Cloverfield (2008) – Directed by Matt Reeves, starring Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, and Odette Annable.
Story: Filmed in the infamous “found footage” style, Cloverfield tells the story of a giant monster attached New York city and the struggle by several New Yorkers to escape, and ultimately, survive. The film takes an interesting twist on the Godzilla-style kaiju film by showing things literally from the ground level instead of focusing (and celebrating) on mass destruction. Your mileage may vary on the characters, but I enjoyed them for the most part.
Quote: “Okay, just to be clear here, our options are: die here, die in the tunnels, or die in the streets. That pretty much it?”
Absentia (2011) – Directed by Mike Flanagan, starring Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, and Doug Jones.
Story: Callie (Parker), a recovering drug addict, comes to stay with her sister, Tricia (Bell), whose husband has been missing for seven years. As Tricia declares her husband “dead in absentia,” Callie begins to suspect that a nearby tunnel may play a role in her brother-in-law’s disappearance… and the disappearance of many other people through history. Is something wrong with this tunnel, or are Callie’s addictions coming back to haunt her?
Quote: “What are you on?”
The Cabin in the Woods (2012) – Directed by Drew Goddard, starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford.
Why You Should See It – Because it’s a fun homage to the horror genre that also tweaks formulas to present a new take on familiar tropes. There are two plotlines – one follows five college students heading off to the titular cabin in the woods; as is wont to happen in these type of situations, the kids encounter some redneck zombie cannibals and all hell breaks loose. The second plotline follows two harried office workers (Jenkins and Whitford) as they spy on the kids in the cabin. But all is not as it seems; the plotlines converge in surprising ways and culminate in an orgy of horror awesomeness.
Scariest Scene – While the first jump scare of the film is pretty awesome (and an homage to Funny Games), nothing beats the climax of the film when, literally, all hell breaks loose. We’re talking wholesale slaughter and enough horror references to choke someone. Including a “angry molesting tree.”
Quote – “Cleanse them. Cleanse the world of their ignorance and sin. Bathe them in the crimson of… Am I on speakerphone?!?
XXVII. [REC] 2 – (2009, Spain) – Directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, starring Jonathan Mellor, Oscar Zafra, Pablo Rosso, and Manuela Velasco.
Why You Should See It – Picking up where the first [Rec] film ended, this sequel features a new cast of characters, headed up by Vatican liason, Dr. Owen (Mellor) leading a group of soldiers into the quarantined apartment building where all the nasty stuff went down in the first film. The group encounters the aftereffects, as well as being forced to defend themselves against the infect zombie-like creatures that still hide within the building. But as the film goes on, Dr. Owen reveals that it’s not just an infection. There’s something more sinister at work…something demonic. And Dr. Owen is determined to figure out a cure. There are some surprising and acceptable returnees this time around, but the film is really undercut by the addition of a trio of really stupid teens who break into the building (because who doesn’t want to go into a quarantined building surrounded by riot police? Y’know, for kicks!). The ending sets up what could be a very interesting sequel (although the filmmakers are apparently doing a prequel explaining the backstory first).
Scariest Moment – The final moments, when the true nature of the entity is revealed.
Quote – “Stupid!”
XXVIII. The Gate (1987) – Directed by Tibor Takacs, starring Stephen Dorff, Christa Denton, and Louis Tripp.
Why You Should See It – Because something like this could only be made in the 80s. The film stars a young Stephen Dorff (long before Blade) as Glen, who finds a humongous pit in his backyard one day. His friend heavy metal lovin’ friend Terry (Tripp) thinks something is up and goes to the most reliable source he knows - a heavy metal album. The record explains that the pit is a gateway to hell. Unfortunately, playing the album backwards, as Terry so intelligently does, accidentally plays the incantation to open up the gate. So now Glen, Terry, and Glen’s sister (Denton) are terrorized by pint-sized stop-motion demons (before dealing with a giant stop motion demon). See, total 80s. This film was made as a horror movie specifically aimed at the pre-teen crowd, but it doesn’t really talk down to them. It also throws in some decent effects.
Scariest Moment – Glen and Terry spend a part of the movie talking about the urban legend of a carpenter dying while building a house and getting walled up inside the house’s inner frame. Cue zombie carpenter appearing after the demons show up.
Quote – “We accidently summoned demons who used to rule the universe to come and take over the world.”
XXIX. The Omen (1976) – Directed by Richard Donner, staring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, and Patrick Troughton.
Why You Should See It – Probably the most famous film about the Antichrist, The Omen works as an origin story for the Beast of the Apocalypse. The film opens in Rome, as U.S. diplomat Robert Thorn learns that his child died immediately after birth. The priest who tells him this suggests that Thorn secretly adopt a baby whose mother just died. You know where this is heading. It turns out that the baby Thorn adopts, Damian, is the Antichrist. As the child grows older, more and more strange things keep happening. Eventually, a priest (Troughton, the 2nd Doctor himself) and a reporter (Warner) aid Thorn in discovering the truth about his son. But can he bring himself to kill Damian before his evil spreads?
Scariest Moment – David Warner’s death, which involves a Rube Goldberg set of circumstances to position Warner in the exact position to get decapitated by a plate glass window. Now you know where Final Destination got its ideas from.
Quote – “Have no fear, little one… I am here to protect thee.”
XXX. Big Trouble in Little China (1986) – Directed by John Carpenter, starring Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, and Victor Wong.
Why You Should See It – Because it’s hilarious. Director Carpenter combines his love of old wuxia kung-fu films and Howard Hawksian cracker-jack dialogue into this story of Jack Burton (Russell), a truck driver who gets caught up in a battle against Chinese ghost/demon Lo Pan (Hong). Burton’s friend, Wang (Dun), has had his fiance kidnapped by Lo Pan’s henchmen because he needs her in a wedding ceremony that will make the ghost flesh once more. Aided by feisty lawyer, Gracie Law (Cattral) and Chinese mystic Egg Shen (Wong), Jack still gets in over his head, and he has to rely on quick reflexes and bravado to survive (the best moments of the film are often Jack looking like an idiot even as he tries to swagger his way through the dangers around him).
Scariest Moment – I’m partial to the Hell of Drowned Sinners.
Quote – “Son of a bitch must pay!”
XXXI. The Exorcist (1973) – Directed by William Friedkin, starring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, and Lee J. Cobb.
Why You Should See It – Because it is often lauded as one of the scariest horror films ever made. I certainly think it’s high up on the list. The plot centers on demonic possession of young Reagan (Blair). Desprate, her mother (Burstyn) puts her daughter through a myriad of medical tests before finally turning to the Catholic church. Father Karras (Miller), a priest of faltering faith, decides that an exorcism must be done, so an expert, Father Merrin (von Sydow) is called in to perform the ceremony. The film starts slowly, building up the tension before unleashing the shocking imagery of a possessed Reagan. The makeup is unforgettable, as is Reagan’s cursing and self mutilation. The film remains powerful because of its depiction of the corruption of youth and innocence.
Scariest Moment –The crucifix scene.
Quote – “Your mother’s in here, Karras. Would you like to leave a message? I’ll see that she gets it.”
The Weird and Wonderful
XXI. The Dark Crystal (1982) – Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, starring the Jim Henson Company puppeteers.
