It’s that most wonderful time of the year again. Thanksgiving? Nope. Christmas? Most certainly not. Halloween?
The answer is: “What is Halloween?” Remember, according to Alex Trebek (the host of everyone’s favourite game show “Jeopardy”), your answer must be in the form of a question.
Anyhoo, Halloween 2012 is upon us. While many individuals are currently preparing themselves for this year’s festivities by purchasing expensive outfits and accessories just so they can go to expensive-ass Halloween parties, get fucking WASTED and do the gangnam style dance for the world to see, tweet, instagram and/or post on YouTube and/or Facebook, others will ignore Halloween all together and resume their humdrum lives. And then there’s a certain few who’d much rather spend a considerable amount of time watching horror movies than spend an inconsiderable amount of money on a Thor costume with matching hammer. Fortunately, I am one of these few. So I dedicate this post to the few and proud who enjoy being scared.
This is…..Oops, I meant…. WHAT IS “Movies that go BUMP in the Night or….My top 10 favourite scary movies”?
DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind that this list is in no particular order. Also, “The Exorcist” will NOT appear on this list. No, I haven’t seen it. And hell fucking no, I will not watch it! So there! Moving along….
10. JAWS (1975)
And we begin today’s proceedings with Steven Spielberg’s first masterpiece, and arguably one of the greatest films ever made – “Jaws”. Starring Roy Scheider as police chief Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper, Robert Shaw as the scene-stealing shark hunter Quint and Bruce the Mechanical Shark (oops….spoiler alert) as “Jaws”, this film is as superb and deeply frightening as it was when it was released almost 40 years ago. Admittedly, it is at times laughably dated, and it isn’t as gory as a movie about a man-eating shark should be, but with solid acting throughout (Bruce delivers an Oscar-worthy performance …. just kidding, guys… as the carnivorous Great White shark), a well-written and well-paced story, memorable dialogue (“I think we need a bigger boat”), and an iconic musical score by fellow Spielberg collaborator John Williams, “Jaws” is still a very entertaining popcorn flick that you’re bound to enjoy – even with the lights on.
9. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978/ 2004)
Yes, ladies and gents, horror movie legend George A. Romero’s magnum opus, and its modern-day remake by Zack Synder (director of “300” and “Watchmen”) both share the No. 9 spots. While Romero’s first film “Night of the Living Dead” remains the first zombie movie (in creepy black-and-white) to include gore and graphic violence, its sequel “Dawn of the Dead” took it to a higher level with more zombies, more blood and more consumption of human flesh. But it’s the film’s seamless meandering through spine-tingling terror, unexpected moments of humour, and sharp satire (the idea of a small group of human survivors in a shopping mall fighting ravenous, aimless zombies is still a very clever commentary on consumerism) that made it the “zombie masterpiece” that it’s widely regarded as. Zack Synder’s version, though it lacks the humour and satire of the original, stands on its own as a grim, terrifying and action-packed horror movie. But the major change is the replacement of the slow-moving undead from Romero’s film with zombies who RUN! There’s a scene where an overweight female zombie charges towards her prey that will make you say “HOLY SHIT!”. Trust me! In short, both “Dawn of the Dead(s)” are great horror films in their own right, and are definitely worth checking out. And they’re best enjoyed with the lights off. Trust me!
8. THE EVIL DEAD/ EVIL DEAD II (1981/1987)
Before Sam Raimi directed the Spider-Man trilogy, he began his film career with a groundbreaking horror film called “The Evil Dead”. Rightfully labelled as “the ultimate experience in grueling terror”, “The Evil Dead” involves five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the woods. After they discover an ancient text called the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead) and an audiotape containing incantations from the text, demonic forces are unleashed. From that point on, the film becomes a fearsome roller-coaster ride of blood, guts, demonic possession and dismemberment. “The Evil Dead” became an instant cult classic, despite the controversy surrounding the film’s graphic violence and terror. It also marked the first appearance in a feature film by Bruce Campbell (a.k.a. Sam Axe from the USA Network action TV series “Burn Notice”). But it was Bruce’s amazingly animated performance in “Evil Dead 2” (one of my all-time favourite movies, in case you were wondering) that made him into a cult movie icon. This sequel maintains the over-the-top violence and terror of its predecessor, but adds a surprisingly effective element of Marx Brothers-inspired slapstick humour. The end result: Bruce’s transition from hapless victim of demonic attack to a shotgun-blasting, chainsaw-wielding BAD-ASS! The third and final film in the series (1992’s “Army of Darkness”) ditches shock-value horror for medieval fantasy/adventure and deadpan humour, but it’s still a worthy conclusion to an excellent movie trilogy. But for Halloween purposes, stick with the first two Evil Dead films. They come highly recommended by yours truly!
