Monday, October 18, 2010

Top 11 Horror movies

(Why 11? Because sometimes 10 just isn't enough)

So, a couple disclaimers here before we dig into the good stuff. First off this is not intended to be a definitive list, just a list of my own personal favorites in the horror genre. Horror films are highly subjective because everyone has a different take on them and because of that everyone has different expectations. These films all meet my own personal expectations and actually exceed them in most cases. Here is a full disclosure of what I look for in a horror film.

In order for a horror film to win me over it needs to meet at least two of the three following criteria, with the best ones meeting all three expectations:

No. 1 - There must be characters you care about, you must feel some sort of connection to them or else when they are put in peril there is no tension because you could care less what happens to them.

No. 2 - There needs to be some sort of psychological aspect to it. It needs to get into your head and mess with your mind. You will feel the repercussions of it well after you have finished watching it.

No. 3 - There of course needs to be blood...and gore...and people either being maimed, eaten, or killed in some grisly manner. A nice touch that helps in this department is that the effects are believable, not some really cheesy practical or CGI effects.

A fourth but not as important thing I look for is that I am shown something unique, something different from your everyday, garden variety horror film which most of everything on this list has. Hopefully that gives you some insight in how this list was created. Without further ado let's get started.

The Children

"You brought them into this world. Now...they will take you out".
The Children was released in the UK in 2008 and was later released stateside a little over a year later. I and most likely you had never even heard of it before. I first heard of it during an episode of the Slashfilm podcast where they began to praise it for how daring it was. Well my first reaction was to think how great could this movie actually be? Especially if I had never heard of it before then. Well it turns out that this horror film centered around two families vacationing at a winter lodge is pretty dam fantastic and every bit as good as I heard it was.

What makes this movie stand out is that the usual horror movie cliche of children either being some sort of demon or being the pawn that gets adults killed is turned on its head. These kids instead kill the adults, namely their own parents. The children come down with some sort of sickness that seems to be more potent depending on the child's age. Eventually that sickness turns them into bloodthirsty killers that begin to stalk and kill their parents. The image of an 8 year old little girl killing her own mother is really disturbing, but disturbing in the best way a horror movie can be. If you are sick to death of the usual stuff Hollywood cranks out these days (Saw) and want something that will invade your mind and give you the creeps then this will be right up your alley.


Trailer for The Children:

Shaun of the Dead

Still the best combination of real horror and comedy to this day.
I saw Shaun of the Dead during a sneak preview while vacationing in Denver, Colorado. It is a testament to the impact this movie had on me that the one thing that always stands out for me when I think of that trip is Simon Pegg killing zombies. I didn't know who any of the people involved in this movie were, either in front of or behind the camera even though they had all been working together for quite some time before this. So, what makes this such a great horror film? Off the cuff I would say it has the best mixture of comedy and horror I have ever seen (besides one other film that is further down the list that is).

The almost slapstick nature of the comedy crossed with the blood and guts of a true horror film really made it stand out. The true magic though was found with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright. The chemistry between Pegg and Frost was top notch (which also helped out another movie they were in together ) and their comedic timing was superb. The scene where Pegg takes a morning stroll down the street to the liquor store while being completely oblivious to the death all around him is played perfectly and all done in one continuous shot. Some found that the end got a little too far into the horror realm but I actually liked that change of tone and thought it was all the better for it. Without a doubt this entry into the zombie genre is both an amazing homage to its predecessors and a well crafted horror film in its own right.

Shaun of the Dead [Blu-ray]

Trailer for Shaun of the Dead:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

If you fall die.
Who here hasn't heard of pod people? This movie freaked me out as a little kid (yes I saw many things I wasn't supposed to when I was younger) and it did so by the simple idea of when you fall asleep you will be replaced by some sort of emotionless clone. To say I checked under my bed for a pod from time to time before going to sleep would be an understatement. Now, as an adult I see the film in a whole other light, yes the sleeping thing still kinda weirds me out, but I can see other layers buried deeper than that though. The idea of losing all emotion and your identity, or being in a world where you don't know who you can trust (which is a theme in another favorite of mine) really creeps me out...on a psychological level.

