Top 20 Horror Films 10-1
The home stretch of my personal top 20 horror movies. My criteria for choosing the list is on the first half of the list, if you have not read it yet. Hope you enjoy it…..
10. Psycho (1960)
I find it hard to write about Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece (one of many) Psycho. Hard because so much has been said about the revolutionary film by far better writers and experts in cinema. What’s left to be said about it’s impact on cinema? for the purposes of this list I shall try my best.
Most people know how the story goes. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) skips town with 40 grand of stolen money and winds up staying the night at the Bates Motel. It’s ran by Norman Bates(Anthony Perkin’s) who goes on about how he has to take care of his ill mother, and is a sheltered socially inept creepy guy. Marion is murdered by a knife wielding women, in what has to be considered one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. Norman is a gasp when he discovers what his “mother” has done. Twist! Norman’s mom has been dead for some time and her remains are still in the house like some weird shrine. It was Norman Bates all along, dressed up like his mom, suffering from a split personality disorder.
I knew most of the plot and the twist well before I ever saw the film. Yet it never dampened my enjoyment of it. It goes without saying that this film is brilliantly shot. No scene is wasted, and it looks great. Janet Leigh plays a great fleshed out character - you really buy into her moral dilemma and regret as she drives to her lover with the stolen money. She’s not a bad person, she just had a lapse in judgement and I felt for her. Anthony Perkins as the creepy loaner with mommy issues was one hundred percent believable. His transformation from disturbed, guilt ridden brow beaten son, till when he is in the holding cell with his facial expression blank, as his mother’s voice narrates is flawless. It’s as if Norman Bates has fully succumbed to his alter ego and he has lost all control.
Lastly I can not gush over this film without mentioning Bernard Herman’s score, and what it adds to Psycho. When Marion is driving, contemplating what she has done; as she imagines what people will think of her, the music really drives home the feeling of paranoia. The iconic shower death, with all the quick cut’s paired with the violent frantic sounds of strings playing, made me feel tense and uneasy. The shot of blood running down the drain as the music comes to an end made me feel glad that it was over, as if I had been through a traumatic event of some sort.
The only reason I did not put it even higher on the list is probably more preference than taste. It’s a historically great film that is definitely worth multiple viewings. However it’s just not a movie I would choose if I feel like being scared, nor would it be on in heavy rotation during Halloween.
9. Alien (1979)
Some might argue Alien is more science fiction than horror, I would argue it’s the best sci-fi horror film of all time. The sequel Aliens, directed by James Cameron may have more of an action movie feel to it, with a way bigger budget. However the original (directed by Ridley Scott) is a claustrophobic, tension filled horror film.
Set in the year 2122 the crew of the ship Nostromo are woken up to investigate a mysterious crashed space craft. Upon landing they discove large egg like objects all over the place. Officer Kane (John Hurt) touches one of the egg pod’s, and a creature suddenly shoots out of it, smashing through Kane’s helmet, grasping onto his face. Back on Nostromo an unconscious Kane is being examined, having the face sucking alien removed. That’s when we get the iconic “chestburster” scene! Although the little baby alien that runs away is hilarious and campy looking - the moment when it bursts out of his chest is gruesome and scream inducing. I can only imagine the reactions of the unsuspecting audienes must of had when this movie first came out.
Of course most of us know that the little alien that ran off post chest burst, grows up in a hurry. Turning into the xenomorph creature synonymous with the film franchise. Jet black, tall, with a huge curved insect like head, and a scorpion tail to boot. The xenomorph is smart and cunning, the alien picks off its prey. It’s up to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to survive. Ripley is a trail blazing character: a tough female lead, never a damsel in distress, totally bad ass and most importantly believable.
So maybe an Alien in a space craft is not everyone’s idea of an ideal horror movie situation. However the xenomorph is as scary as a monster or psychopath(or even more so) and the thought of being trapped in the dark with this predatorial disgusting creature, plays for scares just as well as any classic horror film.
8. Hellraiser (1987)
Clive Baler’s directorial debut, about desire, pain and pleasure…. Oh and opening Pandora’s box and on the other side is a dimension with fucked up looking dudes, one of which has a bunch of pins in his head.
Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) is in his mothers attic when he solves a puzzle box that he had purchased from some sketchy merchant while in Morocco. His prize for solving the mysterious box? To be ripped a part by chains, sent off into another realm, filled with Cenobites. Who are these Cenobites? In a nutshell, they are sadomasochist’s, who are indiffernt when it comes to pain or pleasure. They merely travel different realms and dimension’s looking to feed their twisted pleasures.
