I’ve had this blog going since June 2013, and it’s been pretty standard fare thus far- movie reviews, trailer reviews, and a bit of news discussion. What I’d like to present are more ‘feature’ stories, like this one. It seems appropriate to do something special for this blog to commemorate the Halloween season. Thus, I put a list together of my top/favorite 5 best and my 5 worst/most hated horror/monster movies, in countdown form. Keep in mind, I haven’t seen the entire library of the genre (especially foreign horror cinema), but compared to the general population, definitely more than average. My criteria? Scary doesn’t necessarily mean gory, and scariest doesn’t necessarily mean best. I simply have ranked by the least to most effective at scaring me. Enjoy, and please feel free to give me your feedback- in the form of a comment here, on Facebook, or Twitter (@FFPerspective), OR feel free to visit the “I Hate Critics” podcast website (ihatecritics.net), where this blog and other movie goodness awaits. After all, we did just complete a special podcast commemorating the holiday and scary movies in general.
The 5 Worst
5. The Hills Have Eyes (2006): Pardon my language, but this film is such a depraved piece of absolute shit that I barely made it through my one and only viewing. Call it torture porn, horror, slasher, whatever floats your boat- it still is the single most unnecessary piece of garbage I’ve ever watched. That doesn’t make it the worst, for I believe it may have done what it intended to do (make the viewer feel bad about the world), and thus it must somehow retain some level of artistic merit to someone out there. I mean, they kill off a baby, but somehow director Alexandre Aja thinks that by holding the death off-camera that he deserves credit for withholding. No, it’s just as awful. And unnecessary.
4. The Entire Friday the 13th series: The first film, in which the actual ‘slasher’ turns out to be Jason’s mother anyways, is considered a ‘classic’ by some. I don’t quite understand why, for all we get with these are cheap Halloween knockoffs- teens do stupid ‘teen’ things, and basically pass the time messing around with each other and drinking until it’s their turn to be stabbed by a lumbering guy in a hockey mask. The sequels bring more of the same, just in a different setting- including SPACE (Jason X). Apparently, Freddy vs. Jason is interesting, but I lost the capacity to care after Jason ‘took’ Manhattan.
3. Evil Dead 1&2: I don’t quite understand the passion for these films, despite my attempts to hear everyone’s opinion. Is it hype that led to my disappointment? Possibly. Is it the fact that neither of these are scary whatsoever, and bordered on being a complete waste of my time? Certainly. Director Sam Raimi gets far too much credit for these films; simply making something presentable out of a minuscule budget does not automatically indicate genius, only creativity out of desperation. Let’s not forget that “2” is basically an exact remake of the first, and that Bruce Campbell’s “Ash” character is simply a spoof. Perhaps if I’d been introduced to these as pure comedies I may have tempered by expectations; however, all I heard was how ‘awesome’ (direct quote) these films were. It’s either completely over my head or they are that bad. Now, the 2013 remake? That I enjoyed. Because it was a horror movie. That was horrific.
2. Event Horizon: I hate this film in general, but mostly for the ‘gut punch of trickery’ that forever amateur director Paul W.S. Anderson delivers about halfway through this travesty. The pseudo-science and concerned faces on the likes of Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne were acceptable enough, and the film’s space/sci-fi sheen brought about enough trust until THAT MOMENT. If you’ve seen this, you know what I’m talking about. Why a writer would take an audience to the ends of the universe, fold space, and then give up by calling the destination ‘Hell’ is beyond me. My guess? Laziness, or the lack of conviction to come up with an alternate conclusion. It’s a waste of a solid premise, and for that alone, I hate this film.
1. The Blair Witch Project: Some call this found footage pioneer a horror classic, citing the buildup of tension and the frantic last few minutes as a blueprint for the ‘scary’ movie. I focus on the constant arguments amongst three people who don’t know each other, the shakiness of the hand-held camera, the parlor-trick ‘scares’ in the woods, and the utter lack of a Blair Witch. I get it, that’s supposed to open up possibilities for what actually taunts these three people, but after putting up with the sad sacks for 75 minutes, I wanted something, anything, to pay me back in scares for the time I invested. I’m still waiting.
*Dishonorable mention to: the entire Hellraiser series, Rosemary’s Baby, The Ring (2002), The Omen (1975), The Human Centipede 1&2, Fright Night (1985), Exorcist II: The Heretic, and The Happening.
The 5 Best
5. Poltergeist/The Exorcist– It is impossible to leave The Exorcist off this list, but also impossible to bump my favorite ‘scary’ film in Poltergeist. We’ll call it a draw. As for The Exorcist, I can honestly say that nothing prepared me for this movie. I wasn’t even fully aware of what ‘demonic possession’ meant at the time. Imagine my surprise when I saw this for the first time at 19 in a friend’s dorm room. I wouldn’t call it scary, per se, but shocking for sure. From the beginning of the film, with the excavation of an apparently dark relic, to the ghastly abuse the demon inflicts on Linda Blair’s Regan character, The Exorcist is not only very effective as a horror film, it succeeds on such a grand level for being so low-key and forthright in its’ presentation, as well as the undertones of losing faith and God in general.
