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 horror....it'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.

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