Catching Up as the Countdown of My 100 Favorite Movies Winds Down

My humble apologies for the past few days. Life and work got in the way. We are really getting down to it now. I’ve got a 10-pack of great films to get us back on track for tomorrow night’s final three.

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1976

Gregory Peck and Lee Remick star as the cursed couple who bring home the antichrist in the form of little Damien. Born under auspicious circumstances and switched at birth, Damien makes life hell for everyone around him as minions before to flock to him to support and aid him.

Peck’s character, the U.S. ambassador to England, finally starts to believe the clues and evidence and finally decides to do something about it. Peck ignores the warnings of a doomed priest before teaming up with a photographer who has a vested interest.

The remake with Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles was not good. The original is a classic. This film spawned a franchise of films that were uneven at best.

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1982

John Carpenter directed what some consider the greatest horror movie ever made. Although I don’t agree with that sentiment, it is pretty damn good. Based on the short story, Who Goes There, with serious H.P. Lovecraft influence and overtones, The Thing touches on numerous themes common in better horror films – isolation, fear of the unknown, mistrust and more.

The crew of an isolated Antarctic research station is plagued by The Thing from Another World (see what I did there) that can imitate any lifeform. Kurt Russell stars a helicopter pilot MacReady, the only member of the team that seems to have any common sense. One by one, members of the team are assimilated in spectacular practical effects fashion.

An all-star cast including, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, T.K. Carter, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, et al, do battle with the otherworldly oogedy-boogedy.

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Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Army of Darkness, and Evil Dead
1981, 1987, 1992, 2013

One of the reasons my best friend is just that is because of our love for the Evil Dead franchise. It is a lifelong bond that started while we went to midnight movies to watch films like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Heavy Metal, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and of course, Evil Dead.

Bruce Campbell, who I saw in person at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco as he introduced a screening of Evil Dead 2, created an iconic character known simply as “Ash.” Campbell’s lifelong friend Sam Raimi helmed what started as low budget “cabin in the woods” gore fests and created a sub-genre in the process. The films also led to the Ash vs Evil Dead television series on Starz.

Army of Darkness plays more as a horror comedy, even though the first two movies could be considered the same. You can take almost anything you want from these movies, but I will say this … if you are a horror movie fan, then you are a fan of the Evil Dead.

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1979

Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, and of course John Hurt, star in this sci-fi horror film. This is the first horror film that got my attention with it’s marketing campaign. “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.”

Ridley Scott’s claustrophobic sets aboard the Nostromo and in the derelict alien ship on LV-426 really add to the film. The story, the acting, all superb. It spawned an entire universe and led to a mash-up with the Predator franchise. Although there are a few good follow-ups, especially Aliens (more action adventure than horror), this is the film that started it all and it still plays today.

Some might argue that science fiction is not horror. Well, in this case they’d be wrong. This is one of my favorite films of all-time. The franchise has gone off the rails, but this movie still plays and it always will.

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1960

Alfred Hitchcock’s best if you ask me. Anthony Perkins is brilliant as Norman Bates. Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis’ mom, stars and meets her end in one of the most iconic scenes ever filmed in any genre.

Hitchcock would have you believe that Bates’ mother is running amok at the Bates Motel. Wonderful acting, fabulous sound, atmospheric sets and one helluva twist make for one of of the greatest movies ever made.

The high-pitched violin in the shower scene has become the stuff of legend. Hitchcock weaves a web of intrigue and suspense and then pulls the rug out from under you. He breaks the conventions of traditional storytelling.

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1975

This is another one you can’t tell me isn’t a horror movie. Steven Spielberg directed this tale of an extra large, rogue, great white shark that feasts on the summer crowd in the friendly island town of Amity.

Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw star. Shaw’s performance as Quint is wonderful and there are so many quotable lines. The mechanical shark didn’t work half the time during filming, which made for a more suspenseful film, aided of course by John Williams’ fantastic score. I struggled with labeling this a horror film until I watched it again. I tend to watch it every time it comes on TV.

Yup, horror film. I first saw it at the drive-in movies (remember those?). The Daily Jaws (@thedailyjaws) twitter feed is epic. The last two years they have live tweeted the week of the 4th of July as if the events of the film were happening in real time.

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1941

Lon Chaney, Jr., plays Larry Talbot and Claude Rains plays his father, Sir John Talbot. The prodigal son returns to England after the death of his brother. Larry tries to woo a local shopkeeper, who happens to be engaged to another. During a night at a traveling gypsy carnival, Larry is bitten by a werewolf, played by Bela Lugosi in human form.

Larry turns into a werewolf during the next full moon and the rest is, as they say, movie history. Maria Ouspenskaya plays Maleva, the gypsy woman, Bela’s mother, who tries to help Larry. Ralph Bellamy also stars.

Tod Browning of Dracula fame directs Curt Siomak’s screenplay. Jack Pierce’s make-up effects and the transformation scenes are spectacular. There are several sequels and the best thing about them is the consistency of Chaney as Larry Talbot throughout the franchise.

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1931

Colin Clive and Boris Karloff headline the film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s epic tale of science gone wrong. The monster is brought to life and Karloff brings it to LIFE in the role Bela Lugosi turned down. As much as horror story as it is the first true science fiction tale, Frankenstein explores many themes.

Universal’s genius James Whale directed this picture that enabled Karloff and Jack Pierce to start a franchise. Karloff is brilliant as the monster, Clive is masterful as the tortured mad scientist, and Dwight Frye is … well … Dwight Frye.

The films, starting this one, have always focused on the creation of the monster, which the novel did not. However, Whale makes Francis Edwards Faragoh’s screenplay work. The set pieces and make-up are iconic. When you think of Frankenstein’s monster (unfortunately mistakenly referred to as Frankenstein in most cases now), you think of Karloff and you think of Pierce’s make-up.

MV5BOTUzMzAzMzEzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg1NTAwMjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,671,1000_AL_5. Bride of Frankenstein
1935

Oh what a sequel this is. I think this is the best film in the entire Universal Horror canon. Elsa Lanchester plays the bride brilliantly in The Bride of Frankenstein, the long-awaited sequel. Interestingly enough, the “Bride” is the only Universal monster that does not commit a murder.

The prologue depicts conversations that led Mary Shelley to write her seminal novel, the vacation with Percy, and Lord Byron. Dr. John Polidori is left out of this scene. Whale is brilliant yet again as Frankenstein is extorted into creating a mate for his original creation with the help of the nefarious Dr. Pretorius.

I can’t even begin to describe what makes this movie so good – from the score to the symbolism to the set pieces, you just need to watch it. Screen it back-to-back with the first movie for a complete story arc.

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1931

Bela Lugosi defined the screen vampire for decades to come as he took his stage performance to the movie house. Parodied, lampooned, copied, imitated, and above all, revered, Lugosi’s performance is iconic and defined the genre. Hell, it created the genre. This is one of my favorite films of all time, not just horror. Most people today wouldn’t find it scary or frightening, but I’m sure moviegoers of 1931 sure did.

Based on Hamilton Deane’s theater production rather than the novel, the movie strays from the source material in many ways. Carl Laemmle, Jr., the son of the head of Universal, was allowed to make horror films for the studio but wasn’t given much a budget, so the play was adapted rather than Bram Stoker’s novel.

Regardless, Bela Lugosi, who they didn’t want initially (Lon Chaney, Sr., was to play the part but died before filming began), set the bar for all who followed. It’s slow-paced, some say the Spanish version is better (I’ve watched it, meh), is minimalist in many instances, tells rather than shows in some instances, but, given my affinity for vampires, I love the film.

 

 

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