The Nine: Horror Movies
OK. What happens when you mix a sprinkle of Clive Barker with a hundred or so metal pins, lots of patent leather and a mysterious puzzle box? Pinhead. He is one of my most feared horror antagonists. I know Clive Barker didn’t make my list of favorite writers (he did make the short list), but I have a great respect for the way his imagination translates to the screen. Were it not for Pinhead, I’d have to think Hellraiser wouldn’t be on this list. Be thankful that there is such a monster; I’d hate to live in a world without the fear that he is only seconds away from crawling through a shimmering crack in my mind’s wall to carry me to my own custom hell (which may or may not include numerous items from the common kitchen pantry).
2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
I could tell you that I have a man-crush on George A. Romero, but I doubt you’d believe me. I could tell you that Romero brought zombies to the mainstream, but you don’t need me to tell you what to think.
There have been quite a few zombie movies since Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead and all owe at least some credit to Romero for ushering in what has turned into an odd little meme. The rush of zombie fiction novels in a sense is testament to a movie released over thirty years ago.
Some fans likely consider Romero as the father of zombie horror and that’s not a far stretch. I’d concede that he’s the father of the modern zombie horror. There is another zombie movie on my list that far pre-dates Romero’s production.
I really liked the feel of this movie. The story line wasn’t perfectly executed and it felt like the ending was rushed a bit. I suppose (without any evidence) that this might be a result of editing down to meet a running time goal. Family-centric characters with something more to lose than a salon-prepped hairdo make this a better movie than it might have been otherwise. Still, I liked it. I hope writer Leigh Whannell gets us something new soon.
4. The Shining
There is nothing quite like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. It’s one of my favorite Nicholson roles (though I have to admit, I’m not a great Nicholson fan). Combine Stephen King, Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick and it is no wonder that The Shining is a classic (though, I can’t imagine that any one of them thought it would turn out that way in 1980). And Nicholson’s “Heeeere’s Johnny!” is a top-ten horror movie line.
It’s probably one of Stephen King’s better novels and one of the reasons the King from the ‘70s and ‘80s made my list of favorite writers.
5. White Zombie
If a fan of zombie horror truly considers himself or herself a connoisseur, then White Zombie ranks up there. I have a fascination with movies from pre-1940s or so when budgets were small and technology was all but missing. It forced directors to set the mood with lighting and pacing simply because they couldn’t rely on viciously fantastic special effects. Technology can cover its share of mistakes on modern filmmaking.
Béla Lugosi is an all-time great and is foremost known for his role as Count Dracula (though I’d bet Lon Chaney might have been better had he not died). The way Lugosi peered into the souls of those that feared him slipped off the screen and scared a great many moviegoers into Sunday-morning repentance (yes, I made that up). Lugosi made a great bad-guy, no doubt.
Norman Bates. I shouldn’t have to say more. OK. You convinced me. Alfred Hitchcock was one of the best storytellers. Blend his style with Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and a creepy idea that Norman Bates’ mother is the most evil of all mothers and you can’t expect me to leave Psycho off my list of favorites. It’s black and white movie making at its best. This movie is also one of the reasons that Robert Bloch made an appearance as one of my favorite writers.
7. Paranormal Activity (1 and 2)
A lot of the movies on my list aren’t quite new releases. For me, most of the current schlock of horror is too centered on scaring viewers with visualization (they are films after all). But as horror author Paul E. Cooley explains well in his essay Psychological Horror, it’s not the monsters we see that scare us most; it is the unseen that rips us apart.
That perception is one of the reasons that I like these films. It is most natural to be afraid of the dark and the unknown and Paranormal Activity sucked me in. I don’t normally go for the “it’s a true story accidentally caught on camera akin to Blair Witch Project” type of cinematography, but here it worked for me. The reason I included both movies? I firmly believe they are scarier when watched back-to-back. It is really one story split into two movies anyway.
8. Let the Right One In (Swedish) or Let Me In (US)
There is something really creepy about Swedish storytelling. I have a feeling that author Lindqvist might become one of my favorite soon.