If you aren't familiar with this story, shame on you by the way, I will oblige you. Aliens in these large eggs that resemble a pea pod are invading earth and taking it over by killing, then cloning us while we sleep. This 1978 version  which was a remake of the original 1956 film and was also remade twice more in 1993 and more recently in 2007 is the superior film out of all those in my opinion. It just had this sense of dread to it and how it portrays a world being taken over by a silent invasion was unnerving in the best way possible. The cast was really great at the time as well, you had Donald Sutherland as the lead and a super young Jeff Goldblum. Plus in what I believe was one of the only movies I ever saw him in besides Star Trek was Leonard Nimoy. If you have never seen any version of this story check this one out first and if you are on the fence about seeing any of them at all just think of this...any movie that has been remade 3 times now must have something special about it, right?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo in Blu-ray Packaging)

Trailer for Invasion of the Body Snatchers:

The Shining

All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.
Jack Nicholson has had many defining roles over the course of his acting career. The one that most people, myself included of course, consider to be THE defining role of his career is the part of Jack Torrance in The Shining. This film has many different pedigrees attached to it, the fact that it was based off a Stephen King novel was a major part and also the fact that it was directed by one of the worlds greatest directors, Stanley Kubrick. This is a horror movie that has no equal in what it attains with its single location story about a man driven crazy by the evil spirits haunting the hotel that him, his wife and son are paid to look over during the winter months while it is shut down.

There are so many elements present in this film that I have seen stolen but never replicated in other movies that it is mind boggling. The hallway that is flooded by a river of blood, the dead eyed twin little girls that appear randomly throughout the gigantic hotel, the crazed Jack Nicholson stalking both his wife and kid, and the creepy old lady in the bath tub...all of that is horror cinema gold. The location plays a big part too, the hotel is creepy as all hell and you will find yourself saying "I would never stay at a place that big all by myself, hell no" many times. If you have never seen it then do so immediately, all that's left to say is...REDRUM!

The Shining [Blu-ray]

 Trailer for The Shining:

Evil Dead II

Ash is ready to kick some demon ass.
Shaun of the Dead is an incredible horror/comedy film, but Evil Dead 2 still wins out due to one thing and one thing only...Ash. Bruce Campbell may have never made it big as an actor despite his loyal following of fans, but that's OK because we will always have Ash to comfort us when we need to see evil get its ass kicked. Have you ever heard the lines "Groovy", "Your going down", or "This is my boomstick!", well those all originated from Ash and the Evil Dead trilogy. Why is the second one my favorite? Well, the first film, Evil Dead, was more of a standard really low budget horror film that unfortunately hasn't aged well at all. The third film, Army of Darkness, was more like a comic book than anything else with very little horror. The second film however has the best mixture of the horror and comic book ingredients from those other two films and is without a doubt the best horror/comedy film ever made.

The entire movie takes place at a single location, an old and very small house in the middle of some creepy ass woods. Ash takes his girlfriend there for a romantic weekend (not exactly the best place for romance in my opinion) and almost immediately she is killed by some unseen force. From that point forward it is Ash versus the demons and that is where this movie truly shines. All the horror elements are pretty run of the mill but it is how Ash deals with them that stands out. Take for instance when his hand gets possessed, he has a hilarious fight with his own hand (which wins by the way) then he has to bring himself to cut it off. It gets away of course which leads into an almost looney tunes sort of scene with him shooting holes all throughout a wall trying to kill it. This was and still is my absolute favorite Sam Raimi film and probably one of my favorite comedies as well as favorite horror films of all time.

