In honor of Halloween, I have assembled two lists. One holds a ranking of the ten best slashers of all time. While these characters were awesome, that does not necessarily mean that any of their respective movies were any good. So my other list looks solely at the movies, and which come in tops.
The list of the best slashers will be published tomorrow (Saturday) on hometownstation.com. Today though, we’ll take a stab (please pardon the pun I know it’s bad) at identifying the ten best horrors movies…ever.
The films were judged on the following merits:
- Rewatchability (for today, that’s a word);
- Originality (which means remakes don’t count no matter how good they are);
- Quality (I know I bag on horror movies by taking the term quality with a grain of salt, but there are some legitimately good movies made in that genre).
10. “The Descent” 2006:
In case you’re wondering what this movie is, it’s about a group of women who go spelunking in a cave they’re not supposed to. They go deep underground to discover these white creatures who can’t see them but can still hunt them. While the plot sounds stupid, this movie was genius. It taps into one of the most common types of fears, claustrophobia (which my friend Andrew has which is why he loves this and “The Cube”). A lot of the scares stem from being trapped in caverns of the cave. It also contains a lot of psychological elements and it has some cool kill scenes. The film is unique considering that it has an all female cast, none of whom go upstairs to take a shower while the killer is in the house. I think this is the best horror movie of the decade and a great movie to watch on Halloween, assuming of course you’re stuck handing out candy rather then going to a party (the scariest scenario of them all).
9. “Dawn of the Dead”/”Night of the Living Dead” 1978/1968:
I had to put a George A. Romero movie in here. You can’t have this type of a list without including his stuff because of how influential he was in bringing zombie movies into the mainstream as well as using zombie films to comment on society. He has since become the Woody Allen of zombie movies; as he got older it was more hit n miss. The two aforementioned movies established the template for every awesome zombie movie to follow. The idea that zombies eat brains, can only be killed by shooting them in the head, or that you can save infected people by killing the main zombie all stem from Romero. There has since been better movies made, like “28 Days Later”, “28 Weeks Later”, “Evil Dead”, “The Omega Man/”I Am Legend”, “Shaun of the Dead”, “Zombieland”, the remake of “Dawn of the Dead”, the Thriller video, the first South Park Halloween episode, plus a really great segment on The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror. None of these great movies would exist without Romero’s groundbreaking (literally) films.
8. “An American Werewolf in London”1981:
Written and Directed by John Landis, who brought us such comedy classics as “Trading Places”, “Coming to America”, “Animal House”, the Thriller video, and “The Blues Brothers”, comes the greatest werewolf movie ever (yes even better then the old movies from the 40’s). This could be the only great werewolf movie, as it reestablished the ideas of the old black and white movies. For instance, the concept of the full moon, the silver bullet, and the amazing sequence of turning into a werewolf. Also, this is one of the few werewolf movies that didn’t feel the need to intertwine some kind of vampire conflict. I am so done with that storyline. It worked in “Underworld” but I am annoyed with this idea, especially now that “New Moon” is going there and I have a feeling it will come up in season 3 of “True Blood.” Speaking of “Twilight” how is this popular? If Dracula were real and presumably in his coffin, he’d roll over into a vat of garlic coated stakes if he saw anything related to “Twilight”. Their vampires sparkle when they die SPARKLE! Are you kidding me? At least “True Blood” balances out their romance with humor and stark social commentary. I’ll stop before I blow a gasket. Anyways, “An American Werewolf in London” is the benchmark werewolf film of all time.
7. “Psycho” 1960/”Alien” 1979: I realize that these two movies have little if anything to do with each other. I know I promised I wouldn’t double dip, but I couldn’t figure out where to put “Psycho” and I knew I wanted it on there. Ditto “Alien”. I decided to combine the two into one entry (you will see why when we get to the top five). Let’s start with “Psycho;” this movie was one of the most innovative and influential movies ever. It still holds up after all of these years (note to kids: just because it doesn’t have reverse bear traps and a toy clown on videotape taunting you it’s still scary). “Psycho” managed to scare an entire generation of people from getting into their own shower and became one of the most parodied movies of all time.
Now, “Alien” is a sci-fi movie. But it is innovative because of three things:
- It follows the monster movie template of having a monster hunting people, and the Hitchcock template of not showing the very thing you’re afraid of leading to an awesome payoff.
- It effectively used the “2001: A Space Odyssey” idea of realistically portraying outer space as a silent vacuum, though unlike 2001 it doesn’t take an hour for someone to speak or for anything interesting to happen.
- This film gave us the first female action hero. Sigourney Weaver’s role of Ellen Ripley is interesting because if you read the script you’d think she was a man until she gives her first name. Neat huh?.
Back to the movie itself, the silence and lack of initial gore (with the lone exception of where the alien bursts from Kane’s stomach) makes it that much scarier. This movie is highly underrated as a horror movie and it’s sequel, though not a horror movie, is easily in the top ten sci-fi/ action movies ever made.
6. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” 1993: I also realize that this is not a horror movie but more of a Christmas movie, but then again isn’t it a quintessential movie to show on Halloween? Think about it, it takes the idea that each holiday has its own world and they live that holiday 365 days a year. That’s a scary thought (though most of us would LOVE to live St. Patrick’s Day every day). When Jack Skellington the Pumpkin King grows tired of living everyday like Halloween, he inadvertently makes Christmas terrifying. This movie also is one of the best movie musicals ever and boasts a great soundtrack. This movie transcends the holidays and has spawned the best seasonal addition to Disneyland, and is the most successful movie featuring a singing corpse that is until “This Is It” tops it (If you saw that coming good for you. If you think that joke was mean or too soon then I apologize, but I couldn’t help it. Furthermore if you laughed then you can’t complain).
