Every Halloween there are certain movies I try to watch as the holiday approaches. Some of these movies have a great deal of suspense; some are rather gory, and others are laced with humor. I had originally wanted to split this list into two, but I’ve run out of time this season. However, I hope to return with another list for next season. In the meantime, here are twelve of my favorite horror movies to watch around Halloween. These movies aren’t necessarily my absolute favorites, but I am trying to rank them in order of preference with a nod towards quality. There will be some spoilers ahead, but it’s difficult to discuss these movies without highlighting some major plot points. This post is rated PG-13 due to some profanity on my part!
Directed by Bruce McDonald in 2008, Pontypool is an adaptation of a novel written by Tony Burgess. Pontypool was filmed on a 1.5 million dollar budget and takes place in Pontypool Canada. The movie stars Stephen McHattie as shock jock Grant Mazzy, and Lisa Houle as Sydney Briar, manager of the radio station that Grant works for.
The film opens with Grant struggling to drive through a blizzard when he stops for a woman babbling incoherently. The only thing Grant notices is that the woman keeps repeating certain words over and over. He starts the day normally enough, but soon reports of riots and disturbances around town begin filtering into the station’s phone lines. The only thing in common with these disturbances is that the citizens seem to be repeating certain words and phrases before turning homicidal or suicidal. As the situation deteriorates, Grant attempts to flee but the radio station is now surrounded.
Pontypool offers a unique take on the zombie genre. The premise, unfortunately, takes some people out of the movie, but if you can overlook that the concept is fascinating. The concept is that a linguistic virus has developed within the English language. Certain keywords and phrases represent a point of entry for the virus, and when the victim begins repeating those words and phrases, the virus takes control of the host. Here is the real twist, the keywords and phrases vary person to person. However, the local doctor has a theory on how to thwart the virus, and it becomes a race against time as a horde of crazed citizens and the military close in on the station. Pontypool is not a perfect movie, but I recommend it.
#11 The House of the Devil
Written and directed by Ti West in 2009, The House of the Devil is a retro tribute to 1980s thrillers. Ti West wanted an 80s feel so much that he filmed the movie on a 16mm camera to replicate the look of the 1980s film stock. The movie stars Jocelin Donahue as Samantha, Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman and Greta Gerwig as Megan. Samanta is a college student in dire need of rent money, so she agrees to take on a babysitting job for the Ulman family on the night of a lunar eclipse.
The House of the Devil is a classic slow-burn horror thriller that drips with increasing tension. The downside is that it takes a while for the plot to get moving, but the time is not wasted. You develop an immediate sympathy for Samantha and therefore when the situation deteriorates, you can’t help but hold your breath. When she arrives at the Ulman’s house, the first sign of trouble begins. She was initially told that she would be babysitting a young boy, but instead Mr. Ulman reveals that she will be watching his elderly mother. Her attempt to back out of the situation causes an immediate tense reaction, but a doubling of her fee settles the issue.
As the evening goes on, the movie enters a very 1980s style montage complete with music by The Fixx. As she dances around, she misses the tied-up or murdered family arranged in a pentagram in one of the darkened rooms. She knocks over a vase and finds a picture that reveals that the family that lives in the house does not appear to match the husband and wife she met earlier. One drugged pizza and murder later, Samantha soon finds herself amidst a Satanic sacrifice as the eclipse approaches.
I love this movie, despite the slow start. This film just oozes suspense that morphs into real horror as Samantha struggles to escape the crazed cultists. If you’re a fan of the 1980s style horror movies, you will love The House of the Devil.
#10 The Cabin in the Woods
Written by Joss Whedon (yes, THAT Joss Whedon) and directed by Drew Goddard in 2012, The Cabin in the Woods was filmed on a budget of 30 million. The movie stars Kristen Connolly as Dana, Chris Hemsworth as Curt and Anna Hutchison as Jules. The premise of the film is the same as nearly every horror movie you’ve ever seen. A group of randy, fun-loving teens head off to an isolated cabin in the woods to party. Oh, but wait. No, this movie is nothing that you would expect! Warning – I cannot discuss this movie without major spoilers!
