Since its quiet debut online in 2001, Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis’s strip about an anthropomorphic and acerbic band of animals trading barbs and cultural commentary, has become one of the bigger success stories in modern-day cartooning. Take a look at a few things you might not have realized about the strip’s history, including its origins and why the notoriously reclusive Bill Watterson once paid it an illustrated visit.
1. STEPHAN PASTIS STARTED OUT AS A CARTOONING LAWYER.
Before he committed to cartooning as a profession, Stephan Pastis studied to become an attorney. The San Marino, California native practiced in the field of insurance defense from 1993 to 2002, representing insurance companies who were being sued by policyholders. At night, he would draw and send samples to syndicates. “When you’re in law school, you think you’re going to be a lawyer like Oliver Wendell Holmes, arguing esoteric points of law,” he told Cartoonician.com in 2014. “But in truth, what you do is, you get in petty fights with other lawyers about who served whom and when, and how well you can bury someone in discovery, and keep someone in deposition for hours.”
2. CHARLES SCHULZ ENCOURAGED HIM.
Hearing that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz stopped in for breakfast every morning at a Santa Rosa ice skating rink, Pastis staked out the arena in 1996 in the hopes of soliciting some advice from the legendary cartoonist. Schulz graciously invited him to sit down and gave him some input on The Infirm, a legal comedy Pastis was working on at the time. The meeting emboldened Pastis, who took to reading Dilbert collections to try and evaluate why successful strips worked. Focusing more on two misanthropic animal characters, Rat and Pig, Pastis started circulating samples of Pearls Before Swine in 1999. (The title comes from a Bible verse, Matthew 7:6: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.”)
3. A SALES GUY ALMOST KILLED THE STRIP.
After honing his skills, Pastis’s Pearls drew the attention of several syndicates. One of them, United, offered a “trial” run where they would verify he could turn in strips on a consistent basis before going out to newspapers. After that phase, Pastis expected to start appearing in print. But one salesman at the syndicate changed that with just one word. Pearls, he said, “sucks.” Fearing the strip wouldn’t catch on, United let Pastis shop the strip around in 2000 before calling him back and offering to put the strip on their website to see if readers responded. They did. Bolstered by an endorsement from Dilbert creator Scott Adams, Pearls wound up in newspapers in 2002. Eight months after its debut, Pastis quit practicing law for good.
4. IT MIGHT BE THE DON RICKLES OF COMIC STRIPS.
In 2006, Pastis drew some criticism for poking fun at the comparatively mundane strips Baby Blues and Zits, as well as the highly homogenized Family Circus. Some fans of those strips wrote in to complain, but the targets of his ribbing didn’t take things so seriously. Bil Keane of Family Circus requested to see the strips mocking Jeffy and company—Pastis depicted them as profanity-spewing alcoholics—while Baby Blues referenced Pearls by having the kids in the strip play with a toy crocodile, a nod to his acerbic crocodile characters.
5. HE UPSET CATHY GUISEWITE.
One of Pastis's repeated targets has been Cathy, the laconic strip about a harried single woman that ran through 2010. On his blog, Pastis recalled a phone conversation he had with Cathy creator Cathy Guisewite in which he called to inform her he wanted to depict her playing naked Twister in the strip. An appalled Guisewite insisted he withhold it from publication. Later, Pastis won a National Cartoonists Society award for Best Comic Strip, an honor presented by Guisewite during the ceremony. Pastis feared some reprisal, but Guisewite just said she was proud of his accomplishment.
6. ONE STRIP ABOUT ISIS WAS WITHHELD FROM PRINT.
In 2016, Pastis depicted the character of Pig on the phone with his sister and trying to correct her grammar from using “me” to “I.” His insistence leads to screaming, "I, sis!” into the receiver, with the National Security Agency subsequently hauling him away. His syndicate refused to run the strip, citing concerns people would be upset if a terrorist attack happened to unfold in the days or weeks surrounding publication.
