Well, at least my top 10 :). I got asked to do one of those challenges on FB, and wrote up my top ten with a few notes on them, and I figure it’d be better to put them all together into one post here in the spirit of Halloween!
To start, a few honorable mentions:
The Shining – great film, very creepy, but unfortunately it has lost some of its grab on me over time. I do really appreciate seeing nods to this film appear in the most innocuous places though (like the carpet in Toy Story).
From Hell – wow, production values out the roof on this. A fantastic cast, a very bad-ass villain, and a neat jab at British royalty while they’re at it.
Lost Boys – great film from my teenage years. Still holds up as fun and cool, but not insanely horrifying.
They Live – an enduring message and a really fun concept piece. Plus, the longest fight scene known to man which was translated into the crowning glory of a South Park episode.
Dog Soldiers – this film is a real sleeper, and you can almost smell the inception of “Aliens” in it. Man, oh man, what a crappy situation to get stuck in!
What Lies Beneath – very cool piece, Harrison Ford gets to stretch his skills, and a fun watch all around.
Dark Water – Jennifer Connolly plays the lead in this ever-so-creepy ghost story. But, it doesn’t quite hold up against the top 10.
And starting at #10:
Speaking of “Aliens”, most of the memorable members of the cast of that film appear in this one, and it’s an absolute blast. Though the main character is a little dim (whether as a result of an insufficient script or some wooden acting), it isn’t him you’re here to see. You want to see this traveling band and all their hijinks. I remain convinced that this film was originally a fever dream conjured up, that became one of two scenes around which the entire film revolves (you’ll know them when you see them).
Coming in at #9, a classic that might have lost a little in the SFX department since its release, but which still carries a lot of weight.
A classic film, characterized by a score that probably won John Williams the chance to really just blast his career sky-high, and a notable great tactic that not enough horror films use: saving the reveal for last. Sure, you know it’s a shark. Sure, you know that person just got eaten. But you don’t *see* it directly till late in the game, which leaves it all up to your internal emotions to deal with.
And those emotions didn’t like that, no sirree. Not one bit.
“Get to the choppah!!!”
One of Schwarzenegger’s best action films also happens to be a horror movie! After an initial setup establishing the characters as a bad-ass recon force, unleashing a metric ass-ton of ammunition, suddenly finding the tables turned. The titular creature picks off these high-skill commandos one by one as they realize that they themselves are being hunted, and being turned into gruesome trophies.
The horror value comes home in the realization that all our fancy hardware doesn’t mean anything in the face of this superior technology, it’s still going to kill you. It spawned one good sequel (Predator 2), and a host of others ranging from “meh” to “bleh”. It also was notable for its cross-over comic books which featured the “Aliens” from James Cameron’s universe. (The films of which were total turd-burgers, I’m afraid.)
This film also spawned a host of great quotes, which persist even today.
And #7 is…
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Realistic people caught up in a terrible, wicked alien invasion. What’s more, add in no sleep, mutations, and a truly *awful* ending for people you end up caring about. Soul-draining, in more than one way. This was from an era when Americans were actually brave, and we didn’t expect horror movies to auto-magically end well.
And this one, in that regard, does not end well.
Coming in at #6 is…
Whoa. It isn’t just about the vomiting. It’s Max-von-Freaking-Sydow versus a legion of Hell. It’s rampant cross-abuse. It’s all that and so much more. Pazuzu for the win.
Did I mention crab-walking?
Oh, and due to the extreme number of tragedies and deaths related to the production of the film, the producers actually called a genuine priest to literally perform a genuine exorcism on the set?
Or that two of the actual actors (“Burke Dennings” and Father Karras’ mother) died before the film was released?
Or that seven other people related to the production (in addition to the two above) also died during production?
We dip back into the vampire genre and come up with our #5…
Before you go all crazy on me, I’m not talking about the 1979 mini-series (though that had a lot going for it at the time, not the least of which was James Mason playing as Straker, and Bonnie Bedelia being all “sexy next-door neighbor” on us). Oh, no. This was something different.
This was 2004. Rob Lowe plays Ben Mears, Donald Sutherland as Straker, Rutger Houer is Barlow, Andre Braugher as Matt Burke, and a bunch of others you’d recognize. This was a fun, extensive, and chilling version of the original novel (which you should read anyway).
