Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Celebrating My 50th With 50 Favorites - Part 5 - THE TOP TEN

 Finally, my top ten have arrived.  Are any of these in your list of favorites too??

10. Frankenstein (1931)

My favorite Universal monster film.  There, I've said it. There's not much I can say about a film so revered that hasn't already been said.  But the reason I love it so much is that I can identify with the monster. Everyone probably can in their own way.  Pushed to be something that he wasn't, so much expected of him, yet misguided and anxious only for people to accept him the way he was, despite knowing he was an abomination.  Boris Karloff as the monster said so much just with his eyes and mannerisms, he didn't even need to speak to convey that message. The fact that Mary Shelley wrote the book when she was a mere 19 years old just blows my mind - so far ahead of her time! It's a beautiful film, too...the gorgeous sets, including Dr Frankenstein's laboratory, are a sight to behold particularly for such an early time in film.  And Colin Clive as the unhinged but brilliant scientist who steals bodies from their graves with his hunchback assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) brings to mind many an evil man who desires more than he should, and really should just leave well enough alone.  But the fact that he proceeds with his experiments despite the immoral and corrupt ramifications just goes to show that greed and the desire for fame and/or fortune always brings out the worst in mankind, often times with irreparable results - and it's still happening today, nearly 90 years later.

9. The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, 1974)

It's only in the last several years that I have come to really love this film.  It's my favorite "zombie" film. George (Ray Lovelock) is off for the weekend on his Norton motorcycle when he stops to gas up and Edna (Cristina Galbó) rams his bike with her car, unintentionally but puts it out of commission nonetheless.  To make up for it, she tells him they can ride together and he can use her car while his bike is being fixed.  Traveling through the English countryside they stop to seek out directions and George sees some men using some kind of equipment that uses ultrasonic radiation to kill insects on crops.  Obviously that sounds like an awful idea and of course it is, as soon the dead are rising and George and Edna are smack in the middle of it.  The dialogue is campy, the blood is too red and film is somewhat dated but quite honestly it does raise the question as to what we are doing to the world with all our chemicals and treatments and what might happen if things go awry.  George and Edna are likeable leads and the gore factor is ratcheted up as the film goes on and the zombies get hungrier.  Just a damn fun film!!

8. Ghost Story (1981)

'Four old men and a secret' should be the alternate name for this chiller.  From Peter Straub's amazing novel comes the story of John, Ricky, Sears and Edward....a quartet of college pals that meet an enigmatic beauty and spend a summer charming her. Until something awful happens. The repercussions of the tragedy that unfolds are so malevolent, so vengeful that words can't quite do it.  The novel is very much my favorite book, and the movie, while not completely faithful, still packs a frightening punch with loads of disturbing imagery! And that house!!! So much love! Starring some of Hollywood's finest older leading men - Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  Alice Krige as Eva/Alma still haunts my dreams.

7. The Changeling (1980)

Years have not aged this fantastic ghost story starring George C. Scott as John Russell, a man grappling with the tragic death of his wife and daughter in a horrific accident. A famous composer, John moves across the country in order to take a teaching job and try to resume some semblance of a life  He rents an old mansion from the local historical society, makes friends with Claire (played by Scott's wife, Trish Van Devere) and gets to work on finishing a composition he's been working on. Soon though, hes awakened by loud banging noises during the night, which escalate to the point that a seance is held in which they discover a young boy was killed in the house.  Everything about The Changeling is stellar - the acting, the musical score, the house's just that good!  Scott's portrayal of a desperate man's agonizing mourning for his family is heart-breaking.  And though this one has every haunted house gimmick known to man, they make it work  - it's never cheesy and always legitimately frightening.  Loud, inexplicable noises, pianos playing by themselves, disembodied voices, a creepy attic with a child-size wheelchair - all these things combine to bring fear into your very soul.  This one just got a fantastic BluRay release so if you haven't seen it yet, now's the time.  Truly one of the best of its kind.

6. The Thing (1982)

You know how I feel about remakes, I've made it abundantly clear several times.  But when they are done right and it's time for one, I'm on board.  A remake of 1951's The Thing From Another World, John Carpenter's The Thing is in my opinion perhaps the best of his work.  With top-notch practical special effects by genius Rob Bottin and a stellar cast, it's a harrowing showcase of fear.  Frequent Carpenter collaborator Kurt Russell as MacReady is just the icing on the cake, with his snide remarks yet excellent leadership skills when everything starts falling apart.  As researchers literally at the end of the earth, the Antarctic team finds themselves fighting the organism that literally has the capability to attack unsuspecting victims and morph into an exact replica of them, so the question remains....who is the thing?  Everything about this film is terrifying - the isolation...the fear of the unknown...the thought that someone might not be who they say they's an action-packed, straight-up thrill ride, one I've taken over and over again!

