Thirty-One Horror Films Guaranteed to Put You Into the Spirit of the Season
“Black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts
Covens of witches with all of their hosts
You may think they scare me
You’re probably right
Black cats and goblins on Halloween night… Trick or Treat!” – Halloween (1978)
1 — You’re Next — Adam Wingard (dir.) — 2011
Of course, this is totally my opinion. That being said, it’s one that I will stand by for the next twelve months (or until I’m next moved to strike up another list on Henry Harbor). You’re Next is the very best horror feature I’ve seen for longer than I can really remember. In fact, I don’t remember the last time that I was so incredibly affected by a film that I immediately wanted to start it over and re-watch the whole thing from the very beginning. It’s fun. It’s fresh. It’s so well made that I found myself constantly guessing about what was going on, and I honestly thought I had the whole thing figured out from watching the trailer alone. I was wrong.
You’re Next is a slasher, but it’s not really like any slasher that I’ve ever seen. It takes viewers (and fans) back to the good ole days of the early- and mid-eighties when these sorts of films were king, but it’s nothing like any of the movies with which I grew up.
What’s the best thing about You’re Next? It actually succeeded in scaring me.
Not in the way that some horror movies make me feel bad after watching them and leave me thinking about them long after they’re over. Instead, this is a film that is fully self-contained and preserved within the shell of its 90-odd-minutes of screen time, but I jumped (and even screamed out loud) not once, but two times. I even went so far as to text every single horror fan that I know to tell each and every one of them that if they’d not yet seen it, they needed to make time to do so. Immediately.
From director Adam Wingard, one of the brotherhood of the mumblegore directors who are making some of the best fright films today, You’re Next doesn’t have a single thing about it I don’t like.
The music is great. The score is incredible. The heroine is awesome. The kills are shocking. And the blood quotient is just right.
Horror fans, this is the scary movie you want to watch tonight.
And it’s streaming on Netflix.
2 — The Conjuring — James Wan (dir.) — 2013
One of the biggest fears of all lovers of the horror genre is that filmmakers are running out of ideas, that the tenets that we count on to produce great scary movies are all used up and tired and will just eventually fall by the wayside. Evidence of this can be seen with even the greatest remakes of horror classics that are out there and the re-imaginings of all the great stuff that’s flowing like lava out of countries other than the United States.
Luckily for American audiences, we have great horror directors out there like James Wan who is definitely just getting started. With great flicks like Insidious and Dead Silence, it was only natural that viewers would flock to see anything else that he put his fingers on. And great for James Wan that he has the incredible case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren from which to clean such fresh and freaky material as that which is covered in 2013′s The Conjuring.
Taking viewers back to the ideas that led to such cinematic epic fright fests as The Amityville Horror and The Changeling, this recent masterpiece is everything that everyone could possibly hope for in a horror movie. The mood and setting is perfect Americana 1970′s. The costumes and set design are kitchy and spot-on. The music is the real deal. The family is just like a real family. And everything that begins to occur as they move into their dream home requires very little suspension of disbelief. In the masterful hands of James Wan, it all just simply works.
The Conjuring probably won’t ever rank in my top ten favorite horror films of all time, but I suspect that it will stay in my top twenty for many years to come. It’s fun, vivid, interesting, well played, and actually quite scary.
What’s really great about this pick is that it’s very light on the sorts of adult material that scare most people away from allowing younger viewers to watch. It is, however, very high on the terror and discretion should probably be used with any impressionable viewers.
Regardless, it makes for something of a great horror movie night. I’d recommend coupling this one with something that actually came out during the period in which it’s based. James Wan did a remarkable job of capturing everything that made horror so much fun in the 1970′s, from the opening credits to the weird, real-life photos of the actual family.
Lock your door and turn off your lights. This is the perfect pick for Halloween night.
3 — Evil Dead — Fede Alvarez (dir.) — 2013
Another example of a film that I’ll probably get some flack for picking over its original incantation, 2013′s Evil Dead is one of the most exciting remakes of any horror movie I’ve seen in recent years.
Don’t get me wrong, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is a veritable horror classic and it paved the way for a special kind of film-making and camera work that people had never seen up to that point; however, there’s just something about the later version that really got me.
Maybe it was seeing it in a fully packed theater on opening weekend, with all of the audience screaming and squirming and talking back to the screen.
Maybe it was the way that it stuck to the original but brought the story into present day with a modern sensibility.
Maybe it was the fact that when director Fede Alvarez ran out of ways to fold, spindle, and mutilate every single character on the screen, he decided that the only way to get more red in the picture was to just have it rain blood.
Whatever it was, it worked. And Evil Dead is one of my current top ten favorites.
4 — Phantasm — Don Coscarelli (dir.) — 1979
Much less a scintillating and engrossing story and much more a madly frenetic collection of horrifying imagery and mounting terror, Phantasm is one of those perennial slumber party hits from my youth that I will always remember fondly and look at as one of those movies that is guaranteed to freak out most audiences the first time they ever see it.
One of the things that has made author Stephen King so successful is his ability to tap into the hearts and minds of readers with his knowledge of what really scared us when we were growing up. Don Coscarelli, the director of Phantasm, had a very similar mindset when creating this veritable nightmare-on-film and he pulled from the vaults to fold together a collection of images that pull out all the stops. In this film, it isn’t so much the fear of the possibility of what’s under the bed as it is what’s really waiting there that makes viewers shudder with fright.
Phantasm is less about anticipation and more about the thrills. It’s filled with countless scenes and examples of things that make this one of the best horror flicks of all time.
There’s a creepy, creepy, creepy tall man, grave robbing, a miserably scary mausoleum, minions from hell, impish monsters, and a weird crystal ball that you’ll never forget.
Find a copy of this movie and get on it tonight.
5 — Dementia-13 — Francis Ford Coppola (dir.) — 1963
One of the best schlock flicks of the early sixties, Dementia-13 is a film that borrowed heavily from the success of Psycho in an effort to reel in audiences and promise to be something of a similar ilk. Truth be known, Dementia-13 is nothing like Psycho. It’s less artistic, less controlled in its direction, less well acted, and far less shocking. It is, however, a really great horror flick and one of the cult classics of American cinema that really deserves its renowned status.
An elusive, ax-wielding psychotic is having his (or her) way with the many quirky inhabitants of an old castle populated by a long list of strange family members who are present to act out their annual remembrance in honor of a family member’s untimely death. One of the brothers drops dead of a heart attack in the opening scenes and his greedy wife spends most of the film contriving the best possible means of preserving her intended inheritance. The other siblings each has their own particular brand of weirdness and the mother is a total neurotic basket case. The stage is set for fun and thrills and one of the film’s most memorable scenes involves underwater photography that was clearly ahead of its time. Add to that the catchy, campy horror music and you’ve got a film that’s destined to be one of everyone’s favorites even if the quality is less than devine.