Alright, you ready? The Cabin in the Woods is a serious mind fuck! This movie wants you to think it’s a generic “cabin in the woods” movie, but it’s not. This film wants you to believe it’s a parody of horror movies like Scream, but it’s not. In some sense, you could almost call The Cabin in the Woods an anti-Scream movie. Make no mistake, this film has elements of satire, social commentary mixed with action and genuine horror.
Now for the real spoilers: We have five highly clichéd teens (The jock, the nerd, the bimbo, the druggie and the virgin), all of which head to the cabin for a party. This setup is so cliché; it even contains a dodgy gas-station attendant who tries to warn them away from certain doom. As they drive away, though, the suspicious man makes a telephone call.
They discover the basement of the cabin is filled with old antiques, toys, and fascinating curiosities. Each item appears to have its own unique and dark story behind them. The first item that gets opened and read is the journal of the youngest daughter of the Buckner family. In Evil Dead fashion, the reading of the book resurrects a horde of zombies that approach the cabin after dark.
Here is where the first plot twist arises. Earlier in the movie we see a pair of technicians talking inside a bunker, but we’re not given any real context. As the kids settle into the cabin, we discover that these men are scientists who are monitoring every room of the house. They release pheromones into the cabin, to get the protagonists to engage in sex, as the zombies approach. Soon the characters are under attack, but one of them discovers the surveillance equipment and realizes this is a setup. That’s when the movie drops a bombshell; horror scenarios are being run all around the world simultaneously to kill innocent people. Japan is the first scenario to fail, and this makes the scientists nervous, but we don’t know why.
The zombified Buckner family is making short work of the teens, but a few manage to escape. However, the scientists seal a tunnel and the teens discover a force field surrounds the cabin. Soon there is little hope, and the scientists begin celebrating the deaths of these innocent people. That is until one of the characters thought dead, manages to lead Dana (the virgin) into an underground bunker. There we learn the truth. The government appears to be in possession of every monster, creature and killer of legend imprisoned in this facility. It’s here that the final twist is revealed. If this horror scenario fails, then the entire human race is doomed. Why? Well, you’ll just have to see the final twist for yourself.
The Cabin in the Woods is just an awesome movie. Every time you think you’ve figured out what’s going on, the movie throws you another curveball. What starts off tame and generic turns into an entirely different movie by the end of the film. The Cabin in the Woods takes a stale concept and makes it unique. It keeps you guessing and long after the movie has ended; you’ll still be debating about it.
#9 The Fog
Written and directed by John Carpenter in 1980, The Fog was filmed on a budget of 1.0 million dollars and stars Adrienne Barbeau as DJ Stevie Wayne, Jamie Lee Curtis as Elizabeth and Tom Atkins as Nick Castle. This movie would solidify Jamie Lee’s status as ‘The Scream Queen’ of the 1980s, following her performance in Halloween a couple years prior.
The movie takes place in Antonio Bay, California, as they prepare to celebrate their 100th anniversary. The Fog holds a very special place in my heart. It’s the very first movie I saw without an adult (I went with my best friend) around the age of twelve. We only got into the film because a complete stranger behind us vouched for us, enabling us to purchase tickets and see the film. Before I say what I love about this movie, let’s get into the opening scenes.
One of the first shots of the film features an old sailor, telling spooky ghost stories to a group of children around a campfire on the beach. And that scene encapsulates this film, but I’ll explain why later. The Fog has something of a “cold opening” where all hell seems to break loose at the stroke of midnight. People’s clocks break, windows shatter for no reason, car alarms start sounding, and a gas station becomes possessed as gas pours on the ground, and the lift raises up and down. And then a moment later, complete silence. However, further out to sea a trawler encounters a mysterious glowing fog rising as the radar indicates an approaching vessel. The ship’s generator and engine fail, and their instrumentation goes crazy as the temperature plunges. One by one, each member of the crew is slaughtered. At the same time this is occurring, a drunken Father O’Malley is startled by crumbling stonework, revealing a secret chamber in his church. The first thing he discovers is an ancient journal belonging to his great grandfather.
The next day things seem normal until Stevie Wayne’s son Andy finds a gold coin in a tidal pool. As he reaches for the coin, it turns into a piece of driftwood with the word DANE carved into it. He takes it to show his mom, but after he leaves, the driftwood begins oozing a strange substance that shorts out one of the recorders. However, it leaves a raspy, moisture-laden message. “Six must die.”
