Monday, October 29, 2012

Wanna Play a Game? What are Your Favorite Horror Movies? Here are 101 of Mine - PART 1

I like movie lists. They can offer a window into a person’s cinematic personality. They may seem definitive but they really aren’t. Lists are meant to be changed. You can change your opinion of anything really.  A movie you liked a few years ago, maybe isn’t quite as good today. I also like horror movies. So why not make a list of my favorite horror movies? I like them so much I couldn’t just make a list of my top 10 or 25 or even 50. I present for your approval, my top 101 favorite horror movies. Now this isn’t quite a list of what is really the BEST horror movies or even the SCARIEST; as you’ll quickly gather I’ve got some rather questionable crap on here (Jaws the Revenge, for example) but this is really what I find the most enjoyable horror films to watch. Some are movies I’ve watched since I was young (Halloween), some are movies I’ve seen within the past couple years (The House of the Devil), some are so bad they’re good (Troll 2), and some are ones you probably never even knew existed (The Burning). Now with so many types of horror films, I had to actually leave some out that I felt didn’t quite fit the genre. A great definition comes from “Horror films are unsettling films designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience.”  With Halloween right around the corner, what better time to reveal my all time favorite scary movies? Without further ado…#101-76...

101) THE BURNING (1981)– This one gets points for its sheer (see what I did there?) inventive use of wonderful makeup effects by the great Tom Savini. An early 80s slasher flick from the Weinsteins, back when they were actually creative forces behind their films, tales the story of Cropsy a summer came caretaker who gets his revenge on some campers years after a prank goes horribly wrong. And yes that’s a young Jason Alexander if you were wondering.

100) SAW (2004) – Yes the movie that started it all. “Torture porn” wasn’t even part of the cinematic vernacular back then, but this gross out slasher flick about a guy (dubbed ‘Jigsaw’) who tortures his victims by forcing them to make questionable moral choices actually feels rather tame by today’s standards. It works because of its originality but falls apart once you begin having seizures from the quick editing and the horrible performances, but a nice twist definitely saves this one. Can you believe there were six sequels?

99) CUJO (1983) – Ah the good ol’ killer dog movie, always a nice horror staple. This is the best of the breed so to speed. Starring the same lady from “that werewolf movie with E.T/’s mom in it” (Dee Wallace) and that kid from “Who’s the Boss” it revolves around a rabid St. Bernard who traps a mother and son in their car. And it gets really hot. This one, which is based on Stephen King’s novel, includes some pretty inventive camerawork from cinematographer Jan de Bont.

98) Troll 2 (1990) – Troll 2 could easy make its way to my list of favorite comedies as well. I guess this thing is supposed to be scary, but for sheer entertainment value you can’t get much better than this piece of cinematic garbage. An in-name only sequel to “Troll” this film features no one single troll (they’re goblins) and lots of green food that turns people into mush. None of it makes sense whatsoever, but you’d be hard pressed to find another horror film that is this unintentionally funny.

97) 28 WEEKS LATER (2007) – This is sequel to the great British horror flick “28 Days Later” which helped reinvent the “zombie genre” a couple years earlier. It’s a terrific sequel that doesn’t quite feel like a blatant repeat of the first film’s events even though that’s basically what happens. It’s stylish and scary and features great performances from people who weren’t famous then but are now: “The Avengers’” Jeremy Renner and “Bridesmaids’” Rose Byrne.

96) FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) - Decades before “Twilight” existed came this snappy little horror-comedy. A young teenager suspects his new neighbor is a vampire and no one really seems to believe him. Not parciruarlly scary, but just pretty fun, with some cool vampire effects. And it features a great role for Roddy McDowall. Ok and the kid who plays Ed is supremely annoying. Just kill him already. A decent remake was made last year with Colin Farrell.

95) LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990) - No Texas Chain Saw Massacre sequel ever came close to the original 1974 thriller. By all accounts this is a pretty awful movie, but it’s still rather entertaining and at 85 minutes (the infamous gorier unrated cut) it moves along rather swiftly. The gore effects are pretty well done – by Greg Nicotero’s team who currently works on “The Walking Dead.” It’s mostly fun to watch young Viggo Mortensen as a deranged redneck. If you really like that sort of thing watch the fourth film, which features an even more deranged redneck: Matthew McConaughey

94) THE RUINS (2008) – Killer plants. Yes it’s about killer plants. And they don’t sing this time. A bunch of American tourists come across some old Mayan ruins and it ruins their vacation indeed. It’s pretty silly yeah, but there are some truly disgusting moments and there’s a real sense of dread to the proceedings. This is an overlooked little gem in my opinion.

93) THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) – This is the remake that started it all. Classic horror remakes were relegated to things like The Fly and Bram Stoker’s Dracula before this guy came around in 2003 and made oodles of money. And who can blame it? It had one of the most well-edited, invoking, and outright scary trailers ever put together. As a horror fan it’s extremely watchable as long as you don’t compare it too much to the original. R. Lee Ermy is fantastic; I actually prefer the even more graphic prequel.

92) BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006) – I’m not too familiar with the original 70s version of “Black Christmas” which many say actually started the genre while Halloween gets most of the credit – but it was Canadian so it didn’t count. This bizarre remake, from the team who made the equally strange remake “Willard,” tell the Christmas Eve set tale of a psychotic mental patient who escapes from a mental hospital and goes on a murderous rampage at a sorority house. It’s almost too weird to actually be scary and features a somewhat confusing narrative structure (for a slasher flick) but it features enough clever kills to keep horror fans satiated.

91) MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D (2009) Geez, how many remakes do I have on here anyways? At least this one was in 3D, which was pretty fun and inventive in its original form. There’s really not too much to say here and I guess for a movie that features a guy killing people in a mining uniform it’s decently scary. But it’s mostly just over-the-top cheesy horror goodness.

90) BAIT (2012) This silly little number from Australia is the best “shark in a grocery store” movie ever made. If you can get over some rather fishy special effects, you can actually settle in for a rather entertaining horror flick. A freak tsunami traps a bunch of people in a grocery store, in the middle of an attempted arm robbery no less, but they’re not alone. A hungry Great White Shark is trapped in there with them. Yes, it’s “Jaws” meets “The Mist” and it’s freaking awesome.

89) LET ME IN (2010) This is the rare horror remake that is almost better than the original. A lot of people unjustly cried foul when it was announced that an American version of the popular Swedish vampire film was being made for US audiences. But if those detractors actually watched the film – about a lonely boy who befriends a young female vampire – they’d realize just how awesome it is. It’s just different enough to set itself apart and has some truly jaw dropping sequences and fine performances all around. I’d watch this over the Swedish version any day of the week.

88) RE-ANIMATOR (1985) – This is a fun and gory flick. There isn’t much to be said abou it that hasn’t already been said but this horror movie. Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West – Reanimator” the film adaption is an 80s horror cult classic. It features some truly great makeup effects and a lot of intentional comedy. A must for gore hounds.

87) CANDYMAN (1992) – The general state of horror in the early 90s was pretty pathetic. Until “Scream” came along in 1996, there was no real shot at creating a memorable horror movie icon. “Candyman” was a decent shot – it made a decent amount of money – but the genre was in serious need of repair. This flick, based on a Clive Barker story, revolves around a grad student investigating a local urban legend about a murderous Black guy with a hook for a hand. It’s creepy and stylish and gory. Not too particularly memorable, but decent fun to be had here considering when the film was made.

86) WHAT LIES BENEATH (2000) – This is the film that Robert Zemeckis made during the time it took Tom Hanks to lose all that weight for “Cast Away.” More of a thrilling ghost movie than an outright horror movie, the film nonetheless has a few decent scares. It’s also knowing tribute to the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock – with a supernatural twist. It concerns a woman who believes a dead woman is haunting her house and soon a mystery begins to unravel. Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford are great.

85) A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010) – I still believe that the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is the best of all the recent slasher remakes. I don’t even have Friday the 13th or Halloween on this list, so that’s really saying something. The biggest mistake these films have done is try to give a backstory to a character who we already know so well from its countless sequels – but here I think it works the best. The film’s dream sequences are very well done – this is the type of polished modern production that always seems just wrong when compared to the low budgeted original, but if you try to separate the two, horror fans will find something to like. Particularly Jackie Earle Haley’s enjoyable, albeit completely different, take on the truly iconic Freddy Krueger.

