So as some of you may know, I was away from home last weekend, which is why there was no upload/blog post, but I’m back now and likely to remain firmly rooted to my home until after the holidays, because holiday travel sucks. The one great thing about chronic illness is that I always have that crutch to fall back on as an excuse why I can’t go see anyone, when the reality is, I’d just really, really rather stay home and drink cocoa and watch TV.
I have to admit, I feel a little bad for all the traveling I did, because even though I had a BLAST seeing my friends and getting up to shenanigans, I had plans for all the spooky blogging I was going to do this month and pretty much bailed on most of it. Still, I have one more chance, so let’s talk about my favorite Horror movies.
I was going to make this list about my favorite HALLOWEEN movies, which is a completely different thing from HORROR movies. Nightmare Before Christmas is not a scary movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it just wouldn’t be Halloween without it. Or Christmas. Or Easter. Oh hell, who am I kidding? I watch that movie at least once a week. And still wave my arms during the La-la-las. So don’t look at this list to plan your Halloween party, because you’re not going to find Ghostbusters or Sleepy Hollow. Also don’t look at this list to find critically acclaimed films like It Follows. In my unpopular opinion, a good horror movie isn’t supposed to make you think, it’s supposed to look behind you when you know damned well you’re alone in that long, dark, dimly lit hall. And again, there are ten items on this list for the simple reason that ten is a nice round number for a list, and they are not structured in any particular order.
I might as well start off with another unpopular opinion, just to let y’all know who you’re dealing with, and say that I do not prefer one over the other. To me, a movie is not inherently ‘better’ just because it came first, or because it’s in subtitles…or because it’s in English or because it may have more money thrown at production. Horror is built out of the harmonious juxtaposition of atmosphere, acting and a solid story. Both Ringu and The Ring score high on those fronts. They are NOT interchangeable, but they are both damned good movies. And the movie is freaking terrifying. It combines so many of my least favorite things: grotesque immortality, little kids, and technology. Plus, no spoilers, but the way the little boy asks his mother, “Why did you do that?” will NEVER not give me chills. It is the ultimate kick in the gut feeling, when you think you done right, but you really fucked up. Big time.
I swear this is not going to just be a list of Japanese horror films, although I probably could do one. Without even looking over at my DVD collection, certain flicks leap to mind: Audition, Suicide Club, the Guinea Pig series, Marebito, Dark Water, Kwaidan…but no. We are just going to focus on a few movies that fucked me up and left a lasting emotional scar, and man, this one was THE ONE. Although I saw The Grudge before I saw Ju-on, and technically it is the one that really got into my head, I have the feeling it’s only because I saw it first and not because it’s ‘better’. Really, as with the above entry, I do not favor one over the other…for the first film. Honestly, the American sequels are HOT GARBAGE, but I could binge-watch Ju-on movies all night and even if none of them have quite the same punch as the first one, they ALL bring something disturbing to the table.
I’m going to take some flack for this, but whatever. It’s a fun horror movie, with one of the best modern movie monsters. I don’t know, there’s just something about that reveal of his House of Pain…the time it must have taken to do it…the artistry…the planning…The Creeper himself never speaks, so those scenes are all we get of his personality. I find that kind of atmospheric storytelling fascinating. Even the sequel is pretty good (although the third one is only just barely Meh). Also, this was the first movie I had seen in a long time (I saw it in 2001) to really effortlessly blend horror and humor. Prior to Jeepers Creepers, horror and humor were more along the Nightmare on Elm Street path, with a Bad Guy cracking wise in between slaughtering teens, and yeah, that was also pretty groundbreaking in its time, but it gets old fast when either the monster (or the joke writer) can’t pull it off. The Creeper never speaks at all, but he clearly has a sense of humor, one born of tremendous age and (over)confidence. That was fun. The protagonists also had some humorous moments (most memorably the line: “You know that part in the movie where the hero does something stupid and everyone hates them for it? THIS IS IT!”) but NOT to an unrealistic degree, where they end up cracking jokes where screams are more appropriate. I wouldn’t see that happen again with the same success until Cabin In the Woods.
The House on Haunted Hill (1999)
I have said before that on certain movies, when it comes to remakes, I don’t value one over the other. They may be very different movies, but they can both be very good. However, on certain OTHER movies…Okay, real talk here. A lot of older movies, classic movies, movies that are usually upheld as the gold standard to which all modern movies are held to and fall short of…these are terrible movies. I’m sorry, but they are. And the original The House on Haunted Hill is a prime example of a truly, TRULY terrible horror movie. Watch it without the nostalgia glasses and it’s got a solid zero, with not a single shiver of fear to be wrung from it, no matter how high you are. It’s just a bad movie. Now watch the 1999 remake. Still a bad movie, but bad in a glorious, fun, spooky way. There’s Geoffrey Rush, pretending to be Vincent Price, sniping away at Famke Janssen in some of the best bitchy love-to-hate-you dialogue ever put on screen. There’s GREAT atmosphere, a splash of gore and a smidge of humor. Plus Sweet Dreams, which was my introduction to Marilyn Manson, back in the day.
