Someone Else’s List of the Top 25 Horror Movies of All Time (and My Responses)
Part Three: 9 thru 1
It’s been fun looking down from my ivory tower, passing judgment on those who judged before me, wandering down Memory Lane, (and playing Mr. Know It All). My intentions, though, are admirable I assure you; not for a sense of superiority, but to force the conventional dialogue on Horror Movies through a more discriminating lens. Blood and guts alone do not define a Horror movie. Nor ghosts or slashers or creatures either. Horror is coming face to face with some universal truth we might otherwise choose to ignore. Horror is coming to terms with mortality and the existence of real evil. Horror is imagining yourself in an unimaginable situation. Horror is a jack-hammer epiphany that rocks the very foundation of reality. Horror is a dark mirror that stirs inner demons, distorting a once familiar world-view. Horror puts your back against the wall. Confronting Horror is both thrilling and agonizing, like confronting the cruelest realities of human nature. But in the end, most Horror offers it’s viewers two choices: Give in to the blackness, close your eyes and clench your teeth as you fall into the Abyss, or—step up to the plate, overcome your fears, and face whatever Monsters seeks to eat you.
Below are 9 extremely influential and acclaimed Horror movies. High art or not, these are the heavy-hitters. These are films that set presidents and very well may have changed the course of cinematic history. Future generations will decide if all of this attention and conjecture regarding Horror movies was worthy of serious consideration. I’m most interested, however, in what movies will emerge in the meantime to challenge these Titans, and perhaps change very definition of “Horror”. If you’re anything like me, you’re excited to see what the next 20 years will bring. In my opinion, Horror can only get better from here.
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: At the risk of losing all of my street-cred, I admit I’ve never seen this one. I know, right! How can I be a Horror Movie aficionado without having seen the original TCM? And why the hell not? Watching the TCM is something I’ve always planned on doing, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. Simple as that. Also, TCM is such a famous movie, I feel like I’ve already seen it. I know all about that noisy chainsaw, the meat hooks in the basement, the lone female survivor who almost escapes only to be dragged back into a house of horrors time and time again. I even know behind the scenes stories about how the cast had to halt filming frequently—to vomit. I’ve seen the remake. I enjoyed the remake. So is there any reason I should watch the original when I already know what I need to know? You tell me.
8. Rosemary’s Baby: The best thing about Rosemary’s Baby is the way it manages to creep the hell out of us without a single drop of blood, without gore or violence, and without special effects. Watchin Mia Farrow eating raw chicken organs is pretty gross, but scenes like this hardly drive the film. Rosemary’s Baby makes you feel claustrophobic and isolated—even in densely populated Manhattan. Even at its climax, we never get to see Rosemary’s Devil-child. Mia’s emotional reaction, that look of utter shock and disbelieve, is what really hit us in the gut. Oh yeah, and that was famous Satanist Anton Levay in a cameo as the Devil. Some people won’t give this film any consideration at all because it’s directed by Roman Polanski and that’s their prerogative.
7. Bride of Frankenstein: I haven’t seen this movie because I’m not eighty years old. I understand that this film was released during the apex of “Classic” monster movies, therefore earning a footnote in history. In the book Frankenstein (which I read in Jr. High), the Dr. assembles but refuses to animate a female companion, thus sealing the murderous vendetta between the creator and his creation. So even though she never existed in Mary Shelley’s vision, the Bride of Frankenstein is nonetheless an iconic image of Horror: The huge shock of black hair with white skunk stripe, her dead white skin and deep-set sockets, her stitches, that look of absolute horror and confusion on her face… and that scream. BOF, in effect, blames female rejection (as opposed to parental abandonment) for inspiring the Monster’s wrath, simplifying a more complex issue.
6. The Shining: Even if this is the obligatory nod to a movie based on a Stephen King novel, The Shining is nonetheless very deserving of honor. I got creeped out as soon as Danny started talking about the boy who lives in my mouth. “Good morning Mrs. Torrance.” And don’t get me started on those little twin girls. But the supernatural element is not what’s most horrific, rather Jack Nicholson’s decent into insanity is what really unnerves us. Which begs the question: If The Shining’s success is based on Mad Jack’s epic performance, would this film be a classic had the role been played by someone else?
5. Silence of the Lambs: As a multiple Oscar winner, Silence of the Lambs had a great legitimizing effect on the Horror genre and no doubt helped many fans “come out of the closet”. Another triumph of SOTL was the portrayal Hannibal Lechter, a murder so insidious he could scare you to death (literally) from behind prison walls. High intelligence is usually seen as a good indicator of moral character, yet Lechter’s brilliance is the knife he stabs you with. And even at his most deranged, Lecture maintains a sense of poise and… class actually (more traits unusual to most movie predators). Lechter chokes without hands, bites without teeth, and commits atrocity will elegance. Lechter will cut off your face and wear it as a mask. And the other bad guy of SOTL, Buffalo Bill, is no-one to shake a stick at either. Before this movie, I bet most women didn’t even know it was possible for a man to tuck his gentiles away like that. “Now it puts the lotion in the basket or it gets the hose again!”