5. Alien (1979)

I mentioned previously that sci-fi isn't my favorite--(even though The X-Files is my favorite TV show- I prefer the stand alone horror episodes.) That said, I LOVE ALIEN.  To me, it's just the finest sci-fi horror film in existence. Sure, there are some who say Aliens is the better movie, but they'd be wrong. Ridley Scott's effective and brutal Alien, starring Sigourney Weaver as fierce heroine Ripley, is full of suspense and laden with terror. The Xenomorph creature is an astounding work of art conceived by H.R. Giger and the story by Dan O'Bannon is what nightmares are made of. Immediately claustrophobic due to the whole of the film taking place in space, mostly on the commercial towing ship Nostromo, the sense of helplessness permeates the whole two hour running time. There's nowhere to run when you're stuck in space.  Ripley is an excellent character, a welcome female presence in a mostly masculine crew. She's got guts and runs on pure adrenaline by the film's end. She's a role model and a formidable adversary for the relentless alien. For pure shock factor, Alien is bar none, particularly in that famous chest-burster scene. 
The last thirty minutes are a edge of your seat uncomfortable fright-fest in which you'll believe every word of the tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream. 

4. Friday the 13th (1980)

Oh Friday the 13th, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.  Warning: SPOILERS! 
I love your campiness (pun intended). I love your heroine, Alice and her mad drawing skills. I love Crazy Ralph and the fact that you all actually ARE, in fact, doomed. I love that you play strip monopoly. I love that Bing Crosby's son is a hottie and can play a mean guitar. I love that sexy Brenda wears a granny gown. I love that Jack and Marcie have sex with Dead Ned above them. I love that poor Annie doesn't like to call children kids because it sounds like little goats. I love that when Mrs Voorhees finally gets a chance to kill Alice she slaps her up and pushes her face in the dirt instead. I love that Steve's Jeep won't pull that tiny trailer and that he only leaves Sally a 75 cent tip at the diner, even though she flirts with him like crazy. I love that Marcie has dreams about little bloody rivers and can fix a faulty faucet. I love that Jack puts it all out there in his Speedo at the docks. I love that Alice and Bill don't run for their lives after they find the bloody ax in the bed. I love that Mrs Voorhees hands still clench their fingers after she loses her head. 
What I don't love? The fact that they killed that snake. 😐

3. The Woman in Black (1989)

I've been championing this film for 25 years or longer.  I can't remember the first time I saw it but as soon as I did, I knew I had to own it. I had it on VHS first, and when DVD's began taking the world by storm, I purchased a bootleg copy from overseas and I'm not afraid to admit it. The novella by Susan Hill that it is adapted from is the best ghost story I may have ever read, and the only one that gave me legit chills when I read it. The story adapted for film changes a few minor details but involves Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins), a lawyer who is assigned the task of closing the estate of one Mrs. Drablow, an eccentric old woman who lives on an isolated piece of land across a causeway that floods during high tide. Kidd attends the funeral of his client and notices a woman in black at the back of the church and later in the cemetery. Townsfolk seem terrified when he mentions it, and later he comes to know why after spending the night at the spooky Drablow house. By investigating the decedent's personal belongings, he learns of a horrific accident involving the mysterious woman in black and her relationship with the old woman. Vengeance is a great motivator, apparently even after death. This film is hard to come by, out of print for many years. It is available on YouTube, and though not a stellar copy it's still worth seeking out! 

2. Psycho (1960)

As previously mentioned, Psycho is very special to me, right up there with Jaws as far as movies I've seen the most. I can quote every line, I know every scene. I love Norman Bates, in all his quirky, psychotic glory.  John still my heart! And the sheer brilliance of killing off your marquee name in the first act of the film, well....that's brave....hats off to Hitchcock. Robert Bloch may have created the character of Norman, but Hitchcock perfected it and Anthony Perkins embodied it. Even people not familiar with the horror genre as a whole know Psycho. The shower scene....the fruit cellar...Mother and Norman's "close" relationship, there's so much to appreciate. It's one of my desert island films, because I'll never tire of it. And if you're sitting there thinking I'm nuts then we just can't be friends. 

1) Jaws (1975)

My favorite. The I-Ching of films for me. The be-all-end-all.  I don't think I've seen any movie as many times as Jaws.  I own multiple copies over many formats and yet if it is on television with commercials every five minutes I'm still unable to turn it off. As with Psycho, the book is good, the movie is superior.  All the characters, Brody (Roy Scheider ), Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Quint (Robert Shaw) are strong and engaging in their own ways. John Williams' score is just legendary, the most recognizable two notes in music. Spielberg's direction jump-started a visionary, critically acclaimed career and with good reason! We're not just talking summer blockbuster here, we are talking about a film beloved by fans and critics alike. The simple plot of man vs. shark made millions of people afraid to go in the ocean. An impressive feat to be sure. Let's just say, if I could marry a film, this would be the one. My only one!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Celebrating my 50th with 50 Favorites ~ Part 4

We're getting down to the nitty gritty now.  Good stuff ahead.....

 20. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

I'm what I'd consider to be a connoisseur of vampire films.  I've seen a ton...disliked some, liked most, and truly loved only a handful.  This film falls into the latter category.  From Jim Jarmusch comes the story of Adam and Eve - no, not that Adam and Eve....right?
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are two vampires who have been married for centuries though at the moment are living apart on different continents. Eve decides to make the trip from Tangier to Detroit to pay a visit to her hubby after a phone call from him tips her off to his despair.  Adam is a very melancholy vampire, disillusioned with his life to the point that he even is contemplating suicide. If it weren't for his music he'd end it, and in fact has a wooden bullet for that very task. Eve arrives and together they try to make some sense of their never-ending existence and to find reasons to go on.  Everything about this movie is just steeped in a thick veil of moody atmosphere. When they cruise around derelict Detroit it touches a nerve, as it seems they are as old and forgotten as the rows of dilapidated, abandoned house that line the streets. Eve tries to convince Adam that life is still worthwhile, but extenuating circumstances in the form of Eve's sister coming for a visit throw a wrench in their happily ever after.   Just a brilliant, amazing film.