The Thing (1982)
For the longest time in the dark ages before internet, I thought I had imagined this movie. We used to rent movies almost every weekend, and it is no exaggeration to say that I saw every horror movie rented by every shop within 10 miles of my house. That’s probably not as impressive as it sounds, since we were rural, but still, I saw a LOT of horror movies and The Thing was SO different, SO intense and completely mind-blowing, that I seriously thought I had to have dreamed it. It wasn’t until the SyFy Channel’s….Was it the SyFy Channel?…I don’t know, but SOME basic cable channel released their version of the 100 best horror movies of all time and I watched that thing and wrote them all down, just in case there was one I missed (their taste was debatable; the original The House on Haunted Hill was on there, as was the original Haunting of Hill House, and both are extremely unscary), and The Thing was there. And it all came flooding back to me. By then, of course, the internet WAS a thing, and I immediately got a DVD and watched it again, and what do you know? That movie is STILL freaking terrifying. It’s probably even worse, now that I’m old enough to really appreciate the mounting paranoia as much as the jaw-dropping effects (and they still hold up. I don’t hate on CGI, as a rule, but when I watch The Thing’s prequel, there is really NO comparison).
Man, it’s hard to find a good horror alien movie. There are plenty of intense sci-fi movies with aliens, and plenty of soft sci-fantasy monster movies, but sitting here in my living room, staring at my massive DVD collection, I genuinely cannot think of another really good, scary horror movie with aliens. 10 Cloverfield Lane was amazing, but more of a psychological thriller, as the aliens were just tacked on at the end. The Fourth Kind was awesome, but doesn’t really hold up to repeated viewing. The Thing is obviously incredible, since it’s on this list, but it’s less an ‘alien’ movie and more of a ‘monster’ movie. Alien is one of a very, very few movies that solidly embraces both its sci-fi and horror elements equally. The result feels like a haunted house movie in space, and it’s freaking amazing, STILL, after all these years. It’s a slow burn, but once the alien bursts onto the scene (heh), it does not let up until the credits roll.
Train to Busan
I only saw this movie a month or two ago, having heard about it for two years. I admit, I put off seeing it because of my disappointment with certain other overhyped STD PSAs masquerading as horror movies. And I want to be very clear about something right up front: I’m not a fan of zombie movies. I’d probably have trouble coming up with a list of even ten good ones. Just ten! Out of the hundreds, nay, thousands of zombie movies that exist. They’re the U-bend of the horror toilet, where the very worst crap collects. Alas, my problem is, I know that when they’re done right, they can be amazing, so I keep watching them and they keep being generally boring and unimaginative, and I have to sit and seethe my way through them, slowly building up scorn and frustration until I explode in a 600 page rant that somehow turns into my best-selling book. But seriously, Train to Busan is an awesome zombie movie, combining 28 Days Later and Snakes On A Plane into a genuinely scary and weirdly emotional movie.
The Fly (1986)
I know what I said about those nostalgia glasses, and I’m aware that much of my love for this movie comes from the fact that it was my introduction to my favorite horror movie genre–body horror–but even so, I can watch this movie again right this instant and still get the chills. Okay, the special effects are showing some age, but they’re not unwatchable. I’ve seen plenty of worse effects in way more recent movies (looking at you, The Mummy II). Also, the concept of the movie is still pretty terrifying to me. Brundle wasn’t ‘wrong’. He wasn’t even doing anything particularly hinky in his experiments. He wasn’t ‘asking for it’ and he didn’t ‘deserve’ it. A fly got in the pod. That’s it. That’s all. A fly got in. Do you know how many times a fly has gotten into my house and I didn’t know it? Like, a lot of times! And the only reason my face didn’t fall off is because I wasn’t testing teleportation pods at the time! There’s a big deal made out of the fact that Brundle wasn’t ready to test and didn’t have permission, or whatever, but honestly, this could have happened anywhere. Flies get in. That’s what they do.
I don’t have any other what I would consider ‘gore’ movies on this list, because for the most part, a gore movie doesn’t have anything else to carry it except that squick-factor. Braindead (Dead/Alive) is a GREAT movie and I love it (watched it last week, in fact, out of sentiment), but it only works on that level. It’s not a horror movie in the sense that I don’t feel horror at any point watching it, or terror or even suspense. I’m just giggly and grossed out. Great movie, again, I’m not bashing it, but it’s not a horror movie. There are, of course, fantastic thinking-man’s gore movies, like Drag Me to Hell, Cabin Fever, and Hostel. These are primarily there for the gross out, but also have a story to tell and tap into a very real fear (eating disorders, infection and abduction). Then you have movies like Saw, with the concept of torture used as an instrument of rehabilitation, or, more accurately, used by someone who genuinely believes that’s what they’re doing, and that is one hell of a difference. If, on the thinking-man’s gore spectrum, Hostel is a 1 and Saw is a 5, then Martyrs is a solid 10. The horror is there from the start, as a fairly standard abduction movie, and then comes the torture porn, but it’s the ending that really elevates this movie to an art.