4. Alien: Once again, some purist probably got up on his soap-box and said, “No matter how great the franchise it spawns, the first is always the best.” Bullshit! Don’t get me wrong, Alien is a great movie on many levels and Sigourney Weaver’s performance is stellar. But who could possible argue that Alien isn’t completely eclipsed by its sequel: Aliens? Superior in every aspect, one need not even see Alien to fully enjoy Aliens. The creatures are scarier, the characters are fully developed, and the special effects kick ass. Didn’t Sigourney Weaver get nominated for an Oscar for her reprise of Ripley? With an excellent story and nonstop action, Aliens is a movie that appeals to a great number of non-Horror fans as well. And I always chuckle when I recall Bill Paxton whining, “Game over, man. Game over!” But the best line comes when Momma Bear Ripley faces off against the Queen Bee Alien to protect her cub: “Get away from her you bitch!” In context: Poetry.
3. Jaws: Jaws-shmas. My biggest beef with Jaws, and those who heap praise upon it, is that they act like this film invented fear of water. Like the Ocean wasn’t scary or ominous on a primal level until Speilberg came along with a mechanical rubber shark. Besides sharks, there are millions of things to be afraid of in or on the water, including but not limited to: Killer whales, giant squid, alligators, crocodiles, man-o-war jellyfish, sting rays, electric eels, barracudas, Pirates, Ghost Ships, Bermuda Triangles, underwater aliens, Loch Ness Monsters, and Creatures from Black Lagoons. True, I can hardly imagine anything scarier than being left adrift on a murky ocean, but not because I may be eaten alive by a Great White, but because I’d probably starve or drown—either death preceded by prolonged agony. I should admit, however, that I have taken the Universal Studio’s tour in Studio City and, from close up, Jaws looks even less realistic and completely unintimidating. And I’m not saying that large sharks aren’t scary enough for their own Horror movie; the indie flick Open Water is better than the original Jaws plus all its sequels put together. Fact. My favorite maritime-themed Horror film? Below: A ghost story that takes place during WWII—on a submarine. Now that’s scary!
2. Psycho: Hitchcock is a master story teller with a truly twisted mind. But unfortunately, by the time I was aware of a movie called Psycho, I already knew two things: The shower scene is infamous, and Norman Bates is also his “Mother”. So I never experienced this film as Hitchcock intended and when I actually did see Psycho, I remember being pretty disappointed. I didn’t even think the shower scene was very good. Perhaps by adolescence, I had already been desensitized by all the gore I’d ingested. I vaguely recall Psycho II & III, which reduced the franchise into little more than a soap opera. I was excited to see the remake in 1998, but I have to agree with everyone else on Earth that a shot-for-shot reboot was a waste of time (the spider crawling out of Mother’s eye-socket was the only improvement). If you ask me, it’s best that Hitchcock is most remembered for his spy thrillers and other superior works of suspense like Rear Window and Vertigo.
1. The Exorcist: Winner by knock-out, The Exorcist reigns supreme for its amazing staying power. Does any other Horror movie from the 1970’s (or any decade) still pack as much power? Not even close. And in a true test of its legacy, the movie was re-released on big screens 25 years later—and it still made entire theaters scream. The Exorcist taps into a dark and primal fear, the idea that your body can be usurped from within. Worse, there seems little protection from demonic possession. Even a sweet well behaved young lady can become an obscenity-spewing beast when the Devil sets his sights. It doesn’t matter if you live a righteous life, or even if you don’t believe in the Devil. The Devil believes in you and if he chooses you—you’re just toast. I first saw The Exorcist when I was 12 and I was scared even before we hit the play button because of the movie’s infamy. And like perfectly hideous cherries-on-top are those five words: “Based on a True Story”. All other Horror movies that revolve around the concept of exorcisms, even good ones like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Exorcism, pale in comparison.
Now, in no particular order, I will name movies that might (or might not) make my personal list of the Top 25 Horror Films of All Time (excluding those already named above): The Decent, A Tale of Two Sisters, The Others, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Dead Snow, Severance, Dying Breed, Lake Mungo, 28 Days Later, The Crazies (2009), From Hell, Book of Shadows, Event Horizon, Deadgirl, The Amityville Horror (1978), Pet Semetary, High Tension, Frontier(s), Se7en, Hostel, Saw, Hellraiser, The Orphanage, The Hole, The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and Rec.
What do you think are some of the Top 25 Horror Movies of All-Time?