Meanwhile, Nick and Elizabeth set off to find the missing trawler, eventually finding the vessel abandoned. However, Elizabeth finds a body with its eyes pulled out in a locker. The body is brought back, but the medical examiner insists that the man had been dead for days. There’s just one problem with that claim. The ship had only been missing for a few hours. The body re-animates frightening Elizabeth, but by the time everyone else gets into the room the body is lying on the floor. Beside the body is the number six drawn on the floor, painted in the man’s own blood.
As the town proceeds with its festival at sunset, a fog bank rises and cuts off the town’s power and electricity. Stevie is at the radio station located in a lighthouse with a commanding view of Antonio Bay. She sees the fog approaching the weather station so she calls her weatherman friend to warn him. When she suddenly loses contact with the man, she begins fearing the worst. Seeing that the fog is approaching the house where her young son Andy and the babysitter are located, she does the only thing she can do. She picks up her microphone and begs the radio audience for help. Everything becomes a race against time as the fog engulfs the town, and the protagonists race to the old church where the truth is revealed.
Sometimes old horror movies don’t stand up to the test of time, but I fervently believe that John Carpenter’s The Fog is one of the greats. Here is what I love about the old ghost story told at the start of the movie. John Carpenter took a classic, gothic nautical ghost story and fused it with the 1980s style slasher-killer genre. The movie has many of the charms of an old ghost story, with the tension and gore of the modern slasher. Every time that fog bank rises, you feel the tension building. And every one of these characters is (or end up) likable, relatable and believable. They’re innocent people caught up in an extraordinary circumstance and even little Andy could be killed. The Fog is horror done right!
Perhaps because I saw it at a young age, it left an impact on me. Every time I see a fog bank that appears to be unnaturally illuminated, I can’t help but shudder. I’ll paraphrase one of the last lines of the movie:
“To everyone that can hear this broadcast, and all the ships at sea. Stay out of the Fog! There’s something in the fog.”
#8 The Devil’s Rejects
Written and Directed by Rob Zombie in 2005, The Devil’s Rejects was a sequel to his popular House of a 1000 Corpses. Made on a 7.0 million dollar budget, the movie stars Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding, Sheri Moon Zombie as Baby, and Bill Moseley as Otis. The film once again centers on the Firefly family and their allies, probably a couple days after the events of the first movie.
I’m going to commit a little heresy here. I didn’t care that much for House of a 1000 Corpses. How can someone who doesn’t like the original put a sequel as one of their favorites? Here’s the thing; The Devil’s Rejects borders on being a masterpiece for Rob Zombie, but this is going to take some explanation so bear with me.
The movie opens on a siege of the Firefly home, as Sheriff John Wydell leads an assault to avenge the death of his brother. Some of the Firefly family is killed, injured or captured during the firefight, but Otis and Baby manage to escape. They hijack a van and hook up with their friend, the twisted clown named Captain Spaulding as they take refuge at a hotel with their hostages.
While this is going on, the Sheriff is becoming unhinged. If you’ve ever seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II, you might know where this is going. The unstable sheriff hires two bounty hunters named “The Unholy Two” and he straight up murders Momma Firefly after having a vision of his brother urging him to kill. As this team runs amok, Otis, Baby and Spaulding are tormenting, taunting and humiliating their captives. This devolves into a murder spree as the hostages try to get away and one of the most memorable lines delivered by Otis. “I’m the Devil, and I’ve come to do the Devil’s work.”
That’s when everything changes. The murderous trio escapes the hotel in the van while Sheriff Wydell resumes his search. Rob Zombie then does the unthinkable; he turns the antagonists into likable people. How does he accomplish this? He reveals that they’re ordinary people who love one another, they enjoy ice-cream, and they share moments of camaraderie typically reserved for the protagonists. But in this case, our protagonist is also himself a murderer now, and we see his sanity slipping away with every moment. And when he catches our three serial killers, he in turn tortures them and endeavors to become a serial killer himself.
As a member of the audience, you’re now left with three horrible people who suddenly have become relatable to an extent and even almost likable, while the lawman has forsaken all trappings of a good protagonist. In the end, the Firefly family were ordinary Americans, living a twisted dream. But in their minds, it’s a dream that we all share, and we as an audience can see a little of ourselves in them. I’d compare The Devil’s Rejects to a movie like Natural Born Killers, but fame isn’t what the Firefly family desired. In this case, the Fireflies desire the freedom to be artistic predators. There is a strange sense of patriotism in their mission. This point is driven home when the final song of the movie plays: Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
In the end, despite all the brutality, Rob Zombie turned the antagonists into the protagonists, and that is the most horrific thing of all.