Man, there was a rousing debate here in the ol’ Smomestead tonight, trying to decide what was ‘horror’ as opposed to merely ‘suspense’ or ‘scary’, but the one film that everyone agreed should make this list was Jaws. In a lot of ways, it hits the same notes as The Fly. It’s not a monster. Its victims don’t ‘deserve’ to die. Ignoring the sequels, it’s not malicious or vengeful or even all that smart. It’s just a big, hungry shark. And it’s the reason my sister wouldn’t go into the ocean, lakes, creeks, public swimming pools or large mud puddles until she was 30. And as much as I tease her about that, I have to admit, that when that movie comes on, no matter where or how far into the film it is, I stop and watch it. It not only still holds up after all these years, but still GRIPS. And it’s one of the few movies where I can honestly say it’s better than the book.
Making this list has been a challenge, not to come up with ten horror movies I would recommend to all my readers, but to limit myself to ten and not to write a hundred pages’ review of each one. But there is another reason for this blog post and I suppose I should get to it. The latest chapter of my FNAF fanfic, Everything is All Right is up on fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org, and those of you who missed it last week will be happy to know that it’s an extra long chapter, like twice as long, like I should have cut it in half, but what the heck. I owe you. So head on over and check it out, and if you don’t have the time to read a whole double-sized chapter or if you’re a newcomer here and want to know what this whole fanfic thing is about, here’s a snippet to whet your appetite! Enjoy, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
The old man slept for hours and eventually, so did Ana. At some point in the night, one of the staff brought a blanket and covered her over against the chill of the air conditioning. She roused now and then, but never really woke. The sounds and smells of the hospital unearthed long-buried memories in which she was small and hurt, but safe. She slept easily, her breaths aligned to the rhythmic whirr of the IV pump, and dreamed she was a child with a broken shoulder and then a teenager with the pneumonia that had been her runner-up prize for surviving her mother’s attempt to murder her. Nurses came and went, often exchanging a few words with one another or with the patient, if he happened to be awake for their rounds. Ana slept through dozens of these exchanges before the sound of a voice softly speaking woke her, first into the pizzeria, because that she thought it was Freddy talking, and finally into reality.
Once she’d dragged her eyes open and convinced them to focus, she saw Mr. Faust sitting up in bed with the amenities menu open in his lap. He saw her, said, “That will be all, thank you,” to the phone in his other hand and set it aside. “Will you do me the honor of joining me for breakfast, Miss Stark?”
“Breakfast? You even allowed to eat? You were NPO last night.”
“As a precautionary measure, yes. I was cleared earlier this morning following a lengthy evaluation. You don’t recall?”
“I don’t think I woke up for it.”
“No? I thought you had,” he remarked, “especially as you distinctly said, quote, ‘If I’ve got to wake all the way up to tell you to shut your muzzle, I’m going to kick your plastic ass,’ as I was speaking with the doctor.” It was difficult to know for sure, since he was already wearing those damned dark glasses, but she thought he glanced at her, the kind of glance that feels as heavy as a touch. “Plastic?”
She shrugged. “Apparently, Sleep-Me thought you’d had one of those newfangled ass replacements we’ve all heard about. I don’t know, I was out of it. Sorry about that.”
He accepted that with a nod and perused the menu for several seconds before saying, “And muzzle?”
Ana was waiting for that and had her innocently quizzical face polished up and ready to go. “What, you don’t say that here? Shut your muzzle? Huh. I guess it’s a West Coast thing,” she said, making a point of checking her watch, only to see that it was a quarter to six already. “Sorry, I’m going to be late for work as it is. No, wait!” Pressing the heels of her hands over her eyes, she sorted back through the events of the previous day to the scene at the office when she’d received her unexpected promotion. “No, I guess I’m not. New hours. Barely any hours. What the hell am I going to do with myself all day?”
He raised the menu a little higher, as if in answer.
“Sure,” said Ana, getting up and stretching the stiffness out of her limbs. “Get me some coffee and something to take the taste of hospital coffee out of my mouth. But then I got to get going, seriously. I am not showing up to work in yesterday’s clothes. I get enough side-eye around here without giving people reasons to wonder where I’ve been all night.”
“Tell them the truth.”
“What, that I’ve been with you all night?” She had to laugh, unaware that she would soon be saying just that to Sheriff Zabrinsky and most of the rest of her co-workers, not only willingly but with a shell-shocked sort of gratitude that on the one night she needed it, she actually had an alibi. For now, the thought only gave her a good-humored flare of annoyance for the gossip mills of Mammon. “Yeah, I get enough of that, too.”