Monday, April 13, 2009

My Top 20 Horror Movies of All Time

As I’ve written many times before, my favorite movie genre is horror. When I go out to purchase a new DVD or Blu-Ray, I usually stroll through the horror aisle first and foremost to see if there’s a new title out that I currently don’t have in my collection (which is vast, by the way).

The supernatural, 80’s slasher fare, 40’s and 50’s Universal Studios horror, even a few of today’s schlock is what I look forward to watching. I really can’t explain my love for the sort; it just excites me to view the special effects and realism of what I’m seeing on the screen. If it makes me cringe or jump, that’s a plus.

Anyway, I thought long and hard about my favorite horror films of all time and maybe some of you will disagree with it, but’s my opinion. I have altered it once because I did forget a good one that I failed to add to the list. So, without further ado, here’s my top 20 list of horror movies:

Number 20 is The Exorcist. Now, any film featuring the supernatural scares the shit out of me; especially if it’s a film that deals with the devil possessing someone. The movie still holds up to this day with its special effects, both audio and visual. At one time, the scariest part of the movie would be when Linda Blair’s character spins her head 180 (or was it 360?) degrees. Now, I’ve got to say with the recently released DVD’s extra footage, the part when she walks down the stairs like a spider is very spooky.

Number 19 for me is Scream. It’s the first of many films that was written intelligently, paving the way for the new horror of the 90s. No more maniacs that won’t go down no matter hw many bullets you put in them, no silent killer that has no motivation whatsoever for their killing spree, and no killer magically appearing in one place when you left them in a whole different place (well, it does happen, but you find out in the end how it was done). The killer (or killers) in this film has a reason to do what they do, which you find out in the film’s climax. And, of course, the rules are presented on how you survive a horror film, as explained by Jamie Kennedy’s character. All in all, this film was a serious film that had bits of comedy, as well as references to the classic horror films of our time.

Number 18 is one of the two classics I have on my list. The film is Psycho and it’s a great movie. Of course, time and trends age this film and make it a little imperfect, but Alfred Hitchcock was a genius. The directing and filming techniques for the kills were (and still are) chilling. He really knew what the audience would enjoy seeing and what would unnerve them. The film as a whole was a bit atypical at the time. What film has ever focused on the main character for nearly half the movie before they’re killed off? And Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates was a perfect choice. He plays someone who appears odd, but you don’t know exactly why he seems odd. What stands out the most is the editing of the murder scenes, especially the infamous shower scene. One of the two best Hitchcock thrillers.

Number 17? Jeepers Creepers. Yes, the movie was original and scary, basically something I hadn’t seen before. During the time where Freddy, Jason, Michael and all other slashers of their ilk were not so hot anymore in the box office, we get a new icon of horror to add to the genre. The Creeper comes out in full force in this flick, truly mysterious and obviously deadly. From the first scene with his weird, yet powerful, truck, the first sign that this guy is trouble is when he’s dumping a body down a storm duct. The image of the Creeper turning around to catch the kids watching him while driving by on the road…that made my gut wrench, just knowing that the kids were in for it. Unlike most horror films, this story doesn’t finish with a happy ending. However, it surprised me nonetheless. I only wish the sequel was better or at least on par with this one.

Number 16 on my list is The Birds. It’s the second (or first?) classic I have on this list. Another superb film by the master of suspense and let me tell you, if you take birds for granted, this film will change that. Our feathered friends of the skies are no friends at all in this film. The mystery of why these birds are attacking and killing people scares you and that’s the genius of Hitchcock at work here. He gives you the where, he gives you the how, the what, the when, but he doesn’t give you the why; that’s what gets you. Again, for the era during which this film was made, the special effects are pretty good and don’t really look cheesy. The film ends unresolved but leaves you with that haunting vision which I’ll never forget.