Frank’s brother Larry moves into the house where his brother met his fate (after he was taken by the Cenobites, all traces of hooked chains and blood vanished) to try and save his doomed marriage. As it turns out Larry’s wife Julia had an affair with Frank and is still infatuated with him. For whatever reason Larry’s blood that drops on the attic floor, makes his dead brother appear, well sort of. Frank is more like a Gunther von Hagens’ art piece, no skin, and is in need of human blood to be sacrificed to regenerate back to his old self. Julia obliges, bringing random men home, where they meet their end, in order for her old lover to come back to her.
Of course the Cenobites are none to happy about Frank making it out of their weird torture world and head to earth to find him. The leader of this crew of S&M clad blood thirsty creatures is non other than Pin Head. It’s clear to see why this white faced, leather bond thing. with pins adorned all over his head has become a horror movie staple. Just look at him! Pin head definitely stands out among horror movie villain’s, and has stood the test of time despite countless mediocre to terrible sequels.
The original film, as is the case of most long running film franchises is the best of the bunch. Hellraiser was unlike any horror film that came before it: imaginative, gory and twisted - cringe worthy but for all the right reasons.
7. Friday the 13th (1980)
The most ambitious PSA to combat horny teens ever created. Of course I kid, but it can’t be understated how big of an impact (for good or worse) this movie had on the horror movie landscape. It’s a Goliath of a film franchise, regardless of genre, and is still making bank to this day. The movie isn’t all that original, and not particularly well acted - although Betsy Parker as Mrs Voorhees gives it her all, and the world also gets the gift of Kevin Bacon, playing a camp counselor Jack Burrel, but I digress. What I’m trying to get at is the first, like a good chunk of the film’s that proceed it are chalk full of campy (pun intended) R rated fun.
We all know how the story goes. Camp counselors at Crystal Lake are to busy smoking weed and fucking to pay attention to Mr’s Voorhees special little boy Jason, who drowns to death as a result. The horny sinful teens pay the ultimate price as they wind up being killed in various ways. Turns out its Jason’s Mom.
The quintessential Jason, does not appear until the last jump scare in the film, when the surviving Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) is pulled off the canoe by a resurrected Jason, leaping out of the waters. Jason must of got a shipment of HGH and hit the gym hard, as he’s a beast of man in the following films.
None the less the original is where it all started and with that being said is a great horror film as a stand alone as well.
6. A Nightmare On Elm St. (1984)
Next on the list, follows another mega popular franchise, with an uber famous horror villain, Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund). Unlike Jason, Freddy comes for you in your dreams. What a spin on the slasher genre! We have all had nightmares and the feeling can be all to real; we can feel hopeless as our mind takes us to some dark places. Only in this movie when Freddy kills you in your sleep, you die for real.
The backstory of Freddy Krugger is what good horror movie plots are made of too. He was a child killer who was freed on a technicality, and the victims of the parents and other towns folk took it upon themselves to be judge, jury and executioner. They burn Krugger alive, so Freddy comes back to terrorize the children of the parents who killed him, by attacking them in their dreams.
Directed by horror legend Wes Craven, and starring Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, our main protagonist, who along with her boyfriend Glen (a feature debut for Jhonny Depp), Tina and her boyfriend Rod, have a get together at Tina’s. With the parents away at Tina’s, naturally its time for sex and other debauchery. Nancy is a no go on giving it up, but Tina and bad boy Rod indulge. Of Course that old contentious cardinal sin of horror rears it’s head, and Tina is marked for death, in a memorable scene. Freddy chases Tina in her dream, while Rod can only witness his girlfriend being thrashed up and down the walls, with her blood everywhere. In a panic Rod run’s away, who would believe him anyways.
Eventually it’s down to Nancy, after Freddy kills off Rod and Glen, and Nancy discovers who this evil striped shirt man with knives fastened to a glove is. She pulls off a scheme to drag Freddy out of her dreams and Home Alone’s Mr Krugger, with some booby trap’s - it’s kind of cheesy and a bit ridiculous, but it works for me!
I ranked this movie so high mostly because of Freddy Krugger. Robert Englund, really goes for broke, chewing up scenery, yet he’s much more scary and less campy as the character becomes. The practical effects are excellent, minus the streetch arm strong arms, and as stated before, it’s just a fantastic concept. Yes at times it can be campy and over the top, with some dreadful acting, but I still to this day find it endearing and very re-watchable.
