My twelve-year old nephew has been asking me a lot about scary movies. I think there is a little man peeking out and since at that age only sex and violence are really forbidden, it’s easy to venture into a horror films which at twelve you understand… sex, maybe not. He looked at the cover of my Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and commented, “That guy’s wearing a tie… and he’s fat,” at which point my brother told him, “You want to know why he’s so fat?”
I explained to him that he’s a lot more sophisticated than I was at twelve. The previews for movies are scarier than a lot of movies I grew up with. Gene Siskel used to say comedy is like love in that you either get it or you don’t. You can explain a joke to me the same way you can explain why you love your wife and that won’t make the joke any funnier or make me love your wife. Horror isn’t much different. Everybody is scared of something different and some people close their eyes and go to sleep. Other people close there eyes and see things.
With Halloween nearing, I decided I’d pick out ten horror movie suggestions for anyone interested. If you’re a movie nerd or a gore hound, today you’re on the wrong blog. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. These aren’t my favorite horror films. These aren’t the best horror movies ever made or even the important ones. These are the ones I like that you probably haven’t seen because people don’t talk about them as much as they should. Anybody can slap The Shining (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) on a list and I guarantee on Halloween weekend neither will be at the Blockbuster. Also keep in mind I am assuming you’re all adults. Don’t email me with your, “that movies wasn’t scary” bullshit. You’re grown people. You shouldn’t be scared of movies in the first place.
If you’re counting, the list includes one remake, one sequel, three adaptations and six good old fashioned original ideas (one of which has been remade but you can’t win them all).
That being said, here we go.
In The Mouth of Madness (1994)
Sam Neill is an insurance investigator hired to locate a missing horror novelist whose latest novel is so scary people who actually complete it are driven insane. I consider it the best Stephen King movie never made (with a little HP Lovecraft for flavor). It’s directed by John Carpenter who also has his name all over Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), Escape From New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Starman (1984) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and it would do you no harm to watch all of them. This was the last movie he made that I liked and he hasn’t made a movie since 2001.
Best Tagline: “Lived any good books lately?”
The Others (2001)
Nicole Kidman is the mother of two children who suffer from light sensitivity and must always be kept in the dark. Strange things start happening and she questions whether they are being tormented by ghosts or if she’s gone insane. I’m a big fan of well done haunted house movies and before The Others, I’d say the last good ones would have been The Shining (1980) and Poltergeist (1982).
Best Scene: The reveal. You’re going to think you know where it’s going… you’ll be wrong.
Black Christmas (1974)
Christmas Eve and a sorority is tormented by a prank caller. It’s weird to see the word “Christmas” in a Halloween list. Halloween (1978) gets a lot of credit for creating the slasher genre with the masked killer and the completely shocking first person POV kill. Whatever. All that stuff appears in Halloween four years earlier. Truth be told, Halloween was originally intended as a sequel to Black Christmas with their idea to have rotating killers at holidays. This movie has the absolute creepiest phone calls ever and I’ll watch anything with Olivia Hussey in it. Make sure you don’t get the 2006 remake which eschews all the tension and makes it into a slasher movie. Ironically, director Bob Clark was also responsible for A Christmas Story (1984)… so much for pigeon-holing.
Best Shot: The shot of the eyeball from the door… you’ll know it when you see it.
The Mist (2008)
Giant monsters attack a supermarket. Trust me on this one. Very reminiscent of my favorite book, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, where the situation isn’t as much of the problem as the people it happens to. That and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999)) should be the only person allowed to direct Stephen King adaptations.
Best Scene: The finale. Nerve-wrenching, horrible and we’d all wish we had the guts to do the same thing. It’s not in the novella and (which has no definitive ending) because King said the movie ending never crossed his mind and he wished he though of it.