Let the Right One In has this sweet, off-center feel that lets a viewer into the warped mind of a brutal monster who just happens to be a cute little girl. The still and quiet scenes outside the main character’s flat in the snow are some of the most eerie I’ve seen in a long time. The director did a wonderful job at revealing the evil side of Eli (the vicious monster) at the perfect time in the movie and he did it with a romantic subtly that is rare.
I included both the Swedish and the US releases simply because they are both excellent examples of the genre. And, I thought it uncanny that Hollywood stayed true to the original and didn’t try to screw it up. The two films are alike almost scene-for-scene.
9. Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness
There are fourteen things I like about horror and six of them are Bruce Campbell. I’m a giddy little kid that fans can get a Campbell fix in his roles as Sam Axe and Chuck Finley on USA Network’s Burn Notice. Campbell has many moments where Ash Williams shines through.
I consider Evil Dead II as the darkest of the three and most enjoyable. However, they each have Campbell’s almost melodic comic timing and a campiness that isn’t over the top. Plus, who doesn’t like a chainsaw for a hand?
I cry myself to sleep hoping that the real Sam Raimi will one day stand up and make another great movie (don’t even dare whisper Spider Man, though Drag Me to Hell was acceptable). I guess I cry a lot.
I tried to be sneaky and squeeze in more movies than The Nine should allow. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice. So, here we are. Spank me. I learned to count using a little known Brown-Gnomic-Water-Buffalo method that’s done me well.
Honorable Mentions (yes, I still cheat to hit ten or more; see italics above):
There are a number of horror movies from the ‘80s that helped mold the genre and partially shape my love of horror movies in general.
Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street: These movies (and some of their sequels) are quite possibly the dominant definition of ‘80s horror and more. I remember the gut-pulling fear that Freddie stirred (I was fairly young in the ‘80s.) and I didn’t want to sleep for weeks after sneaking a peak at the first Elm Street. And I fight off chills when someone mimics the ‘ki ki ki, ma ma ma’ sound from Friday the 13th (I wonder if that’s why I like Krzysztof Penderecki’s music which was the inspiration for the unique and spine chilling phrase).
Others from the ‘80s:
Dark Night of the Scarecrow
Faces of Death (these movies are almost in a genre by themselves)
Heavy Metal (one awesome movie)
Prince of Darkness
An American Werewolf in London
Children of the Corn
There are dozens more that might warrant honorable mentions, but those that I have included are a good sampling of what I found interesting from the decade.
It’d be hard for me to talk about horror films and not give a nod to Roger Corman. He set the bar high and mostly out of reach for his (over) use of corn syrup and red food coloring (fake blood by the gallons and gallons and, wait for it, gallons). There’s not a lot of horror in the ‘70s and ‘80s that didn’t steal from Corman’s genius. Call it inspiration.
Foreign horror: I am partial to Japanese and Korean horror movies. There are a few that probably should make The Nine, but didn’t this time through. I really like Rec, Ju-on, Ringu, Audition, The Tale of Two Sisters, and I Saw the Devil (among others). I think the style of cinematography, foreign locations and languages that I don’t understand all meld together into something more than just another scary movie. I do appreciate the efforts American filmmakers put into the Hollywood remakes (The Grudge, The Ring, Quarantine specifically). For whatever reason, I lean toward the originals, though the remakes are quite good in their own right.
I tried to steer clear of pure slasher, scream, blonde, big breasted, don’t go in the basement movies (yes, I know a properly placed boob can take a movie from a 7.9 to an 8.5 without much effort). These are generally fun when the formula is well played, but they didn’t seem to fit with this edition of The Nine.
Finally, I do have a corner in my heart reserved for violent horror like the Saw or Hostel series. While horror may be an accurate label on these types of films, I’ve never found them actually scary. To me, a movie has to do more than just repulse to be up there with the good horrors. A blazing hot ice pick with a tinge of lemonade slipped (jabbed) into the psyche is more my style.
What is The Nine? Read my short explanation called The Nine.