The HALLOWEEN Top 13 - Part One
By Jeff Dixon
Everyone loves Top 10 lists. Everyone. Especially me. Anytime I see those magical words, “Top 10” in the title for anything, my eyes are glued, and I MUST read this person’s opinion. Even if it’s something benign like, “Top 10 Blenders for Making Hummus,” for some reason, I just have to know! So when I got this opportunity to create my own personal Top 10 list for the Stan Winston School of the Character Arts family, especially about something so near and dear to my heart, I flipped.
Then reality sunk in. Wait, only 10? That’s it?
When you love and worship something so much, like I love and worship horror movies, paring it down to a Top 10 list seems like an almost impossible task. How about a Top 100 list? Top 50, at least? Is this modern day horror, or classic horror? What about all those horror movies that are so bad, they’re good? Then I started thinking about the different sub-genres of horror. Is this a Top 10 supernatural horror movie list, or a Top 10 creature horror movie list? Sci-Fi Horror? Slasher? Zombie? Psychological? Oh man, how was I going to pare this all down??? Just like the feelings I get when I watch a good horror flick, my mind was racing… my blood was pumping… Then I realized, that was going to be my criteria. What movies from all of horrordom had the biggest physical effect on me when I watched them for the first time? There are movies that range from all the different sub-genres, all different time periods, and all different styles. Okay… Top 10… I can do this...
Still, I could only pare it down to 13. That’ll have to do.
So here’s PART ONE of my Top 13 horror movies to watch during Halloween, in no specific order. I couldn’t justify an order. I’d fight with myself for days over which one should be ahead of the other, and then change my mind the next day. The actual order can be decided by you.
***Watch for part 2 in the next couple days! - The Management***
THE THING (1982)
How can I narrow down what I want to say about this movie..? John Carpenter's THE THING is a cinematic treasure that comes around once in a lifetime. To me, it’s a perfect movie. When it comes to suspense, THE THING is a masterpiece. The desolation of the snow and ice of Antarctica. The suspense of the “what is it” scenario? Then once the question turns from a “what” is it, to a “who” is it, the added suspense could be taught in film school classes for generations. Not only does it have all the mystery and suspense a person could handle, but it also fills the gore and effects bucket with some of those interesting, original, and insane creatures you’ve ever seen.
Pictured above: Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady in John Carpenter's THE THING, unaware that he's being watched...
Rob Bottin became my hero after this movie. There really aren’t too many movies featuring severed heads that have lizard-like tongues and grow spider legs in movies nowadays. A shame really. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Of course the blood-testing scene is amongst the greatest scares in history, but I still can’t the defibrillator paddle scene out of my head either. “Clear!” *MUNCH!
Pictured above: Vance Norris' (Charles Hallahan) death and transformation one of countless classic moments in THE THING. Creature Effects courtesy of a young visionary by the name of Rob Bottin.
So amazing. Plus, don’t forget about Kurt Russell headlining a master cast (including a creepy Wilford Brimley sans mustache), and Ennio Morricone’s amazing music to round it all out. Watch it. Worship it. Watch it again. The end.
THE SHINING (1980)
One of my all-time favorite movies of any genre, let alone horror. If you haven’t seen THE SHINING by now, hit yourself with a wrench. If you haven’t seen it again within the past few years, hit yourself with a slightly smaller wrench. THE SHINING is one of those movies that I seriously need to watch every year. The combination of Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, and Jack Nicholson is a perfect storm of fantastic creepiness. No less than 100 quotable lines, 100 memorable scenes, and constant musical cues that will forever drill into your soul.
Pictured above: THE SHINING poster featuring Jack Nicholson & Shelley Duvall - "Heeere's Johnny!"
Pictured above: The terrors of THE SHINING's Overlook Hotel include the dead twins and the woman from Room 237.
Pictured above: Jack (Jack Nicholson) stalks his son Danny through the snowy labrynth of the Overlook Hotel's hedge maze.
Look, I know that Kubrick strayed from the original novel quite a bit in places. I’ve read the book; I know. But that’s fine. This is Kubrick’s Shining, not King’s Shining. King has his book (and later the TV miniseries,) and Kubrick had this masterpiece. An elevator full of blood, winding Big Wheel excursions down twisty hallways, twin murdered girls, naked moldy old women, Scatman Crother’s fruitless journey, axes galore, and holy hell, the hedge maze. “Come play with us, Danny… For evah, and evah, and evah….” YES. I still have a few conflicting theories bouncing in my brain about what that final photograph means, so I think that gives me another reason to go watch it again, right now.
I love Dario Argento. Love him. Such a warped and twisted creep of a man. His Italian giallo movies through the 70’s and 80’s just can’t be beat as far as pure suspense, style, and dread. So for those who have never watched one of his movies, or more specifically, his pièce de résistance, SUSPIRIA, I’m jealous beyond belief. Watching this film as a kid is one of the key reasons I’m working in the horror industry today. It had that much influence on me.
