By Jeff Dixon
Emotionless mask? Check.
Duel butcher knifes? Check.
Severe mother issues? Check.
Sorry, just finishing up my Halloween checklist for my… costume party. Yeah, costume party, that’s it… Ahem. Anyway, let’s move on.
What, you thought I’d stop after one list? Come on, we’re talking about horror movies here. Horror movies ALWAYS have sequels. Last year’s list of my Top 13 Horror Movies for Halloween (Part Two HERE) was so much fun that I decided to do it all over again. Heaven (or more aptly, Hell) knows I could make a top 500, nay top 1000!!! horror movie list, so coming up with another 13 is no problemo.
My only request is that if you haven’t seen any of the movies on this list, actually go watch them. ‘Tis the season after all. Don’t just peruse the list and think, “Yep, those are some interesting picks.” That helps no one. No, actually go and view these movies. Afterward, put down a comment. Start a discussion. Let’s get this train rolling and talk some horror, people! The only thing we horror fans love just as much as watching horror movies… is talking about horror movies!
Okay, enough jibba jabba. Let’s get to the goods. Using my same criteria of what movies had an actual physical or psychological effect on me personally, here are 13 more wonderful horror choices in no specific order.
Let the Right One In (2008)
This little Swedish film is without measure one of the best crossover genre films of the past decade. It's definitely horror, but it plays on such a deeper dramatic level than you're used to for the genre. This beautiful film is about a cipher boy who befriends a neighbor girl, who turns out to be a vampire, both complicating and enlightening his life. The overall tone and mood, aided by an amazing cold and helpless setting, pulls you into each and every moment like nothing else. In addition, the fact that the disturbing story mainly deals with children is something that most audiences just aren’t used to. And hats off to the child actors because their performances are spot on and gutwrenching. I should also note that the American remake (Let Me In) is actually a rarity in that it really is a well made version. It captures much of the original’s tone and spirit, and is a great movie in its own right. But still, for my money the Swedish original is almost flawless. I may have mentioned this before when I talked about [REC], but one of my favorite things about foreign horror films is that when I don’t recognize any of the actors, it just feels more real. Plus, hearing the foreign language instead of your own just takes you to a different place mentally, giving an authenticity to the horror. Everything about this film just works. It's still bloody and disturbing, but this is also a film that even non-horror people can appreciate. It truly is a modern masterpiece.
“I kick ass for the lord!” Oh man, not only did I quote that line for months, but this entire movie basically took over my life for a few years when it was released. Because no one would carry this film at the time in my good old state of Utah, I had to special order it from Suncoast (remember Suncoast?) Once I had it in my mitts, I made it my personal mission to show it to every single person I knew. It was like my own little rare treasure. For any of you that don’t know, before he was Mr. Lord of the Rings and overall geek sweetheart, Peter Jackson was New Zealand’s twisted king of splatter gore. He made a few gems during these early years, but Dead/Alive is by far his crowning achievement. After a man’s dominating mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey (a joy of stop motion effects), she falls ill and dies, but immediately comes back with a feverish taste for human flesh. From there, this zombie movie goes into overdrive. In fact, this may be the single most bloody and gory film ever made. But it’s also one of the most hilarious. Here, the gore is done for laughs, not screams. All I can say is sit back and enjoy the blood flow. Just be sure and definitely check out the unrated version, which is more than 20 minutes longer than the rated version, almost all of which deals with the incredible climax… And a handheld lawnmower... And a zombie baby in a blender. Yeah, you heard me. But trust me, that baby deserves it. This movie is just so great.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Another necessary selection. Think back to 1991 if you can. Just when it seemed like it would never happen, here was the movie that finally combined the worlds of the serial killer horror film and a mainstream Academy Award winning darling. You thought the two worlds blended together like oil and water, but this genius little flick was able to do the impossible and marry the two. All it took was a pitch perfect screenplay, based on a best selling novel, incredible and top-of-its-class acting, masterful direction, and a million other perfectly lined up components. Easy right? No way, this was a unique, perfect storm that happens once in a lifetime. You might actually be surprised how brutal and terrifying Silence of the Lambs actually is because you initially think of it as a mainstream award winner. But remember, this is a movie that featured a man cutting off and wearing another man’s face, another one that is murdering women in order to sew together a human skin suit, a high-security psychopath wing featuring some of the most disturbing people alive, a jar with a human head in it, an “art piece” featuring a man split wide open and using his own skin as wings, I mean seriously… this flick is jacked up. And honestly, I know he’s pretty much taken on a life of his own, as well holds an eternal place in horror villain-dom, but how incredible was Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector? No one has resonated like that in ages. The super intelligent artist and chef who was both cannibalistic and completely psychopathic is still to this day one of the greatest horror creations ever. Do yourself a favor and re-watch this baby. Remember why it won Best Picture in 1992, was able to spawn numerous sequels and a fantastic-in-it’s-own-regard TV series, and holds a dear place in every horror fan’s bloody heart.