Why You Should See It –Because the Skeksis are pretty fucking far out there, man. Henson and crew had always had a bit of a subversive streak (and obvious creative talent to spare), so when they set out to create a dark fairytale that entertained and frightened children at the same time, they succeeded. Set on a distant planet, the film features two races, the Skeksis and the Mystics, who were torn asunder when the magical Dark Crystal was cracked and a shard was lost. A prophecy foretold that a Gelfling, a humanoid race, would return the shard, so the Skeksis had all the Gelfling’s wiped out. Except for Jen, who is raised by the mystics to fulfill the prophecy. The puppets created for the film by the Henson Company are spectacular and frightening.
Scariest Moment – Anything involving that goddamn Chamberlain. His “hmmmmmmm”s where creepy.
Quote – “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm….”
XXII. Labyrinth (1986) – Directed by Jim Henson, starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and the Jim Henson Company puppeteers.
Why You Should See It –Four years after The Dark Crystal, Henson and co. returned to craft another visually spectacular fairy tale, Labyrinth. I like this film better because it incorporates some of the absurd humor the Muppets were known for, and human actors allows for more audience empathy. Here, young Sarah (Connelly) wishes that the Goblin King (Bowie, whose near obscenely tight costumes were responsible for the sexual awakening of many a girl) would take her baby brother away. Now faced with the responsibility of traversing the Goblin King’s labyrinth in order to reach his castle, Sarah finds unlikely allies in Hoggle, Bluto and Sir Didymus, which she will need to get past the bizarre and fantastic creatures she encounters.
Scariest Moment – The oubliette is pretty creepy, but I always found Sarah’s drugged out dance dream creepier.
Quote – “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”
XXIII. Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore, Italy) (1994) – Directed by Michele Soavi, starring Rupert Everett, Francois Hadji-Lazaro, and Anna Falchi.
Why You Should See It – It’s staged like a nightmarish dream that never ends. The narrative doesn’t make much sense, but it is interesting and nice to look at. Everett stars as Dellamorte, the caretaker of the local cemetery. Unfortunately, the dead have developed the habit of coming back to life, so Dellamorte, along with his bizarre yet somehow lovable assistant Gnaghi (Hadji-Lazaro), has to repeatedly put the dead back down. Things change, however, when Dellamorte encounters a mysterious and beautiful woman (Falchi). Things go awry, and Dellamorte must continuously struggle to escape the doldrums of his life. But repeated encounters with different women (all played by Falchi) complicates matters.
Scariest Moment – There’s a scene with an awesome Grim Reaper come to stalk Dellamorte.
Quote – “Hell, at a certain point in life, you realize you know more dead people than living.”
XXIV. Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) – Directed by Don Coscarelli, starring Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Gloria Lynne Henry, Kevin Connors, and Angus Scrimm.
Why You Should See It –Because it’s Phantasm! Continuing Coscarelli’s long running low budget horror series, the third installment sees the continuing adventures of badass ice cream man, Reggie (Bannister) and Mike (Baldwin, returning to the role after studios forced Coscarelli to cast James LeGros in the second film) against the sinister Tall Man, who still has habit of stealing dead bodies for nefarious purposes. This time around, the duo pick up some new compatriots, particularly nunchuck swinging Roxy (Henry) and Tim (Connors), a kid whose very good with weapons. Michael’s dead brother, Jody (Thornbury), also returns to the series, but his spirit is imprisoned in one of the Tall Man’s flying silver balls o’ death. This installment ramps up the humor (some of which works and some of which falls way flat) and the action set pieces that were introduced in the second film. Some more clues about the Tall Man’s true nature are revealed, as are questions about Mike’s true nature. All in all, this is a worthy followup to the previous two Phantasm films.
Scariest Moment –As always, the Phantasm films end with a WTF? moment designed to make the audience jump (fans of the series will accept that these endings are almost totally glossed over or retconned at the beginning of the next film).
Quote – “Ever try vanilla?”
XXV. Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru, Japan) (2000) – Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano.
Why You Should See It –It’s batshit crazy. Set in a near-future Japan, rising unemployment and student unrest has led to the passing of the BR bill, which requires one class of students to be picked at random every year, sent to an isolated island, given weapons, and told to kill each other until there is only one survivor. The survivor of the Battle Royale gets whatever he/she wishes. The film follows the class chosen for that year’s BR. They are drugged and taken to the island, where their old teacher (Kitano) coldly and ruthlessly informs them of their mission. Randomly given weapons, the students struggle to come to terms with what they have to do (they have two days to complete the game or the electronic collars around their necks will cause their heads to asplode). Some students still band together; others take the opportunity to pretend their in a John Woo movie. Several students, however, figure out that their might be a way out of the game. The action is fast and bloody, and the characters are interesting, although we don’t get to know more than a few. The best part, however, is Takeshi Kitano who is both batshit crazy and oddly sympathetic. Don’t ask me what his backstory with one of the students was about though. I have no idea.
Scariest Moment – When Kitano explains the mission to the students. The man get’s coldblooded.
Quote – “Life is a game. So fight for survival and see if you’re worth it.”
Fun Fact - Some of you may recognize Takeshi Kitano as Vic Romano from MXC: Most Extreme Challenge, the old show from Spike TV that featured crazy obstacle courses and hilariously inappropriate commentary. MXC was a recut and redubbed version of Japan’s Takeshi’s Castle.
XXVI. The Shining (1980) – Directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers.
Why You Should See It –Because it’s The Shining. Featuring Jack Nicholson at his crazy best, the film is set in the Rockies during the winter. Isolated from the rest of the world, Jack Torrence (Nicholson), his wife (Duval) and son (Lloyd) are holed up in the grand Overlook Hotel, where Jack has been hired to be the caretaker over the winter. But all is not right in the hotel, which Danny senses thanks to his ability to “shine,” i.e. communicate telepathically and see things from the future and past. As Jack sinks further into insanity (how much of it the fault of his own demons and how much of it the fault of the malevolent hotel is never made clear), Danny and Wendy become witness to some surreal and bizarre imagery. Who can forget ocean of blood bursting out of the elevator.
Scariest Moment – Room 237. That’s all you need to know.
Quote – “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny
Vampires and Werewolves
XVI. Vampire Hunter D (Kyuketsuki Hanta D – Japan) (1985) – Directed by Toyoo Ashida and Carl Macek. English version stars voice talents of Michael McConnohie, Lara Cody, and Barbara Goodson.
Why You Should See It: It’s one of the first anime films I ever saw, and it intrigued me to search out more. While I never became a huge anime otaku, I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for VHD. Set in a post-apocalyptic far-future plagued with vampires and mutants, the film’s protagonist, D, is the best vampire hunter around, mostly because he’s half-vampire, half-human. The film is essentially Seven Samurai, just with one warrior protagonist and the bad guys are monsters.
Scariest Scene: The scene where D is attacked by the henchmen of the Big Bad Vamp is pretty harrowing because one of them can twist time and space to his advantage.
Quote: “I’d rather bite my tongue off and bleed to death!”
XVII. The Howling (1981) – Directed by Joe Dante, starring Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Elisabeth Brooks, Robert Picardo, and Dick Miller.
