Every Halloween, you see these lists; you know, the ones detailing the purported GREATEST horror films of all time that are populated by mainstream pop-dreck and PG-13 rated fluff. I mean, really, people out there actually think that The Sixth Sense and Poltergeist are TRUE horror films?
Oh, how that makes me shudder a most ghastly shudder. The thing is, there is, and mayhap, always shall be, a stigma within celluloid circles that horror films are but sources for debasement. There are a lot of reasons for that, from allegations of sensationalism to misogyny, but at heart, I believe the universal critical loathing of the horror film stems from a sort of corporate elitism. If I may ride by high horse for a moment or two . . .
Horror films, by and large, are quite cheap to produce, and pretty much without fail, they guarantee a profit at the box office. Since by genre diktat that the characters are expendable, there is no need for big Hollywood stars, so for the most part, horror films are essentially the antithesis to the grandiloquent mainstream motion picture. It is something of a given that Joe E. Camcorder does not have the faculties to film Titanic 2 in his backyard, but with some finagling and hard work, who knows? He might just have something comparable to Night of the Living Dead or The Evil Dead on his hands, and for the price of a suburban home, Joe might just contribute an immortal piece of cinema to the canon.
Effectively, THAT is why the Roger Eberts and Leonard Maltins of the world hate horror movies; these are the kinds of films that are, by and large, made outside the mandates of MPAA jurisdiction, and filmed without restraint, not only in regards to violence and sexual content, but in terms of philosophical and social commentary, as well. Simply put, horror films are the antiseptic to the Hollywood hegemony, and the guys in league with the big time players hate to see them pop up because, well, that is effectively money out of THEIR pockets.
In other words, mainstream Hollywood gunk is about money, independently made horror is about heart. . . even if that heart just so happens to be yanked from the rip cage of a recently chain sawed co-ed.
You are not going to see overrated chutney like Silence Of The Lambs or Jaws on my list. Those films, my friends, are of the capitalist class, and if there is one thing a TRUE horror film needs to be, it is earthy. Instead, I have reflected on my adolescence and narrowed my list down to the 25 horror movies that had the greatest impact on my being; as a partial soul, I tried to scatter my selections around the cinematic time frame and sneak in an esoteric pick or two, but in my zombified, murderous heart of hearts, I believe that the following are most certainly the most worthwhile annexations to the genre, regardless.
So, without further adieu, pick up an aluminum holder of soda, flip off the lights and situate yourself in your favorite lawn chair. . . the show is just about to begin.
#025 Gojira (1954)
Yeah, yeah, I know what you are thinking; Godzilla, really? A list of true, honest-to-goodness EXTREME horror films and you are listing a movie about a guy in a rubber suit stomping on cardboard Tokyo at number 25?
Well, let me elucidate on this one. When you think of Godzilla, you more than likely think of the Burt Lancaster version, the Americanized King Of The Monsters that basically recycled the monster scenes from the original Japanese version and gave it something of a Cold War jingoistic feel to it. A lot of people hold that one in high regard, and a lot of people think it is crap, so I shall not try to hop on that proverbial seesaw.
What I will say, however, is that the ORIGINAL Japanese version of Godzilla (henceforth known as Gojira, which is Japanese for Goat-Whale, if you are pondering) is a FAR different (and WAYYYYY better) movie than the one we received in America.
Gojira is effectively a parable for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; while the American version portrayed Godzilla as basically an animal run amok like King Kong, the original Japanese version portrays the being as something much more sinister and much more intrinsic, as if the being was an unstoppable force of nature no different than a tsunami or a volcano.
Of course, the movie does show its age; at times, Godzilla more closely resembles a charred turd than a radioactive T-Rex, and yeah, the movie does drag a bit here and there, but just in terms of sheer effect, there are two or three scenes in the movie that will absolutely floor you, ESPECIALLY if you are of the type that walks into a Godzilla movie expecting high camp junior theater.
There is the opening scene, in which a Japanese science officer runs a Geiger counter over a massive footprint whilst irradiated children lay dying in the background, and from that opening sequence, you realize that this ISNT some goofball puppet show. Then there is the scene in which the reluctant hero of the film demonstrates his weapon of mass destruction for the first time, which he calls The Oxygen Destroyer, and evaporates an aquarium full of goldfish. Keep in mind that he says so in PERFECT English; that is called SYMBOLISM, my friend.
That being said, the single most EFFECTIVE scene in the movie (and for my money, one of the most effective in ANY film), occurs when the hero of the film FINALLY is moved to unleash his weapon against the titular entity. I will not spoil such for the viewer, but it is most certainly worth going out of ones way to experience.
#024 Last House On The Left (1972)
Sean Cunningham and Wes Craven, the guys that would go on to give us Freddy and Jason in 1980s, actually tag teamed to bring us 1972s Last House On The Left, and the end result was one of the single most important, influential and yes, disturbing movies in the history of American cinema.
Up until LHOTL, pretty much all horror movies were, in some fashion or another, rooted in the supernatural and the fantastical. Even the really graphic progenitors of the extreme genre, the Herschel Gordon Lewis stuff, the Mario Bava stuff, so on and so forth, still had a tinge of outlandishness in its cinematic makeup, so despite the rampant nudity and gore, the viewer could still shake off the effects of the film and walk away spouting Its Only A Movie. . .
And then, this movie was released, and suddenly, such a comfort would no longer be provided for moviegoers.
Eschewing the gothic trappings and ethereal subject fare of previous horror films, LHOTL is a film inspired by the horrors of the real world, replacing the goblins and vampires with drug runners and murderers.
