Horror movies are enormously popular and usually win whatever weekend they happen to open in late summer, fall and February, so obviously lots of people are going to see them (and not just 18 to 24 year-olds, thank you Hollywood a**holes). True Horror fans will sit through just about anything, hoping to find that occasional spark of brilliance that elevates a movie above its genre. Though we are often scorned by the critics and sissy-baby-wusses who can't look at fake blood and cow intestines, we are loyal and waiting to be scared (and not just startled by a screeching cat leaping through a window). Horror movies are also required to have comic relief. There has to be some humor to allow us the release of tension, otherwise, we'd never be able to take it. Comedy as horror is often best, but those are rare. My list contains the movies that I think embody everything done right in a Horror movie.
10. The Haunting (1963) - Director Robert Wise adapted Shirley Jackson's novel "The Haunting of Hill House" into one of the scariest movies you will ever see. It helps that Wise assembled a rnather amazing cast: award-winning stage and screen actress Julie Harris, Claire Bloom (The Illustrated Man) and Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story) in a tale of a parapsychologist who brings a team of "sensitives" into a supposedly haunted mansion with a sordid past. The Haunting is an intense and terrifying lesson in building tension without resorting to shock and gore. The simplest of visual effects (a door that bends inward) and spine-shivering sounds (something is sniffing around outside the bedroom door after having boomed its way down the hallway) add up to one scary ride. I double-dog dare you watch it alone in the dark. Here is one of the film's most effective scenes:
9. An American Werewolf in London (1981) - John Landis' masterpiece about a young American student (former Dr. Pepper shill, David Naughton) bitten by a werewolf on the moors, while backpacking through Great Britain. Like most great Horror, American Werewolf is at heart a tragic love story. When pretty nurse (Jenny Auguter) falls for teh cute American as he recovers from his wounds. Things are even worse for the kid's best friend (the hilarious Griffin Dunne) who, like all of the kid's subsequent victims, is doomed to roam the Earth as a spectre until the kid is dead and the curse is broken. As Dunne continues to decompose before our eyes, his one-liners get funnier and funnier, especially when all of teh kids victims gang up on him in a porno theatre with helpful suggestions as to how he can off himself.
8. Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - James Whale's far-superior sequel to 1931 original, introducing us not only to Mary Shelley herself in a prologue, but to Professor. Preatorious, a madman who makes miniature people of a sort and who conspires with Frankenstein to build a mate for his monster. Also see the brilliant biopic about Whale in his later years, 1998's Gods and Monsters, starring Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser.
7. Saw (2004) Say what you will about the films sequels (the first of which is actually quite good), but Saw is one of the few modern horror movies with a "surprise ending' that actually surprised me. More than anything, this first ever film from director Lames Wan and writer/star Leigh Whannel is creepy and suspenseful and full of surprises (and look for a "Lost" star as a red-herring). Saw started both a lucrative franchise and Horror sub-genre that will hopefully run its course, soon. Embedding for every version the clip I wanted to use has been disabled on YouTube, but you can see it here.
6. Dracula (1931) Director Tod Browning's best film, Freaks, was actually banned for a long time in many countries, because it was deemed too disturbing and exploitative. His 1931 version of a popular stage play version of Bram Stoker's Gothic tale of love, lust and blood not only made a star out of Hungarian stage actor Bela Lugosi, but is an exemplar of the creation of mood and tension through the manipulation of light and shadow.
Interestingly, a surprisingly moodier (and some critics say better) version shot on the same sets at night, in Spanish, for the Latin American audiences. The host of this segment is kind of a tool, but he's gone after a few seconds.
5. Aliens (1986) - Some will argue that James Cameron's sequel to Ridley Scott's classic is a Sci-Fi Actioner. I say that without a doubt, it is a roller-coaster horror movie about a woman who will go to any lengths to protect the child she loves from seemingly unstoppable monsters.
4 Shaun of the Dead (2004) Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's hilarious homage to the films of George Romero hits the nail on the head every time. Whether parodying the sameness of everyone's day-to-day or making fun of bad music and the genre, itself, Shaun of the Dead works on just about every level.
3. Dawn of the Dead (1978 & 2004) Both George Romero's original and Zack Snyder's remake strike all the right chords with his zombie fan. I may prefer my zombies slow and shambling (see my screenplay, Army of the Dead), but Snyder's fast zombies are just a bit more terrifying, even if his version lacks the social commentary of Romero's version. Here's a scene from Snyder's more action-oriented version:
2. The Fly (1986) - Another movie that many may consider Sci-Fi, but which fulfills all the requisites of Horror (and then some). Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis give two astounding performances in this David Cronenberg remake which grossed out millions and inspired an opera. It also contains a phrase which I use again and again, just because it is so appropriate to so many situations: "Be afraid... Be very afraid."
Dead Alive/Brain Dead (1986) - An early Peter Jackson effort, this hilarious, gross and exceptionally gory tale of a young man whose domineering mother destroys his life like no other mother in the history of cinema (nope, not even Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate). Man, I adore this movie:
Other honorable mentions include: The Descent; The Hunger; Fright Night; Frankenstein; A Nightmare on Elm Street; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?; Scream; The Serpent and the Rainbow.
Alright - you've patiently waited for me to choose my Favorite Horror Movie of all time. And to be honest, I had a hard time picking just ten. But just this past year, one movie made this jaded Horror fan flinch, scream and garb onto my companions more than any other in recent memory. And that would have to be Sam Raimi's gypsy curse thriller:
1. Drag Me to Hell (2009) - Eschewing the profanity and nudity so prevalent in modern Horror, Raimi instead relies on story, acting, and shocks galore in his glorious return to the genre. It's the first movie I can remember in a long time that had ne squirming in my seat and clutching at my film-going companions. Justin Long's expression in the film's last shot says it all. Drag Me to Hell provides the most satisfying Horror experience in a very long time. "Here, kitty, kitty!"
Agree? Disagree? Did I miss one of your favs? I want to know. Comment away.