7. BILL WATTERSON MADE HIS RETURN TO COMICS IN THE STRIP.
After finishing his 10-year run on Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, cartoonist Bill Watterson largely stepped away from the public eye. He ended his extended sabbatical from comics in 2014, covertly stepping in as a guest artist for Pearls. Watterson was a fan of Pastis’s work and got in touch via a mutual friend. Watterson wound up doing three daily strips, leaving readers to wonder why the Pearls style was suddenly hewing so closely to Watterson’s, before Pastis broke the news. Once the story was out, the strips blew out a server on Universal’s Uclick site.
8. PASTIS IS A CHARACTER IN THE STRIP.
While Pastis has said that the character of Rat exhibits some of his humor, he has been known to frequently insert himself into the strip. This can confuse some readers, as in the case when the illustrated Pastis divorced his wife, Staci, within the narrative of the comic. That led people to believe the cartoonist was really getting a divorce. (He wasn’t.)
9. YOU CAN BUY PLUSH PEARLS CHARACTERS.
In 2009, Pastis and Universal struck a deal with plush toy manufacturer Aurora for a line of stuffed Pearls Before Swine characters, including Pig, Rat, and a Croc. Pastis joked that the three-dimensional products would help him “draw the back-view” of his cast when he needs a visual reference.
10. IT GOT AN ENDORSEMENT FROM A CONVICTED MURDERER.
In 2010, Pastis was somewhat horrified to read that a man awaiting trial for a double homicide in Utah wrote in to a local newspaper to chastise the prosecution and offer his view of the offending circumstances. At the end, in a weird non-sequitur, he implored the paper to “bring back Pearls Before Swines [sic] and Garfield.” The defendant, Jeremy Valdes, pled guilty in 2015 and was ordered to serve two life sentences.
With perhaps three-quarters of a million words in the English language, it's fairly reasonable to suggest that you probably won't get around to learning them all, and that there'll be plenty of words hiding away in the dictionary that you’ll never need (or want) to know.
In some cases, that's a real shame: Look closely enough and the dictionary contains dozens of eminently useful words, like euneirophrenia (the pleasant feeling of contentment that comes from waking up after a nice dream), zwodder (a cloudy, befuddled mental state caused by not getting enough sleep), and snollygoster (a disreputable politician). But in other cases—as with the 25 weird and obscure words listed here—not knowing or using them might be totally understandable.
As well as being one of the strangest words in the dictionary, archimime or archmime is also perhaps one of the strangest occupations in history: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an archimime was "a chief buffoon or jester" whose job involved attending funerals and impersonating the deceased person. (No, really.)
Yes, this slang word for anything particularly awesome was added to the dictionary (or at least the online arm of Oxford Dictionaries) in 2015, along with the likes offur baby, wine o’clock, manspreading, and mkay.
If you know your classics, you might know this one already: A batrachomyomachy is a petty quarrel or pointless argument. That might sound straightforward enough, but when you find out that it literally means "a battle between frogs and mice," things take a turn for the unusual. The word batrachomyomachy actually derives from an ancient Greek parody of Homer's Iliad in which a frog accidentally drowned a mouse that was sitting on its back, sparking a brutal war between the two species.
A buttock (in this context at least) is the next portion of a coalface to be broken up and mined out. A buttocker, according to an early 20th century Glossary of the Mining Industry, is someone who does precisely that.
Derived from the Greek word callos, meaning "beauty" (as in calligraphy or calisthenics), someone described as callipygian has beautifully shaped buttocks. Originally an architectural term from the early 1800s used to describe the figures of classical sculptures and artworks, the word has been in wider use since the late 1900s.
