It’s Friday the 13th! That can leave us with only one possible topic for this week’s Roundtable: Favorite horror movies, of course. What we’ll do at Halloween, I’m not sure yet. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, let’s get on with the creepshow.
We’ve got a few guest bloggers weighing in with us this week. The fabulous Mrs. Z is back. So is our good friend Adam Tyner from sister-site DVDTalk. Also joining us for the first time is Jason Bovberg, a former DVDTalk’er who’s currently a writer and editor for Connected Home Media.
With all those introductions out of the way, let’s take a look at our favorite horror movies. They really span the gamut from fine art to… well, to Rob Zombie. It’s craziness here!
- ‘House of 1000 Corpses‘ – Here’s the thing about me and horror movies: They terrify me. Not those slasher flicks from the ’80s and ’90s, mind you. I mean the kind of movie that just has you sitting and waiting, anticipating something awful happening. I had to leave the theater during ‘Paranormal Activity.’ Even talking about ‘The Strangers‘ is enough to keep me nice and paranoid all night. As you can imagine, I don’t really have a favorite when it comes to traditional horror. But mix a bit of comedy in there, a little music, and an old man doing a Sam Kinison routine – you’ve got yourself a winner. ‘House of 1,000 Corpses’ can best be compared to ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ in its presentation. It has a cast of characters who we love, despite their intentions. It’s flashy and full of great music. ‘House of 1,000 Corpses’ even features a floor show, just like ‘Rocky Horror.’ The biggest difference is that ‘House’ is ultimately a far more violent affair. I don’t think there are any transsexuals from outer space either. It stars, among others, Rainn Wilson, who you may know better as Dwight Schrute from ‘The Office.’ It’s also got exploitation film mainstays like Sid Haig and the inhumanly sexy Sherri Moon Zombie. Though I have to admit that I get a little creeped out every time I see apparently lobotomized men wandering around in bunny suits.
- ‘Slither‘ – I have to admit that horror is not my favorite genre. Even so, I had no hesitation when choosing my favorite horror movie. It’s a simple story: An asteroid lands in the sleepy town of Wheelsy and carries with it an alien parasite that seeks to destroy humanity. It quickly possesses a local businessman who suddenly develops an insatiable appetite for raw meat and begins a disgusting transformation into something resembling Pizza the Hut from ‘Spaceballs.’ Everyone in town quickly turns into zombies. It’s up to our hero sheriff Bill Prady to save the day. Director James Gunn (brother of Sean Gunn – Kirk of ‘Gilmore Girls’ fame) spent his early career at Troma Films and his love of B-movie horror is on full display here. He pays homage to a number of the genre’s classics (‘The Toxic Avenger’ has a cameo!) and throws in a good supply of humor along with copious amounts of slime and gore. Nathan Fillion (swoon) is perfectly cast as the sheriff desperately trying to keep some semblance of order amidst the chaos. Elizabeth Banks also shines as the trophy wife of the possessed businessman who is seriously rethinking her life choices. The movie is a lot of fun but perhaps best enjoyed on an empty stomach.
- ‘Dawn of the Dead‘ – There’s part of me that wants to pick something less obvious as my favorite: ‘Deep Red’, Robert Wise’s ‘The Haunting’…something like that. Still, if there’s one movie I can point to as sincerely having changed my life, it’s George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’. I was all of 11 when I experienced it for the first time. This is the film that convinced me that movies didn’t have to be a passive experience…something to sit back and mindlessly enjoy. It’s the movie that made me love movies, really. Even with as many genre flicks as I’d seen up to that point, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is where my lifelong love of horror truly began. Even at that young age, I was able to appreciate the film’s underlying intelligence and its intense focus on characterization. I also couldn’t help but marvel at Tom Savini’s brilliant effects work. For many years afterwards, zombies were the only creatures in horror that truly disturbed me. It’s one thing to be chased down and skewered with a machete, but to be devoured… to become a mindless, flesh-eating ghoul, cursed to walk the earth for all eternity…? A story where the stakes aren’t a gaggle of horny kids at a summer camp, but the death of the world as we know it…? Here’s hoping a more definitive edition of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ finds its way to Blu-ray sooner rather than later.
- ‘The Silence of the Lambs‘ – Thomas Harris’ novel remains one of my all-time favorites. I admit to feeling a bit nervous about the notion of a film adaptation (20 years ago!) but director Jonathan Demme managed to strike all the right unsettling notes. He brought the story of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter to the screen with the perfect measures of terror, tension, and dread. An upset multi-Oscar winner, it’s an out-and-out horror film with an upstanding pedigree – and an uncommon ability to creep the hell out of you – thanks to its two all-too-human monsters: Buffalo Bill and the now-iconic Hannibal Lecter. As Jack Crawford says, “Believe me, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head.” One of the great tragedies of our time – reminiscent of George Lucas’ fall from grace – is that Thomas Harris, rather than pursuing new ideas and other very human monsters, has decided instead to repeatedly cash in on Hannibal Lecter in subsequent novels and screenplays. Now both the author and the character have lost their power to intrigue. But ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ will endure as a brilliant horror film.
