Sunday, October 31, 2010

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Happy Halloween!

Final Girl has one up. Who Is the March King? did his. Hell, it's a tradition for every holiday: we must all list our favorite films in the genre that reflects the season.

Horror was my first favorite genre. Anyone who enjoys reading this blog has Tod Browning, James Whale, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price to thank. I still regard Vincent Price as my favoritest actor of all time. I collected the toys, the Universal Monsters stamps, the scripts even! Just yesterday I got the soundtrack to Dr. Phibes Rises Again, the sequel to one of the films on this very list. Halloween is a special time for me: it encourages my adoration of horror, and brings others into my obsession. My Twitter followers will know my roommate and I have been having a Shocktoberfest Marathon (I swear, we didn't know Final Girl had one until a year after we started ours).

So, yeah: I love Horror movies. Here, for Halloween, are my twenty favorite horror movies:

20. Scream (1996, Wes Craven)
Even knowing the twist, the suspense and fear factor is always fresh. Great performances from the large ensemble, including Drew Barrymore and Rose McGowan. Glenn is through the Scream franchise scene by scene over at Stale Popcorn; it's a great read.

19. The Phantom of the Opera (1925, Rupert Julian)
Can you believe I first saw this in a large theatre with a live organist? It was Halloween night, I was in third grade, and my father insisted. Thanks, Dad! Lon Chaney's performance still haunts and touches me today.

18. Hausu (1977, Nobuhiku Obayashi)
The most recent addition to my List o' Love. Impossible to describe, except to say that it's a haunted house tale that's...highly original, to say the least. Criterion just released it, so try to snag a copy. You will never ever forget it.

17. Dracula (1931, Tod Browning)
My first favorite, and not just of horror. 'Twas this film that birthed my love of cinema. Blame Bela Lugosi's legendary performance, blame Tod Browning's mastery of the eerie, blame Universal for greenlighting it in the first place. Blame who you want, just let me have it!

16. The Haunted Palace (1963, Roger Corman)
The Tomb of Ligeia may be the best of the Corman/Price collaborations, but this one is my favorite. The opening credit sequence (above) is equaled only by the James Bond flicks. Vincent Price was at his best when he had a list of victims and a theme: in this case, the descendants of those who burned his warlock ancestor are the victims; fire is the method. It's also got Elisha Cook, Jr.!

15. The Wolf Man (1941, George Waggner)
Complicated protagonist? Questions on the nature of good and evil? Maria Ouspenskaya? This landmark Universal horror becomes more profound the older I get.

14. Night of the Living Dead (1968, George Romero)
Another cherished memory between father and son. Dad, me, Romero at midnight makes three. The end shocked and shook me...and I loved it.

13. House on Haunted Hill (1999, William Malone)
I know it's blasphemy to prefer a remake to the original, especially since the original starred my all-time favorite actor. Truth be told, though: I'm a bit of a gorehound, and this version does not disappoint. Geoffrey Rush rocks.

12. Trick 'R Treat (2008, Michael Doughtery)
Douglas Pipes' score alone! I'm a sucker for an ensemble flick, and with its four intersecting horror subplots, Trick 'R Treat is one of the more original ones. Funny and freaky. Deaky.

11. Village of the Damned (1960, Wolf Rilla)
Civilized horror, all the more chilling for the cold deliberateness of the perpetrators: children. The finale is suspenseful and exciting, anchored by a magnificent performance from George Sanders.

10. Theatre of Blood (1973, Douglas Hickox)
Price hams it up, murdering unkind critics in ways resembling the works of Shakespeare. The Titus Andronicus and Henry VI: Part One murders are my personal favorites, the latter significant for Price's fey mannerisms and large afro. Diana Rigg lends some sexy support.

9. The Wicker Man (2006, Neil LaBute)

I find the original dull; I find the remake incomprehensible in the best way possible. Hilarious, illogical, legendary. Nicolas Cage has gone OTT in many films, but this one is his masterpiece."How did she burn? How did she burn how did she burn?"

8. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)
Beautiful and atmospheric. Furhter exploring the themes of life and death, good and evil, God and Man, the film boasts Elsa Lanchester's bewigged Bride, Franz Waxman's score, and startling special effects that still hold up. Ernest Thesiger's Dr. Pretorius is Oscar-worthy, but there was no Supporting Actor category at the time. Alas.

7. House II: The Second Story (1987, Ethan Wiley)
It's almost a family film! Crystal skulls, drunk-driving zombies, John Ratzenberger as an electrician/adventurer! Bill Maher! Prehistoric pets! An adorable dogerpillar! House II, you're so good, you're so good, you're so good, baby you're so good!

6. Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)
Pino Donaggio's score first got to me, along with that slo-mo tracking shot in the locker room. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie received Oscar Nominations for their performances as awkward telekinetic teen Carrie White and her abusive, religious mother, respectively; Laurie should have won. The second-best thing Brian De Palma's done.

5. Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)
This will never not be scary. Never. I even have the score, as strange as that may seem. This movie gets under my skin. Every time I'm walking at night, even if it's just to put a garbage bag in the dumpster, I expect to see Michael Meyers creeping behind a bush...

4. Phantom of the Paradise (1974, Brian De Palma)
Horror-musical from Brian De Palma boasts campy performances and great songs. I admit, I get a litle misty-eyed at the end: the love story is too heartbreaking. Jessica Harper's heroine, Phoenix, is one of my greatest Cinema Crushes.

3. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971, Robert Fuest)
Price's greatest performance, as silent and brooding organist/inventor Anton Phibes. Phibes is the most sympathetic character Price played, a man striking back methodically, madly, at the surgeons who allowed his wife to die on the operating table. Use the Ten Plagues of Egypt as a blueprint, each kill is more glorious than the last. A brilliant horror-comedy.

2. Freaks (1932, Tod Browning)

A slow-burn thriller that used real sideshow attractions in its cast, Freaks is unforgettable, atmospheric and just plain weird. The finale is terrifying, but the greatest scene, of course, is the Loving Cup. "Gooble gobble, one of us!" Even the Ramones couldn't resist!

1. The Black Cat (1934, Edgar G. Ulmer)
Bela Lugosi as the unexpected hero, Karloff as the Satanic villain. It doesn't show on this list, but no subgenre of horror makes me happier than Look Out for Satanists! This film has the most to do with that. But why #1? There are all sorts of reasons, actually. Every character is fully-developed, even the mute manservant Thamal (Harry Cording). The production design does not rely on Gothic architecture or decaying manors, but an art-deco mansion with sliding doors and modern conveniences. Terror can be anywhere. The finale with the Witches' Sabbath and Lugosi's shocking revenge has yet to be equaled. And you know what? I think Julie Bishop's heroine is fairly brave, smart, and well-rounded. Not for a 1930s character; for any character. Period.


TomS said...

I think your list is awesome. You really got me with your capsule reviews of "Night of the Living Dead" and "Theater of Blood". I remember seeing "Carrie" and "Halloween" in their first-runs, in crowded college-town theaters...Nothing like it! My tastes run toward stuff like "Psycho", and "The Exorcist"...but your list is stellar (I have seen most of them).
I am also impressed with your knowledge of the older classics like The Wolf Man and Freaks and The Black Cat.
I still have a VHS collection of 1950's sci-fi...gigantic insects, lizards, etc. Maybe not as horrifying, but they arouse the same child-like impulse to be deliciously scared. Nice post!!

ernest said...

A good honest list which has done one thing nobody has been able to has made me want to see Nic Cage in THE WICKER MAN remake. While respectful of the original I too find it dull and more than a little over-rated