Sages and forecasters have used ever more bizarre methods to tell the future over the centuries, from observing the shapes of the clouds (aeromancy) to the shapes and patterns of the ashes from a fire (tephromancy). Among the strangest of all these fortune-telling practices was cephalomancy—a method of foretelling the future in which a donkey's head would be boiled or roasted on an open fire, and significance taken from the movements or crackling of its bones. One particular use of this kind of divination was in assessing a guilty party: A list of names would be read aloud while the head was cooked, and if the donkey's jaw moved or cracked when someone's name was spoken, they were said to be the guilty party.
Euouae is actually a mnemonic abbreviation used to memorize the sequence of a particular cadence in a certain hymn (and so the jury is out as to whether it actually constitutes a word). Nevertheless, it's found its way onto the pages of some dictionaries and as such is said to be the longest word in the English language consisting entirely of vowels.
According to the English lexicographer Francis Grose's aptly-titled Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, feague is a verb meaning "to put ginger up a horse's fundament." If that sounds too ridiculous to be true, don't worry: You can always replace the raw ginger with a live eel. Both methods, Grose explained, were apparently once used "to make him lively and carry his tail well," thereby earning his owner a better price at market. Etymologically, the word is something of a mystery, but one theory suggests that feaguemight once have meant merely "to agitate" or "to enliven," and the later more specific (and more unpleasant) meaning derived from there.
Take a live goose. Cover it in grease. Suspend it by its feet from a crossbar. Then ride a horse underneath it and, as you go by, try to pull the goose’s head off. That’s the definition of the sport (if it can be called a sport) of gander-pulling.
Coined in the 1800s, hippanthropy is the mental delusion that you are turning into, or have turned into, a horse. Not quite the word you want? Try boanthropy, the delusion that you're an ox. Too specific? Try zoanthropy, the delusion that you are turning into an (unspecified) animal.
Derived from a Greek word, hoplon, for a weapon, hoplochrism is an old form of medicine in which the weapon or tool that caused a wound would be treated and anointed in the same way as the wound itself, in the belief that doing so would somehow speed up the healing process. You can decide for yourself whether it ever worked.
As a noun, lant or leint is stale or aged urine, which was once stored and preserved for its chemical and supposed medicinal properties. As a verb, to lant is to mix urine into beer to make it taste stronger. If ever there was a word you might never want to come across, surely it's this.
First used in English in the 18th century, a pogonology is a treatise on or written description of a beard.
If ever you needed an incentive to drink, owning a ptomatis might be it. Derived via Latin from Ancient Greek, a ptomatis is a cup or similar drinking vessel that needs to be emptied before it can be put down, as it is shaped in such a way that it won't stand upright open-end up.
Q-words are always a bit on the unusual side, but quomodocunquize is in a field of its own. Derived from a Latin word, quomodocunque, meaning "in whatever way possible," to quomodocunquize is to make money or earn a living by any possible means.
Thankfully not as unpleasant as it sounds: A running-buttock is the name of a wrestling move dating from the 17th century.
A shive is a tiny splinter or fragment of something. Derived from that—in the sense that a loose thread or tag in a garment might be unpleasantly scratchy—shivviness is the uncomfortable feeling caused by wearing new underwear.
In his A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768), the author Laurence Sterne invented a character named Smelfungus (albeit with one L) who was habitually unimpressed with everything he cast his eyes on during his travels. Sterne based the character on fellow travel writer (and chronic nitpicker) Tobias Smollett, and in doing so gave the English language a brilliant word for a dour, pessimistic faultfinder.
As definitions go, that of sooterkin is probably among the strangest of all in the dictionary: It refers to a monstrous part-human creature said to be given birth to by Dutch women who sat on stove tops to keep warm.
According to a quotation in the English Dialect Dictionary, spanghewing was the name of "a cruel custom" that involved "blowing up a frog by inserting a straw under the skin at the anus." The inflated frog was then bowled across the surface of a pond, and whoever could toss or spanghew their frog the furthest won the game. Thankfully, nobody goes around spanghewing anymore and so the word—on the rare occasion it is used—is typically used to mean "to hurl violently into the air."
