- Nerdbot Original Article
From the womb, I've been a diehard horror fan. Literally some of my earliest memories were watching the ultimate forbidden fruit of the genre at the time, "Faces of Death". I remember being so intrigued and excited at the sight of Freddy and Jason. I remember hiding my eyes back when VHS movies had the "And now our feature presentation..." intro. The opening credits to my favorite television series of all time, 'Tales From the Crypt' *still* gives me the heebie jeebies, but in a fun and fantastical way. I think the over the top blood and guts gore is outrageously fun, but I also appreciate things that evoke dread, tension, mystery, and suspense. That's the thing I love about the horror genre, the sheer variety it encompasses. You have everything from more family friendly fare like "The Monster Squad", to hardcore exploitation stuff like "Cannibal Ferox" and the aforementioned "Faces of Death". I like to think I'm pretty well versed in the genre and it's sub-genres, but I promise, I'm not pretentious about it. I'm not one of these that give the same ol' clichés when they write a list. I'm not one to go on about the cinematography of Fulci or the subliminal genius of "The Shining". Great movies in their own right, but I go more for the movies I actually enjoy, movies that I feel a more personal connection with. I'm an unabashed fan of the endless sequels of the big franchises. I'll be first in line to see Friday the 13th Part 20 if they ever make it that far. No shame. Now remember, these are my *favorites*, not necessarily the films that I consider to be the best technically. So, here's my list of my Top 10 favorite horror movies of all time, in no particular order, so here goes:
1. Hellbound: Hellraiser II
If I were putting them in order, my heart tells me would have to be my number 1, so I'll start with it. What Hellraiser is today, which is at it part 9 or 10 I believe, is certainly not what it started out as. The origin of the story was quite deep and involved, especially for a time when most horror movies were all about little story and more about gore, nudity, and creative kills. Hellraiser was more about the concepts of pain and pleasure, what the heart wants versus what the body wants. There's an insanely detailed mythos about Hell, it's hierarchy, how it operates. Most go so far as to say that the first Hellraiser film is more a family drama more than it is horror, and I'd agree to an extent. It's about a family that would feel right at home in the most dramatic of soap operas. You have the married couple who are having a rocky relationship, daughter and stepmother don't get along, stepmother had relationship with her husband's brother, all bad, but not generally the stuff horror movies are made of. Frank, the brother in question, was an explorer of the furthest reaches. He found a puzzle box that, when solved, summoned a group of S&M-type demons that would do the most horrid, painful things to you, then take you to hell. The first one ended with the Cenobites basically killing everyone but Kirsty, the daughter, and her solving the puzzle to send them back to hell. This one picks up shortly after, Kirsty awakened in a hospital after the events of the first one. A Doctor, Dr. Chanard, takes a particular interest in her and the box, and becomes obsessed, trying to figure out the why's and how's. He resurrects Julia, Kirsty's beloved stepmom, and she is willing to introduce him to the pain and pleasures of solving the box. He uses Tiffany, a mysterious mute patient of his that coincidentally loves to solve puzzles. She unknowingly brings upon Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobites, but as Pinhead said, "it is not hands that call us; it is desire." So for the rest of the movie, these various characters are stuck in the various versions or stages of Hell, either seeking what they want, or trying to escape. Many will argue that the first is a better movie, and it might be. But Hellbound had a much larger impact on me. It delved much deeper into the overall mythos, and I found most of it to be more interesting than the dramatic family squabbles of the first, as interesting as it was. Every character is way more fleshed out, no pun intended, and is just a bonkers movie. My favorite of the series. Also, I'd be wrong not to mention the incredible score by Christopher Young.
2. Night of the Living Dead
(Tom Savini 1990 remake) - In 2015, zombies are seemingly beginning to be played out. In what started with George A. Romero's classic black and white "Night of the Living Dead" in 1968, we've seen this sub-genre explode with everything from Brad Pitt summer blockbusters (World War Z) to the most popular show on television, 'The Walking Dead'. My love for zombies started when I was 4 years old, though, with Tom Savini's remake of "NotLD" in 1990. If you don't know who Tom Savini is, give me your nerd card back. He is the godfather of gore, and responsible for some of the best practical special effects ever done. This was obviously a progression from his working on the original "Dawn of the Dead", which you might see pop up again. It's the simplest of stories, a group of people holed up inside of a house, out in the middle of nowhere, trying to survive the undead. While the plot is simple, this movie follows the tradition of Romero's subtext and how when you get a group people together, it's just as difficult dealing with the zombies on the outside, as it is dealing with the things on the inside, such as racism, sexism, class inequality, etc. Obviously, the biggest difference between this and the original is the gore. There's really no gore in the original, but this being Tom Savini, there's plenty of it in this one. It has some very creative zombie designs, that in time, have turned out to be very iconic and memorable. The film is a love letter to the genre, with stalwarts such as Tony Todd, Tom Towles, and Bill Moseley as Johnny in the beginning. He was born to utter that line, "they're coming to get you, Barbara!"
