Andy’s Horror Movie Recommendation
I love horror films. I always knew this about myself, but when it came time to compile this list, I actually had a hard time narrowing my list down to ten. How could I not include An American Werewolf In London? Is there really no room for Dawn of the Dead? Is A Clockwork Orange actually a horror film? The problem is I love so many horror films that I could go on for years about this topic. Horror to me is actually a very cathartic genre, where you can let your dark side run around and play for a little while. So I decided I’d approach this as if I was making up a film festival, my own round the clock horror show, and tried to figure out what might be the most interesting put side by side, as well as mix some more obscure titles with old favorites.
The Thing (’82) – Although the original is actually not bad for a ’50’s B movie, this movie is in a different league. Claustrophobic and brutal, with an effective use of its isolated Arctic setting, I’m happy to argue this is the best film John Carpenter ever made. Yes, even better than Halloween.
Evil Dead II – Essentially a remake of the first Evil Dead, but with more budget and humor, this is a horror comedy, but has earned a spot on this list for its own relentlessness. Once the movie gets going, it’s a bullet train of violence and wackiness. And Bruce Campbell’s brutal fight with his own possessed hand deserves some place in motion picture history.
Freaks – Banned for so many years, many people have argued this is exploitative of its subject. I don’t really think so – it’s guilty of some insensitivity, but not exploitation – as people possibly lose sight of this being a scathing indictment of conformity and an early example of the genre of body horror (a genre that, many decades later, David Cronenberg would raise to an art form) from the great, undeservedly forgotten movie director Tod Browning. Despite its ban and obscurity, this undeniably unsettling film (almost unbalanced by the slapped on love story ending that the studio demanded) has bled out into popular culture in a major way. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’re probably familiar with the chilling refrain “One of US! One of US!”, which has been used in everything from The Simpsons to a Ramones song. (Seriously. It’s at the very beginning of the song Pinhead.)
The Devil’s Backbone – I’m almost hesitant to call this a horror movie, as most of the horror simply springs from people and how they treat each other. But this early Guillermo del Toro film about a ghost haunting an orphanage near the end of the Spanish civil war is wonderfully atmospheric and sort of elegiac at times. If you insist on more monsters, you may swap it out for Pan’s Labyrinth and I won’t complain. del Toro is one of our great modern filmmakers.
Aliens – You could easily swap this one for the first film, but for multiple viewings I prefer this action infused version. I honestly think the H.R. Giger designed aliens are the best creatures of this kind ever designed. Not only are they truly alien, but everything about them is designed to destroy you. Elegantly, beautifully, horrifyingly vicious. Which you could say about the first two films. (No comment on later sequels.)
Ju-On (The Grudge) – The Ring has many fans, but personally nothing is creepier to me than this, perhaps the zenith of J-horror. (And please avoid the American remake. It is terrible.) Positing domestic violence as something akin to a virus, the cycle claims everyone who comes in contact with the house, which can be seen as a metaphor for how this type of abuse continues to propagate itself in an unending circle of violence (though carried to horror movie extremes). And the sound the female specter makes, supposedly screaming with crushed vocal cords, is the most chilling sound you will ever hear. It will freak you out.
Jaws – Yes, the shark is now kind of cheesy. But this is still a surprisingly effective creature feature that has wormed its way into pop culture like few other horror movies have. Would you go swimming in the ocean after seeing this? I know I wouldn’t. And the iconic music remains completely effective even now.
Psycho (original) – Speaking of classic films with effective soundtracks, here’s the film Hitchcock is best known for, arguably the world’s first slasher film. Norman Bates remains an iconic villain if only because he’s such a milquetoast bundle of Oedipal neuroses turned homicidal. What gets overlooked is Anthony Perkins’ wonderful performance, which is really revealed in the end scene, where he’s just staring at the camera. For my money, that’s the creepiest part of the film.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original) – The best horror film I will probably never watch again, this is one of those films that sounds more brutal than it really is, yet leaves you feeling dazed. And I’m talking about the ’70’s original, not the remake, which I haven’t seen. By today’s horror film standards, it starts slow, and there’s some cheesiness about it that cannot be denied. And yet, in spite of all of that, you’ll want to take a shower after the movie’s over to wash it off you. Relentlessly downbeat, uncomfortably intense at times, it exists to remind you that not only does evil exists in the world, but sometimes it wins. Perhaps even more than sometimes.
Basket Case – Here’s the weirdo movie that would never be on anyone’s best list anywhere, for any reason. No budget, beyond cheap and cheesy special effects, and a plot that may leave you wondering what kind of sick person would even think of making it: Siamese twins, separated against their will, seek revenge on the doctors who did it. Did I mention one of these twins is so severely deformed the other brother carries him around in a basket? A wonderful example of ’80’s shlock horror, it was made as a demented horror-comedy, and how could it not be comedic considering both the plot and the look of the deformed brother? (He was like a melted homemade candle with teeth.) Under no circumstances is this a great film. But it captures the gonzo spirit of many of those low budget early ’80’s horror films, and actually manages a poignant moment amongst the gruesome silliness. No, they don’t make movies like this anymore, which is both good and bad. Consider it a palate cleanser after the relentless Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Since Basket Case arguably has something of a downbeat ending, if you wanted to sneak in the modern zombie comedy classic Shaun of the Dead to brighten your evening, I wouldn’t object at all.