Should you ever need a word for it, the tendency of doctors "to overdiagnose syphilis, or to treat patients for syphilis unnecessarily," is syphilomania according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
James Joyce invented this word for the sound of someone knocking on a door in his novel Ulysses (1922). As well as being just a particularly strange word, it also has the distinction of being the longest palindrome in the OED.
In addition to being a term from pinball, a thumb-bumper is 'one who closing his fist firmly but with the thumb sticking out fiercely drives it against the buttocks of another." Why you would have to do that, and why it happened frequently enough to warrant a definition in the English Dialect Dictionary, is a mystery. And probably best kept that way.
Should you ever need a word specifically to describe being poisoned by cheese, here it is.
To behave like a whippersnapper? That's to whippersnap.
From creature features to haunted house capers, the horror genre has been giving audiences the willies since the dawn of film. Here are our picks for the 20 best of all time. (If you’re bemoaning the lack of, say, Alien or The Fly, check out our list of the Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time first—there are just too many excellent films to justify any duplicate entries.)
1. FREAKS (1932)
Director Tod Browning’s best-known work of horror is doubtless Dracula—but his best is Freaks, about a group of sideshow performers who vow vengeance on the beautiful trapeze artist who’s married to one of their own for his money. The film was controversial upon its release, due in large part to Browning’s casting of actual “freaks”(credited in the film as “Siamese Twin,” “Half Woman-Half Man,” “Human Skeleton,” “The Living Torso,” “Human Skeleton” etc). MGM demanded extensive cuts to the film, which were insufficient to keep it from being banned in the U.K. until 1963. According to Freaks’s production manager, a woman “tried to sue the studio, claiming the film had induced a miscarriage.”
2. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
Universal, under the guidance of producer Carl Laemmle Jr., had a whole raft of brilliant horror films in the 1930s: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Old Dark House. The list goes on. But raised high up above its companions—as high as its eponymous character’s hair—is James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein. Whale was initially reluctant to direct a sequel to his blockbuster success but was convinced by the promise of increased creative freedom. It was a good thing, too; if Whale hadn’t been able to tell his superiors at Universal what was what, we may have ended up with something like an early treatment for the film, where Dr. Frankenstein and his wife Elizabeth literally run off and join the circus. Frankenstein’s Monster finds them, demands a bride, and is later eaten by circus lions.
3. CAT PEOPLE (1942)
Producer Val Lewton, who worked at RKO throughout the 1940s, is famed for a style of horror film that prizes atmosphere over spectacle. You rarely see the monsters in films like The Leopard Man or Isle of the Dead, because Lewton just plain didn’t have the budget for it. The first—and best—of the films Lewton produced is director Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, in which a woman (Simone Simon) is subject to a family curse where strong feelings of anger or sexual arousal turn her into, well, a Cat Person. A classy and subtle (as per Lewton’s style) look at the way society villainizes female sexuality, the film was remade in 1982 by Paul Schrader, who abandoned the previous film’s nuance for BDSM, incest, and a scenery-chewing Malcolm McDowell.
4. DIABOLIQUE (1955)
Psycho is to showers as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece Diabolique is to bathtubs. The film, about the goings-on in a rundown French boarding school, is widely cited as having influenced Hitchcock’s Psycho. Certainly, Psycho’s “no late admittance” policy—unusual at the time—had been applied to Diabolique years before. In addition, Hitchcock tried to get his hands on the rights to Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac’s Celle Qui n’etait Plus (She Who Was No More), which would become Diabolique, but Clouzot beat them to the punch and proceeded to “[block] those rights for a year, thus effectively preventing Alfred Hitchcock from getting his hands on the story.” Hitchcock instead acquired the rights to later novel by the pair, D’entre les morts (From the Dead), which would become Vertigo.