Written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero, this 1982 anthology film is a Halloween staple! Complete with an all-star cast including Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Neilson, E.G, Marshal, Ted Danson, Stephen King and even Tom Savini! Creepshow was filmed on a budget of 5.8 million dollars and serves as a tribute to the old E.C. Horror Comics before the “Comic Code Authority” neutered the comic into virtual non-existence.
Because Creepshow is an anthology film, there will be stories that resonate with you, while others fall flat. There are five main stories within the movie: “Father’s Day”, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”, “Something to Tide You Over”, “The Crate”, and finally “They’re Creeping Up on You!”. These stories are bookended by a young boy named Billy (played by Stephen King’s real son). Things kick off with the boy being treated harshly by his father because he brought an old E.C. comic into the house. After slapping the kid and tossing the comic in the garbage, a hideous ghoul appears at the boy’s window, letting the audience know to get ready for one hell of a ride.
“Father’s Day” is basically about an old miser who was emotionally and physically abusive to most of his family. After he dies, the family gathers together to celebrate Father’s Day in the man’s absence. However, we discover the family members are pretty reprehensible themselves, and soon the man rises from his grave to take revenge. But hey, maybe he just wants some cake?
“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” featured just one actor, Stephen King. You know how King always cameos in an adaptation? Well, this time we get to find out if he can carry an entire story on his own. You know what? He can! Stephen King plays an over-the-top hick, redneck country bumpkin who is deep in debt and in danger of losing his farm. However, when a glowing meteor crashes into his backyard, he starts to see dollar signs. While poking at the meteor, he gets some strange green fluid on his skin. Which probably brings about the funniest line of the story. “Yuck, Meteor shit!” Unfortunately for Jordy, the strange fluid causes a weed-like substance to grow everywhere it comes in contact, including his flesh. The situation goes downhill for Jordy and is very much a hilarious and yet horrific situation.
My favorite story of the anthology is “Something to Tide You Over”. Leslie Neilson plays a shockingly effective sociopath named Richard Vickers. He’s witty, charming and a ruthless killer. He set up his unfaithful wife and her lover on his private ocean property and forces them to dig holes for themselves on the beach at gunpoint. After burying them to their heads, he informs them that if they can hold their breath long enough, the sand will loosen, and they can escape the trap. Naturally, this doesn’t work, and the unfortunate couple begins to drown, as Richard watches gleefully via remote camera from the comfort of his home. When the bodies disappear, he assumes it’s all over. But for Richard, it’s only just begun. This story is just so well acted, and Leslie Neilson just steals the show right up to the last moment.
“The Crate” is probably my second favorite and was likely inspired by some of the works of H.P Lovecraft. The moral of this story is if you find a mysterious 100-year old crate at your university, you probably should leave it alone. The creature effects of The Crate are top-notch, but the story takes an unexpected twist when the Good Professor Henry Northup finds an interesting use for the crate when it comes to his abusive wife played by Adrienne Barbeau.
Finally, we have the story; “They’re Creeping Up on You”. This is my least favorite of the stories because it primarily relies on gross-out visuals. The story follows Upson Pratt, a wealthy germaphobic business person who lives in a Manhattan penthouse during a blackout. The man detests cockroaches and finds that their number seems to be increasing despite the best efforts of the exterminators and his trusty can of bug spray. When the lights go out, though, Upson’s place becomes inundated with the creatures, and well, they’re creeping up on him.
The epilog of Creepshow features a pair of garbage men finding the discarded comic and read through it. Only, there seems to be an advertisement missing. Let’s just say one abused boy with a love of horror gets his revenge.
#6 From Dusk Till Dawn
Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Kurtzman, this 1996 movie went on to become a cult classic. Shot on a 10.2 million dollar budget, this film also features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo and Tom Savini.