19. Half Light (2006) 

This is probably a movie that most people have never even heard of and is a relatively PG-13 type of film. It stars Demi Moore as Rachel, a best-selling American author of thrillers that gets caught up in a mystery of her own,  It's not giving a lot away to say that her young son dies at the beginning, as that's the set up for the story.  Grief-stricken, she flees from her home in London to an isolated Scottish cottage on the beach, where she intends to finish her latest novel by her deadline. But soon, she begins to experience typical 'ghostly' behavior and assumes her son is trying to make contact. Meanwhile, she meets the attractive lighthouse keeper who lives just across a short stretch of water who helps her face her fears.  But is there something supernatural at work? Why does everyone in town act so strangely? And what really happened to the previous lighthouse keeper?  While there is nothing truly fantastic about this film, the story is decent enough, there are some genuinely creepy moments, and of course Demi is attractive as hell, especially with her long dark hair blowing in the Scottish sea breeze. But it's the location and the music that just suck me in.  Sweeping ocean vistas, the perfect little cottage at the sea's edge, the quaint yet quirky village nearby, wild horses running next to the ocean, and the simply gorgeous score accompanying all of this, making it a film I come back to again and again.

18. Don't Look Now (1973)

It's too bad that when most people think of Don't Look Now, they think of the controversy of whether the two leads, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, actually had sex during their graphic love scene...because behind all the speculation lies a truly satisfying film.  John and Laura Baxter have just lost their daughter in a drowning accident and flee to Venice to try and get their minds off their tragedy.  John accepts a commission to work on an ancient church there, and the two settle in.  One day, Laura meets a couple of sisters at dinner, one of whom claims to be a psychic and says she is in contact with their daughter.  John doesn't believe this at all, but goes along with it to make Laura happy.  Then John starts seeing a young person in a red cloak all around town, just like the one his daughter wore. So the question becomes is his daughter haunting them or is he having visions?  Or a little of both?  And where do the sisters fit in?  The Venetian scenery is a gorgeous back drop to the thrills and chills this movie provides.  John and Laura are very much in love, and the scenes of them together getting ready to go out for dinner are among some of the finest love scenes put to celluloid.

17.  The Evil Dead (1981)

Bruce Campbell is not just my hero, he's the world's hero, as we find out in this first movie in the series.  Ash, his girlfriend Linda, sister Cheryl, and friends Scotty and Shelly travel to a proverbial cabin in the woods for a nice getaway weekend.  Once at the cabin, it becomes quickly evident that something isn't quite right.  Touring the cabin's basement, they find recordings that when spoken aloud, summon demons - which is exactly what happens.  Only these demons inhabit the living. One by one, Ash's group succumb to the "deadites", until Ash is the only one left.  A very simple premise but oh so very effective.  What's great about this little low-budget charmer is the GORE.  The blood and guts and massive spewage is completely over the top - and you're going to love every second of it. This is the basis for the wildly popular Starz television series, Ash vs. Evil Dead - and I'd certainly check out at least this movie before digging in to that.  Though the series is ended, I find it so hard to believe that our beloved Ash is gone forever.  In fact, I'm holding out hope.....

16.  Angel Heart (1987)

Voodoo holds in inexplicable fascination for me, and there are just not enough films about it!  It feels like a sub-genre of its own, but maybe people are just deeming it religious horror, I don't know. Angel Heart, in my humble opinion, is one of the best examples of voodoo in the genre. Mickey Rourke plays Harry Angel, a gumshoe in Harlem who gets a call from a lawyer on behalf of an eccentric man looking to collect a long overdue debt.  Mr Cyphre (Robert De Niro) can't seem to locate crooner Johnny Favorite and employs Harry to track him down.  This leads Harry down a very precarious road, a journey of discoveries he may have been better off leaving alone.  The mood of this film is so dark and gritty, with so much impending doom, backed by a soundtrack by Trevor Jones that reeks of dread itself, with its sultry, melancholy lead sax that should be illegal it's so good. And yes, there is blood and chickens and dancing and chanting and curses and tarot readings and murder and magic and of course THAT extremely unsettling and immoral sex scene that nearly gave the film an X-rating.  In other words, it's a must-see.

15. Psycho II (1983)

Oh Norman, you sexy thing, you!  Anyone that knows me knows I have a huge crush on mama's boy Norman Bates.  With the exception of Jaws, there is no film I love more than Psycho.  It's a perfect, perfect film, and you'll see it on this list soon. But Psycho II is a terrific film in its own right. Made 22 years after the original 1960 film, we see Norman finally being released from the mental institution he was remanded to years ago. Considered "cured", his caseworker drops him off at the old homestead, where the motel has been used as a sleazy stop-over slash drug den these last several years. The house itself is exactly the same, and Norman immediately feels uneasy and soon starts finding notes from Mother. He is set up as a cook's helper at a local diner, where he meets Mary (Meg Tilly) and soon offers her a room at the motel when she has man trouble.  That's when things get even more wonky.  Is Norman losing his mind again? Is Mother really dead and buried? Is someone else haunting the Bates house? In most cases, sequels leave a lot to be desired, but in Psycho II's case, it's a truly understated yet formidable return to form.  It's no Hitchcock film, but Anthony Perkins slides easily back into the embodiment of Norman Bates, with all his nervous tics and mannerisms still spot on.  And so we're left to ponder whether Mother is trying to terrorize her son once again or if Norman just thinks she is.  Or....has it been Norman all along?

14. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

While others prefer Day or Dawn, I am firmly in the Night camp when it comes to Romero's Dead movies. It's the first one I saw, and has been my favorite for as long as I can recall, way back to watching it on Chilly Billy's Chiller Theater.  After all, I'm a Pittsburgh girl.  Well, northeast of the Burgh but somewhere between there and Evans City, where this film was shot. In case you've been living under a rock, Barbara and brother Johnny are visiting their father's grave at the cemetery when things run amok and the dead start walking.  Johnny is killed and Barbara finds cover at a house nearby where she meets our hero, Ben (and later a few others holed up in the basement). The remainder of the film is them attempting to find out just what is going on and how to deal with the zombies that are gathering outside the house quicker than a bunch of teen girls at a Justin Bieber concert.  Besides Ben being the first black hero in a horror film, it's really the living dead in their slow-moving madness and their voracious appetite that make this movie such a ground-breaking film. Though filmed in black and white, it takes nothing away from them chomping on viscera like mindless.....zombies.

13. Dead of Night (1945)

I love most anthology films, and you've seen a few here on this list already, but THIS British 1945 shocker is my favorite.  Walter keeps having a recurring nightmare and so the good wifey recommends he spend some time relaxing away from home.  He goes to a friend's weekend house and upon arrival feels a dreadful sense of deja vu, and all the other guests have been in his dream that he keeps having.  And each guest has their own story to tell.  A race car driver is haunted by the driver of a fatal bus crash, a haunted mirror, a Christmas ghost, a golf outing with a supernatural touch, and the most affecting and creepy story - a ventriloquist's dummy comes to life. There's something so fun about having not one but multiple stories to give you the chills.  And this one is a stellar production, the best anthology I've seen - including all my Amicus favorites.  The black and white makes it all the more terrifying. I dare you to sleep after watching that one with the dummy.   I double dog dare you.

12.  The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Many of you may already know that parts of The Silence of the Lambs were filmed in my hometown, quite an experience and such a great feeling, considering the film won five Academy Awards.  Leads Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster who won Best Actor and Actress respectively, embody the roles of Dr Hannibal Lecter and FBI trainee Clarice Starling.  As Starling is given the assignment to meet with Lecter at the prison where he lives, the interactions between them are just impeccable, the bantering back and forth - quid pro quo, as Lecter says - will help Clarice in the FBI's search for the most vile serial killer, Buffalo Bill.  Say what you will, but this film is a horror film.  When someone is removing the skin from their victim in order to make a dress out of it, that's HORROR, people.  So it's good to know the Academy does recognize's happened a few times before, with Jaws, The Exorcist and Misery...but it's rare.  But for under your skin (pun intended) cinematic terror, The Silence of the Lambs fits the bill. 

11. City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell, 1980)

I'm a pretty big Fulci fan, and it's hard to choose from his films for this list, but this is the one I knew I couldn't leave off.  I've seen it so many times yet it always entertains.  A priest hangs himself and starts a chain reaction of evil predicted by the ancient book of Enoch.  Reporter Peter (Christopher George) saves Mary (Catriona MacColl) from suffocating to death in a coffin in which she was buried after collapsing at a seance.  Together, they investigate the evil taking over their town, trying to find a way to close the "door" to the Gates of Hell, which was opened by the priest's suicide.  As in usual Fulci fashion, there is loads of gore including a woman vomiting up her own entrails and a man killed by having a drill run through his head.  Every time the priest appears, he makes his victim's eyes bleed in ghastly fashion, then they die and become one of his undead army.  Once again, Fabio Frizzi provides the soundtrack to this gore-fest as we're treated to sublime 80's horror at its best.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Celebrating My 50th with 50 Favorites ~ Part 3

Still counting down - here's numbers 30-21...

30. Session 9 (2001)

Psychological horror makes an indelible impression on me. A movie need not have even a drop of blood, if the story-line is compelling and plays with my emotions, I'm hooked.  Session 9 is one of those films, with its subtle yet ominous mood.  It digs under your skin until it finds a place to relax, then it hits you when you least expect it.  With the benefit of probably one of the greatest movie locations, the former Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, the hulking ediface just screams haunted, so it is with great ease that one gets sucked into the atmosphere of quiet terror it presents. Gordon (Peter Mullen) owns a small asbestos removal company and he takes on the contract of removing the nasty product from the hospital, claiming that it will be done in one week.  He and his crew, led by Phil (David Caruso) begin the task as Gordon grapples with problems at home, and a sense of deja vu at the hospital.  Meanwhile, another crew member, Mike (Stephen Gevedon), becomes obsessed with the audio sessions of one of the patients, Mary Hobbes, who displays a number of distinct personalities.  To say more would ruin the film, so I'll leave it at that.  Seek this out if you haven't seen it.  It's disturbingly excellent.

29. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

"I'm sorry I called you a meatloaf, Jack."  John Landis's brilliant werewolf film is equal parts fright and fun.  Special effects by Rick Baker won an Academy Award and there's a reason for that - they are outstanding.  Poor David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), all they were trying to do is see the English countryside when even after being warned, they veer off the road and onto the moors, where they are promptly attacked by....something.  Injecting humor at every turn, Landis nonetheless creates a terrifying film with gruesome and suspenseful attacks. You're rooting for David to discover the truth, and with the help of new girlfriend Alex (Jenny Agutter), he's bound to figure things out, right?  I've loved this film since I was in high school, shortly after its release.  When it comes on TV, I'm compelled to watch it.  Likewise I can throw my BluRay in for some much needed comfort horror, it's just that good.

28. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) 

I love Donald Sutherland.  Who doesn't?  He's great in everything he does and this film is no exception.  With the benefit of a stellar cast including Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, and Veronica Cartwright, this remake of the 1956 classic is an unnerving look at an alien invasion that occurs much more inconspicuously than most sci-fi flicks.  When Elizabeth (Adams) comes to her co-worker at the Health Dept, Matthew, and describes the change in personality that her live-in boyfriend has been displaying, they take it upon themselves to investigate, realizing that something is happening all over the city.  People are devoid of emotion and completely unfazed by the growing epidemic.  Science fiction has never been my favorite, but when it's as exceptional as this I am totally all-in. 

27. The Fog (1980)

Following up with a film after Halloween must have been a difficult task for John Carpenter, and I'm not here to say The Fog is superior to Halloween even though it is higher on my list.  I just happen to find the themes and atmosphere of The Fog more intriguing.  I love the ocean, so anything creepy and set at the sea does it for me.  The Fog also has some serious horror heavyweights in it, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, and Janet Leigh.   When the town of Antonio Bay is set to celebrate its 100th Founders Anniversary, a curse is let loose upon them - seems the original founders sunk a ship full of lepers before they made shore and then proceeded to steal all their gold to build the current town.  And the ghosts of the pissed off sailors exact a nasty revenge....

26. Gojira (aka Godzilla, 1954)

First things first - stay away from the 1956 Americanized version with Raymond Burr....just NO.
When I was a young whippersnapper, Mom and I used to watch Godzilla movies on Saturday afternoons and this was my first experience with the great monster from the deep.  And I LOVED it.  I still have unwavering love for the big guy, but I will always count this one as my favorite.  Long story short, giant dinosaur-like creature is awakened deep under the sea by hydrogen bomb testing and wreaks havoc on unsuspecting Japanese folks. Some viewers may say this is hokey, and of course they'd be right.  But Godzilla is KING OF THE MONSTERS and don't let anyone tell you different.  If you've seen all the remakes and sequels but haven't seen the original, you need to rectify that shit right now.

25. From Beyond the Grave (1974)

Another Amicus anthology starring Peter Cushing as the owner of an antiques shoppe, it has four stories that involve antiques purchased at said shoppe.  Each customer tries to trick or rob the proprietor, but he has the last laugh.  A man buys a haunted mirror that talks to him and requests victims; a disgruntled husband finds love with a match & shoestring salesman's bizarre daughter; a witch warns a man of an 'elemental' on his shoulder; and after purchasing a door from the shoppe a man finds more than he bargains for after installing it in his home.  Of note, Donald Pleasence and his daughter Angela (who truly is very creepy, whether she means to be or not) star in the second segment. What can I say?  I love Amicus and their anthologies.  There are many more of them, such as Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, and The Vault of Horror, just to name a few. They are all fairly dated, having been produced in the late 60's and early 70's but they are all worth a look!

24. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

One of the newest films on my list of 50, this movie is a joy to behold. I don't particularly like comedy in my horror unless it's done right (as in An American Werewolf in London) but this is truly one of the funniest movies, any genre, that I have ever seen.  With a random group of vampires from many different eras all sharing a flat, you can expect laughs - and this delivers.  Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi wrote and directed this independent film from New Zealand that has a quartet of vampires trying to fit in to "normal" society, with hilarious results.  There is a supposed sequel in the works that involves the werewolves (not swearwolves) in the film, and an American television program based on the film heads our way in 2019.

23. Jurassic Park (1993)

I know what you're thinking.  Jurassic Park (and all its counterparts) is not a horror film, and while I would agree with you on a grander scale, this is my blog and I think anytime you have man-eating dinosaurs, it feels like horror to me.  As the Steven Spielberg train keeps a' rollin' down this prehistoric track even today, Jurassic Park is the one that started them all and still packs the biggest punch.  Who wasn't psyched to see those dinos out on the grasses just like Dr Grant & co?  But of course the greatest thrills in the film come from the Velociraptors and the big man himself, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  I can honestly say the huge lump in my throat when the T-Rex made his presence known is just as big as any other horror film I have been terrified by.  And those raptors in the kitchen? Yikes!  I love dinosaurs, and who doesn't? I would be happy if there was a Jurassic Park sequel every few years FOREVER.

22. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Yes, I know The Devil's Rejects is a better film.  No, I don't usually love exploitation films. Yes, I know this movie is trashy.  But damn if I don't adore it.   Rob Zombie has a mixed bag of tricks in his director bag, and there are a few of his I could toss by the wayside.  But I truly appreciate his devotion to the genre because I know he is a true-blue fan.  House of 1000 Corpses plays like a 90 minute music video by Zombie, which would seem unbearable.  And though the film falters a bit at the end, the first hour is just so much fun.  With humor (intentional or not) rife throughout, the 70's vibe is spot on and the disturbed Firefly family is ridiculously over the top, but in a good way.  Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon, has a starring role as is the norm in his movies, and here she plays Baby with all the demented intensity she can muster.  Playing her mom is genre favorite Karen Black, and Bill Moseley as Otis and Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding make up the craziest motley crew you've seen since the Sawyers in rural Texas.  Chris Harwick as Jerry and Rainn Wilson as Bill bring their girlfriends along on a road trip to discover unique roadside attractions.....and they hit the mother lode when they stop at Captain Spaudling's.

21. Candyman (1992)

Candyman is actually a fairly frightening film. It benefits by the great Tony Todd starring as the title character and Virginia Madsen as the fearless Helen Lyle, a graduate student focusing on urban legends for her thesis.  She hears the local story of Candyman and goes in search of the truth behind the speculation.  It's a gritty look at the seedy underbelly of a major city, where the lore usually comes from actual events in the past - and I'm not sure what's scarier, the made-up stories or the truth.  The Cabrini Green housing projects of Chicago figure prominently into the plot, and to me, they are vastly more scary than anything else on screen, with its graffiti-laden walls and fiercely protective gang members.  When Helen comes face to face with the evidence, it all backfires and she becomes the hunted, much like Candyman was in his bleak and depressing past, where just falling in love comes with a price.  Clive Barker's tale is brought to the screen with fervor and passion, and a captivating score by the great Philip Glass adds an extra layer of depth. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Celebrating My 50th With 50 Favorites - Part 2

Some really great films in this set, folks.

40. Zombi 2 (aka Zombie) (1979)

When Lucio Fulci makes a film, you just have to watch - because he's going to do something bonkers every time.  In Zombi 2, that would be the famous shark vs. zombie underwater scene.  Folks, that is something you are not going to see every day, I guarantee it. And with Fulci, you're bound to see some serious eye gore, and this film is no exception. The story evolves around a woman's search for her missing father which takes her to a mysterious Carribean island that is cursed by voodoo and has a scientist bound and determined to figure out why the island's residents are rising from the dead.  With a riveting score from Fulci fave Fabio Frizzi, Zombi 2 is a rollicking good time.

39. Carnival of Souls (1962)

This fantastic film was way ahead of its time.  Starring Candace Hilligoss as Mary, a young woman who is the sole survivor of a horrific car crash that changes the course of her destiny.  After the accident, Mary drives to Utah, where she has accepted a position as a church organist. On the way, she is stalked by a malicious ghoul who seems to coincide with her passing a large abandoned pavillion.  In her new town, she can't seem to escape the ghoul, who shows up unexpectedly over and over again. She also is having trouble relating to those around her - it seems no one even notices her at times.  With a chilling organ soundtrack and a surreal, mesmerizing atmosphere, Carnival of Souls is a shudder-inducing thrill ride.

38. The Innocents (1960)

Deborah Kerr shines in this wonderfully spooky adaption of Henry James' classic story, The Turn of the Screw.  It's a classic British ghost story with all the twists and turns you'd expect.  Kerr stars as Miss Giddons, a woman tasked with being the governess to two children, Flora and Miles.  At first, all seems fine, but as time goes on, Miss Giddons begins to notice something is a little "off" with the children - they are acting just a little too mature for their own good. This, along with dark hallways, apparitions and hearing strange noises, the house is giving all the signs of a classic haunting..but just who is haunting the house and why is the reason this film stands far and above other ghost stories.  The lullaby that Flora sings over and over again, Oh Willow Waly, is as haunting as the film itself.  The Innocents is not to be missed.

37. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

A gritty and fearless film shot on location, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not the gory exploitation film that many make it out to be.  There is very little blood or gore and actually relies on realism and shock to scare the pants off its audience.  Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), her crippled brother Franklin, and a few other friends travel to the family cemetery to check on the plots after hearing of grave robbing going on.  What they run into is the demented Sawyer family with our pal, Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen).  I've always loved the audacious way in which the Sawyers are portrayed.  They make me think twice before stopping in any small, podunk town with no stoplights and no claim to fame.  Wait.....I think I already live there....

36. Suspiria (1977)

Dario Argento has a way with color and design in a film that for me, cannot be replicated.  With a new take on this classic coming this year, it's time to be reverent to the original, one of my favorite Argento films.
Susie Bannion (Jessica Harper) is an American studying ballet abroad at a famous German Dance school. She has a rocky start, and doesn't seem to be making friends too quickly.  Worse yet, there appears to be something mysterious going on - rooms they are not allowed to enter, students disappearing, maggots falling from the ceiling, fainting spells she cannot explain...and did someone mention the word "witch"?  Suspiria is an exercise in restrained terror.  And the technicolor production makes it one of the most gorgeous films I've ever seen.  How great that it's scary too!