Unfortunately, most of the prints I’ve seen have not been well preserved. As a result, many copies show poor lighting and somewhat grainy cinematography that can be something of a task to endure. That being said, the build-up to the film’s big murder scene (like Psycho, it happens less than halfway through and involves the sudden demise of a character we’re all assuming to be the star) is very well done, and the identity of the killer is well preserved until the finale’s reveal.
It’s not the best out there, but Dementia-13 is definitely one of my favorites. Re-watching it this time of year is something I always look forward to doing. If you’ve never seen it, give the movie a chance. It’s a less than ninety minute way to spend your time and worth every second.
6 — An American Werewolf in London — John Landis (dir.) — 1981
Apparently, 1981 was a great year for werewolves in the cinema, but it’s this particular foray into the lycanthropic world of man-beast lore that is probably my all-time favorite entry into the subgenre.
An American Werewolf in London is great. It’s gruesome and gory and scary in just the right places. The music is great and the special effects are absolutely out of sight. In fact, I’d have to say that the transformation scene in the John Landis film is probably the best that was ever filmed.
Two American backpackers hiking on the moors meet an untimely doom at the mercy of an unseen beast. The attack leaves one of the men dead and the other recovering and slowly succumbing to the fate that any modern film watcher knows befalls anyone who is ever attacked by a werewolf and lives.
The story in An American Werewolf in London is just a little bit crisper and wittier than the rest. The acting is a little more believable. The humorous portions are worth more than a mere chuckle, and the scary bits are filled with the perfect amount of suspense to keep viewers watching.
And who can turn down the opportunity to see David Naughton’s naked (in fact, I am pretty sure this was the first time I ever saw a nude man in a movie… little did we know just where that would lead).
To this day, An American Werewolf in London holds its original magic, and it’s definitely worth streaming it online before the end of the week.
7 — The Howling — Joe Dante (dir.) — 1981
Admittedly, the world of shape-shifting creature features isn’t one with which I find any sort of regular and special fondness, but The Howling is a really cool little flick that was released at just the right time, starred just the right people, and was able to blend just the right amount of gallows humor with everything that we know and think we know about werewolf mythology.
Dee Wallace, who has become something of a horror classic perennial, plays Karen White, a very popular television news anchor who has been covering a series of attacks in the seediest parts of Los Angeles. In cooperation with the police on the trail of the stalker, Karen participates in helping to bring the man down, but the experience nearly costs Karen her life and leaves her on the verge of a nervous breakdown. When her psychiatrist suggests that she take some time off and go for an extended stay at his special refuge, The Colony, the fun of The Howling really starts.
It’s clever and campy and tons of fun. What’s more, the big screen werewolf transition was one of the best at the time, and the climactic on-air finale of this flick is one of the most memorable endings in horror cinema.
Check out the trailer below.
8 — V/H/S 2 — Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Simon Barrett, and Adam Wingard (dirs.) — 2013
The original V/H/S impressed me so much that it made my halfway to Halloween list back in April. Why did it impress me? Mostly because it succeeded in doing something that too many movies fail to do these days: it freaked me out. Two of the segments in particular set with me for several days after I watched the movie, and my former list directed readers to pay particular attention to the two of them. I had high expectations for the second entry in what I’m fairly certain will become a running series because of the simplicity of putting these flicks together. Unfortunately, I initially felt a little let down with the first two tapes that were watched, and I was thinking that this would be a sequel that wouldn’t live up to the original. Luckily, the segment titled “Safe Haven” proved to not only meet but totally surpass any and all expectations that I had. The entire film is worth watching for that particular bit alone.
V/H/S 2 and its predecessor are wrapped around the new found footage craze that has been really swept the horror genre in recent years, but what these particular films have the opportunity to do is to formulate a portmanteau that allows for multiple talented directors, each with his own vision, voice, and style to put new and interesting spins on everything that would otherwise be something of a cliche in a scary movie. The best thing to do is to not expect anything and to go along with them for the ride because chances are you’re going to walk away feeling as if you’ve really just had your mind blown.
Watching V/H/S 2 reminded me of reading The Books of Blood, or any of Clive Barker’s other work. It’s more gruesome and intense than anything out there, the splatter punk notions of the literary world brought into cinema form, and if you’re a fan of this type of sub-genre, you’ll end up loving these movies as much as I do.
Like I mentioned, a couple of the segments aren’t nearly as good as the others, but none of them are bad.
It’s the third entry, the story of a research team’s investigation into a weird religious cult, that grabs viewers by the balls and does not let up. Once the situation begins to decompensate, the director of this chilling tale does holds no punches and really goes for the throat. It’s incredibly shocking, disturbing, and filled with the sorts of scenes that you’ll be dwelling on for several days to come.
Check out the trailer below.
9 — [Rec] — Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza (dirs.) — 2007
An eager and extremely enthusiastic reporter and her camera guy have landed the plumb gig of covering the night shift at a Spanish fire station for their regularly airing news piece, While You’re Sleeping. For the recurring segments, the duo spends their nights filming the comings and goings of people working graveyards while most of the rest of Barcelona is nestled in their cozy beds. The reporter is hoping that focusing her attention on a fire station will give her something a little more edgy than usual, but the night begins dull and remains that way for a large portion of their recording footage. To make time pass, they walk around and discuss the men and women’s jobs, check out the dining area, and even get involved in a game of basketball with the guys who are up with them.
When a call comes in, the two-person camera crew join the first responders on a ride to a local apartment building where a woman can be heard screaming in one of the third floor apartments. Their arrival maintains the sense of normalcy that has held viewers of [Rec] in some measure of suspense for the first third of the film. What happens when the duo joins a police officer and two firemen at the third floor apartment sets in motion a terrifying chain of events that proves to be the fulfillment of the reporter’s hope that they catch something a little more profound with this particular segment. Unfortunately, this is a case where one should be careful what she wishes for.
[Rec] was made by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, and I see that it has spawned multiple sequels (none of which I’ve seen) along with a 2008 American remake called Quarantine (which I haven’t seen either). The preponderance of the film’s action takes place in the confines of the five story apartment building, and the small space only adds to the claustrophobic feeling that pervades the action and dialogue, especially when the Barcelona Public Health Department seals off every entrance and exit, telling everyone inside that a health official will be entering soon to explain everything.
The results are amazing.
[Rec] is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in several years. It’s fast-paced, genuinely scary, and takes place entirely in real time. Viewers are right there with the reporter, her camera man, the first responders, and the unlucky inhabitants of this creepy apartment building.
But they’re not alone.
There’s something in there with them.