3. Pet Sematary
The filmography based on Stephen King's work is divisive, to say the least. While most consider him to be the most genius horror writer of our time, the movies that have been based off his works haven't always been of equal greatness. For every "Cujo" or "Carrie", there's a "Tommyknockers" or "Langoliers". Then you have things that fall in the middle like "It", which the first half, where they're kids, is fantastic, but then it goes downhill when it switches to them as adults, no thanks to John-Boy Walton and some awfully dated creature effects. But even bad Stephen King is *okay* Stephen King. The basic premise of "Pet Sematary" (incorrect spelling intended), is of a feeling of loss that nearly every human has felt; the loss of a pet. Be it a dog, cat, or even a goldfish. It's very common for people to develop a deeper bond with their pet than even other human beings, so losing one is obviously very hard. But what if you could bring them back? It could be possible, due to some magical Indian bural ground. But when they returned, would they be the same? Would they be the same loving, caring animal? Is that a chance worth taking? That's a deeply questionable moral ground, and one, while seemingly unrealistic, you have to think about hypothetically. Now switch the subject from animals to humans. So many times, we hear people, in their grief, wish to have their loved ones back. Is that something you'd do no matter the cost? What if when they came back, it looked like them, but it WASN'T them? This movie is all about that gray area and the results of you taking that chance. The story is simply enough starting out, a picture perfect family buying a new house, a fresh start, and the greatest neighbor in the world, Jud Crandall, played by the super Fred Gwynne. So the family cat, Church, is ran over and killed, but knowing that his daughter will be heart broken, Louis Creed takes a chance and buries the cat at the fabled pet sematary, found in the woods behind their house. Miraculously, Church returns to life, seeingly unscathed. Sure, might hiss and scratch a bit more, but hey. That in itself could be a dark enough story, but then the ultimate tragedy occurs. Their toddler son Gage is hit by a truck and killed, and stricken with grief, Louis can't help but think those dark thoughts: if the cat came back, why couldn't his son? If it worked for an animal, surely it would work for a human? Louis is visited by a ghost of a man he tried to help called Pascow, who got hit (such a recurring theme), and while he looks pretty terrifying, he's really kind of playing an angelic-type of character. He's the conscience, telling the people not to play God, not to mess in that gray area. I'm sure you can imagine the way this plays out. The movie itself became pretty iconic for a few reasons. The Ramones did an original song for the soundtrack. There's the brain-seering image of the scalpel going through Jud's Achilles tendon (!!!), and worst of all, the ONE thing everyone remembers, ZELDA! Never before has a single image or character been burned into my brain and haunted me and scared the crap out of me. Rachel, who is the wife of Louis, tells her husband the stories of how she had an older sister when she was young named Zelda. Zelda was bedridden, pale and pasty, red haired, and had spinal meningitis or the like, and her body was all twisted up and deformed. You can look on any message board or forum online, and when people talk about the scariest things in movies, Zelda is ALWAYS mentioned. They kept her in the back bedroom like a secret, and I wish that was where she stayed. She's forever a part of my mind. Anyway. The film had a pretty unrelated sequel staring Edward Furlong, and it wasn't horrible, but not particularly good. There's been rumors of a remake for a few years now, and while I'd be curious to see another take on it, this is one of the movies whose charms lie partly in it's time and place.
4. Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3
The Dream Warriors - Someone recently asked a group of
fans on Facebook to use one word to describe this movie. My answer was "imagination". By the time this one rolled around, Freddy Krueger was a part of pop culture. The red and green striped sweater, hat, and glove with knives had made him a household name. While certainly a unique spin on the slasher genre, the series was going to need to take a pretty different turn. While most laud the original as a horror masterpiece, I wasn't always such a fan. The idea of someone killing you in your dream and it killing you in reality, dreams are one of the few things that pretty much every human being in the world has in common. And nightmares at that. Freddy was different in that he was an actual character. While a killer, and with an even darker history as a child molester, the character itself had a level of levity, all credit going to Robert Englund obviously. He's been long seen as the "court jester of horror". Whereas Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees never spoke and were more mechanical in their killing nature, Freddy was creative. He laughed and cracked jokes and dispensed of his victims of totally unique and outrageous ways. But again, at the base, he was a killer and child molester, not very funny. The original was more straightforward, the second not so much. It's commonly described as the most subversively homoerotically toned horror movie ever made, but in a hilarious and great way. The writer claims it was unintentional, but I fail to believe that. If you can ever hear the cast and crew talk and laugh about it, please do! So with the 3rd of the series, they could go back to being a bit darker like the 1st, or be even sillier, and they actually went a different direction. Enter Frank Darabont, co-writer, whom you might recognize from writing/directing a few small things like 'The Shawshank Redemption', 'The Green Mile', 'The Mist', and even bringing 'The Walking Dead' to the screen. Heather returns as a therapist, trying to help a rag-tag group of kids that are in a home for troubled kids. Again, in a genre unfortunately famous for one dimensional characters, these kids in this movie are great characters. Each one is totally unique and have personality oozing out. Freddy, of course, starts picking the kids off one by one, but they figure out how to gain power in their dreams, and use their strengths to fend off Freddy. For example, the nerdy one uses his passion of Dungeons And Dragons and turns into a wizard master in his dreams, using his magical powers against Freddy. Kincaid, for example, enjoys weightlifting, so he gains super strength in his dreams. It added so much dimension to these kids, and added such a fantastical element. Most see this as not only a highpoint of the series, but as one of the best horror sequels of all time.
5. Halloween 4/5
There's no denying that "Halloween", for all intents and purposes, created the
horror genre. It took one of the most well known urban legends, the babysitter being stalked, and married it with the idea of the Boogeyman. Looking back on it, the premise is so simple, and the execution even simpler. It's all basically done with shadows, lighting, mood, and music. Little to no gore. I don't think I have to explain this movie. The 2nd was a direct sequel that takes place with Michael coming after his sister in a hospital. A good movie in itself, but most felt subpar to the 1st. Then onto the infamous Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. I really do admire what they were trying to do, their idea being to go in a totally different direction and have each movie be unique, not following the Myers/Shape saga. Had it gone by a different name, I think it would've been an even more successful cult classic. It's bonkers enough to work and be entertaining. But it was seen as a huge flop and it's much maligned. When the time came to do another sequel, they apparently wanted to go back into a more classic approach i.e. more Michael Myers. By this time, Jamie Curtis pretty much was out of the question. So they decided to have Michael go after his niece...Jamie. I included both movies because they tell one long story. I believe 5 was even filmed less than a year after 4. 4 was a much more basic, cat-and-mouse execution, with Michael chasing after Jamie, with her adopted older sister Rachel protecting her. He, of course, is being hunted at the same time by Dr. Loomis, played by Donald Pleasence, who is probably the greatest hero character in horror history. 5 is when they started introducing the more original elements. They believe they killed Michael at the end of 4, but don't they in every one? This is where they tried to take the series in a much more supernatural turn. The focus more on the idea of there being a bloodline, Jamie's psychic connection to her uncle. There was a very controversial move made in killing Rachel very early on, and basically replacing her with a less likeable character as Jamie's protector. The entire ending of this movie is the most intriguing part of the entire series. After they lure Michael back to the original house, Dr. Loomis has set a trap for him, captures him, and essentially beats him into captivity. It leads you to believe that Loomis also dies in doing this, but he finally achieved his goal. Cut to Michael being taken into a jail cell, then you see this mysterious figure dressed in all black, and he breaks into the jail, kills the cops, and frees Michael. Jamie then walks into the police station, then realizes that it will never end. In one sense, they obviously wanted to go into some very interesting places with the series, but at the same time, they really had no idea where. Apparently that ending was created on the fly, with no ultimate direction being thought of. But the idea was apparently to go with this idea of the Cult of Thorn, and that Michael Myers was a form of evil that was being controlled by this murderous cult. As most horror fans know, Halloween 6 was a movie drowned in issues. Dimension now owned the series, it went through several rewrites, studio interference, there's even a very famous Producer's Cut, which uses a lot of different and alternate footage, which once upon a time, was a Holy Grail for horror collectors. Thankfully, it was included in last years Halloween Blu Ray collection, and is definitely an important part of horror history.
6. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter/Friday the 13th Part VII The New Blood
What can be said about this series that hasn't been said? The most infamous slasher series of all time. Jason and his hockey mask are as recognisable as Mickey Mouse at this point. No series has been so demonized, ostracized. Every movie of the franchise was famously censored and/or butchered by the infamous MPAA (not the first time this has happened). So Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Part 4), takes place the day after Part 3, and the premise is literally the same as every other Jason movie, except one thing makes this one different: Corey Feldman is Tommy Jarvis! Jason escapes a hospital after being killed, and there's a group of teenagers having a party in a big house, Jason comes stalking them and kills them off, each in brutal ways. Samantha, the girl that goes skinny dipping, is stabbed from underneath in a raft, in what is probably the most awkward acted death in the series. That's saying a lot. We get Crispin Glover dancing out of his mind, then stabbed in the hand with a wine cork then hit in the face with a meat cleaver. Tommy Jarvis is a kid that's a neighbor, and he's the coolest kid. He's a super nerd, he loves video games, and his favorite hobby is creating special effects, latex masks, etc. This plays into how he helps defeat Jason, and again, Jason has an awesome "death". This is the famous one where he gets stabbed in the face with a machete and slides down it. Lets skip ahead about 3 movies to Part 7: The New Blood. 5 and 6 weren't bad by any means, just not as original. In 7, we're introduced to a young Tina, a little girl who inadvertently kills her drunken father via her psychic powers. Yes. Flash forward to her older, she's suffering from these psychic fits, to the point of being dangerous. A manipulative therapist, same guy as Bernie from 'Weekend at Bernie's', takes her home as a form of therapy, and Jason shows up. The rest of the movie is par for the course, doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. It's Jason violently murdering sexually active teenagers. But this time, he has a psychic fighting him. Probably sounds stupid, but it was pretty awesome seeing Jason having a formidable opponent. True, the series was known for it's awesome "final girls", but they never really *fought* Jason. Tina actually took him head on, using has psychic powers to electrocute him, burn him, tie him up, shoot him with nails. Ultimately, her powers are no match and the ghost (???) of her dad rises up from Crystal Lake, throws a chain around Jason and sinks him to the bottom. The director, John Carl Buechler has famously came out and talked about how he was totally overridden in creative decisions by associate producers, not being able to make the movie he wanted to make. Then, the movie got butchered by the ratings board. If there ever was a movie that would've been helped by a director's cut, this was it. Buechler is a special effects wiz, and he'd had some brutal and gory special effects rigged up, but had to cut almost all of it, in order to get released. We will never see it, unfortunately.
7. Dawn of the Dead
While not technically a direct sequel, per se, it takes place in the Romero world, and pushes the same themes to a higher degree. The plot can be as easily explained as saying this is a movie about a group of survivors, during the zombie outbreak, that take up shelter in a shopping mall. There are no convoluted plots, nothing about a virus, just people learning to live a new life under all new circumstances. Romero talks about how the underlying theme in this particular movie is consumerism, and when you see a horde of zombies, walking and limping in droves to the mall, they represent us and how we blindly just flock to things. We shut our brains off and walk around a mall, literally like a zombie. But you must realize how far ahead of his time this idea was. When the movie was made, big shopping malls weren't a widespread phenomenon. Some would say there are slow parts once the group gets settled into life in the mall, because some time is spent in watching them carry on in their mundane daily routines. But again, that's part of the parody. It's kind of ironic because the zombies pose no real threat. They slog around very slowly, very weak. It gets interesting when they're invaded by a biker gang, though. The real enemies are people, not the zombies. The bikers wreck the mall and cause quite a bit of chaos, basically undoing everything our group had worked hard on. There are a few ideas that we can all relate to here. One, we've all imagined what it would be like to be locked up in a mall, given complete access to everything. What would you do? Spend your days in the arcade? Shoot targets at a sporting goods store? We do that vicariously through these guys. Second, I think some of us have had some thought where we think fighting zombies would contain an element of fun. They're slow, plodding, pose no real threat unless you screw up and don't pay attention. Here, we see people hit zombies in the face with pies, spray them with water bottles, push them over into water fountains. Sounds like a good time to me. And as far as zombies in shopping malls go, have you ever been Christmas shopping, or even shopping on Black Friday? My point exactly.
