For those of you who aren’t aware, I’m a bit of a fan of Halloween. Every year I decorate my house (if you follow me on Facebook you can find some photos of my place that attest to that effect – and here is a taste of of the sounds being used to scare the kiddies – and yes, that’s me), and beyond my desire to scare the neighbors I also find myself frequently watching my fancy plasma television (still better picture than LCD’s) trying to scare myself during the Halloween season. If you’re looking for a few films to fright I might be able to help you. Turning away from baseball, just for a day mind you (still basking in the glow of World Championship two in three years, thanks Giants), I thought I’d list for you my ten favorite horror films. They may not be the best scares ever put on celluloid, but they all bring something eerie that will cause you to make sure that your nightlight is turned on.
The list won’t include…
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Solid movie, spectacular idea).
Dracula / The Wolf Man (Classics but not really scary).
Freaks (Oddly entertaining but not really a horror movie until the magnificent ending).
Underworld (I really wanted to list the beautiful Kate Beckinsale in her leather).
Silent Night, Deadly Night (Yes, a killer Santa Claus).
Black Christmas (One of the first slasher films. Disturbingly interesting premise, and the original blows away the remake).
Friday the 13th (Derivative. I’m not about slasher films).
What is on the list? Here we go.
10 – Dog Soldiers (2002)
Before CGI was all the rage movies actually dressed people up in suits. This flick doesn’t exactly sport the best looking werewolves ever put on film but they are solid, and the fact that they could interact, hand to hand style, with the actors gives this film a realism many of the newer flicks miss. A platoon of soldiers taking on some werewolves – what an interesting premise, right? Don’t watch this one if you are staying in a cabin in the woods.
9 – Scream (1996)
If you know what to expect with the twists and turns the movies does lose some of it’s punch, but if you don’t have a good memory and can watch it again as if it was new, you’ll enjoy this one. Pokes fun of the horror genre but in a deferential type way versus some of those craptasic parodies like Scary Movie.
8 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A social commentary (even if unintended), this film was made for just over $100,000 and launched the career of George A. Romero (estimates put the the return on the film to be well over $30 million). One of the first films to have an African American lead, the film uses black and white photography to great effect as it does sound and Bosco (the chocolate syrup was used for blood). This is the “mother” of all the Zombie flicks you like to watch now, so if you enjoy that sub-genre you had better add this puppy to your watchlist.
7 – Nosferatu (1922)
The story of Dracula that had the names and places changed to avoid having to pay the estate of Bram Stoker for the rights to the story. Eventually Prana Films of Germany was run out of business and nearly all copies of the film were destroyed by court order (since the company couldn’t pay Stoker’s widow, the courts ordered all copies of the film to be destroyed – luckily they failed and some copies made it down to us today). Not for everyone since it’s a silent film, but it has an eerie feel to it highlighted by the scary, animal like appearance of the title character that is vastly different than the portrayals of Dracula you are used to seeing today. A true masterpiece of the horror genre.
6 – Trick R’ Treat (2007)
A slick anthology that features a few things every horror film should have. (1) A sexy striptease by a female who turns into a werewolf. (B) A psychotic pumpkin who inflicts pain on those who forget Halloween traditions. (C) A group of friends who pay the ultimate price for tying to play a “trick” on their friend. (D) A father who passes on to his son some rather interesting skills that probably shouldn’t have been shared. A real treat that doesn’t get as much love as it should.
5 – The Exorcist (1973)
People fainted and vomited in the aisles when seeing the film upon initial release. Literally. One of the most influential horror films every made, it was actually still playing in theaters two years after it was released. The Catholic Church was besieged by requests for exorcisms after the film that was loosely based on a true story. Famous for the special effects including the spinning head, the pea soup green vomit (there is a lot of it), and the still shocking use of a crucifix in a sexual way.
4 – Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
So indelible is the image of Boris Karloff as the Monster that it’s impossible to think about the Monster without picturing him (please, don’t call him Frankenstein either. The man who created him was Dr. Frankenstein, so Karloff’s character is either the Monster or the Frankenstein Monster, though no one seems to remember that today). The original Frankenstein, along with Dracula, helped to make Universal Studios the king of horror in the 1930′s and ’40′s. One of the rare sequels to outdo the original, Bride has an amazing mad scientist feel to it including the wondrous creation scene of the Bride with her iconic hair. This was one of the first horror movies to make such ample use of music (for effect) and humor, two staples of the genre today. As fine an example of movie making as you will find from a film produced prior to World War II.
3 – Psycho (1960)
A groundbreaking film at the time it was released. Paid the ultimate compliment in that nearly every horror/thriller film made today borrows at least something from this classic. It’s hard to understand the impact this film had at the time since today we can get porn on our cell phones, but at the time this film was released it broke a myriad of taboos including: (1) Killing the star of the film a third of the way in. (2) Showing the star of the film in her underwear. (3) Having a nude scene in the famous shower killing (even though you can’t make anything out – unfortunately). (4) Having a psychotic cross dresser in a lead role. A must see for any horror fan, an absolute must.
2 – Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Rarely do films evoke a visceral response. You may find yourself reacting that way a couple of times if the filmmaker really is on his/her game, but no film ever made can match the intensity of TCM that literally, from start to finish, makes your skin crawl. Repulsion, revulsion, despair, hopelessness… they are all here in spades. This film not only scares you, it’s relentless depravity seeps into your pores and stays with you long after you turn the television off. Much less violent/bloody than it’s reputation, Tobe Hooper’s classic take on dementia and murder hasn’t lost one iota of it’s impact since it was released – it will still make even the most hardened of you descend into the world of insanity that it portrays.
1 – Halloween (1978)
Like Psycho, this film has been repeated so many times – from it’s camera work to it’s subject matter – that it’s astounding that watching it still makes such an impact. Michael Myers, the original killer without a face (he is simply listed as The Shape in the credits), is the personification of evil. He’s insane. He wants to kill you. Period. There is no reason behind the mask, and the little back story we receive allows you to fill in the blanks with your own mind (almost always better than having everything explained – the unknown has a powerful effect). John Carpenter’s classic literally spawned the genre of slasher films, even though like TCM there is relatively little blood in the movie. Everyone has tried to imitate Halloween, including remakes of Halloween I and II by Rob Zombie in recent years, but no one has ever been able to recapture the simple but terrifying work of Carpenter.
Finally, a taste of Halloween at my home…
By Ray Flowers