84) CHILD’S PLAY 3 (1991) – I’m sort of a sucker for the original three Child’s Play movies. Even if they’re about a killer doll, they have such an inventive quality to them that it’s hard to ignore. The third film is arguably pretty week – after all it did get released in the horror drought of the early 90s, but it works well enough. This time Chucky – mysteriously reincarnated for no real reason – sets off to military school where he meets up with a now teenaged Andy whose soul he still wants to take possession of. Except this time his has his sights on a little Black boy. Because he’s an equal opportunity type of killer doll. The last standard Chucky movie before things went a little too campy with Bride of Chucky…

83) DRESSED TO KILL (1980) – I was hesitant to include this movie on this list because I wasn’t quite sure of “Dressed to Kill” is truly a “horror movie.” But if Psycho is a horror film (it is) then this is as well. It concerns a cross-dressing serial murderer of women. Sound familiar? Director Brian De Palma, ever in love with Hitchcock, ones up him by not only practically copying Psycho, but Vertigo as well. There is a classic murder sequence set inside an elevator that isn’t so much scary as it is a fascinating study of cinematic technique – editing and framing – that is simply too entertaining to categorize it merely as a rip-off of classic cinema.

82) THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) – No one really ENJOYS watching Wes Craven’s first foray into horror filmmaking because it’s so disturbingly violent and shocking. But it’s still miles ahead of other similar exploitation films like “I Spit on Your Grave.” A very, very early example of the type of horror genre dubbed “torture porn” this low budget shocker concerns a group of disturbed individuals who rape, torture, and murder a pair of young teen girls, only to be tortured and murdered themselves by one of the girls’ parents. This is sick stuff, but oh so appropriate for a list like this.

81) DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) – I must say that I actually prefer this remake to George A. Romero’s original. The 70s version had plenty of great gore scenes and appropriate social commentary, but the whole thing, like a zombie itself is just slow. This faster paced remake offers some great performances, gore, and a swift pace that works well for today’s audience – and what a great opening sequence. It’s as fun as it is scary.

80) 1408 (2007) This is a great old fashioned ghost story. John Cusack plays a writer (this is based on a Stephen King short story of course) who visits haunted places and writes books about them. Although he doesn’t believe in any of this stuff, until he checks into room #1408 in an infamous haunted hotel. Some pretty decent scares, even for a PG-13 haunted house thriller.

79) SHOCKER (1989) I have to admire Wes Craven’s attempt to create another original slasher villain (Let’s just forget that he attempted that again in the truly forgettable “My Soul to Take”). Here he presents us with Horace Pinker, who murders families at night while they sleep. After being convicted and sentenced to death by the electric chair, he somehow survives his capital punishment, and begins infecting various electrical outlets and jumping from various bodies. It’s up to psychic high school jock Peter Berg to save the day. The film’s TV adventure finale is totally bizarre, hilarious, and fun. A lesser known, but truly inventive Wes Craven effort.  

78) INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994) I don’t think anyone is actually frightened of opulent horror films like this (unless the sight of a long haired, blonde Tom Cruise scares you), but there is something strangely fascinating about them. Based on Anne Rice’s novel, this is a tale about the life of a man who is no longer living: he was turned into a vampire in the olden days. It’s sort of a “Everything You Always Wanted to Known About a Vampire, But Were Afraid to Ask” for the gothic horror set. Great costumes, set design, acting (especially little Kirsten Dunst), and gore effects are the highlight here.

77) PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009) I was 26 years old when this film was released and for the first time in decades I actually had trouble sleeping after watching a scary movie. This movie was extremely frightening, and remains decently tense even on repeat viewings. The sequels are pretty intense too, but this found footage thriller, is a type of film that you either find terrifying or extremely monotonous. I fall into the former category. To think that such frights could be had with hardly any blood or onscreen violence is pretty impressive stuff.

76) THE OTHERS (2001) Another truly fun, old fashioned ghost story with a great twist that came off the success of another twisty ghost story, “The Sixth Sense.” Nicole Kidman gives a great performance as a woman living with her two “photosensitive” children in post World War II Britain. She hires new housekeepers and soon things begin to go bump in the night. A truly fun haunted house thriller that hopefully hasn’t been forgotten about since its release.

to be continued...

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