Saturday, September 12, 2009

Doctor Splatter's Top 20 Favorite Horror Films

     Since I am a horror film fan I thought I would get this out of the way.  Now, I'm not labeling or ranking any of these as "The Best".  These are simply the pictures that had the biggest impact on me in my childhood, my adolescence, and in my twenties; the movies that shaped what I love and appreciate about the genre now.  I chose 20, because there were simply too many to narrow down to just 10.  Even now I'm thinking 20 may not be enough either, since a lot of these are pretty obvious, and quite a few movies I really, really love are not present.  Regardless, this is still a gruesomely awesome bunch:

1. Halloween (1978)
    
     I would have to say that John Carpenter's Halloween would be my absolute favourite horror movie.  It's one I still watch and enjoy over and over, but it's also a film I still think about and analyze more than any other.  I'll have plenty more to say about Halloween at a later time.

2. The Exorcist
    
     I saw The Exorcist when I was about 20-years-old.  It was absolutely terrifying even after nearly twenty-five years since it's release, and I have yet to work up the nerve to re-visit it.  That should give you a clue as to the power of this movie.

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
    
     I hate the fact that I have to add the date to the title, since it's the next horror classic getting the "re-imagining" treatment.  Nonetheless, Wes Craven's A Nightmare On Elm Street was one of the scariest movies I ever saw as a kid, and remains a nerve-wrecking shocker to this day, thanks to it's intelligence, Craven's imaginative direction, and Robert Englund's performance as the most twisted bogeyman of all time, Freddy Krueger.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
    
     The first time I was allowed to watch this, I didn't like it.  For most of my childhood, Tobe Hooper's breakthrough film had a rep for being the most bloody and violent picture ever made.  When I viewed it for the first time, I thought I was going to be emotionally thrashed- only to find myself barely touched by the end.  I was confused and utterly disappointed.  For reasons unknown to me now, I watched it again and again.   Soon, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre really started to crawl under my skin!  Hooper's direction and "score", Daniel Pearl's cinematography, the art direction, and the commitment of the cast created a genuinely creepy, verite-like journey into the dark side of America's heartland, one that also serves as the final nail in the coffin of the naive optimism of '60's Flower Power.

5. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

6. Dawn of the Dead (1979)

     George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead was an early example of my enjoyment of watching a movie being hampered by poor video quality.  It was hard for me to fully appreciate this film for awhile because of the rather cheap cassette copies, thanks to the it being in public domain (meaning anyone could make a tape or DVD of the picture and sell it).  However, it was the characters and the visual style that kept me coming back for more.  There's only a very select few sequels that are considered as good (and in fewer cases, better than) the original film.  Romero's 1979 sequel to Night..., Dawn of the Dead, is one of those examples.  I saw this movie when I was at the tail end of my teens, and I was never exposed to such carnage before in my life!  My jaw was on the floor after only the first 10 minutes!  The gore might have been extreme, but it was the apocalyptic nature of the film that really terrified me.  The biggest shock, though, was also how much of a compelling drama Dawn of the Dead turned out to be. 

7. The Horror of Dracula (1958)
    
     Bela Lugosi's performance as the Count in Universal's 1931 picture is iconic, but 1958's The Horror of Dracula is actually my favorite movie based on the Bram Stoker novel.   The film (produced by England's Hammer Studios) is marvelous to look at, Christopher Lee (as Dracula) is chilling, and Peter Cushing is simply bad-ass as Professor Van Helsing!

8. The Evil Dead

9. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn

10. Army of Darkness

     I actually watched the Evil Dead trilogy in reverse order.  The first film was another one of those movies I didn't enjoy the first time around because of awful VHS quality.  At the time, I thought it looked dark, humorless, and plodding compared to the sequels.  I had a poor opinion of Sam Raimi's debut film until Anchor Bay re-released it in 1998.  Thanks to their efforts to restore the picture, I was able to really fully savor Raimi's inventive camera work, as well as how much of a fun, ooey, gooey shocker it is!  From that point on, it only got better with each viewing.  However, out of all the films in the trilogy,  Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn is, in my opinion, the best!  It's the goriest, most hilarious, and most fun of the series, striking a great balance between the pure exploitation-esque flair of the first picture and the polished, Harryhausen-inspired adventurism of Army of Darkness.  The third and final (?) installment was my introduction to the series, and I guess not having the other two films in my thinking at that time allowed me to be blown away by Army of Darkness on it's own merits.  It might be seen by some as less horror, but to me it's a hell of a fun, old-fashioned monster movie!

