The Greatest Horror Movies
Whether you like a movie or not - can be influenced by your age and what generation you’re in. We know that it’s always difficult to come out and declare the best movies ever made in any genre. It’s inevitable that there will be complaints. One thing to remember is that movies aren’t made or seen in a vacuum. For example, The Exorcist is a classic, but it’s not on our list, and that’s because there are plenty of other scarier and more interesting flicks out there - according to us. Some flicks are historical touchstones, certainly, but we weighed other factors too. Anyway, enjoy our list of the scariest and greatest horror films of all time. Comments are welcome, please.
A total creepout, Clive Barker’s story of the Cenobites (“demons to some, angels to others”) who visit you when you solve a mysterious puzzle box. Although we don’t know how you can see them as angels. Frank Cotton, after being ripped apart by chains, says that the Cenobites bring pain and pleasure, indivisible. Of course, he’s saying this while not wearing any skin. We’re still waiting for the pleasure. Then there’s Doug Bradley as the lead Cenobite Pinhead. He gets all the best lines, like “No tears, please! It’s a waste of good suffering!”. Andrew Robinson (Deep Space Nine, Dirty Harry) says “Jesus wept.” before getting his face torn off. Don’t forget the weird bum walking around who eats scorpions for fun. What’s your pleasure, sir? Spawned many sequels, mostly direct to video trash. The only other one worth watching is the second one, Hellbound, which doubles up on the “I can’t believe I just saw that” factor.
The Evil Dead (1981)
The first entry in Sam Raimi’s very fine trilogy about demons possessing the living. This is where Bruce Campbell’s career really took off, although his version of Ash in this movie is nothing like in parts 2 and 3. Here, he’s reluctant to do anything heroic and there’s no wisecracking. Probably because it’s hard to think of something funny to say when your loved one gets possessed and proceeds to chew her own hand off. The Evil Dead goes pretty damn far to gross you out. There’s decapitation, dismemberment, blood pouring from open orifices, a pencil-to-ankle stabbing, Bruce Campbell being humped by his headless girlfriend’s corpse while simulataneously spewing blood into his face, and rape by a tree branch. Evil Dead is the ultimate in what they call “spam in a cabin” flicks. It introduced the Necronomicon (book of the dead, bound in human flesh, written in blood) which itself comes alive a few times. It shows Sam Raimi’s brilliance in long tracking shots and establishing an atmosphere of claustrophobia. It also plays with genre conventions (“It won’t start!” she cries. “It won’t let us leave!” Then, the car starts.) And it’s gross. Sometimes, that’s enough.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Ah yes, Dawn of the Dead, another grossout that happens to be about something. Those zombies are us, dude. Why do you think they hang out at the shopping mall, walking around aimlessly while Muzak plays? Romero’s Night of the Living Dead will always be a classic (and it’s about the civil rights movement, dummy!) but Dawn will always be our personal favorite. Ken Foree is a God in this picture. And Tom Savini gets to show off his talent for gooey effects. Try not to eat anything before watching this movie. Unless, of course, you like eating human intestines. And we still think the pie-in-the-zombie-face is pretty funny. Followed by Day of the Dead, which is pretty good. The remake is also worth a look.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Sure, we all know Michael Meyers and Jason Vorhees were pros when it came to slashin’, but nobody had personality like Freddy Krueger. Add to that the fact that his origins and supernatural abilities are far more interesting than anything in the Friday the 13th or Halloween movies, throw in some subtextual Reagan-80s angst, and let Wes Craven put the whole thing together, and you’ve got a horror film that elevates itself above the genre. Inspired a crapload of sequels, including Freddy vs Jason. Parts 2 and 3 are ok (yes, part 2. we said it). The rest kinda suck. (Except for Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which wasn’t bad.) But this is the best, and in the end, the only one really worth watching. Watch for your favorite hunk Johnny Depp in his debut as a jock teen, as well as John Saxon as Nancy’s daddy. Because John Saxon rules in any movie. You’ll also love the ongoing bit regarding Nancy’s mom and a bottle of booze.