10 — The Sacrament — Ti West (dir.) — 2013
Moving into the top ten flicks for each of these horror movie lists has made me a little nervous every time. I’m never totally certain whether or not I’m going to catch any flack from the people who are following the blogs, especially from my fellow horror film lovers. What’s Conchita gonna have to say about these picks? What about Lindsey? Erik? Corley? Geri? I remember getting a few groans this past April when I added Martyrs as one of the movies to watch, but I had to meet that objection with a little justification: it had me thinking about it long after the movie was over (what’s more, all but two of us ended up watching that one all the way to the end). Although I have similar misgivings about tonight’s selection, I’m going to have to stand by it because the alternative choice would be another documentary; not one about the horror genre, but one that is about a very disturbing period in history that still ripples its effects throughout our cultural zeitgeist.
The documentary I’m hinting at is Jonestown: Paradise Lost, which is streaming on Netflix this month along with tonight’s movie. If you want to watch a docudrama that shows what really went down in Guyana in the late seventies, go for the true story. If you want to watch a well directed film from one of terror land’s best filmmakers, watch 2013′s The Sacrament. Though the productions are similar and both of them left me with a comparable feeling of having watched something that made me want to turn the lights on, The Sacrament is the actual horror movie. Had I not recently watched the Jonestown piece, I would have no misgivings about posting this one as an option.
This is a film that loops together a ton of footage shot by a group of media-savvy gonzo guys who travel down to a remote portion of the world to visit the sister of one of their group. Because she has had an extensive history of drug and alcohol dependence, her brother is mostly pleased that she seems to have gotten her act together, but the ease comes with a degree of misgivings as she has written that she has joined up with a group of people to build a paradise on Earth they’ve dubbed Eden Parish. The journey is treacherous and well documented, and The Sacrament is constructed in such a way that the viewer constantly hopes that this will not go in the direction it seems to be headed. Not because there are any impending cliches, but because it’s too reminiscent of something that really happened and that creates an overwhelming sense of disquiet.
The final half hour of The Sacrament is truly suspenseful and more than a little upsetting. Even if you think you know what direction it’s taking, keep watching. The conclusion is worth the viewing.
11 — Wait Until Dark — Terence Young (dir.) — 1967
She recently lost her sight and is in the process of making the difficult transition of learning to live without a sense that so many of us take for granted. She attends daily classes for the blind, and she is well on her way to finding some sense of normalcy in a world that has so suddenly gone so tragically black. Her husband is a hard-working New York photographer who is pushing his wife just hard enough towards becoming a “champion blind lady,” but he’s doing so with love and a little bit of fear, especially when he has to go away for overnight trips.
Early on in the film, Susy’s husband, Sam, meets a woman on an air strip and she gives him a doll for safe keeping, a doll that we’ve seen stuffed with several bags of heroin as the film opens. This doll becomes the focus for a group of hardened criminals who will do anything to get it back.
The doll is in Susy’s apartment.
And she has no idea what sort of eerie hell the coming day and subsequent night has in store for her.
Far from being a straight horror film, Wait Until Dark is based on an acclaimed stage production of the same name. It’s written to be performed and viewed in the very compact, nearly claustrophobic setting of Susy and Sam’s basement apartment, and Terence Young’s direction of a very beautiful Audrey Hepburn in the lead is exquisite, precise, and effective at building a certain degree of tension unlike that which is seen in most modern day thrillers. This is a film that requires viewers to think and the overwhelming sense of dread builds with every new frame into an overall witches’ brew of wonderful suspense.
There aren’t many films that are able to give an audience one big scare, but Wait Until Dark does so, and the pay-off is marvelous.
There are no cliches here, and there are even fewer rules. The villains are truly villainous and the damsel in distress is truly sympathetic and compulsively watchable.
Wait Until Dark is a film made to be watched late at night.
With every light in the house off.
Of course, once the film is over, you’ll be ready to switch them all back on.
12 — Beyond the Black Rainbow — Panos Cosmatos (dir.) — 2010
Imagine that scientists were somehow able to genetically bind the chromosomal creativities of Stanley Kubrick and David Cronenberg into a new person and he or she grew up watching horror and science fiction flicks on old VHS tapes throughout the eighties. Assume this theoretical human has an affinity for David Lynch and John Carpenter, was raised by a family of EST-practicing cult members, and spent a lot of time experimenting with music on an electronic synthesizer while tripping on copious amounts of psilocybin mushrooms and lysergic acid diethylamide. Chances are the results would be something along the lines of Panos Cosmatos and he would grow up to make a film like Beyond the Black Rainbow (not that any of these circumstances led to the film’s creation, but the combination sort of sets the tone for what you’re about to watch).
This isn’t really a movie that one watches for the script, although what has been created in the form of dialogue and exposition is the perfect compliment to what takes place before your eyes during the 110 minutes that the movie runs. It’s too difficult to really determine whether or not these are great actors, but you’re right there with them for the ride. And Cosmatos’s picture isn’t one that will likely go down in history as anything more than a cult classic. But what we do have with this particular foray into a terrifying alternate reality of a psychiatric movement gone bad in 1983 is breathtaking, visually stunning opulence.
There are glimpses of 2001: A Space Odyssey here. There are moments that remind me of Shivers and The Brood. Some scenes led me to reflect on movies like The Wall and Heavy Metal. And the whole thing is wrapped up in the package of a weird horror/sci-fi flick that probably would have been a lot of fun to get high and go watch in a packed theater late at night with a state of the art sound system and a screen that stretches all the way up one wall and around the ceiling.
It’s not so much scary as it is warped, distorted, and unnerving. The low-resonance sounds that play throughout, interspersed with key riffs created specifically to be placed in just the right order, gives one a feeling of almost impending nausea and dread.
It’s streaming on Netflix right now, and I STRONGLY suggest that anyone who loves the films of any of the directors I’ve mentioned go check it out.
13 — The Innocents — Jack Clayton (dir.) — 1961
A film that my mom encouraged me to watch at an early age when my love of movies was first becoming apparent, The Innocents is a magnificent horror film based on the classic novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James (check out my recent review of the book here). Directed by Jack Clayton and sporting a very well adapted screenplay co-penned by Truman Capote, this is a wonderful, very creepy masterpiece that sits right up there with the original version of The Haunting.
A pretty young governess, Deborah Kerr, goes to the proverbial sprawling estate Bly to take care of two precocious children named Flora and Miles. Quickly, she learns that her dual charges are being haunted — and possibly possessed — by the malicious spirits of two former servants. It’s an incredible thrill ride and one that stays true to its source material, even adhering to the shocking ending of the Henry James story with a scene that was probably extremely upsetting and unthinkable at the time.
Kerr’s performance is the heart of this flick, but the supporting roles are equally well played. The scenes involving the presence of the ghosts on the grounds of Bly are especially haunting and still effective more than fifty years later.
