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Best Horror for Halloween

by janderson on October 26, 2011

It’s a top ten list. The very thing I don’t like to do, but, it makes a good primer for Halloween viewing. It is my second favorite holiday, after all. There is no particular order to it. Number one doesn’t mean number one, rather the order that they came to mind. So, feel free to disagree, send me a comment and add your own, or just lend support to a fellow horror movie lover.

1. Halloween (1978) – The cinematography alone makes this movie, not only a classic, but, to me, the Citizen Kane of the horror genre. Carpenter masterfully scared the crap out of viewers, for almost half an hour, without a single drop of blood spilled.  The camera shots of Michael Myers stalking his victims, along with the music that Carpenter composed himself, shiver my spine even today, when I already know what’s going to happen. The image of Michael rising up from the floor behind Jamie Lee Curtis is timeless. The sequel, Halloween II, won’t make the list, but it also deserves a look for some of its really creepy moments. I’m a big Carpenter fan, particularly his early years, when his movies didn’t suck. He makes this list a couple of times.

2. The Thing From Another World (1951) – Oldie, but goodie, that won’t disappoint the discerning horror afficionado. Cited by a number of big name directors as an influence for movies of their own, this film serves as a time-capsule, looking backward at the innate fears of yester-year. The thing is plant-like and ravenous. The actors are bravado-filled and almost insouciant, but the plot is scary and the struggle seems real.

3. The Thing (1982) – As was referenced above, Carpenter called The Thing From Another World a major influence, and also called his remake, his best movie. I’m on the fence about that. However, it is an amazing and scary film, one of my all time favorites. Critics and movie-goers initially brushed it off. But, the fact that there is a re-remake now, stands as a poignant statement to the impact of his creation. In 1982, nobody was doing the kind of animatronics and SE gore that The Thing brought to the screen. Seeing a human head sprout legs and skitter off, is scare royalty. Kurt Russell et al, gave great performances, eliciting palpable stress and paranoia that you don’t see in movies, even today. My favorite quote comes from Donald Moffat (Garry) “I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!”

4. Friday the 13th (1980) – The original camp slasher movie. It had it all – a murky back-story, shocking plot twists and creative murder methods. Counselors were stupid and having sex in the woods got you impaled. There is a lot to criticize about it, but it is an original and all time favorite. I also have a theory about a declining algorithm, wherein the franchise got dumber with each sequel. We can discuss that later.

5. The Burning (1981) – Never heard of it? Not surprised. It came out one year after Friday the 13th and bore all of the characteristics of a rip off. Harvey Weinstein may have known that at the time and was trying to ride the camp slasher wave, but he succeeded. There was a drive in theatre in Keokuk, Iowa that my parents used to take us to in the station wagon. My brother and I were supposed to be filled with popcorn and sleeping in the back when the scary movie came on. For this one, I wasn’t. I peeked quietly over the back seat and, it is etched into my brain permanently. The killer in this flick is a groundskeeper, who is severely disfigured and burned by a prank from campers involving gasoline and candles. Tell me why that was ever a good idea. He is released from the mental hospital and does what? Oh, he goes back to the camp to kill everyone in sight with a pair of hedge clippers. The film holds the tension well, offers some horrific scenes, such as a raft of canoes filled with chopped up body parts, and gives viewers some scream time with incredibly young stars, such as Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander and that dopey kid from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

6. Forbidden Planet (1956) – Leslie Nielson was not always a comic actor. He served well as the captain of this errant space ship, looking for a new beginning. The ghosts of Mars are in full effect in this sci-fi twister that involves a quirky professor, a fetching young daughter and an invisible monster lusting blood from the new arrivals. Creepy, funny and just plain entertaining.

7. Masque of the Red Death (1964) – Vincent Price doing anything is entertaining. Vincent Price doing Edgar Allen Poe is genius. Price actually did a number of films adapted from Poe stories, The Pit and The Pendulumand The Fall of The House of Usher. His turns in The Fly and House of Wax alone should get him a spot on this list. But, his maniacal and self absorbed character in this movie turns him from creepy to stellar creepy. When the clock rings true and the plague reaches the party goers, the lament of Price is priceless. I love this film for a number of reasons, most of which involve my love of Poe and the coming undone that always happens in his stories. He died in a gutter in Baltimore, laying bare his soul in the same way that he laid bare the souls of his characters.

8. Jaws (1975) – The eternal appeal of this movie lies in the characters. The shark is a real character, acting out its desires and rages. Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss are real people, struggling together for the return of normalcy and balance to the sea of knowledge. Robert Shaw (Quint) is a real captain, searching for his own revenge against the world that stole his mates back on that cold voyage to deliver the bomb. The story is real, at least, from the history of the USS Indianapolis, from the shark attacks that happened in New Jersey forty years ago. What I love about Steven Spielberg’s early movies is the juxtaposition (damn college words) of scary and humorous, real and suspension of disbelief. Jaws has really scary moments, but it equally has moments of hopefulness and comedy. He can switch from funny to scary at a moment’s notice and that is something I appreciate.

9. Poltergeist (1982) – “We’ll go to Pizza Hut” Jo Beth Williams says as she slides her daughter, in a football helmet across the kitchen floor. It turns from bad to worse in this ghost story that gives all suburban families a pause, as they move in to new digs, built just for them. As in the last entry, Spielberg sets us up in the most normal of scenarios and then turns them upside down. I remember watching this movie for the first time as a kid and, thinking, I know those people. That’s the genius of it all. Skeletons and phantoms hovering over your head, possibly dragging you across the floor, are not something to be trifled with.

10. Night of The Living Dead – George Romero made Halloween scary. There is no doubt about it. The original film is still the scariest, creepiest and the gruesomest that was ever played. Unfortunately for George, I figured out how to survive the zombie apocalypse. They don’t have endothermic heating systems. I’m going north, to Canada, George. I’m going to watch them freeze solid and then open a restaurant.

There are a number of other movies I wanted to include. Hitchcock got a bad shaft, for instance. The original My bloody Valentine seemed appropriate, but unable to stand up to the rest. Maybe there’s room for another list next year.

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