Evil Dead II: Kiss Your Nerves Goodbye [Blu-ray]

Trailer for Evil Dead 2:

The Exorcist

One of the most iconic horror scenes ever.
When The Exorcist was released back in 1973 people were appalled. People were actually throwing up in theaters all across the country because they couldn't handle it. Let me repeat that...people were throwing up in the theaters. No other movie has had that type of reaction ever and given how extreme our movies are now it will most definitely never happen. What was it that horrified people so much? Well, at the time horror movies weren't very graphic, blood was extremely fake looking and besides the Italian horror movies there wasn't much dealing with gore or the psychological side of things. The Exorcist was a huge wake up call and brought horror to a new level.

Reagan was a typical teenage girl who one day starts acting out in strange and bizarre ways. Her family soon realizes that the doctors and experts they have seen don't know what is going on which leaves them with only one other It turns out that poor Reagan is possessed by not just any demon but the devil himself. Whenever Reagan speaks using the devil's voice it still makes the hairs on my arm stand up to this day. One of the most extreme scenes in the film has the possessed Reagan impaling herself in the crotch area using a holy cross over and over again. When the priests finally decide to do the exorcism on her we see some of the other more famous scenes such as the head spinning and probably the most recognizable gag of all time in a horror film, the vomit scene. And all these years later it is still effective and I think that is pretty dam remarkable.

The Exorcist (Extended Director's Cut & Original Theatrical Edition) [Blu-ray]

Trailer for The Exorcist:

The Mist

Despite the creatures outside the real danger lies inside.
Yet another Stephen King story but this time dealing with a large group of people in a confined space. The Mist takes place in a small town that is all of a sudden overwhelmed by this dense mist, but it is no ordinary mist. Inside it are all kinds a mean beasties that want nothing more than to kill whatever they come across. We follow the happenings of a fairly large group of survivors that are held up in the local grocery store when the mist rolls in. It is basically a large melting pot of different ideas, cultures and beliefs which is never a good thing when people are scared and looking for answers...or protection. The people inside the store end up being just as dangerous to each other as the creatures that lurk in the mist.

What I feel works best in the film is the drama that happens inside the grocery store as opposed to the horror seen outside it. When the local religious nut begins to gain a following to her cause the movie takes a turn and you no longer fear what will happen to them if they leave the store, you fear what will happen to them if they stay inside it. That's not to say the creature stuff is lackluster because I believe this movie has some of the more inventive monsters around. It is true that some of the effects aren't the best, but the imagination of the creature designs still shine through. A lot has been discussed on how this movie ends which is impossible to critique in my humble opinion. It ends the way it does and regardless of the motivations for it I believe it earns it.

The Mist (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]

Trailer for The Mist:


The best Sci-Fi horror film ever made.
James Cameron's (yes, the guy that made Avatar) 1986 Science-Fiction/Horror/thriller Aliens is my favorite movie of all time. So why is it at the number 4 slot and not the number 1 slot then? Because as a film it is not as successful as some of the more pure horror fare out there, its success lies in how well it mixes a horror element into a Sci-Fi action thriller framework. You would be hard pressed to find someone that considers anything in the film as horror and what that says is that it mixed all those elements up so well that no one even realizes that what they are seeing is horror. Don't be fooled though, this film has some of the best and most memorable horror scenes around.

Even the basic structure of the film is your typical horror set up. A group of people enter a creepy place not knowing exactly what they are walking into. They soon discover why they should have never gone there and end up fighting for their lives all the way up till the amazing end sequence. Then you have the infamous chestburster scene that is as painful and bloody as horror can get along with the extremely effective scene with Sigourney Weaver and the little girl being stuck in a room with the two loose facehuggers. The real controversy though is that I would pick this over the original Ridley Scott film since that had more of a horror element throughout the entire film. Well, I have to say that Aliens is paced much better than the original Alien which has a first hour that is excruciatingly long at times. In any case, Aliens is my pick for the best combination of Science-Fiction and horror you will find.

Aliens (Special Edition)

Trailer for Aliens:

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

"When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth".

