It is October, the month that brings pumpkin spice everything, the changing of the leaves, and a tribute to all things scary. Vampires, ghosts, and goblins line the aisles of the local stores and soon those spooks will be knocking on your door asking for candy. It is the perfect time of year to grab your pumpkin spice latte and settle in for a horror movie marathon! There are thousands to choose from; some scary, some silly, some gory, and some downright stupid and I hope to help you wade through the all the choices for ultimate thrills. Some people consider themselves connoisseur of fine wines, I consider myself a horror movie aficionado. Below is a list of my top 10 favorite horror movies, a few honorable mentions (because I love horror movies so much it was hard to narrow it down) and the 10 you should ban from your home like that town in Footloose banned dancing!
Top 10 Favorites
10. Saw 2 – The second in the Saw series is much less articulate than its predecessor, but provides more cringe- worthy moments and provides insight in “Jigsaw’s” origins. It’s cast includes Donnie Wahlberg (of NKOTB fame) as a crooked cop who is incited to capture the serial killer Jigsaw, only to discover that the apparent murderer has kidnapped the officer’s estranged son and has involved him in a deadly puzzle with 8 other strangers. The 9 captives must solve the puzzles to get the antidotes to the deadly gas they are all ingesting. There is a lot of blood, but also a few unexpected twists and some familiar faces (the one daughter from 7th Heaven, the girl from Evening Shade, and did I mention a New Kid?)
- The Conjuring – This is the most recent release included in my list of favorites (and yes I’ve seen pretty much everything that came after it, including “Annabelle,” “As Above, So Below,” and “The Purge 2”) The Conjuring is “based on the true story” of the Perron family, who move into a farmhouse, only to notice mysterious things happening. Unable to find answers, they seek the help of famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Anchored by the acting talents of Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga, and Ron Livingston (I kept thinking “He broke up with me on a post it ”), this film provides little in the way of gore, but a lot in production value and true scares. See it.
- The Ring – I’m sure you know the premise. You watch a videotape of seemingly unrelated random images, receive a phone call from someone whispering “7 days,” and then die 7 days later. A young journalist, Rachel, played by Naomi Watts, happens upon the urban legend after her niece dies, allegedly after viewing the tape. Rachel’s investigation leads her to a remote island, and a mysterious family. She must try to decipher the clues in the videotape before her own life, and the lives of her son are in danger. Again, this film is not loud or gory, but creepy and understated. Also, it has the hot guy from the Britney Spears video in it…..
- The Blair Witch Project – Innovative, in that it was the first of hundreds of the “found footage” genre of horror movie making, The Blair Witch Project delves into the legend surrounding the “Blair Witch,” a woman who purportedly was responsible for the disappearance of hundreds of local children. Three college students, Heather, Mike, and Josh set off into the woods to explore the legend and capture their discoveries on film. Their first discovery is that they are lost, and then as their nerves are frayed and the tension high, strange things start to happen. The film itself was marketed as a true story and given the relative anonymity of the three main actors; it played brilliantly out as one. I watched it recently for the third of fourth time in surround sound and noticed small things I had missed the first several times that added additional layers onto the story. And the ending……what the what?!
- Scream – Can this be considered a horror film when it mocks the very core of what constitutes a horror film? Definitely. It’s a smart horror film. It’s self-aware and self-deprecating. It is humorous, and boasts a 90’s dream cast. It features “Party of Five’s” Neve Campbell as Sydney Prescott, a high school student who suffered the loss of her mother at the hands of a murderer several years prior to the start of the movie. The town begins to suffer more loss, at the hands of a masked killer who seems to be following the script from well known horror movies. Kevin Williamson, of “Dawson’s Creek,” wrote and this film that provides inside jokes for every horror movie lover (A janitor in a red and green sweater played by Wes Craven, a boyfriend with the last name Loomis.) It was also the launching pad for Courtney Cox and David Arquette’s relationship.
- Poltergeist – Poltergeist, at its core, is a haunted house story. The Freeling family, in the middle of a renovation on their house, starts to experience weird phenomena, such as things moving on their own. At first, they are amused by the happenings, until their new houseguests take the youngest Freeling, Carol-Anne. They employ the talents of a team of paranormal investigators to bring Carol-Anne back. The movie franchise is known just as much for the horrors that unfold off-screen as those that do onscreen; the actress who played the oldest daughter was murdered by a stalker after the first movie, the actor who played the creepy preacher died after the second, and 10 year old Heather O’Rourke died of a mysterious illness after the release of the third movie. Poltergeist has a lot of things going for it; strong performances, special effects that still stand up against a CGI world, a script co-written by Steven Spielberg, a creepy clown, and traces of humor.
- The Exorcist – It took me years to watch this movie fully in one sitting. The reasons for that are both the reasons it is rated so high and the reason that it isn’t number one. It takes several fully developed characters and their arcs; including an aged priest who seems to be waiting for his chance to confront an ancient evil, a disillusioned priest who is conflicted about his choices regarding his ailing mother, an actress and mother, and her daughter. The daughter, Reagan, begins exhibiting odd behavior, eventually degenerating into self-harming behaviors. The mother determines that Reagan is possessed and enlists the aid of the two priests. The performances and cinematography sets this apart from its other horror movie cohorts, however, the pacing at the beginning of the film always bored me when I was younger.