Poltergeist is an entirely different ballgame. It’s scary and oozes nostalgia (thanks, Spielberg). I saw it at age 5, and everything that bothered me then is in this film. Scary-looking tree in the backyard? Check. Creepy toy that you’re 100% positive will attack you? Check. Looking under the bed for monsters? Check. Lightning and thunder? Check. A sibling going missing? Check. Your child going missing? Check. A predator chasing your child? Check. House sucked into a void? Check. Disappearing into your closet? Check. Real-life tragedies surrounding the franchise? Check. You get the idea that Poltergeist touches on some of our most primal fears as both adults and children, and somehow comes off as even slightly believable. I feel that’s because Spielberg (as well as brilliant composer Jerry Goldsmith) has his name all over this classic, and he knows how to create characters and give them a full life we identify with in two short hours. It has meant different things to me at different times, evolving into one of my all-time favorites.
4. Alien– I have multiple thoughts on this movie, and it warrants a full-scale review at some point. For the purposes of this list, I’ll just say that no film before it OR after it has captured the same visceral reaction from me. In fact, this was my intro to the genre, at roughly 8 years old. My parents built this movie up so much that I had a knot in my stomach, and that feeling didn’t relent until sometime after the film ended. I literally cowered as Kane writhed about the table, and held my throbbing chest as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley tears through the Nostromo on her way to the shuttle. Ridley Scott’s first major movie is still perhaps his best- a moody, claustrophobic, organic, and quite frankly, awesome film that stands the test of time, which also gave rise to the modern female hero, spawning countless imitators, including several entries in the same franchise. This made such an impact that a simple scene that takes place in the derelict ship grew in legend, spawning an entire movie 33 years later- 2012’s Prometheus and likely its’ sequel.
3. The Mist– Despite his occasional bout with being difficult to work with (reportedly), Frank Darabont is truly a savant when it comes to bringing Stephen King’s work to screen. The Mist is no different- simple, yet terrifying. The contrast between simple, God-fearing townspeople and the nightmarish creatures they encounter is the hallmark of this story, which combines the supernatural with an all-too-realistic portrayal of a situation where humans get frightened and turn on each other. The monsters are there, sure, but more frightening is how the paranoia, spearheaded by Marcia Gay Harden’s Bible-filth spewer, spreads like a disease. The ending, lauded by some and decried by others, is simply a gut-punch to me, sucking the joy out of life. The Mist, like few other films, creates an impending sense of dread that never relents. For a film that primarily takes place in a supermarket, it seems larger in scope, a clear illustration of its’ brilliance.
2. The Descent– This small little flick didn’t register for me until I saw it on the shelf for rent. The DVD artwork sold me- a woman emerging from what appeared to be a literal blood bath as if being born. I went home, watched it unfold, and found my subconscious cowering in a dark corner along with the rest of the film’s motley crew. If you’ve ever gone spelunking, you may understand that feeling of claustrophobia. If you’ve ever had a dream, you may understand that feeling of monsters lurking in corners. If you’ve ever had a fear of heights, you may understand that light-headed feeling that overcomes you like a wave of fear. Combine all of these things, including endless chasms and cannibalism, and you have a general idea of The Descent. I love that this film doesn’t relent, and at least bothers to take itself seriously.
1. The Thing’ (1982)– John Carpenter’s Magnum Opus is the quintessential horror film for me, even if it’s a remake. A group of ‘manly men’ alone in Antarctica are systematically hunted by a being that can imitate them. So they’re isolated, in harsh conditions, and inside of a sterile, hostile environment. What could go wrong? There are innovative (for the time) effects in this film, combined with the crankiness of Kurt Russell, Keith David, and ol’ Mr. Beetus himself, Wilford Brimley. There are incredibly frightening ‘boo’ moments, especially involving petri dishes. There are gross-out moments, including a man’s detached head sprouting spindly legs and walking away. There are hard to watch moments, including the ‘moistening’ and subsequent imitation of sled dogs. The impressive, understated score of Ennio Morricone gives the entire film a sinister nature, one which the 2011 prequel couldn’t quite match, despite its’ best efforts. The ending is also brilliant in that it doesn’t give in to the audience with a tidy resolution. It’s basically hopeless, which is the general, gut-churning feeling this film gives. Carpenter might be more famous for Halloween, but his best is The Thing.
*Honorable mention to: Jaws, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Psycho (1960), The Shining, The Conjuring, Halloween (1978), Nosferatu (1922), and Scream.
So. What’s your favorite scary movie?
The Film Fan Perspective
“The Man With the Iron Fists”– (**) There’s an old saying : “If you’re going to make a Quentin Tarantino movie, it’s best that Quentin Tarantino directs it”. Alright, so that’s not true, but it should be. Q only “presents” this movie, and Wu Tang Clan alum RZA wrote, directed, and starred in this passion project, which doubles as an homage to surreal Kung Fu cinema of yesteryear. The words ‘passion project’ should make something sound like the beginning of a beautiful thing. In this case, however, a silly threadbare story, which is what most martial arts films have, isn’t elevated to a coolness or beauty that good or great films of its kind have.