Why You Should See It: It’s another film from the fairly reliable Joe Dante (excluding Looney Tunes: Back in Action), and The Howling helped Dante capture the notice of Steven Spielberg, leading to Dante’s directorial gig on Gremlins. Although over shadowed by the more successful (and better) An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is an interesting take on werewolves, equating the beast inside to repressed violent and sexual urges. The plot centers on Dee Wallace’s character, a TV reporter traumatized after being attack by a serial killer (Robert Picardo in a very early role). Her therapist suggests she and her husband visit a wilderness commune for some R’n’R. Unfortunately, this commune is filled with some weird people who get a little crazy (and hairy) from time to time. Can Dee Wallace survive and warn the world that werewolves walk amongst the humans. Also of note are Rob Bottin’s make-up and creature effects that are still among the best for any werewolf movie, especially considering the low budget for the film.
Scariest Scene: Both scenes featuring Robert Picardo’s serial killer character are creepy. As is Dee Wallace’s solution to showing the world the existence of werewolves. And I can’t go without mentioning Dick Miller’s cameo as the owner of an occult book store, and once again named Walter Paisley.
Quote: “We get ‘em all: sun-worshippers, moon-worshippers, Satanists. The Manson family used to hang around and shoplift. Bunch of deadbeats!”
XVIII. Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (aka Howling II: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch, 1985) – Directed by Philippe Mora, starring Christopher Lee, Annie McEnroe, Reb Brown, and Sybil Danning.
Why You Should See It: Because it’s a terrible, terrible movie, but oddly charming in its terribleness. Even Christopher Lee, who’s been in over a hundred movies during his long career, considers this his lowest point in cinema. The plot centers on Christopher Lee as Stephan, werewolf hunter. He recruits Annie McEnroe’s character and Reb Brown’s character (who happens to be the brother to the Dee Wallace character from the first film, although Wallace smartly chose not to return for this installment) to go to Transylvania to hunt down Stirba (Danning), queen of the vampires. The film is poorly shot and poorly acted (even Lee seems to be sleep walking through the entire movie), has shoddy make-up effects and bizarre plot developments. But, as I said, the film has a certain charm to it, and it certainly lends it self to mockery of the highest (or lowest) order. I will say, however, I do like the song “Howl” that Babel provided for the film. It’s got that same gothy vibe that Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” has.
Scariest Scene: Not the scariest but definitely the most famous shot is Stirba ripping her top off to reveal her breasts. It’s infamous because they replay that shot about 30 times during the end credits.
Quote: “For it is written: the inhabitants of the Earth have been made drunk with her blood. And I saw her sent upon a hairy beast and she held forth a golden chalice full of the filthiness of fornications. And upon her forehead was written: ‘Behold I am the great mother of harlots and all abominations of the Earth.’”
XIX. Ginger Snaps (2000) – Directed by John Fawcett, starring Katharine Isabelle, Emily Perkins, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers, and Jesse Moss.
Why You Should See It: Werewolves and sexuality have been put together many times and in many combinations. Here, lycanthropy is connected to female puberty, specifically menstruation and sexual maturation. The film stars Isabelle as Ginger and Perkins as Bridgette, two sisters obsessed with death. Pariahs at their highschool, they find solace in each other’s morbid company. That is until Ginger gets bitten by a “dog” during an attack sequence. Suddenly, Ginger starts having her period, dressing more provocatively and actively flirting with boys. She’s also starting grow a tail and has heightened senses. As the two sisters clash over Ginger’s newfound popularity (and developing murderous habits), Bridgette must figure out a way to save her sister. Also of note is a bizarre performance by Mimi Rogers as the girls’ doting mother, who is either *really* oblivious to what Ginger is getting up to or actively covering for her daughter.
Scariest Scene: The final stalking sequence between a completely wolfed out Ginger and several other characters provides a nice climax to the film.
Quote: “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door.”
XX. Stake Land (2010) – Directed by Jim Mickle, starring Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris, Sean Nelson, and Michael Cerveris.
Why You Should See It: It takes the zombie infestation craze going on and converts the monsters to vampires (the similarity between this film’s title and Zombieland cannot be a coincidence). The world has been overrun by a plague of vampires. There are pockets of humanity left in barricaded towns, and crazy religious cults. A vampire killer who’s known only as Mister (Damici, who also co-wrote the film) and his protege Martin (Paolo) travel north towards the possibly mythic New Eden, a safe haven from vampires. Along the way, however, they pick up new companions (McGillis, Harris, and Nelson), and also run afoul of a religious cult that thinks that vampires are God’s punishment for humanity’s sins.
Scariest Scene: The group finds a momentary safe haven in a barricaded community. During a celebration, however, a helicopter piloted by members of said religious cult, drop several vampires into the crowd to wreak havoc. It’s a tense scene aided by the fact that it’s shot all in one take.
Quote: “Welcome to Stake Land.”
XII. The Walking Dead – Season 1 (2010) – Created by Frank Darabont (based on the comic series The Walking Dead created by Robert Kirkman), starring Andrew Lincoln, John Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jefferey DeMun, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, IronE Singleton, Norman Reedus, and Michael “f’n” Rooker.
Why You Should See It: It’s a zombie show on a mainstream cable network, and, for the most part, it’s really well done. The first season comes in at six episodes (what is this, a British show?), but they pack in a lot of stuff (too much stuff sometimes) while also setting up for future storylines. The plot revolves around Deputy Rick Grimes (Lincoln), who wakes up from a coma to find that the zombie apocalypse has fallen and his family has left town. Rick heads to Atlanta, home of the CDC, but finds the city overrun. Thankfully, he hooks up with a group of survivors who have come to the city to scavenge for supplies, and, ultimately, Rick reunites with his wife and son (Callies and Riggs respectively). But things are complicated because Rick’s wife has been sleeping with his best friend and fellow police officer, Shane (Bernthal), because she thought Rick was dead. Plus, one of the group (the always awesome Rooker) was left in the city, which pisses off his brother (Reedus, who makes up for the fucking Boondock Saints here). The show works for me because it focuses on the survivors and the complications of living in a zombie-filled world while punctuating the drama with zombie gore the traditional method espoused by Romero and his disciples, which the complainers about lack of zombie action should remember). Admittedly, some of the characters and dialogue falls flat (particularly with Callies and Laurie Holden), but Andrew Lincoln’s Rick provides a steady anchor to the series, and I like Shane’s role as wildcard. Jeffery DeMun’s Dale is also a highlight, and Michael Rooker makes his brief camera time memorable by absolutely chewing the scenery apart.
Scariest Moment(s): The sequence of Rick waking up in the hospital is suitably creepy, as is Rick’s discovery of the zombie hordes in Atlanta. The zombie attack on the group’s campground is also a nice sequence.
Quote: “They might not seem like much one at a time, but when they’re in a group all riled up and hungry, man you watch your ass.”
Reminder – The season 2 premiere occurred tonight, and I thought it was a very strong episode, particularly the highway sequence.
