With Halloween about one week away, Dustin helps you decide what to watch to help you get in the spirit of the holiday.
Horror has always been a genre that could go extremely right or shockingly wrong. Too over-the-top, not enough scares, too slowly paced, too much blood, not enough blood, villains that aren’t frightening and stereotypical characters are all complaints that anyone who watches horror movies has likely heard about a movie at some point.
With Halloween right around the corner, more and more people are looking for those great movies stuck between the many bad carbon copies.
Here’s my Top 10 horror movies that you should watch by October 31. (Note: I did my best to try and include realistic, ridiculous, gory, suspenseful and even darkly funny because let’s face it; everyone has a different thing that they fear most.) Oh and if my recommendation isn’t enough, click each film’s title for their trailer to pique your interest even more.
If there’s one thing we can take away from the horror genre it’s that sometimes we have to look farther than the U.S. to find something truly shocking. Australia’s “Wolf Creek” has a pretty basic setup; set in 1999, two British girls and their Australian friend are backpacking across the country. They stop at Wolf Creek, a camp site, for the night and when they return to their car to move on to the next adventure they find that their watches are all broken and their car won’t start. Enter Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), a “Crocodile Dundee”-esque local who offers to take them and tow their car to his place and fix it to get them back on the road. When they get there they find however that Taylor is not as friendly as he seems. He attempts to drug them and quickly begins terrorizing them as they try to escape despite being stuck miles away from civilization. Its’ simple concept is a huge advantage as it helps get formalities out of the way to provide a showcase for Jarratt as his Mick Taylor is a terrifying collection of everything you fear in a modern-day Boogeyman. The filmmakers also avoid dropping Taylor into supernatural levels of terror, he remains a skilled hunter, a great shot and stays one step ahead of his potential victims, all portrayed as just a man; never once does he magically appear or survive ungodly amounts of punishment. If you’re looking for an intense and merciless addition to your list, a visit to the Outback could be just what you need.
By no means should inclusion on this list be confused as an endorsement of the quality of this movie; it’s got a jumbled and convoluted mess of a plot and the acting ranges from passable to flat out awful. Where it does exceed though is its’ makeup and character designs and recognizing that it’s better off with a tongue-in-cheek attitude as opposed to trying for straightforward horror. Tony Shalhoub stars as Arthur Kriticos, a widowed father of two who’s struggling to support his family. Arthur finds out that he’s inherited his late uncle’s fantastic house and his family and their nanny Maggie immediately move in. The fact that the house is made entirely of glass and every inch of it is covered in Latin phrases is lost on the family and soon they find themselves at the mercy of 12 angry spirits that Arthur’s uncle Cyrus has imprisoned within the house. Aided by Dennis (Matthew Lillard), a former employee of Cyrus trying to save the family, and also Miss Honey from the movie “Matilda,” Arthur and co. try to free the spirits and escape with their lives. This one is for the fans with a bloodlust as there’s maybe only a handful of jump scares but plenty of creative death scenes and a memorable performance from Lillard make it a worthy watch for the season.
It’s no secret of my feelings towards Rob Zombie’s take on the Halloween series and how badly I think they handled the original and its’ story, however, Zombie’s original efforts are surprisingly effective. His debut feature, “1000 Corpses” follows the familiar plot of two teen couples in 1977 as they’re on a road trip working on a book of offbeat roadside attractions and tourist spots. They stop at a gas station/ “Museum of Monsters & Madmen” and meet owner Captain Spaulding, who tells them the local legend of Dr. Satan. Inspired, they set out to learn more about the legend for their book and pick up a hitchhiker named Baby. Shortly after picking her up, their tire bursts and Baby offers them refuge at her house with her family while they wait for the car to be fixed up. This quickly breaks down and the teens find themselves at the mercy of the sadistic Firefly family. Zombie uses almost every trick in the book, the film is edited and shot almost like a music video and is filled with pulp and grindhouse style images along with disturbing gore. It also hardly ever lulls, avoiding the horror tendency to spend the first third building up the story, aside from the strong performances of the entire Firefly Family, the film’s biggest asset is that while it’s predictable in execution, the story has enough twists and turns to hold your attention the entire time. If you can handle the disturbing nature of the violence, then this is sure to be a hit in your horror rotation.
In horror, kids are always creepy. Even if they’re completely innocent, they’re terrifying for some reason or another. Director James Wan knows this and brought the scariest PG-13 movie to audiences since “Poltergeist.” The Lambert family seems to be living a Rockwell-esque life in a new home until one of their sons, Dalton, investigates the attic and after seeing something in there, falls into a coma. As if that wasn’t enough, strange things begin happening to the family which prompts them to move almost immediately. However, their thoughts that the past is behind them fall apart as the haunting continues, leading to the conclusion that something is seriously wrong with Dalton. Wan has shown with films like “the Conjuring” and this that he is a master of the haunted house genre, utilizing simple and practical effects, he creates more convincing scenarios than can be done with tons of CGI. He’s also one of the best when it comes to building suspense, ratcheting tension up and up to an almost unbearable point, only to give you a false alarm followed instantly with the scare. Not even as violent as “Poltergeist” was, “Insidious” presents a throwback to when horror was about scaring instead of body counts.
