(Thanks to Huffington Post and The Boombox…)
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A movie so fucking scary that I’ve never seen it. Yeah, that’s right: I’ve never seen it…and I never will. I don’t have to: the COMMERICALS for the damn thing scared me so much that I would actually run away from the TV, crying and plugging my ears with my fingers as I sang some horrible song to block out the sounds from that goddamn ad. I still remember the paintings where you could see someone’s eyes moving around behind them…and my palms just started sweating as I wrote that, even four decades later. For all I know, the movie could be a streaming pile of Cthulhu crap…but any film whose commercial can scare the holiest of shits out of me has to have something going for it.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Believe it or not, there actually was a time when Hollywood wasn’t squeezing the life out of every holiday in existence to make a quick buck off its horror potential. The image of a killer dressed at Santa Claus is disturbing all by itself; the graininess of the film and the style of the murders just elevates it another ten levels. I’ve seen other horror movies over the years use the Santa image so it’s kinda’ lost its “shock value”…but this film will still force you to give that “mall-Santa” in your town a second-look.
BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)
I always though Oliver Reed would’ve been an interesting lead for THE SHINING, but I digress… All you have to do is look at that cast and you know the film’s going to be intense. It’s one of those films where you don’t really like any of the characters, but you can’t help wanting to know how it’s all going to end (and I wasn’t really rooting for a “happy ending,” either). Really disturbing scene involving a window and some fingers. Ouch.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)
Found-footage before found-footage was cool…and I hope Eli Roth writes a royalty check to these people for every aspect of his career. Keep reminding yourself that it’s not real…that it’s just a movie. You know that expression, “no good deed goes unpunished”? Yeah…it’s like that. Only a helluva’-lot worse.
I was always a fan of the type of comics that EC Comics used to put out in the 1950’s, and this film shows that I wasn’t alone. Granted…Stephen King should definitely NOT quit his day job, but you’ll never look at birthday cakes, beach tides, grass, old crates and bugs the same way ever again. “Where’s my cake, Bedelia?!?” Yeah…creepy shit.
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
Right off-the-bat, I gave the producers credit for trying to go in a different direction after two Michael Myers/HALLOWEEN movies. Their plan was probably a little ahead of its time and would’ve worked better today on a television network like Showtime, HBO or AMC: each movie would tell a completely different story, with the only linking device between them being the Halloween holiday. That didn’t last long. While it has its faults, the blending of witchcraft, horror and social commentary was pretty interesting. The plan involving the masks was pretty original, and the non-ending still disturbs me when I think of what would’ve happened if that last television station didn’t believe his phone call. Excuse me for a second while I lift-up my feet…just to be safe…
HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988)
This is one of those “exception-to-the-rule” movies because of how good of a sequel it was with respect to making the first movie look better. No disrespect to the first movie, but I felt like its purpose was the same as BATMAN BEGINS: setting a sweet set for the second movie’s spike. The tone and visuals were creepier, the acting was better (best performance by Doug Bradley throughout the entire series) and could’ve/should’ve been a fine ending to the story. The “mattress/razor” scene is as disturbing today as when I first saw it, and Lovecraft fans will appreciate the look and feel of the locations and the film itself.
HIGH TENSION (2003)
Didn’t see it coming…and I should’ve. Not a lot of movies I can say that about, especially over the past ten years or so. A “female empowerment” movie in so many layered, twisted ways…don’t let anyone spoil it for you.
HOME MOVIE (2008)
I have a confession: I fucking LOVE “found-footage” horror. When done right, it’s a sub-genre that never has to get old; but it’s not easy. Nothing ruins the experience more than when the “footage” looks too “clean';” that it could never have been shot by a “regular person;” that the actors look like they’re acting; or the “back-story” isn’t well developed, with a concentration on details that makes us believe what’s taking place. This movie avoided all of those pitfalls, giving us “found footage” that actually looks like real home movies; and even though it stars an actor most of you will know from other genre work, the story’s build-up made me forget about that very quickly as it pulled me in. And you’ll be introduced to two of the more “interesting” children you’ll see in a horror movie…
MULBERRY ST. (2007)
Zombie movies are a dime-a-dozen, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t do an interesting take on the genre. MULBERRY ST. accomplishes a lot with very little, relying on a gritty, raw cast and sharp script to convey the growing horror. This is the first horror movie set in NYC that actually looks and feels like it’s set in NYC and not Hollywood’s version of NYC (I hate you, F-13th: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN); and if you needed another reason to hate our lovely little rodent friends, you’ll find it here…
NIGHT GALLERY (Episode: "Green Fingers"-1972)
I was always a big Rod Serling fan, but I could never get into THE TWILIGHT ZONE. For me, NIGHT GALLERY was his crowning achievement even though it took a long time for the show to be given the respect it deserves. The basic story is pretty simple: old woman who loves gardening refuses to sell her home to an evil, greedy businessman looking to build a development there; evil, greedy businessman plans on forcing her out to get the land by any means necessary. Bloody hijinks ensue… Elsa Lanchester’s portrayal of “Lydia Bowen” is masterfully tragic and disturbing, and worth repeated viewing (WEIRD FACT: While researching the show, I discovered that Lanchester also starred in horror-movie-bane-of-my-existence: ARNOLD).