Without question, LHOTL is a difficult movie to sit through; this is very much a film that refuses to placate the viewer with insincere, faux sensations of moralistic safety, as in the world of Kitty Genevive, such does not truly exist. Nobody in the movie, not even the victims, are truly innocent beings; this is a movie that strips away that Hollywood faÃ§ade and shows the world as it truly is.
Of course, the movie takes an absolutely GARGANTUAN suspension of disbelief to enjoy (and boy, is that ever an operative term to use), as its basis was, of all things, Ingmar Bergmans The Virgin Spring. I would say that Bergmans film is far superior, but it is NOWHERE near as guttural and effective as its modernized counterpart.
This movie works because it separates the viewer from the safety of moralistic conviction; at times, you are basically FORCED to relate to the villains of the film, and when final revenge is extracted, one feels less vindicated and more dehumanized by the actions on display.
This is the movie that Rob Zombie and Eli Roth have spent their entire careers ripping off, and failing miserably to copy. Do yourself a favor and avoid the god-awful 2009 remake and dig up an old VHS of this film; you will not enjoy the experience, but afterward, you shall be glad that you wallowed in such inhumanity.
#023 A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987)
I love Fred K as much as the next red-blooded American, but I always find it distressing to note the original Elm Street movie vaunted as a quote en quote classic. Yeah, it has its moments, and it is hard to not enjoy watching Johnny Depp getting eaten by a murderous mattress, but it has too much unevenness in its reels to garner legendary status as far as I am concerned.
This movie on the other hand, is not only the best of the Elm street movies, but the best representation of the Freddy character, as well, as he is the PERFECT blend of sadistic spookiness and smartassery in this installment.
From start to finish, this movie is just awesome loaded atop awesome; it has the series best kills (dude, ripping a kids veins out and stringing him up like a puppet!), the best lines (welcome to the prime time, bitch!) and even the best cast (say what you will about the 9th grade love of my life Patricia Arquette playing the female lead, the guy playing Kincaid absolutely RULES it).
One of the things that always struck me about this movie was the notion that there were people in my eight grade Spanish class that reminded me of the actors in the film. There was this one kid that I swore was the PRECISE doppelganger of the one Dungeons and Dragons nerd in the movie, and this one girl was a positive dead ringer for Heather Lagenkamp. I really could not pinpoint the Freddy analog for the class, although my tenth grade yearbook photo did kind of resemble Robert Englunds mug. . . well, that, or a sixteen year old Al Bundy, any way.
This is the DEFINITIVE Elm Street flick, and if I have not sold it enough by now, I say but this: DOKKEN is on the soundtrack. If that does not equate sheer eighties excellence, I do not know what does. . .
#022 Frankenstein (1931)
This is a movie that, rather candidly, is so easily laughed off. I mean, really, in todays world filled with terrorism and swine flu and gonorrhea and a crumbling economy, who in the world would even bother giving the time of day to an innocuous black and white movie made before the start of World War II?
That is the fallacy the viewer has going into the legendary Universal production of Frankenstein, and I believe that most people that decry it are viewers that have simply never actually seen the movie.
We all know the Frankenstein stereotype, of a lumbering Boris Karloff in green makeup. We all know the scientific tomfoolery, the cardboard sets, so on and so forth. However, beyond those anachronisms, one finds a far more intellectual film, and one that is deceptively darker to boot.
The after effects of World War I created the horror film, and many of the best offerings of the Silent Era are truly grotesque films centric to bodily disfigurement (such as The Man Who Laughs and The Unknown). Going into the late 1920s, the American culture was very much in a paradigm of sorts, on the cusp of technical progression and societal shakeup. Frankenstein, effectively, is about the changing of the guard, of abandoning the superstitious in favor of the scientific, off eschewing tradition in favor of technological advancement.
Make no bones of the sort, this movie has some pretty gruesome scenes; even now, the scene in which the titular character drowns the young girl is a tough scene to watch, and if such an archaic relic of cinematic yesteryear causes a 21st century being to cringe, I can only fathom the hysteria the film must have caused in its initial release.
All horror films owe an incredible debt to this movie; if Romeros zombies and Leatherface are the forefathers of the modern horror flick, than this movie is the great grandfather they all sought the tutelage of in the cinematic convalescence home.
#021 Return Of The Living Dead (1985)
George Romero gets a lot of credit for inventing the concept of the modernized zombie, but I say what of the guy that ACTUALLY wrote the landmark 1968 Night Of The Living Dead script?
That guy is named John Russo, and after a lengthy court battle, he won the rights to the term Living Dead, which explicates why the NOTLD sequels dropped the Living part from their respective monikers.
That being said, it was not until 1985 that Russo made his unofficial sequel to the legendary zombie opus, and the end result is a highly irreverent, quasi-parody that stands as one of the better horror-comedies in the annals of the genre.
There are just too many great scenes in the film to elucidate upon; how can anyone ever forget the debut of Tar Man, the absolutely horrifying, practically liquefied brain chomper in the basement? Or what about the scene in which a red coiffed Linnea Quigley danced nekkid atop a tombstone? Of the finale in which the entire state of Kentucky gets nuclear annihilated?
This movie is also fairly inventive and somewhat understated in regards to its contributions to the zombie subgenre; a good fifteen years before 28 Days Later, the zombies in this film were not only running, but actually OUT-THINKING the living, setting up traps for their human dinners. SEND MORE PARAMEDICS!