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Okay, let’s go back in time a bit. Of all the Universal classics, the Creature From the Black Lagoon is my all time favorite, not to mention my favorite character design. In today’s day and age, we’re all so jaded now that it’s hard to look through the eyes of someone with a 1950’s mentality, but try. Think about how absolutely creepy this aquatic creature must have been to people back then. There’s a beauty about this movie that is hard to describe. The way the creature itself watches and studies, seemingly appreciating simple beauty instead of just immediately attacking, is quite fascinating to me. In particular, the scene where Julie Adams is swimming on the top of the water, while in the same wide shot the creature is swimming just below her, is both beautiful and haunting. To this day, every time I go swimming, I can’t help but think something might be swimming below me, watching me, mimicking me. Granted I’m not clad in a bikini, so he may not be as mesmerized, but I digress… I had the fantastic experience while I was in college to see an original 3D screening of this film with the old school blue and red glasses. Hopefully some of you can experience that as well. The gorgeous cinematography is made for a third dimension. Put yourself in a 50’s point of you, and enjoy it with the whole family. It’s probably the only one on my list that you’ll be able to.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Like many of the movies I seem to enjoy, this is definitely one of those “dividing” films, where people either LOVE it, or HATE it. The opinions rarely stretch into the middle area. Me, personally, I love this movie. Most people would say it’s more of a disturbing brainmelter than it is horror movie, but to me that’s one and same. What is horror, if not something that gets under your skin and truly makes you feel disturbed? Jacob’s Ladder disturbed me. On the surface it’s about a Vietnam vet trying to put the pieces of his life together, but slowly feels it spinning out of control as he’s haunted by an escalation of disturbing images and flashbacks. But below the surface, it’s about a lot more than that. The surreal images placed throughout are one of a kind, notably the fast-twitching, wobble-head guy haunted my dreams for a year. Then of course there’s the bizarre dancing scene that I still can’t quite get my head around… Was that a tail? What’s it doing? Ugh. In addition to the amazing Tim Robbins, Danny Aiello, and a while slew of other amazing actors, there’s even an extremely young Macaulay Culkin as Tim Robbin’s dead son. Just creepy. Overall it’s a great twisted flick, and easily has one of the single best closing scenes I’ve ever seen in a film, ever. Trust me, this is one film that sticks with you long after the credits roll.
Honestly, I can’t leave Scream out. I just can’t. It’s tempting to not include the powerhouses on these list because everyone’s already seen and heard of them, but Scream deserves a place on every horror list… ever. It is one of the best horror scripts ever written, period. It is clever, sharp, funny & scary (a tough mix) and almost single-handedly brought slasher horror back to the forefront. A key note for me is that every character is well-rounded and interesting. Trust me, that’s not an easy feat, especially since many slashers usually take the easier way out. And even though Deputy Dewey is the crowd favorite, for film school freaks like me, the character of Randy was our idol. This is another film in the category of “see it again” films. I watched it for the 100th time recently and it holds up almost like the first viewing. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson really outdid themselves and served up something new, all while paying homage to numerous slasher films we loved before it. That’s the key. They didn’t make fun of these films, they respected and gave nods and kudos to them. And boy do they know how to open a film… SO great. The sequels were all worth watching, if a bit uneven. But the original really is one of the best of our generation. Now, if you’ll excuse me… I’ll… be… right… back..!
Since most people definitely know about this movie, I’ll tell you my personal connection with it. Growing up I loved Alfred Hitchcock. When I was young, maybe 8 years old, my mom would read books of his short story collections and leave them on the dresser. I would steal them when she wasn’t looking and read in the bathroom, thinking I was being so rebellious. A lot of the stories went over my head, but I still loved the creepy moods and surprising twists that he always provided. Once I found out he had a TV show where he would introduce a 30 minute show, usually based on one of these stories, I was hooked. I had an utter fascination with the man. His cherubic face. His drowning voice. His completely gentle demeanor. How could someone like this create these twisted tales? It wasn’t soon after that I was introduced to Psycho. I remember seeing the special effects show at Universal Studios where they explained all about using chocolate syrup in the shower scene instead of blood (since it showed up better in a B&W film), and how they never once showed the knife actually cut Janet Leigh, but rather that it was all done by clever camera tricks and editing. Before even seeing the film, I was obsessed with the tricks that they used. Once I finally watched Psycho a few years later, with all this knowledge intact, my eyes and brain went into overdrive. I LOVED this movie. It was one that had all the trademark Hitchcock minutiae, as well as one of the most shocking scenes in cinematic history at the time. I still have this poster that I bought as a kid right after that Universal Studios show, and it still wows me to this day. There’s a reason why this movie still holds a place at the top of the list whenever it comes to films (of any genre.) If you haven’t seen this yet, you really need to remedy that immediately. It’s a must watch for anyone who cares about film at all.
