Top 20 Horror Films: 20-11

Sorry for the long hiatus. Things got hectic but I am ready to get back in the full swing of things!With Halloween looming, I figured a great list to kick off my return would be my personal 20 essential/ favorite horror films.

** Potential spoiler alert** Although the list wont be full synopsis of the films, just quick breakdowns, and why I feel it belongs on the list.

The Criteria:

  • No classic Universal Monster films, as I have seen very little.

  • No Zombie Films. Controversial arbitrary rule but as I am not the biggest fan of the sub genre, I felt it would no be fair, so I figured ruling it out completely was easier when compiling my personal 20.

  • No Jeepers Creepers. Victor Salva can go fuck himself, a quick google search will confirm this, although I’m not sure it would make the list regardless.

  • No Foreign Horror films, as I have not explored that world nearly enough yet.

  • Obviously I have not seen them all and this list is merely opinion.

  • I initially had Get Out high on the list, but I find the film hard to define as far as genre goes. It also might be anti recency bias - a great original film none the less!

  • Mostly I went for Jump factor, overall scary popcorn movie fun. As well as if a movie is re-watchable and if it blazed a trail for horror movies.

So without further adieu here is part one of the top 20 horror films, hope you enjoy it.

20. Child’s Play (1988)

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Dolls for the most part are creepy. A redheaded one that is possessed by a serial killer makes for a sometimes scary (terrifying to a 10 year old me) entertaining flick.

A Struggaling single mother of one buys her son (Andy) the much desired Good Guy doll. However this doll named Chucky houses the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray. Naturally the classic scenario of no one believing young Andy that his doll is evil ensues. Chucky sets out for revenge/unfinished business, as one would do if you were a crazy, psychotic killer with a second lease on life.

Obviously a movie with this kind of premise your gonna get ham fisted exposition and plot holes. However its shot very well and the puppeteer work (especially for the time) is top notch. Brad Dourif who voices Chucky and plays Charles Lee Ray, adds the most to this film with an excellent performance - helping Chucky become an iconic figure in horror movie lure.

19. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (19987)

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I know what your thinking. “Top 20 all time, are you fucking kidding me!” Yes it is corny at times. Yes its probaly not an all time classic and very much trapped in the 80’s. You know what I don’t care! It’s balls to the walls scary fun nostalgia for me and the film Ive seen the most in the franchise.

Most of the movie takes place at Westin Hills hospitals in a ward with high risk youth. The newly admitted patient Kristen Parker (a debut by Patricia Arquette) is thought to of attempted suicide. However it was Freddy who slit her wrist in her dream. Luckily for Kristen and the other troubled kids, the protagonist form the first film Nancy is there to help them. Nancy knows who the burned up man in all their dreams is. Even better news for the kids, Kristen has the ability to pull others into her dreams. Nancy tries to help the tormented teens, training them to control their own dreams and fight Freddy on his own turf

Oh and it turns out Freddy Krugger’s mom was a nun who got locked in an insane asylum and his father is one of the hundreds of maniacs who raped his poor mom, so there’s that…..

The best choice of the movie is ignoring the terrible sequel and bridge it with the first film with Nancy’s involvement.

Some of the kills are pretty intense; using the sleepwalking kids veins as marionette strings to make it look like he jumped to his death, still makes my tummy turn. As well the special effects are for the most part better than decent for 1987. Robert Englund goes full Freddy, scary with funny one liners. If that doesn’t convince you that this film should be considered a top 20 candidate, Kruger also kills Zsa Zsa Gabor in one of the weirdest cameos.

The film credits roll letting history know exactly what era this film was made in, with an awesomely shitty title song by terrible 80’s hair band Doken!

18. Phantasm (1979)

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A supernatural, surreal indie horror film that most definitely deserved the title of cult classic. The movie was written, directed, photographed and edited all by Don Coscarelli and his passion and talent shines throughout the film.

The movie kicks off with a young man (Tommy) being murdered at Morningside cemetery by a mysterious women. At the funeral for Tommy, our young hero Mike witnesses the strange undertaker: the Tall Man, lifting up the casket with his deceased friend in it like it was nothing and oddly puts his casket back into the hurst driving away.

Mike, his older brother and friend Reggie eventually set off to further investigate the creepy Tall man, who they believe might also be involved in Mike’s parents deaths.

As it turns out the Tall Man is from another planet, who can take the form of the mysterious women,who killed Tommy in the beginning of the film. He also has many other-realm like weapons and powers. The Tall man’s purpose is to reanimate the dead: turning them into zombie dwarf slaves, to be repurposed on his home planet.

The movie has a Goonies like feel to it with our young hero’s, but with plenty of scares. The movie feels like a horror adventure film - fantastical and Wildly original. This passion project film is a great watch if you haven’t seen it, and a very underrated horror film franchise!