5. Candyman (1992)
A chilling, intense and “woke” slasher film; Candyman takes the simple urban legend of “Bloody Mary” and weaves a tale of urban segregation, taboo love, and revenge. Based on the short story The Forbidden by Clive Baker and written and directed by Bernard Rose. The film takes place in Chicago and centers around Helen Lyle (Virginia Madison) who is studying urban legends. Helen hears about a local legend in the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects, the Candyman. As the story goes if you say his name five times in the mirror, a man appears with a hook for a hand, gutting you and killing you.
The more and more Helen researches the origin of this so called Candyman, the more mysterious deaths pile up. The movie is far more than just an evil man with a hook though. Turns out the Candyman was Daniel Robitalle, the son of a wealthy African American in the post Civil War era, who became a well known artist and was in a relationship with a white women. As a result of having a relationship with a women of another race, he had his hand chopped off so he could not paint, doused in honey and flooded with bees form the racist mob, dying from the stings.
Naturally Helen comes to the conclusion that the Candyman is not real and more of a representation of the struggles many of the residents have to deal with in those low income projects of Chicago, manifesting into an Urban legend. Of Course just to be sure Helen says his name 5 times into a mirror.
To nobody’s surprise the Candyman is in fact real. Played by Tony Todd who was cast perfectly for this role; tall, handsome with a deep foreboding voice that commands respect. Now that he has been summoned he lets Helen know how much he did not appreciate her conclusion that he is in fact just an urban legend, and now blood must be shed to strike fear back into the people of Chicago so he can exist……
A definite treat to watch, with performances, story and plenty of scares to keep you interested the whole way through. Of course like a lot of these movies the less said about the sequels the better.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
This movie should be on the list solely for it’s title alone, but holly fuck is this film intense! Written and directed by Tobe Hooper, this indie low budget, gonzo-esque (I know that’s probably not a real thing) movie that hits hard and fast. Right off that bat you know your getting into something crazy with it’s opening credit sequence, warning us what we are about to see, as if it’s real - something that has been ripped off countless times since.
The story goes like this….. Five teens are on a road trip in the middle of nowhere Texas. On their way they briefly pick up a hitchhiker who’s a maniac, and go to a weird gas station and pick up some good ol’ homemade cured meat from some off putting people. They wind up at an old run down house that happens to be inhabited by a family of cannibalistic lunatics, one of which wears a mask made of human flesh and wielding a chainsaw. Of course that masked freak who stuffs people on meat hook’s and such is Leatherface, very loosely based/inspired by Ed Gein; a man notorious for grave robbing, murder and fashioning things in his house from dead body parts.
As stated earlier this movie is intense with a capital I. It feels real at times, and is so frantic and crazy. The low budget and militant style film making lends to it feeling all to real, that’s why it still holds up to this day. Make no mistake though The late Tobe Hooper was a talented film maker and by no means was the previous statement a knock on his skills. As far as American horror films go The Texas Chainsaw Massacre deserves it’s place on the Mt. Rushmore, for it’s style, originality and most importantly being able to maintain scares for all these years.
On a side note, as mentioned a bunch of times the sequels in this franchise are like most, pure butt. I am in the minority but the 1986 sequel is great fun, and worth a watch. Certainly not a classic like the first, but you get Denis Hopper acting like a complete lunatic, chewing up scenery at an all time clip!
3. Scream (1996)
The movie that brought horror back into the mainstream and Wes Craven back into our hearts, cementing his legacy. By the early 90’s horror films being bankable hits had run dry, and so many franchises had become stale former shell’s of themselves. Not to worry though because Wes Craven had an ace up his sleeve in 1996 with Scream. With a solid cast that included Nev Campbel, Drew Barrymore, Courtney Cox, and future WCW heavy weight champion David Arquette, to name a few.
Speaking Of Drew Barrymore, the opening scene really sets the tone for this movie, letting the audience know that they are in for something new and exciting. The first scene really got me hooked, and if I catch it at its beginning randomly I’m usually in it for the long run. Casey Becker (Barrymore) is at home alone, cooking jiffy pop and about to watch a scary movie, when she receives a phone call with a mysterious voice who want’s to play a game. I wont go full detail as most of know how it ends, but having the biggest name die off in the opening sequence was a real shocker! Even still knowing how it plays out does not deter me from getting into Scream.