5. PSYCHO (1960)
With Psycho, Hitchcock broke new ground in a lot of ways. For one, he changed the way film was exhibited. Prior to Psycho, it was a generally accepted practice that moviegoers could enter a theater at any point during a screening. Hitch, determined that people wouldn’t wander in halfway into the movie and wonder where mega-star Janet Leigh (killed off in the famous shower sequence in the film’s first third) was, had theaters put up notices to the effect that late admittance was not allowed. And speaking of: In Alexandre O. Philippe’s doc 78/52, which is all about Psycho’s shower scene, horror director Richard Stanley posits that the film “might have also started the rather negative trend of victims undressing before they’re butchered, which is something that’s haunted slasher cinema throughout the '70s.”
6. BLACK SUNDAY (1960)
Icon of the Italian giallo movement Mario Bava made his official feature debut (he’d done uncredited work saving other people’s pictures before) with Black Sunday, loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story Viy. Barbara Steele starred in two roles: Asa, a witch killed in the 17th century, and her descendent Katia, whose life Aja plans to take for herself from beyond the grave. Following her work on Black Sunday, Steele made other horror films and became an icon of the genre … which got her some pretty wicked admirers.
Per a Diabolique Magazine profile, “When she was at the height of her fame in Italy an invitation arrived by messenger from the newly appointed dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi to join him for an informal brunch. Barbara recalled that the entire affair was lavish but a bit off-putting since each chair had an armed guard stationed by it fully equipped with submachine guns.” Years later, she received a request for a signed photograph (which she consented to) from a young man named Jeffrey Dahmer.
7. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)
Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who penned the books upon which Diabolique and Vertigo are based, were hired by director Georges Franju to adapt a novel by Jean Redon for the big screen. The film was developed by producer Jules Borkon specifically as a way to get into the horror genre that French audiences liked so much when it was American films—specifically, the Gothic horror films of the late ‘50s—being imported. A practical man, Borkon advised Franju to avoid excessive blood and animal torture, which the English and French censors, respectively, did not like. Ditto mad scientists, because, wrote David Kalat in his Criterion Collection essay on the film, “the Germans are touchy on about the whole Nazi doctor thing. This Borkon said while handing Franju a project about a mad doctor who tortures animals while cutting off women’s faces.”
Boileau and Narcejac got around this potentially very thorny (and bloody) problem by focusing the story on the mad doctor’s daughter, Christiane—though a moment near the end of the film was still shocking enough that it reportedly caused seven viewers at the Edinburgh Film Festival to faint and many others to leave the theater early. (Franju’s response: “Now I know why Scotsmen wear skirts.”)
In the United States, Eyes Without a Face was given the campy title The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus and paired in a double bill with The Manster (“Half Man – Half Monster – All Terror!”), which might explain why it took several years for American audiences to discover it for the haunting arthouse horror masterpiece it is.
8. THE HAUNTING (1963)
The gold standard in haunted house movies, Robert Wise’s The Haunting is based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, in which a paranormal investigator enlists a team of strangers to document their experiences living in a purportedly haunted mansion. (Not to be confused with the Vincent Price-starring House on Haunted Hill.) The favorite horror film of no less than Martin Scorsese, The Haunting adopts the show-don’t-tell ethos of Wise’s mentor, Val Lewton, who was famous for his highly atmospheric, low-budget horror movies where you frequently don’t see the monster in question. To that end, the supernatural forces in The Haunting are rarely visualized, with the emphasis more on the deteriorating mental state of the fragile, frazzled Eleanor (Julie Harris). Harris suffered from depression on-set and isolated herself from her co-stars, the result of not feeling that they took the film as seriously as she did. Wise followed up The Haunting with a decidedly more peppy film: 1965’s The Sound of Music.
9. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
One of the reasons that George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead became such a touchstone of the horror genre is, well, it’s a damn good movie. But a more minor reason has to do with a copyright fluke that put the film in the public domain. (The theatrical distributor changed the title prior to the film’s release, but when they updated the title card, they forgot to add the required copyright notice.) No copyright means no royalty fees, which in turn meant that Night of the Living Dead got more play on TV and a larger home video release than it would have had otherwise. It also meant that other filmmakers could create their own twists on Romero’s zombie classic without having to pay the man for the privilege, helping to give rise to the robust zombie sub-genre that’s been eating brains ever since.
10. ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
Though directed by one film legend, Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby was at one point going to be helmed by a director of a different sort: William Castle. An icon of B-movie, gimmick-heavy horror—his most famous film is House on Haunted Hill, in which Vincent Price kills someone using an elaborate skeleton puppet, and for another of his movies, The Tingler, buzzers were installed in theater seats to gently zap moviegoers—Castle bought the rights to Ira Levin’s unpublished novel with an eye toward rehabilitating his image. (“We used to sit around our dining room table at night and instead of saying grace, my father would practice his Academy Award acceptance speech,” his daughter, Terry Castle, remembered.) Alas, it was not to be: Paramount, which co-financed Rosemary’s Baby with Castle, insisted that the film be directed by the more respectable Polanski, who was fresh off the success of his Euro horror hit Repulsion.
Though he initially found Polanski “cocky and vain,” Castle was won over by the younger director’s vision for the film, which basically boiled down to “Do it exactly like the book. Barely change anything.” Paramount won the fight, and Polanski signed on as Rosemary’s Baby’s director, with Castle producing. Some other Hollywood icons were involved behind the scenes, as well; Tony Curtis has an uncredited cameo as the voice of Donald Baumgart, and a cameo with Joan Crawford and Van Johnson playing themselves was filmed but later cut. (Johnson calling Polanski “Pinocchio” probably didn’t help.)
11. THE EXORCIST (1973)
The Silence of the Lambs’s route to Oscar success was paved by William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. It received nine other nominations, too, including one for teenaged Linda Blair, playing the possessed Regan MacNeil. The nomination was met with controversy at the time, given the fact that Regan’s “possessed” voice was actually another actress: Mercedes McCambridge, who had to fight to receive on-screen credit. The Exorcist eventually won two Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound.
12. CARRIE (1976)
Between film and TV, there have been over 100 adaptations of the work of Stephen King—but Carrie, directed by Brian De Palma, was the first. Sissy Spacek got a rare-for-horror Oscar nomination for playing the title character, a telekinetic teen bullied by her fellow students and her mother. De Palma initially thought that Spacek, at 25, was too old to play the teenage Carrie, even going so far as to encourage her to skip her final screen test in favor of a big commercial she had booked. Thankfully, Spacek ignored the director’s advice; she showed up to the screen test with Vaseline rubbed into her hair “to make it all greasy and yucky. I didn’t brush my teeth … I had a little dress since junior high school that was all ratty and old, and when the hair and make up people saw me coming, they raced to me to fix me up and I was like, ‘No! Stay away!’ Then I raced over to a corner and sulked and got ready for my screen test." Recalled De Palma: “she made everyone else look silly.”
13. HOUSE (1977)
In the 1970s, the Japanese movie market was being overtaken by fun, action-heavy Hollywood imports. Wanting a piece of the action themselves, Toho Studios hired Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, who had directed a series of experimental shorts and television commercials, to come up with a Japanese answer toJaws. What they got was … er … not that. There wasn’t a human-eating piano inJaws, or a demon cat, or a teenage girl who’s attacked by a bunch of futon mattresses. Ôbayashi’s psychedelic, bizarre horror comedy—about a group of seven teenage girls who go on vacation to one of the girl’s aunt’s house, only to realize the aunt is a witch and the house likes to eat people—proved a success among Japanese youth. It achieved cult status and was finally released in the United States in 2010.