XIII. Masters of Horror: The Black Cat (2007) – Directed by Stuart Gordon, starring Jeffrey Combs and Elyse Levesque.
Why You Should See It: I loved the Masters of Horror series, even though many of the episodes were “eh” or worse, particularly in the second season. But the concept of letting established directors in the horror genre film an hour long short film without constraints is a fantastic idea, and sometimes the directors were able to knock it out of the park. One such director was Stuart Gordon, whose first season episode was the solid Dreams in the Witch House, which saw him return to the work of H.P. Lovecraft ( on which Gordon had cemented his master status in the 1980s with Re-Animator and From Beyond, both of which starred Jeffrey Combs). Gordon’s even better second season entry of Masters of Horror, The Black Cat, sees him reuniting with Combs in order to tackle the work of Lovecraft’s idol, Edgar Allan Poe. Combs stars as Poe himself, and he looks eerily like the writer. Combs also plays the role full tilt, giving Poe a healthy dose of pathos by playing into the man’s documented alcoholism, failure as a poet forced to write sensationalist genre fiction for very little money, and a wife slowly succumbing to tuberculosis. And then throw in one pissed off black cat that torments Poe without mercy, which slowly drives him insane. The episode is a combination of Poe’s real life and his story “The Black Cat,” and if you’re familiar with that story, you know there’s some very nasty and tragic things in store.
Scariest Moment: Poe and the cat throw down hardcore, and the cat gets fucked up. But it also gets it revenge.
Quote: “I have little sense of the world around me. Such is my genius.”
XIV. Dexter – Season 1 (2006) – Starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Julie Benz, Lauren Velez, David Zayas, James Remar, C.S. Lee and Erik King.
Why You Should See It: It’s a well-made, addictive show that features a serial killer, Dexter (Hall) as the main character. Dexter works for the Miami PD as a blood splatter analyst, while his sister Debra (Carpenter, AKA Brother-Lover) struggles to move from vice to homicide. Raised by his adopted father, a cop (Remar), Dexter lives by the code – only kill the people who have slipped through the justice system and never leave any evidence. Over the course of the first season, Dexter and crew investigate the Ice Truck Killer, a vicious yet methodical serial killer who seems to know an awful lot about Dexter’s deadly moonlighting hobby. Hall holds this show together, which is good because quite a few of the other characters can get grating (particularly Eric King’s Doakes, who never really gets beyond super-angry black man in his characterization of the cop who suspects Dexter of not being on the up-and-up). Debra also has her annoying moments, but I think that’s actually purposively built into the character’s journey. The Ice Truck Killer’s connection to Dexter is, in my opinion, what leads this season to end on strong note.
Scariest Moment(s): The Ice Truck Killer leaves a present for Dexter in a hotel room that is truly disturbing.
Quote: “Blood. Sometimes it sets my teeth on edge, other times it helps me control the chaos.”
XV. Doctor Who: Blink (Season 3, Ep. 10 – 2007) – Written by Steven Moffat, starring David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, Carey Mulligan, Finlay Robertson, and Michael Obiora.
Why You Should See It: It’s one of the strongest episodes of the Doctor Who revival, which should come as no surprise because it was written by Steven Moffat. Moffat’s episodes were always a highlight when Russel T. Davies headed up the show, so much so that Moffat took over the show when Davies and the Tenth Doctor (Tennant) left the show in 2009. Blink is a Doctor-lite episode, focusing on the plight of Sally Sparrow (pre-Hollywood fame Mulligan) as she encounters the Fallen Angels, a race of creatures that look like statues who can only move when you don’t look at them. If they catch you, they send you back in time and feed on the energy that you would have used in your regular course of life. The problem is, the Doctor and his companion Martha (Agyeman) have become victims of the Angels and are stuck in 1969 without the Doctor’s time machine, the TARDIS. How can the Doctor help Sally Sparrow survive the Angels and send the TARDIS back to the Doctor so he can escape the past. The answer is rather ingenious.
Scariest Moment: The final montage of the episode, with shots of various statues throughout London as the Doctor implores the viewer to not blink.
Quote: “Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good Luck.”
Today’s theme - Killers
VI. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) – Directed by Eli Craig, starring Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, and Jesse Moss.
Why You Should See It – Because it’s a hilarious subversion of the killer hillbilly subgenre, and I, for one, am thankful for it. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn 2, and whatnot, but the genre is so played out at this point thanks to super shitty films like fucking Cabin Fever (fuck you, Eli Roth, and the big-eybrowed horse your mom fucked to conceive you). Plus, I’m from Tennessee, and while I have a lot of issues with the generalized politics of that region, I also know there’s a lot of good, simple people there too. The main characters of the film, Tucker (Tudyk) and Dale (Labine) are just such people. Yes, they’re hillbillies with thick accents and a fashion sense dedicated to coveralls and John Deere, but they’re good men. Dale, in particular, garners the sympathy of the audience by having low self esteem and trouble talking to girls (as many a male horror film fan can relate too). The plot is simple – Tucker and Dale have gone to fix up Tucker’s newly bought vacation home, a cabin straight out of the Evil Dead real estate catalogue. Along the way, they run into a bunch of college kids, lead by douche-tacular Chad (Moss), who has some severe issues with hillbillies. The sympathetic female in the group, Allison (Bowden), is rescued by Tucker and Dale after she nearly drowns, but the rest of the college kids think that the hillbillies have kidnapped her. In their efforts to get her back, several of the kids accidentally kill themselves in fucked-up but funny ways, which convinces the surviving teens that they are, indeed, dealing with killer hillbillies. Tucker and Dale soon get caught up in having to fend for their lives, all the while Dale is falling for Allison. The standoff between the groups escalates until a full on slasher-iffic war develops.
Scariest Moment – My favorite may just be when one of the teens accidentally throws himself into the woodchipper, much to Tucker’s surprise and horror.
Quote – “Oh, hidy ho officer, we’ve had a doozy of a day. There we were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over my property.”
VII. My Bloody Valentine 3-D (2009) – Directed by Patrick Lussier, starring Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Megan Boone, and Tom “Motherfuckin’” Atkins.
Why You Should See It – I grew up in the 80s, the heyday of the slasher, and this is a remake of the 1981 My Bloody Valentine, a nicely done Canadian flick that never reached the heights of the Friday the 13th’s or the Nightmare on Elm Street’s but remains a favorite for those in the know (and a former entry on these lists). The nice thing about this remake is that it works if you’ve never seen the original, but it jumps to another level if you are familiar with the first version – characters get tweaked and expectations get played with. The acting is surprisingly strong; the only actor I didn’t care for was Kerr Smith, but he was supposed to be a douchebag anyway. Jensen Ackles in particular does a nice job, and he fares much better than his Supernatural co-star, Jared Padalecki, did in the Friday the 13th remake. Oh, and the flick has Tom Atkins being all Tom Atkins. Which is awesome.
Scariest Moment – The opening prologue, which details the exploits of Harry Warden after he wakes up from a year long coma caused by a mine collapse, is pretty gruesome. I’m also pretty fond of the grocery store stalking sequence, where the killer (decked out in a full-mining gear, including gas mask) goes after the wife and mistress of the sherrif.
Quote – Deputy Ferris: “You wanna take point?”
Burke: “I’m retired.”
VIII. A Bucket of Blood (1959) – Directed by Roger Corman, starring Dick Miller, Barbara Morris, Antony Carbone, Julian Burton, and Ed Nelson.
