The Diabolical 20: My Essential Horror Films
0 comment Thursday, April 24, 2014 |
I'm overstuffed with Halloween joy today. After seeing various houses in my town adorned with all the holiday trappings (including pumpkins, cobwebs, scarecrows, and even an awesome giant rubber bat that was suspended on a wire) and anticipating the chance to finally watch and appreciate that Samhain classic known as It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (yes I still haven't seen it, move on), I'm just about to burst like a pillow case full of sticky sweets. So in an attempt to share that love I decided to make a list. Because what else says love like a list?
A few of my blogging comrades have also been in the midst of concocting their own lists for the spooky season, all of them centering on their own collection of top drawer horror films. Submitted for your approval is my top twenty picks in the horror genre. You can use this as a list of suggestions for your own Halloween viewing or just read it for the fun of delving into the soft spots of my grey matter. There are many horrors that you'll encounter along the way and I hope to see you all in one piece at the end. Laugh, cry, scream, and "Rerrin'!" at my selections as you see fit. Some of them may be shocking. Others might be puzzling. But all of them are DIABOLICAL! Muahahahaha!

So let's start things off with the absolute WORST choice of a film to begin my list! It is true that Nacho Cerda's short film is filled with shocking, repulsive, and offensive images, the least of which is a man oiling up for a little intimate time with a cadaver. But strike me down, I can't help but be completely drawn by this little piece of celluloid nastiness. The production value for the film is astounding; the crispness of the images and sound really need to be experienced first hand. But on a deeper level I think it's the way in which the events are shot (the frankness, the clinical detachment) that makes Aftermath an utterly enticing study in depravity. Either that or you can just write me off to the head shrinker's office.

John Landis' venture into horror is beloved by many genre fans, myself included. Those who have read this blog in the past know of my rabid obsession with werewolves, so the inclusion of this classic should come as no surprise. This is one of those movies where the filmmaker's appreciation and love for horror just radiates and warms all who watch it. There's a cozy feeling that comes with watching AWIL, despite multiple scenes of wolf mauling and skin shredding. As amazing as this entire movie is, it probably would've made the list if the only redeeming part of it was the mind blowing transformation scene courtesy of Rick Baker's astounding effects.

Italian horror isn't everyone's cup of tana tea, and even those who are unabashed fans of spaghetti cinema would admit that it's not coherent plots or complex characters that keep them glued to the screen. But what does keep us horror fanatics coming back for more is the powerful atmosphere that permeates the films' darker scenes and, if we're lucky, the excessive gore that paints the screen like a serial killer's palette. Hardly anyone pulls this off better than Lucio Fulci and his bloodsoaked camera is at one of its best in The Beyond. A cursed hotel over a door into hell, rotting zombies galore, eye gougings, carnivorous tarantulas, and a cute little girl getting her face fucking pulverized by a close-range bullet. What's NOT to love?

Christmas chillers are common fare in the horror genre, but it's an occasion that comes once every blue moon where one of them is actually worth your while. Black Christmas is definitely worth your time and you'll probably think about canceling your Yuletide party after you watch this early slasher prototype. It's a simple scenario: a group of college girls alone in a sorority house one wintry Christmas Eve and a homicidal maniac locked inside with them. But director Bob Clark creates a truly terrifying and claustrophobic atmosphere, tinged with all the warmness of the holiday season. I still can't help but imagine a bloodshot eye peering at me from the crack of a door every time I pass by a bedroom. "Agnes... it's me, Billy."

Master of color tones and suspense, Italian auteur Mario Bava creates one of the absolute best horror anthologies that has ever been my pleasure to witness. While the first segment is somewhat passable, it's the unforgettable stories with Boris Karloff as "The Wurdulak" and the smiling corpse from "A Drop Of Water" that will haunt your dreams for years to come. And as horrifying as bloodthirsty vampires and vengeful spirits are, Bava somehow manages to make every single frame look like a lush, beautiful piece of art. Truly one of the most visually stunning horror films ever made.