This is a great pick that’s right up there with the best horror films ever made, and it often finds itself ranked in the top twenty lists of major critics and filmmakers (including Martin Scorcese) as one of the best fright flicks in history.
14 — Possession — Andrzej Zulawski (dir.) — 1981
I haven’t had regular cable service for quite some time. With the advent of Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, the only thing I really need for my television viewing pleasure is an internet connection and the magnificent seventh wonder of the post-post-modern world, Roku. With this device, I have everything that I could ever possibly need right at my fingertips, and I am totally content with that.
For the most part.
The thing that I miss about having cable television is having access to some of the channels that I grew up with and really enjoyed having for my constant access. One of the channels that I miss most is Turner Classic Movies, especially their Turner Classic Underground series that started circa mid-2000′s and gave me a whole new list of film titles that I might never have seen or even heard of. On the list was the original version of The Crazies, The Honeymoon Killers, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and one of the strangest, most lyrical and viscerally upending horror films ever made, Andrzej Zulawski’s 1981 horror allegory, Possession.
At first, I couldn’t decide what the hell was going on in this flick (and to be totally fair, I’d probably need to watch it several more times before I could write an honest analysis), but I knew that I enjoyed everything in it from the very start. What I initially thought was some kind of intentionally melodramatic overacting I soon realized was actually two of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen on film. Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani are remarkable actors, and their dual roles as the tortured husband and wife filleting themselves and exposing the many inner demons of incredibly dysfunctional psyches are so compelling that they are almost painful to watch.
Only very rarely can I think of other films where one is watching people really take things to the end of the road and beyond. Blue Valentine maybe? Requiem for a Dream? Irreversible? Like each of these other difficult-to-complete works, Possession is an incredibly disturbing film, one that evokes a gut-level reaction that churns the stomach and leaves a permanent crease in one’s forehead long after the credits roll.
What begins as a rather uncomfortable glimpse into the dissolution of a crumbling marriage turns into something that you almost feel guilty for watching. It’s poetic, prophetic, creepy, and physically jarring for viewers who watch it all the way to the end.
This is one that you will be thinking about for many nights to come.
15 — American Psycho — Mary Harron (dir.) — 2000
American Psycho is a film that truly polarizes audiences. There are those who find it funny, those who find it terrifying, and those who subscribe to the belief that the story is nothing more than misogynistic drivel. All of them are right, and all of them are wrong.
American Psycho is actually a fully-fledged, extremely well directed and well acted satire that most viewers simply don’t get. It’s classified as a horror film, and though it has moments of truly dark humor, I would never describe it as a black comedy or even a horror picture with funny elements. All of the conflicting descriptions and qualifiers combine to create something that doesn’t really classify itself into any particular genre, and in order to fully understand what the movie is all about, one really ought to read the book first.
But it’s a hell of a difficult novel to read in it’s entirety.
In fact, though I proclaim myself to be the biggest Bret Easton Ellis fan to ever walk the Earth, I have to admit that there are literally entire chapters of the controversial bestseller that I simply had to skip over because I knew exactly what was being described by only reading the section headings (and to this day, I don’t know with 100% certainty what occurred under the portion of the book titled “Rat,” but I had a feeling I knew where it was headed).
By the time the novel was released by the publishing world’s youthful literary celebrity, Bret Easton Ellis, the author had already written two other books that skyrocketed him to fame. The first was Less Than Zero, which Ellis wrote while still a student at Bennington College in Vermont. Less Than Zero was mostly the story about a guy named Clay, who came home to Los Angeles for Christmas break after a fall semester at the fictional Camden College. In the simplest terms, it’s the Robert Downey, Jr. story before the Robert Downey, Jr. story actually happened and ironically was made into a film starring… Robert Downey, Jr.
Ellis’s second novel, The Rules of Attraction, tells the story of a group of students all attending Camden College during that fall semester from which Clay was vacationing in Less Than Zero. In fact, Clay is referred to as a dumb guy from LA who is always wearing sunglasses, and the story’s main protagonist is a guy named Sean Bateman, who has a brief lunch with his brother Patrick at one point. Patrick, of course, is the focal point and titular soul referred to with Ellis’s third novel, American Psycho.
Ellis’s books are nihilistic and disturbing, filled with deviant behaviors, sexually ambivalent characters, and some of the most memorable prose that’s ever tickled by eyes.
In the novel American Psycho (and in the film as well), Patrick Bateman is the consummate image of 1980′s perfection. He’s from a very wealthy family, has the perfect apartment, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect job, and he’s ridiculously good looking with an amazing body and narcissistic sexual prowess. He spends pages of the book describing every name brand thread he wears, the collection of products lining the shelves of his medicine cabinet, the extensive workout routines to maintain perfect abs, and the excessive world he inhabits. In fact, his descriptions are so detailed as to be almost boring, which makes it all the more shocking — while simultaneously making all the more sense — when he begins describing the acts of absolutely inhuman depravity he performs on a variety of people in his life. Beginning with an assault on a drunken homeless man and his dog and escalating through a profane series of scenes detailing acts of torture, degradation, and murder, Patrick Bateman manages to conceal his true nature from everyone around him, even when he tells them exactly who he is and what he is doing. People only saw what they wanted to see at that time, and Bateman is truly an antihero of the glamorous image of the 1980′s.
The film is remarkable. Christian Bale’s performance of Patrick Bateman is spot-on. And the atmosphere of everything Harron included in her work is just the way I pictured it when reading the work by Ellis.
Not a choice for everyone, but definitely one to rank on this month’s list.
Just remember, every time Patrick launches into one of his long monologues about a popular musical group or recently released CD, something is about to happen that you may not want to see.
With that in mind — because I couldn’t find a decent trailer for this one — I picked one of the film’s most famous scenes as a preview to tonight’s pick.
You may want to turn your volume down (and it’s probably NSFW).
16 — Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film — Documentary — 2006
Growing up in the 1980′s, I didn’t realize that I was not only in a unique age bracket but also a unique community, the combination of which made me something of a gifted and savvy audience. Having been born in 1979, I came of age in what has come to be known as the VCR generation. The only world I’ve ever known is one where I have constant access to virtually any and every possible movie title released on VHS (and subsequently DVD), which means that I’ve seen a lot of movies.
Additionally, something that I didn’t realize until taking a media class during my first year of college, I was also lucky enough to live in one of the first markets to receive access to cable television, which means that I’ve never known of a life where television actually ended at any given time. Whenever one channel ended its broadcasting day, I could just switch to another network, usually catching a variety of flicks I was never supposed to be watching in the first place on HBO or Cinemax.
All that being said, I started watching horror moves at an extremely early age, and I came from a world where parents were a little less likely to screen everything that their children watched. Subsequently, I ended up watching every possible slasher flick available on a major movie channel, as a late-late show on one of the major television stations, or on the shelves at any one of the many video stores that I frequented every Friday and Saturday night.
