“Be afraid, be very afraid!” — Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) in The Fly
I’m not really a horror aficionado, which is why I don’t write much about it on this blog. Don’t usually care for horror movies, so I don’t watch many. Sometimes they bore me (e.g., I often fast-forward through “suspense” scenes), sometimes the subject matter is particularly disturbing, sometimes the religious (or other) stereotypes annoy me, sometimes the plot makes no sense (or is barely there), sometimes the acting sucks, sometimes…. But, “in honor” of Halloween this year, this post will be an exception.
There are many kinds of horror film, of course. There are big-monster movies (e.g., King Kong, Godzilla, The Blob, Them!) and small-monster movies (e.g., Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon). I like some of them, but I’m leaving them off this list. There are those that are religion/occult-oriented, which I normally avoid (e.g., The Omen, Carrie, The Exorcist) and are also absent from my list. There are psychological thrillers, ghosts, and haunted houses. There are various types of slashers and urban legends. Zombies are in a class of their own. And, of course, there is the ‘alien lifeform’ subgenre. There are films that combine two or more of these, as well. I’m sure one could come up with a few more variations, but those last few are the types that I am most apt to watch on occasion, so that’s where my faves come from.
So, in no particular order…
1) & 2) Y’know, I don’t think I saw a slasher-type horror film until I was in college. In fact, I think I remember the exact night. It was probably around Halloween, and some guys down at the opposite end of the hall on my floor of the dorm had rented Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). This would have been 1986 or 1987, so it had probably just come out on VHS, and the guys rented it for “Movie Night”. To be honest, it kinda freaked me out. But, over the ensuing years, I think I watched all of the Nightmare franchise, and the first and second ones were my favorites. There’s just something oddly attractive about a burnt-up guy with knives coming out of his gloves, bent on getting deadly revenge on “innocent” teens through their nightmares. I guess.
3) & 4) I never watched any Evil Dead or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I think I watched one each of Hellraiser, Friday the 13th, and Chucky, but I couldn’t really get into those franchises. But, John Carpenter’s original Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981) held much more appeal to me. (Maybe it was Michael Myers’ Captain Kirk mask?) Anyway, I can’t remember when I first saw them, but I made a point to eventually watch the rest of that original franchise, too. (Actually, I may have missed one of the later ones.) I saw the 2007 reboot (meh!) but not its sequel, and it will probably be a while before I see the new Halloween (2018) to cap off the original series. For my money, though, the first two Halloween movies are definite classics. (We do not discuss the atrocious disappointment that was Halloween III.)
5) & 6) Now, Alien (1979) was more up my usual alley, ‘cuz it was also sci-fi. So, it had that whole mysterious “alien lifeform” thing going for it. But, the xenomorph was a monster we had never seen before and was well and truly terrifying! Much of the credit for making this work goes to the masterful direction of Ridley Scott. But, I think the amazing performances by the stellar cast — Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm — are what sold audiences on the confusion, panic, and terror of the experience. This one is iconic in both the ‘horror’ and ‘sci-fi’ categories. The first sequel, James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), had much more of an ‘action’ feel to it, of course. But, it gave us more and slightly different-looking xenomorphs (along with some more, terrific characters) and retained enough of a horror aspect to let me include it here. An awesome flick!
7) Another classic horror/sci-fi combo came out the same year as Aliens — namely, David Cronenberg’s stylish remake of The Fly (1986). This was one of Jeff Goldblum’s breakout roles, as it was for his co-star, Geena Davis. I re-watched this one a few weeks ago for the first time in probably a couple decades, and it was just as much fun this time. Love watching Goldblum be… Goldblum. The ‘Seth Brundle’ character’s psychological and especially physiological transformation is fascinating to watch. (Respect to Goldblum for putting up with the extensive makeup and prosthetics. Chris Walas, makeup designer for the ‘Brundlefly’, won an Academy Award for Best Makeup.) Sure, it’s a little campy at times, but it’s vintage Cronenberg.
8) We have another John Carpenter entry next, i.e., his remake of The Thing (1982). I can’t remember if I ever saw the original (The Thing from Another World (1951)) with James Arness, though I may have seen the 2011 prequel with Mary Elizabeth Winstead. But, I do remember the first time I saw Carpenter’s version, probably ~25 years ago, during a movie marathon at some friends’ house. This is the one movie that stood out to me. Of course, it starred Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, and a few more familiar faces. (I mentioned this being one of Russell’s best roles in a previous post.) This was another mix of sci-fi and horror, but it added an element of mystery, too. Ray Bottin’s macabre creature effects were particularly memorable. Initial reception of the film may have been mostly negative, but it developed a cult following and is considered by some to be a masterpiece.
9) Speaking of iconic masterpieces, what else needs to be said about The Silence of the Lambs (1991), directed by the late Jonathan Demme? Arguably, this one might fit as well or better in the ‘crime thriller’ subgenre. But, the activities of the creepy ‘Buffalo Bob’ (Ted Levine) and the brilliant, psychopathic ‘Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter’ (Anthony Hopkins) push this film into “horror” territory. To these wonderful performances, add those of Jodie Foster, Scott Glenn, et al., plus a compelling story (based on the novel by Thomas Harris), resulting in a smart film that is equal parts psychological thriller and stomach-churning horror flick. Honestly, if it weren’t for the performances of Foster and Hopkins in particular, I don’t think it would have been nearly the success that it was, especially given the subject matter. (Note to self: Add this one to rewatch list.)
I’m sure you will note that certain popular movies are conspicuous by their absence. Aside from reasons previously mentioned, I left out those that had a high comedic content. And, there were a few others that stand out but didn’t quite make the cut. So, here are a few such Honorable Mentions:
The Good Son
The Lost Boys
From Dusk ‘Til Dawn
An American Werewolf in London
That’s all from me. Happy Halloween and stay safe out there!