Ever wonder what the world looks like to a maniac? Well now you don't have to. Another example of a breathtakingly artistic horror film, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari has done as much for the entire cinematic medium as a whole as it has for horror. The film is in many ways similar to the carnival that serves as the centerpiece of the story: a whirling, dizzying miasma of contorted shapes and twisting shadows. Plus, there's an evil doctor who uses a hypnotized, sleepwalking slave to murder those who stand in his way. How badass is that?

Any poor soul who has had the misfortune of being around me for the past seven years knows of my undying love for Creepshow by now. Many times when I'm asked the question that is the bane of all fright fans ("What's your FAVORITE horror movie?!"), Creepshow always serves as my jerk reflex response. It has deep roots in the formative years of my fandom, which is one reason why it holds a special place in my dark heart. And I just love the overall frightfully-fun feel that the movie inspires in me everytime I watch it. Whether a slimy corpse is stalking down victims or a ravenous Antarctic-based creature is munching on screaming faces, I can't help but smile throughout the entire film.

DEEP RED (1975)
That other Italian guy claims one of the top spots in my countdown here. The majority of fans seem to side with Dario Argento's supernatural masterpiece Suspiria, and it's with good reason. But I've always held a preference for Argento's most well-known giallo Deep Red (which ironically is really different from your typical giallo). Ever since I viewed the trailer as a lad I became enchanted with knowing the twisted story behind the images. I'm a sucker for a good murder mystery, and Argento delivers all the goods to be expected along with a few dark touches of his own, all set against beautiful hues of crimson and ebony. This is the one movie that made me want to be a black gloved killer just so I could murder people to a snazzy score and look fashionable while doing so.

I watched The Evil Dead for the very first time for a science experiment that I was doing back in middle school on the effect of horror films on heart and pulse rate. The other two films chosen for the night were Sleepaway Camp and The Howling. Saving The Evil Dead for last, I was easily scared the most watching that film than I had been for the first two. This was another film whose trailer I had obsessively watched before seeing the actual thing. I was taken back to say the least. The demonic howls in the woods and the vaginal rape by way of horny trees were just a few of the atrocities that would traumatize my eyes that night. And we hadn't even gotten to the bloody hacking of the possessed corpses! This one has always stayed with me since that memorable night.

I saw Fright Night on a double bill with Creepshow at my uncle's house, so that should give you an idea about what a fanatic I am for this movie as well. Easily one of the most watched flicks in the Cruz household, I was able to recite just about every line by the time I was in fifth grade. A monster living next door was not only an original idea to my impressionable mind at the time, but it was something that every kid gets scared about at least once during childhood! Chris Sarandon was the epitome of devilishly charming and Roddy McDowell was the vampire hunting grandpa that I always wanted. And though some people may loathe him as much as Jar Jar Binks, I can't help but adore Evil Ed. "You're so cool, Brewster!"

John Carpenter's flick makes just about everyone's list, so who am I to go against the vast majority? It's not just blind faithfulness that prompts me though. Halloween is every ounce of classic that everyone says it is. From the killer point-of-view beginning to the skin-crawling climax that has Michael Myers doggedly chasing down a terrified Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween is the golden standard by which all slashers should follow. Add an unforgettable minimalist score and a genuine small-town-at-autumn-time vibe and you have instant terror greatness. And Donald Pleasance is a boss.

The return to the occult film for one Roman Polanski was not exactly met with open arms by everyone upon its initial release, but seeing the film a few years later made me an instant fan of it. I've always preferred quiet, subtle horrors over straight-out gorefests (although those can be fun too). The Ninth Gate is a call back to those wonderfully shadowy films that Val Lewton produced at RKO back in the 40's. Through dark alleyways and beautiful countrysides alike we feel an unseen presence of evil everywhere Johnny Depp goes. And being a dirty bibliophile, The Ninth Gate serves a role as my book porno. Watching dusty, yellowing pages being rifled through and examined just gets me going.

Although it was actually the 1943 version of the classic tale starring Claude Raines that technically introduced me to the horror genre, I've actually come to choose Lon Chaney's immortal rendition as the ultimate adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel. Chaney is at his top game here, devising his most unforgettable makeup design ever in a portrayal that is more frightening rather than sympathetic (as many interpretations of the Opera Ghost are). But Chaney is truly a spectacle here, stealing the show in every guise he appears in, especially his dramatic entrance at the masquerade as the insidiously striking Red Death. Amazing sets and costumes abound in this production that is epic in every sense of the word.

