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Folks have, from time to time, wondered to themselves out loud, why it is that horror movies have had such a hold on me. I mean, horror movies are just lame attempts by writers, directors and stars who have no real talent to try and make their mark on the movie industry… Aren’t they?
To them I say, hell no. Horror movies, and by this I refer to horror movies which have made an impact on me, have always tackled those subjects and gone where mainstream movies fear to tread. People who watch The Night of the Living Dead and see only ravenous zombies aching to chow down on human flesh are well and truly missing the bigger picture. You see, the best horror movies manage to incorporate and question all those mores which we hold so dear.
Tell me true, if you were stuck in a house with a bazillion zombies surrounding you, would you really care to argue the pros and cons of who has control over the T.V. set? If you do then you are firmly ensconced in the camp of those who I would gleefully feed to said zombies at the first opportunity. As a wise person once said “I don’t have to out run the zombies, I just have to outrun you.” If you don’t, then, read on.
By the way, I created the banner. If you can tell me from top to bottom, left to right, which movies those images come from you will have earned my ever lasting admiration. Check at the bottom for the answers.
20. The Mist (2007)
When Stephen King does out and out nihilism, few can ever hope to hold a candle. Such was the case with King’s 1980 novella The Mist. Drawing from Night of the Living Dead, King placed a small band of complete and utter strangers in a local, small town supermarket. These refugees were forced to band together against the unspeakable evil which lurked within the mist. I have this story in print, as well as a 3D audio adaptation. The ending left me wondering how anything could ever hope to get worse. Frank Darabont proved that my worst imaginings were weak ass at the very least, offering up a far worse ending. Killer adaptation, well worth the time it takes to watch it.
The Mist Trailer
19. The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)
Vincent Price near the peak of his sartorial prowess, plays the titular Dr Phibes, hoping against hope to bring his dead wife, Victoria, back to life. Along the way he employs the ten plagues of ancient Egypt (Boils, Bats, Frogs, Blood, Hail, Rats, Beasts, Locusts, Death of the first born and Darkness for those of you who were wondering) to see the demise of those he blames for his wife, Victoria’s, death.
Throw in a bumbling Inspector named Harry Trout and you are all set to go.
Camp horror at it’s finest.
The Abominable Dr Phibes Trailer
18. Re-Animator (1985) My favorite author, Stephen King, frequently admitted that H.P. Lovecraft was one of his biggest inspirations. As a student of my favorite authors / bands inspirations, I immediately looked up this H.P. person. Along the way I came across this gory little gem. Jeffrey Combs gives what can only be referred to as the performance of his career, playing anti hero Herbert West. Probably not the best Lovecraft adaptation, but it is most definitely one of the most entertaining.
17. Black Sabbath (1963)
You know, growing up with a penchant for tales of horror, I found myself for drawn to all kinds of movies. I discovered Roger Corman’s take on the Edgar Allen Poe series of movies, I found one of my favorite actors of the genre, Vincent Price and I found the grand masters, like Lugosi, Chaney and Karloff. The movie I discovered Boris Karloff in was this Italian made anthology, starring in The Wurdalak, a tale about a vampire that prefers to feed on close friends and family. Tame, I’m sure, by today’s standards, this movie still managed to creep the hell out of a twelve year old boy.
As a side note, heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath took their name directly from this movie which was showing in a cinema across the street from their rehearsal room.
Black Sabbath Trailer
16. The Sixth Sense (1999)
While not a horror movie in the truest sense of the word, M. Night Shyamalan’s classic is, nonetheless, horrifying. If you’ve ever heard the expression “I see dead people” then your life has been touched by this movie. This is a brilliant movie with a twist that will honestly and truly curl your hair. And to pretty much anyone who has seen this who have told me after the fact that they saw the twist coming I here by and officially say to you… Yeah, fucking right you did.
The Sixth Sense Trailer
15. The Wicker Man (1973)
If you want any kind of horror cred then you must most definitely watch this movie. It is the tale of a police Sergeant who receives an anonymous letter which draws him to Summerside, a remote Hebridean island to take on the case of a young girl who has been missing for a number of months. This movie stars Edward Woodward (The Equalizer) as the Sergeant, Christopher Lee as the Laird of the island, Britt Ekland and horror movie staple sexpot, Ingrid Pitt.
