Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another Top Ten List just in time for Halloween

Last week I posted my top ten horror stories for Halloween. Now it's time for the film version of this.

10. Sleepy Hollow - Okay, maybe not a true horror film. But I love it. The sets and cast are great. Plus, Tim Burton's take on Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is so refreshing and spooky.

9. No Country for Old Men - What? You ask. This is not a horror film. True. But when the psycho killer (played brilliantly by Javier Bardem) steps on screen, I squirmed and wanted to fast forward it. There is not a serial killer, a monster, or a demon more terrifying that Bardem's character. Completely unforgettable. I can think of three scenes that I'll never forget. The first one where he strangles the police officer in the station to escape. The second where he kills his first victim with a captive bolt - used for killing cattle in slaughter houses. The final one involves him laying a wager with a hick gas station owner . . . and the stakes are no less than the owner's life. That is one of the most brilliantly constructed scenes in recent memory.

8. Freaks - All the way back to 1932. Kristie and I caught this one not too long ago on TV. Even though it was ancient - and initially banned - the story captivated us. And the final flight scene - as well as the conclusion - are legendary. As is the fact that the director used actual side show 'freaks' in the cast.

7. Cube - This small budget film was so fresh and so original, I hardly knew what hit me. I was totally caught off guard when it came on the sci fi channel. And that opening scene, where a man wakes up in an eerily lit cube with six doors - one on each wall and the ceiling and floor - and he tries to navigate his way out -- only to find a hideous demise in one of the rooms. And - as we learn - there are even worse demises in most of the rooms - just waiting for someone to step into them. As with the other great horror films on here, the viewer is caught up in the story first (can the group that survives and is drawn together find their way out? Who put them in there? How do they keep from giving in to panic and dread?) and you care about the characters. This makes the terrible things that might happen to them that much more terrifying.

6. Dog Soldiers - From the same director as The Descent. And another werewolf film. The plot is not complex: a group of soldiers is off in the woods going through some drills when they encounter a pack of werewolves. The soldiers make it to a deserted farm house - only to realize that the farm house belongs to the werewolves. Well, when the werewolves are in their human forms. The film never lets up. And it never takes itself too seriously either. And what's not to love about a film that features hand to hand combat with soldier and werewolves?

5. The Blair Witch Project - Another unforgettable movie experience. It was so unnerving. I had never seen anything like this before. And the advertising and publicity behind the film - especially the Sci Fi channels excellent "Curse of the Blair Witch" - was incredible. This works so well with the Lovecraft mythos - the idea that what is out there is so terrible that we can't even begin to fathom what it is. We can only tolerate glimpses or hints. And that is precisely what we get - and what is so terrifying - about this film.

4. The Howling - I'll never forget the first time I became aware of this film. I was sitting in our living room when we lived in town. I had been playing Star Wars or Buck Rogers and was just relaxing in the chair - in fact, I think I was watching the end of "Escape from New York City" on a local cable channel's "Saturday Night at the Movies." Mom was in the kitchen. Then a preview for this came on, for it was going to be coming on the next "Saturday Night at the Movies." When I saw those werewolves transform, I was terrified. I suddenly realized how alone I was, for Mom was all the way in the kitchen. And I was in that chair, which was right next to the darkened stairs, which seemed incredibly malevolent then.

This was back when my sister was dating her to be husband and we were out at his parents' house when this came on. I didn't watch all of it (I couldn't take watching it all), but I saw the transformations and that was scary enough. I recall going back to town and biking around with my friends Lance and Danny and going over to Thompson Hardware to look at fishing tackle (we were avid fishermen). I grilled Danny - who was four years older than me - and who had seen the entire film - to fill me in on what I had missed. Again, my imagination was kicked into over drive and I was terrified.

You know it's a frightening film when it heightens your memories of all the other things around you at the time.

3. The Silence of the Lambs - I was freaked out when I read the book several months before it came out on film, but this was one of those rare instances where the film can actually stand right up along side the book. It was one of the first times when I saw a true horror film that was gimmicky or a farce in the slightest way. When Hannibal puts on parts of the police officer's face to aid in his escape, well who could have ever thought of that?

2. Seven - When I watched this on DirecTV home alone from college one afternoon, I was so absorbed in trying to figure out what was going on - and come to grips with how terrible the killings were - I was totally unaware of the world around me. I was right in the film with the detectives trying to piece together the horror around them. Saw rips this film off. But what Saw fails to do is hint at the atrocities, which is exactly what Seven does. And that allows the viewer to use their imagination, which is always more powerful - and frightening - than any special effects.

1. The Descent - This film totally creeped me out. I couldn't sit still. Not only does the director totally get you with the claustrophobia effect as the girls are climbing through the caves, but then he introduces those creepy crawly creatures . . . and well, it was some of the most uncomfortable moments I've had watching a film. And that is the mark of a great horror film.

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