Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
I admit I’m a fan of the horribly kitschy B horror movies out there. None of them are really scary, but they’re all hilarious in their own way. Each October there are two movies I have to see. The first is Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It is about what you would imagine. Some mutated giant tomatoes are killer and some scientists do their best to fight back and save the world. The film is pretty much lacking in every aspect: special effects, acting, even the plot is lame. But Killer
Tomatoes certainly embraces the “so bad it’s good” mentality of so many cult horror films. And with a name like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a cult classic.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
The other freaky film that makes the cut each year is Killer Klowns From Outer Space. I already find clowns to be pretty damn scary, they’re always happy and in your face and it’s just not natural. Killer Klowns certainly delivers exactly what you want. Hell, one clown eats people with his shadow puppets. and you have to admit it doesn’t get much better than that. The movie has some slightly scary elements thrown in so it isn’t all kitsch, but it is still funny and memorable.
Night of the Living Dead
It begins and ends with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Produced in 1968 on a shoestring budget ($114,000), with no-name actors, and yet still manages to rise above all obstacles and create a subtly brilliant film. The pace is suspenseful, the acting superb, and the direction allows for continued edge of the seat terror as the audience is pulled into the situation due to the simplicity and intensity. This film established the zombie genre, and has lead to numerous sequels, remakes, and similarly themed films.
In a simple story we find seven people boarded up in a farmhouse attempting to defend themselves against flesh eating zombies. In what has become a staple in horror movies, our characters include both a protagonist and antagonist, and the dynamic of our group dealing with the situation is as intense as the situation. The beauty comes in the ending. No Hollywood sellout here. A list of scary movies must include this classic genre-establishing zombie fest.
Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408 gets to take a seat of honor next to The Shining as the second of two truly great haunted hotel movies to spark from the mind of Stephen King. John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, the author of two books of haunted hotel reviews. Having separated from his wife after the untimely death of their daughter, Enslin would like nothing more than to believe in the afterlife; unfortunately, he’s never seen any proof. That all changes when he spends the night in room 1408 at New York City’s Dolphin Hotel.
Room 1408 is spectacularly haunted. The screenwriters and director refuse to cut the audience apart with cheap thrills. Even when they have something jump out of the shadows, you feel like those moments were earned because of the more subtle terrors filling the screen for most of the movie. The horror starts slow and then builds and builds. Every possibility is loaded into that room, from ghosts and gruesome murders to fire and ice. This is one roller coaster that is ninety percent slow movement up a long hill, ripe with tension and fear, and ten percent gut-wrenching drop. It’s all about timing and special effects, and the editors and artists work some great magic.
1408 does exactly what it sets out to do, send shivers down your spine with an intelligent story. I’m not sure it could have worked without John Cusack in the lead; he is the perfect everyman. That aside, 1408 is a smart psychological drama with some great bumps in the dark.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark
As a TV-junkie child of the Seventies, I didn’t have VHS, DVD or the Internet to keep up on horror films. In fact, my parents weren’t taking me to see the likes of The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby in the theaters (I’d have to wait until we had a VHS player to catch up with those!). My exposure was through the TV. In the pre-cable days, that was mainly through made-for-TV movies. In their heyday these pieces were as quality as most anything showing in theaters (e.g. Spielberg’s Duel).
For a scary film, I first thought of Bad Ronald (1974) with Ronald left in a sealed off room in the house for an accidental killing and a new family moves in the house. My second thought was the similarly creepy Crawlspace (1972). But the scariest film of my early TV days was hands down, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (1973) from the Crawlspace director. This terrifying film aired for years almost every October. I first saw it at my grandparent’s house on a Friday night and it was nightmare inducing. Although it predates these movies, it’s equal parts Amityville Horror, Gremlins, and Omen.
In short, a couple inherits an old mansion but when they open a boarded-up fireplace, a bevy of horrible demon creatures are released. The gremlins are afraid of the dark. The two greatest things about this movie . . . the little voices of the creatures that we hear long before we ever see them, chanting “Sally, Sally. Free, free . . . she set us free.” and the fact that only Sally sees them attack and no one believes her. This leads to some very tense scenes as Sally loses her sanity throughout the picture culminating in a final scene with a drugged Sally, a terrible storm, a power outage and a husband racing to get home.