- ‘Don’t Look Now‘ – Nicolas Roeg’s immortal 1973 mind-bender ‘Don’t Look Now’ isn’t just my favorite horror film ever, it’s also my favorite film ever. Period. The Italian-British co-production, based on a story by Daphne du Maurier (whose stories also suggested the Alfred Hitchcock movies ‘Rebecca’ and ‘The Birds’), positively oozes atmosphere. From the opening sequence, in which Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie’s young daughter drowns in a pond near their house (shot, excruciatingly, in slow motion) to the story’s main setting – the foggy, canal-lined streets of Venice, Italy – the story not only centers you geographically but also emotionally and psychologically. As the couple tries to cope with the death of their child, they also dip into the supernatural. A string of bizarre murders near where they’re staying is coupled with repeated visions of their dead daughter (in her red rain slicker). It’s the movie’s emotional acuity that makes it so damn scary. Roeg was a cinematographer before becoming a director. (He shot Truffaut’s ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ among others.) The movie looks like a Renaissance painting, all soft ’70s lighting and beautiful tableaus. (Sutherland’s character is some kind of art restorer.) Also: it has the greatest sex scene in cinematic history. Really. Think about the current crop of horror movies, with their toned, oddly sexless youngsters. This movie had a couple of adults coupling, with a magnificent editorial flourish. (Just watch it!) Getting back to the “horror” in this horror movie, the climax remains a jaw-dropping shocker, even after I’ve seen it countless times. Horror movies are cinema’s best, most pure genre because they combine all of the elements of movie magic into one cohesive whole, designed strictly for entertainment. ‘Don’t Look Now’ is the rare horror film that transcends entertainment. The results are scarily good.
- ‘Eraserhead‘ – I don’t know of any other film that has ever captured the palpable textures of a nightmare as well as David Lynch’s midnight-circuit cult oddity. The director’s debut feature works on a mostly subconscious level, by inundating the viewer with obscure symbolism and half-comprehensible circular logic. Our ostensible hero Henry – a working class schlub with a ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ haircut and not a whole lot of joy in his life – walks through a hellish cityscape of smoke, shadows, rusted pipes, and sporadic jets of steam coming from random directions. He’s constantly bombarded by a weird, unnerving aural atmosphere with an ill-defined and ever-present rumbling in the distance. The story moves in awkwardly-paced fits and spurts from one feverish hallucination to the next. Each event in the narrative seems to progress logically from the last in the moment that it happens; but taken as a whole, the plot (if you can call it that) makes little sense at all. Just like a dream. In fact, having just seen Christopher Nolan’s mega-budget dream thriller ‘Inception,’ I was immediately struck by how little that film’s depiction of dreaming resembles the way that real dreams – and real dream logic – work. On the other hand, ‘Eraserhead’ really feels like it stepped directly out of Lynch’s subconscious with little to no filtering for audience consumption. ‘Eraserhead’ is a unique film, bizarre beyond words, grotesquely disturbing, and also darkly comic. It’s the work of a genuine artist.
Those are our picks for favorite horror movies. Tell us yours in the comments.
I am not big on horror movies, so I am sure mine will seem tame to most, but mine are Poltergeists and The Others (really more suspense than horror). I mean, Poltergeists, come on, Stephan Speilberg does horror – sort of, not really. The movie is a classic! And for once, I am at a loss of words to talk about the awsome awsomeness of this movie. So, to save time, I am going to simply post a review I wrote for this when it came out on Laserdisc:
I don’t write reviews anymore, though – it was time consuming, and my only readers were a handful of Facebook friends.
