Season Finale of the Get the Knaak Podcast

Listen in as my good friend and old Navy buddy Chris Ingalls of joins me for some conversation about anything and everything. Thanks for listening this year everyone. Hopefully you have enjoyed the conversation and interviews. The podcast will be back in January. In the meantime, here is an hour and eight minutes of your life you’ll never get back.


My Favorite Christmas Songs

Earlier, I posted my favorite fall/winter seasonal songs as I made the argument for separating seasonal and Christmas songs. For numerous reasons, Baby It’s Cold Outside, which is not even a Christmas song, will not be on this list. As I mentioned in the previous entry, I am curious to know in what year these songs were written, recorded and released. Many of them are just flat out timeless.

I, again, enjoy the original definitive version of these songs, and I really don’t care for any “new” Christmas music. I make one exception.

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Brenda Lee recorded this song when she was all of 13 years old and it was released in 1958. I enjoy the rockabilly sound. One of the more popular Christmas tunes, it hit the Billboard charts more than once.

Silver Bells

When I was a kid, I loved the Bob Hope Christmas specials, mainly to see the Playboy (later Associated Press) college football team. I eventually learned about Hope and his efforts to entertain the troops. I also learned to appreciate Hope’s humor and his legacy. On every Christmas special, Hope would perform a duet of Silver Bells. The song was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and released in 1950.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It may as well be a Christmas anthem. Upbeat and festive, this song, made famous by numerous singers, heralds the arrival of the Christmas season. I couldn’t have this list without something from Mr. Christmas himself, Andy Williams. Williams made Christmas his own cottage industry in Branson, Missouri. He too was known for television Christmas specials.


This is my one exception. Colbie Caillat co-wrote this with Mikal Blue and Stacy Blue in 2007. I love this tune. I am a fan of Caillat’s music and this song has a story and a melancholy to it I really like.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Another Christmas anthem that rings in the season, this song was written in 1951 by Meredith Wilson. Numerous artists including Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis and more recently, Michael Bublé, have recorded versions of this classic. I’ll leave you with Bublé’s version. His Christmas album from a few years ago is a treat.

Santa Claus and His Old Lady

When I was a disc jockey with Armed Forces Radio, we would start the season with one Christmas song an hour and build up the frequency as December 25 approached. I discovered Cheech and Chong’s Santa Claus and His Old Lady, played it for the first time, and fell out of my chair. More spoken word performance than song, it’s hilarious.

Christmas in Hollis

Okay, I lied. There’s another newer, original song I like. I grew up on hip hop music and one of the first groups of which I became a fan was Run DMC. And yes, they did a Christmas song. It has an infectious hook and a great beat. It’s different and a sign of the times, 1987 to be exact, the year I graduated high school.

Little Drummer Boy

I am not a big fan of this song, but Bing Crosby and David Bowie combined for an unexpected version of the song on Crosby’s last Christmas special, and I just had to include it. Katherine Kennicott Davis wrote the tune in 1940 and it was first recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1951.

Carol of the Bells

The song that everyone sets their computerized outdoor light display to, and the only song of its kind that I like.  Written by Mykola Leontovych and Peter J. Wilhousky in 1914, I prefer Trans Siberian Orchestra’s version.

The Christmas Song

Written in 1945 by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé (The Velvet Fog), this one has become an endearing Christmas classic. Covered by countless artists, this song evokes images of warm Christmas wishes. I prefer Nat King Cole’s version.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I spent 10 years in the United States Navy and I spent many a Christmas away from home. I also traveled quite a bot for the profession I have been in for the last 20 years, and missed a few Christmases working. This song hits home for numerous reasons. Written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent in 1943, it was recorded by Bing Crosby the same year. I like Frank Sinatra’s version.

A Holly Jolly Christmas

I just had to have something from Burl Ives. Written by Johnny Marks in 1962 and included as part of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Ives recorded the definitive version. This is one of the more popular songs for current artists to cover.