An absolutely sublime offering from the golden age of degenerate cinema. Plus, the soundtrack (featuring the immortal 45 Grave!) kicks a tremendous amount of fanny. Simply put, this is the kind of movie you could watch on a weekly basis and NEVER grow tired of. If you have never experienced the sheer bliss of this mid-80s classic, it is rather imperative that you pick up a copy. . . NOW.
#020 Audition (1999)
Takashi Miike is the director Quinten Tarentino WISHES he was. The Japanese auteur has directed films in practically every genre under the sun, from gritty Yakuza flicks to childrens super hero movies. Of course, he is most renowned, however, for his contributions to the J-Horror genre, and on a resume padded with outstanding offerings, Audition is without question his magnum opus.
Takashi Miikes films are very much socially driven; whereas horror films in the U.S. with such messages are either too heavy handed or unsteady in delivery, Miikes movies work based upon a dyad of subdued technique and extremely over-the-top violence; while such seems practically impossible to mange, Takashi has made his veritable living off balancing a seemingly unmanageable equation.
To give away the storyline of the film is to, effectively, ruin a most terrific (and terrifying) surprise for the audience. As I have demonstrated SEVERAL times, one of the all time greatest tricks one can play on his or her movie going friends is to sit them down with this film and tell them nothing of its plot. For the first hour or so, he or she may be none the wiser, thinking that he or she is watching a quaint, Japanese romantic comedy, and then, the lead actress receives a phone call, and. . .
. . .well, you will see.
Without question, the last TRULY great horror film of the 1990s, and for my money, A FAR, FAR, FARRRRRRR superior mind-EFF movie than such overrated junk as Jacobs Ladder or Misery could ever dare aspire.
#019 Dead Alive (1992)
Just one look at this films box art, featuring a woman ripping open her mouth to reveal a set of zombie incisors, is enough to sell the extreme horror fan on whatever it is director Peter Jackson is selling, so much so that he or she may totally ignore the blurb underneath the title, in which some critic declares the movie to be the goriest ever filmed.
Truth be told, I can not validate that specific claim, but it would not surprise me in the least of such were a nugget of truth.
From the bucolic isles of New Zealand, Pete Jacksons last truly independent foray into the domain of unrelenting debauchery is mayhap THE zombie opus of the 1990s. Featuring karate fighting Catholic priests, zombie sex (do not ask, please), gigantic undead genitalia (really, please, DO NOT ASK), jokes about pedophilia and undead babies being pureed into living dead smoothies, this film is sure to offend just about every walk of life imaginable.
And then, just when you think the movie cannot possibly get any more intestine churning, out comes the lawn mower. . .
A few years ago, when Pete won the Oscar for Lord Of The Rings, I simply felt as if someone had slipped LSD in my Pepsi Twist; seriously, am I really watching the guy that made Dead Alive pick up the Academy Award for Best Director? Considering his earlier work, I am surprised he was not barred from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences altogether. Hey, speaking of his earlier work. . .
#018 Bad Taste (1987)
Categorizing Bad Taste is an impossibility; as a goulash of every genre known to man, from Monty Python-style physical comedy to Romero-esque zombie splatter to even a bit of James Cameron militaristic sci-fi, this film is the celluloid equivalent of a schizophrenic.
Filmed over the course of four years, the bizarre-beyond-words flick is yet another offering from maestro Peter Jackson, this time revolving around a race of space aliens that have set up shop in New Zealand and utilizing the town folk for intergalactic fast food expendables.
Without hesitation, this is a movie that will offend even the most affable of sorts. If one can stomach the exploding sheep and vomit chugging (and yes, I mean that last utterance quite literally), one will find the purportedly juvenile offering to be a relatively nuanced social satire, a pastiche of military jingoism, consumer society and religious indoctrination of the masses. I mean, really, the acronym of the Special Forces team is A.I.D.S., so that should give you a pretty good idea of the furtive commentary at work here.
Filmed on an absolutely microscopic budget, Bad Taste is, in a rather perverse manner, kind of a sweet labor of love, a testament to one man and his love of the cinematic form. Of course, one is not to find quality acting or world-altering scripture within the movies corpuscles, but for those with strong stomachs (Id advise brandishing one that can lift weights, myself), Bad Taste is quite the offbeat culinary treat.
#017 Trauma (1993)
Far and away, I expect this to be the most controversial selection to my list, but I suppose dissent is a prime element for discourse, no?
While most horror movies contain at least figments of real life terrors (per, oh say, a fantastical movie alike Dawn of the Dead is symbolic for cultural absorbing), most horror films derive their innate atmosphere from the otherworldly as opposed to the commonplace.
Dario Argento, perhaps the greatest of the Italian horror directors, is practically the master of merging the two, of finding ways to cross pollinate the banal and the inexplicable to such a degree that the everyday horrors BECOME supernatural ordeals in and of themselves.
Many fans loathe Trauma, and even some hardcore Argento admirers share distaste for its being. As something of a mainstream attempt by the outside-the-fray movie maker, the film certainly straddles an awkward line betwixt legit Hollywood fare and genre merriment; it may not appease most, but I found such to be one of the high water marks for the 1990s.
As the pioneer of the giallo film (which American directors ripped off to start the whole Slasher explosion of the early 80s), Argentos film is sort of new spin on a tried and true formula. As a psycho killer (whom only strikes on rainy nights) does in a number of unlucky sorts with a truly gristly murder weapon (dubbed by the director himself as the Noose-O-Matic), the films protagonist, played by Asia Argento (relation? Father, daughter, of course) struggles with her own psychosis.
Now, is the movie just another Slasher yarn, or is it something of a parable for anorexia, of being a soul trapped within his or her own body? This is a rare psychological horror film that proves more brooding than baffling, providing a rather enjoyable (and INCREDIBLY underrated) foray into the most terrifying notion in existence. . . our own minds.