Pictured above: Director Dario Argento used color to invoke a subliminal sense of fear and dread in SUSPIRIA.
How many filmmakers do you know that actually use various jolting background colors simply to evoke subliminal fear in the viewer? Because Dario did it. He studied which colors evoked fear in people and used them to alter your mind while watching. Trust me, when you’re watching and for some reason the entire background turns bright green, at first you think it’s odd, then eventually it all adds up and, trust me, it has an effect.
Pictured above: Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is an American ballet student who moves to Germany to study dance at a creepy academy.
Some very creative gore and an absolutely incredible score by Goblin adds to the experience. I know the notoriously bad dubbing may turn some away, but just overlook it and enjoy the journey. I’ll say nothing more about SUSPIRIA other than to use their amazing tagline, “The Only Thing More Terrifying Than The Last 12 Minutes Of This Film, Are The First 92.” Genius. It may be my single favorite horror movie of all time. Enjoy.
ALIEN is a pure horror movie, almost like a bigger-budgeted slasher flick, just put in outer space instead of the woods. I don’t think Ridley Scott has any idea what he fully did for the world when he brought us this masterpiece. It changed the landscape. ALIEN floored us.
Pictured above: An ALIEN facehugger implants the unsuspecting Kane (John Hurt) with a xenomorph baby.
Now it almost seems like a cliché, but before this movie came out, the whole chestbursting alien idea was pretty much the most awful thing anyone could ever dream of. I mean, something gestating inside of you, growing, changing, until when you least expect it, BURSTS out of you from the inside out. I can only imagine what it did to expectant mothers at the time.
Pictured above: Breakfast gets bloody as the ALIEN chestburster makes his first appearance, shocking audiences and heralding a new era of sci-fi/horror.
But let’s talk about the look and atmosphere of this movie. The art direction, the mood, the effects. Before this movie came out, H.R. Giger and his style was not nearly as known. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find an alien creature or science fiction design in films that doesn’t bear at least some resemblance to H.R. Giger’s art. It literally became the template for what sci-fi/horror would be from here on out. The amazingly perfect tagline for this movie was, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Well, after watching this movie with countless people over the years, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be hearing your friends scream nice and loud.
I can’t bring up Alien, without bringing up ALIENS. ALIENS is my all time favorite film. Let that sink in… For a person like me that absolutely worships movies, this is my NUMBER ONE FAVORITE FILM OF ALL TIME. Now, most of the time I don’t like to use rankings (as I already mentioned), but I’ll use it here. #1. Bar none. I know it’s not exaaaactly a horror movie (the first Alien definitely fits that bill more appropriately), but still this baby is intense, suspenseful and unbelievably terrifying. For that reason it still deserves a place on this list. You tell me a more suspenseful scene than when Ripley and Newt wake up alone and discover that a facehugger is somewhere in the room with them. Just amazing.
Pictured above: Ripley wrestles an Alien facehugger in ALIENS, one of the few sequels to live up to the original.
Or what about the first time the soldiers walk in to find the villagers cocooned on the walls, and you just know the aliens are in there somewhere. I could literally fill 30 pages of favorite scenes. Also if you look at the effects, there is no CGI. They are all practical effects and models. Not to mention Stan Winston’s greatest creation – the alien queen.
Pictured above: The Alien Queen - One of Stan Winston's most memorable creature creations.
In my opinion, ALIENS is that extremely rare example where the sequel is superior to the original. The acting is perfect (Ripley, Hicks, Hudson, Bishop, Newt, SO many iconic characters.) The story is perfect (including an, at the time, super surprising final 10 minutes.) Everything about this film is perfect. I could go on and on about it, but honestly I really can’t add anything more than that.
I know this is kind of the clichéd pick for the season, but I don’t care. HALLOWEEN is one of the best horror flicks ever made, bar none, and it deserves to be placed on its rightful throne. From the opening sequence, you know you’re in for a treat. I mean, there’s a twist you didn’t see coming in the first five minutes! Not to mention, reason #4239 why I’ve always known clowns are evil.
Pictured above: HALLOWEEN's "The Shape" aka Michael Meyers - a William Shatner mask and a butcher knife make slasher film history.
This movie was made for almost zero money and is all the more visceral, intense, and realistic because of it. There was no costume department so the cast just wore their own clothes. Even the iconic Michael Myers mask is nothing more than a William Shatner Star Trek mask that they spray painted and added more hair to.
Pictured above: Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) struggles with "The Shape" aka Michael Meyers in HALLOWEEN.
Michael Myers, or “the shape” as he was originally referred, since his name Michael Myers never actually appears in the first film, is one of the greatest horror creations to this day. He had no remorse and no relatable qualities. He was just simply put, a relentless, soulless killer. That’s what’s so terrifying about him. It’s simple, and to the point. Jamie Lee Curtis became scream queen #1 after this for good reason. Donald Pleasance added the perfect amount of gravitas. And John Carpenter filled in every last blank, right down to one of the most memorable musical cues ever heard.