7. DEAD ALIVE (BRAINDEAD) (1992)
For years, I’ve always read reviews about this film being one of the goriest films ever made. And after seeing it for myself, I totally agree. “Dead Alive” (alternate title: “Braindead”), directed by Peter Jackson (Yes, I said it…. Peter “Lord of the Rings Trilogy” Jackson) is one of the most ridiculously bloody films I’ve ever seen in my years of existence. And when I say bloody, I mean GALLONS of fake blood on screen! But just like the Evil Dead films (which Peter drew inspiration from), this film is enjoyable as hell! In a nutshell, “Dead Alive” tells the story of one man’s effort to save his hometown from his domineering mother who, after being a rare Sumatran rat-monkey, is now a zombie. Yes, its premise is fucked-up, but the film itself is fast-paced, absurd, unique, hilarious and entertaining from start to finish. If you’re a die-hard gore-hound, or you love horror flicks with a sense of humour, or if you’re curious about the early film career of Peter Jackson (and to think a guy whose first few films were designed to make you puke would make the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), then look no forward than “Dead Alive” – provided, of course, that you have a strong stomach.
6. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
This film needs no introduction. Everyone and their great grandmothers must have heard the name Freddy Krueger at some point in time in their lives. Directed by Wes Craven, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is the slasher film that helped put the New Line Cinema corporation on the Hollywood map. And it created one of film history’s greatest villains – Freddy (played by Robert Englund) a disfigured child murderer with the supernatural ability to kill his victims in their dreams. Even creepier than Freddy’s M.O. is his signature weapon (a razor-fingered glove) and his badly-disfigured face. Like most horror films of the 1980s, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” spawned a franchise consisting of sequels (each one crappier than the other), a TV series, an unnecessary crossover with the Friday the 13th franchise (“Freddy vs. Jason” – remember that shit?!) and an equally unnecessary remake – produced by Michael Bay of all people! But the original remains the best of the franchise, and it’s still widely regarded as a classic in the horror genre.
5. THE THING (1982)
And now, let’s add some science fiction to this list. “The Thing”, directed by the legendary John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell and Wilford (“If you have diabetes….”) Brimley, is a remake of the 1951 sci-fi film “The Thing from Another World”. Both films share the same story: researchers at an Antarctic station being attacked one by one by a shape-shifting alien. But what makes “The Thing” a horror classic is not its moments of heart-pounding tension and paranoia, or its creepy minimalist score by the great Ennio Morricone, but the extraordinary creature effects of the title character itself. The alien doesn’t have a true form, so it traps its victim and assume its body characteristics. There’s a scene in which the Thing takes the form of a dog with a monstrous body, disfigured head and tentacles sticking out of its sides that’s still one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in a movie. “The Thing” is one of the few films that manages to frighten me every time I see it. And for an 1982 film devoid of any sort of CGI, it still holds up to this day. Though I have yet to view the 2011 prequel (also named “The Thing”), I can safely say that this one is still, undoubtedly, John Carpenter’s masterpiece.
4. BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992)
From Francis Ford Coppola, director of three of the greatest films of all time (“The Godfather”, “The Godfather Part II” and “Apocalypse Now”) comes No. 4 in my countdown – “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. Still the best Dracula movie in like…EVER, Coppola’s film re-tells the famous story of the vampire count (played brilliantly by Gary Oldman) and his centuries-long search for true love. From the opening shot to the closing credits, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is a pure example of grandiose filmmaking. From its lavish sets and Oscar-winning costume design to its sound design and utilization of both old and new techniques of visual effects, this film is a visual and sonic tour de force. The performances are good, though it can be argued that Keanu Reeves (yep, Neo’s in this movie also) sounds too much like a surfer (he did star in “Point Break” which came out one year earlier) than an English gentleman. But Gary Oldman delivers an exceptional performance as the blood-lusting Count Dracula that is yet to be outdone. Bloody, gothic, beautiful and dare I say, sexy, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is the perfect romantic horror film. No offense, fans of “The Twilight Saga”!
3. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
Sure, there’s no demons, aliens, zombies or spirits in “The Silence of the Lambs”. But what this film demonstrates is that you don’t need supernatural elements to tell a genuinely terrifying story. Winner of 5 Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Picture (making it the first horror/thriller film to win in that category), this film stars Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as the former psychiatrist/incarcerated serial killer with cannibalistic tendencies, Hannibal Lecter. With a serial killer (dubbed “Buffalo Bill” for the way he skins his victims’ corpses) on the loose, Clarice is requested by her superiors to interview Hannibal, whose foresight into the mentally disturbed may prove useful in capturing Bill. The direction by Jonathan Demme is top-notch, the story (adapted from a novel by Thomas Harris) is well-written, and the performances are excellent. Anthony Hopkins steals the show with his razor-sharp dialogue and creepy demeanour and proves a match to Jodie Foster’s stern character. Also delivering a great performance is Ted Levine as the twisted, sexually-confused Buffalo Bill. “The Silence of the Lambs” is a psychologically unsettling and emotionally powerful film that helped lay the groundwork of the slasher film for the 90s and beyond.
2. PSYCHO (1960)
If “Jaws” scared people so much that they were afraid to go to the beach, then “Psycho” was the film that made people (women in particular) look over their shoulder when they took a shower. Vera Miles’ shower death scene remains one of the greatest, and one of the most parodied, scenes in film history. And with the assistance of Bernard Hermann’s timeless score, it’s still effective up to this day. Similar to “The Silence of the Lambs”, the villain of “Psycho”….a psycho (DUHHH!). Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates, the proprietor of a shady motel (the Bates Motel) recently owned by his deceased mother. Even though she’s “dead”, the mother psychologically torments Norman to the point that he commits murder to please her. Directed by the late, great Alfred Hitchcock, “Psycho” is a textbook example of how to make a fucking brilliant thriller. The performances are awesome (especially Anthony’s performance as the mother-fixated Norman), the pacing is tight and the incredible black-and-white cinematography adds to the film’s dark, ironic tone. This is a definite must-see for anyone who calls themselves “horror films” and those who appreciate and enjoy classic cinema. Oh, and ignore the 1998 remake directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates (VINCE FUCKING VAUGHN?!!). It never existed. I’m just saying.
1. THE SHINING (1980)
And here we have my top favourite horror film of all time: “The Shining” – which just so happens to be directed by my top favourite director of all time: the late, great, wished-I-got-an-autographed-copy-of-“A Clockwork Orange”-from-him-before-he-passed-away Stanley Kubrick. Adapted from the best-selling Stephen King novel, “The Shining” details the account of a writer (Jack Torrance – played by Jack Nicholson) assigned as the off-season caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel and his slow descent into madness. His wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) observes Jack’s mental deterioration while their son Danny (Danny Lloyd), who possesses psychic abilities (nicknamed “shining” ) sees disturbing images from the past and future. Apparently, a LOT of fucked-up shit occurred at the Overlook, including the slaughter (by axe) of the mother and twin daughters of the former caretaker. And it’s this former caretaker who influences Jack Torrance to attempt to do the same. Without revealing too much, the film features outstanding direction by Stanley Kubrick, a darkly humourous performance by Jack Nicholson in one of his best roles, creepy-ass music, a haunting, atmospheric look and feel, and arguably some of the most iconic scenes in horror movie history. The poster above is a major example, including the iconic line that Jack delivers: “Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”. I could spend all day talking about how fucking brilliant this film is, but luckily for you, I won’t. Whether you’ve seen it before, or never gotten the opportunity, I strongly suggest you see this movie. It’s a landmark horror film that will stay with you for days, months and even years after you’ve seen it. Recommended like doing the Gangnam Style dance totally shit-faced!