From Dusk Till Dawn focuses on the exploits of the Gecko brothers, opening up on a bank heist that’s starting to go wrong. The brothers kill a Texas Ranger and take a bank teller hostage. It becomes obvious that Richie Gecko, played by Quentin Tarantino, is a psychotic sociopath who is unable to restrain is base instincts. This contrasts with Seth Gecko, played by George Clooney, who considers himself a consummate professional and has a charismatic nature. After Richie rapes and kills the bank teller, the brothers take the Fuller family hostage, taking them and their vehicle across the Mexican border.
Now stop right there! This sounds like a perfect horror movie right? You have building tension because Richie is a ticking time-bomb and his brother Seth, seems unwilling or unable to restrain his brother. Here you have a vulnerable family with two older teens and you know anything can happen.
You don’t know the half of it! Spoiler alert, this suspenseful crime drama quickly turns into blood-drenched horror when you least expect it to.
The Gecko brothers have taken the Fullers to a strip club roadside bar called the Titty-Twister just inside Mexico. All the Geckos need to do is keep control until dawn, when their contact is scheduled to arrive. Once again, though, Richie has difficulty with self-control but what happens next turns From Dusk Till Dawn to a full on horror. Richie begins harassing a stripper played by Salma Hayek, only she turns out to be a vampire. And not just any vampire either, she is the vampire queen and all the employees of the bar are her subjects. Did I mention this movie is a little weird?
All hell breaks loose, figuratively and literally, as the bar patrons must unite with the Geckos and Fuller family to thwart off an entire army of blood-thirsty vampires. Oh, I should mention that Tom Savini plays a friendly character named Sex Machine. He owns a cock shaped gun built into his belt buckle. I don’t have a joke about that, just thought I’d mention it.
What else can I say about this movie? Quentin Tarantino and Robert Kurtzman knocked this out of the park. This is also another case where one of the antagonists, in this case, the suave Seth Gecko actually turns into the hero of the movie. Though former pastor Jacob Fuller played by Harvey Keitel also puts in an excellent performance. His children Kate and Scott, played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu kick some vampire ass right alongside Seth. From Dusk Till Dawn is a classic cross-genre mashup with elements of drama, gore, humor, and horror.
#5 The Prince of Darkness
The movie starts off when the elderly caretaker of Saint Goddard’s Church in Las Angeles passes away. He leaves a mysterious box for a priest, played by Donald Pleasance, who is sent in to survey the church. Inside the box is a key that unlocks a chamber in the bowels of the abandoned church. Within the chamber is a mysterious translucent cylinder filled with a swirling green fluid, accompanied by indecipherable text. The priest calls upon a professor of Quantum Physics played by Victor Wong, who assembles a team of scientists and graduate students to investigate the strange object.
The team’s first task is to decipher the text, which appears to be in code. They eventually translate the text as a warning that the embodiment of Satan is contained within the cylinder and soon determine that there are multiple streams of data flowing from the object to points unknown. What the team doesn’t realize is that a swelling horde of homeless transients, the deranged and easily controlled individuals are gathering around Saint Goddard’s Church.
The scientists begin receiving a transmission during their sleep periods, showing them a televised broadcast of a shadowy figure emerging from the church. The dream claims to be transmitted from the future, to alter the events of the past.
This is not a dream… not a dream. We are using your brain’s electrical system as a receiver. We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year one, nine, nine, nine. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing. Our technology has not developed a transmitter strong enough to reach your conscious state of awareness, but this is not a dream. You are seeing what is actually occurring for the purpose of causality violation.
The message is clear, they must find a way to seal the cylinder before it’s too late. Unfortunately, the cylinder is already leaking and the fluid is taking over the minds of the research team one-by-one.
It’s at this point the data team has a breakthrough and introduces the first plot twist of the movie. While the cylinder does contain the essence of Lucifer, he’s not actually the main antagonist that must be stopped. Using principals of Quantum Mechanics, the professor deduces that just as matter has a counterpart in anti-matter, that God also has a counterpart, an Anti-God. Satan’s task is to open a portal to bring the Anti-God into this dimension. As more of the team is taken over and the murderous mob outside grows ever closer, it becomes a race against time to save the world and stop the coming of the Anti-God.