Every major chase-and-slash movie franchise and every unbearably low budget T&A gore fest passed through my fingertips at some point between 1984 and the very early nineties.
I love the slasher genre, and I’ll even defend it in spite of the fact that it’s the dirty grandfather of the string of superfluous torture porn movies that have been released in recent years.
This documentary is the thing I would have paid $100 to have my hands on when I was going through the video stores during my childhood and adolescence, and it is THE documentary that every horror film fanatic should have in his or her collection.
Giving viewers a history of the slasher genre, all the way back to the days of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Paris, through the seedlings of the modern take on it with films like Psycho and Halloween and all the way to the eventual demise in the overly saturated market of the 1980′s, Going to Pieces is a great ride for every horror aficionado.
17 — The Haunting of Julia (a.k.a. “Full Circle“) — Richard Loncraine (dir.) — 1977
Although I’ve never heard of her referred to as a either or current or former scream queen, Mia Farrow has regardless been in several horror films and thriller of varying honorable repute. Beginning with Roman Polanski’s classic foray into the world of upper middle class witchcraft in New York, Rosemary’s Baby, and most recently featured as the new incarnation of Damien Thorn’s malevolent governess in the 2006 remake of The Omen, Farrow has embodied a variety of dark roles, playing everything from sightless victim to vindictive murderess.
For tonight’s selection, I’ve opted to present a feature of the starlet that my buddy Erik Champney has asked that I include in both previous lists.
1977′s The Haunting of Julia is a pretty phenomenal ghost story, based on a novel by Peter Straub. One of the reasons I’ve been a little hesitant about including this title is that I was a little hesitant about watching the film for a long time. I’m a fan of novelist Peter Straub’s work, especially Ghost Story, which is probably the best horror novel I’ve ever read; however, Julia, the book on which this film is based, was a title I only finished grudgingly. It’s one of his earlier works, so Straub was just finding his footing as a storyteller, and I felt that was apparent. Not that the story was bad; it just didn’t really blow my mind. No “oh, thank heaven! It’s Seven-Eleven!”
Thankfully, Straub’s story was just interesting enough to create a pretty incredible screenplay. And what’s included in this unbearably overlooked moody piece is one of the creepiest, well filmed hauntings ever.
Unfortunately, there’s no real trailer for this film, so you’ll have to settle for this fan made bit I found to satisfy a glimpse into the creative genius caught on film. There are copies of the movie all over the Internet. Some free, some streaming on all the movie sites.
A must watch!
18 — Misery — Rob Reiner (dir.) — 1990
As far as Stephen King adaptations go, this is one of the best two (the original Carrie is the other). Tack on the Academy Award-winning performance from Kathy Bates as one of the scariest characters in history, a very well written screenplay from William Goldman, and expertly crafted direction from Rob Reiner, and you’ve got one of the most unsettling and difficult to watch movies ever made.
As a writer, the story is one that hits very close to home.
Paul Sheldon is a bestselling romance novelist who has just killed off the lead character in his famed Misery series and finally completed the book that he has always wanted to write. After finally breaking away from the genre that brought him financial success and stability, he’s on his way from the writing retreat where he always completes his his final work when a violent accident leaves his car overturned and stranded on a snowy hillside. His latest manuscript in hand, things seem bleak for Sheldon until his all-time number one fan comes to his rescue.
Annie Wilkes is a former nurse who takes Paul to her isolated Colorado home in an effort to bring him back to health. At first, she just seems to be a little off-kilter, but her truly psychopathic nature is slowly revealed. When Annie discovers that Paul has ended his famous romance series, all hell breaks loose and the movie builds with nearly unbearable tension and some of the most awful physical and psychological torture ever filmed. In Stephen King’s book, Annie takes things over the line in every spot where Reiner decided to hold back. Instead of making Annie a woman who is campy and over-the-top (in the book, she doesn’t “hobble” Paul, she whacks off appendages one-at-a-time and uses a blowtorch to stop the bleeding), the film version of this nefarious character is all the more disturbing because she is totally believable.
In a way, Misery is a metaphor for the things that artists go through when they decide to break through the mediums with which they are comfortable. It’s well acted, well directed, and very, very scary.
Not only as a horror film, but as a film in general, this is one that everyone should see at least once.
19 — Dawn of the Dead — Zack Snyder (dir.) — 2004
I’m sure that I’ll be catching some flack for picking a remake over the original, especially when the original is such a classic and the one zombie film that George Romero himself calls his favorite of those he’s made. I don’t dislike the 1978 version at all, but I feel like the 2004 version is so much better.
Where the original Romero films had very deep political and social roots disguised as scary movies, the remake is much more a full-fledged fright fest, filled with some of the best images and cinematography in terror cinema. There are no undertones with Snyder’s version of the film, driving the point of the director: I’m here to freak you out. Where Romero set out to make commentaries on the Vietnam War, consumerism, and the government, Zack Snyder seems to have only had the single mission of scaring the crap out of people.
The premise of Dawn of the Dead is that it’s the morning following something that only began the night before (hence, a pseudo sequel to Night of the Living Dead). As the film opens, a young nurse played by Sarah Polley (we don’t see enough of this chick) is trying to get through the end of her lengthy shift amid the usual crap that medical professionals have to go through on a daily basis. The only interesting thing that audiences may note is that she’s trying to get a neurological consultation for a patient who only came in after having been bitten, but if you blink, you probably won’t even notice the significance.
When her shift ends, she drives home, speaks briefly with a neighbor girl, climbs in bed with her husband, and the two enjoy the date night they’ve been looking forward to. As dawn arrives, the couple awakens to the neighbor girl from earlier creeping down their hallway. The scenes that ensue are some of the scariest and most suspenseful out there. Since Sarah Polley is one of the stars of the picture, we assume we’re going to see her make it out of the zombie attack that takes place in her home, but we have no idea where things are headed.
Polley’s character manages to make it out of the house, escaping through the bathroom window, and scrambles to her car where she drives away and watches as the world around her is crumbling in the plague of the undead. The camera work is amazing and inventive and when she crashes her car into a tree, the credits roll over a slate of images that detail the horrors that are befalling mankind while the sounds of Johnny Cash play over the soundtrack. It’s slick, gory, hard to watch, and ingenious. Probably one of the best openings to a scary movie in recent years. The film that follows only lives up to the standard that is set in the first fifteen minutes.
Get a copy of this and check it out. I think you’ll understand why I think that this is one remake that is superior to the film that inspired it.
20 — Friday the 13th Part 2 — Steve Miner (dir.) — 1981
Now, bearing in mind everything that I wrote about this film’s predecessor, I have to assure you that as much as I love the original film, Friday the 13th Part 2 is, in my opinion, one of those cases where the sequel surpasses its progenitor.
