While working on my top 10 list of favorite horror movies (which I’ll be sharing next week), I came up with over 20 films. After making my choices, I thought I’d take a quick look at THE LOSERS. Of course, by LOSERS, I mean TOTALLY ESSENTIAL LOSERS! For both this particular effort and my top 10, I have chosen to leave out Asian horror films since I just did my top 10 favorite Asian horror films last month. One of my failings is that I never seem to stop opting for obscurity and just talk about the essentials.
I look at my upcoming top 10 list and then I look at this list of shit that didn’t make it and I can’t help but find some amusement here. I mean, THIS is a list of the essentials while my top 10 list has stuff on it that (for the most part) aren’t nearly as important for forming the basis of your horror fandom. Does that make sense?
What I’m trying to say is that in my brain, I know that these films should comprise my best of whatever list but they don’t. My heart has other ideas in mind. These films I’m posting right now are some seriously fucking awesome movies that everyone interested in horror should have already seen by now. It warms my heart to see just how many of the following movies got to me when I was still in my formative years. Good stuff.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Sometimes a movie clicks with you the first time you watch it. Sometimes you watch a movie and you can’t figure out what all the fuss is about. The latter is what happened when I first watched TCM as a kid of about 12 or so. I really didn’t get it. After the initial scare of Leatherface coming out and hitting that duder with a mallet, I was fairly nonplussed by the rest of the flick. I liked the bit at the end when the chick was on the back of the truck scream-laughing but seriously, what the hell? The rest didn’t scare me or interest me that much at all.
Many years later, my friend Tim introduced me to Toby Hooper’s sequel to his 1974 film. During my kidhood, I had never had the courage to rent Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. There was something about the cover art that disturbed me. So finally, at 18 years old, I discovered what I had been missing for all those years. I loved Part 2, damn it. I could go on and on about how the 1986 sequel SHOULD NOT have worked (yet totally does) but I won’t right now. I will say that TCM2 is one of my favorite films from the 80s.
Fast forward 8 years more to when I finally, FINALLY gave the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre another chance. It all made sense. The whole crazy thing came together for me. I still love Part 2 but damn y’all, Tobe Hooper really had his head on straight (or dangerously crooked) for this one. The movie is pure unadulterated terror and unease from beginning to end. It’s sweaty nasty and will seriously make anyone reconsider taking a road trip through Texas ever again. Not that anyone would ever want to do that in the first place.
A Nightmare of Elm Street
I’ve written about my first encounter with Freddy Krueger on this blog before. The movies that I’m looking at here get better with multiple viewings and A Nightmare on Elm Street is certainly no exception. There is just enough mystery and tiny hidden details in this near-perfect horror film to keep me coming back over and over again. I can’t believe that Wes Craven directed Swamp Thing and then followed it up with this in 1984. Can you imagine how friggin’ different the world of horror would be if the guy had quit the film industry or croaked before this film had come out? I know I can’t. NOES takes the world of nightmares and the even darker world of suburbia to new and even more frightening levels. Shit, just thinking about this friggin’ movie and Freddy’s darkened visage gives me the creeps.
I don’t want to get carried away with sequel bashing, but if you can, try to forget everything about Freddy Krueger the next time you watch this film. Pretend it’s ’84 and Robert Englund is not a horror icon. Try to put yourself into the shoes of a not-so-seasoned horror fan experiencing this film for the first time. If this is similar to how you actually experienced NOES for the first time then good for you. I think if you can tap into that feeling with every viewing, then this film could potentially never get old. I love most of the sequels and even enjoyed the remake but nothing compares to the original, obviously.
Hellraiser/Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Hellraiser and its first sequel are perfectly connected in my mind. I cannot separate the two. Clive Barker’s film is simply breathtaking in its glorious assault on the senses and Hellbound is its totally fucked up and over the top extension. Whatever trick I pulled on my folks to be able to rent these films for the first time must have been pretty brilliant. Seriously, this is Hellraiser. I remember sitting in my room alone, in the dark, and having the wits scared out of me. If there was one defining moment that turned me into a gorehound for life, this was probably it.
This wondrously stylish flick has an undeniable feeling about it. I don’t know how to phrase it exactly. I do know that one’s enjoyment of Tenebre increases with every viewing. Some scientists studied the brains of Argento fans and found this to be true. However, I can’t say this is my favorite film from the giallo master but it is way, way up there. At times, this film gets its ass kicked by Suspiria but right now, while I’m making this list of things that didn’t make my other list, I’m only just now thinking of Suspiria. I’m weird.
At the risk of overhyping and thus ruining this outrageous and freakish piece of Italian cinema, I’m going to go ahead and reiterate my statement that The Beyond is the quintessential Italian horror film. How can I backpedal from this? I guess add “of the 1980s” onto the end of that statement. Nothing pains me more than to read about people running to this film and coming away more pissed off than confused. When I first watched The Beyond, I saw it on a budget DVD under its slightly censored Seven Doors of Death moniker. I was, for lack of a better word, amused. I found the movie very funny but my laughter was very dry and nervous.