The ending is disturbing in the extreme and first taught me that good doesn’t always win out over evil.
Never mind the ill advised 2006 Nicholas Cage abortion of a remake…
The Wicker Man Trailer
14. The Evil Dead II (1983)
Bruce Campbell as anti hero Ashe? Really? As if once wasn’t enough. The Evil Dead II is everything a horror movie should, neh, must be. Many consider this to be a remake of Sam Rami’s first Evil Dead movie. In many ways it is. In many other, it is oh so much more than merely a remake. Bruce Campbell brings a true sense of pathos and humour to a truely horrifying situation. Unlike the next movie in the Evil Dead trilogy, The Evil Dead II does not spare the gore.
It revels in it.
The Evil Dead II Trailer
13. Frankenstein (1931)
One of the classic movies which helped pave the way for every horror movie which would come after. James Whales’ movie has spawned so many sequels / imitators that it isn’t even funny. Yet the scene with Colin Clive stepping back from his creation and declaring “It’s alive, it’s alive. In the name of God I know what it feels like to be God.” still manages to impress.
And speaking of God, watch the excellent fictionalized story about the final days of James Whale, director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and titled Gods and Monsters (1998). It stars Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser.
Gods and Monsters Trailer
12. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
One of those instances when the sequel is better than the original. The Bride of Frankenstein is one of the most visually quoted horror movies of all time. From the opening scene of Elsa Lanchester playing Mary Shelley telling Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley that there was more to tell of her original story, Frankenstein, the movie picks up again from the end of the original movie. The monster (for that is all he was ever known as; Frankenstein has always referred to the Doctor) and Henry Frankenstein’s mentor Doctor Septimus Pretorius urge Henry to create a mate to satisfy the Monster. You just gotta know that this isn’t going to end well.
Bride of Frankenstein Trailer
11. Nosferatu – eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
The grand daddy of all vampire movies, Nosferatu is basically a thinly veiled attempt to tell the story of drunken Irishman Bram Stokers novel Dracula. While the director did his best to hide his source material, the widow Stoker still found enough similarities to bring forth a successful lawsuit against the production. All copies of the movie were ordered and thought destroyed as a result of said lawsuit, but one copy managed to survive. This is why the world now knows of Nosferatu.
As an added bonus, check out the wonder Shadow of the Vampire (2000), a fictionalized account of the making of Nosferatu with Willem Defoe starring as the films lead, Max Schreck.
Shadow of the Vampire Trailer
10. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
The whole werewolf story had grown rather stale by the time this movie came out. This movie turned werewolf movies on their head. So many scenes have become iconic that it would probably take me the rest of this brief article to outline. Suffice to say you should probably go out and see this movie. Right here. Right now. I’ll wait.
An American Werewolf in London Trailer
9. Halloween (1978)
So, the first time I actually watched Halloween was probably Halloween time 1981 or so. I was at home with my mother and I had the remote in my hand. While the movie progressed I found myself concerned that my Mom would become bored / scared / terrified with the way the show was progressing. At a glance, I determined that she was feeling none of these. In fact, she was closely mimicking my feelings. I guess I know where I get my love of horror from…
8. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski’s issues not withstanding, Rosemary’s Baby was probably one of the first psychological horror movies that I ever saw. A young couple move into The Bramford, an older apartment building with a well meaning but meddlesome older couple living right next door. Not long after they move in Rosemary’s husband, a struggling actor, suddenly and unexpectedly gets the lead role in a play when the original actor goes blind for no apparent reason. They decide to have a baby and soon Rosemary is pregnant. For reasons I won’t go into right now Rosemary doesn’t remember a whole lot about the night she conceived, but as things start getting more and more peculiar she begins to wonder just who the real father is. A modern classic if ever there was one.
Rosemary’s Baby Trailer
7. Prince of Darkness (1987)
Prince of Darkness is a very cool little movie written and directed by fellow Canuck John Carpenter about a priest (Donald Pleasence) who invites a group of accademics and students to help him investigate a mysterious cylander which contains a constantly swirling green liquid. With a title like Prince of Darkness, you just gotta figure that it isn’t Kool-Aid. And it isn’t.