Here we are with number 15 and it’s the film that introduced us to Jason Voorhees: Friday the 13th Part II. Of course, the sequel couldn’t be made without the original, but I really feel that two of the sequels are scarier and give you more of that visual eerie feel, not to mention the frightening image of Jason; not with a hockey mask but with the sack. The scenes that build up to his reveal are daunting and chilling. The visit to Alice (the survivor girl from the first film) in the beginning of the film, is a spooky scene I’m sure we all experience when we’re alone in a house or apartment…minus, of course, the visit of a maniac. Basically, the set up with Alice’s dream catches the audience up with what happened in the first film and the little speech Paul gives around the campfire, gives you all you need to understand about the Jason Voorhees legend. Also, this is one of the three films that portray Jason as a human and not some undying zombie that’s unstoppable.

Number 14 on the list is Halloween. John Carpenter’s film sure did set up a precedent of how to keep suspense and to capture an audience in that tension. The peculiar characterization by Nick Castle, who plays Michael Myers (or “The Shape” as he’s credited in the movie) in this one, sets the tone for the film and how the character was represented. The slow yet fixed gate that Michael has and the almost mechanical movements he makes (like the scene where he sits up then turns his head slowly toward Laurie Strode) undoubtedly makes the character more odd and creepy. But John Carpenter’s ability to create the tense mood shows in the lighting and visuals of this piece. It’s a classic.

My number 13, The Thing, plays out more into the sci fi variety, but is equally a great horror movie. Especially when you put the special effects into play, it really confirms as such. I remember when this film came out, it made the news for one reason—the special effects. No movie, at the time, had such gory and gross special effects that turned one’s stomach. Even today, with all the CGI technology in films, very few have as much gruesome imagery as The Thing did back in the early 80s. Some of it was a little ridiculous (i.e., the “spider-head” that was supposed to be walking around, but only seemed like a remote controlled car), but most of it was shockingly effective in grossing us out. Of course, this film is a remake of a film from the 50s, The Thing From Another World, with the name shortened to just The Thing. But instead of having some monster looking like a made up actor in a latex monster mask, "the thing" was a virus of sorts that was able to absorb the characters in the movie and take over their bodies. One by one, the men on this remote Antarctic base were being taken over by the pathogen from another world. Being that this movie was released at the same time E.T. came out, the majority of movie-goers at the time chose to watch a good alien film rather than a scary one. But this film is a model for sci fi horror and a must-see.

Number 12, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, was marketed out to be the last film in the series, hinting that this was the end of Jason Voorhees and the end of the Friday the 13th series. As far as I’m concerned, yes, this is the end of the series. The film starts where part 3 left off, essentially at the crime scene. Part 3 left Jason at the barn, apparently dead from the blow to the head with the axe. The cops are all over the scene, including a police helicopter lighting the place, and the ambulance shows up and takes Jason to the morgue. Well, it turns out he’s not dead and escapes with a couple of brutal kills, taking off back to the area where he does his thing. The movie then introduces a new set of teenagers traveling to a cabin for the weekend. It also introduces the Jarvis family who happen to live next door to the rental cabin. To top off the potential victims, a guy by the name of Rob shows up to look for Jason, avenging his sister’s death from a previous movie. Soon, Jason arrives back from the morgue to pick off each victim, one by one. The kills are great, the special effects shining through, made by the mastery of Tom Savini. The showdown with the remaining victims against Jason is one for the books. Truly terrifying and the saga should’ve ended here, but obviously the movie makers wanted to make some more money out of this cash cow. My advice? Do not get the boxed set, but just buy parts 1 through 4. The rest is worth a view if you haven’t seen them, but nothing to write a blog about. The Final Chapter rocks!

During the 70s and 80s, most of Stephen King’s adaptations weren’t all that great. Some of them succeeded (Carrie, Christine) and some of them bombed (Cujo, Maximum Overdrive). But number 11’s Pet Sematary, really worked for me. When I read the novel during the summer of 1987, I couldn’t put it down. I think I read it within a couple of days while I was incapacitated after having my appendix taken out. I thought to myself at the time that the story would make a great movie and in 1989, while sitting at home one day, I saw the trailer for the film and I nearly shat myself. Pet Sematary really worked for me as a Stephen King book variation. I say variation because there were subtle differences from the book to screen, but it really won me over. The film and story ask sort of a hypothetical question: If a loved one of yours died, would you bring them back to life if given a chance? I think most people would. Another thing I liked about the film was that it really embodied the look I had in my mind for the houses in the film and even the path to the pet cemetery itself. Fred Gwynne was surprisingly perfect for the role of Judd Crandall. I thought I would’ve had the image of Herman Munster in my head the whole time, but I didn’t. Anyway, I highly recommend the film, but don’t see the sequel.