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)
Of all the things I love about John Carpenter as a director, this one sticks-out the most: the man could shoot your family picnic on a Betamax camera on a Saturday afternoon with no sound…and STILL end-up making it look like it had a budget of $10 million+. You know all of his huge hits and beautiful failures but this little gem usually gets lost in most Carpenter-themed discussions; which is unfortunate because I think it shows Carpenter in a very experimental stage of his career. A wonderfully over-the-top-yet-needed performance by Donald Pleasence (“Dr. Loomis” in HALLOWEEN) as a priest tops-off a disturbing film that begs additional viewings to really appreciate what it has to offer.
Not to be confused with the Christopher Walken/fallen angels nonsense, PROPHECY is what a monster movie would look like if it was written, produced and directed by a team of militant environmental activists. Toxic chemicals (in this case, mercury) and deforestation are genetically screwing-up the animals in the area; for our purposes, creating a killer mutant bear out for revenge and to have babies. And the only thing standing between all of mankind and these creatures? Robert Foxworth and one of the coolest beards that the 1970’s has ever produced. What sold me on this film? I actually get angry at myself for all the “fake jump moments” that I STILL fall for…never fails.
SESSION 9: (2001)
One of the creepiest, scariest and most disturbing films that’s come out in the past twenty-five years. Won’t even debate this one. SESSION 9 is the David Caruso movie that David Caruso can and should be proud of (JADE? Not so much…) as he’s dramatically removing his sunglasses for the 8,643,271st time. The premise is simple: hazmat clean-up crew brought in to clean out an old mental institution. Knowing that, leave any other assumptions you have about the movie at the door because it’ll throw you for some loops. (WEIRD FACT: If you watch the DVD, turn to the “Extras” where you can watch an entire subplot that was deleted. It changes your entire original view of the film, and it’s one of the few times that deleted scenes are actually worth watching.
Can’t decide whether you like a straight-forward or a “found-footage” horror movie? SINISTER does an excellent job of blending both seamlessly. Ethan Hawke (who knows he’s “slumming” by making movies like this, but a hit is a hit is a hit) leads a very strong cast; who in turn are supported by a solid script and skilled direction from Scott Derrickson. But putting everything else aside, it’s worth seeing simply for this: the films we voyeuristically watch along with Oswalt (Hawke) throughout the film (and you’ll understand later when I emphasize the ENTIRE film) are nightmare-level disturbing with a score of 9/10 on the “watch-through-your-fingers”scale.
A intense, stripped-down horror movie, starring one of the hosts of ABC’s WIPEOUT (just realized that as I was writing this) and Steve Buscemi’s brother in BOARDWALK EMPIRE. The idea of bugs/viruses/parasites getting into us and taking us over has been done before…but NEVER quite like this from a visual standpoint. If you ever read THE HOT ZONE, especially the section where it describes how the Ebola virus tries to physically turn the infected into a large version of itself, then you’ll understand what I’m trying to get at; and the sounds of …”things”…breaking never loses its high cringe factor.
TALES OF THE HAUNTED ("Evil Stalks This House"-1981)
This was one of those “stumbled-upon” movies I caught when I was still a little geek, probably on one of the local Philly stations…they were always a good source for horror (censored, but not always as much as you’d think it would be) for an impressionable young man. A batshit-crazy mix of cults, kids and con men, this movie taught me two things: quarters made in the first-half of the 20th century contained a lot of silver (you’ll see…); and Jack Palance would’ve made a killing acting in today’s horror film market. It does look like it was shot on a camcorder, though…
THE ABANDONED (2006)
My interest in foreign horror movies runs pretty “hot/cold”: I think a lot of the Asian horror scene is overrated, with too great of an emphasis on “looking good” at the expense of a solid, cohesive storyline; but I also believe that Spain, France and Germany have been producing quality films for the past several years. THE ABANDONED doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel (“haunted house/haunted pasts) so much as make it the slickest, smoothest wheel on the road. The Bulgarian filming locations add a sense of inevitable dread to every scene; and while there weren’t a lot of “jump-out-of-your-seat” moments, the anxiety, tension and uneasiness that builds and builds throughout the movie stays with you well after the movie ends.
