By Eric Podolsky, 10/22/12
It’s that time of year again. October is the month in which we give ourselves permission to revel in the perverse, to take pleasure in fear, to seek out the dark things from which we recoil the other 11 months of the year. In a nutshell, it’s horror movie time here at AVS! Whether the macabre and gruesome is your bag or not, there is a deep, deep well of lost and not-so-lost horror/thriller classics to explore. Lucky for us, AVS has a dedicated contingent of horror movie aficionados who are more than happy to help us decide where to start with this tricky genre (there’s a whole lot of unwatchable schlock out there).
This gore-obsessed gang of AVS members has an awesome annual tradition going: watch (and rate) one (or more) horror films a day throughout the entire month of October. Thanks to those involved in this ongoing “AVS Horror Festival,” the rest of us are spared from being subjected to all the truly terrible films in this genre: these guys are more than happy to give any film with some blood and gore a fighting chance, no matter how god-awful it looks (and often is).
In this process, the rest of us are thankfully able to learn from these brave souls’ mistakes: we now know which garbage films to cross off our list so we can invest our time in the movies truly worthy of scaring us witless. That being said, here are 20 films (both old and new, obvious and obscure) which have been rated highly enough by AVS members to make our watch list. Naturally, the squeamish best sit these ones out -- the psychos and/or creatures are all loose in full force, and the bloody death tolls are high. So in honor of October’s countdown to Halloween, join us in diving into our AVS-approved splatter-fest!
WARNING: Please leave all taste at the door before entering...
It’s unanimous: this is the horror film against which all others should be judged. When it was released in 1978, Halloween single-handedly set the bar for all slasher films to come (most of which were horribly inferior) with its suspenseful direction and terrifying villain in the guise of the blank-masked Michael Myers. Along with the rest of AVS, member FendersRule finds lots to admire in this all-time classic: “The greatest slasher ever made. The staple-mark of the genre. Carpenter's superb direction of blending the supernatural entity into the natural was astonishing; not to mention the man's work on the phenomenal musical score or in the writing. The unknown cannot be toppled and will always remain more intriguing. Keeping your bad guy a 'bad guy' and not making him the 'main character' will always remain more frightful and effective. Nothing touches this when it comes to slashers. Nothing. John Carpenter, I am amazed at you and just about every damned movie that you make.” If there’s one movie to watch on Halloween night, this is clearly the one, hands down.
Though it’s quite different from the book, Stanley Kubrick’s terrifying take on Stephen King’s novel is nothing short of a masterpiece of filmmaking, horror film or otherwise. Member darthrsg raves that The Shining is a “stellar film. Transcends genre, IMHO...Can't really say anything that hasn't been said already, but this one of the best movies, in any genre, of all time.” Bob McLaughlin is testament that repeated viewings pay off with this film: “How much do I like The Shining? Let's put it this way: this is the only movie that I have owned in VHS, DVD, remastered DVD, and finally Blu-ray. Worth every penny to quadruple-dip. Simply brilliant filmmaking!” But the best element of The Shining is clearly the last third of the film, as yankeeman points out: “Watching Jack Nicholson go crazy is one of the great joys in movie watching.” Amen to that!
When it comes to claustrophobic suspense and scares, the original Alien takes the cake. We didn’t include the sequel, Aliens, in this list, as that film is more about action than scares, but as yankeeman says, these films are “the two greatest melds ever of scifi and horror ever made...I remember the very first time I saw Alien, in the movie theater, with no knowledge of what was coming -- wow, that was something. Aliens is one of those rare sequels that to me equals or surpases the original, although the original had more pure shock value.” If only we could watch this film for the first time again with no knowledge of the alien creature...that would be something special.