Alright, folks, I have a confession to make. I adore this movie, to the point that not only is it one of my favorite horror films, it’s also one of my favorite movies in general. The Prince of Darkness was an influence on my own novel The Unseen Kingdom, which is why the old church in the book is none other than Saint Goddard’s Church. (It’s one of many horror movie references in the novel.) This film fuses together the concept of faith, rationality and science and attempts to make them compatible. This is another great cross-genre movie with elements of science fiction and supernatural horror. All of the performances are great and the entire film just oozes with tension and atmosphere. Complimented with some terrific performances and an award-winning score by John Carpenter and you’re left with a real Halloween treat.
Just remember one thing, though. “I have a message for you, and you’re not going to like it. Pray for death.”
#4 In the Mouth of Madness
Written by Michael de Luca and directed by John Carpenter, this 1994 movie was filmed on a budget of 8 million dollars. The film stars Sam Neill, Julie Carmen and Jurgen Prochnow and even Charleston Heston. In the Mouth of Madness is a love letter to H.P. Lovecraft and represents another serious mind-fuck that will leave you, your friends and kids debating the ending of the film and the nature of reality and sanity. This movie and H.P. Lovecraft both represent huge influences on how I approach writing and the genre of horror in general. While I hesitate to call this John Carpenter’s best film, I do believe it’s one of his masterworks.
The movie follows Insurance Investigator John Trent, played superbly by Sam Neill. The film opens with him sequestered inside an asylum, being interviewed by a psychologist. We discover that he had been investigating a claim by Arcane Publishing that their star author, Sutter Cane, has gone missing. Before he can meet with the CEO, a man wielding an ax bursts through the window of the restaurant and asks, “Do you read Sutter Cane?” before being shot dead.
John suspects the author’s disappearance is a publicity stunt, so he meets with the company CEO played by Charlton Heston. John works with Sutter Cane’s editor Linda Styles played by Julie Carmen. Together, they begin an investigation on where the enigmatic author may have gone. Linda mentions that Sutter Cane’s work has been causing problems for less stable readers, but John dismisses her concerns.
As John examines the cover of all of Sutter Cane’s novels, he realizes that when assembled together, the covers form a map of New England, centering on Hobb’s End. There’s just one problem, though, Hobb’s End is a fictional town created by Sutter Cane for his novels. However, the suspicious John Trent heads off to the coordinates, accompanied by Linda.
That’s when the first plot twist of this mind-bender hits. Hobb’s End is not a fictional town, it’s real. Even more disturbing, it seems to precisely match the author’s description right down to the creepy children and menacing, if not murderous, townsfolk. After John demands the truth from Linda, she confesses that Sutter Cane’s disappearance was intended to be a publicity stunt. However, there is one real problem. Hobb’s End doesn’t exist, it is a fictional town and its existence comes as a shock to her.
The pair becomes separated, with Linda locating Sutter Cane in an old church while John is confronted by a mob that forces him to try and flee the town. However, a series of temporal and dimensional distortions keep returning him to the center of Hobb’s End until he finally crashes. When he awakens, he’s back in the church with Linda and Sutter Cane.
Sutter Cane reveals that he’s made a deal with The Great Old Ones. His books are so vivid and visceral that it’s driving the readers insane. His mind is a portal and his words a conduit for the return of Earth’s once true masters. He’s already revealed his final masterpiece to Linda, driving her insane. The portal begins to open, and John is forced to flee as hordes of hideous creatures give chase.
John Trent believes he has destroyed the manuscript, preventing the world at large from every reading it. However, the publisher informs him that he’d already brought them the manuscript months ago and that the book has just been published. This drives John mad, who promptly murders someone reading the book. There’re several more twists that I’m avoiding because In the Mouth of Madness needs to be seen. Sam Neill’s performance is brilliant and his portrayal of a man losing his grip on sanity is believable and effective. And Jurgen Prochnow’s performance as the twisted Sutter Cane is amazing. You may look at reality and sanity very differently by the end of this movie. Just don’t blame me when those monsters come for you.
Oh, and by the way: “I’m God now. Did I ever tell you my favorite color is blue?”
Written and directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, this 2012 3D stop-motion animated film was made on a 60.0 million dollar budget, earning over 100 million at the box office. This is probably the most successful movie on my countdown. The voice actors in this movie include Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck.
Now your first question is probably, why on earth is a kid’s movie on a list of favorite horror movies? Well, to be succinct, Paranorman is awesome! This is a movie made for kids, but every adult horror fan will find multiple things to love about the film. If you’re a parent and you’re looking to introduce your child to a smart, heartfelt and yet genuine horror story with a moral, then this is the movie for you.