8. The Exorcist
This is the safest, most conventional pick on my list. It's one of those cliched answers that you see on everyone's list. But for good reason. Probably the single most infamously terrifying movie to the majority of people in the USA. I think religion is often times the most intensely debated topic amongst society, and everyone has a unique view on it. You never find two people that completely agree 100% on everything. But one of the most interesting, in my mind, is the topic of demonic possession. Is it real? Is it an act? A trick of the mind? Something truly spiritual or otherworldly? There's potential evidence supporting your view, whatever that may be. The Catholic church is famously tight-lipped on the issue, yet it's confirmed they still perform exorcisms to this day. The movie is based off of a real situation of a boy in the New England area, of similar age. The part about it being about a little girl who's mom is a famous actress is fictional, and most of the things in the movie are exaggerated for effect. But the fact that it's even in the realm of possibility that this could happen is terrifying. Having your body invaded by a violent and evil force, you having no say or control over it. And you're not just talking about any evil force, you're talking about the Devil. Do I think the kid really spit up the pea soup vomit? Nah. Do I think the bed was floating in the air? No. Masturbation with a cross? Jeez, I hope not. This movie was released in 1973, and I've always heard tales of people watching this movie and passing out in horror and shock. Screenings where the ambulance had to be present. People running out of the theater. What a glorious time that would've been to be alive...
9. Event Horizon
I really tried to stray away from movies that mix genres, as I wanted to keep
my choices pretty much straight up horror, and some could argue that 'Event Horizon' could fall pretty far over into the sci-fi genre, but when it comes down to it, it's pretty much a haunted house movie that takes place on a space ship....in space. This movie came out in '97, so at the ripe age of 11, I felt like a pro. At that point, I'd seen them all and pretty much no new movies creeped me out or even made me think twice. And I was wrong. After watching this movie, I honestly did not sleep well for weeks. If you remember in the opening credits, Sam Neill's character was having a nightmare, and the nightmare ends as the camera slowly creeps up on this floating carcass, in the dark, and as he flips forward, you see he has no eyes, and he's screaming, then cut to Sam Neill awakening. You know how in the dark, your eyes plays tricks on you and you see things that aren't there? I swear, for weeks, I'd lay in bed, look up, and see that guy floating around. And to be honest, that really isn't one of the more graphic, disturbing scenes in the movie.The story is pretty simple, a ship has essentially gone through a black hole and ended up in Hell on the other side. But what did it bring back, and what happened to the crew? Our group of rescuers, including a great cast with Laurence Fishbourne and Sean Pertwee, go on and search and rescue mission after communication is made with the ship. With glimpses of a Hell that would make Cliver Baker sick to his stomach, a body hung up over a surgery table, having been eviscerated, a guy tearing his own eyeballs out (because you don't need eyes to see where they're going), and scenes of a cannibalistic orgy that will make you avert your eyes, you can definitely see why I mark this one horror over sci-fi. It's pretty much the only decent movie that Paul W.S. Anderson ever wrote and directed, which is a shame. The crew has made it well known that tons of gore footage was filmed but had to be cut out by the MPAA (bastards!), which I understand was lost or unsalvageable. So we'll never see an unrated director's cut, but hey, it could be worse. He *did* make 'Resident Evil'.
10. Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth
I feel like I kinda cheated with this choice because with a couple of the other franchises, I split my vote and picked 2 from each series, but the Hellraiser series has always held such a special place in my heart, especially the aforementioned Hellbound, and the next one, Hellraiser 3. While the first 2 were very similar in tone and basically told one story arc, this one took a complete left turn and turned Pinhead into an almost Freddy-like slasher that probably talked way too much, laughed maniacally, and seemingly became a mindless killer. That pretty much went against who Pinhead was and the entire mythology of Hellraiser, but for some reason, it always worked for me. A lot of people loved the mystery of the Cenobites, Pinhead in particular. You didn't really know who or what they were, why they did what they did, but I was always drawn to the character, so for me, the more Pinhead the better, even if he was cracking jokes. JP, a young club owner purchases the Pillar of Souls from the end of Hellbound, which he assumes is nothing more than a statue, a work of art. He soon figures out that if the statue is "fed", it's bringing Pinhead to life. Meanwhile, Joey, a local reporter, is on assignment at a hospital, and a man is rushed in with chains attached to him. You don't have to be a genius to figure out where those came from. So Joey goes on a hunt to find out what this was about, and runs into a girl that dated JP, and she's actually in possession of the Box from the statue. This sets Joey on a course that goes into detail about the man that became Pinhead, and leads her face to face with Pinhead and his new group of Cenobites. I personally enjoyed seeing the exposition, and it gave the excellent Doug Bradley a chance to expand the character. A lot of people see this movie as the one that started the downhill slide for the franchise, but it's just one of those movies that connected with me on a special level early in my life. I mean, at least it was written to be a Hellraiser movie, and not some random thriller with a few flashes of Pinhead inserted in. I'm looking at you Hellseeker, Inferno, Deader, Hellworld, etc.