If you’re looking for flat-out, absolutely terrifying horror, The Exorcist truly stands the test of time. Considering it was made in 1973, the film has aged remarkably well, and has lost none of its edge. General Kenobi probably says it best: “Although there are plenty of other horror films that are worth a 5 star rating in my book this film is the pinnacle of perfection in horror cinema as far as I'm concerned. Nearly 40 years since it was made and it is still one of the scariest films created. I have zero gripes with this film and consider it completely flawless.” darthrsg is in agreement as to the film’s power: “Timeless classic, never once does it feel like it's from the early 70's. I still get white knuckled watching it and have to tell myself to breathe.” When it comes down to it, nothing in cinema can match The Exorcist’s visceral terror, even after all these years.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Though Freddy Krueger was eventually turned into a more comedic character over the years, the first film in the Nightmare series still stands as the best and most terrifying of them all. The kill scenes are imaginative and unexpected, and the dream sequences give director Wes Craven free reign to pull out all sorts of frightening and surreal effects. According to FendersRule, the first Nightmare is “one of my favorite slasher movies on the planet. Not that it's as ‘perfect’ as Halloween, but more so that it's just plain entertaining, ambient, and atmospheric. The action, suspense, sound effects are all solid characteristics of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's at times just as serious as The Exorcist, but also shows some dark humor... A Nightmare on Elm Street is an instant classic, and something that everyone should see.” There’s no denying that this film sticks with you after a viewing. Who can forget: “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you...”
The Thing (1982)
After watching this gruesome film, I guarantee you’ll find yourself longing for the days of pre-CGI, stop-motion creature creation. John Carpenter’s shape-shifting creature is a disgusting wonder to behold, and makes this my personal favorite horror film ever. FendersRule agrees: “One of the greatest physical horror movies EVER MADE. This is easily in the top three...It's flawless. Not one damn thing is wrong with it. It's above exceptional. Didn't know Ennio Morricone did the soundtrack, either...If you have not seen The Thing, then I fully pity you.” darthrsg can get behind this as well: “What a great film. To this day the effects hold up. Very creepy very claustrophobic. Very badass. Even if you aren't into horror, this one is hard to deny.” If this is news to you, seek this film out immediately, and get ready to be scared out of your pants.
An American Werewolf in London
Featuring quite possibly the greatest pre-CGI creature transformation scene ever, this film delivers both scares and humor in a very effective way. darthrsg calls it “One of my all time faves. Great blend of comedy and gore. I'll never forget the first time I saw the transformation, or when I got old enough to understand the zombie scene in the theater. It's pretty much the standard by which werewolf movies are judged.” Airboss also calls it “one of my all time favorite horror films. I'll never forget the first time I saw this movie and the amazing transformation of David Naughton from 'David Kessler' to ‘the Werewolf.’ Ground breaking special effects, a great story, fantastic acting and one kickass soundtrack make this an all time favorite worth many viewings!” Given the universal praise for this one, it’s safe to say that this is one absolute must-see werewolf movie.
Ok, now that we’ve got the obvious choices out of the way, it’s time to dive into those lesser known horror gems. This dark 1974 film about a serial killer in a sorority house was one of the first slasher films ever, and paved the way for all the rest to come. The body count is high, and the deaths are gruesome. Let’s let ApolloCreed give us the full rundown: “This is what horror is all about folks! Even though I knew damn well what the movie was about, it still had me on the edge of my seat nearly the entire time. The caller is very frightening as he rambles on about the craziest **** you’ve ever heard. Extremely effective! You know that it’s coming, but when the cops find out where the caller is located...wow...it still gives me chills thinking about it, and I watched it two nights ago. This one is a horror classic: highly recommended. The movie really has nothing to do with Christmas other than the fact that the story occurs around Christmas time, but if you haven't seen it.....it is definitely worth a watch. Personally, I loved it.”
Fright Night (1985)
Many consider this extremely fun-yet-frightening film to be one of the best vampire features around. It is undeniably well-done and somewhat meta, as the movie is about a suburban, horror-film-obsessed teen who discovers that he’s got a vampire as his next-door neighbour. Bob McLaughlin can’t deny that “this movie is still funny and fresh all these years later. It is very 80s-looking, of course, but the characters are great (Evil Ed especially!) and the special effects are fantastic in this pre-CGI era. The transformation scenes and the death scenes are simply awesome. Nice to see that the old tale of the vampire could be reworked into something fun, and great to see Roddy McDowall in another horror role. My wife had never seen this one before, and she doesn't normally go for horror, but she got sucked into it and was captivated.” And though the 2011 3D remake is passable, it doesn’t hold a candle to the original.