17. Creepshow (1982)

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Two horror icons teamed up to create horror gold. The late George A Romero and Stephen King’s Creepshow is an homage to 1950s horror comics, an anthology film with five shorts. The legendary special effects man Tom Savini (who also makes a cameo) really helps the film with practical effects.

The first short Fathers Day is about a risen from the dead, wealthy bootlegger who exacts revenge on his miserable children who plotted and executed his murder. Running rough shot on his estate in search of his piece of Fathers day cake he never had - he gets it with a severed head to boot. It also features a young Ed Harris. A fine little short, but not the strongest of the five, but sets the tone with the cool comic book style freeze frame at the end.

Next up is the funny The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verril staring none other than Stephen King. To be honest King is really good as a campy yokel farmer who discovers a meteor that turns Jordy into a plant like being, slowly killing him and taking over all of his house. Funny snappy and creepy; what I appreciate the most is King really giving it his all in a short where he is the only one on screen.

Something to Tide You Over has a film noir like feel to it, with a simple but effective plot. It’s about a wealthy man exacting revenge on his cheating spouse and her lover. Only the wealthy man is played by Leslie Neilson, showing us hes much more than a slapstick comedy guy. Hes a cold blooded psychopath who forces the lovers (Ted Danson and Gaylen Ross) to be buried on a secluded beach up to their necks while he goes back home and watches them die as the tide rises, on closed circuit t.v.

The Crate is my personal favorite of the bunch. A crate is discovered under the stairs of a University. With in it is a tiny viscous creature that devours any one who dare goes near it. The story turns on its head when one of the professors sees an opportunity to lure his wife to the crate to take care of her. Its a great example of less is more, rarely showing the creature and letting your imagination add to the fear.

Adding another chapter in Stephen King is afraid of insects is the Final short They’re Creeping Up on You. It follows Upson Pratt a germaphobe who is suddenly under attack by cockroaches when his ever clean and safe apartment is subject to blackouts. Pratt retreats to the panic room, only to be consumed by the bugs. The movie ends in a bang with an incredibly gross body explosion after the roaches burst out of his dead body.

This gem of a film is full of nostalgia. From the Crypt Keeper rip off (the creep) in the cut scenes, to the cool 50’s style comic book still cuts. Definitely a laborer of love from some of the finest masters of horror.

16. Saw (2004)

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I am not a fan of what the franchise has become. Making the jigsaw character some sort of self righteous martyr and trying to out do the increasingly brutal Rube Goldberg death traps, under wafer thin plots. That being said the debut Saw film is a dark twisted well shot horror movie with a good plot and well acted.

The movie begins with two men chained up in a dingy room across from one another, with a dead body in the middle of the floor. One has a saw the other a revolver and instructions to kill the other by 6p.m. They soon piece together they part of a twisted game from the Jigsaw killer. Unfortunately for the man given the saw, cutting off his leg to save his abducted family might be his only way to freedom.

Danny Glover plays an obsessed detective who is on the hunt for Jigsaw. Coming so close but in the process losing his partner to a rigged trap. The character is cliche but performed rater well from the seasoned vet Glover. With flashbacks of the Jigsaw case we learn more about his psyche and see his twisted games of death. There’s a barbwire filled maze a man has to crawl through before times up. We meet the sole survivor, a drug addict who has to cut open a body to retrieve a key in order to open a device that would of ripped her head off. That’s when we find out that Jigsaw wants from his victims if the pass his test, to appreciate the life they have instead of taking it for granted.

The film was a smash hit, on a shoe string budget, hence the shilling out of sub par, to awful sequels in a long running franchise. The original however is definitley a dark, well made horror classic.

15. The Ring (2002)

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A remake of the 1998 Japanese film Ringu. I have not seen the Japanese original but I’m sure all you film snobs are gasping in disgust. I will get around to it soon! None the less the American version staring Naomi Watts is a well crafted visually stunning movie.

The film starts off with two teenage girls talking about a creepy video, if you watch it you apparently die in 7 days. The one girl claims to have seen it a week ago. She winds up dead, face contorted and the other winds up in a mental institution as a result of seeing her friend in that state.

The Mother of the daughter who died pleads with her journalist sister Rachel (Naomi Watts) to investigate the mysterious death. Rachel winds up delving deep into the case, discovering and watching the errie vhs tape, receiving a phone call that whispers 7 days.

Rachel uncovers the origin of the tape and learns of the backstory of Sammara and her family. Sammara is the creepy as fuck girl who comes to get you if you don’t get someone else to view the tape within the 7 days. To add to Rachel’s problems she finds her young son watching the tape adding even more pressure to figure this mystery out.

The choice to set The Ring in Seattle/Washington State is perfect. Using the grey, dreary backdrops and constant rain, really goes well with the tone of the film.

This film is further evidence that you don’t always need blood and cuts or a knife wielding maniac to get scares. The Ring has depth and plot that is equally interesting as it is scary.

14. Pet Sematary (1989)

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Moving out of the noisy fast paced big city for the quaint small town life seems like a great idea. Just try and make sure your not situated by a dangerous road and an ancient native burial ground is in your back yard.

