It’s October. Time to talk horror. I’ll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.
Okay, I’m phoning this one in. Civilization Beyond Earth comes out in about ten hours and I know this blog will likely suffer. Here’s a bullshit list that doesn’t mean anything. I know, lists suck.
If there’s a remake by the same title, I’ll use the director’s name to differentiate between titles. Also, none of this is in any particular order other than Dawn of the Dead, which just happens to be first.
This is my favorite horror film ever. Tom Savini goes nuts and there’s not a lick of CGI in the entirre feature, so anyone who complains it looks dated needs to be grounded because they’re obviously not old enough to deserve such a farthead opinion. It’s the gold standard by which I judge all other horror films, not just zombie films. Whereas I typically enjoy horror-comedy films more frequently, it’s only because good straight-up horror (which I prefer) is so damn hard to come by. Dawn of the Dead is straight-up horror. There are laughs in it, but it’s not jokey or poking fun at the genre as if the filmmakers are above horror. (See: nearly every mainstream horror film after Scream… actually, don’t see that shit. My bad.)
Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have gone mainstream despite being genre fiction because they’re infused with believable characters and drama. That and they not only make you wonder about who dies next, but they make you care. Dawn did all that way before the newer stuff did. It’s not just horror, it’s adult drama. But above all, it’s a fantasy film: everyone wonders what they’d do in a Shit-Hit-The-Fan situation, but Dawn exploits that fantasy better than any other zombie and/or apocalypse feature by shacking its main characters up in a shopping mall. On top of that, Romero makes us wonder why living in a shopping mall should be a fantasy and what that means about our culture. The zombies in the film, of course, are drawn to the shopping mall, but they don’t know why. Yes, it’s a social commentary on American consumerism, yatta-yatta-yatta… but seriously, living in a shopping mall would kick ass.
The movie is all about contrast: on one hand you have this intentionally goofy elevator music scoring the scenes of dead roaming the mall. This is offset by dread-inducing music by Goblin (frequent collaborator of Dario Argento, who also worked on the picture), which reminds us how fucked everything is the second we hear it. I’ve said this before on this blog, but it should be repeated: my favorite thing about the movie is, once they’ve cleared the mall of zombies, the main characters are allowed to relax. This is something so many horror movies fail to do that even the 2004 remake missed the mark. What it all comes down to is the absolute most spectacular climax in horror film history.
Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby
This (or John Carpenter’s The Thing) is probably my second favorite horror film for the fact that it, like Dawn of the Dead, also taps into a disturbing fantasy almost all westerners have: Who are your neighbors? I mean, really? Who is the person you sleep with every night? Do you really know? And, the most obvious question it asks: Who will my children be?
Again, this is why I hate younger “moviegoers” out there. They miss the humor. They call it boring. But me? I personally don’t understand why The Exorcist is considered such a classic and this one isn’t. I don’t mean to spoil it, but what ultimately happens to the main character is probably the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to somebody, but she takes it in stride in an ending as bizarre as it gets.
I don’t even know how to summarize this picture, but I would probably say it is, hands down, the most insane ride a horror film has ever given me. I mean, sure, a lot of movies try to be insane, but Hausu really is. Here’s what I wrote about a while back when it was a little fresher in my mind.
Here it is, the newest movie you’ll see on this list. Look, I liked Cabin in the Woods as much as the next guy (I really did), but You’re Next dropped the meta-horror angle and suckered us into thinking it was going to be a routine horror film before jerking the carpet out from under our feet. It’s violent, it’s funny, but above all it’s fun. It also has Barbara Crampton in it, my childhood crush, not to mention the greatest scream queen who ever lived. People are always going on and on about how an aging movie star has kept her looks, but here Crampton really has.
Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Yes, I do mean the remake, not the original, and I think that opinion is becoming a lot less controversial these days. This one is the definitive snatcher film (there have been many including one with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig), at least until someone makes a proper adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s Puppet Masters. This one had a scene so memorably scary that South Park riffed on it more than twenty years later. (I won’t spoil it, though.)
David Cronenberg’s The Fly
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Yes, remakes usually suck, but not always. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Cronenberg flick I didn’t like and I’ve seen them all. The one I think doesn’t get enough credit is Videodrome.
Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 1 & 2
I reviewed the remake here. As should be expected, I hated it. The original films are two of the funnest horror films ever made. Never mind the fact Evil Dead 2 is, in fact, the first remake of the original. And when Sam Raimi left Spider-Man to give us Drag Me to Hell, I couldn’t have been happier. Long live horror Raimi.
Toby Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Every time I see a camera flash in real life, I somehow hear the sound effect from this film. While I inexplicably enjoyed the first sequel and the latest reboot (I know, I know), nothing had me more shocked than when one of the very realistic hillbillies suggested, “We should let grandpa have this one!” That’s the kind of thing no flesh and blood human should ever forget. The movie’s look is the kind of raw power you just can’t duplicate in the digital age, which is another reason I dislike movies made on anything but pre-80s film.
I’ve said before that the seventies was the absolute best time for movies. Here’s the proof in the pudding. While Deliverance doesn’t throw nonstop gore at the viewers, think about this: how often have gore movies actually been scary? Not very often, right? Well, this one is scary. Isn’t that what horror is supposed to be about?
Look, I love slasher films as much as the next guy, but you don’t watch them expecting anything new. You just want to see young people die on camera while other young people have sex. That’s only to satisfy the “okay, let’s have fun” craving for horror. That kind of horror has its place, but man, it gets old most of the time.
But every great once and a while there’s a film that totally fucks your brain right out of your head before it kicks you in the ass. Clive Barker’s Candyman did it for me. No young characters here: these are adults in a pretty frightening situation. Maybe it’s not as realistic as I remember it being when I was nine years old, but it’s still refreshing. And that Philip Glass theme gets stuck in my head even though I haven’t seen the movie in over a decade. That’s the true definition of “haunting,” a word too many overuse.
This is just one of those films. You can almost sympathize with the bad guy (girl) because she’s obviously not right. You can almost convince yourself the main character deserves it… well, some of it. To say anymore gives too much of it away and, unlike a lot of the other films on this list, I’m not so sure the shocking stuff has been widely spoiled yet. Speaking of spoilers most people have discovered before seeing the actual movie….
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho
There has never been a stabbing so subversively brutal. And there has rarely been a character as creepy as Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates. I think it’s a shame that most people who see this for the first time will go into it knowing the mid-movie shock, because that was something so ahead of its time it’s still avoided to this day. Although it may not be my favorite Hitchcock film (I’m partial to his more adventurous outings like North by Northwest), it is undeniably horror and therefor it belongs on my list of favorites.
This movie came so far out of left field for me I never would have expected it would end up on this list before I saw it.
Thirteen more of my favorites will post at midnight (Oklahoma time).