As we would learn many years later in the sequel to the original Scream, there are many rules for a successful sequel, and this one meets and exceeds every single one of the notions that Randy ruminated over when predicting his own film’s trajectory.
Here, the body count is significantly higher. The gore factor is indisputably more apparent, and the death scenes are incredibly elaborate (some of them even in somewhat bad taste, especially when citing the wheelchair-bound camp counselor who takes a machete to the face before a backwards-topple down the stairs ends in his freeze-frame death). Finally, Friday the 13th Part 2 brought us an entirely new killer in the form of the man-creature with which anyone who knows the franchise is familiar. Here, Jason is more like a mountain man whose mental processes are even discussed by the film’s central character (and final girl), a college student majoring in child psychology — far from the superhuman, impossible-to-kill monster, but still seemingly endlessly unstoppable here.
My only real criticism of this particular film is that it is, in many ways, nearly a kill-by-kill ripoff of a Mario Bava flick from one of my previous lists, Bay of Blood/Twitch of the Death Nerve.
That being said, this is a great, great horror flick. Where the first picture set the standard for the big slasher chase scene, Friday the 13th Part 2 perfected it. From the moment that Paul and Jenny return to the camp and discover that something is definitely wrong to the film’s final scare, not a frame is out of place. You’re right there on the mad dash with Amy Steel’s character as she fights back, hides, goes on the attack, and uses every available means of struggle rather than just running away in all the wrong directions.
Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2 are really great compliments of one another, and they should always be watched consecutively when at all possible. And, of some interest to any true fans out there, parts two, three, and four all occur simultaneously, so maybe you should just go ahead and throw them all together for good measure… but be prepared: as far as the real thrills and scares go when setting up expectations for a horror movie, it’s this one that really delivers.
21 — Friday the 13th — Sean S. Cunningham (dir.) — 1980
Although picking any film in this successful series that begat the unstoppable, seemingly endless franchise throughout the entire decade (seriously, one of these movies seemed to come out every year during the 1980′s), is something of a cliche, I’m about to make my list a weekend-long dual cliche because the truth is that the original Friday the 13th is actually a pretty good movie. In spite of the idea that any one of these flicks is tired and played out, no one can really deny that the first feature released has become a veritable classic in the annals of horror cinema. What’s more, the story of how the movie came to fruition is an interesting tale in itself.
The rumor is that the creators of the film had nothing more than a title buzzing around in their heads when they bought a full page advertising space to announce Friday the 13th as “the most terrifying film ever made.” When word swept the world of movie-making, many people were ready to jump on board. Halloween had been a tremendous success and had — at the time — been the most successful independent film ever made. Friday the 13th was lucky enough to get bought by a major production company, signed on veteran actress Betsy Palmer in a role people were surprised to see her play, and a script was eventually created that basically took the formula from John Carpenter’s 1978 hit, added a few more underdeveloped characters, changed the setting to a summer camp with a sordid past, and created a media blitz in the form of an television ad campaign that people had never previously seen.
It may seem like I’m denigrating this particular film, but that is not the case at all. What the men and women in front of and behind the camera did when creating this terror classic was pretty much genius.
Friday the 13th opens with the double murder of a couple of camp counselors who sneak away from their group to fool around elsewhere on the grounds. After the less-than-graphic set-up and the extended title sequence, the fun of Friday the 13th begins. One by one, the counselors who have come to reopen Camp Crystal Lake after so many years of tragedy and misfortune are bumped off in a series of increasingly violent ways (a very young Kevin Bacon bites it with an arrow through the neck in one of the more memorable deaths) and the final chase scene set the standard for virtually every chase scene that would ever follow in any slasher film to come later.
It’s fun. It’s predictable. And watching Friday the 13th is like bumping into an old friend that I’m always glad to see. I love the music, the sound effects, the less-than-Oscar-worthy acting, and the way it has just the right amount of suspense for anyone who’s never seen it before.
22 — The Fog — John Carpenter (dir.) — 1980
For whatever reason, John Carpenter’s 1980 ghost story about the secrets that lead to the possession of an entire town on its 100th birthday doesn’t seem to get the credit that it deserves. There are a variety of possible reasons, any of which could have to do with the time that it was released, the fact that the director was known for bringing audiences the penultimate slasher film, and the notion that viewers were expecting more of the type of style that Carpenter displayed in his late seventies horror hit. But the truth is, The Fog is a really great movie. It’s the story of a haunting that rises to a new and far more expansive, creative level. Something that people hadn’t really ever seen before.
The film opens with citizens of Antonio Bay preparing for the centennial celebration which promises to bear with it all the pomp and circumstance that would be expected for such an event. On the night before, a series of strange occurrences all happen as the clocks strike midnight and the day of the recognition is to take place. For the most part, everyone discounts what appears to have possibly been a set of coincidences — everyone except a fishing boat several miles offshore which encounters a bizarre and very dense fog bank. The men on board barely have time to react before their ship is overtaken by a group of spectral beings that slaughter everyone on the vessel before disappearing, along with the fog, into the night. The remainder of the day is filled with last minute actions to ensure that the evening finale comes off without a hitch while the town police investigate the mystery of the abandoned fishing boat out at sea. What comes in the film’s second half is some of the creepiest and most well filmed fright scenes in the history of the modern ghost story.
The Fog is everything that people could possibly want in a great horror film, and it’s pure escapist delight for anyone who wants to watch a really well done scary movie. The story has just the right amount of melodrama, the characters are all played by very well known actors, the frightening moments come at just the right intervals, and the effects are at just the right level to never reach the point of being over-the-top.
As the fog bank returns to Antonio Bay and the citizens are scattered throughout the town, one watches with interest and curiosity to see who will make it to dawn and who will perish in the unseen horrors from The Fog.
23 — Children of the Corn — Fritz Kiersch (dir.) — 1984
What I remember most about the 1984 adaptation of Stephen King’s story (it appears in his 1978 collection collection Night Shift) isn’t necessarily the story, although it’s a scary one. What stands out in my brain is a series of incredibly vivid images that stuck with me for several years after seeing Children of the Corn during its television premier on HBO one Saturday night.
Killer pre-teens, children, and adolescents with terrifying weapons typically used in and around farms.
Smatterings of strange religious imagery.
An opening imbued with a blood bath in a town diner.
He who walks behind the rows.
Fritz Kiersch’s horror masterpiece is utterly replete with the kind of frightening visuals that stick with someone for a lifetime, especially if he or she watched the film when they were entirely too young to be doing so.
The screenplay is the story of a young couple (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) whose trip through the boring cornfields of Nebraska is abruptly stunted after they believe they’ve just mowed down a boy in the road. When they discover that the boy’s throat was slashed before the accident, the couple is waylaid into a creepy, quiet town called Gatlin, where the village children have gotten some really crazy ideas about religion.