Land of the Dead (2005)
Zombies… enough said. Let me get some things clear. Love zombies, hate a lot of zombie movies. George A Romero pretty much wrote the bible on the whole affair with the original Night of the Living Dead (1968) which is a work of genius. He’s been riding that gravy train ever since. I think Dawn of the Dead (1978) is one of the most overrated horror films in history. Day of the Dead (1985) is a ridiculous joke. Land of the Dead redeems itself understanding zombie films have to be about more than zombies. They have to be about society (and before someone emails me, a shopping mall is not a metaphor for commercialism, it’s just a location). With a budget three times larger than that of the previous three films combined, he actually hires actors instead of his drinking buddies and people he found in front of the Home Depot. It should be noted that Romero doesn’t consider his films sequels as much as movies with the same premise. No need to feel you have to watch the three previous movies.
Best Cameo: Actor Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) as zombies in a photo booth.
A father hears the voice of God and is given a mission to carry out his will and uses his two boys to help him. There is a thing in movies that people with religion are quickly revealed to be either hypocrites or kooks (see The Mist). Let’s just say Frailty doesn’t do that. And again, small kids never hurt a horror film. It’s Bill Paxton’s directorial debut and stars Matthew McConaughey when he used to act before he realized he could make a fortune making shitty romantic comedies like Failure To Lose A Ghost Of Girlfriend’s Past… Fool’s Gold.
Best Scene: The reveal.
Stir of Echoes (1999)
Man, do I hate The Sixth Sense (1999). All tension. No plot, no character development and the whole thing hinges on a two minutes twist ending. It’s like eating a plate full of maggot casserole followed by bananas foster and somehow the dessert makes the rest of the meal better. It doesn’t. Kevin Bacon’s son communicates to his imaginary friend and then Bacon begins to have visions of murdered girl in his home. This is movie The Sixth Sense should have been and being released six weeks later didn’t help it. Points for being based on a book by Richard Matheson.
Best Scene: Kevin Bacon getting his shoes.
Near Dark (1987)
This is what happens when you make a very clever vampire movie and then have it released three months after The Lost Boys (1987) with virtually identical premises. Young girl seduces a boy only to turn him into a vampire where he never quite gets the hang of it. Where Lost Boys had California hooligans, Near Dark one-ups them with quasi-biker vampires. Note to readers: Kiefer Sutherland has nothing on Lance Henricksen. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow who’s also responsible for Point Break (1991), the often forgotten Strange Days (1995) and recent Hurt Locker (2008). It stars pretty much everybody from Aliens (1986). I guess Sigourney Weaver doesn’t do horror. It was on the remake bus until Twilight became a success because the premises were too similar… except Near Dark is good. No twinkle here.
But don’t think the Near Dark people are above riding someone’s coat tails.
Best Scene: Bikers picking fights with Vampire Bikers. Bad move.
The Blob (1988)
In the wake of David Cronenberg’s masterwork The Fly (1986) comes this little gem riding on it’s coattails. Directed by Chuck Russell and co-written by Frank Darabont before he went the Stephen King route with The Shawkshank Redemption (1994), The Green Mile (1999) and The Mist (2008), The Blob is a clever remake and take on a classic and considering there isn’t one computer effect in the film only makes it more impressive. Nothing more disturbing than a translucent blob that starts clear and becomes more and more pink with chunks of bones after it’s devoured people. Kevin Dillon is no Steve McQueen… for that matter he’s no Matt Dillon but Shawnee Smith is always adorable so it’s a wash.
Best Scene: Guy getting sucked through a kitchen sink.
The Exorcist III (1990)
The only true sequel on the list. William Peter Blatty wrote novel and screenplay The Exorcist (1973) was adapted from although it isn’t required to watch this film. Seventeen years later he wrote and directed the sequel based on his novel, Legion. George C Scott is a detective tracking The Gemini Killer who is believed to be a man possessed with the demon that once possessed 12 year old Regan MacNeill. Statues cry blood. Catatonic old ladies crawl on ceilings. Fabio appears as an angel and Patrick Ewing as Death. Seriously, I’m not making this up.
Best Scene: Nurse in a hallway. That’s all I’m telling you.
And as a bonus, if you’ve familiar with The Exorcist mythology, you’ll appreciate where I’m standing. Have a safe and Happy Halloween.