Unlike “Kill Bill” and other similarly toned exploitation films, the startling moments of gory violence and extreme action didn’t work for me. The eye-gouging, scalping, and heart-piercing in Tarantino movies startle us, but seem right at home in the context of the film. RZA tries that with his film as well, but it’s startling in a silly way. Instead of giving an uncomfortable guffaw after one unfortunate soul’s chest is split open, I just rolled my eyes. Russell Crowe (I’m not sure what he saw in this role) does his best to chew out a supporting gig as a dangerous mystery man trying to enjoy his vacation of debauchery. It’s not nearly enough, as this film turns out to be more goofy than I think it intended.
“Evil Dead” (2013)– (**1/2) For some reason, the powers that be decided to remake the original “Evil Dead”, a film that’s very well-known, and is just awful. I know that people love Bruce Campbell and the original “Evil Dead” trilogy, but putting myself through those films was an experience I can’t imagine doing again. Why in the world would I watch a remake then? I was admittedly intrigued by the marketing campaign, which boldly declared the new film the “most terrifying film you’ll ever see”. I figured anyone brave enough to stamp that on their poster must be serious about their movie, so I bit.
Amazingly, this isn’t a disaster. The plot is typical, and vaguely resembles the original, as friends meet at an abandoned cabin for a weekend getaway. This time around, though, it’s not all fun and games for the young adults, as Mia (Jane Levy) aims to get sober with a little help from said friends. Of course, this means she’s the most vulnerable of the group. That works out quite well for the freshly unleashed (and conveniently nearby) demon, or hellspawn, or whatever one might call it. So far, so typical. What works for this movie is the constant onslaught of gore and doom, which made me consistently uncomfortable; what didn’t work is that the filmmakers expect the sheer presence of said gore and explicit violence to work as a fear tactic. At no point did I experience fear. The possession/demon story line isn’t new anymore, and it isn’t enough to scare me. I’m wondering if instead of a remake, a prequel might have been a better idea. After all, the opening scene of the film was the most effective part, and a further look at the wretched story of the demon sounds more intriguing than Hell on Earth. I suppose the claims of the marketing team aren’t accurate, but it is watchable, an accomplishment the original trilogy failed to achieve.
“Warm Bodies”– (***1/2) Of the three movies I’ve seen in the past ten days, this is by far the best of them, even if it falls short on occasion. If you haven’t heard of it, imagine the main ideas for “The Walking Dead” and “Safety Not Guaranteed” colliding with “Romeo and Juliet”. In other words, this is a quasi-indie zombie romantic comedy with heart. I’m sure that helps.
Nicholas Hoult (“About a Boy”, “X-Men: First Class”) stars as a zombie who’s conflicted with the state of affairs in the post-apocalyptic world he’s in. Why a reanimated corpse has any cognitive function at all is a mystery to me and the film, but I digress, for the film wouldn’t exist otherwise. In a particularly grisly attack on the living, this zombie is overtaken with an urge to protect someone- the lovely Julie (Teresa Palmer, the Australian equivalent of Kristen Stewart). So, he removes Julie from the situation, and takes her back to his ‘place’. Again, why a zombie would have living quarters is perplexing, but it does give the plot a chance to advance. The zombie doesn’t remember anything from his past, but can speak (kind of). Through that, an unlikely relationship develops between Julie and ‘R’, as she christens him, and while he continues to protect her, he starts to undergo changes.
The changes I’m referring to are where the film really takes off. Imagine being dead, or completely isolated from living society, and then someone makes the effort to understand you, despite the inherent danger and disgust involved. No matter how dead, depressed, or isolated you might be, the film illustrates in a quirky way that love, or the energy of loving feelings, can bring anything back to the light. Other zombies that ‘R’ feasts with began to feel similarly, especially the one played by Rob Corddry. I would have liked this better without him in it. Corddry is a scene-stealer, like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler before him, but in a bad way; he’s always got to “Corddry it up”, and it doesn’t fit in this movie.
We’ve seen unlikely couples on film before, from Romeo and Juliet to Jack and Rose, and the pairing of ‘R’ and Julie qualifies as one of them, albeit not as legendary. There’s also a demanding, militaristic father (John Malkovich), the head of the living resistance, who would never accept a zombie- right? This all comes to a head, of course, because the change in zombies coincides with an increasing discontent amongst the ‘bonies’, a sect of the undead that’s “too far gone”, and even kills their own kind. Add that up, and of course there must be a final battle of sorts. All in all this is a good film, with a lot of quirky humor, and surprisingly, a lot of heart. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like on a grander scale, where the history of the zombie plague was at least hinted at, and the science of viruses and the undead were taken seriously. I don’t think that was ever the intention, but nonetheless I saw an even better movie hiding underneath. It’s possible that the original storyteller, author Isaac Marion, simply wished to use zombies as a metaphor for how we live our lives today. Are we basically zombies, and do we need to periodically reconnect with the world around us to regain our humanity? I can see that being possible.