The fact that this movie only aired occasionally and couldn’t be found on video only made its legend grow in my mind. To this day, I can put myself back in my grandparent’s living room turning off the TV during commercials, and then relenting and turning it back on to see the end. Frightening.
It’s too new to be considered a classic or even in the upper echelon of horror greats, but The Descent (2005) is a recent flick that scared the pants off of me. Here’s the thing, a story about a group of women who get lost in some unexplored caves while on a spelunking expedition is terrifying on its own. It’s dimly lit, with most of the light being given off by flashlights and glowsticks, and it’s â€œtotallyâ€ claustrophobic. That alone would have me on the edge of my seat, but they had to take it a step further and add monsters. Not just any old run-of-the-mill monsters, but freaky, pseudo-science, evolution-gone-wrong, sonar-using, Gollum-looking creatures. GAAAHH!!! It’s the type of movie that demands to be watched with all the lights in the house turned off, viewed between your fingers or out of the corner of your eye, because you’re just too scared to stare at the screen. Just make sure you get the unrated version with the original ending intact.
The Thing (1982)
For those who like to have their cake and eat it too, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is the perfect mix of horror and science fiction. Carpenter is at the top of his game with this story of a group of scientists stranded at a remote Antarctic research base, being hunted by a shape-shifting alien. It’s suspenseful as hell, because neither you nor the characters know who the killer is. It’s also gory as all-get-out, with some of the most awesomely disgusting special effects I’ve ever seen. Throw in a soundtrack by the legendary Ennio Morricone, and Kurt Russell sporting the sweetest beard this side of Jeff Bridges in the ’70s King Kong remake, and you’ve got yourself a modern classic!
The Haunting (1963)
This movie knows what so many imbecilic horror filmmakers of today can’t seem to understand, that the scariest things imaginable are the unseen. Sound is used magnificently in the film, much like in an old radio show, where aural clues allow the audience’s own imaginations to craft their own visions of the terrors hounding the film’s characters. The wonderful result of this is that it grabs the viewers and pulls them right into the haunted house alongside the characters they’re watching. If you’ve ever been scared by a sound in the night that you weren’t exactly sure what it was, 1963′s The Haunting is sure to chill you. Some houses may be â€œborn badâ€ but it takes a lot of restraint and skill to make a movie this good.
Slither is your classic drive-in monster movie about a parasite from outer space, bent on taking over whatever planet it lands on next. In this case, a jelly-like, slithering, space vagina, born from a meteor that has recently crash landed in the woods of a small farming town, Anywhere, USA, where the recent start of deer-hunting season, appears to be all that is on anybody’s mind.
Slither is gross, suspenseful, and at times genuinely scary. It hails back to a time in horror movies that we haven’t seen in quite some time. A time where a lot of directors are now claiming to go, but usually fall short. Drive-in, grindhouse, splatter, 42nd street, whatever you want to call it, Slither beckons back to the good old days when nothing was taboo. When kids (yes kids) were just as prone to an on-screen demise, as their grown-up counterparts (usually a telltale sign that the studio system was in no way involved).
They just do not make them like this anymore, my friends. This is what they mean by a ‘B’ movie. Most people confuse ‘B’ movies with really shitty attempts at ‘A’ movies. Not this one. It was a ‘B’ movie from its inception. No stars, nobody big backing it, no budget but surprisingly well made, and Rated R, it is a CAPITAL B+++ (A), a fucking riot!
Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer
While I enjoy the obvious classics like the Universal Monsters, I am not a big horror fan. To me, being frightened or scared is not entertaining. Even more so with today’s films that are filled with tricks like loud noises and editing to startle or gore that is supposed to gross me out. I find real life much for scary, which is why I was awed by Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The character was so believable, a regular guy who could be any person you walk by or live near, except for key moments. And the depiction of the murders is simply brilliant. On screen, the audience sees the aftermath while the soundtrack plays the event as it took place, so it’s all in your imagination where all great horror a rises from. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon as I walked back to my car with two friends and I was scared the whole time.
Editor’s Note: This list was compilled by our own El Bicho and his friends, The Masked Movie Snobs. Check them out!