You see, I had been totally caught off guard by The Beyond. It wasn’t until my second viewing a month or two later that I realized that something insanely important had happened to me. Just pursuing horror movies, any horror movies, would no longer do. I had to see more ITALIAN horror movies, like immediately.
Another important lesson here: horror movies don’t have to make sense. If Fulci has taught us anything it is that people who are about to die hold very still so that what is going to happen can fucking happen; especially when fake plastic spiders rip their tongues out. You don’t have to like this film and I swear I’m not being a snob here. But if you hate a Fulci the first time around, wait a few years, and give it a second chance.
Death Smiles at Murder
My mind gets all soupy and blurry when I think about this darling little film. Joe D’Amato was such a great talent. He could make anything, even porn (the softcore stuff anyway), special. This gory and sexy half giallo, half supernatural gothic nightmare came into my life like a very subtle rhino and I hope it never leaves. Every horror fan with even the most distant and tiny spark of an interest in 70s horror weirdness and Italian horror needs to check this out immediately.
I was much too young when I watched The Shining. I can’t remember what year it was but I know that I was too young for it. This movie is so damn creepy and horrifying. The best thing, of course, is how Stanley Kubrick strayed from Stephen King’s novel. I used to be a pretty big Stephen King fan but I never gave a damn about the original book. The movie has always been and always will be the truer version of the story in my head. Part of what makes this flick so great is that I didn’t feel safe anymore. And not just in hotels either. I mean, anywhere. Suddenly, ghosts were real and they meant me lots of harm.
For a short time there, Barbara Steele was the queen of horror movies. My favorite film of hers is the 1963 sleepy shocker, The Ghost, from director Riccardo Freda. Freda was not a prolific horror director but he made some awesome shit. The Ghost has all the class of a great gothic ghost story but doesn’t shy away from some camera-splattering violence and all out cackling madness when it needs to. This film is quite hypnotic but a little on the drowsy side at times. But if you doze off, no big deal, chances are you’ll wake up when something awesome happens. The Ghost definitely feeds my need for Euro-horror and has "The Vibe" which I obsessively search for all the time.
Ah, sequels. Everyone knows that they are never (well, almost never) better than the original. But what if you’re really, really young. Like 8 years old. So I watched Halloween II and was only vaguely aware that it’s called Halloween II because it’s the second film. Hey, I never said I was smart. Anyway, this was the first thing I saw and this was my introduction to the world of Michael Meyers. I had already spent a few nights in hospitals by the time I saw this film so it was easy for me to get totally freaked out.
I also have a passion for Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 as discussed here.
Messiah of Evil
Most horror fans owe Mill Creek a lot. Their multi-movie packs are what we’ve been waiting for all our dang lives. It seems like a pretty common story among horror bloggers and Messiah of Evil but thanks to good old Mill Creek, I was able to discover this fantastic little gem. I knew absolutely nothing about this flick and to find it that way, tucked away among 49 other cheapo horrors, is just perfect.
Friday the 13th Part 4 – The Final Chapter
When someone said, “Well, if we’re going to end the series, let’s do it right.” And God help them, they really succeeded, at least in making a great movie and a fitting “end”. Even though I have enjoyed many of the Friday the 13th sequels after this “Final” chapter, I have to say that had this been the end of the series, I would have been completely satisfied. I love this damn movie.
Sorry if I keep getting all sequel happy on ya but Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is the horror film that I rented the most when I was a youngster. I first heard about this film from that This is Horror series on MTV. I did the right thing and rented the first Evil Dead film but I didn't really like it very much. Immediately after it ended, I popped in the tape of Evil Dead 2 and I instantly connected with this film. Sam Raimi essentially remade the first film but took it to insane new heights of um... insanity. I just could not stop renting this film. I made my friends watch it and I even made my mom watch the part where Ash's own hand assaults him in the kitchen.
Night of the Creeps
I first discovered this film at a neighborhood party my parents were attending. I think I was 12 years old and I was supposed to be hanging out with the other kids my age but they had gone off to cause some trouble in the neighborhood (apparently, I missed out on their games of “ding dong, ditch”). Thankfully, I was allowed into the den to sit and watch TV alone. The station I turned to was playing a little movie called Night of the Creeps. It was scary, weird, and very, very funny. This instantly became my favorite horror movie for many years to come and I tried to wear out my local video store’s copy as often as I could. In fact, this was the only horror movie I rented almost as many times as Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. This poor film floated around in bootleg limbo for far too long only finally coming to DVD (with some lame cover art) in 2009.
Having revisited Night of the Creeps recently, I found out that I still love it but for some reason, it just couldn’t crack my top 10 favorite films. If I was doing my best horror films of the 1980s list, this one would be way near the top. With its kickass gore, recurring jokes, and loveable characters, this movie just warms my heart.