#016 Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)
Ah, where to even begin on this one. . .
It should come as no surprise that I loved the original Evil Dead, so of course, I could not wait to sink my gnarled, Deadite bicuspids into the follow-up. Due to some licensing issues, Sam and Rob (cue tape recorder voice. . . the hitchhikers on the road) were unable to make a true sequel, so they basically remade the original, and the end result is one of the most beloved and memorable slices of 1980s nostalgia on the video shelf.
We all have our favorite scenes. I suppose my favorite is when Ash has his hand possessed by the unseen, disembodied evilness that lurks in the woods; some may say that Laurence Olivier is the greatest actor of all time, but I say this; could Sir Laurence have a ten minute long battle to the death with his own mitt in a manner more satiating then Bruce Campbells performance in this film? Surely, I think not.
Every time I had friends over at my place, I made them watch this movie. At first, they thought it was lame, but every single showing, by the time the film came to finality the house was in an uproar. This is basically how horror-comedies should be made. Come to think of it, this is how pretty much ALL movies should be made.
The moose head. The climactic battle with Henrietta (if you watch carefully, you can actually see the foam rubber ass of the monster crack halfway through the scene). The Arthurian ending. Jack Blacks character in High Fidelity was right: this movie EFFING rules.
#015 Tenebrae (1982)
This is Dario Argentos undisputed giallo masterpiece, a work that blends the gruesome perverse thrill of the Slasher flick with the cerebral fulfillment of the top-tier psychological thrillers in the gamut.
As with a majority of Argentos work, the mundane and the extraordinary are juxtaposed, creating a mind-messing story that is less about discovering the killers identity and more about unraveling the why behind the lead characters psychological breakdown.
Of course, the identity of the killer in this movie is PAINFULLY obvious, but to me, that just makes the ride that more enjoyable, as there are no red herrings in the movie to throw the viewer off from what is a distinct addendum to a fairly glutted subgenre.
This is Italian horror we are talking here, so of course, the kills are tremendous. Have you ever wonder what it would look like if someone were LITERALLY forced to eat his or her words? Well, this movie answers that inquiry, and quite vividly, if I may say so myself.
The same way I viewed Trauma as being a surreptitious analogy to an eating disorder, I think Tenebrae is furtively about accepting ones homosexuality. The movies stand out scene, from my perspective, is a phantasmagoria in which the main character nibbles upon the shoe tip a high heel. As something of a testament to Argentos mastery, how many myriad on screen slaughters has one witnessed, interpreted, and forgotten? Despite the multitudes of cinematic decapitations and dismemberments, somehow, that little scene featuring a transgendered actress is more uniformly unsettling than a years worth of Jason movies.
Argentos films are little beings that crawl through your eye sockets and leave little seeds within your mind. Long after the initial viewing of Tenebrae, the plant that has been sown within the viewers mind continues to blossom, and my, is that blood orchid amongst the most beautiful and haunting of flora.
#014 The Wicker Man (1973)
The Brits have such a way in being subdued with their efforts that at times, it really does seem effortless on their part. Even in their horror films, there is a level of cordial politeness, of restraint even amongst the rampant pouring of plasma that just seems eerily antithetical to the Americanized methodology of bloodshed.
The Englishmen find horror not in the slobbering and the apparent, but within the masked and the reserved, and in that, what could be more horrifying?
The Wicker Man is, essentially, the anti-American horror film. There are no scenes of explicit gore, and the sexual content of the film is done in a manner that, compared to its U.S. counterparts, is almost Victorian in presentation.
There are no dumb and horny teenagers getting hacked to bits, no ghostly beings, no scenes in which the lead character slogs through a muddy bog whilst being chased by a knife wielding zombie. This is a movie that makes you think, and in a bizarre manner, tap your toes.
It is amazing how similar in cinematic composition the horror film and the musical truly are. Both follow similar, dare I say formulaic procedures, as if each are just filling templates. Conversely, a lot of musicals (Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka, and the like) feature scenes of pants pissing horror, so why cant The Wicker Man have a catchy jingle or two within its celluloid?
This is intellectualized horror, of viewing an insane world through the eyes of a sane observer. What is more terrifying in theorization, waking up next to Michael Myers or waking up the next day and finding out that entire world you thought you knew was a lie?
The Wicker Man is a movie that exploits this fear to the fullest, and is unquestionably one of the most underappreciated works in the history of cinema. Basically breaking all of the norms of conventional horror (right up to the existentialist ending of the main lead screaming JAYZUS KERIST! through a thick Welsh intonation).
Oh, and it is TOTALLY understandable if for a few days afterward you find yourself singing aloud Corn Rigs and Barely Rigs. . .
#013 Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
The cornerstone of the modern horror film, legendary drive-in critic Joe Bob Briggs was quite fond of calling this film the first Democratic horror movie, and I believe the social commentary within this film requires positively nada introspection on my behalf. You are intelligent enough as a viewer to make your own inferences, so I shall not squander essay space on the apparent.
We all know the story by now; George Romero goes to the Pittsburgh country side and wants to make a goofy 3D movie about teenage aliens, and then, he hears about Martin Luther King being assassinated, and suddenly, his little goofball sci-fi flick turns into something completely different.
This is a movie very much about society as a whole; the characters in the film are not fighting space monsters or oligarchic vampires or any other archaic representations of oppression. In this film, the villains, the monsters, are ourselves, the things that look back at us when we gawp into the mirror, prejudices and all. If Abbie Hoffman were a horror movie, this is what he would look like.
