LEGO Batman says he has nine-pack abs. Well, on this hump day, I have a nine-pack of horror classics (I use the term loosely) to add to my countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films. TCM is continuing their month-long run-up to Halloween with the films of Christopher Lee tonight and I have 1958’s Horror of Dracula on in the background as I write this. So, let’s get you caught up, shall we?
79. The Fog
John Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote and Carpenter directed this terrifying film starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau. I make it a habit not to give too many spoilers away in these capsules and I don’t intend to with this. There is a real feeling of foreboding and dread as the fog rolls in. Barbeau’s local radio DJ character Stevie Wayne gives a harrowing play-by-play account of the otherworldly phenomenon. Before long, it becomes apparent something(s) malevolent has/have arrived with the cloud.
If you like Carpenter and his aesthetic, and his do-it-all-himself manner of film making, this is a must-watch. Two years removed from Halloween, and two years away from The Thing, Carpenter is really stretching his legs as a storyteller during this part of his prolific career.
What I will say, is avoid the 2005 remake. For the life of me, I don’t understand why film makers try to make the monsters sympathetic. They’re monsters for crying out loud. Tragic backstory be damned. Why do we have to feel sympathy for the ghosts/goblins/vampires/ghouls/science experiments gone wrong when they start killing the local populace? I don’t give a damn why the sailors in The Fog have come back. I don’t feel sorry for them. Karma is a bitch, let’s just leave it at that. Watch the original, leave the remake in the fog where it belongs.
78. The Invisible Man
From 1931 – 1945, Universal Pictures enjoyed an incredible run with their horror films that continue to stand the test of time, and get remade time and time again. The Invisible Man is a masterpiece of a film directed by James Whale that gets overlooked by Universal’s stable of Gothic monsters, Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. Each franchise is defined by an iconic performance by a master of his/her craft. Dracula – Bela Lugosi, Frankenstein – Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester, Wolf Man – Lon Chaney, Jr., the Mummy – Karloff.
It is Claude Rains who makes The Invisible Man go. He is the straw that stirs the drink as it were. Eight years before his turn as Larry Talbot’s father in The Wolf Man, Rains played the deranged scientist Dr. Jack Griffin who develops a a formula for invisibility. Rains’ depiction of Griffin’s descent into madness as a result of the not-approved-by-the-FDA human trials he conducts on himself is quite riveting and poignant.
This film, unlike the others, never did get a proper sequel or remake. And Universal just let The Invisible Man concept die on the vine while numerous sequels of The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man were produced, most were foisted on the public for the money and couldn’t hold a candle to Rains. It was, however, parodied brilliantly by Ed Begley, Jr., in Amazon Women on the Moon.
I love Clive Barker. This won’t be the last of his work that appears on this countdown. This one seems to be a favorite among Barker devotees, and not many others. Written and directed by Barker, Craig Sheffer and David Cronenberg star in this creature feature, in which the humans are actually worse than the creatures. Charles Haid of Hill Street Blues fame also stars.
Based on the 1988 novella, Cabal, Barker weaves a tale of an underground society of monsters and their attempt to stay hidden from the world of men. In the end, it is the men who come for the monsters. This is one film I will make an exception for when it comes to empathy for the oppressed and persecuted creatures of the night.
One of my favorite scenes involves a porcupine hybrid woman who is both tantalizing and deadly.
76. Pet Sematary
The late 1980s – early 1990s was a great time for a wide variety of horror films. Another Stephen King adaptation, this one reinforces the notion that maybe, just maybe, sometimes dead is better.
Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby and Fred Gwynne (The Munsters) star in this tale of tragedy and demonic resurrection. After a couple’s young son is killed in a tragic accident, the husband and father finds a way to bring his boy back via the nearby native American burial ground. As you can imagine, this does not go well.
The movie begs the question, how far would you go to bring a deceased loved one back from the dead? Gwynne delivers an underrated performance as the next-door-neighbor who is all-to-willing to educate Midkiff’s character on the local folklore and the possibilities. A remake is in the works and it is due out next year. We’ll see, sometimes dead is better.