Why You Should See It – Because it’s Dick Miller’s only starring role in a film. If you’re read any of the previous lists (or my description of this year’s Piranha), you’ve noticed the name Dick Miller pop up before. That’s because he’s one of the horror genre’s longest running and beloved character actors, and so he shows up regularly in films like Gremlins (Mr. Fudderman), The Terminator (the gun shop clerk Ahnuld blasts), Chopping Mall, Amazon Women on the Moon, Amityville 1992, Matinee, The ‘burbs, Demon Knight, and tons more (Joe Dante, in particular, puts him in every one of his movies as a good luck charm). But, as I said, A Bucket of Blood is Miller’s only starring role, and here he plays meek Walter Paisely, a waiter at a happening beatnik night club (Corman’s skewers of the more absurd aspects of the beat culture are indeed sharp here. If someone remade this movie today, the club would be full of fucking hipsters…say, that gives me an idea…). Paisley is browbeaten by the owner of the club, Leonard de Santis (Carbone), barely tolerated by its main poet Maxwell H. Brock (Burton), and treated respectfully, if a little distantly, by one of the patrons, Carla (Morris). Things change for Walter, however, when he starts producing fantastically lifelike sculptures, which propel him to the front of the art scene. But why do the sculptures capture the look of horror in the face of death so perfectly? What is happening to the patrons disappearing around the club? And why does Leonard de Santis come to fear Walter so much?
Scariest Moment – When the beatniks discover the secret to Walter’s sculptures. Too bad Walter’s running after Carol in the dark streets at that point.
Quote – “Walter has a clear mind. One day something will enter it, feel lonely…and leave again.”
Fun Fact – Miller went on to play characters named Walter Paisley in five films (Hollywood Boulevard, The Howling, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Chopping Mall, and Shake, Rattle and Rock!) after A Bucket of Blood.
IX. Seven (1995) – Directed by David Fincher, starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow, and R. Lee Ermey
Why You Should See It: You probably already have. I think out of all the films in this year’s list, Seven (I refuse to put a fucking 7 in the title, so fuck off), may be the most recognizable thanks to Morgan Freeman and Pitt. I include it on the list, however, because it’s one of the bleakest films to come out during the 90s, where any moral victory is tainted at best. The plot follows two detectives on the hunt for a serial killer using the seven deadly sins as inspiration. The kills are inspired and gruesome, and Fincher’s keen eye for detail and shot construction only add to this (indeed, after the disappointment of Alien 3, Seven is the film that catapulted Fincher into critical acclaim, although it wasn’t until The Social Network that the majority of Hollywood finally accepted him). The acting is strong across the board, even from Gwenny (her fate in the film helps), and Spacey follows up his outstanding turn in The Usual Suspects with a super-creepy performance here as John Doe.
Scariest Moment: When John Doe’s plan comes together, and no one’s lives will ever be the same.
Quote: “What’s in the box?!?”
X. I Saw the Devil (2010) – Directed by Jee-Woon Kin, starring Byung-hun Lee, Min-Sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon, San-ha Oh, Ho-jin Jeon, and Yoon-seo Kim.
Why You Should See It – Because it’s even bleaker than Seven. Another fine entry in the genre of Korean revenge films (of which Oldboy, which also features Min-Sik Choi, is still the standard), I Saw the Devil features Min-sik Choi plays the depraved, remorseless serial killer Kyung-chul. Kyung is not a Hannibal Lecter; he is neither suave nor debonair. He’s an arrogant, disgusting psychopath. When Kyung kills the pregnant fiance of secret agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) the audience fully expects Soo-hyun to hunt down the killer and get his revenge. And that is exactly what happens. But the film subverts this expectation be having Soo-hyun’s methods become increasingly illogical and dangerous. Soo-hyun tracks down Kyung-chul rather easily (those special agent skills coming in handy), but Soo-hyun doesn’t kill Kyung. Instead, he beats the ever-loving hell out of him, breaks his arm, and leaves him a bunch of money. Also, unknown to Kyung, Soo-hyun has placed a tracking device inside the killer, allowing him to locate Kyung no matter where he goes. This begins a violent cat-and-mouse game between the killer and the agent. While the audience never comes to sympathize with Kyung (Min-sik’s balls out portrayal of Kyung’s insanity prevents that), we often come fear for Kyung due to the unbelievable brutality of what he goes through. At the same time, the audience begins to dread Soo-hyun’s mania for hurting Kyung. He has moved beyond vengeance into psychotic obsession, which puts a lot of innocent people in danger. It also pushes Soo-hyun further and further into the abyss that Kyung calls home. When Kyung starts to fight back against Soo-hyun, the depravity of both men literally knows no bounds.
Scariest Moment - Like Oldboy, I Saw the Devil has a powerful ending. I won’t give anything away, but I will ask - How can Soo-hyun really make Kyung feel as much pain that Soo-hyun has felt throughout the film? Death isn’t good enough.
Quote – “Nurse, don’t go.”
XI. Taxi Driver (1976) – Directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, and Albert Brooks.
Why You Should See It – Because without the raw emotional bleakness of Taxi Driver, films like Seven and I Saw the Devil either wouldn’t exist or would be radically different. Taxi Driver cemented the working relationship between Scorsese and De Niro (who had appeared in Scorsese’s previous film Mean Streets in a supporting role), and one can tell that the two brought out the best in each other (and still do, more often than not). De Niro stars as Travis Bickle, a bitter, psychotic New York City taxi driver who hates humanity. He does, however, have a soft spot for the ladies; he latches onto Cybil Shepard’s character, and after she spurns him (after the squirmingly awkward scene where Bickle takes her to see a porno film while on a date), he turns his attention on saving Jodie Foster’s teenage prostitute character from her skuzzy pimp, played by Harvey Keitel. Along the way, Bickle also plans to assassinate a presidential candidate (which cannot be viewed nowadays without the shadow of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life in 1981 by John Hinckley, who was obsessed with Jodie Foster) and cleanse the city of the filth in the streets. De Niro’s portrayal of Bickle is one of the most powerful examples of a sympathetic yet terrifying anti-hero in cinematic history.
Scariest Moment – The most chilling for me is actually where Bickle picks up a cab fare (played by Scorsese himself) who directs him to sit and watch a building that houses the man’s cheating wife, who he plans to murder.
Quote – “All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ‘em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.”
I. The Descent (2005) – Directed by Neil Marshall, starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, and Nora-Jane Noone.
Why You Should See It – Because it is, in my opinion, the best horror film of the first decade of the 2000’s. I’ve long held that the best horror films often work on the simplest of premises: stick some characters in an enclosed space while the nasties surround and/or stalk them. This premise, found in classics like Night of the Living Dead, Alien, Evil Dead, etc, works so well because it’s built on the drama of the harried interactions between the humans and the suspense of the lurking monsters. We get plenty of that drama and suspense in The Descent. The all-female cast is strongly written – these aren’t the dumb teenagers found in slashers. There’s some bad mistakes made, but they’re made in character and organically to the story. There’s a lot depth in these characters and the interaction between them. Indeed, there is a very important, very subtle plot point that some viewers don’t pick up, yet it is integral to the character development of the main two female leads.
Scariest Moment – The suspense is ratcheted up due to the environment. We watch these women go crawling through some pretty gnarly caves, going deeper and deeper, until there is literally no way back out. That’s frightening enough, and then the crawlers show up. I like the design of these nasty bastards. They’re fast and vicious, which only forces the women to step their game in order to survive. And I think they succeed very well.
Quote – “I’m an English teacher, not fucking Tomb Raider!”
II. Piranha (1978) – Directed by Joe Dante, starring Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Steele, Shannon Collins, and Dick “F’n” Miller.
