Dan’s Favorite Ten-Or-So Horror Flicks
Everyone knows when the leaves start to change color and fall and the daylight gets shorter every day – it’s time for Halloween! And what better way to get in the mood of the season than to watch some of your favorite horror movies?
When asked to compile a list of my ten favorite horror flicks, I had to keep narrowing the criteria to get the list into a manageable form. Thus, no hybrid genres (Horror-Comedies were the first to go), only one movie per director (can’t have a whole list of John Carpenter movies) and only one film per series. With all of these rules in place, it’s time for my thirteen favorite horror movies in no particular order:
The Beyond (Lucio Fulci) 1981
With only one film per director, some of these were hard to choose. Fulci’s catalogue has so many cool moments, but I had to go with The Beyond as his entry here. There is so much to unpack in this film, and chances are that you’ll find something to freak you out in it. There’s gooey zombies,blind ghosts, flesh-eating spiders, a door to hell and a melting warlock just to pique your interest. Though the plot is pretty nonsensical, the cinematography, special effects and score work very well together and help deliver a very solid freaky movie.
House of 1000 Corpses (Rob Zombie) 2003
It could be said that this film is mostly derivative of earlier films, but I would argue that the way those scenes fit together makes this film better than the copycat flicks so readily available on Netflix and Amazon Video. As soon as you see four twenty-somethings lost on back roads you have a good idea of where this flick is going, and Zombie’s love of classic horror almost explodes off of the screen. The cast does its very best to convince you they’re insane, and the pacing tries to keep you out of breath as the victims are led deeper and deeper into darkness.
Suspiria (Dario Argento) 1977
Part fairy tale and part murder mystery, this film practically oozes style. The color saturation really defines the mood of every scene while the prog-rock soundtrack (by Goblin) creates a nice contrast to conventional scores. The story is pretty basic – with a dance student going abroad to a private school that is also hosting a series of murders – but Argento elevates it to a strange new level.
Ju-on (Takashi Shimizu) 2002
Hollywood has remade a number of Japanese and Korean horror films but I can’t think of one that has topped the original. This original Grudge movie showcases that pretty well. Its concept is pretty simple – something very bad happened in this house, and it follows and kills everyone that gets anywhere near its presence. The execution of the story is where this film gets the highest marks. From a freaky albino kid popping into frame to a contortionist ghost girl crawling down the stairs, it does not miss a chance to keep the audience on edge.
Lord of Illusions (Clive Barker) 1995
While the special effects in this flick don’t quite beat out Nightbreed or the Hellraiser franchise, Lord of Illusions is my favorite Barker movie because the story is so bizarrely horrifying. In short, Swann, a popular stage magician really does magic that he learned from a guy (Nix) who wanted to be a god that Swann subsequently buried alive in the desert. Some of Nix’s other followers dig him back up years later and madness ensues. I really enjoy the acting in this one, and it stars Scott Bakula as an added bonus.
The Omen (Richard Donner) 1976
I love the first three films of this franchise, but the acting chops on display by Gregory Peck and the rest of the cast give the original a slight bump over the rest. It asks a simple question – what do you do if you accidentally adopt the antichrist? It would be easy to make this fall into a parody of itself, but the cast plays it so straight and earnest that you can’t help but get into it. The score from Jerry Goldsmith creates a great tone for this flick too.
Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur) 1957
This will probably be the oldest film on this list, however it is truly a great piece of cinema. It revolves around a magician who is under scrutiny for publicly boasting of his powers. People who have previously tested him have died under mysterious circumstances and no one can quite explain what’s going on. The cast is excellent, the script is great and the special effects though dated are still awesome to watch.
The Exorcist III (William Peter Blatty) 1990
I love the fact that Blatty hated the Hollywood sequel to his book so much that he both wrote a sequel in novel form and then directed the movie himself. Before delving into horror film tropes in the third act, this film deals with the difficult ideas of having faith in a world where horrible things happen. George C. Scott is believable enough as a jaded detective and Brad Dourif is unsettling as always. This film also has the best jump scare in history as far as I’m concerned.
The Serpent and the Rainbow (Wes Craven) 1988
It’s not often that I would praise a highly sensationalized account of real-world events, but Craven just goes balls-to-the-wall with his retelling of Wade Davis’ search for the powder used in zombification rituals in Haiti. We get front row seats to ‘voodoo’ ceremonies, grave robbing and corrupt government officials galore. It’s shown early on that the audience doesn’t know at any point if they’re being shown the films reality or a dream, and that concept is used to great effect. Zakes Mokae plays one of my favorite villains in this film.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (Jose Mojica Marins) 1964
Usually when you see a film that is directed, co-written and starring one guy you can be sure you’re in for a horrible time. This is the exception to that rule. Marins gave Brazil its first horror movie, made an iconic film and gave the world Coffin Joe all in his first try. If you haven’t seen this, be prepared to meet one of the best horror characters in all film. Joe’s only motivation is continuing his bloodline but kidnapping, murder and straight-out blasphemy ensue. This is independant film at its finest.
The Legend of Hell House (John Hough) 1973
Based on a Richard Matheson novel (which is great in its own right), this is my pick for the best haunted house movie of all time. A group of researchers investigate a house whose previous owner was a hedonistic millionaire who disappeared after all of his guests massacred each other. The mansion in the film is usually shot at an angle so none of the architectural lines are straight. This alone makes the audience uneasy. Then add the creepy back story and weird happenings and you’ve got a really spooky film.
In the Mouth of Madness ( John Carpenter) 1995
I pick this out of Carpenters repertoire because it is one of my favorite directors making an homage to one of my favorite writers. Saying that the writers took a bit from Lovecraft for the script is an understatement. Sam Neill plays a fraud investigator tasked to find a reclusive author (Jurgen Prochnow). Neill gets more than his smug countenance can take when he ends up in the town from the writer’s books and tells his story from a cell in the nearby asylum. Great acting and creepy effects.
Black Christmas (Bob Clark) 1974
What if I told you that the director of A Christmas Story also directed one of the best slasher films ever set around a holiday? Black Christmas centers around a sorority house at christmastime while they’re being stalked by an insane killer. Clark imbues every scene with a sense of dread. With creepy shots of empty rooms and long sequences from the killer’s point of view, this flick pioneered how a slasher film should look years before Friday the 13th and Halloween debuted.
… and that’s my list of the horror movies that I like the most. Thanks for reading.