Due to Romero and company being over eager with getting the film out there, the movie was released sans a copyright, and due to such non restrictive licensing, pretty much anybody can do whatever they want with the movie. Right now, there is nothing stopping you from burning a copy of the movie, slapping it in a jewel case and selling it on the street as your own property; in a really weird, ironic manner, that seems kind of fitting for the first horror movie TRULY of the people.
#012 Phantasm (1979)
This movie is such a terrific little slice of nightmarish America, a sort of inverted Norman Rockwell portrait of American existence. There is something. . . peculiar going on in the graveyards of small America, and a young boy, who recently lost his parents, is dead set on uncovering the truth behind a rash of grave robbings.
And strange things they are a plenty; killer dwarves dressed up like Jawas that stab old ladies in the face, a mysterious woman that dances around the cemetery, and a severed thumb that just will not stay dead are among the more MUNDANE things that populate director Don Coscarellis outlandish plot.
You know what? Let us keep throwing out the seemingly uncorrelated elements that pop up in Phantasm like the nonsensical flowing of ones bad dreams; There is Reggie Bannister, the Vietnam veteran ice cream truck driver, the Hemi Barracuda, Angus Scrimm as the sinister Tall Man and those darned flying orbs. . .
The Phantasm movies are often criticized for disjointedness, but I believe that is the appeal of the franchise. Phantasm does not attempt to rationalize anything the same way ones mind attempts to make sense of the fluttering abstract demons that torment his or her nightmares. This is a movie that preys upon our alienations, our paranoid delusions of the world around us, that things are not what they appear to be, and mayhap, never were.
One thing that I just have not been able to buy, though, is the scene with the hammer and the shotgun shell. Upon viewing that one for the first time, I simply wondered why the poor kids hand was not blown off. I have always wanted to try that little trick, but sadly, my affection for my opposable digits is just too adamant. . .
#011 The Exorcist III: Legion (1990)
The Exorcist was such a great movie and The Exorcist II was such a bad movie that empirical wisdom would lead the individual to steer clear of the third installment by as many feet as the law would allow. That is, in actuality, a tremendous shame, for Legion is mayhap the most underrated horror movie of all time.
Directed by William Peter Blatty, the guy that actually wrote The Exorcist novel, Legion is a very subdued film, one that is quite unlike the first film and centuries ahead of the turgid 1977 sequel. The story revolves around the cop from the first Exorcist movie, as he runs around Washington D.C. circa 1990 trying to find a serial killer claiming to be possessed by the same demon that possessed Reagan in the first film.
There are about two or three scares in this movie that I have NEVER seen before. There is a VERY bizarre scene involving a rubbery neck and gigantic pair of scissors that must have influenced the Clock Tower series of video games and another scene in which an old lady crawls around on the ceiling flicking her tongue out like a lizard whilst the main character is none the wiser. Then, there is the cops nightmare, in which he talks to a recently beheaded child, walks by Fabio and Patrick Ewing, and wakes up in sort of a mechanized motion that eerily mirrors Reagans little bedtime flop from the original.
Brad Douriff, the character actor form One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest that is best known as being the voice of Chucky from the Childs Play franchise, does a tremendous job of playing the maybe-possessed serial killer (this is really his best performance, at least next to Wiseblood, anyway) and Patton himself George C. Scott plays Detective Kinderman, so when the two finally face off in the cells of an insane asylum, you simply know that its going to be good.
That being said, if there is just ONE reason for seeing this film, it is for a notorious scene that has been dubbed as simply THE SCARE. No spoilers, no hints, no nothing; trust me, you will know PRECISELY what I am talking about when it happens.
#010 The Omen (1976)
Oh, man, I loved this movie as a kid. From the establishing shot of the film, in which a caretaker hangs herself during a birthday party for children, you just KNOW that you are in for a hell of a ride for the next two and half hours.
I have to give the guys behind this supposedly cursed movie all the credit in the world; it would have been so easy to turn this one into something of a Rosemarys Baby type mind-eff ordeal, but Director Richard Donner (of Superman fame) wisely choose to keep the supernatural elements to a minimum. The resultant of which is that you see these creepy things happen, but at the same time, you want to believe that it is just happenstance; therefore, things never get too convoluted or heavy handed, and for a movie written by a religious zealot, that is an achievement in and of itself.
First off, this movie is positively SOLD by Gregory Peck. As he waltzes around with his huge ass eyebrows shouting HE WANTS ME TO KILL A CHIIILD! In his unmistakable tincture, it just lends an air of credibility to the effort. It would be one thing for an actor to shave his sons head bald and try to stab it to death with rusty daggers in a church, but when said actor is ATTICUS freaking FINCH, it just becomes otherworldly.
Oh, and there is the music, which actually won the Oscar that year for best original soundtrack. Long story short, this was the same year that provided us with Bill Conti and his AMAZING Rocky score, so that should say something about the quality of the films aural composition.
I also think that David Warner, playing the photographer that reveals fates design via his dark room, is kind of underrated in this movie (then again, I am a huge mark for his roles in Wax Work and the 90s Batman show, so of course I would be).
Kind of a shame he loses his head towards the end of the movie, though. . .
#009 Zombie (1979)
Lucio Fulci is a horror fans horror director. He had no interest in catering to the whims of a mainstream audience and had no qualms about turning on the blood machine, and in some cases, did not mind the prospect of killing a stunt man for a stupid movie trick, either.
Case in point, how about a scene in which a guy in zombie make-up attacks a shark?