14. SUSPIRIA (1977)
A surreal, gory, Technicolor extravaganza of witches, ballet, and murder, Dario Argento’s Suspiria is generally considered one of the finest examples—if not the finest example—of Italian horror. But one party involved in Suspiria wasn’t too keen on being associated with it: American distributor 20th Century Fox, which released the film under little-known subsidiary International Classics Inc. so as to avoid having its name attached to the film. Per Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ Suspiria, there were “concerns about the impact [Suspiria] might have to its recently boosted industry reputation on the back of the success of George Lucas’ Star Wars.”
15. HALLOWEEN (1978)
John Carpenter’s Halloween, which begins with a six-year-old Michael Myers stabbing his nude sister, remains the only slasher film to date on the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. Upon its 2006 induction, the Library of Congress’s Steve Leggett noted that the film “launched Carpenter’s career and started the slasher genre.”
Despite its status as the godfather of a particularly gory genre, Halloween is a film without any (literal) blood. That was intentional; writes David Konow in his book Reel Terror, it was Halloween cinematographer Dean Cundey’s belief that “even before the mad slasher craze, the feeling was that too much gore and special effects can call too much attention to itself, take the audience out of the movie, and make the story less realistic. ‘We actually spoke specifically about it,’ [said] Cundey. ‘I think part of what was so effective about Halloween is you could say any of this could happen.’”
16. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
John Landis's horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London is a groundbreaking bit of filmmaking for, among other things, its werewolf makeup effects. Practical FX guru Rick Baker won the first-ever Best Makeup Oscar for his work on the film; he was subsequently nominated for 10 Best Makeup Oscars and won seven. Baker’s work on American Werewolf particularly impressed Michael Jacksonwho, after seeing the film, contacted Landis and Baker to direct and do makeup design, respectively, for the music video for “Thriller.”
17. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves its biopics and its period dramas ... but horror movies? Not so much. Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is to date the only horror film to win the Best Picture Oscar. And it won a lot more than that: it’s only the third film in Oscar history to take home wins in the Big Five categories, a.k.a. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Adapted Screenplay, in Silence’s case), Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), and Best Actress (Jodie Foster.) The other two Big Five victors are It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
18. SCREAM (1996)
Where Halloween invented the slasher genre, Scream reinvented it for a new generation, combining horror with meta comedy that skewers years of slasher movie tropes. Scream also revitalized the career of Wes Craven, a founding father of horror who made a name for himself with films like The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Still, in the mid-‘90s Craven was trying to move away from the dark, violent cinema he was associated with in an effort to avoid being pigeonholed. As such, he initially turned Scream down.
“The turning point was when a kid came up to me at a film conference or a panel I was on,” Craven later recalled. “The kid said, ‘You know, you should really do a movie like The Last House on the Left again. You really kicked ass back then, and you haven’t done it since.’ I went home and I thought, ‘Am I getting soft?’ I’ve always had this ambivalence about doing violent films, and I’ve also had this other side that says, ‘This is your voice, this is what comes naturally to you. You do it really well, go do it.’ So I called Bob [Weinstein, producer] and off we went.”
19. RINGU (1998)
One of the most influential international horror films of all time, the success of Hideo Nakata’s Ringuhelped Japanese horror “[break] out of its cult status” in the West, subsequently kicking off a wave of American remakes of Japanese horror films. Ringu was remade in 2002 by Gore Verbinski as The Ring, which made more money in Japan than its source material—though not much more; Ringu made approximately $13 million in Japan, compared to The Ring’s $14.1 million. Subsequent American remakes of Asian horror hits included The Grudge (originally Ju-On), Dark Water, and Pulse.
20. GET OUT (2017)
The most recent entry on this list, Get Out has already knocked out a few milestones. Two other horror films on this list, The Silence of the Lambs and The Exorcist, won the Oscar for Best Adapted screenplay, but Get Out is the only horror film to win for Best Original Screenplay; on top of that, writer/director Jordan Peele is to date the only black writer to win that award. Other Oscar noms for this scrappy horror underdog are Best Director (Peele), Best Lead Actor (Daniel Kaluuya) and Best Film.