This 1989 film about re-animating the dead is one of the better Stephen King adaptations, and is well worth a watch due to its eerie, creepy vibe, as well as a killer zombie child. Susyflower says that “this is probably my favorite horror movie of all time. I look forward to AMC's Fear Fest every year because I know they will show this one multiple times. Still gives me good scares to this day!” darthrsg adds, “I dig King's books, and although most of the movies are pretty bad, this one is pretty good...I think this is a classic among non-horror fans.” And did we mention that it features Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster)? We're sold on that point alone.
Speaking of bringing the dead back to life, here’s a fun-filled splatter-fest that takes a more light-hearted tone with its theme of re-animation, and is sure to get your 80s nostalgia pumping. The blood-n-guts factor is high with this film, and it is well worth seeking out due to its combination of fantastic gore and humor (much like what Evil Dead 2 did so effectively). It’s no wonder Re-Animator has gained a cult following in the years since its 1985 release. General Kenobi says: “First time viewing this, and what fun it was! I'll be getting a copy of this on Blu-ray when it comes out for sure [note: the Blu-ray was released on 9/4]... gore galore and a good bit of dark humor as well, really enjoyed this one!” Fun fact: this film’s plot was based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft.
Getting into modern-day horror flicks, this 2007 film is yet another Stephen King adaptation, and sure packs a wallop. The film is essentially a sci-fi monster movie which tells the tale of a small town in Maine that is enveloped by a thick mist that brings with it a number of vicious creatures which wreak havoc. Though the premise sounds silly, the film is quite bleak and terrifying, and features a wrenching climax that has to be seen to be believed. yankeeman had this to say after watching The Mist: “Wow. I am totally, emotionally drained. Even though I’ve seen it before, this film is so powerful and the ending is so emotional, that it totally drained me. While I could pick a few things I would like better in this movie, I cannot rate this anything but a 5-star movie -- it is something special.” Altaira adds: “I think this is a terrific film! It really added a new level of horror for me.” God bless Stephen King: what would the horror genre be without him?
Among the boat-load of recent horror movies to be released, Hostel holds its own as one of the better films of the modern genre. Many recent horror flicks forgo suspense in favor of torture porn and gross-out factor, but Hostel manages to keep you engaged in a way that few horror films of this era can. yankeeman believes that it is “a true classic. The first third is almost a porn movie, and the rest is great horror. Superbly written, great sets, magnificent photography and direction, perfect music -- this is what a horror movie should be. I love to watch classics like this over and over, more than I enjoy watching horror movies that are only so-so for the first time.” There you have it, a modern classic (which is quite hard to come by these days).
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
This remake of the 1977 Wes Craven film of the same name features plenty of gnarly freaks and murderous hillbilly psychos, so if that’s the type of thing you’re in the mood for, this is the one to seek out. yankeeman raves that this is a “great, great movie. To me, it’s the best of the popular type of horror movie that’s about a family stranded in the woods/desert and gets attacked/abducted by mutants/sickos. Great gore, good storyline and premise that’s carried through very well. This is a 5 star movie to me.”
DISCLAIMER: This modern French film may very well be the most disturbing movie you’ll ever seen in your life. To give you some idea, it’s about a pregnant widow who is stalked by an insane woman who wants her unborn child. If that’s enough to make you lay off this one, you’re probably better off for it. But if you are a true horror aficionado that has a genuine affinity for the sick and twisted, you’ve found the ultimate film. As wizzack says, "Inside is one the most violent, bloody and brutal horror movies I've ever seen. This crazy film never loses its impact no matter how many times I watch it. A home invasion on your last day of pregnancy? Talk about a bad night. And that's just the beginning! Oh, and the 5.1 sound mix is a kicker. Inside leads the pack in the recent French horror invasion.” General Kenobi adds: “I really can't believe that knowing how eff'd up this movie is I would willingly watch it a second time in my life... good grief this is just brutal! If you want to squirm in discomfort while witnessing the most gruesome images to ever grace your display, check it out. Otherwise, take my word for it and enjoy not having those images burned in your brain! It’s the only movie in adult memory I have turned my head from... and it's on the list for a second viewing this year.” Considering these comments came from guys who watch horror movies every day, that’s really saying something.