THE BURNING (1981)
Any movie that promotes itself with a poster showing the killer about ready to use those garden shears in a manner that I’m pretty sure the inventor of the garden shear never intended gets a gold star in my book. Still somewhat lost in FRIDAY THE 13TH’s shadow, you could make the argument that THE BURNING was the movie that established many of the staples we look for in our “teen slasher” movies, from gratuitous T&A shots and bad dialogue to bad “in-the-woods” decision-making and GALLONS of fake blood. Make sure you check out the raft scene. You’re welcome.
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)
Words can’t describe how amazing this film looks almost one hundred years later, so don’t let the “1920” scare you. Instead of gushing about this film in a way that will never properly express how great it is and why you should see it, let me give you an idea of some of the people I believe probably wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for the influence of CALIGARI: Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Roman Polanski and others. Trippy, head-game-y stuff…
THE FOG (1980)
Let me start-off by saying that Selma Blair is no Adrienne Barbeau, so from that alone I won’t even acknowledge that there was a remake in 2005. Another example of Carpenter’s “gold-from-straw” approach to moviemaking, THE FOG benefits from its “dirty” look because it helps immerse you in the world that Carpenter created: it feels like it’s taking place in a small seaside town and not a “clean” Hollywood set. Add to that another fine “scream queen” performance from Jamie Lee Curtis and…Adrienne Barbeau. Hold on…I’m just gonna’ let that simmer for a moment while visions of her in SWAMP THING dance through my head.
THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976)
This is a cheesy movie. Seriously. The only thing cheesier than this movie is Marjoe Gortner’s hair…and that’s saying a lot. The plot is razor-thin, the acting over-the-top and the concept of “logical decision making” takes a holiday (found some white slop oozing-up from the earth? OF COURSE you should mix it in with the food and feed it to your animals!)…so why is it on the list? It’s the way they used the rats, wasps, worms, etc: they filmed them, increased their size on the film and then super-imposed it into the movie itself. Costumes and CGI can be pretty impressive and terrifying, but there’s something to be said keeping things as “real” as possible.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)
I’m glad Wes Craven came on board as the producer for this remake of his original mid-‘70’s…because it makes it feel less sacrilegious to say that this version is a thousand times more terrifying than its predecessor. The premise of both movies is the same: “travelling family breaks down in desert area…something’s out there…mayhem ensues.” But except for the presence of the great Michael Berryman, the original always had this “this-is-a-film” vibe to it, and the costuming of the “family” looked like it came from a bad caveman sketch on HEE-HAW. The remake is “ugly” in all the wrong-but-right ways you need it to be: you don’t doubt for a second that they’re in the desert, fighting for their lives…even as they’re repeatedly slammed by brutality after brutality. Well-rounded characters pushed to the brink of their humanity in an unforgiving environment…when it’s done this well, it’s a new classic.
THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)
I’m not saying that there weren’t “found-footage” movies before THE LAST BROADCAST, but before the first “blair” got “witch’d” or the last “field” got “clover’d” there was this forgotten gem from Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler. A “documentary” detailing the mysterious circumstances surrounding a cable access show’s final broadcast: a live search for “The Jersey Devil” in the New Jersey Pine Barrens that ends in blood and questions. I tripped over this movie one night when IFC was showing it; but because the television guide didn’t list it on the schedule, I had no idea what it was…I thought it was a real documentary. And then the twist. Wow. Had nightmares for five days after seeing it, and it STILL messes with my head.
THE LEGACY (1978)
THE LEGACY is like some weird bastard child of TEN LITTLE INDIANS and ROSEMARY’S BABY, and definitely the best film to ever star Katherine Ross, Sam Elliott, Sam Elliott’s moustache, the narrator from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and the lead singer of The Who. The actors and cinematography make-up for a somewhat weak script, with the latter giving the film a “European horror” look. Some very interesting “kill scenes” in this one…surprised no one’s tried a remake yet considering its premise: dying patriarch gathers people to his estate for the reading of his will, leading to the inevitable “bad stuff” happening.
THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976)
I’m not quite sure what this says about me, but I think Jodie Foster and Martin Sheen were pretty creepy/scary-looking in the ‘70’s. That’s taking nothing away from their respective bodies of work, because I’ll take Clarice Starling and President Bartlett any day of the week (and twice on Sundays)…but they freaked me out. Now imagine her playing a 13-year-old girl living with her “absentee” father and he’s playing the creepy next-door neighbor trying to get close to her any way he can, and you can understand how much this movie fucked with my head. Not your normal viewing for an 8-year-old, I’m pretty sure. Oh…one more thing: the cellar. Don’t forget the cellar.
THE STUFF (1985)
Imagine your favorite snack. For me, that’s tough because I’m kinda’ psycho when it comes to cakes, pies, cookies, candy…you pretty much get the idea. But above them all, I place…THE ULTIMATE SNACK: CHOCOLATE PUDDING PIE!!! It’s like a Hostess fruit pie, but with chocolate pudding instead of fruit filling. Toss that bastard in the fridge to get cold and grab a glass of milk, and I’m one happy fat kid. We all have a snack like that…that “desert island dessert.” Now imagine that snack taking over your mind and body; and eventually eating YOU from the inside, out. That’s THE STUFF, and that’s why it worked for me. The special effects are…”interesting”…in this age of cheap CGI effects, but the dark satire aimed like a laser at America’s consumerism more than makes up for it and elevates the film so a slightly more respectable level. But be warned: you’ll never eat Cool Whip (“hwip”) the same way again.
THE WICKER MAN (1973)
There’s something about the whole “fish-out-of-water” theme that I find particularly disturbing in horror movies, and Edward Woodward’s Sergeant Howie fits that description to a “T”. Sent to a small Scottish island village in search of a missing girl, Sgt. Howie finds his faith…and his very sanity…put to a horrifying test. AND IT HAS CHRISTOPHER-FRIGGIN’-LEE IN IT! You know that things are going to get uglier the longer he stays on that island, but we (like Sgt. Howie) have to know…NEED to know…just what the hell’s going on. Don’t confuse this with that piece of shit Nicholas Cage remake…he should’ve had actual bees unleashed on him for that abortion of a film. Want to see melodramatic screaming done the RIGHT way? Check out the last ten minutes…
TRICK 'R TREAT (2007)
Let me start-off by saying that most holiday-themed movies (and I’m looking at you with this one, HALLOWEEN) actually don’t have a whole helluva’ lot to do with the actual holiday; basically, using the holiday as a “prop” to start the action. The one thing you can definitely say about TRICK ‘R TREAT is that it’s ALL about Halloween. A anthology-with-linking-device movie, this film was released to strong critical praise and early positive buzz from those that saw it but then…nothing. I’m not sure if it was a financial issue with the studio or just a really bad marketing plan, but the movie fell through the cracks upon its initial release but has developed a new life over the past six years as its reputation (and viewership) grew. No shitty pun intended here: go out and treat yourself to this movie.
V/H/S & V/H/S/2 (2012/2013)
I’m breaking a personal rule here by listing these two movies as one entry, but I mean it as a compliment. One of the things that’s impressed me the most about this franchise (so far) is its ability to blend “found-footage” horror and anthology horror in such an effective manner. I enjoyed V/H/S very much, but I really appreciated just how good of a movie it was after the sequel. As a proper sequel should, it builds upon the foundation of the linking device set-up in the original film (searching for a VHS tape amongst VHS tapes) to the point where you need to watch the original again to truly appreciate the things you may have missed the first time. Segments to pay particular attention to: “Second Honeymoon;” “Tuesday the 17th;” “Safe Haven;” and “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”…though ALL the segments get under your skin. A double-feature viewing is strongly encouraged..
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)
“Have you checked the children?”
“Jill, this is sergeant Sacker. Listen to me. We've traced the call... it's coming from inside the house. Now a squad car's coming over there right now, just get out of that house!”
These are lines you may have quoted but never really knew where they came from; or worse, so some remake or sequel-knockoff. Nope…this is the original real-deal. We know that babysitters and the kids they’re watching have been ripe targets for horror for decades now, but this one had an interesting twist: the killer gets away with it. In the beginning of the movie. With about 2/3’s of the film still left. THAT’S when things get really ugly. No matter how old this movie gets, it will ALWAYS withstand time because of its most basic, horrific themes: what good are all of those locks on the doors and windows when the evil is coming from the INSIDE? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! (Sorry…just seemed to fit there…though the laugh in my head is about as intimidating as The Count’s on SEASEME STREET).