PSYCHO (1960)
What I would have done to know the genius that was Alfred Hitchcock. His films have provided me with countless entertaining nights over the years and I have dearly loved every single one of them. But Psycho just has that little bit of an edge over the others, a pinch more of fairy dust that turns it into something magical that causes me to become spellbound everytime I watch it. There's a grittiness and a darkness here not present in Hitch's other films, making it one of, if not his only true horror film. Anthony Perkins mesmerizes with his doubled performance as both criminal and victim, making it one of the most enduring cinematic portrayals ever. Ahhh, and those violins!

SAW (2004)
In some ways I'm almost embarrassed to put this on my list. But I think that has to do more with what the series has become over time (a joke) than what the intention of the original was. I watched the first Saw right when it became available to rent, and was really astounded by what I'd seen. I held a rather low opinion of contemporary horror (even at 13) and was fairly unimpressed by the majority of movies that I'd watched from post-1990. I felt that Saw was an ingenious mystery, akin to the Italian gialli but updated for a more urban, edgier crowd. The premise was original at one point in time, believe it or not, and that ending packed a helluva punch for me. It's unfortunate that the sequels haven't held up to the original, but I stand by my word that Saw is one of the best horror films to come out of the past decade.

Heeeere's another cliche choice! Say what you will about the film's unfaithfulness to Stephen King's source material, it can't be denied that The Shining has a raw power working behind it that sucks you in upon every viewing. Stanley Kubrick's infamous precision and perfection can even be felt when simply watching the movie, but it never feels rigid or dull at any point in time. This is a movie where the silence is just as important as the things you hear. The quiet holds all the scares and thrills. Those little moments where Kubrick draws your face closer and closer to the screen in eager anticipation of what's to be said next and then BAM you're hit with naked old lady skin. A wonderfully complex and strange ghost film that's always revealing more secrets upon every viewing.

All the reasons behind why I think TCSM is so utterly amazing can be found HERE. Oh yeah, and Grandpa.

This is the movie that I became acquainted with most recently (last Halloween as a matter of fact), and now a year later I'm still in love with Trick 'R Treat. Talk about an undying love for the holiday and horror cinema, Michael Dougherty's ode to autumn is so lavish and warm-hearted in its appreciation that you can't help but feel like a kid trying your costume out for the first time while watching this one. The set design of the small town filled with its glowing pumpkins and misty forests is enough to make a Halloween fanatic's heart burst with joy. With a mascot as adorable as Sam to guide us through a collection of scary stories, this is sure to become a holiday classic in years to come. Bust out the candy corn and blow out the candles for this one.

My love for lycanthropes knows no bounds. The Wolf Man was the first one to show me the light (of the full moon) and from then on I haven't turned back. Chaney proves to be a true descendant of his father as he plays the ever-sympathetic Larry Talbot. Like Chaney Sr.'s Erik, Talbot becomes the subject of all our attention and affections. Seeing this guy transform into a full-fledged bipedal wolf with the help of Jack Pierce's makeup was an experience that hasn't lost one bit of its magic over the years. Curt Siodmak's literate script creates an imaginative mythos to be followed by countless films to come. The beautiful black and white photography, especially seen in the foggy moors, is nothing short of mesmerizing. The... oy, I better stop before it's too late.

ZOMBIE (1979)
What do ya know? That old devil Fulci has robbed two places in my top twenty! And here I was thinking that I wasn't that much of a fan of his. Shows what I know about myself... When it comes to the living dead, it's not Romero that has devoured my brain with his definitive series. Fulci solidifies my devotion with this intense, messy thrill ride that creates new definitions for the word "awesome" in the dictionary. Where else would you see a cadaver wrestle underwater with a hungry shark? Where else would you witness the excruciating gouging of an eye by way of freaking huge door splinter? Where, I ask you, would a 400-year-old conquistador rise from his sandy grave to rip the throat out of anyone unlucky enough to be standing by him with his extreme case of snaggletooth? Only in Italy! Viva la Fulci!

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