Monday, July 12, 2010

The Horror...

Surprisingly, out of 284 posts on Caliban's Revenge with the label "Movies," there are only 123 with the label "Horror." Considering it always has been my favorite genre, I'm quite puzzled to find that less than half my movie posts were about (or at least mentioned) Horror Movies.

In December of last year, as the decade was closing, I made a list of the Top Ten Horror Movies of the Decade, but I don't think I've ever done a Top Ten Horror Movies of All Time. And since I'm still in Anniversary Celebration mode, I figured "What he hell? Why not?" So here, for the first time ever, is Uncle Prospero's 10 favorite Horrors of all time. And just so you know... I have tried to be as selective as possible in separating Horror from her two cousins, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, though it wasn't always easy, as you will see. So, without further ado and mostly chronological order...

10. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari -- 1919

Director Robert Wiene's German Expressionist Horror masterpiece concerns a carnival hypnotist and his "somnabulist" slave, Cesare. Weird angles; portrait-like set-ups; light and shadow juxtaposition; surrealist sets... name a trait of German expressionism - it's in The Cabinet... (all puns intended). Wiene, along with directors like Fritz Lang, Carl Bose and F.W. Murnau, was already trying to experiment with and redefine the fledgling American art form. Considered by many to be the first actual Horror Movie and told primarily as a flashback, the film also features a "twist" ending worthy of O'Henry - long before M. Knight Shamalamadingdong's father was born.

9. The Phantom of the Opera -- 1925

In the late 90's, I was lucky enough to attend a Halloween screening of Rupert Julian's original film version of Gaston Leroux's novel in the chapel (really a Cathedral) at Princeton University. The movie was accompanied by a live organist who played the original score. Let me tell you, when Mary Philbin's Christine pulled the mask off of Lon Chaney's Erik, there were still genuine screams among the audience. What else needs to be said about a 70+ year-old movie that still makes girls scream?

8. Dracula -- 1931

Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi became a star with his performance in the stage version of Bram Stoker's Gothic novel about the Carpathian blood-sucker, so it was only natural that directo Tod Browning cast him the movie version. Probably the first horror movie I can remember seeing, Dracula is still a fascinating, atmospheric film. All that having been said, the Mexican version (shot on the same sets at night) is technically a better movie.

I apologize in advance for the tool hosting this clip, but it was the best example I could find:

7. The Bride of Frankenstein -- 1935

Gay director James Whale's masterpiece sequel is both horrific and hilarious, featuring wonderfully daft performances from Colin Clive and Ernest Thesinger as Dr. Pretorious. A study in style:

6. Cat People -- 1942

Producer Val Lewton (I Walked with a Zombie) and director Jacques Tournier created this creepy story about metamorphic race or leopard people. Paul Schrader's 1982 remake, starring Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell was a special-effects shocker, but couldn't hold a candle to the oh-so-atmospheric original.

6. Psycho -- 1960

How much more can anyone say about the single most influential Horror movie ever, made a master filmmaker at the height of his career? Psycho not only changed filmmaking, but also changed audience attendance habits. Hitch insisted that no one be allowed in the theatre 10 minutes after the movie started and audiences have arrived for movies before showtime, ever since.

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- 1974

Director Tobe Hooper makes his first appearance on this list with his low-budget tale of a cannibalistic family of lunatics was inspired (as was Psycho) by Kansas serial killer Ed Gein and his house of horrors, which included furniture made from human bones. Showing no actual gore, Hooper (making his first of two appearances on this list) made a terrifying movie that would eventually establish the 80's slasher phenomenon. It intoduced an iconic Horror villain (Leatherface) and Hooper's 1986 sequel, set mostly in the tunnels beneath an abandoned amusement park, is as close to a filmed nightmare as I care to come.

4. Halloween -- 1978

Another low-budget shocker from director John Carpenter, Halloween started a Horror sub-genre that still thrives, today. Slasher movies were a staple of 1980's Horror and the recent (though rather lame) remakes of TCM, Halloween and Friday the 13th prove the staying power of the genre. It also made a star out of Jamie Lee Curtis and a cult celebrity out of PJ Soles.

3. The Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2 - 1981/1987

Director Sam Raimi (the only other director with two films on this list) made his mark with this cheapie about a group of teens in an abandoned cabin in the woods, who unwittingly unleash an army of Canderian demons. The sequel is basically a comedic remake which inspired an hysterical Off-Broadway musical.

2. Poltergeist -- 1982

Stephen Spielberg produced Tobe Hooper's biggest hit (and best film) about a suburban family plagued by the restless spirits of people who have had a development built atop their graves in one of the few movies in which both my sister and I can tell you what's happening simply by hearing the score. Closets, televisions, clown dolls and tennis balls have never been the same. "It knows what scares you..."

1. Drag Me to Hell -- 2009

Sam Raimi returned to the genre that made his career in one of the most exciting, disgusting and hilarious Horror movies of the last 30 years. Christine pisses off an old gypsy woman, and is cursed to be dragged to hell by the demon Lamia...

Honorable Mentions:

Alien -- 1979

Sorry - Ridley Scott's take on bad 50's Sci-Fi is a classic "Dark House" horror movie, despite being set in space.

Trick 'r Treat -- 2008

Micheal Dougherty's anthology is the most fun I had seeing a horror movie since Drag Me... and I am looking forward to both its sequel and whatever else Dougherty has in store:

Yes, there are plenty of Horror movies I love, but these are my favorites. And don't even start in on me about The Exorcist - a very good, but not scary (to me, at least) film. So, what are your favorite Horror movies? You know I love to hear from you.

More celebration, anon.


Shelley S. said...

Seriously though? 'Drag Me To Hell' is your number 1? I'm not mad at your taste, it had its share of good scary moments and a decent enough plot and I'm never one to knock the adorable Justin Long, but you had so many classic and better-written movies on your list. Could you really sit down and watch and re-watch 'Drag Me To Hell' with the same effect?

Prospero said...

Yes, and for many reasons. And no, you can never have the same effect as the first time you see a movie (especially since I saw it with a very special group of people), but I can appreciate Raimi's audacity and his willingness to provide a non-happy ending. The movie works for me on many different levels. And it's number 1 simply because of it's chronology... I couldn't rate them in order of favorites. they are my collective favs.