Why You Should See It – If you’ve read through some of the previous lists, you may have noticed the name Joe Dante pop up on a few occasions. Dante, director of The Howling (which appear on these lists sooner than you think), Gremlins and The ‘burbs, is known for mixing horror elements with a black, irreverent sense of humor. One can certainly see that predilection in Piranha, Dante’s first full length film after cutting his teeth as an editor under B-movie king, Roger Corman, who also produces Piranha. The story is an update of 50’s mutant-killer-animals-run-amok films and a shameless attempt to cash in on the popularity of Jaws: a swarm of genetically engineered piranha escape from their confines of a near-abandoned military laboratory and begin to swim downstream towards civilization and, ultimately, the ocean, where they can reproduce freely and destroy the ecosystem. It’s up to beard-tastic hillbilly Paul (Dillman), incredulous insurance investigator Maggie (Menzies), and half-mad scientist Hoak (McCarthy) to stop them, but the military, fearful that their involvement in the creation of the monsters will become known, stands in their way.
Scariest Moment – I think it’s a tossup between the two en masse piranha attacks in the film. The first occurs at the summer camp that Paul’s daughter (Collins) attends. The piranha lay waste to both the child campers and counselors (the scene also works as a great hero moment for the daughter character, who overcomes her fear of the water to help save several people). The second attack occurs at during the opening day of the amusement park created by Dick Miller’s character. The carnage comes fast and furious, and Rob Bottin’s special effects are quite good for the film’s budget.
Quote – “Terror, horror, death. Film at eleven.”
Fan Fact 1 – James Cameron directed parts of the sequel, featuring flying piranha. It was during that film that he had the dream that lead to the creation of The Terminator.
Fun Fact 2 – Here’s a list of names that Roger Corman had a direct hand in helping to break into the film business: The aforementioned Dante and Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, Nicolas Roeg, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, Robert De Niro, David Carradine, and many others. This explains why Corman tends to pop up in cameos in many films, including The Godfather Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, and Apollo 13.
III. Monsters (2010) – Directed by Gareth Edwards, starring Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able.
Why You Should See It – It’s a rather impressive low-budget creature feature/travelogue film with pretty decent acting. Set in a near future where a space probe disintegrated above northern Mexico, spraying the area with the spores of alien lifeforms which soon blossomed into a variety of dangerous creatures. As a result, the northern Mexico has been declared a quarantined infestation zone, and the United States military patrols the U.S./Mexico border to keep the quarantine intact (yeah, there may be a slight political subtext going on here). Anyway, the plot centers on Andrew (McNairy), a reporter stationed in the free-zone of Mexico tasked with escorting Samantha (Able), his bosses daughter to boat for safe passage back to the States. Problems arise, however, so the duo are forced to traverse through the infected zone on land. Along the way, they encounter a variety of people who are forced to live with and fight against the strange creatures surrounding them. The duo also begin to fall for each other, and McNairy and Able have a very good chemistry with each other (they should – they’re married in real life). The film balances the good character development with some beautiful imagery of the landscape. The CGI work is also impressive considering the $800,000 budget. It’s a quiet film punctuated with bursts of violent interactions between the humans and the aliens. Don’t expect too many splosions.
Scariest Moment – The convoy carrying Andrew and Samantha gets attacked by one of the massive alien creatures, which can crunch a car quite handily.
Quote – “I don’t want to go home.”
IV. The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (2009) – Directed by Henry Saine, starring Kyle Davis, Devin McGinn, Barak Hardley, and Gregg Lawrence.
Why You Should See It – Like Re-Animator, The Last Lovecraft combines the work of H.P. Lovecraft with a quirky sense of humor. The plot posits that Lovecraft didn’t create the Cthulhu mythos; he was merely reporting/warning humanity about it. The evil cult of Cthulhu have collected all but one relic needed to revive Cthulhu from his deep-sea slumber, but the last relic has just fallen into the hands of Lovecraft’s last descendent. Unfortunately, this descendent is socially awkward office worker, Jeff (Davis), who is accompanied by his jack-ass friend, Charlie (McGinn, who also wrote and produced the film, which explains why he gets the best lines). Jeff has no clue what’s going on, but Charlie is somewhat familiar with the mythos. Still, they turn to uber-nerd Paul (Hardley, channeling Judah Friedlander) and recovering fish-rape victim Captain Olaff (Lawrence for help). The humor is somewhat reminiscent of the kind found in Shaun of the Dead, although it’s nowhere near as polished or pulled off with as much panache as the rom-zom-com. Still, it’s silly fun, and the Lovecraft references are fun for fans.
Scariest Moment – Not the scariest, but Charlie’s explanation to Jeff about the history of Cthulhu is pretty cool. Because of the outrageous budget needed to show Cthulhu’s war against the Old Ones, it’s presented here in a comic-book style animated vignette. Cthulhu wields a tyrannosaurus rex. That’s all you need to know.
Quote – “This is my sex face.”
V. Gojira (aka Godzilla, 1954; Japan) – Directed by Ishiro Honda, starring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, and Takashi “f’n” Shimura.
Why You Should See It – This is where it all began, Big G’s debut. If you’re familiar with the later kaiju monster on monster beatdowns that later Godzilla films became, you may be shocked about how seriously this film portrays Godzilla and the devastation left in the monster’s wake. Well, considering that this was released a mere nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and not too far removed from atomic testing that damaged/poisoned several Japanese fishing ships – see the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident- which the film liberally recreates in its opening scenes), it shouldn’t be that shocking. Here, Big G is the living incarnation of the atomic bomb, laying waste to ships, islands, and finally Tokyo itself. It’s up to salvage officer Ogata (Takarada), Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Shimura), and his daughter Emiko (Kochi) to stop the destruction. The key lies in the frightening weapon of mass destruction, the Oxygen Destroyer, developed by Emiko’s estranged fiancée, Dr. Serizawa (Hirata). But Serizawa refuses to use his creation for fear of its future abuse by military officials in wartime…
Scariest Moment – Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo is not the kind of fun-filled romp that appears in his later adventures. This film focuses on the human suffering caused by the monster’s attacks, heavily lifting from the nightmarish imagery of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Quote – “Ogata, humans are weak animals.”
Fun Fact 1 – The Japanese pronunciation of Gojira sounds very similar to “Godzira,” which might account for reconfiguration of the monster’s name to Godzilla, which was adopted as the official name for the creature and the series with the second installment.
Fun Fact 2 – In 1956, a heavily edited version of the film was released in America as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! This version featured American-made scenes with Raymond Burr added in.
Fun Fact 3 – Director Ishiro Honda began his career was an assistant to Akira Kurosawa. The two remained very close friends throughout the rest of their lives, with Honda even returning to the position of Kurosawa’s assistant near the end of both their careers. Kurosawa was a fan of the films and even expressed interest in directing one (let that sink in for a moment). Unfortunately, Toho Studios kyboshed that idea out of fear of the costs of such a film in the hands of Kurosawa, who was notorious for going over-budget and over-schedule.
XXI. Fido (2006) – Directed by Andrew Currie, starring Billy Connolly, Carrie-Anne Moss, Dylan Baker, Tim Blake Nelson, and Kesun Loder.