I am the first to admit that this film is horribly dated, but that doesn't hurt it at all in my opinion. The 2004 remake turned out better than anyone ever thought and ended up being a real fun zombie movie in its own right. However, the original Dawn of the Dead is still the winner when it comes down to the sense of dread and despair that its main characters experience. You get a very small group of 4 survivors that decide to hold up in a huge mall (which for its time was something new) and turn it into a home of sorts...once they have cleaned out all the zombies that is. They go from being like kids in a candy store to kids on detention real quick though.

The social commentary about consumerism is front and center as is the religious angle but I find the emotional journey they go on to be far more interesting. You see them eventually turn into their own worst enemies as they spend months within this mall which at first seemed huge and sprawling only to be seen as a prison later. Yes, the zombie stuff is also part of the fun. I am always amazed at how such slow moving creatures could pose such a huge threat but their persistence is ultimately what wins out each time. No matter how much you fortify and block them out they will always be there waiting for that one moment you slip up. Without a doubt this is the zombie movie that has helped shape every one that has come after it and just like a good zombie it will never die.

Dawn of the Dead (Ultimate Edition)

Trailer for Dawn of the Dead 1978:

The Thing (1982)

 Who is the thing?
Director John Carpenter was a favorite of mine growing up, I couldn't get enough of his films. The original Halloween, Escape from New York, The Fog, Prince of DarknessBig Trouble in Little China and especially The Thing. I absolutely love this movie, I love the premise, the setting, the actors, the music, the atmosphere...all of it. I also love the theme of "who can you trust?". It falls into the same paranoia soaked terror category that something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers does. To anyone out there unfortunate enough to have never seen this film I will give a quick rundown.

The setting is a remote research outpost located deep within Antarctica with a dozen or so occupants comprised of scientists, researchers and operators. One fateful day they are "visited" by their Norwegian counterparts from another research outpost nearby who end up attacking them while trying to kill a lone dog they had been chasing. It turns out that the dog isn't what is seems and soon what ripped apart the other team's outpost begins to do the same to them.

Most horror films have a hook, either it is people being taken over by pods, children becoming infected and killing people, a haunted hotel, or creatures from dimension X. The hook for The Thing is a creature that is able to imitate other creatures by adsorbing them. The paranoia comes into play when the team members start to get taken over by it and nobody knows who is who anymore. While they try to figure out some way to expose the creature they are losing more people every moment to it. It soon becomes a race against time where they must trust each other or die.

The cast of characters is a huge reason why this movie works so well. The most well known face is probably Kurt Russell in one of his many John Carpenter collaborations, but everyone is spot on here. This male dominated ensemble is at their best when they all start to doubt each person's humanity. Without a doubt my favorite scene that helps sell this is what I call "The blood test scene". They develop a theoretical test on how to determine who is the thing and who isn't, so they take everyone that is suspected of being the creature, tie them all down together and begin the blood test. What transpires next is pure horror bliss which is made only better by the superb practical effects that only the 80's can deliver.

The Thing [Blu-ray]

Trailer for The Thing:

 The Descent

Claustrophobia should be the least of their worries down there.
I never thought anything would dethrone The Thing as my favorite horror film of all time but the impossible has happened. When I originally heard of The Descent I thought nothing of it. It was from the director of Dog Soldiers, a fun little movie dealing with a squad of soldiers fighting a pack of werewolves which didn't really set my world on fire. It was being marketed as "A New Horror Classic" and "The best thriller since Alien" and when I see stuff like that I become super skeptical. Then it came out...and I saw it...and I loved the hell out of it.

Even then it still hadn't taken the top spot from Carpenter's classic yet. I usually like to let things settle before I make any drastic decisions. So, when it came out on video I decided to show it to some friends and family, then loan it out to anyone that would give it a chance. I hadn't done that with a horror movie in an awfully long time, going out of my way to make sure as many people saw something as possible and it turned out that everyone I shown it too loved it as well. It was then that I realized how much I absolutely adored the bloody mayhem this movie provided and it was then that I decided to put it at the top of my recommend list for horror films.