35. Halloween (1978)

What can be said about Halloween that hasn't already been said?  It's just pure classic John Carpenter, and I love it.  So do millions of other horror fans - and even folks who only watch scary movies at the end of October are familiar with this one, so mentioning the plot seems like a moot point. Michael Myers kills his sister, goes to a mental hospital, then escapes and returns to the scene of the crime to wreak havoc on the town and its unsuspecting teenage residents, including Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).  For a very long time, this was my favorite horror film.  I still love it, but perhaps I just wore it out.  I'm anxious to check out the new 2018 sequel, it looks like loads of fun.  Halloween is impeccably shot, has unparalleled suspense, and is the model for which all films in the slasher genre should be modeled.  It's flat-out perfect.

34. The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

From the house of Amicus, this British anthology film stars horror heavyweights Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, which should be all I need say at this point.  However.., four segments tell the tales of a writer plagued by visions of his character, a murderer who is driving him mad; a waxwork museum holds secrets that two old friends may regret finding out; a governess/teacher feels the father of her student is cold and distant from his child...for good reason; and a washed up actor finds a cape in an antique store that looks perfect for his current vampire role.  All these stories relate due to the house they were all residents of at one time or another....the house that dripped blood!! Mwauh ha ha!!

33. April Fool's Day (1986)

A fun and surprising entry into the never ending 80's slasher genre, April Fool's Day is just a delight! Deborah Foreman plays Muffy, a rich-bitch college student hosting a weekend of fun at her parent's lake house. Her friends are a diverse group of unassuming tricksters that either love or loathe the April Fool's themed party unfolding at the house.  The finale of this one is what separates it from all the other 80's clones.  Amy Steel as Kit is the icing on this cake, as she always elevates a movie no matter what the subject matter. But in truth, casting is good all the way around and you really feel like these people could be your friends.  Which is why you get upset when they start getting picked off one by one.

32. Lake Mungo (2008)

At once unsettling, Lake Mungo is an Australian low-budget film I discovered purely by accident and now am championing to anyone that will listen.  Shot in mockumentary style, we hear the story of Alice Palmer and her family, who are mourning her disappearance and supposed drowning at a family picnic at the lake. As the family grieves and tells their story, it becomes apparent that there is more going on than meets the eye.  Is Alice haunting the family home?  Is she still alive?  I can only say that this movie scared the shit out of me the first time I saw it, and the second time I watched it I saw SO MUCH MORE.  I have been haunted by this one ever since.  It's affecting, creepy and just downright unnerving.  I don't think I need say more.  Just watch it.

31. My Bloody Valentine (1981)

One of my most beloved slasher films, MBV is a joy to behold in all its campiness.  Though it is extremely dated, it's still relatively effective and has the superb setting of an underground mine. Now what could be scarier than that, I ask you?  Years ago, Harry Warden was the sole survivor of a mine explosion due to methane gas levels not being checked because the bosses were at a Valentines party. Harry was stuck underground for weeks, resorting to cannibalism to survive and going insane in the process.  Institutionalized for twenty years, he of course escapes and comes back to take his revenge on the town and their Valentine's day party.  It has some good scares, some decent gore, and horrible acting.  And it's another of the famous "holiday" horrors.  You know you love it, just like I do.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Celebrating My 50th with 50 Favorites

 So in just a few days, I'm turning 50.  While it sounds monumental and scary, I'm really okay with it.  It's better than the alternative, right? It's also important to mention that this blog is now ten years old.  In March of this year, it turned a decade old and it's still going, despite going bursts of time with no updates. 
In correspondence of these two "historic" events, I've decided to do a little countdown, because everyone loves lists and because it's been many years since I've done a favorites list.  Back in October of 2011, I did a list of 31 favorite films, in which I essentially just did a review of each of those films to celebrate the Halloween season.  
I have noticed that while many of my favorites still made the cut this time, I have replaced several of them with other films I have grown to love. 

So without further ado, here are numbers 50 - 41.

50. The Resurrected (1991)

This adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story is directed by Dan O'Bannon and stars Chris Sarandon as as Charles Dexter Ward, a man dedicated to the science of bringing the dead back to life. While some of the acting is campy, the special effects are very good and the story compelling enough to look past the hokey parts.  Ward's wife (played by Jane Tibbett) hires a private investigator (John March) to look into Charles's unusual behavior.  Unusual is quite the understatement, as you'll find out. What's so great about The Resurrected is the mood it sets and the unnerving feeling you get as you watch events unfold.

49. Pet Sematary (1989)

I couldn't leave this Stephen King adaption off my list.  It was one of the first King novels that I read so it holds a special place in my heart. When the movie came out, there's no denying it was downright scary.  From Victor Pascow's nightly jaunts to good ol' Jud introducing Louis Creed to the power of the "real" pet graveyard to Gage's accident and subsequent trip to the Micmac burial grounds to Rachel's sister Zelda, there is a whole lot to be frightened of.  And we can't forget Church. What a cat!

48. Subspecies (1991)

It's all about the atmosphere for this vampire tale set in Romania. Filmed on location in Bucharest, the ambience of rotting castles and vampire-fearing locals only adds to the film's appeal.  While the acting is actually pretty bad, it's a truly dark and moody journey into the heart of a (formerly) communist country.  Radu (Anders Hove) has killed his father, the vampire king (horror royalty Angus Scrimm), in order to be able to utilize the "bloodstone", an ancient relic that drips the life-sustaining blood of the saints.  Three beautiful college friends travel to Castle Vladislas to do research on the ruins and run smack into a power struggle between Radu and his extremely attractive half-brother, Stefan.  Chaos ensues.  Hilarity also becomes unavoidable once the stop-motion sub-species creatures come into play.  But I can overlook silliness for pure atmosphere....and a great soundtrack.