Number 10….never sleep again…yes, A Nightmare on Elm Street. The 1984 film by Wes Craven created a true monster with Freddy Kruger. The movie is an original piece, something we’ve never really seen before and it’s such a great concept. A killer waits for you in your dreams…how can you escape that? Everybody needs to sleep; it’s not something you can avoid for long…eventually you have to sleep. Now, it’s never fully explained how Freddy is able to get into the dreams of his victims, but who cares? The story behind Freddy of why he does want to kill the children from Elm Street is insightful to say the least, but that’s not what makes this film great. Honestly, it’s the performance from Robert Englund that makes the character, Freddy Kruger, so ghastly. With the budget Craven had to work with, it’s a wonder the film was ever made. But the visual effects are terrific and mesmerizing…the dream world, as terrifying as it is, was created perfectly here. The scenes in the boiler room just make you cringe and make you glad you don’t have dreams like these. But who knows? Maybe after watching this…you will.

Number 9: The Mist. (See my March 26th review)

My number 8 movie, Saw, started the new (and short-lived) trend of torture porn. But this entry to the new sub-genre of horror introduced a smart mystery thriller along with the gory and violent visuals we now come to expect from this series. Some twists and turns are thrown into the story, making this very interesting. It’s not just a movie about a couple of guys stuck in a bathroom. What seems to be a couple of poor schmucks chosen by some psychopath turns out to be something different all together. When you find out that everybody involved actually has something to do with what is going on, it really blows your mind. And when you get to the ending, you want to watch it all over again to see how everything adds up. The writers and directors of this film really knew what they were doing when they constructed this film. It’s too bad that all the following entries couldn’t follow suit.

Number 7 is another 80s classic…An American Werewolf in London. First and foremost, the special makeup effects by Rick Baker were (and still are) awesome and breathtaking. Honestly, I don’t think this film would be as well received by horror enthusiasts if Rick Baker hadn’t done the effects. Secondly, the directing by the always giddy John Landis was strong. The scenes were eerie when necessary (like the walk through the moors) and exciting when building to the great climax (the famous Piccadilly Circus scenes). Being that it’s the time before CGI, the special effects are remarkable and come at a perfect time. Also, it shows a new side to transforming into a werewolf; instead of it being an easy transformation, this film shows it as a painful and terrible alteration. Breathtaking!

Yet another Stephen King adaptation, number 6’s The Shining is one of my favorites from Stanley Kubrick. All other movies directed by him seem very odd and menacing when they don’t need to be. In this film, his style of direction fits to create the spooky tension The Shining needs. Now, this is one book I never read from Stephen King. I’ve read most of his books from his vast library but I have a rule that I don’t read books if I’ve already seen them as a movie. I’ve heard a lot of King fans were upset about this film and I have no idea why. I’ve even read that King himself didn’t like the film and how Kubrick changed some aspects of the story. Other than that, Jack Nicholson’s performance lends to the unnerving tale and the movie set of the hotel is downright scary. For years after watching this film, I was scared of Jack Nicholson in any role I saw him in. Unlike many thrillers, the movie’s conclusion is very satisfying.

Number 5’s Re-Animator is a gross-out spectacular. Not only is this a great story, taken from an H.P. Lovecraft short story that was made modernized for the big screen, but it was the start of the late 80s to early 90s effects-laden era of horror. It stars the oddly wonderful Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, a young college student who invents a serum that brings the dead back to them! A lot of gore and sickening visuals make this film a true horror underdog since not many people saw this in theaters. But when it circulated in VHS rentals, it became a cult classic. The headless professor scenes are definitely a standout in the film. A must-see for any gore-hound like myself.

The film, Poltergeist, for me is number 4 and it’s a special film. Because, not only is it terrifying and features the supernatural in a frightening manner, it also has a family tone to it. The reasoning behind this is probably the fact that Steven Spielberg was on set most of the time and directed a good portion of it, although the credit went to Tobe Hooper. As it turns out, E.T. was filming in the same Arizona neighborhood at the same time. But because of the director guild’s rules at the time or maybe because he was contracted by Universal Studios to direct E.T., I guess Spielberg couldn’t have credit for Poltergeist. At the time, usually films about haunted houses were filmed on sets that appeared to be run down or old Victorian houses…something that looked like it would be haunted. Poltergeist takes place in a regular suburban neighborhood, nothing scary or terrifying about that. But when this film gets to its climax, the shit really hits the fan. The flick has terrific performances by the cast, very believable and memorable.

Number 3, Child's Play, is a classic. In this film, the “Good Guy” doll is a popular toy that is beloved by children, has its own line of clothing and sleepwear, breakfast cereal, a TV show…basically it’s a very popular icon for children; it’s sort of like a new type of Cabbage Patch Kid. At the start of the film, Charles Lee Ray, a serial killer wanted by the law, is being chased down by a detective late one night. He tries to find a safe haven within a toy store, but the detective is closing in on Ray and is able to shoot and wound him. As a last ditch effort, Ray tries to find something…we’re not sure as he’s crawling around and leaving a bloody trail behind him. Suddenly, he grabs a “Good Guy” doll out of the packaging and places it in front of him, staring into its eyes. He starts speaking out verses in some sort of gibberish until he’s yelling it out. Finally he screams, “Give me the power I beg of you!” A lightning bolt comes down into the store and everything explodes, sending the detective flying. Ray ends up dead and the detective is satisfied. But it turns out Ray transferred his soul into that doll. After the prologue, a mother buys the doll from a vagrant and it turns out to be the “Good Guy” doll Ray transferred his soul into. It isn’t long before we get to see some creepy living-doll-type horror in this imaginative piece. The one true scary part is when the mother is starting to believe her son when she notices the doll had been speaking the whole time without batteries! Very scary and thrilling.

As we inch closer to the number one spot, here’s a little film that holds a dear spot in my heart…number 2 is Creepshow. Oh yes! The warped minds of Stephen King and George Romero come together to make an awesome anthology film; the stories written by King and the filming directed by Romero. I wasn’t able to see this in theaters when it came out, so I had to wait for it to show up on Showtime one night. Let me say, the one story that stands out and left me nearly shitting my pajamas was “The Crate” with the lovely Adrienne Barbeau and Hal Holbrook. But every story has its own feel, almost like individual movies in itself. “Father’s Day” had the eerie mansion with the cemetery in the back, complete with ground fog and haunting music. The “Jordy Verrill” story that starred King in a hilarious performance made you think twice about checking out a meteor. “Something to Tide You Over” with Ted Danson and Leslie Neilson turned out haunting performances as well. But the last act with E.G. Marshall as the ruthless and agoraphobic Upson Pratt in the “Creeping Up On You” story was overpoweringly disgusting in a grand way. All the stories in this film do not disappoint. I just wish Hollywood would make more of these films.

And the number 1 horror movie on my list is the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen. The film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, scared me silly and nearly drove me nuts for years to come. Probably the first masked slasher of all horror icons, Leatherface delivered the goods and provided the scares. From his blunt application of a mallet to his nonchalant utilization of a hanging meat hook, Leatherface was truly a force to be reckoned with…and let’s not forget the chainsaw. Probably what frightening everyone who watched this film back in the day was the foreword read by John Laroquette before the film started, stating that the film was based on true events. The visuals were upsetting (the furniture in the living room), the sounds were alarming (the aforementioned chainsaw), the characters were fear-provoking (Leatherface and family), and the thought of being in this situation was very terrifying. I don’t think any film will ever topple this film off my mental mantle and if one does, it better be a damned great horror film.


Anonymous said...

You missed a lot of classics, not just Psycho and The Birds, but others.

Movie Maniac said...

The title did say "My Top 20," didn't it?