So what is it that I find so dam amazing about the movie? Well, let me get into the plot a little bit before I go into full on horror geek mode on you. We meet a group of female cave divers as they prepare to take on one particular cave located deep within the forest. They have gotten together with an old friend who is dealing with the recent loss of her husband and child to help comfort her. Their comfort food is of course cave diving and they are more than ready to get to it after a night of partying in their rented cabin. They find their cave and proceed into it not knowing what awaits them within.

That is as basic of a setup as I can do without giving away too much of the story or surprises that await those seeing the film for the first time. Now, the one thing that I will give away to anyone reading this is that it takes quite a while for anything resembling a horror film to happen. I would even go as far to say that if you went into this film not knowing it was a horror film you would be completely caught off guard by what happens in the third act. For an hour of the 1 hour and thirty minute run time it is all build up, no one dies and there isn't any real hint of danger until well into that first hour. That though is the beauty of the film and what makes it standout from other horror films.

The fact that it takes so much time and lets you get to know all the women and see them as real people with real emotions so that when the shit hits the fan you feel real terror for these characters. Speaking of the women, it must be mentioned that the entire cast of female characters here (in direct contrast with the all male cast of The Thing as a matter of fact) is filled with adult women. There are no dumb teen stereotypes to be found anywhere near it and it is all the better for it. These women are smart, strong, and very capable which is in opposition with how women are usually portrayed in a horror film. So if you are a feminist (like me) then you will find a lot to like here. Girl power indeed.

Now, I am not going to give away what exactly they run into and definitely not when they run into it, although anybody paying attention will have a little heads up, but I have to talk about the third act just a little bit. Another refreshing aspect this film has is that when all the crazy stuff starts to happen these women for the most part don't back down. Hell, I would go as far to say they kind of kick some ass in most respects. Usually characters in peril will run and try to get away...well that doesn't happen here. The refreshing part is seeing the victims fight back even if it doesn't always end good. One of the women goes borderline psychotic at one point.

I cannot recommend this movie enough, it takes almost every horror genre cliche and spits on it. You get yourself some real good character development (in a horror movie no less), a lot of built up tension and a third act that is exhilarating while also being a dam good bloody horror film. This goes for fans of the genre and non fans alike because I believe this movie transcends the standard horror label and becomes something completely unique. I was literally caught off guard a multitude of times during the course of the film with where it went and what it did. When was the last time you could say that about any movie let alone a horror movie?

The Descent (Original Unrated Cut) [Blu-ray]

Trailer for The Descent:


Brian said...

My Top 10

10) Poltergeist
little girl acting creepy and ghosts going ape shit
9) Psycho
If you didn't know anything about the movie you would be blown away by the 2nd half.
8) Trick r Treat
Creepshowesque, but this movie is a great Halloween movie.
7) Friday the 13th (orig)
Basic slasher movie with the twist and the surprise at the end.
6) Nightmare on Elm Street (orig)
Love the dreamworld and the Freddy character
5) Evil Dead 2
Best comedy horror movie of all time
4) Dawn of the Dead (orig)
Both Night and this are great, but I give the nod to Dawn
3) Jaws
Nothing scarier than being eaten by a fish. Spielberg at his best.
2) Halloween
The greatest slasher movie of all time. The music alone makes it the best.
1) Exorcist
Disturbing movie and to this day it makes me feel uneasy when watching it.

David Weaver said...

Nice, I like yours as well. Although Jaws runs into the same problem you had with Aliens though, not sure if it falls into the horror category for me entirely but I have to admit it is probably more fitting than Aliens.

Brian said...

I figure you would say that about Jaws :)
I figure it was sort of like Psycho. Except the scary parts are in the 1st half and the adventure parts are during the 2nd

But like you said... what makes a good horror movie is the characters that are in it.

btw watching Night of the Living Dead on amc. Damn I forget how great this movie is. Especially for it being made in 1969.

David Weaver said...

Man, I remember seeing the original Night of the Living Dead when I was a kid and being freaked out by it. I agree though, it still is a really good movie.

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