The fall seems to be synonymous with horror movies. It might be due to a little flick called Halloween. In any case I’m a HUGE fan of the genre (as evidenced by the fact that Pip and I started a horror movie review website called ScareTissue). For my money I’d pick a horror/slasher flick any day of the week. Sure they’re campy, gory and go for the surprise factor but I absolutely LOVE them. For a genre that’s one part blood, one part gore, two parts T & A and three parts bad story I just can’t get enough. Without further adieu, here’s a list of my Top 10 favorite horror flicks (in no particular order). Note: I’m not going to bother distinguishing between “horror” and “slasher” in this list. Also, please don’t think that I’m suggesting that these are the “best” out there… just my favs.
The Shining (1980)
Starring Jack Nicholson is his definitive role, Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers, The Shining is directed by Stanley Kubrick based on a novel by Stephen King. That right there should tell you all you need to know about its brilliance but I’ll continue. The film tells the story of writer Jack Torrance (Nicholson), who takes a job as caretaker of the Overlook Hotel which always gets snowed in during the winter months. Jack’s son Danny discovers that he’s got an ability to see ghosts and he begins to go crazy. Jack on the other hand suffers from a severe case of writers block and eventually goes completely nuts. Between “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and “redrum” this is an incredibly quotable movie and as with every Kubrick flick you’re going to see some freaky shit in there. I wrote a more full review of The Shining for ScareTissue.com here.
The Exorcist III (1990)
Remember, this is a list of my favorites – not necessarily the best horror flicks out there. If we’re talking about this franchise the original Exorcist from 1973 is obviously a superior film, but the third installment is by far a better horror film. This entry takes place 15 years after the events of the original film and thankfully completely ignores the piece of crap that was Exorcist II: The Heretic . George C. Scott reprises his role from the first film and is trying to track down the elusive Gemini Killer who has been deceased for some time (portrayed by Brad Dourif – best known now for his role of Grima Wormtongue in the LOTR films). This flick is creepy to the max. Any time you throw religious themes into a horror flick you open up new levels of weirdness.
The original “slasher” film which introduced us to “The Shape” that would become known as Michael Myers. Even if you’ve never seen this film if you’re a horror fan you’ve see homages to it. Originally titled The Babysitter Murders the film tells the story of a serial murderer who terrorizes the town of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween. Many of the “rules” that are joked about in Scream come from this film: sexually active teens, folks saying “I’ll be right back” and the concept of “Is he really dead” were all born here. Actually this is a pretty slow slasher film in comparison to the stuff we get today (for example we get like 10 deaths in the first few minutes of the newest Friday The 13th film). That said there’s an incredible sense of suspense here heightened by not only the camera angles used but possibly the best horror movie score ever created.
Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Here’s another example of favorite vs. better film. The original Nightmare is obviously the “better” film but I’d choose Dream Warriors every day of the week if I had to watch just one. Just like Exorcist III ignored it’s sub-par previous entry, Dream Warriors makes no mention of the crappy second flick in the Nightmare franchise. Heather Langenkamp reprises her role of Nancy who is now a specialist in dream therapy (how’s that for ironic). She of course is consulting a new group of kids battling Freddy Krueger (a demon who murders children in their sleep which consequently kills them in real life). The title character Kristen has the ability to draw others into her dreams making her capable of battling Freddy. I’ve always loved the concept behind this franchise and some of the most inventive deaths ever put to screen put this on the top of my list.
Seven (also known as Se7en) (1995)
Sometimes horror movie killers are evil incarnate. Other times they are plodding killing machines. Kevin Spacey’s John Doe is quite simply one of the most disturbing killers out there. Doe is attempting to carry out 7 murders based on the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. This is a very dark look into the mind of a killer and Spacey does an AMAZING job bringing John Doe to life. While he’s not physically imposing like Michael or Jason he’s definitely as scary. This is one of those movies that’s pretty disturbing so it’s probably not one that you’ll re watch time and again but you definitely should put it in your cue if you’ve never watched it.
Saw is the first of the “torture porn” sub-genre that we’ve been treated to in recent years. As I said when I first reviewed the film “horror hasn’t looked so good in years”. The once per year sequels that we’ve been treated to have been garbage but this first one still stands out as one of my favorites as it’s a “thinking man’s horror movie”. Two men awake in a strange room and are given instructions (unbeknown to the other) to kill the other. They are the latest victims of the Jigsaw Killer, who doesn’t actually kill his victims but rather invents ways for them to kill themselves or one another.
To try and explain the plot of Hellraiser to someone who’s never seen it is like trying to eat melted ice cream with a fork. It’s a tale of a puzzle box, demons from Hell and lots and lots of gore. In all honesty, I have a really difficult time following any of these movies but as a horror fan that just doesn’t really matter. Based on a novel by Clive Barker it explores the concepts of pain vs. pleasure in a truly horrific way. The characters of Pinhead and the Cenobites are icons in this genre.
Friday The 13th Part III (1982)
A third example of favorite vs. better film. The original Friday the 13th is incredible horror movie partly because we don’t know who the killer is until the climax of the film – in fact it’s not even the iconic Jason Voorhees that’s doing the killing in the original. When it comes to horror icons there’s nothing quite like the hockey mask that Jason wears. Said hockey mask makes its first appearance in this film which also contains some great kills. This was intended to be the “final” film in the series which is shown in the final scene of the movie. The fact that it was released in 3D gives all the more enjoyment – though it’s more just for “cheese” factor.
This is a “smart” horror movie if I’ve ever seen one. It takes all of the cliches of the genre and plays right into them. If you’re a horror fan I’d be shocked if you’ve never seen this one but if it was too “mainstream” for you when it came out I’d strongly urge you to see it. The sequels were not nearly as good but the original is great. One year after the death of Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) mom two of her classmates turn up dead (after an opening scene that is AWESOME). From here we’re introduced to a murder mystery where no one is safe, everyone is a suspect and what you know about horror might just save your life.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Horror on a budget. Much has been made about this film which was made for less than a million and made nearly 250 million (the the time the most successful independent film in history). Shot documentary style it tells the story of three filmmakers who hike into the Black Hills of Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch. We are told that they were never heard from again and we are being shown their missing footage. Suffice to say that the idea of “going to the corner” will never be the same again.
This is generally thought of as a science fiction movie, but the first one in the series is a straight up horror movie that happens to be set in space. The idea of being trapped in a location has never been as frightening as it is here. There is definitely some iconic stuff in here with inclusion of the facehugger, the Alien bursting through someones chest and the Alien itself. Sigorney Weaver stars in her career defining role of Ripley and does an absolutely amazing job. The sequel Aliens is many people’s favorite but for me its the original all the way.
Based on a novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws brings terror to the screen in the form of Bruce the Shark. Not only was this an incredible horror movie but it was the first of the “summer blockbusters” and it definitely didn’t disappoint. For me, horror movies are at their best when the killer strikes out of nowhere and when the sense of suspense has been built throughout the film. Jaws does an incredible job of both. The first kill is gruesome and simplistic. By the end of the film you see a killing machine turn the resort town of Amity Island into a ghost town. There are some outstanding performances in here but Bruce steals the show. We’re definitely going to need a bigger boat.
OK – so this is a list of 12 rather than 10. As I was putting my list together I got to the end and realized that I hadn’t included Alien or Jaws. I’d left them off the list initially because Alien is typically thought of as a “space movie” and Jaws is normally seen as a “suspense” film. After some further reflection I’ve decided that these are horror movies in my book and with that distinction they NEED to be on this list.