White Christmas

I’ll end this list with what has become my favorite Christmas song. I don’t like musicals, can’t stand them, but a few years ago I finally gave White Christmas a shot and I was hooked. The song, written by Irving Berlin, debuts in 1942’s Holiday Inn, but it became a staple when Bing Crosby’s hit musical of the same name took off in 1954. This is one of the most popular songs of all-time. Here is Bing Crosby with Frank Sinatra.


My Favorite Seasonal Songs

Something struck me as odd this year. I love Christmas music and I prefer the traditional, definitive versions … and in many cases that means the original. I also started to wonder when some of these songs were written because of the myriad musical styles represented in the catalogue of these songs. But, during the evening commute recently, I was listening to Holiday Traditions on SiriusXM and I realized that many songs we identify as “Christmas” songs are actually seasonal and have nothing to do with Christmas. I can be a little dense at times. That doesn’t mean I like them any less, they just deserve their own lists.  So, I decided to split them up.

Here are my favorite fall/winter seasonal songs.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland, written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and lyricist Richard Bernhard Smith, has been recorded by countless artists over the years. It’s a fun, upbeat song that we all know and can sing by heart. I prefer Johnny Mathis performing this one.

My Favorite Things

I am not sure how this song, most famously performed by Tony Bennett, got to be associated with Christmas. Perhaps the visuals and references place it around Christmastime. It originated in 1961 with Julie Andrews on The Garry Moore Show’s Christmas special. Andrews performed it in The Sound of Music, both on Broadway and in the film. Written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, this has become a seasonal jazz favorite.

Happy Holiday

This is another song that is commonly associated with Christmas although it was written for a movie encompasses all holidays. Written by Irving Berlin and performed by Bing Crosby and Martha Mears in the 1942 film Holiday Inn (and yes, the hotel chain was named after the film), this version references the holiday-themed hotel Crosby’s character opens.

Sleigh Ride

This is another song that I really don’t know how it became associated with Christmas. It is my favorite fall/winter seasonal song and Johnny Mathis’ version is the one I prefer. This great tune has been recorded by countless artists as well. Written by Leroy Anderson in 1948, Sleigh Ride is considered an orchestra standard and it was first recorded by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops in 1949. Mitchell Parish added the lyrics in 1950.

Jingle Bells

There’s a theme here. I have no earthly idea how this song became associated with Christmas. It just might be the oldest seasonal song that surfaces during the holidays. Written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857, zipping along in a one-horse open sleigh might have been the preferred method of transportation during the winter months when the song was composed, although it was supposed to be a Thanksgiving song. Numerous variations of the lyrics have been recorded over the years, including what would be considered politically incorrect (by today’s standards) references and accents regarding winter in Mexico most notably recorded by the Glenn Miller orchestra. Let’s go with Ol’ Blue Eyes.

Marshmallow World

This song was practically tossed on the scrap head of forgotten seasonal songs until SiriusXM resurrected it, and when it was recently used in a commercial. Perhaps the best version was recorded by Dean Martin. Written in 1949 by Carl Sigman and Peter DeRose, the song celebrates playing in the snow. I like the version with Martin and his pal, Frank Sinatra. “Hey, how about an eggnog … ?”

Let it Snow

Written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1945, this song doesn’t exactly celebrate snow, rather extols the virtues of staying in and getting cozy. Since this list is pretty male heavy, let’s go with the great Doris Day for this one.

Coming soon – my list of my favorite actual Christmas songs. Thanks for indulging me. Happy holidays, everyone!


Childhood Thanksgiving Memories


I wrote this a few years ago and I find it be pretty comprehensive. I can’t think of any specific one-off Thanksgiving memories so I thought I would re-post this piece.

I get nostalgic this time of year. I may live in Northern California where we barely have seasons – I think we may have two or three – but I grew up in western New York where we had all four in abundance. This year, 2017, seemed to feature the never-ending summer. Fall didn’t arrive until damn near Halloween.