Casey’s death sends shock waves through the small town of Woodsboro and it happening to our main character Sydney Presscott’s (Nev Campbell) friend, one year after her mother’s death brings about an erie feeling among her and her friends. The phone calls don’t stop with Casey Baker however, and this white masked faced, black robbed killer has it out for Sydney and her friends!
Scream is much more than your average slasher, it has a higher budget than most, with a cast of people most of the audience knows, even some B to A listers’ at the time - oh Skeet Ulrich what happened? Not only that but it’s witty, smart and meta (I hate using that word but its appropriate for this flick) Using all the old tropes of slasher/horror movies but more as an homage, pocking fun of the genre but not in a way that disrespects it. This is made evident in a great scene when Jamie Kennedy’s character Randy, the horror buff tells party goers the rules to surviving a horror movie scenario: no sex, drugs, and don’t ever tell a group a people you will be back before you trail off from the heard.
Scream was a smash hit, and could be considered Wes Craven’s crowning achievement, helping prove that horror films can still be successful, well made and loved by audiences.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
What do you get when you combine a talented director coming off an Oscar winning performance, the great Ellen Bernstein, and special effects by a legend in film? Well you get a great and timeless movie. The Exorcist was written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel of the same name. William Friedkin directed it hot off of taking the Oscar for best director two years earlier for the French Connection. The incredible make-up and special effects were done by Dick Smith, a legend in the game with make-up work on Scanner’s, The Godfather, Amadeaus; for which he won an Academy Award, just to name a few.
The movie takes place in Washington D.C and centers around Chris MacNeil (Elen Burstyen) an actress who’s staying in the nations capital while filming a movie and living with her daughter Regan (Lynda Blair). Regan has summoned an imaginary friend Captin Howdy, after playing with a Ouiji board. Soon Regan starts acting out of character; swearing, stealing, acting out and weird noises keep coming from her room. Things get worse for the actress, after her daughter comes down during a boogie soiree that Chris is hosting, telling an astronaut hes gonna die and space and proceeding to pee on the floor. After a babysitter dies, its come clear that this is not pre-teen angst, and in fact Regan is possessed by a demonic spirit, time for an exorcism!
I can’t praise the way this film looks and feel’s enough! it’s haunting and as Regan’s spirit get’s stronger, the make-up on her looks terrifying. The bed rocking scene, the crawling down the stairs backwards, the spinning head, all chilling and disturbing to say the least. The Exorcist remains to this day one of if not the greatest horror movies of all time.
1. Halloween (1978)
If you have read through my list (thanks for taking the time!) I’m sure you noticed that apart from my terrible grammar, I’m partial to slasher flicks. So it should come to nobody’s surprise that I picked the crown jewel of the slasher as my number one horror movie of all time, Halloween.
Written and directed by John Carpenter, Halloween set the mold for slasher film’s and should be considered the Godfather of said genre. Staring the scream queen herself Jamie lee Curtis as Laurie, who is an unknown obsession of the recently escaped disturbed killer Michael Myers.
The film starts off 15 years prior in Haddonfeild, on Halloween night. A young Michel Myer’s picks up a kitchen knife and kills his sister in cold blood. Cut to present day Halloween and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleascence) is terrified that his patient Michel Myers has escaped from the sanitarium, being his psychologist for all those years he knows Myers is pure evil and knows exactly where hes going, back home to kill again.
The simple look of Michael Myer’s works for his character and has become iconic in the horror movie landscape. Tall, dressed in cover-alls he took from a tow truck driver he killed on his way back home, with a white rubber mask. The expressionless look the mask really represents who he is, just like his face 15 years ago when he killed his sister and stood blankly on his front lawn with a knife in his hand. He gets no joy out of killing these people he just does and won’t stop.
Jamie Lee Curtis plays being terrified probably better than anyone, when her character Laurie is hiding in the closet as Michel is ripping through the door, you really buy it that shes scared, it’s not over the top shrieking or corny at all.
I would be remissed if I didn’t gush all over the the film’s score, composed and performed by none other than Carpenter himself! It just gel’s so well wit the movie and really puts the audience in a mindset that something is looming over these babysitter’s in small town America.
Halloween was a trend setter, a success and ushered in the unstoppable killer. Black Christmas may be the original slasher movie, but Halloween is the best of the bunch.