5. “Poltergeist” 1982: “They’re Heeeeeeeeerrrrrrreee!” is the line uttered by little Carol Anne before she is sucked into the TV. This is one of the best ghost movies ever, if not the best. This movie took the old house built on an ancient Indian burial ground concept and showed us how an ordinary family dealt with ghosts trying to punish them for living on said land. The scene where the toy clown comes to life attacking the little boy is creepy, especially if you are afraid of clowns or dolls. These ghosts aren’t subtle like in other movies; they mean business.
4. “Young Frankenstein” 1974/ “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” 1975: I realize that these are not horror movies but spoofs. However, both of these movies are made to resemble old horror movies; from the 40’s (“Young Frankenstein”) and old crappy B movies from the 50s (“Rocky Horror”). The result is that both paid such great attention to detail that they became part of the genre. “Young Frankenstein” is one of the funniest movies ever made. Gene Wilder is brilliant as the descendant of the famous Dr. Frankenstein (though he pronounces it Fron-ken-stein because of his shame towards the family name) and when he performs “Puttin Down the Ritz” with his monster (played by the late great Peter Boyle) it is both the funniest scene in the movie and one of the most iconic comedy moments in movie history. Mel Brooks proved himself to be the master of parody films with this one.
“Rocky Horror” is one of the best musicals ever made and also the biggest cult classic of all time. It’s so weird and bizarre that it is essentially its own kind of horror movie. It launched the careers of Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf, and of coarse Dr. Frankenfurter himself Tim Curry. Curry is easily the best part of this movie and no one else could of played the sweet transvestite from Transexual Transylvania. This movie was so funny and has made nerds do the “Time Warp” again and again for years to come.
3. “The Exorcist” 1973: You knew this would be on here somewhere didn’t you? This movie scared more people in the 1970s then “Jaws”, “Halloween”, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Saturday Night Fever” combined. “The Exorcist” is still the movie that kids dare each other to watch or the first movie that scared them. My friend’s girlfriend Katie is a perfect example. This movie traumatized her and she now freaks out to the point of tears when there is anything on the screen related to demonic possession (as witnessed when we watched “Paranormal Activity.” There are so many classic scenes in this film, like when the demon’s head spins hurling split pea soup everywhere, or in the DVD version where Reagan crawls backwards downstairs spitting up blood. When the devil makes the bed shake and the way it sarcastically converses with the priest, who is screaming at the top of his lungs “the power of Christ compels you, the power of Christ compels you” is cool. Or when it spouts out the line “It’s a great day for an exorcism”.
2. “Misery” 1990:
I had to include something by Stephen King in this category. Not only is this one of my favorite books but it is really an amazing movie. Kathy Bates earned an Oscar for her terrifying portrayal as Annie Wilkes. She is probably the scariest female character on screen (not counting any movies starring Madonna, Cher, or Lindsey Lohan) as evidenced by the iconic scene where she smashes James Caan’s legs with a sledgehammer for trying to escape her home. What works here are the little things. Bates’ character doesn’t swear and instead opts for using the phrase “dirty birdie.” She is outwardly nice, especially towards James Caan, because she is his biggest fan (in case you forgot, James Caan is a writer who wrote romance novels with the title character named “Misery”). While he recovers from an auto accident she reads his manuscript of the final book and her kindness immediately evaporates when the “Misery” dies. She forces him to write a new book and punishes him severely throughout the movie. Aside from Kathy Bates scaring men everywhere (a feat she’d accomplish yet again in 2002 in “About Schmidt” when she gets into the hot tub with Jack Nicholson wearing nothing but a smile) the most amazing thing about this movie is that its directed by Rob “Meathead” Reiner. Do you realize how weird that is? If you look at his work you’d notice that most of his movies are terrible (except for “Stand By Me” and “The Princess Bride”) this is like realizing that Ben Affleck wrote half of “Good Will Hunting” or that Brett Favre could possibly be in the Super Bowl.
Now after a long-winded countdown we can finally get to the number one scariest movie of all time.
1. “The Shining” 1980:
You thought I was going to say “Kazaam” didn’t you?
“The Shining” also happens to be one of Stephen King’s best books. It is also in my opinion one of Stanley Kubrick’s best films, and Jack Nicholson is truly terrifying. The movie is long, I but not without reason. We need to watch as Jack slowly descends into cabin fever until it gets to the point where he’s swinging an axe and peers through the door saying the iconic line “Heeeeeeeerrrreeee’s Johnny” as his wife and son run for their lives. The kid is creepy too, with his “imaginary friend” Tony saying Redrum repeatedly before writing it on the mirror. The images of blood spilling out of the elevators, Wendy reading Jack’s 200 pages of the sentence “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!”, Danny running through the snowy hedge maze with Jack chasing him with the axe and those creepy girls who want to play with Danny forever and ever…there are so many chilling scenes. This movie also spawned the greatest Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment ever with Groundskeeper Willie as Scatman Crothers and Homer writing on the walls “No T.V. and no Beer make Homer GO CRAZY!.” This movie was and still is the best horror movie I’ve seen.
Whew! Sorry that was so long but this was sort of written as a streams of consciousness. Thank you for reading my ode to Halloween.
Have a safe and fun Halloween, and remember these tips.
1. Don’t give out candy corn as you will be practically asking to get your home egged or tee-peed.
2. If you want to smash pumpkins don’t do it if the person’s lights are on.
3. Don’t let your parents check your candy for poison that’s just an excuse to lose out on the good stuff.
Stay tuned as next week I return to my regularly scheduled format as I review either “A Christmas Carol”, “The Box”, or “The Men Who Stare at Goats”.
– Chauncey Telese