The movie is a great little atmospheric tale of ancient evil and those who would deny it entry into this world, touching on such diverse topics as anti-matter, tachyon transmissions from the future and the very nature of evil.
Look for Alice Cooper as “Street Schizo” who gets to shove the frame of a bicycle into a man’s chest, a stunt he used during his then current Nightmare Returns tour wherein he used a microphone stand to impale a pesky photographer.
Prince of Darkness Trailer
6. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Well, what can you honestly hope to say about the Grand daddy of zombie movies. If nothing else, it changed the way that we all see zombie movies to this day. All those horrors just outside their door and they still insisted on bickering with one and other. Just how messed up was that. This movie was one of those “oh fuck” moments in cinema. For one thing, the hero was a black man, the subject matter was handled a little bit more graphically than before and the ending is still one of the best shock endings of the genre if not all time.
Night of the Living Dead Trailer
5. The Thing (1982)
Allright, so this is my third John Carpenter film on this list. It could well have been my 8th if I had included Aliens, Eyes of Laura Mars, The Fog, In The Mouth of Madness and Vampires in this list, but I tried to excersize some restraint. The Thing is what we would now call a “re-imagining” of the 1951 classic The Thing From Another World which was, itself, an adaptation of the 1938 novella Who Goes There? To my way of thinking this is a no-brainer, retaining the tension of the first coupled with the cool special effects available him in 1982. Scary as all get out. Highly recommended.
The Thing Trailer
4. Psycho (1960)
The Master himself directed this CLASSIC adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name. Is there anyone out there that can honestly say they have ever taken a shower in their lives after seeing this film without thinking of the self same iconic scene? Up until this point in time I can’t think of any other film that has ever killed off the heroine within the first act of a film. But that is one of the main things that set Alfred Hitchcock’s classic apart from and above all the others.
Anything which has come afterwards has only ever been a pale imitation. Let us not forget Anthony Perkins iconic turn as Norman Bates. Truly one of this genre’s greats, even though little of any actual blood is ever seen.
3. The Exorcist (1973)
My best friend growing up and I had heard SO much about this film. At the time it was officially released we were 12 and 13 years old respectively. Yet the hype behind it’s release was such that, even after an additional five years, when it was re-released, the two of us were there.
You know what? Scared the shit out of the both of us. We didn’t have a heart attack, or piss our pants (that I know of, I certainly didn’t piss mine) but it was still a very effective dissertation on horror.
The Exorcist Trailer
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Alright, I will admit right here and now that, even though I was in my 14th year when this film was released, I didn’t see it until many years later. The fact that it still had the power to horrify way on down the line, despite all the technological advances made in film making, certainly must speak to it’s visceral impact.
This, my friends, is one brutal movie. Forget all the sequels; forget the remakes. If you don’t squirm mightily in your seat when Leatherface clubs his first victim in the head, and you see said victims foot twitching spasmodically, then you must truly be one sick motherfucker.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Trailer
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Even though this list was not compiled in any sort of order, other than the order in which they occured to me, Dawn of the Dead is, nonetheless, a high water mark amongst them all. To my way of thinking, there has never been a movie which has ever managed to merge the sheer horror of a zombie appocalypse with the need to seek out your pre-appocalypse consumerism in hopes of finding normality. The effects created by the master Tom Savini have inspired movies ever since.
I mean, just how the fuck did he do that?
Dawn of the Dead Trailer
I would be ever so remiss if I didn’t include this most wonderful of homages in this list. While many directors purport to deliver an homage to a favorite movie/director/actor, so few do it with so much obvious affection as Mel Brooks did with this classic retelling of the Frankenstein story. With an ensemble cast of comedy giants like Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn and a wonderfully offbeat Gene Hackman as the blind hermit. This marvelous movie takes Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein and turns them on their heads. Touching at times, the humour comes fast and furious, especially for those who know and love the source material. Subtle and not so subtle nods abound. A classic in the truest sense of the word.
Young Frankenstein Trailer
Bottom row left we have:
Night of the Living Dead, An American Werewolf in London, The Wicker Man and Re-animator
How many did you get?