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.