A lot of Literature professors seem to find allegory in this story to an outbreak of disease, and while they aren’t necessarily wrong, I think Stephen King would say “Jesus, guys, shut the fuck up. It’s a vampire story, this is what would happen if you had a vampire invasion in a small town.” And it is.
This isn’t some shitty “oooohh, the ancient vampire is in love with me” bullshit. These are monsters. They eat us. And a death at the hands of a vampire condemns the dead to follow in the footsteps of the beast that slew you. A particularly good moment is seen in a hospital with a victim on her first evening of “unlife”.
It’s a great story and a really fun ride. When your friends and family are…corrupted…and…overridden…by an alien bloodlust, the horror creeps in. And when you’re forced to deal with that face-to-face, that’s when it really kicks you in the teeth. Childhood nightmares, come to life.
Combine that with good old-fashioned normal people living out their lives, as they get snuffed out one by one, and you’ve got a match made in hell.
We’re getting into the real meat of the horror genre now, coming in at #4 is….
This came out when I was 12 years old, and it scared the living shit out of me.
Ridley Scott is a master of imagery. Not necessarily science, but imagery he is as much a god as when you talk about guitars and the names Eric Clapton or Mark Knopfler come up. And Scott’s goal of attacking people with H.R. Geiger’s techno-sexual-horror images was aimed just right…not just at me, but at the entire world. Let’s put aside the physics problems. This was a masterpiece of a film. It created an entire world, not just one little haunted house.
The universe is infinite, filled with infinite possibilities. And some of them might be the most horrific things one can imagine. This was one of those things.
Sliding back into vampire territory. Behold the absolute best vampire film I’ve ever seen, at #3:
Let the Right One In
(an Americanized version of this was released under the title “Let Me In”, which is almost as good as the Swedish original)
An adolescent, misfit boy meets a new friend – a girl of seemingly his age, who just moved in across the apartment complex with her (grand)father…? Things rapidly get strange, and the girl turns out to be a vampire, who shows a significant interest in protecting him from the school bullies. Loads of cool scenery, lots of cool vampy things going on.
And it isn’t until the very final moment of the film that you discover the really, truly, horrific thing that has taken place here.
Taking a detour from the priors, we now focus on the first horror film to also introduce humor as a way of ramping up the emotional investment, while still revealing the terrible nature of the subject matter. Coming in at #2 is…
An American Werewolf In London
Winning well-deserved awards for its practical special effects (including the Academy award for “Best Makeup”), this film follows the journey of two ill-fated American backpackers trekking across some seriously troubled moors. Written by John Landis (“National Lampoon’s Animal House”, “The Blues Brothers”), this film sports a compelling story of the Werewolf curse set against metropolitan London with a soundtrack of absolutely perfect tunes. It remains one of my favorite go-tos around Halloween simply because it never gets old for me. The humor, the sadness, the astonishing transformation scenes, a truly unique werewolf, and an absolute carnage in Picadilly Square? What’s not to love in this film?
“I’m sorry I called you a meat-loaf, Jack!”
And finally, we reach #1. A little precursor: most monster movies, even Alien, boil down to one big problem. They’re just a guy in a monster suit. Sure, CGI loosened up that rule a little. But it’s still always just a guy in a suit. Two legs, two arms, a head, maybe a tail. Guy in a suit.
Tonight’s winner turns that on its head. This #1 is a monster wearing a man suit. I know, I know, you’re muttering “You gotta be f***ing kidding me,” but no, I’m serious. This was the coolest, cleverest, most wicked monster there’s ever been. We couldn’t even give it a proper name. That’s because #1 is…
Lock yourself up for months in an isolated station with maybe a dozen other people. And at least one of them is actually a vicious, disgusting monster just waiting for its chance to not only kill you, but *become* you. It can get you with the tiniest exposure, or it can catch you alone and violently consume you.
This film was based on a book written in 1938, which I read when I was probably ten years old. Great story. Magnificent casting, paranoia, body horror, awesome practical effects and a terrifying enemy combine to make the most awesome horror film I have personally ever seen.
So…there they are, my top ten favorite horror films. Maybe some of you have coincidant lists, maybe I missed a good one along the way. I’d be glad to hear about it if you think I did miss one, let me know what you think.