Paranorman focuses on Norman Babcock, an 11-year-old boy living in the town of Blithe Hollow. Norman has a problem, though, he can see, hear and communicate with the dead. The movie opens up with him watching a horror movie, sitting beside the ghost of his grandmother that only he can see. He suffers ridicule and scorn from both his peers and even his own parents. Nobody believes him and the fact he’s different than everyone around him leaves him feeling very alone and easily victimized by bullies. I think you see where this story is going. Norman does manage to make one friend, the overweight kid named Neil, who also suffers abuse from his peers.
Norman is confronted by Mr. Prenderghat, his creepy ostracized uncle who explains that the town must be protected from a young witch that the town had executed 300 years ago. He escapes the man, placing his dire warnings out of his head. However, Norman is participating in a school play, one commemorating the execution of the witch. He begins experiencing a “Silent Hill” style otherworld vision of fire and doom in the middle of the play. The resultant spectacle caused by Norman’s freak-out gets him grounded. His uncle dies in the meantime and appears before Norman to give him instructions on how to stop the witches curse. He needs to read a particular book over the girl’s grave, which will keep her asleep for one more year. With nobody who believes in him, and no help available, Norman’s grandmother gives him some advice. It’s OK to be afraid, as long as he doesn’t allow that fear to change him.
Due to the actions of a bully named Arvin, Norman is unable to perform the ritual in time. A massive storm in the form of the witch gathers in the sky as zombies begin climbing out of their graves. Norman is joined by his sister Courtney, Neil and Neil’s big brother Mitch. The group is pursued into town with the zombies following close at hand. Only the town doesn’t react to the zombies as expected. Instead, they form a vigilante mob that pursues the zombies and eventually the children.
Norman hopes to locate the witch’s grave by researching the archives at the town hall. Soon the building is surrounded by the townspeople and it appears that history may be about to repeat itself as Norman desperately seeks a solution to the problem.
That’s all I’m going to say about the plot. Most of the third act of the movie ultimately involves the confrontation between Norman and the young “witch” Agatha. I’ll be honest, some of the third act revelations of this movie are absolutely heartbreaking and emotional. And the final confrontation between Agatha and Norman is shockingly well done. Even many adults found the last part of Paranorman to be genuinely tense and shocking. This is one kid’s movie that pulls no punches!
Let’s address some controversy now. Paranorman features a gay character that is something of a gag. The ultra-masculine, jock character Mitch reveals he has a boyfriend to an understandably disappointed Courtney. The joke, of course, is that Mitch doesn’t follow any stereotype, so the revelation comes as a surprise. However, once you’ve seen the movie it’s obvious that Norman could have easily been the gay character, just as Agatha. I think that’s what gives it an emotional punch. The homosexual overtones are somewhat irrelevant because any kid that’s grown up feeling isolated, belittled and different for whatever reason, be it a physical handicap, skin color, religion or sexuality will identify with Norman. The message of the movie hits home for a lot of people, myself included. It’s a beautifully done movie and it deserves to be seen.
#2 The Beyond
Written by Dardano Sacchetti and directed by “The Godfather of Gore” Lucio Fulci, this 1981 Italian film was filmed on a budget of just 400,000 dollars. The movie stars Katherine MacColl, David Warbeck, and Cinzia Monreale.
The Beyond is considered Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece and despite a mixed reception by critics upon its release, many horror authors, filmmakers and directors rank the film in the top 100 best horror films ever made. While most of the movies in this countdown except The Devils Rejects could be watched by kids, this is definitely one that requires a more mature audience due to excessive brutality and gore.
The movie begins in the year 1927 at the Seven Doors Hotel, Louisiana. An artist named Schweick is painting a grim apocalyptic painting that he felt inspired to write as a warning to the world. A lynch mob, suspecting the man is a warlock, sneaks into the hotel and savagely tortures the man, walling him in alive in the basement of the hotel.
Years later, a young woman named Liza has inherited the hotel and decides to renovate. A plumber heads into the basement to solve a water problem and discovers the grotesque corpse of Schweick. Before the plumber can react, the corpse reanimates and plucks out the eyes of the man. This initiates a series of mishaps and accidents around the hotel, eventually bringing a brief halt to the work.