Unfortunately, some of the movie’s effects show their age, but that doesn’t change the fact that Stephen King’s Children of the Corn is a really creepy flick, and one of the better cinematic interpretations of the horror master’s work.
24 — Invasion of the Body Snatchers — Philip Kaufman (dir.) — 1978
Something happened to American film in the 1970′s. Something great. And it left a lasting impression on cinema, influencing the generations of filmmakers who would come in its wake. The movies of the seventies were suddenly grittier, less tame, and beyond remarkable. They touched on the political and social climate of the era and found new and innovative ways to tell their stories. There were echoes of paranoia, uncertainty, and characters who were at the mercy of forces bigger and better than they were, filling the screen with metaphors for the many issues that the United States was facing at the time.
A favorite from my youth (and an entry from the tail-end of the decade described above), Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a sleek remake of a popular 1956 film that tells an apocalyptic tale of a fast-paced invasion from another world. The concept wasn’t the most original at the time (and it’s become even less original in the 36 years since its original release), but Kaufman’s vision of a world overrun by perfect, emotionless replicas of the human race is one of the best of the bunch.
With a cast of memorable characters and a list of actors from the top of the Hollywood heap (Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and horror regular Veronica Cartwright), this flick is one that takes viewers on the dark and nihilistic ride into a world where everything that was once familiar and disarming has suddenly become sinister and bewildering. One of the film’s darker and more effective scenes involves the background sounds of bagpipes belting out a rendition of Amazing Grace guaranteed to send shudders down your spine.
From the opening shots that detail the biological wave of otherworldly warfare befalling Earth to the shocking climactic bits where it becomes obvious that no one is safe, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one that you should definitely watch if you haven’t already and ought to perhaps make time for a second look if it’s been a while.
25 — Insidious — James Wan (dir.) — 2010
The collaborative writing and directing team of James Wan and Leigh Whannel burst onto the scene with 2004′s unexpected smash hit Saw and re-worked their magic for the film’s third sequel. The duo went on to give audiences the 2007 campy creepfest Dead Silence, which didn’t quite measure up to the high standards their creative efforts had set; however, it was the 2010 nightmare-on-film Insidious that proved that Wan and Whannel are the types of men horror audiences really need to notice.
A truly well written, well directed, and well thought-out picture, Insidious is the type of movie that has absolutely everything essential to make a horror film something remarkable. Combining some of the most terrifying music since John Carpenter’s Halloween, freaky imagery, sympathetic characters, and a story that is pretty original, this is probably one of the best scary flicks to come out in midst of the major resurgence taking place in the land of terror cinema.
Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are Josh and Renai Lambert, an incredibly attractive couple with two young sons who have just moved into a new house that, by all appearances, quickly seems to be subject to a routine haunting. When son Dalton falls prey to an inexplicable medical condition following a series of strange events and malevolent activities continue to plague the family, the Lamberts decide to move. That’s when the true story sets in as the Lamberts realize that it wasn’t the house that was haunted. The ghastly forces have followed them and it takes an unconventional paranormal team and Josh’s understanding mother to delve into the mysteries surrounding this supernatural story and attempt to drive the evil out and bring their son back from the coma-like state in which he has spent several months.
Insidious is loud, colorful, interesting, and very scary. I dare you to not feel your skin erupt with goose flesh in the jarring scene featuring Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe Through the Tulips!
With no nudity or sex and very little abrasive language, you might think that this is one that you can watch with your kids, but you would be very wrong. The images — especially from the film’s startling third act — are almost guaranteed to give non-mature audiences bad dreams for weeks.
Watch it with the lights out and the volume turned all the way up.
26 — The Lost Boys — Joel Schumacher (dir.) — 1987
Nearly two decades before Stephenie Meyer made vampires cool, tortured metaphors for adolescent angst, there was a series of major cinematic achievements that gave audiences a side of vampire lore that was totally unlike anything they had ever seen. One of the greatest of these outings was 1987′s The Lost Boys, directed by Joel Schumacher, who made a host of other popular flicks and starring some of the hottest young actors and actresses in Hollywood at the time.
When financial hardships force a mother (Diane Wiest) and her two teenage sons (Jason Patric and Corey Haim) to move in with their grandfather, the most interesting aspect of their transition is that the family has just come to the murder capital of the world. Little do they know that the coastal town is also overrun by a hard-partying biker gang that moonlights as a pack of bloodthirsty vampires.
The eldest son, Michael (Patric), is lured into the fold by an incredibly attractive brunette named Star (Jami Gertz, of course) and begins to experience a series of changes in his behavior. The youngest son, Sam (Haim), falls in with a brotherly duo of self-proclaimed vampire hunters who seem a little too privy to what’s really taking place in Santa Clara, California. It’s a relatively simple story, and something that has definitely become something of a cliche over the years, but in many ways, The Lost Boys was not only the first but also the best film to do it.
Watching the movie now, I realize that it’s kinda filled with a lot of homoerotic imagery that I don’t remember noticing when I was a kid, but then again, I didn’t know that I’d one day look at Jason Patric the way that I do now.
The Lost Boys has become something of a cult classic for a variety of reasons, but it was destined to be such on it’s opening weekend. For the first time, audiences saw vampires that are young, sexy, charismatic, and very alluring to any American youth watching. Who wouldn’t want to join the brotherhood?
27 — April Fool’s Day — Fred Walton (dir.) — 1986
In the mid-eighties, the slasher film craze was at its height, and it seemed that every possible setting, circumstance, and holiday had been exploited for the sake of a little blood, gore, and T & A. When 1986 rolled around, a new title made its way into theaters and the realm of somewhat controversial entries of horror movie lore. April Fool’s Day is just a little bit different, but it’s one of the more stand-out films from this particular time period. Plus, it’s one of my personal favorites.
The cast is comprised of the types 80′s audiences had come to love and recognize from an assortment of other movies that really define the me decade, including Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part 2), Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl), and Deborah Goodrich (Just One of the Guys). What’s more, the screenplay is actually one of the best to come out of post-Halloween, pre-Scream cinema.
Muffy St. John has invited seven of her friends to spend the first weekend in April at her family’s posh island estate. Some degrees of tension are already present before the ferry takes them away from the mainland, and the series of practical jokes the group plays on one another only temporarily heightens the mood until a boating accident puts a damper on the festive atmosphere. After their first dinner, everyone retires to their rooms where a variety of hidden surprises await them, each alluding to some transgression from the characters’ pasts. When one of the party-goers vanishes during the night, the fun begins and the tale dissolves into a great terror picture (with a twist).
April Fool’s Day is a film that horror aficionados either love or hate, and valid arguments can be made for either side; however, I love it. So it’s on this list. Watch it and let me know what you think.