High Tension (2003)
Ahh, Haute Tension (or, High Tension, as they renamed it in the states), how can I count the ways I love thee? You twisted, genius, completely sick and wrong flick. First of all, you used one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands in your movie so you already win in my book (Uprising, by Muse.) But this was pretty much the film that set off the incredible new French wave of unspeakably brutal horror films. This takes the slasher genre and ups the ante into the stratosphere. It is so unbelievably violent and disgusting that it was released NC-17 in the states, so keep that in mind (and even gives Re-Animator a run for its money in the disturbing sexual severed head scene category.) Gorehounds can rejoice, but to me, what makes this movie so incredible is right there in the title -- tension. In many horror films there is a certain give-and-take within the structure that ups the tension, then releases it and lets you breathe for a while. It’s this teeter-totter that we’re used to. With High Tension, I would seriously say that you’re allowed to breathe for maybe 5 minutes total. The suspense or tension is constant. It is so thick at times that you are literally ripping the armrests out of your chair. It’s so magnificently crafted that it’s no wonder Alexandre Aja became a horror superstar in the U.S. after this. It’s all on display. Now… I’d be remissed if I didn’t talk about the ending. The ending will divide you down the middle. 50% will love it. 50% will absolutely abhor it. In my opinion, the entire movie up to this point was so perfectly crafted into such a wild ride anyway, that it didn’t even matter to me. I won’t ruin it and let you judge for yourself. But if you are willing to see something seriously brutal and unrelenting, and can hold your breath for a seriously long time, you will love this movie. Prepare yourself.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
This film is in the uber-royalty of no brainers. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a movie that while talked about a lot in horror circles, quite frankly I think it should be talked about even more. This movie is simply amazing. It sticks with you like a gallon of dirty glue. It is a visceral, messed up, shocking, piece of awesome independent filmmaking. And yes, I really do mean independent. The down and dirty approach is part of why it works so well. Real sets, not built ones. Natural lighting for the most part. Just super down & dirty in every way. Most of the time you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie rather than actually experiencing the horrific situations yourself. Plus, it was one of those movies that took certain “commonisms” from films and just threw them aside. Just when you think they wouldn’t show something, they do. Think people in wheelchairs won’t be decimated? Wrong. Screaming live girls hanging on meathooks? Check. Chainsaws? Duh, it’s in the title. Cannibalism? You betcha. And while Leatherface is obviously the villain that is talked about most (a purely evil creation), the entire family is actually disturbing as hell. The dinner scene might be one of the most haunting and disturbing sequences in any horror film ever. Oh, and the ending… So great. Tobe Hooper, bless your damn soul, because in many ways, this movie set the bar. And in many ways, it still hasn’t been surpassed. It truly is a work of twisted genius.
Again, people could make the argument that this isn’t actually a horror movie, but to that I want to slap them in the face. If there is a more disturbing major studio release in the last few decades, please let me know. This is a film about a serial killer that kills using the seven deadly sins. Se7en came out in 1995, and still has yet to be topped in the serial killer department. Plus, it sealed David Fincher’s fate as one of Hollywood’s most impressive directors. Only his 2nd film, he absolutely destroyed it. I have an expression for a sensation that I seldom feel anymore, called a “movie high.” It’s that elated, almost drug-like, feeling you get when you see a movie at the theater that literally just blows you away and leaves you breathless. I left Se7en with a definite “movie high.” Everything about this movie is disturbingly dark and yet somehow beautiful in its darkness at the same time. It relishes the darkness like a church hymn relishes the light. From its opening moments where we are introduced to “Gluttony”, you know immediately that you’re not in for a normal viewing experience. And yet somehow each of the seven deadly sins is equally disturbing. There are no low points. My personal favorite is "Sloth" because of the purely disturbing and amazing nature of it. What makes it even more impressive is the cast they brought along for this messed up ride. And please tell me, is there anything more amazing than the final 20 minutes of this film? I mean, honestly! Kevin Spacey (who was uncredited, btw, which also adds a layer of awesome, considering who he was playing), deserves a lifelong amount of kudos for what he gave us. Bless the darkness this film bathes in. Bless the twisted minds that birthed it. And finally bless the studio heads that actually realized the mass audiences can handle disturbing material like this.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Nothing like some old school Sam Raimi to make the world a better place. Much like Peter Jackson, before he became a big budget blockbuster director, he was directing twisted gorefests for little freaks like me. Before the Spiderman movies, Sam gave us the Evil Dead flicks. God bless him. One of the best trilogies ever. Changed my life and altered my career path (seriously.) I worship all three, but I had to pick Evil Dead 2, simply because it’s my favorite. Although at first, it’s a tad confusing because it’s sort of a remake of the original Evil Dead, but not really… but kind of..? It’s still about unleashing demons from the ancient book of the dead at a secluded cabin, but then as it adds a lot of new ideas and directions. As it progresses, you realize how freaking amazing this sequel is, mainly because Sam decided to pump humor into the mix. It’s simple math -- humor mixed with the Necronomicon equals joyful splendor. At certain points, there’s so much madness on screen, you honestly can’t believe you’re actually watching what you’re watching. You just don’t normally see this kind of utter originality. Severed hand battles, dancing demons, mounted deer heads coming to life, that awesome weird thing under the stairs, and a freakin’ AMAZING iconic turn for Bruce Campbell, complete with a chainsaw arm. Need I say more? No, even though I could talk for ages about this movie I figure I’ll just end this by chanting like the demons do… “Dead by dawn! Dead by dawn!”