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The ultimate in grindhouse entertainment, in our opinion unmatched by any of the sequels or remakes. Based very loosely on the story of Ed Gein, who kept human skulls, skin, and other parts in his home as decorations, this film concerns a group of kids on a road trip who end up attacked by a family of crazed cannibals in rural Texas, one of whom likes to wear a mask of human skin and has a certain way with a chainsaw. From the very beginning, when John Larroquette delivers the infamous monologue, and a radio broadcast tells the story of decomposed corpses and grave robberies, we get an idea of what we’re in for. It’s a truly surrealistic experience and it’s raw. Tobe Hooper would later give us Eaten Alive, The Funhouse, Poltergeist, Lifeforce, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which is pretty damn entertaining in its own right. The movie is a product of the Vietnam era, examining the decay of the rural South, and the ties that bind a family together – yes, Leatherface’s family. Roger Ebert found the movie effective and scary, yet gave it 2 stars because he found it “unnecessary” and “without purpose.” Looking past the fact that sometimes scary is enough, it seems to us that Ebert disdains the horror genre enough that he doesn’t bother to probe the film for deeper meaning. Sometimes you get out what you put in.
With its Giger-inspired designs, expert direction by Ridley Scott, and female-hero played by Sigourney Weaver, Alien shocked everybody when it came out. There are two major reveals in the movie – one involving how the alien creature gestates in a host and the other involving a crew member who isn’t what he appears to be. When our crew member finally does reveal himself, it’s as crazy as seeing an alien baby pop out of somebody’s chest. Alien is a beautiful thing to behold. The actors, the special effects, the sets, the slow buildup. It’s not a film for ADD types growing up on Resident Evil movies. It surprisingly borrows from Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, of all things! It creates a believable future (Scott is good at this – see Blade Runner) before it completely exploits our fear of the unknown. We love the subtle greed-kills message – crew members Brett and Parker are only concerned with their paychecks, later to find out that their employer is just as concerned about its own bottom line. Hey, if a dangerous organism needs to be shipped to earth to satisfy the stockholders, who are you to argue? Followed by James Cameron’s Aliens (great movie in its own right), David Fincher’s Alien 3 (an interesting film, if nothing else), and Alien Resurrection (dumb, but still probably worth the rental). Ignore the ridiculous Alien vs. Predator. By the way, we’re still wondering how a little alien can grow into a big alien so quickly?
John Carpenter’s exercise in suspense is not technically the first slasher. You’d have to go back further to stuff like Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. In fact, Halloween borrows a couple of touches from Clark’s film, using the killer point-of-view angle, for example. But Halloween has earned its place in horror cinema history for sure. It’s creepy but it’s also fun to watch. Little Michael Meyers puts on a mask and kills his sister in the shocking opening, leading in to his escape from an asylum years later. His doctor, Dr. Loomis, played by Donald Pleasence in a role that we think surpasses his turn as Blofeld, tracks him to his old town Haddenfield, Illinois. Michael begins his murder spree as Loomis and the cops try to track him down. Meyers, as Loomis suggests, is the manifestation of evil. “That was the boogeyman!” exclaims poor Laurie Strode (star turn by Jamie Lee Curtis). Loomis’ response: “As a matter of fact, it was.” Halloween encompasses all those things we were scared of as children. We’re supposed to be Laurie Strode, but we feel like little Tommy Doyle. Carpenter keeps the flick low on gore but high on the suspense. He peels away the layers of suburban utopia and shows us the unseen secrets underneath. The movie reveals Carpenter’s Hitchcock inspiration in the way he sets up the movie’s tableau (Sam Loomis was, of course, a character from Psycho, and don’t forget that Janet Leigh is Jamie Lee’s mom). Halloween is a superior exercise and can’t be dismissed. Forget all sequels past number 4. (yes, we even like Halloween III). Carpenter inserts a few shots of 1953's The Thing from Another World into Halloween. Not surprising, then, that he would remake that film a few years later.
The Thing (1982)
“I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.” The Thing is raw horror and paranoia. It’s also heavy on testosterone. No females for miles around, just a group of American researchers in Antarctica who happen to come across a defrosted alien. A very pissed off defrosted alien. This “thing” is the nastiest creature you’ve ever seen. It can transform itself into anything – a perfect copy. Too bad that it has to digest you first, and boy, can that get ugly. You can read the film as a commentary on communism. Although it may be difficult to think about when you’re watching some dude’s head stretch itself to the floor, grow spider legs, and then scurry out of the room. We think that the fear of there being a commie amongst us takes a backseat to the fear of infection. Blood is used and abused alot in this movie. Yes, The Thing is icky alright. We have not seen anything like it before and probably won’t again. Big props to Kurt Russell who is amazing in this film. And the ending is fabulous. The only thing that gets us is the violence done to the poor dogs. You can have an alien creature grow teeth in its chest and chew a guys arms off, but killing poor pooches makes us shudder every time. Poor little guys!
“I had a brain tumor. And I had visions. I believe the visions caused the tumor, and not the reverse. I could feel the visions coalesce, and become flesh… uncontrollable flesh. And when they removed the tumor, it was called Videodrome.” Before he made Videodrome, David Cronenberg gave us the cult classics Shivers, The Brood, and Scanners. Videodrome is his masterpiece. Just so you know, we ain’t knockin anything he’s done since. They’re all excellent. (Eastern Promises and A History of Violence are great movies and they’re not horror. Yes, Cronenberg is a master). But there’s something about Videodrome. It has its finger on the pulse of the digital age. It’s not so much sex and violence, but about sex and violence. It’s also about media, television, and the new reality. It’s a new way of seeing (Barry Convex’s glasses). It’s Marshall McLuhan, it’s evolution (new flesh), it’s body horror, it’s video as the new religion. Way, way ahead of its time.
The Shining (1980)
We still say Kubrick was a genius, even though Eyes Wide Shut was kinda dumb. But hey, you can’t win all the time. The Shining, however, based on Stephen King’s novel, is absolutely gorgeous. Jack Nicholson gives one of his greatest (and most well known) performances as Jack Torrence. Nicholson shows us the mental breakdown of a man; Kubrick shows us the disintegration the family unit. We also get commentary on the proceedings through the eyes of the Overlook Hotel itself. The Overlook’s appearance and personality is just brilliant. We think it counts as a major character. As Jack loses his mind you can almost hear the hotel whispering to him (before the old residents really get to him). From Native American decor to the bizarre ghostly characters to the chilling soundtrack, it’s a crafty piece of work. Kubrick takes his time; there are no jump-scares in The Shining (well, ok, maybe just one). But there’s a pervading sense of dread. We know poor Scatman Cruthers is flying from sunny Miami to his doom. We see it coming. But it doesn’t lessen the impact. We feel sorry for him. We worry about poor Danny, even though his alter-ego Tony freaks us out. Ditto Lloyd the bartender and crazed waiter Delbert Grady. The scene where he casually tells Jack how he had to “correct” his wife and daughters is creepy to the extreme. Love the scene when Danny is riding his tricycle down the hallways before he encounters the girls. Shelley Duvall does a great job playing the constantly-on-edge mom. Watch the scene where she discovers what Jack’s been typing. Check out the Gold room. Room 237. The long tracking shots. The radio messages over the howling wind. The ocean of blood flowing through the corridor. The bizarre capper with Jack in an old photo from 1921. The score with Wendy Carlos, Ray Noble, Al Bowlly, Penderecki. Watch it if you haven’t seen it. And watch it again if you have.