Liza encounters a blind woman named Emily who warns her that reopening the hotel would be a terrible idea. The mishaps seem to spread into town, as the recovered body of the plumber reanimates and the man’s young daughter finds her mother dead in the morgue.
Emily tells Liza about Schweick and warns her to remain out of room #36. Liza gives into temptation and investigates the room, discovering a book titled Eibon (which is an occult book from the Lovecraft mythos). Liza finds the body of Schweick nailed to the wall and runs out of the room. Her doctor friend John investigates the room but finds nothing. He becomes concerned about Liza’s state of mind.
The pace of the movie increases rapidly as any attempt to learn more about the hotel and the Book of Eibon are thwarted. After John locates the book, he begins to believe that the 7-Doors Hotel is actually built on one of the 7 Gates of Hell. He rushes to the hotel to warn Liza, but it may already be too late.
I’d say The Beyond is one of the grimmest movies I’ve seen, but a certain Stephen King adaptation recently stole that honor. Oh, we’ll be dealing with The Mist next year I suspect. This film is a mix of superb cinematography, gore and shocking imagery that will likely stay with you for a long time to come. The Beyond is part of Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell Trilogy”, and we’ll discuss at least one of those other movies next year I’m sure.
Written and directed by Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, this 1977 masterpiece of horror is not only considered one of the best horror films ever made, some consider it one of the best movies ever made. While this list wasn’t intended to rank horror movies, it was my intention to pack the lower five with premium suggestions. I’m not a professional film critic and I have no film school training. However, I do believe that Suspiria really is a masterpiece of horror and should be seen by any horror aficionado. Like The Beyond, this movie is a little heavy on gore and shock but in measured doses. An interesting side note, apparently this film was the last ever shot in “Technicolor” and Dario Argento made the most of it.
The movie stars Jessica Harper as a ballet student who has been accepted to a prestigious dance academy in Freiburg, Germany. She arrives Munich in a downpour, which is backlit with crimson lighting, giving the illusion that it’s raining blood. Yes, it’s that kind of movie. Some might be tempted to say that Dario Argento is the Italian equivalent of Stanley Kubrick. Every shot of Suspiria is very stylistic with every angle, sound and color meant to evoke fear, tension, shock and despair.
As Suzy arrives at the school, a recently expelled student is fleeing the building. She stops to give Suzy a warning, but Suzy has difficulty understanding Pat’s words. The young woman runs off into the woods, and eventually arrives at a friend’s house to spend the night. Finding the building locked tight, Suzy likewise is forced to head into town until morning when the school opens. Pat is brutally murdered on the roof of her friend’s townhouse, her body hurled through the skylight killing her friend with the shards of falling glass.
Suzy returns to the school and meets with the assistant director, Madame Blanc. Suzy wants to live off-campus, but Blanc disagrees but lets the subject drop temporarily. After meeting the school’s chef and an enigmatic boy named Albert, Suzy is stricken and collapses during practice. Despite her wishes, she is now sequestered in the school’s dorms and is being attended to by a doctor who recommends a single glass of wine every evening to calm her nerves. The tension in the school rises when it begins raining maggots inside the dorms. Apparently, there was rotting food stored in the attic so the girls are forced to temporarily bed down in the central practice chamber. The girls hear a strange asthmatic wheeze that Sarah identifies as the director of the academy. There’s just one problem, the woman supposedly left on a trip. There is a prone, twisted silhouette behind the girls that they never notice. Now both girls are suspicious that’s something’s happening, especially when Pat’s private journal goes missing. Suzy notes that when the teachers seem to leave for the night, they turn in the wrong direction to reach the front door. They’re never leaving the building at night as they claimed.
I’m going to avoid further spoilers. Suspiria isn’t a film to be watched, it’s a film to be experienced. This movie grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the credits are rolling. Every shot of this movie is just a feast to behold and the score is chilling. Truth be told, the theme song for Suspiria may be one of my favorite horror scores of all time. Everything about this movie just leaves you with this pervasive feeling of dread. If you can only watch one movie from this list, make it Suspiria.
Sources: IMDB, Wikipedia
Well, that’s it for this year. I’ll do another countdown next year only a lot earlier next time!