28 — Ils (“Them“) — David Moreau & Xavier Palud (dirs.) — 2006
Two years before The Strangers scared the shit out of American audiences, writer-director team David Moreau and Xavier Palud created a movie that is hands-down one of the most terrifying I have ever seen. Utilizing the “inspired by true events” caveat, these genius film makers built an incredibly disturbing home invasion nightmare that is heavy on the suspense, relatively low on graphic violence, and brimming with the kind of octane necessary to suck in viewers and have anyone watching sitting on the edge of their seats.
Opening with a bang (a mother and daughter find themselves stranded on an isolated stretch of road and become the victims of an attack by unseen predators) before building a relatively sweet story around a happy couple, Lucas and Clementine, Ils is the sort of movie that raises tension and dread with a fierce precision that too many in the modern cinema are afraid to exploit. These are characters that are fully developed, believable, and entirely sympathetic — all characteristics that make the second half of the film almost difficult to watch.
When Clementine joins Lucas at an extremely secluded house that appears to be in the process of an extensive renovation (and may have once been either a school or a hotel — its nature is never really explained), she passes the abandoned vehicle that we know to have belonged to the ill-fated mother and daughter from the opening scene. They goof off, laugh, have dinner, make love, and end their night watching television. When Clementine is rousted from an attempted slumber by strange noises coming from outside, the horror of Ils doesn’t simply creep its way onto the screen. By this point, it’s already done that. When the scares start, they bombard the audience full force and don’t let up until the very last scene, invoking the sort of visceral reaction that I want to have when I’m watching one of these films. I want to feel my heart race, my feet go cold, and a nice surge of adrenaline coursing through my veins.
Ils delivers. It’s suggestively brutal, overtly breathtaking, and indisputably, very scary.
Currently streaming on Hulu Plus, it’s definitely worth a watch on a chilly weekend night this October.
29 — The Faculty — Robert Rodriguez (dir.) — 1998
A science fiction creature feature with a pulse, The Faculty is a movie that never got the respect that it deserved. It’s all about an alien invasion taking place at the most stereotypical high school from the late nineties populated by the most stereotypical characters — every one of them an absolute cliche — and going through the motions of absolutely every single stereotypical event that one would expect from a high school in a horror movie.
The great thing about The Faculty is that it obviously knows exactly what it is, what it’s doing, where it’s going, and everyone involved really seems to have had a lot of fun creating it. This sort of effort translates well and ensures that the audience is going to have just as much fun watching it as the filmmakers had making it.
Boiling over with countless future A-listers, every single high school clique is represented in the form of one of the main characters, and the men and women playing the eponymous teachers are among some of the greatest out there. They chew the scenery and really add a ton of color to a film that would have been just as good without them, but becomes something greater with their inclusions.
The writing is clever and the dialogue is crisp, but it had to be. The Faculty is a movie that knows very well that it’s come in the wake of Scream and the horror film resurgence of the late nineties. Audiences were expecting smart, sexy (but simultaneously accessible) actors and originality with as much of the script as possible. The screenwriter (Kevin Williamson) and director Robert Rodriguez met expectations and exceeded them in many ways.
It’s far from the greatest alien invasion flick out there (and I’ll have more on this month’s list), but it’s a great movie to watch. Worth the cost of a rental; however, it’s currently streaming on HBO GO, so get on it while it’s there!
30 — Audrey Rose — Robert Wise (dir.) — 1977
Like most of the films that make it onto my lists, I read the book first. I found a copy of the Frank De Felitta novel on the shelves of Betty’s Books after seeing the video on display while seeking promising horror flicks at Albertson’s (Betty’s Books eventually became the Shreveport location of The Thrifty Peanut and Albertson’s stopped having video tapes for rent at some point during my late adolescence). The novel really blew me away, and I remember my sixth grade history teacher seeing a copy on my desk and commenting on the fact that she couldn’t believe I was reading it. Ironically, I ran into that same teacher on the Saturday afternoon at the grocery store when I finally rented the video once I’d completed the book. The film, like its source material, is a real treat, and this is one of those rare exceptions where I write that the movie is just as good.
The director of this creepy 1977 gem is Robert Wise, the man who gave audiences the horror classic, The Haunting, and his work here is definitely up to the standard he set with that famous outing. The story is of an upper-middle class couple, Bill and Janice Templeton, and their only child, Ivy. They’re picture perfect in every way and seem to be living the American dream of the late seventies until their world is interrupted by a mysterious gentleman (well played by a young, pre-Lecter Anthony Hopkins) who lost his wife and daughter in a fiery car accident and believes that little Ivy Templeton is the reincarnation of his daughter, Audrey Rose.
As Ivy’s birthday approaches so do the annual, increasingly vivid and violent nightmares, and the Templetons fight everything that they believe to be possible as the true nature of Ivy’s spirit comes to light.
Audrey Rose is a satisfying, interesting, and well crafted tale, filled with masterful performances from Hopkins, John Beck and Marsha Mason as Bill and Janice Templeton, and a bright little actress named Susan Swift in the role of Ivy.
Although the content is relatively tame, the subject matter is well over the heads of any younger viewers. Nonetheless, it’s a GREAT addition to a weekend on the couch (plus, it’s streaming on Netflix this month).
31 — Don’t Look Now — Nicolas Roeg (dir.) — 1973
People are likely mostly familiar with Gothic writer Daphne Du Maurier as the woman who penned the seventh grade perennially assigned novel, Rebecca, which became an Academy Award winning film by Alfred Hitchcock. What many are less likely to realize is that Du Maurier has a long list of macabre and seminal titles under her belt that have had far-reaching effects on horror cinema. Among others, her works include one that Hitchcock also used as the basis for another nightmare epic, The Birds, and the strange — and ultimately horrific — short piece, “Don’t Look Now,” which art director Nicolas Roeg turned into one of the best terror pictures of the twentieth century.
Don’t Look Now is the tale of John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and the strikingly beautiful Julie Christie), who have come to Venice to emotionally recuperate following the sudden, tragic death of their daughter. John is working to restore a beautiful, old church and Laura is hoping to come to terms with her insurmountable grief.
What seems to be the story of a couple in search of lost things quickly becomes something much more sinister. A killer is stalking the streets of the ancient city while John and Laura intermittently find themselves lost to the mercy of the city’s bizarre architecture and twisting canals. A pair of weird sisters — one of them blind and prophetic — tells Laura that they’ve not only seen her daughter, but also that John is in terrible danger as long as he remains in Italy. What happens to the couple as the story progresses weaves itself into a film that is dreamlike, mesmerizing, and absolutely unsettling.
Don’t Look Now is moody, atmospheric, and resplendent with cleverly mounting tension. It’s the type of film that hooks viewers right away, sinks its claws into your flesh, and climaxes with what may be one of the most shocking and totally unexpected conclusions in cinematic history.