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Going from a true “cabin in the woods” movie like Evil Dead II, it’s a natural progression to go right into the film, Cabin in the Woods. Hands down, this is one of the freshest and most inventive horror movies I've seen in a damn long time. The Cabin in the Woods is one of those rare flicks that manages to be loved by the hardcore horror fans (me) as well as those not really even into scary movies at all. It's a true crossover hit. I think a lot of this is because technically, in my opinion, it's just as much a horror movie as it is a very meta amalgamation of sci-fi, comedy, fantasy, you name it. You've gotta hand it to Joss Whedon, releasing both The Avengers and this in the same year, he definitely seems to know exactly what the fans want. I will give you the setup and that’s it, because the less you hear, the better. Trust me. It begins as a typical group of teens heading to a secluded cabin to enjoy some reckless angst, but let’s just say, nothing is quite as it seems. I've heard a lot of people relate The Cabin in the Woods to Scream because of its internal examination of the typical horror tropes. To me, it's really its own animal and is difficult to compare to anything. And I will say that it may have one of the most entertaining and unbelievable 3rd acts in any horror film out there. I DARE you to try and watch without an enormous smile on your face. You can’t. You just can’t because it’s so insane and so awesomely entertaining. Look, again, I’ll repeat… It's best if you go in without hearing anything else about it. Don’t let anyone tell you anything about it. You’ll have a much better experience. Go in blind, because finding out what's going on is all the fun. And to those of you who have already seen it, all I have to say is... *DING!*
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
One… two… Freddy's coming for you…
Three… four… better lock your door…
Five… six… grab your crucifix…
Seven… eight… better stay up late…
Nine… ten… never sleep again…
Seriously, how incredible was that song?? I know this may be an obvious choice, but sometimes people need a little reminder about the classics. A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of my all time favorites. There are many reasons why A Nightmare on Elm Street works, and they’re pretty easy to list. First and foremost, there’s Freddy Krueger, a truly one of a kind creation. The “bastard son of 100 maniacs” was a child molester who was burned alive, only to come back and haunt the people who wronged him in their kids’ dreams. Can you get any better than that as far as a maniacal backstory? His striped sweater, burned face, and razor gloved hand will live in the horror annals forever. But, in addition, you’ve got horror icon Wes Craven directing. Win. You’ve got a great cast of horror greats like Robert Englund, John Saxon, Lin Shaye, Heather Langenkamp, and even a young Johnny Depp. Win again. You’ve got some inventive scenes and gore that fit the 80’s perfectly (blood volcano!) Another win. But really at the end of the day, in my opinion, what made this film stick like no other is its utterly simple and ingenious premise. A killer stalks you when you sleep. He kills you in your dreams. Ultimate win. How do you escape sleep? You can’t. No matter how much coffee or pills you take, sleep will eventually take over. There’s nowhere to run from it. There’s nowhere to hide from it. It will get you. That. Is. Perfect. I dream of coming up with a premise that perfect. I know some people may watch this and think some scenes are silly (Freddy’s long arms in one scene, for instance), but that’s going about it the wrong way. Always watch movies with the eyes of the same time period, and in that time period, that was incredible. Nightmare on Elm Street is a special movie. Rewatch it, relive the nightmare, and I promise that you’ll have that song running in your head for weeks to come.
Well, there you go. 13 more movies. 13 additional horrifying experiences. As with my last list, I really hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks again to the SWSCA for allowing me to write about what I love. If I’ve left you thirsting for more, I’ve got plenty more picks at my website, www.scaryhorrorwriter.com. Happy viewing, and remember, when you’re done, send me a line, put down a comment. I always love to chat about everything that goes bump in the night.
Happy Halloween everyone.