Why You Should See: It’s a pretty funny send up of 1950’s era conservatism and an original entry into the zombie genre. Set in a world that mirrors the style and politics of the 50’s except for the fact that a horrific zombie outbreak has been squelched through the development of zombie-controlling collars that effectively domesticate the remaining flesh eaters,Fido brings up a lot of questions about life, death, and undeath. Timmy Robinson (Loder) is given his very own zombie, Fido (Connolly) by his parents, who are ecstatic over finally being able afford one. The father, Bill Robinson (Baker) is only really concerned about his career and keeping up a respectable appearance, which drives both Timmy and his mother Helen (Moss) closer to Fido. Problems develop, however, when Fido’s collar begins to malfunction, forcing Timmy to cover his best friends bloody tracks.
Scariest/Funniest Moment: I think my favorite scene is when two bullies capture Timmy and tie him up in order to pin a recent murder (caused by Fido) on him. The bullies are truly little shits, so it’s cathartic when Fido’s collar malfunctions and all hell breaks loose.
Quote: In the brain and not the chest. Head shots are the very best.
XXII. Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (2007) – Directed by Jon Knautz, starring Trevor Matthews, Robert Englund, and Rachel Skarsten.
Why You Should See It: Because it’s a nice throwback to goofy 80’s monster films with practical creature effects. There are no CG effects here, and that is really refreshing after having to sit through the usually shoddy CG effects of most modern horror films (something that even Romero has succumbed to in the last few Dead entries). The latex effects are pretty good here, especially considering the low budget. Anyway, Trevor Matthews stars as Jack Brooks, a plumber with a severe anger-management problem (which brings a lot of the laughs in the film). After doing a favor for his community college chemistry professor (Robert Englund, in a nice extended role that lets him mug for the camera in and out of makeup), Jack gets drawn into a conflict with an ancient evil. Thankfully, Jack soon learns that slaying monsters is his true calling in life.
Scariest/Funniest Moment: I particularly like Jack’s interactions with Howard (David Fox), the local hardware store clerk who has a surprising amount of knowledge on the happenings going on in the film.
Quote: Jack: So he… he ate your hand? How did you dig the hole?
Howard: Well, goddammit, it wasn’t easy!
XXIII. I Sell the Dead (2008) – Directed by Glenn McQuaid, starring Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman, Angus Scrimm, John Speredakos, and Brenda Cooney.
Why You Should See It: It’s a quirky film about 19th century grave robbers who encounter some very, very strange creatures (Monaghan and Fessenden). One thing I liked about this one is that is has a little bit for everybody. If you like films like The Body Snatcher, you’re covered. You like vampires? Aliens? Zombies? Comic book style transitions? Cameos from Ron Perlman and Angus Scrimm? It’s all here, baby. The structure’s a bit odd, with Monaghan’s character relating his career as a grave robber just before he is to be hanged for murder, but it makes for a serious of entertaining little vignettes where Monaghan and Fessenden encounter something strange, almost die, crack jokes, and go for an ale afterwards.
Scariest/Funniest Moment: The scene where Monaghan and Fessenden’s characters rob a grave that turns out to contain a vampire. The tension builds and then goes over the top when the vamp attacks.
Quote: If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you never, ever trust a corpse.
XXIV. From Beyond (1986) – Directed by Stuart Gordon, starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, and Ken Foree.
Why You Should See It: Because it is Gordon and Combs’s adequate follow-up to their first H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Re-Animator. It’s well shot, the acting is better than one would expect (Jeffrey Coombs has always had a charisma about him), and the effects are about on par with the previous adaptation. Dr. Pretorius (Sorel) and his assistant Crawford (Combs) have developed a machine capable of stimulating the human brain’s pineal gland, which allows one to perceive and cross over to another dimension. However, their first experiment is devastating, apparently killing Pretorius and driving Crawford insane. Crawford, psychologist Dr. McMichaels (Crampton), and police officer Bubba Brownlee (Foree) return to Pretorius’s house to figure out what just happened. Things go to hell in a hand-basket when they discover that Pretorius isn’t exactly dead…or exactly human anymore either.
Scariest Moment: Well, the weirdest moment may be when Crampton’s character discovers Pretorius’s S&M chamber and decides to try on some outfits. Oh, did I mention that the machine also induces the pleasure center of the brain? No? Okay, well now you know. And knowing is half the battle. The other half? Leather, apparently.
Quote: Humans are such an easy prey.
XXV. Slither (2006) – Directed by James Gunn, starring Nathan Fillion, Elizbeth Banks, Gregg Henry, Tania Saulnier, Haig Sutherland, and Michael “Motherfuckin’” Rooker.
Why You Should See: It’s a fun throwback to the 80’s outer-space slug films of the 80’s (themselves throwbacks to the 50’s monster films), like Night of the Creeps, The Blob, and evenFrom Beyond. A meteorite crashes to earth, and a creature escapes and ultimately infects Grant Grant (Rooker, letting his sense of humor go wild…although I still think of Henry everytime I see him). It turns out that Grant has now become part of paristic organism that shares it’s mind with its host body and can also create a host of zombies. This doesn’t sit well with Grant’s wife Starla (Banks, just off her role in The 40 Year Old Virgin), the town’s sheriff, Bill Pardy (Fillion, of Fireflyfame), and the town’s foul-mouthed mayor (Henry). Lots of gross out gags follow as Grant takes over the town and starts ingesting people left and right.
Scariest Moment: Although I do enjoy the throwdown between Pardy and an infected deer, the best scene is probably when the slugs invade a farmhouse and take over most of a family, including two little girls who get real creepy.
Quote: My easy-going nature is gettin’ sorely fuckin’ tested.
XXVI. The Mist (2007) – Directed by Frank Darabont, starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, and William “Motherfuckin’” Sadler.
Why You Should See It: It works on that old horror stand-by: people stuck in a place surrounded by nasties. After a badass thunderstorm hits a lakeside community, our protagonist (Jane), his son, and his neighbor head to the supermarket to pick up some supplies. However, a thick, ominous white mist rolls up while they are in the market. That’s all well and good, except there are things in the mist. Nasty things that like to munch on tasty, tasty humans. Of course, Darabont brings his skills at scene-setting, tension building, and characterization that he’s used on his previous Stephen King adaptations, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. We also get the Romero standby – the humans we’re stuck with can be just as dangerous as what’s outside – in the form of religious fanatics. But, then, faith is the heart of this film, and it looms large in the controversial ending.
Scariest Moment: When a gang of explorers venture from the supermarket to a nearby pharmacy, which has become infested with spider-monsters on steroids.
Quote: Well, we gave it a good shot. Nobody can say we didn’t.
XXVII. My Bloody Valentine (1981) – Directed by George Mihalka, starring Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight, and Alf Humphreys.
Why You Should See: Because this Canadian production is one of the best holiday-themed slashers that came out in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th (and provides the template for one of my favorite recent remakes, the 2009 My Blood Valentine 3D). The story revolves around a small mining town that is preparing to have its first Valentine’s Day celebration in quite some time. Y’see, on Valentine’s Day some 20 years before, an accident in the mines claimed the lives of several miners, and one of the survivors, Harry Warden, went on a deranged killing spree on those he deemed responsible. Harry was captured and committed, but he warned that he would return if the town ever celebrated the holiday again. And, it seems like Harry has indeed returned; the sheriff receives a Valentine’s box with a human heart in it and someone dressed in a miner’s uniform and miner’s gas-mask begins claiming victims. However, the film does a pretty good job of building the characters of the potential victims, especially in the case of a love triangle between T.J., Sarah, and Axel. The plot line of the sheriff and the mayor attempting to find out if Harry Warden is still locked up in the mental hospital provides an adequate subplot as well. The final third of the film is primarily set in the mines themselves, which provides great atmosphere as the killer picks off his targets one by one. Really, my only gripe about the film is the fact that there is a very important piece of information kept hidden from the viewer that not only would obviously come up in any discussion about Harry Warden but would explain quite a lot about another character.
