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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Definitive Horror Films: 40-31

Stephen King, courtesy of
Well, ten down. Ten to go in this segment. A few Stephen King adaptations here, more Cronenberg, and a couple of remakes round out this portion of the list. Here, we start getting into more films people love, so I expect more arguments coming soon about why a movie isn't higher on the list. Again, not a "best of" list - a definitive list. These are important in horror film history - not all good. Enjoy numbers 40 through 31.


#40. Pet Sematary (1989)

On of Stephen King's most famous novels was translated into a relatively good movie in 1989, directed by the woman who directed Madonna's "Material Girl" music video (Mary Lambert). A young family's world is shaken up in their new home in Maine after Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) learns from a local farmer (Fred Gwynne) of a burial ground behind their house that will allow the dead to come back to life. When a horrific accident leaves the family in shambles, Louis turns to the graveyard to restore hope, only to find that what he's resurrected is not what it seems. King's novel and Lambert's film continually remind us that, sometimes, dead is better.


#39. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

John Landis started his career directing classic, ridiculous comedies (Animal House, The Blues Brothers). In 1981, he turned his attention to writing and directing a horror film about two American tourists in England who are attacked by a werewolf. Starring David Naughton, An American Werewolf in London had injections of comedy throughout, but Naughton's transformation scene is the moment that still embeds into the minds of the audience. The film won an Oscar for Best Makeup based almost solely on the scene, but what gets lost in the shuffle is what a solid horror film Landis created here, beyond the special effects.


#38. Cujo (1983)

It's not a great film, but the concept is chilling. The Stephen King novel centers around a family dog named Cujo, after it contracts rabies and begins to rampage through a small town. Think about it, though. When any dog goes crazy, the first comparison anyone makes is to this film. Shoving your influence into culture doesn't necessarily mean producing a terrific film. Cujo is scary at moments (specifically a claustrophobic stuck-in-a-car sequence) and can give you an unreasonable fear of dogs, no matter how misguided the film itself may be.


#37. The Wicker Man (1973)

Long before Nicholas Cage screamed his way through an awful remake, Robin Hardy directed this British horror film that tackles a much more religious side of the genre. In the film, sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) goes to Summerisle, a remote island known for its fruit production. Howie is searching for a missing girl, but the locals insist she doesn't exist. To make matters worse, Howie, a devout Christian, is appalled by the practice of Celtic paganism by the residents of the island. Also starring Christopher Lee, the film puts heavy focus on religion as an entry point for terror and suspense like no other film had done before. It has since become a cult classic, with a devastatingly brilliant ending that rivals any horror film before or after it.


#36. Hellraiser (1987)

The directing debut of horror iconoclast Clive Barker also gave horror fans one of the most legendary characters of the genre. Though Pinhead (Doug Bradley) is the leader of the evil creatures, called Cenobites, he doesn't really commit most of the atrocities in the film. Hellraiser centers around a puzzle box that opens up a Hell-spawned world of sado-masochism, killing the ex-lover of a newly married woman. When the woman and her husband move into the house, they find him there, a zombie who needs to be re-born in a new body and needs the woman to feed his need to survive. A graphic depiction of a post modern underworld, Hellraiser, like many other films on this list, was followed by a slew of unnecessary sequels. The original still stands up pretty well.


#35. Videodrome (1983)

More David Cronenberg, this time attacking the ever-expanding world of media. Videodrome was well ahead of its time - a film about the hypnotic power of television and the dangers (both mental and physical) that it can bring about. James Woods stars as TV producer Max Renn, looking to expand his network's reach. When he finds a program called "Videodrome," which depicts what can only be described as snuff TV - sado-masochistic torture - he decides it's the wave of the future and begins pirating the show. As others get involved - Max's girlfriend (Debbie Harry), Professor Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley) - we see that this show is not just reality, but is the front for a political movement. O'Blivion was modeled after media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who was a lecturer at the University of Toronto when Cronenberg attended college. TV may figuratively destroy our minds, but Cronenberg shows how it can destroy our souls.


#34. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Following a large scale criticism of television, we jump into a based-on-a-true-story look at the life of Henry Lee Lucas. Michael Rooker stars as the title character in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which centers around a serial killer and his daily routines. Rooker is polarizing as Henry, killing people in a different way every time, some more graphic than others. But where is the ethical limit? John McNaughton's film is low budget and difficult to watch at times, but it is a rare example of a horror film directed specifically at the antagonist, serving the role as anti-hero, in a way.


#33. 28 Days Later... (2002)

Six years before sweeping the Oscars with Slumdog Millionaire and ten years before serving as the artistic director for the Olympic opening ceremony, director Danny Boyle gave the world one of the most thoughtful, intense, and fascinating horror films in years with 28 Days Later... Starring Cillian Murphy, the film turns the zombie movie on its head, portraying London as an empty shell of a city, four weeks after an incurable virus wipes out most of the UK. A graphic fable about survival and the inherent aggression of humankind, this complex allegory is more than your run-of-the-mill walking dead movie. It's a mind-trip and a half and scary as hell.

#32. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

I struggled with which version of this film to include on the list. Both this version and the 1956 adaptation are quality films, but I eventually had to settle on this Philip Kaufman directed version, starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Jeff Goldblum. Set in San Francisco, this story of aliens replacing humans with anti-emotional clones is one giant metaphor for our growing culture of followers, devoid of leaders and true, ethical decision-makers. Also starring Leonard Nimoy, the 1978 version may not have been much different than the original, but it's proof that a remake can work if done right.

#31. The Ring (2002)

Sticking with the remakes, in 2002 Gore Verbinski remade the Korean horror film Ringu into an English language film, starring Naomi Watts at the heroine. I considered including the original on the list instead of the remake, but The Ring set the wheels in motion of Hollywood snatching up quality Asian horror films and remaking them into terrible English language blockbusters. The film details the discovery of a video that, if anybody watches it, he/she will be dead in seven days. Watts stars as a reporter researching this urban legend. While The Ring is one of, if not the best of these remakes, it also started a sub-par trend in the genre that it deserves to be associated with for years to come. Still - pretty solid horror flick.

And so we continue. Thoughts? Arguments? Funny limericks?

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