrity. In my experience, the things that make this such a worthwhile departure from a beloved horror property formula reveal themselves the higher you are when you watch it.
Body Double (1984)
From Brian De Palma, master of suspense and dank aesthetics, this delightfully trashy, deceptively profound 1984 thriller is a satirical takedown of exploitation, commerce, and illusion in Hollywood with a full-on music video for Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” baked in for good measure. Spark up, enjoy, and, to paraphrase the film’s cryptic tagline, don’t believe everything you see.
The Fog (1980)
Though not quite as popular as director John Carpenter’s dank horror classics Halloween and The Thing, The Fog is every bit as cool and visually arresting. A nautical ghost story with a phenomenal cast and economical use of a limited set of effects, it’s a classic spooky thrill ride, ironically ripe for enjoying under the influence of a clear, potent dab high. Stay away from the fog!
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
It’s time for a new dance to begin … the Dance of Death! If you’re a horror fan, chances are one of the things that appeals to you about it is being able to process real-life trauma through the catharsis of the genre. Roger Corman’s loose, unwieldy 1964 adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s most psychedelic tale, The Masque of the Red Death, gained a lot of traction last year for its newfound relevance at the height of the pandemic. Odd how a groovy, colorful, hedonistic depiction of an evil prince, played with diabolical snark by the great Vincent Price, throwing a fortified party for his elite inner circle as a pandemic ravages the populace would feel so prescient in 2021…
…happy Halloween, folks.
Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps