October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best horror movies that rip off better movies is part of our ongoing 31 Days of Horror Lists series.
Originality is overrated. It’s all been done before. Sometimes, it’s more fun to take an established idea, twist it, pervert it into something ghastly, and maybe something astonishing. The movies you’ll find on this list are not necessarily better than the films they spawn from, but they are damn memorable as a result of their efforts. And what is “better” anyway? Undoubtedly, people are reading these words and already chomping at the bit, ready to fight over these films. Every movie is someone’s favorite.
Soaking in that headspace, our Boo Crew (Rob Hunter, Chris Coffel, Meg Shields, Jacob Trussell, and myself) scoured through the wannabes and found the best of the best. Fitting, as these flicks were inspired by a handful of iconic heavy hitters from the seventies and eighties. When a movie like Jaws is unleashed upon the world, you can guarantee a slew of imitators will appear. There’s blood in the water, and the suits come swimming.
Filmmakers are fans, too. Sure, not all of these movies began from that place. Quick cash studio dreams are certainly responsible, but the viewer can easily identify a creator’s passion in several of these cinematic cases. Whatever the reason, the rip-offs below are absolutely striking and demand attention.
10. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Rob Zombie is a nerd. All of his films pickle in his fandom before hitting the silver screen. House of 1000 Corpses, his debut feature, is layered with numerous references to stories, characters, and ideas Zombie adores, but primarily, it’s a love letter to Tobe Hooper‘s unhinged and underrated masterpiece, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. And yeah, it features Chop Top himself, Bill Moseley, looking to chew all the scenery that wasn’t already gobbled down by the rest of the Firefly family. The movie is shaky and ragged, but that roughness only contributes to its aesthetic. House of 1000 Corpses puts all of Rob Zombie out there; he never knew if he’d make a movie again, and that unloading plays powerfully, especially as the film rockets toward its bombastic climax. (Brad Gullickson)
9. Making Contact/Joey (1985)
When it comes to popcorn directors, few are at the level of German filmmaker Roland Emmerich. But before Emmierch was dazzling audiences and raking up the box office numbers while leaving critics mostly cold, he was cutting his teeth in Germany. In the mid-’80s, Emmerich was disappointed with the state of German cinema and wanted to create entertainment similar to the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. The result was Joey, a Poltergeist riff about a 9-year-old boy who copes with the death of his father by talking to a possessed dummy. The demon doll summons other evil spirits, pulling poor little Joey into a good old-fashioned battle of good versus evil. Joey isn’t a great movie, but it is a fun one. Emmerich wants the audience to believe this is an American movie, constantly showing exterior shots of Virginia that feature a Krispy Kreme and plastering Joey’s bedroom wall with posters of American sports teams. Emmerich’s special effects are campy but charming, and the director fully leans into Poltergeist while sprinkling in some E.T. nods for good measure. He should make a sequel. (Chris Coffel)
8. Shocking Dark (1989)
What’s a better rip-off? One that uses the kernel of an idea from a popular movie, only to spin it out into wild directions, or one that shamelessly recreates scenes and situations that make audiences say, “Hey, I get that reference!” For me, it’s the latter which makes Shocking Dark, and its pastiche of 80s-era James Cameron, so excellent. While promoted as a sequel to The Terminator, in actuality, the film is a faithful copycat of Aliens, down to a ragtag squad of marines, a motion tracker that beeps whenever baddies are near, and a turncoat character who’s revealed to be working for a big-bad corporation. Strained through the low-budget charm of one of Italy’s masters of schlock, Bruno Mattei, Shocking Dark is an entertaining rip-off that surpasses Troll 2 in the land of crowd-pleasing B-movies tailor-made for raucous midnight screenings. (Jacob Trussell)
7. Grizzly (1976)
Here’s the first wannabe Jaws on the list. After a grizzly somewhat accidentally gets a taste of human blood, the gargantuan beast goes on a rampage across a national forest. Stepping into the Chief Brody role is Park Ranger Christopher George, who has to get his boss off his back by making the park safe again for tourists.”You yell raccoon, everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell Grizzly, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.” William Girdler does his Spielberg thing but leans a little heavier into the massacre elements and the resulting screams. Grizzly is a gas, especially when viewed in a group. Put a picnic together, light up a campfire, and snack on smores with your pals for this one. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Demon Wind (1990)
Prepare yourself for some back-to-back Evil Dead infatuation. Released nine years after Sam Raimi‘s original and three years after Evil Dead 2, Demon Wind follows another group of kids who travel to an abandoned farm. Sixty years ago, Cory’s grandparents ran into some trouble with demons. Cory returns to their homestead, wanting to uncover exactly what went down, and, thankfully for us, he gets his wish. Director Charles Phillip Moore doesn’t have Raimi’s style, but he certainly has his chaotic energy. This flick is loud, violent, and utterly gonzo. Rescued from obscurity by the good folks over at Vinegar Syndrome, Demon Wind is readily available and itching for your eyeballs. (Brad Gullickson)
5. Bloody Muscle Body Builder From Hell (1995)
Shinichi Fukazawa’s 1995 feature debut – still his only credit as a filmmaker – is a shot-on-video labor of love that delivers as much creativity and enthusiasm for the genre as it does blood, gore, and biological mayhem. It’s often referred to as “The Japanese Evil Dead,” and that’s not just a description. That’s essentially a subtitle. The film borrows both its setup (a small group of folks go to a creepy house) and Sam Raimi’s energetic approach to the carnage with a fast-moving camera, physical humor, and gore gags aplenty. I’d argue it’s far less of a ripoff and more of a loving homage that finds its own purpose and delivers its own entertainment. Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell runs just barely over an hour, and it’s packed with fun in both its visuals and dialogue, ensuring a good time for horror fans, lovers of pratfalls, and those of us who crave some good, old-fashioned eyeball violence. (Rob Hunter)
4. Beyond the Door (1974)
Look, Beyond the Door isn’t trying to trick you. That’s the Devil’s job. But while Ovidio G. Assonitis and Roberto Piazzoli’s supernatural horror flick shared enough DNA with The Exorcist to invite a copyright claim from Warner Bros., I’d argue that the film is still very much its own extremely weird Italian thing. Sure, it has head-turning imagery ripped right from William Friedkin’s box office classic. But anyone coming to gawk at a cut-and-dry plagiarism case will be sorely disappointed. This bad boy is totally bananas in its own right. Satan himself narrates the tale of a young couple whose unexpected pregnancy becomes the stuff of nightmares… especially when an unexpected figure from the wife’s past (who is also a ghost and an occultist) re-enters the picture to “help.” If you’re wondering why Paramount’s Rosemary’s Baby didn’t also think to sue, think hard about what else was happening in the late 1970s with Roman Polanski to make his collaborators go dark. (Meg Shields)
3. The Manitou (1978)
The Grizzly man is at it again. Director William Girdler adapts Graham Masterton‘s 1976 novel of the same name, which was certainly linked to The Exorcist when it was initially published. The movie ditches Pazuzu for the Algonquian Manitou myth and transforms the life force concept into a ravenous psychotic spirit… that initially appears as a fetus growing on the side of Susan Strasberg‘s neck. The Manitou traces The Exorcist‘s structure, where medical science attempts to explain the unexplainable before some spiritual commandos enter the arena to save the day. Kinda. Girdler died in a helicopter accident before the film’s release and never got to see the film’s baffled audience reaction or the cinematic cult that would arise around it during the VHS era. (Brad Gullickson)
2. Orca (1977)
Producer Dino De Laurentiis saw those lines around the block for Jaws and said, “Yeah, I gotta get me some of that.” Two years after Steven Spielberg dominated movie screens with his shark run-amuck flick, Orca splashed onto the scene. The central beastie has some serious motivation behind his attacks, going after the seaman who slaughtered his pregnant mate and young’un. With the revenge plot raging full steam ahead, the audience quickly sides with the killer whale, delighting in the rampant people murdering. Jaws was a little violent, but Orca is proper horror movie gory, relishing in the onslaught and providing a climax that should have the Fangoria crowd on their feet. (Brad Gullickson)
1. Piranha (1978)
A year after Orca, Director Joe Dante, writer John Sayles, and producer Roger Corman took their bite out of Jaws, and god damn, it tastes delicious. Where Orca is extra serious, Piranha has a wink to it. These are not your usual flesh-eating fish; they’re a batch of genetically engineered monsters left over from a failed Vietnam War experiment called “Operation: Razorteeth.” When they gain access to the Lost River Resort and its nearby summer camp, they’re presented with the best buffet of their short lives. Piranha is a ridiculous kill-fest peppered with the best gung-ho character actors a new director could materialize. Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, and Keenan Wynn run wild through the film, giving their all to sell the madness around them. Dante takes his pennies and makes them look like dollars, showing a promise that will pay off in a masterful genre career. (Brad Gullickson)
Are ya looking to be the next great pretender? You better watch some movies. A lot of movies. And there’s no better place to find a garbage load of horror movies than in our 31 Days of Horror Lists archive.