Oh, and by the way, the scene occurs underwater. And the shark? It is a REAL LIFE ONE.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Zombie, the unauthorized sequel to Dawn of the Dead featuring more relentless gore and undead mayhem then a fortnight binge of Resident Evil. Yeah, one could say that the pacing is somewhat off in the film, but no one watches Fulci for the plot advancement; instead, this guy just gives it to us RAW.
Slow motion autopsy footage? You bet. A wood splinter RIGHT THROUGH the iris? It is in there. Molotov cocktail wielding zombies, and dozens upon dozens of the undead shambling down the George Washington Bridge whilst motorists drive by as if nothing is out of the norm (well, it is New York. . .)?
If you want great acting, or social commentary or a rousing plot than look elsewhere. If you want a movie that simply delivers the goods and serves you a chunk of medium rare anarchy, than this is the severed limb you have been eyeing for decades.
Seriously, I watch this one every Christmas. No, really.
#008 The Beyond (1981)
If Zombie is Lucio Fulcis David, then this movie is his Sistine Chapel. The zombie movie that started off as everything but a zombie movie is, effectively, a sort of atheistic declaration of existence, a metaphysical glimpse at a world that is truly a living hell. And that is BEFORE the actual gates of Hades have been yanked open in the film.
The film is ripe with religious allegory, beginning with the opening scene in which a surrealist painter is crucified and limed to death by a bunch of Puritans that believe him to be a witch.
Of course, we all know what that means; the grounds that he died upon eventually prove to be a portal to the netherworld, and some fifty years later, the new tenants pay DEARLY.
Truth be told, there are some corny moments. The tarantula effects are kind of plastic, and I am sure many have chuckled at the hospitals DO NOT ENTRY sign, but beyond these anachronistic missteps, the movie totally delivers the goods in terms of out-there entertainment.
Maggot storms, with REAL maggots. PETA be damned, I suppose. There is another scene in which the lead actress comes THIS close to having her face gashed openn by a REAL axe. Once again, Lucio is not afraid to sacrifice (the lives of others) for HIS works.
And then, there is the ending, which to me, elevates this movie from 1980s relic to horribly underappreciated expressionistic masterpiece. I have my theories of its origins, and I am sure you will as well.
Regardless, this is one criminally unsung zombie opus that any self-respecting horror purist would be wise to experience.
#007 Suspiria (1977)
From the very first scene in Suspiria, the viewer simply knows that the ensuing ninety minutes is without question maestro Dario Argentos finest work. As the last major film to be processed in Technicolor, the blood and gore trickles forth from the screen in bright pastel hues, as if the very corpuscles of Mickey Mouse were severed and leaking upon the audience. Getting past the movies first kill, an absolutely stellar offing that makes the cause-and-effect kills in the Final Destination franchise look like simple gunplay by contrast, one is serenaded through what is very much a ballet of terror, which is quite fitting since the locality for the film is a dance hall in Germany.
Its hard to pinpoint a singular element of the film that makes Suspiria so damned good. Is it the incredibly atmospheric score by Goblin, or is it the pacing and did-not-see-that-one-coming thrills that populate the film like bright, gleaming daggers through the soft tissue of a virgin stabbing victim? Is it the nightmarish camerawork, or the creepy ambience, or the zigzagging use of restraint and over-the-top plasma flow?
Truthfully, what makes Suspiria stand out is all of these and none of these, simultaneously; there is just an intangible aura to the film, a feeling that it is something of a magical relic instead of just another plastic cartridge within ones VCR player. What makes Suspiria the legendary offering that it is, is simply indescribable; I need not to espouse its inherent greatness, for I believe the films superlative nature speaks for itself in voluble, bloodcurdling shrieks.
#006 Re-Animator (1985)
Re-Animator was a movie that I rented in secret, and I made damn sure to hide from my mothers wary eyes; she knew of the films most infamous scene, and as such, the videotape cassette was a verboten element at our household. Thanks to some sneaky finagling with the video stores plastic cases, however, I managed to smuggle the video back to my abode, and for the next ninety minutes, my little sixth grader mind was positively blown.
Yeah, yeah, we all know about the HEAD SCENE. Its gross, its hilarious, and its fantastic, but in reality, that is just bit a slice of the overall inherent greatness that is Re-Animator.
For me, its really the small, non-horror elements of the movie that work for me. For some reason, I really liked the scene in which Herbert West (played perfectly by Jeff Combs, B-Movie Extraordinaire) keeps snapping number two pencils while his professor is performing a mock lobotomy on a cadaver. I guess my favorite scene in the entire movie is the part with the undead cat, as afterward, I ran around the house for several days doing my best West impersonation: BUT WE CAN AGREE THAT RIGHT NOW, AT THIS VERY MOMENT, THIS CAT IS INDISPUTABLY, 100 PERCENT DEAD!
I think Dead Alive kind of ripped off the ending of this movie, and at the time of its release, the intestine soaked uber-bloody finale to Re-Animator had to have been the zenith of 80s zombie cinema.
You know, I always wondered what the producers used for the reanimation juice in the film. To me, it kind of looked like neon green Gatorade, the same hue of the stuff that was inside all of those glow sticks that convenience stores carried about each Halloween.
Horror-comedies are really difficult equations to balance, and for my money, no movie in the annals of cinema has struck a more even balance than Re-Animator. This is simply a movie that one has to see, and a movie that no Halloween celebration is complete without.
#005 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
TCM is without question the most ripped off movie in cinema history. I cannot BEGIN to recollect the number of grade Z rip offs and pale-to-the-point-of-being-translucent imitations the film has inspired, and TO THIS DAY, no-talent mainstream directors have been applying the formula that this film created to their creatively-bankrupt productions.
