The Final Girl herself asked last month to submit our top 20 horror films. In no particular order, this is my list (and considering my list apparently made the top 100-with one exception that was in the top 200? Not highly original).
The Exorcist: This is such a fascinating film to me. Hero priests, a villain in a child. The characters are so compelling, the effects, though dated, are effective. The story is a tale as old as time…beauty and-uh-wait… the film asks challenging questions, like the role of faith in a time of science, the role of doubt in faith…what is mankind’s basic nature. One of the strongest moments in the film is also one of the quietest. It is when the two priests retreat and regroup. The younger Father Karras asks Father Merrin why the demon chose this girl. Merrin’s thoughtful answer is that the demon chose the child to cause despair…to convince them to see themselves as “animal and ugly.” As unloveable to God. It’s a well played moment in a rough film.
The Evil Dead: The film is just all kinds of messed up. But it’s such a creative mess that revels in low budget gore and insanity, that I think it is one of the great slap in the face films out there. One of Raimi’s earliest and strongest-yet you can still see it touching his works today.
Day of the Dead: This is hands down my personal favorite of the Romero zombie films. Dawn is a little to long in parts…but this one has cool and innovative effects and an interesting set of protagonists and antagonists. And Bub the Zombie. Who is totally sympathetic when he goes after that guy to kill him.
the Fog: You will see a theme in this list. It’s called “Some of My Favorite Horror Films are by John Carpenter. Carpenter took his inspiration from a real event in which a California town had tricked a boat into smashing into rocks and then going out to the wreck and collecting the gold on the sinking vessel. Carpenter fashions an old style ghost revenge story about a town the is celebrating it’s centenial. The townspeople pay honor to the memory of the town founders, not knowing the secret. Now that dark secret is coming back to haunt them. Making full use of the atmosphere of the small seaside town, Carpenter makes one of the best modern ghost stories we have had in th past thirty years.
Halloween: Seriously. The music alone is worth it…but this is a great film that presents a long standing boogeyman. The brilliance of Michael Myers is his blankness. He seems to come from a normal family, yet apparently has the soul of a killer. This is something Rob Zombie did not seem to grasp. Michael is institutionalized. Fifteen years later, he returns to Haddonfield and continues his killing spree. It was a break out performance for Jamie Lee Curtis, and the film that put Carpenter on the map. He takes a simple concept and brings it to life.
Creepshow: Just entertaining as all get out. Mimicing the horror comics of the 1950’s-right down to comic book transitions, George Romero and Stephen King produce a real gem. The stories are not complex, but they are entertaining, which is exactly what you want from this type of movie. Full of great performers, it gels together to be a lot of fun.
The Freaks: Using actual side show performers, Tod Browning tells a haunted tale of greed and cruelty. A beautiful young circus performer seduces side show performer (he is rich). His friends in the sideshow warn him that she cannot be trusted, but his heart won’t listen. It’s a chilling little black and white film.
The Fly (Cronenberg): You know how people complain about remakes? This is the movie that always gives one hope. If only all remakes were as strong as the Fly (or the Thing).
The Descent: A really strong picture, with lots of fairly interesting pictures. I prefer the director’s cut to the American cut. It is a great claustraphobic monster movie.
Dead and Buried: It is an odd little film that toys with changing times and the impact on religion. And some guy gets a needle jabbed in his eye. Yuck.
Near Dark: Intriguing take on vampires with an excellent cast, and a love story mixed in. Katherine Bigalow’s tale is worth watching.
Psycho: Hitchcock changed the face of horror, setting the stage for movies like Black Christmas and Halloween if you ask me.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: Just a great, creepy idea. Admittedly, the film feel a bit dated at times, but still miles ahead of it’s slick remake.
Return of the Living Dead: The work of Alien Scribe Dan O’Bannon, this fun and entertaining take on zombies is totally made by Clu Gulager, James Karen and Don Kalfa. Send more paramedics.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The original, of course. Intense and surprisingly un-gory, this little indoe feature is heart attack inducing. Part of that is the grainy film quality, almost making it feel documentary styled at times. Great stuff.
The Omen: Forget Left Behind. This is the creepiest film about the end of the world via Christian belief. The film makers manage to take a religious themed story and make it scary. You know…intentionally.
Alien: Make no mistake…it is a haunted house movie in space with an alien monster standing in for a ghost…but this film works brilliantly in so many ways. It stands up after repeat viewings 30 years later. A compelling cast, great cinematography…it’s all good.
Night of the Creeps: This is just a fun movie. It is not remotely scary…it’s just schlock and it is a blast. Tom Atkins (awesome in almost anything) is the grizzled cop who has to deal with college kids, brain eating slugs and zombies. And a girl in a formal dress with a flame thrower. Talk about win.
The Thing: When I was a kid, I thought this was an awesome monster movie. As I got older, I figured out that, actually, it is a brilliant little exploration of paranoia and alienation. It’s a terrific take on the original story, and a character actor’s dream cast. One of Carpenter’s finest.
Black Christmas (the original and only): Olivia Hussey and her sorority sisters (including Lois Lane-Margot Kidder) are in their house and disappearing. See, there is someone hiding in the attic. We only see his eye, we don’t know when he arrived or how long he has been in the house. We simply know nothing about him. And it is freaky. The remake gave him a convoluted back story. But the unknown is what makes Billy so frightening.
And for honorable mention:
Jesus Camp: Just scary.