Six girlfriends decide to take a spelunking trip together but when they end up trapped in an unmapped cave that no one knows they’re in, a bonding day for friends becomes a nightmare as they all struggle to survive and find a way out as they’re hunted by things that may or may not be human, As if that isn’t enough, the film also adds in a human element of drama as there are some deep lying issues between a few of the girls in the group. In terms of shock value and tension, this is pound for pound one of the scariest movies in the last twenty years. Add in fantastic makeup design for the creatures and an, at times, extreme level of gore and you’ve got two of the most stressful hours of the whole list waiting for you.
The sequel to number eight on this list, “Devil’s Rejects” once again follows the murderous antics of the Firefly family. This time however, they’re forced to take to the road as a sadistic sheriff and his men burn their house down in his pursuit to end them. However even while pursued by a police force that wants to kill them, like me playing GTA V, they still have to stop and kill people. For now, this is Rob Zombie’s film making high point, it surpasses “1000 Corpses” on about every level, The story is far more cohesive, the characters more developed and while the violence is just as disturbing as before, it has a little bit more of a reason. Add in an Americana tinged soundtrack that adds a sick sense of humor to it all.
Taking a page out of old slasher and monster movies, writer/director Adam Green unleashed the ultimate homage while building a new character’s own legacy with “Hatchet.” Two friends in New Orleans for Mardi Gras decide to take a haunted swamp tour, when the boat gets stuck, they and the rest of the group of tourists are forced to search the swamp land and are faced with Victor Crowley, the swamp’s most notorious legend. Green seems to go out of his way to pay homage to various movies; the group is made up of a wide variety of stereotypes (two friends, a girl with a grudge, two oblivious old people, a sleazy porno director and his two models) and Crowley himself is straight out of the Voorhees playbook (a super strong, never dying and relentless monster). The film also boasts an all-star cast of horror actors; Tony Todd, Robert Englund and Kane Hodder as Crowley help the film retain a throwback feel more than others. Also taking a page from those old slashers, Green lets the blood flow early and often and with some of the most creative kills you’ll see on this entire list.
You literally can’t go wrong with any movie that has “Evil Dead” in the title. Be it the original classic, the sequel, “Army of Darkness” or even the fantastic remake, there is something for everyone. Sam Raimi’s original “Evil Dead” trilogy has enough over-the-top gore and campy acting to turn any fears to laughs at the sheer ridiculousness he puts Bruce Campbell’s Ash and co through. If you’re with a group of friends and looking for some gore without the fear, look no further. OR, you can go with this year’s remake which all but abandons camp in favor of a visceral terror and some of the best practical effects you’ll ever see in horror movies. The remake sticks closely to the original’s plot of friends in an isolated cabin in the woods that unknowingly curse themselves by reading from the Book of the Dead. You’d be hard pressed to find a more entertaining way to spend a day than watching all four in a marathon of campy gory goodness.
Before Peter Jackson was bringing Middle Earth to life with the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films, he was making some of the most ridiculous horror/comedy films to ever such as the classic “Dead Alive.” Perhaps his most underrated film was “The Frighteners” which stars 80’s film MVP Michael J Fox as Frank Bannister, an architect who, after his wife dies in a car accident, develops psychic abilities and can see ghosts. Being jaded by the loss of his wife, Bannister uses the ability to start a ghostbusting business, exploiting the shit out of unsuspecting people to make money. However, when an evil spirit escapes Hell disguised as the Grim Reaper, Frank must investigate to try and save the life of a young woman named Lucy. The film features plenty of fantastic effects from Jackson’s then-infant company Weta Digital and is a blend of horror ideas and executions with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a fantastic lead performance from Michael J Fox. This is the horror movie that the whole family can watch, if you’re in to that sort of thing.
I tried to comprise this list of movies that you may not think of immediately when looking for something scary to watch but let’s face it, you can’t have a Halloween season without watching the movie that started it all, John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” More suspenseful than violent, the story focuses on Michael Myers or, as he’s referred to in the credits, “The Shape” as he escapes from a penitentiary and returns to his hometown to haunt babysitters and folks in general. Jamie Lee Curtis makes her film debut as Laurie Strode, the virginal teen forced to confront an unstoppable evil in Michael. Donald Pleasence also stars as Dr. Samuel Loomis, Michael’s psychiatrist who takes it upon himself to stop Michael by any means necessary. I don’t really think I need to say more, this film established almost every rule horror movies go by these days; 1) Don’t have sex. 2) Don’t drink/do drugs. 3) Don’t say “I’ll be right back” and on and on. The film also inspired another popular horror franchise, “Friday the 13th.” By today’s standards, the film is pretty tame in terms of violence, but still remains mandatory Halloween viewing because of the performances, storytelling and the score that has become recognizable the world around.
We would like to wish everyone here a Happy and safe Halloween full of tons of candy, parties and scary movies. If you prefer not to stray from the beaten path, “Friday the 13th,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Scream” and “The Thing” should all be sitting on top of your DVD player waiting their turn.