Scariest Moment: Besides the climax in the mines, my favorite set piece takes place in a landromat.
Quote: Chief, listen to me. You have to go to the mine! We were having a party and Harry Warden started killing everybody!
XXVIII. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) – Directed by Dwight H. Little, starring Donald Pleasance, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, and George P. Wilbur.
Why You Should See It: Because it’s the best Halloweensequel, taking up many of the same themes but updating them for a more jaded 80s horror fan-base. Set ten years after the events of Halloween and Halloween 2, we find out that both Michael Myers (Wilbur) and Dr. Loomis (Pleasence) survived the explosion that ended the second film, but Michael’s been in a coma ever since. However, while transferring Michael to a new hospital, one of the medics makes the mistake of mentioning that ol’ Michael has a niece living in Haddonfield. One ambulance massacre later, Michael’s off stalking his niece 7 or 8-year-old niece, Jamie (the surprisingly effective Harris), while Dr. Loomis tries to protect her and the entire town from Michael’s wrath. Jamie’s now living with a foster family after the death of her parents (which effectively writes out Jamie Lee Curtis’s character from the franchise until the damnable Halloween H20), and Jamie’s relationship to her foster sister Rachel (Cornell) supplies a lot of pleasing character moments. What I like about this film is the fact that Loomis is just a bit more unhinged than he was in the first two films, yet he’s learned from his mistakes in the past, like telling Haddonfield’s new sheriff to notify the town that Michael is loose (something he advised against in the first film and what indirectly lead to several deaths). Of course, that sets up one of my favorite moments, when a redneck posse accidently blast the hell out of someone they think is Michael.
Scariest Moment: But, really, the most memorable aspect to this movie is the ending, which brings the story of Michael Myers and his family full circle to the very beginning of the first film.
Quote: You’re talking about him as if he were a human being. That part of him died years ago.
XXIX. Trick ‘r Treat (2007) – Directed by Michael Dougherty, starring Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, and many more.
Why You Should See: Because it’s just plain fun! There’s an exuberance and joy at play here, and I couldn’t help but smile throughout the entire film. Plus, it is nicely written, with four interconnected stories that take place on one Halloween night. There are twists that make sense and don’t destroy the auras of the previously told segments. One story deals with a high-school principal who tries to instill some respect for the holiday in one of his students. Another story deals with 5 kids paying homage to the local urban legend. A third story deals with a virginal Red Riding Hood wannabe meeting the Big Bad Wolf. And, finally, a crochety old man gets schooled in the reason for the season from a very special little boy named Sam. Now, Halloween will always be the quintessential Samhain film, but Trick ‘r Treat embraces the macabre glee and tradition of the holiday that Halloween could not do.
Scariest Moment: The flashback detailing the local urban legend, which features a school bus full of special-needs kids who are shunned by the rest of the town. Their fate provides that emotional spark needed in the most memorable scary tales.
Quote: Wait, there’s another tradition…always check your candy.
XXX. Psycho (1960) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Martin Balsam.
Why You Should See It: Because it is one of the most influential horror/thrillers ever committed to film, and it still has the power to amaze and frighten today, even though in the fifty years since its release just about everyone knows the twists and turns of the plot. The set up is simple – Marion Crane (Leigh) steals $40,000 from her employer in order to finally run away with her unsuspecting boyfriend Sam Loomis (Gavin). But, on her way to meet him, Marion makes a fateful stop at the Bates Motel, and meets charming, tragic Norman Bates and, eventually, Norman’s mother. The rest of the film features Marion’s sister, Lila (Crane) joining Sam and private detective Arbogast in an attempt to locate Marion. The story is tightly plotted, masterfully building the tension and misdirecting the audience into thinking the film’s going to be about Marion and her crime. And in the infamous shower scene, everything in the film (and in cinematic history) is irrevocably changed. The real keys toPsycho’s immortality are Bernard Herrman’s perfect score, Hitchcock’s carefully planned direction – if The Shower Scene doesn’t amaze you, then Arbogast’s run in with Mother or Lila’s discovery of Mother or the final shot of Norman will – and Anthony Perkins’s masterful portrayal of Norman, who could have easily been a one-note character. Perkins brings tragic and sympathetic qualities to the role, which counter-balances the horrific qualities that finally appear in the climax.
Scariest Moment: The Shower Scene. There’s a reason it should be capitalized. Funny anecdote about the power of that scene – After Psycho came out, he received a letter from a father whose had daughter refused to take a bath after seeing Les Diaboliques (a direct influence on Hitchcock during the making of this film) and now refused to take a shower after seeing Pyscho. Hitchcock’s dry response: “Send her to the dry cleaners.”
Quote: “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly…”
XXXI. Apocalypse Now (1979) – Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Albert Hall, G.D. Spradlin, Harrison Ford, and Scott Glenn.
Why You Should See It: Because it expresses the horror, absurdity, and surrealism of the Viet Nam War in a way that hypnotizes and terrifies the viewer. An reimagining of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the viewer follows Captain Willard’s (Sheen) journey up the Nung River on a Navy patrol boat on a mission to assassinate the insane renegade Col. Kurtz. Along the way, Willard and the boat’s crew (Fisburne, Forrest, Bottoms and Hall) encounter a series of incredible characters and events, such as the Wagner, surf, and napalm-loving Col. Kilgore (Duvall), a USO show featuring Playboy Bunnies, and a senseless battle over a bridge that is destroyed and rebuilt every day. As the characters move upriver, the film develops a more surrealistic palette (there’s always some colored smoke showing up in scenes, and let’s not forget the boat passing under the tail of a downed B-52 bomber), and the boat crew slowly become more unhinged as they keep encountering all these oddities. At the same time, Willard, who was already off kilter to begin with (most probably to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome), delves deeper into the mystery of what made Kurtz go mad, with the ultimate realization that not only is Willard very similar to Kurtz, everyone in Viet Nam is similar to Kurtz. The film kicks into another gear when Willard finally makes it to Kurtz’s compound, meeting Kurtz in person, and Brando turns in one of the most mesmerizing performances in film history (even more incredible considering Brando’s antics on the film’s set and how Coppola was forced to basically craft the film around Brando’s own particular brand of crazy).
Scariest Moment: If it’s not the entire film after getting to Kurtz’s compound, it’s the opening of the film, where we witness Willard’s breakdown in his hotel room set to The Doors’ The End.
Quote: Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another.
Note: If you want to be even more creeped out or impressed, watch Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse, a documentary on the filming of Apocalypse Now that was shot by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor Coppola. It chronicles the hellish difficulties that Coppola and crew encountered during the 16-month filming – the transition of directors from George Lucas (imagine that, if you will) to Coppola, the necessity of Coppola funding the film himself, the recasting of Willard from Harvey Keitel to Martin Sheen, a tsunami wiping out most of the sets, the difficulties of dealing with the Philippine army, Martin Sheen’s heart attack, Coppola’s near-suicidal depression, and, of course, Brando. It’s a riveting account.