11. Re-Animator
    
     I have vague memories of watching Re-Animator when I was about 8-years-old, or maybe it was the promos on numerous videotapes that stayed with me.  At any rate, I re-discovered Stuart Gordon's directorial debut seven years ago, and it quickly became one of my very favorites!  Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's short story, "Herbert West: Re-Animator", it's a hilariously gruesome and subversive flick, populated by one of the best ensemble casts in horror filmdom.  Highly recommended!

12. Fright Night

13. The Lost Boys
    
     Looking back, I don't think vampires truly existed for me before Fright Night and The Lost Boys.  All I could remember before these two movies were photos of Bela Lugosi, kids dressed up as Dracula on Halloween, and Count Chocula.  As humorous as both films were, they were still really frightening and exhilarating, loaded with all the evil and eroticism of vampirism.   Fright Night was one of my favourite monster movies growing up, and it's still every bit as scary, funny, and damn sexy as it was back in '85!  What's amazing is that after over twenty years, 1987's The Lost Boys also still stands as one of the most enjoyable vampire flicks ever, thanks to Joel Shumacher - of all people!- delivering an absolutely perfect balance between humour and horror.  There's also an extra amount of sentimental value for me, since I once lived in (and attended university at) The Lost Boys' filming location of Santa Cruz, California.

14. The Silence of the Lambs
    
     This movie came out a few months before I turned 14 and it was a growing-up for not only the horror genre in general, but for also me as a viewer as well.  The skill director Jonathan Demme brought to The Silence of the Lambs resulted in one of the most nightmarish films I ever saw.  Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling is the genre's greatest heroine, period.

15. The Crow
    
     Some might not see this as a true genre-piece, but I do!  It's a dark, yet touching, urban ghost story, and the movie itself is an experience.  The Crow is one of the few pre-X-Men films based on a comic book that truly captures the spirit of the source material, while working on it's own as a movie.  And unlike the Resident Evil and Underworld series, the film's blending of action and supernatural elements isn't forced.  Brandon Lee was superb in his final role, and the soundtrack album (featuring tracks from Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and others) is all killer from beginning to end.

16. Hellraiser
    
     Clive Barker not only proved himself a great writer, but he's also a good filmmaker, and it's a shame he doesn't make more.  1987's Hellraiser was my introduction to the author, and it was Barker's imaginative visuals that initially drew me in.  To this day it remains a highlight for me, being more appreciative in how Clive Barker makes gruesome imagery so poetic, as well as the highly sexual subtext.

17. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
    
     Normally I look down on movies that stray from the original source, but in the case of Universal's 1930 take on Mary Shelly's novel, I have to set that aside.  Frankenstein was glorious. Boris Karloff succeed at his portrayal of the mute creation underneath Jack Pierce's iconic make-up, and director James Whale created a classically gothic masterpiece.  Unbelievably, Whale was just getting started.  The Bride of Frankenstein took all that was great about the first movie and revved it up.  The pace, visual style, the incorporation of a musical score, and the new territory Karloff explores with the monster makes The Bride of Frankenstein not only superior to the first, but also makes it the pinnacle of horror filmmaking for decades.     

18. Creepshow
    
     This was my first George A. Romero film, and this collaboration with Stephen King (paying homage to the horror comic books of their youth) was a delight for me as a six-year-old comic-book fan, who watched this alongside Superman the Movie and Flash Gordon (1980).  It was also really scary, and it still packs a punch 25 years later.

19. Poltergeist
    
     Poltergeist scared the bejesus out of me as a child, because the movie brought so many childhood fears to the screen.  As an adult, I typically don't view most ghost stories as believable due to what we know at this moment about spirits.  To me, a lot of these supernatural movies (especially the PG-13 ones) that came out in the wake of The Sixth Sense don't work for me because there's no sense of any mortal danger.  However, I recently watched the film on Turner Classic Movies, and it is still just as frightening as it was growing up.  I'm now starting to re-evaluate movies concerning ghosts, but more importantly, I learned that as long as Poltergeist exists, we will never forget those things we were afraid of as kids, no matter how old we get or how tough we think we get. 

20. Zombi 2 (AKA Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombie)
    
     Okay, here's the history lesson for the uninitiated:  Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy under the title Zombi.  Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci was already underway on a zombie film, and the producers called it Zombi 2 to capitalize on the success of Romero's movie.  Fulci's film goes by the name Zombie here in the States, and it's the most recent entry to my list.  Zombi 2 was a movie I've wanted to see for years, but couldn't find a rental copy to save my life.  I didn't want to buy it out of a fear that it would completely suck, as a former roommate and several amazon.com reviewers have stated.  Netflix came to my rescue, and I instantly fell in love with it when I watched it.  I bought the 25th Anniversary DVD on-line later that night, and two days later Lucio Fulci's extremely gory and gloriously absurd classic became part of my library.

Forever the sickest,
~Doctor Splatter

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