47.  The Shining (1980)

 This is a film I have watched countless times and would consider one of my go-to "comfort horror" favorites.  I know Stephen King isn't crazy about this version of his best selling novel, but there's no doubt it's a juggernaut of terror.  Jack Nicholson is over the top as Jack Torrance, a man with just enough inner crazy to be sent over the edge when holed up in a haunted hotel for the winter with his passive wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and young, psychically-enabled son Danny (Danny Lloyd).  So much shockingly ghastly goodness to love here but I'll say the blood-drenched elevators, the wacky ballroom party, the rotting woman in the bathtub and the last scenes of the chase in the maze all say horror to me, and in a big way.

 46. Rogue (2007)

It's kind of hard to find a good crocodile horror flick that isn't a comedy. But I have found it, and it's glorious.  Michael Vartan stars as a travel writer who hops on a touristy cruise down an Australian National Park river.  The always great Radha Mitchell is the guide for a group of folks that even includes the lovable Aussie John Jarratt (Wolf Creek).  Long story short, the gang runs smack dab into a giant crocodile's territory and getting out is one big pain in the ass (and a lot of other places).  Run aground and stuck on the edge of a small island about to be submerged by the tide, the group slowly stops placing blame and begins to work together to devise a plan for survival.  Great effects, stellar casting and a lovely yet fierce score make this one to admire.  If you haven't seen it, do get on that, stat.

45. Pumpkinhead (1998)

Now this is a film that wins me over every...single...time.  With superb creature effects by Stan Winston (who also directed) and the talents of the stupendous icon, Lance Henriksen, Pumpkinhead is a delight to be savored at each viewing.  What is thought of as B-grade horror is near the top of any discerning horror fan's monster flick list.  Henriksen plays Ed Harley, a backwoods proprietor of goods and the loving father to Billy, who sadly becomes the victim of the antics of a group of snot-nosed twenty-somethings out for a good time.  Ed, overcome with relentless grief, has the local witch conjure up a terrifying revenge.  And its name is Pumpkinhead.  Suspense and atmosphere are key here, with the monster effects certainly worthy of the great Winston name. 

44.  The Wolfman (1941)

Universal monsters have a special place in my heart, as they do for many a horror fan.  I love all the classics, but a few of them I hold a little dearer, this werewolf story being one of them.  Lon Chaney Jr. portrays Larry Talbot, a man heading home to the family estate after the mysterious death of his brother. When the friend of his love interest Gwen (Evelyn Ankers) finds herself attacked in the dense fog, it's up to Larry to attempt a rescue.  Instead, he gets bitten by a wolf, at least that's what he thought...  With gypsies and silver bullets and transformations, The Wolfman has it all, topped off by the sheer charisma of Chaney.  And do keep in mind: 
Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night;
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.

43. The Birds (1963)

When Hitchcock finished Psycho, I'm sure he was wondering what he could possibly do to surpass the popularity and critical acclaim of that film.  Did he accomplish it here?  No.  But The Birds is a damn fine film in its own right, and I still love popping it in and singing a rousing round of "Risselty-Rosselty."  Ahhhh! Total ear-worm.  I digress.  I love The Birds. I love Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren, I love Jessica Tandy.  Hell, I even love Veronica Cartwright.  But what I love most is those birds. EVERYWHERE.  On the power lines, at the school, the monkey bars, the roof, the cars, the restaurants, the gas station....even in the attic.  Such a powerful statement these birds make, for just one bird is nothing...not scary in the least.  But put hundreds together and it's just totally unsettling.  In the best possible way!

 42. Misery (1990)

Misery, by Stephen King, is a fantastic read. And the film is just as extraordinary.  With two knock-it-out-of-the-park performances by James Caan and most especially Kathy Bates.  Centered on a writer who always finishes his novels in the same way, Misery introduces us to Paul Sheldon, a best-selling author who wrecks his Mustang in a snowstorm and is rescued from near death by one Annie Wilkes, who just happens to be his number one fan.  After treating his multiple injuries (because she is a nurse, you know) she neglects to notify his family and friends and proceeds to hole him up in her cabin and force him to re-write one of his novels after he had the audacity to kill off the main character that Annie lived and breathed.  Bates won a well-deserved Oscar for her performance and Caan is equally as stellar in his role.  The title is perfect for this one.  The film is equally as perfect.

41.  The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Based on a book by the genre favorite prolific horror writer Richard Matheson, Hell House is a British film that tells the tale of the Belasco house, supposedly the "Mount Everest of haunted houses".  Dr Lionel Barrett is tasked to prove one way or the other, and takes his wife and two psychics with him over Christmas holiday to debunk the mansion and all its ghosts.  Now, there's nothing I like better than a good haunted house flick, and this was one of my first experiences with one, I vividly remember watching this one on television with my mom on a rainy Saturday afternoon, so it holds very dear memories for me.  Through electromagnetic experiments, seances and other manners of ghost-hunting, they find the source of the hauntings, at least they think they do.  But all is not as it seems.  And Belasco is not finished with our ghost-busters.  Not by a long shot.  There's something very eerie and unsettling about this film, and I think it is just the tremendous bones the story itself has, and we have Matheson to thank for that.

Next up, numbers 40-31...