Trying to pick a favorite horror film from my favorite genre is really hard to do, I own so many and love so many, I’ve added collectors sets from other countries and have met and got autographs from some of my favorites….but I’ll list a few that I cant really pick over another
Hellraiser – this to me is one of the best horror films ever done, the book it was based on is a great descent into hell, the obsession, sex and horror/gore in the book and the movie bring this to the forefront of horror, Clive Barker is one of the best at bringing out nightmares and the awkwardness and horribleness of the genre mixed with our visions of relationships and sexual situations, the idea of this film wasnt even based around the Cenobites, unfortunately Pinhead got so popular that the movies got based around him instead of the ideas that Barker brought in the first film, the atmosphere and FX were some of the best done at the time (the gore was fantastic) and of course you cant forget the Cenobites even though they werent the focus of the story….I cant get enough of this film (and I love Hellraiser II almost as much) and cant recommend it enough if you are a fan of horror
Evil Dead II – while I’m a fan of the whole series, this was the quintessential horror/comedy and really what brought this genre into its own, Bruce Campbell is a god in the B movie genre and his ability to bring in the physical comedy and hilarity that ensues is 2nd to none IMO, this is a must watch for the comedy horror genre or the horror genre in general
Will continue this at a later date when I can think of some more 🙂
I’m gonna have to go with Alien on this one. I was too young to have seen it in theaters, having been born two years too late, so when I finally discovered Alien I was expecting a straight up sci-fi flick, but instead was treated to a first class horror picture. In the subsequent years I’ve learned this, if there’s one thing Ridely Scott knows how to do, it’s atmosphere.
Cramped interiors, the stark medical bay, the alien vessel where the first alien attacks a crewman, sweet lord this movie is creepy. And lets not forget about the titular antagonist here. Many horror movies utilize monsters of one sort or another to prey on humans. This is due largely to the fact that humans are, terrestrially at least, at the top of the food chain. Sure animals occasionally get the drop on humans, but pit a healthy human against just about any animal and we’re looking at a recipe for a fine dining experience (shark fin soup anyone?). There isn’t an animal alive that we haven’t killed an eaten yet, so when Ripley and company stumble upon an alien that violates your face and impregnates your lungs with it’s young … I just about shit my pants. The alien is easily the best horror movie monster ever created.
Think about it. Its young goes all frat boy on the face of its prey to further the species, whereas our young spend years learning to walk, talk, and eventually trying to “find themselves” (success at any of these is marginal at best). And the fully mature alien is essentially the biggest meanest s.o.b. around. Even if you manage to hurt the thing, that works against you since you’ll likely be standing around shouting triumphantly only to realize that all that alien blood that splattered you is going to totally ruin future family photos.
Some of my absolute favorites.
Nightmare on Elm St 3
Night of The Creeps
Return of The Living Dead
Zombi (Fulci’s Zombie 2)
I think you still have room for a “favorite movie for Halloween” roundtable, since that’s not quite the same issue as favorite horror movies. There are many horror movies that I like very much but would not choose for Halloween viewing. Horror films like “Alien”, “The Thing From Another World”, “The Thing” (1982), and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978) are too science-fictiony for my usual idea of Halloween. Similarly, there’s something about the tone of films like “The Birds” and “Gremlins” that doesn’t fit my idea of Halloween either, much as I like those movies as horror movies. On the other hand, appropriate Halloween viewing doesn’t even have to fall into the horror genre: I wouldn’t want to spend the Samhain season without “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, even though I simply can’t classify that TV special as horror (at least, now that I’ve put my anxieties about the Great Pumpkin behind me…).
As for my top horror-fave picks…hm, that’s tough. I’ll have to chime in later, when I have a little bit more time.
I lean towards suspense/thriller or camp horror over straight horror. I’ll go with Rosemary’s Baby and The Stuff.
‘The Exorcist’ fucked me up at 14. At that age, because of my parents, I didn’t understand that religion was fake. For a year, I worried that the movie had put a monster inside me.
‘Devil’s Advocate’ is my kind of horror flick. Sex, violence, and insane monologues by Al Pacino.
‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ by FFC. I love the bloody vengeance of Dracula’s origin, and the tragedy of being in love with Winona Ryder.
‘Battle Royale: Director’s Cut’ is pretty damn horrific. Even for the Japanese. It’s so black, Hollywood doesn’t have the balls to remake it.
‘Hannibal’ and ‘American Psycho’ compete for best use of smirks by psychopaths. I give the win to Dr. Lecter. Because of the little sexy bits of David Mamet’s script that Zaillian kept in tact. I.e. Hopkins smirks. “Okey Dokey.” Also I love Julianne Moore’s ponytail in this.
My favorite horror films are the ones which maximize suspense and shuddery fear in place of gore. Thus, I’ll choose for my favorites THE INNOCENTS, THE HAUNTING, and ROSEMARY’S BABY.
Alien (Theatrical Cut)
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death
Treevenge (Short Film)
The Shining (European Cut)
Dead Alive (aka Braindead)
Shaun of the Dead
I don’t like to label Eraserhead and The Silence of the Lambs as horror movies, but since others have already done so, then I’m going to go ahead and say those are my two favorites.
Not only is Eraserhead my favorite “horror” movie, it’s my favorite movie of all-time. The Silence of the Lambs is in my top 10.