And to think, TCM, the great granddaddy of the American Grand Guignol, was originally slated to be a PG family movie. No, really.
I think TCM is a movie that has a reputation that it, truthfully, does not deserve. Despite the implications dropping TCM in a casual conversation may drudge up, this film is, practically, a bloodless outing. Of course, by now, we should all be aware that the film based on a true story that did not really happen is a work of fiction; that being said, I still run into people that are CONVINCED that the film is based on a real-life case, so that can either be interpreted as a testament to the films staying power or the sheer idiocy of the mainstream movie-goer. Please, let it be the first one.
What makes the movie work is the low-budget sense of paranoia. I have actually been to small little towns that look EXACTLY like the township in this film, and every time I view a dead armadillo in the road, I cannot help but wonder if some mongoloid with a power tool may be lurking about in the bushes.
I believe we all have our favorite scenes; who can forget the crazed hitchhiker and his headcheese, or Leatherfaces big screen debut as he clobbers that unlucky fellow with a mallet? And then there is the part in which the guy in the wheelchair gets a new haircut (via barber Black and Decker). Or how about the slow-motion walk to the barn house (hey, who is not a fan of such CHEEKY cinema)?
Personally, I have always loved the ending, with Marilyn Burns (perhaps THE greatest screamer in film history) running into the arms of a fat black truck driver that gives those cannibal hillbillies what-for with the monkey wrench. That being said, EVERYBODYS favorite scene from the film is the dinner segment involving grandpa, a murder bucket, and a very shaky hammer. That one always inspires the most gruesome of guffaws from the audience.
This is about as close to an Expressionistic horror film as modern America cinema has attempted. If Salvador Dali was given the reins to make a slasher movie, I am relatively certain the end product would be as surreal, and effective, as the movie this one turned out to be.
An absolute classic, a turning point not only in horror cinema, but American film as well.
#004 Halloween (1978)
My all time favorite musical.
Its practically impossible to overstate the importance of this films soundtrack. I am certain that without John Carpenters score, this movie would have become a forgotten relic of late 70s culture; the positively sublime score is what sells this movie, and it is so effective in telling the Michael Myers yarn that it is almost as if the complimentary visual of the film is superfluous.
Donald Pleasance rules the world as Dr. Loomis. There is just something about seeing him stalk about the Illinois countryside while screaming YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO STOP HIM, ONLY I KNOW HOW TO STOP HIM! That makes me smile like a Cheshire cat.
I am not going to bring up the whole story about the William Shatner mask or Debra Hill having to import leaves for the summertime filming of the movie, as I believe those are well documented, but hey, Didja know that the guy that played Michael Myers in the movie is the same guy that directed The Last Star Fighter? Well, you do now.
Every portion of this movie has gone on to become a little element of my society. After what has to be at least thirty viewings of the film, I find myself dropping references to Tarantula Man and shouting SPEED KILLS, JERK at random motorists, never once pondering if said driver may in fact be an escaped psycho murderer.
Hey, how did Michael Myers learn how to drive, anyway?
This is a movie that is, effectively, timeless. Yeah, there may be some outdated hairdos, and the guest audio appearance by Blue Oyster Cult does not make it sound any more modern (as PJ Soles would proudly boast, TOTALLY!), but the film just feels like an inert part of the season, like football on Thanksgiving or a stocking dangling over the fireplace on Christmas.
Why, yes, as a matter of fact, that was one of the best horror movies ever made. . . ah, such warm and cozy memories of a clothes hanger being jammed through my sclera. . .
#003 Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
The single greatest execution of the walking dead motif in pop culture history. So profound this movies influence on the world of video games, comics, postmodern literature and (obviously) cinema, it is difficult to stroll through ANY shopping mall in America without thinking of the shambling hordes of the undead in this seminal late 70s masterpiece.
George Romeros long-in-the-tooth sequel to Night of the Living Dead is fundamentally an allegory for American consumer culture; I mean, really, whats the difference between the purple and blue flesh chompers in bellbottoms that brainlessly amble about the mall space of this movie and the real life, non-cannibal mindless that traipse to and fro the vestibules of the open market today?
This film is, to the truest since of the term, a perfect zombie movie. The ultimate cut of the film, a nearly three hour long print, is an incredible mini-masterpiece that, at times, speaks on the societal issues of gender roles, race relations, media corruption, the deterioration of the legal system, the functionalism of culture and the influence of advertising on the group collective. And of course, how could I forget about the myriad scenes of intense horror that have become not just icons of the genre, but everlasting monoliths in the field of cinema itself?
The screwdriver through the ear; the helicopter scene; the blood pressure machine. This is a movie that effectively mingles the mundane and the allegorical to such a degree that nary a single scene in the film nor nary a single character exchange can be labeled as superfluous. Yeah, you remember the exploding head scene, but you also remember the trip to the arcade, and the dinner scene, and the scene in which Ken Foree and Gaylen Ross simply talk about their families. I guess my favorite scene involves the heroes of the film surveying the amount of mayhem they have caused, an incredibly potent moment in the film in which the viewer actually feels sympathy for the unfeeling undead; I guess that could be construed as a metaphor for Vietnam, but to me, it speaks of the nature of the general American culture to demonize and distance itself from the world at large.
Dawn of the Dead is without question a horror masterpiece; that being said, it is also one of the greatest works of satire in film history, making this an epic that no zombie fanatic or sociocultural examiner should skip out on.