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, and written for the screen by King. Pet Sematary takes place in rural Maine, a familiar setting for many of Mr. Kings stories. Its main characters are the Creed family; a husband and wife with their two children, who move to their cursed new home after Louis Creed takes a job as the towns doctor.

Adding accidental comic relief is Creed’s neighbor, Jud Crandal (Fred Gwynne). With a thick Maine accent. Jud explains the cursed Pet Sematary, but also helps Louis bury his daughters dead cat in order to resurrect the car struct feline, before his daughter wises up. Of Course once things come back form the Pet Sematary, they are never the same.

On a complete side note, one of my favorite bits on South Park is a similar Jud character warning any one who listens in a similar accent “that you don’t wanna go down that road.”

Much much worse than a dead pet is their son being smoked by a semi truck, and Jud in a panic convinces himself that the only way to save his family is to go back to the cursed ground. Obviously their son comes back evil and Jud is forced in a showdown with the son he loves so much.

This selection is probably more nostalgia then anything else. I watched it again not long ago and it still plays well for me. Yes the acting is sub par. It doesn’t introduce the horror world to any iconic character. Yet it still gives me jitters, and Jud’s spiral into madness, going back to the well time in again to bring someone back to life with terrible consequences has always had a lasting impresion on me. Plus creepy kids in horror movies is a go horror theme that works for me.

13. The Evil Dead (1981)

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A cabin in the woods with an ancient Egyptian book of the dead (Naturan Demanto). A mysterious recorder that releases demonic spirits, and add to all this Bruce Campbell! Count me in!

Written and directed by Sam Raimi, this shoe string budget movie follows Ash (bruce Campbell) and his four friends as they go to a remote cabin in the woods, on break from University.

Unfortunately for the five students the woods are possessed by demonic spirits. A cellar door opens ominously. Within the cellar is the book of the dead and the recordings of the archaeologist who once owned it. A spell is cast upon hearing the recordings, possessing some of the cabins new guests, that’s when all hell breaks loose!

A pencil Driven into a hand! Crazy evil trees that attack! The practical effects look great, especially when you consider this film was made for less than 400,000 dollars.

Bruce Campbell helps create an iconic cult classic hero, Ash Williams. Ash is charming, brave and funny. Much like Indiana Jones, Ash is not James Bond or Batman; knowing all and fully capable. He wings it and shows vulnerability, you really want him to make it out of this demon spirit filled bloodbath alive and well.

The film was a smash hit considering its tiny budget. It spawned a franchise, comic books, merchandise and more. The sequel and third installment are funny, full throttle crazy movies, however the original has the most scares with a clever simple plot; a must watch for all horror movie fans.

12. The Thing (1982)

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Arguably the best Sci-Fi horror film of all time. Directed by the great John Carpenter and written by Bill Lancaster, based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W Campbell. It stars the always fantastic Kurt Russel; taking place in a research facility in Antarctica where the researches come in contact with “The Thing” - an alien parasite that takes over its victims, mimicking their looks and behavior.

The film is claustrophobic , dark and chilling. As the victims pile up and we know what the characters left our dealing with, paranoia begins to set in, adding to the tension. The “Thing” needs to escape its Arctic prison, passing through one being to another, making for an interesting foe in the horror genre.

A fair sum of the films budget was spent on special effects, apx 1.5 million of the 15 million. Money well spent! The chest defibrillation scene alone for that matter is worth it, it’s iconic and holds up today. Quite possibly the best practical effects in cinema history.

You add up the plot, the effects, the score and prime Carpenter and what you get is a masterpiece in sci-fi horror. Worth a go even if your not a huge fan of the genre and want to enjoy a suspense filled, well crafted movie.

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11. Black Christmas (1974)

Halloween might of brought the slasher film to the mainstream, but Black Christmas was the O.G pioneer slasher flick. Directed by Bob Clark(who went on to make another little Canadian film that could Porky’s) and filmed in Toronto for about 620,000 dollars.

Black Christmas takes place at a sorority house during a Christmas party. Unfortunately for these women a mysterious deranged man is in their attic, making disturbing phone calls to the party goers. The killer has no back story, and we as an audience don’t know his motivations. He’s simply just a psycho path who acts out in senseless killings. We just know that no one is safe and any one could be next.

The film is full of slasher film tropes, but that’s why its on my list. Black Christmas started these tropes. Like what The French Connection is for gritty cop/detective films, Black Christmas is that for slasher movies. From The systematic faceless killer Michel Myers, to the killer(s) toying with their prey on the phone in Scream - This movie has inspired and or has been ripped off countless times.

I also would not be doing my civic duty as a Canadian film nerd if I didn’t point out the wave of Canadian slasher films that Black Christmas kicked off in the late 70’s to 1980s. Prom Night, Happy Birthday to Me, My Bloody Valentine, Curtains to name just a few.

Stay tuned for the top 10 coming soon.