I tried to come up with a single favorite horror film—and it was impossible! So, I did the next best thing: I categorized my faves into various horror subgenres and managed to pick one and only one favorite for each category. (Believe you me: it was darned difficult to pick just one apiece—and if you ask me some other week, I might give different answers.) Here we go:
GOLDEN-AGE GOTHIC: During the Golden Age of Hollywood, the gothic style was the supreme law of film horror, and Universal was king. My favorite of this category is 1935’s “Bride of Frankenstein”, a tour de force of horror and black comedy. The outrageous Doctor Pretorius, the bittersweet friendship between the Monster and the blind violinist, the advent of the beautiful yet macabre bride are the stuff of cinematic legend and the basis of one of the greatest sequels ever made.
GOLDEN-AGE ALTERNATIVE: Universal may have been king, but its rule did not go unchallenged. One of the best alternative-style horror films of the Golden Age was 1935’s “Mad Love”, in which Peter Lorre an equally brilliant and insane surgeon ready to go to diabolical lengths to possess an actress in a grand guignol play, replacing her pianist husband‘s hands with those of a killer.
POST-GOLDEN GOTHIC: Since the Golden Age, gothic horror has ceased to be a dominant cinematic style, but it is occasionally revisited to superb effect. One of the most evocative and entertaining of the latter-day gothic horrors is 1963’s “The Haunting“, a literate and weird tale of a very spooky house. Priceless is the scene in which the usually flippant disbeliever played by Russ Tamblyn finally drops a bottle in terror.
LUSH COLOR QUASI-GOTHIC: This category of horror films stands firmly in the visual and other styles of later decades but still owes much to the classic gothic style. My favorite in this category is 1979’s “Phantasm”; the cemetery and funeral home and their imposing caretaker are straight out of the Golden Age, but the film clearly belongs to the 1970s and introduces some novel creature effects and a science-fiction twist.
RISING DEAD: For films starring nouveaux zombies and the like, still nothing beats the 1968 original “Night of the Living Dead”. Quite original (and much-copied), it succeeds at creating a whole new unsettling world on a shoestring budget.
SLASHER: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 suspense-thriller masterpiece “Psycho” still weaves a compelling tale of intriguing characterizations and delightful misdirection. The infamous shower scene remains a triumph of editing.
SPLATTER: I‘m not generally fond of gore, but the imaginative effects of John Carpenter‘s 1982 remake “The Thing” make it a chef-d’œuvre of dark, twisted beauty. (That, and I like snow…) It helps that the splatter is contained in an intelligent examination of paranoia and anomie.
SCI-FI: Although some of my picks in other categories qualify as excellent examples of science-fiction horror, my choice for this particular category is the 1978 remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Like “The Thing”, this film examines paranoia and anomie (brought about by causes similar to those in “The Thing“!); but its setting in everyday society manages to accentuate the verisimilitude of the film’s feelings of alienation.
NORMAL BROAD-DAYLIGHT: This category comprises horror films that for the most part don’t look or act like horror films; they seem to take place in normal, everyday, nonthreatening settings with some sort of horror undercurrent just under the surface (much as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” seems, at first). My choice for this category is 1975’s “The Stepford Wives”, which for the most part could simply be the tale of a progressive woman’s difficulty in adjusting to life in a small, conservative community. But there is a viscerally terrifying horror afoot that is not detected until too late.
FILM NOIR: The 1955 French film “les Diaboliques” (for some reason, often called “Diabolique” in English) is both an excellent example of film noir and an effective horror film. The wife and the mistress of a callous, abusive man join forces to do away with him. But he comes back…
SPOOF: There are a number of good horror-comedies—and comedy is a strong tradition within horror—but my favorite horror spoof is “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein”, which blends horror and comedy very well. Part of the formula is that the monsters, though sometimes lending themselves to comedic situations, are treated as serious, credible threats, which Abbott and Costello’s characters react to in genuine fear, even if their reactions are played for laughs. The film also happens to be made in the Universal gothic style. The scene in which a bat transforms into Bela Lugosi with the help of transitional cel animation was cool when I was in elementary school, and it’s still cool today.
CAMP: Too entertaining to be the worst film ever made, Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is a horror/sci-fi hybrid whose rampant ineptitude makes the film too silly to be taken seriously…most of the time. But many of the shots of the living dead as played by Bela Lugosi, Vampira, and Tor Johnson are superlative horror icons.
CHEAP: This category is for films that were made super-cheap and know it and show it. “Plan 9” aside, for this category I have chosen Roger Corman’s 1959 “A Bucket of Blood”, a horror-comedy about a simpleton who stumbles into becoming a successful “sculptor” by applying clay to corpses. The film, shot in a couple of days, somehow manages to transcend its crass penny-pinching production philosophy and tell a very entertaining story with a few chilling moments and ghastly images.
How about that…I came up with *13* choices!!