75. Jeepers Creepers
Justin Long and Gina Philips star in another horror film that dares to be different. They play brother and sister who run afoul of a hungry demon on the back roads. Written and directed by Victor Salva, this film launched a bit of a franchise that explores “The Creeper’s” mythology. It follows a similar pattern of hibernation as Stephen King’s Pennywise from IT.
There are plenty of tense moments as Long and Philips try to both solve the mystery of The Creeper and try to stay out of his clutches. His? It is a a “he,” no? Eileen Brennan’s cameo as a crazy cat lady is almost wasted in this film.
The second movie in the series is watchable, but doesn’t have the, dare I say, charm of the first. I have yet to see the third film in the franchise. Jeepers Creepers is an acquired taste, much like the taste for certain body parts The Creeper acquires along the way.
74. Ghost Story
Talk about an all-star cast. Not just a good ensemble cast, we’re talking about cinematic legends here – Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Melvin Douglas star opposite Alice Krige, who makes her second appearance in the countdown (Sleepwalkers).
Four gentlemen fall in love with the same woman and kill her in a tragic accident. Rather than be honest about it and report it to the authorities, they cover it up to save their prep school, or Ivy League, or whatever reputations and high-falutin’ career aspirations. Sound familiar? Krige comes back to haunt her suitors turned killers.
I have an affinity for this because it was one of the first horror films I saw when my family first got cable in the early 1980s, and it has haunted me ever since. Spoilers be damned, this is one creepy movie. And one helluva ghost story.
73. Phantom of the Opera
Okay, let’s get something straight. The Phantom of the Opera is a F*&!ing horror movie. It’s not some stupid musical starring I’ll work for food Gerard Butler. We all like to think the Universal Horror began in 1931 with Dracula, but in 1925, Lon Chaney, than man of 1,000 faces, brought the Phantom to life and scared the living daylights out of moviegoers with one of the greatest creature reveals ever filmed.
When I was 12, I attended what was called a “magnet”school in my hometown. We had electives and I took a class that had to do with monster movies. We made stop-motion claymation films and studied the techniques the masters of horror used. I had the opportunity to take my girlfriend to a screening of the film accompanied by a live orchestra. It was a thrilling experience and it cemented (like I needed another push) my love for horror.
Lon Chaney is brilliant as the Phantom. He was originally cast to play Dracula but died before filming started and the part eventually went to Bela Lugosi.
72. House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects
Once again, I give you a bonus. Ah, the saga of the Firefly family. Deranged, backwoods killers in the vein of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Firefly family lures unsuspecting travelers and legend hunters into their lair and visit unspeakable horrors on their unassuming guests.
Sid Haig, Bill Mosely, and writer/director Rob Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon Zombie make up the core of the Firefly clan. Leslie Easterbrook replaces Karen Black (House of 1,000 Corpses) as Mother Firefly in Rejects.
Zombie creates quite the dark, gritty, depraved universe with two films that could work independently of each other. House plays very much like Chainsaw, and Rejects, well, the Fireflys become a sort of rag-tag band of antiheroes we’re supposed to root for. Perhaps we’ll get some closure in the long-awaited third film in the franchise.
71. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
You gotta love German expressionism. The set pieces alone in this silent masterpiece are reason enough to watch it. You’ll also get an education. I love words (I have the best words). I had occasion to drop “Scholomance” in my second novel. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari taught me somnambulist – sleepwalker.
In the film, Dr. Caligari is a bit of a sideshow showman and he uses his charge, Cesare (played by Conrad Veidt), to commit murder at his behest, or does he? This is an early example of the unreliable narrator concept. It’s hard to get your head around that part of it because it is a silent film. This movie inspired a lot of early Gothic horror, and definitely had influence over F.W. Murnau who made Nosferatu two years later.
Veidt went on to star in The Man Who Laughs (1928), which is widely considered the model and inspiration for the look of iconic Batman villain, The Joker. Veidt also played a significant role in 1942’s film noir classic, Casablanca.