- Friday the 13th IV – Even among the most popular of the horror movie franchises, I have a very distinct order for which of them are my favorites. The Jason series had a very solid foundation, but I can’t choose the first one simply because (#spoileralert) it is not Jason who is the murderer in the first movie. He didn’t even gain his trademark hockey mask until the third movie. The fourth installment in the series follows a group of college aged men and women to their rental home deep in the woods. Their neighbors include a mother and her two children, a girl in her 20’s and preteen son. Jason escapes from the morgue where he is taken to after he is “killed” in the third installment and plows through the group of young adults in typical Jason fashion. This sequel features something rarely seen in horror movies; a preteen protagonist and hero, played by Corey Feldman. At the time the movie was released, I was close to Feldman’s age. Its place in my top 10 has changed, but it has always remained as one of my favorites.
- Halloween – This has to be on the list. A deranged serial killer that strikes on Halloween? Check. A young Jamie Lee Curtis? Check. An even younger Kyle Richards? Check. A William Shatner mask? Check. Illinois? Check. A trademark score? Check.
- Nightmare on Elm Street – Wes Craven delivers a very original, creative, and well developed horror film that has the perfect balance of plot, fright, gore, and imagination. It gives you the best of all of them, without becoming too cliché, too bloody, or too silly. The movie keeps you with the characters throughout, who, unlike in the Friday the 13th series, aren’t there only to be lined up for slaughter. To top all that off, there’s the smart, fear-inspiring boogeyman Freddy Krueger, who is one of the greatest villains in cinema history. The story of the child murderer, as a child, was frightening. Now, as a parent, I recognize all of the villainous and horrific facets to the character of Freddy Krueger. Although Wes Craven never explicitly enumerates it, you realize that murder doesn’t encapsulate all of Krueger’s crimes against children. The combination of all these factors makes A Nightmare on Elm Street easily recognizable as a landmark in classic horror. Did I mention there is a very young and very swoon worthy Johnny Depp in its cast?
Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)
Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Phil Dunphy as a misogynistic survivor of a zombie plague? Sign me up!
Insidious – Unseen specters? A child whose spirit is floating among demons? The lady from Beaches? A jump fest.
Birds – Alfred Hitchcock. Tippie Hedren. A waterside community attacked by killer birds. Classic.
The 10 Worst Horror Movies Ever in Creation, like Ever. Horrible.
- Deliver Us From Evil – I wanted to like this movie. It starred Eric Bana as a NYPD sergeant who began an investigation into deaths surrounding a group of marines who served together in Iraq. The movie was poorly acted, many scenes too dark to make out their progression, and lots of really bad New Yawk accents. If it weren’t for Joel McHale’s biceps, I would have left halfway through the movie.
- Ghost Ship – A shipwreck salvage team is offered the opportunity to claim the treasures aboard a ship missing since 1962. Once aboard, they discover that there isn’t just gold aboard the ship. Clichéd, and heavy handed, the script was a mess. The acting was decent at best, but generally uneven. And the climactic death scene will leave you saying, “Um, ok.” The one shining light? Gabriel Byrne’s accent.
- Land of the Dead – I love George Romero’s previous “Dead” installments, so I’ve watched this one several times trying to force myself to change my opinion. A world overrun by self-aware zombies, who apparently can walk under water? I thought only the vampire in Twilight did that. Zombies who murder someone by dousing them with gas and setting them on fire? No, just no.
- Hostel – Torture porn. Gore for the sake of gore.
- Halloween 2(2009) – Rob Zombie’s take on the Halloween series leaves a lot to be desired. It seems many times his point in making movies is to give his wife something to do…..which unfortunately, is overact. I agree that Michael Myers is more than likely delusional, but by ethereal versions of himself as a child and his mother? Highly unlikely.
- The Apparition – The girl from Twilight….no, not her, the other one. The bad guy from Harry Potter…..no, not him, the other one. In its attempt to use science to explain why the apparition came into existence, and subsequently how to get rid of it, it comes across silly. The apparition also takes on far too many forms to be scary; mold, human, ghost….the writer seems to be lacking any direction. The best performance of the movie was by Ashley Greene’s hair.
- The Happening – M. Night Shyamalan had one good movie, and this was not it. Mark Wahlberg plays a science teacher, and the husband of Zooey Deschanel, who is uncharacteristically unlikable. The movie itself begins with a promising scene where all the inhabitants of Central Park stop moving and start killing themselves. Intrigued? Don’t be. It is all downhill from there. I can’t be certain, but I think M. Night is trying to make some statement about global warming here.
- House of Wax – Paris Hilton. Enough said.
- Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows – The only thing this movie has in common with the first one is the location. It is based on the premise that an escaped mental patient has started a tour company providing tourists with an all access look at the locations from the first Blair Witch movie. A group of people take one such tour and wake up the next morning having lost several hours from the night before. They head to the tour guides home to put the pieces together. It takes everything the first movie did right and did the opposite. Storylines started and were never resolved. Characters were never developed and devolved into caricature of themselves. The scares were predictable and the sex and violence gratuitous. Watch the first Blair Witch, and just stop. Don’t pass go.
- Dreamcatcher – This movie boasts an impressive cast; Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, Timothy Olyphant, and Tom Sizemore and is based off of a Stephen King novel. That is all it has going for it. The movie revolves around a group of childhood friends who reunite every year in a cabin in the woods. Morgan Freeman is evil. People are aliens. Aliens are vomited or pooped out. Seriously, pooped. The aliens looked ridiculous….and they were vomited or pooped out. I walked out about ¾ of the way through, and that is the only time I have ever done that.
Remember, these are subjective picks. You may not agree with all of them, or any of them for that matter. What are some other great horror movies, and some we should all avoid?