#002 The Exorcist (1973)
There are a lot of times in which we reflect on older movies and compare them to concurrent cinematic offerings and chirp that films back in the day were a lot tamer than they are at the present.
Yeah, nobody says that after watching The Exorcist.
The Exorcist is such an ingrained element of the American psyche that it is almost unnecessary to speak of its nature. If you have not seen the film, then certainly, you have heard OF its contents. Yes, this is a film filled with extraordinary special effects and INCREDIBLY intense scenes that simply could NOT be filmed in todays more restrictive society, but at heart, this is a movie that digs straight into the corpuscles of ones beliefs, of the individuals integral convictions.
It does not matter if one is Catholic, atheist or Buddhist, this movie gnaws it the individuals soul all the same; this is horror at its intellectualized best, at its most brooding and philosophical.
At one point, I actually thought about penning my dissertation on the film and its impact upon culture at large; without need for explication, I suppose that would resound the importance of the film in my existence.
The Exorcist is a film that is unlike any other I have seen, as it seems to mature alongside the viewer. One very much watches the film in three stages; the first phase is just to soak in all of the graphic effects and shocking scenes like a sponge, and the second is to seep past such and explore the imagery, of the quick cuts, of the supposedly subliminal messages that pop up here and there. Finally, one views The Exorcist is a holistic piece, as a complete tour de force that encompasses the very totality of the human experience in a succinct cinematic package. Funny as it may seem, I actually watch this movie to relax these days, as it puts me in such a pure, unadulterated mind set that it kicks into motion a wealth of introspective analysis.
This is a movie that you experience and not watch, a film that resides in you long after the final hum of Tubular Bells has come to cessation. The most intelligent horror film ever made, and arguably, the most shocking, to boot.
. . .and my all time FAVORITE horror movie EVER is. . .
AHEM! Drum roll please!
#001 The Evil Dead (1983)
For an entire summer, this movie was my proverbial holy grail. I first became aware of The Evil Dead via those huge ass film books that were released annually by Leonard Maltin and his types. Each and every film guide I picked up, the reviewers labeled this little film is among the most gruesome and bloody ever filmed. Of course, drawn to such perverse testimonials, I made it my undying quixotic effort to view this movie before the end of summer 1997.
Of course, The Evil Dead is ubiquitous NOW. Thanks in no small part to the FERVANT support of Evil Dead adulators such as myself in the VHS era, The Evil Dead is, practically, the Star Wars equivalent of the horror genre.
But, this was pre-Anchor Bay, my friends. This was pre Hot Topics hoopla, this was pre DVD with the rubber skin, folks. Finding the Dead on home video was, verily, damned near an impossibility.
I FINALLY managed to unearth a copy at my local mom and pop video store. The horror section was dwarfed by the video cassettes dedicated to hunting and fishing tapes (seriously, what the fudge is up with that?), so uncovering the fabled film, of all places, THERE, was a major league, out-of-left field surprise for my purposes.
It was the old HBO copy of the film, and the movie did not even have a box cover; in its place was simply a piece of Styrofoam that someone had scrawled Evil Dead Roman Numeral I on. Quickly rushing to the checkout display, the cashier inadvertedly slipped me a skin flick by accident; whereas on any other occasion that would be a cause for preteen celebration, I simply HAD to envision this film. Rebuking my adult film, I soon scooped up my copy of The Evil Dead, locked my doors, boarded my windows and prepared to have my modulo oblongata cinematically eviscerated.
For the next eighty eight minutes, I was cerebrally assaulted by The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror, and I simply knew that my life would not be the same afterward.
Of course, the effects were a huge draw, and the rampant bloodshed was awesome, but for me, what sold the film was the atmosphere. This was not just another Jason clone, but something altogether different, a movie in which the rules of everything simply no longer applied. I mean, a female being assaulted BY a tree; If I lived to be one million, that idea would have never crossed my mind. It is clear that Sam Raimi and Rob Tappert are geniuses, even if that genius is the kind that makes one question their innate sanity.
I think the low budget is what gives this movie such a charm; the guys took four years to film it, and the cheap-oh production values actually add to the film instead of detracting from it. For the price of a mid-range suburban tract home, the fellows behind The Evil Dead created an all time testament to the power of creativity, chutzpah and self-autonomy in the world of cinematic workings. This is a movie that bleeds a DIY ethos, a completely outside-the-mainstream approach to filmmaking. The Evil Dead, assuredly, is the MOST independent movie ever made.
This movie actually became something of a therapeutic tool for my purposes; on evenings in which my mind was plagued by whatever concurrent hassle junior high life had thrown at me, I would fire up this movie, crack open a Dr. Pepper and play this movie whilst listening to the local college radio station, letting all of my sense coalesce into a singularity of freed thought. The Evil Dead as a meditation tool? Why not?
This movie, simply feels like home to me; there is just something about those little scenes, of the decaying Claymation finale, of the simply sublime scene in which Ash rises from the basement in all of those abstruse camera angles that makes me feel as if my placement in the universe is secure.
This is a fantastical horror film that freed me from the real life horrors of banal existence, of complacency, of a boring, unfulfilling home life and correlated ethos. A mere blood guts film from the early 80s? No sir, The Evil Dead is a testimonial to the power of self-autonomy, and most assuredly, my life would be COMPLETELY different sans its formal impact upon my being.
Is The Evil Dead the best horror movie ever made, the most technically proficient, socially significant or artistically important? Well, that is debatable, but in my swirling, demonically possessed soul, there is no doubt whom the true king of video horror is.
Hail to the king, baby. Hail to the king. . .
James Swift is a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm that is also a writer from the Metro Atlanta area.