So I frequently get asked what my top 10 favorite lists are, you know what I’m talking about. Some friend comes up and asks you ‘Say Keith, what are your top 10 favorite samurai films?’ or something equally crazy like that. So I decided that in honor of Halloween and all things that go bump in the night, I should do my top 10 list of horror films the thought being that when Christmas rolls around I can do my top 10 favorite Christmas related movies.
Horror films are often subjective; my personal take on them has been summed up in recent reviews for the ‘Tall Man’ in that I think that horror films have lost their way. Gone are the days of good old fashioned scary films that created atmosphere and left you watching the shadowed corners of the room in the aftermath of the movie. These days we get ‘Hostel’, Saw 1 thru infinity and whatever other gore-fest the studios are putting out to get your hard earned money.
But let’s be honest here, it’s easy to gross someone out. Everyone has a breaking point when it comes to being sickened by something and while I’ve heard the argument that horror films desensitize people to violence, that tends to be true only if they were mentally deficient to begin with. It doesn’t matter how many horror films I’ve watched over the years; the sight of someone actually being or having been hurt still causes me anguish. So the question becomes why do we watch horror films, what makes us want to be scared even if it’s only for a little while?
Personally I think that it’s the adrenaline rush that comes with the suspension of disbelief and the transubstantiation of one’s self into the movie. When a movie, any movie, is done well you’re transported from your mundane life into another world and for just a little while you forget about the bills, problems at work or the 3 screaming kids you left at home with the sitter who is eating your food, using your internet and running up your phone bill talking to her boyfriend in Kansas. Horror films do the same thing but at the same time they provide a roller coaster like scare on top of everything else.
So let’s get down to it…in no real order here are the first 5, with the other 5 to follow next week…
Salem’s Lot (The original): I’m not a huge vampire fan, I think that particular bit of horror genre has been mined to death by the ‘tween’ or niche fans. At this point I’m not sure who is worse, the rabid ‘Twilight’ fans or the diehard ‘Interview with a Vampire’ fans so when I talk about vampires in movies I want them of the ‘non-sparkly’ looking variety like the ugly sucker in Salem’s Lot. Based on the venerable Stephen King novel, Salem’s Lot is essentially ‘Dracula’ set in a small New England town. Is there a lot of blood and gore? No, this movie was actually made for television back in 1978 and has little to no gore whatsoever. Is it scary? Just ask my wife, who to this day refuses to watch it because of the flying vampire children in the movie. It’s creepy and atmospheric in all the right ways, choosing to go a different route with the Barlow character (the vampire) rather than the standard European ‘Dracula’ character that King used in the book.
Darkness Falls: This movie doesn’t make much sense in that it uses the ‘tooth fairy’ as the antagonist and that might be the reason this movie never spawned a sequel. Set in the town of Darkness Falls, Massachusetts the legend of the hideously disfigured but murdered Matilda Dixon, a kindly old spinster who gave kids coins for their teeth, has come back to get vengeance on the town that murdered her and buried the truth. I know what you’re saying, the ‘Tooth Fairy’, really? And I agree but this movie sets up the mythology of the character in a unique way and lets her loose on the world. Is it a great movie? Not really, but it’s a good diversion from cable television and will certainly make you think twice about walking through a darkened hospital stairwell again….
Night of the Living Dead (original or remake): When it comes to movies about the zombie apocalypse accept no substitutes. I’m okay with running screaming zombies, but the original Night of the Living Dead is a classic that has been scaring people for 40 years. It’s all about a group of people trapped in a remote farm house as Zombies walk the earth hungering for human flesh. This movie sets the bar for zombie films with the special effects being pretty good for something made pre-CGI. The remake has even better special effects improving on the character of Barbara while changing a couple of things from the original movie. Are they gory? Oh yeah, no doubt about it. Is it scary? Not so much, but it certainly creepy enough to make you not want to turn the lights off.
Evil Dead: No list of horror films is complete without the mention (honorable or otherwise) of Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead’. For those who might not be familiar with the name Sam Raimi, he is the director who gave us such films as ‘Darkman’, ‘For love of the Game’ and the ‘Spider-Man’ movies. Evil Dead was the first real movie he made and introduced us the acting talents of a very young ‘Bruce Campbell’. The movie follows a group of college students who go to a rural cabin in the woods and who inadvertently summon a demon that sets about terrorizing and murdering them. Is it gore? Oh yeah, this is not a movie for the faint of heart. Is it scary? Absolutely, this is the movie that gave us the patented Raimi ‘demon-cam’ (the camera chasing the victim through the woods, cabin and into a car…)as well as the sense of humor that ranges from the ‘Three Stooges’ to the down right sick.
An American Werewolf in London: Filmed in 1981 this movie was filmed well before the advent of CGI with practical effects and make up. The movie, to this day, holds up well despite being filmed all those years ago. The story is a simple one, two American college students backpacking through the countryside of England have an encounter with a werewolf that leaves one of them dead and the other transformed into a beast. Director John Landis uses a heavy mix of comedy and horror to bring this tale to life and when you’re not cringing behind a couch cushion you’re laughing out loud at some of the things that happen or get said. Is it gory? You can’t have a werewolf movie without some gore, but it serves the story and helps scare the audience.