This tale of a group of cave-exploring women is a well-done take on the claustrophobic horror/thriller that rewards multiple viewings. Bob McLaughlin sums it up when he says that “even on repeat viewings, this is still one of the tensest and scariest movies ever. There were several times where I realized I was not breathing, and I still let out a yelp of surprise during at least one scene (take your pick). This movie has quickly attained the status of being a modern classic, and it is well deserved.” airboss agrees: “What can I say? One of the best horror movies in the past 10 years! Most of the new stuff I've seen recently is just a waste of time. Although I keep trying to find something interesting, something to bring back the thrill that I experienced the first time I watched The Descent, I haven't found anything close.” Everyone seems to agree that this one gets better the more that you watch it, including member PooperScooper, who says that “this a movie I know I've watched all the way through at least six times.” The film also features a fantastic ending that you never saw coming -- this one is well worth your time.
This 2009 British mind-bender does a great job of messing with your head to the point of making you feel as insane as the woman in the film. As General Kenobi says, “Triangle is a grade A top tier mind fawk. Psychological horror at its best, IMO. Melissa George is simply brilliant, and the writer/director of this film is seriously under appreciated. For anyone that thinks Inception and Prometheus were deep, you need to see this for some contrast.” For this reason, Triangle holds its own as a great film, genre be damned, and member film113 concurs: “I consider Triangle to be one of the best movies I've seen in at least a decade...maybe more.” Due to its confounding narrative, this is another one that rewards multiple viewings to piece through all the strange and frightening happenings.
The Loved Ones
This 2009 Australian prom-night horror story is put together in all the right ways. Combining gore and humor to work very effectively (a la Dead Alive), director Sean Byrne has made a great film on a tiny budget. Member oink loves this film: “Holy Moly, what a TERRIFIC movie this is! Superb, in every way. The acting of the Queen Bitch is fantastic...what a performance. No doubt about it, I have not seen a better horror movie all year. And the cherry on top is the AV of the DVD is as good as it gets.” General Kenobi also agrees that Robin McLeavy’s performance is stellar: “This is just too damn fun to be anything less than a perfect score. Oodles of gore and dark comedy laced together with some stellar performances and stunning A/V. The actress playing Lola is phenomenal.” If you want a gory good time, this is one film that will deliver the guts and the laughs all in one.
Cabin in the Woods
We’re sure you’ve heard of this one by now. Coming from Avengers director Joss Whedon, this isn’t really a horror film in any traditional sense, but rather a clever sendup/summation of every horror film ever made. We don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it, but let’s just say the movie doesn’t go where you expect it to. GoCaboNow says that he “can see how a true horror fan might have an issue with this movie, but I loved the writing and characters. Also, CREATURE FEATURE! The last half hour was a lot of fun. The AV was stellar for this as well with exceptional, and unexpected, low-frequency effects throughout.” We went into this one thinking it would be the same old schlock, but this film’s twists and turns were surprising and gratifying in a way we never expected. Overall, this weird movie is a great romp, and well worth the time of horror fans and non-horror fans alike.
Not Available on Blu-ray
Buried in the mire of crap horror films that were released in the 80s, Pumpkinhead is an overlooked gem of a creature feature that deserves a second chance. After a group of teenage campers kill a man’s son in a hit-and-run, he summons a demon for revenge -- and the rest is history. According to darthrsg, this is a “really great flick. It’s a solid tale of supernatural vengeance with great Stan Winston effects... Seems like one of the better all conventional effect horror films of the late 80's. It's really well done.” ApolloCreed also thinks that “the movie itself was surprisingly good. Solid story, excellent atmosphere and good special effects for its time. My favorite scene is when Pumpkinhead initially rises from the grave. Most of the acting was adequate, but Florence Schauffler does an absolutely fantastic job as the witch.” Of course the movie’s main appeal is the awesomely gruesome Pumpkinhead creature itself, but the rest of the film is quite watchable as well, which is rare for a feature like this.
Not Available on DVD or Blu-ray
This list just wouldn’t be complete without one super-campy 80's slasher flick, and The Mutilator is one of the most watchable and entertaining when you consider all the low-budget crapola that was mass-produced in the 80s. As wizzack suggests, the film certainly lives up to its title: “If you like your 80's slashers with extra cheese, track down The Mutilator. Ridiculous music, horrible acting and some cool kills. The gaffe shot is top notch! Good movie with beer or a crowd. This is one of the best...” This is one of those so-bad-it’s-good type films, and is well worth a watch if you’re looking for a retro flick to throw on at a party. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you!