Christmas creep, as much as I despise it and as bad at it has gotten, has me thinking about how things used to be.

I grew up thinking my Aunt Carole’s (my father’s only sibling) house was out in the country. The drive out to Scottsville, N.Y., seemed to take forever. It was picturesque as we drove past the horse farms that lined the road along the scenic route. For some reason I always took note of the rambling white fences that paralleled the road. As mom, dad and I approached the turn off, empty fields and barns dotted the landscape. The topography, architecture and open spaces cried country.

The house had once belonged to my grandparents, whom I never knew. My father’s father died in 1959, and my grandmother passed away in 1966, three years before I was born. My grandmother bequeathed the house to her two children – my father and his sister. I don’t know the whole story but Dad didn’t want to live in the house, my aunt ended up with it and lived in it with her husband, my Uncle Freddy, for the better part of her life.

The driveway wasn’t paved. A basketball hoop that hadn’t felt the touch of a net in years was loosely attached to the front of the rickety detached garage. There was well water. Eventually a pack of the meanest shepherd mix dogs I’ve ever known took up residence in that garage and adjacent fenced-in yard. You had to walk up a small embankment to get to the well-worn path to the house. I say path because the sidewalk that led away from the house went straight out to the road and had nothing for you if you were coming from the driveway.

This was my Aunt's house. It was built in 1906 and belonged to my grandparents. I spent many Thanksgivings in this house.
This was my Aunt’s house. It was built in 1906 and belonged to my grandparents. I spent many Thanksgivings in this house. This photo is a Google Maps street view from 2012.

My parents and I would carry our dishes to pass, mostly my parents carried them, and I was a lazy ass who couldn’t be bothered with such things as a child. Aside from pies, the only dish I remember Mom making was a sweet dressing made with prunes and apples. Mom made a great pie crust, however, her apple pie filling left a little to be desired. Apple pie filling isn’t supposed to be gray, is it? Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, it just could have been better. My aunt made a great apple pie filling that looked the part, golden honey. One year Mom and Aunt Carole combined forces…oh, man, was that a pie. I am partial to apple pie. I hate pumpkin pie, absolutely hate it.

More on pie later.

We had a rather old-fashioned, misogynistic (almost chauvinistic) kind of Thanksgiving, my four first cousins and I. My aunt and her three daughters – Tammy, Debbie and Shari – toiled in the kitchen with a little help from Mom, as we menfolk settled in for a day of feasting and football watching. Aunt Carole would tend to the bird, which I am sure routinely tipped the scales at 22 pounds or more. I don’t remember much of what the oldest, David, did while all of this was going on, I just remember what it was like when he was of working age. School friends, later boyfriends and girlfriends, then husbands/wives, and kids would join us for dinner.

My father, my uncle, my cousin David, my mom and I (and later other invited guests), eagerly awaited the feasting while watching the Detroit Lions in their annual Thanksgiving match-up. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade had already been watched at one house or the other. For whatever reason, I always seemed to root for the Lions no matter who they played. I still do.

I was a finicky eater as a child. And to this day, there are certain Thanksgiving staples I don’t like. I won’t touch cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes (yams) or squash. Just give me turkey, mashed potatoes with butter, salad, soft fresh rolls, and mom’s sweet dressing and I was a happy boy. David would pile his plate a mile high at least three times. The army of cats would benefit from the leftovers.

Then there was pie. Apple. Mincemeat. Lemon meringue. Key Lime. Pumpkin. Oh boy, was there pie.

Eventually, we’d settle down and watch the Lions, and maybe we’d catch some of the Dallas Cowboys game, have more turkey or pie. I never knew the Cowboys game was much of a Thanksgiving tradition – I would learn later that this was a mistaken belief. My cousins and I sometimes ended the day with board games. If I was feeling adventurous, and the ground was covered with snow, I’d go sledding in the dark and careen through the scrub brush.

We’d have as few as eight or nine, and as many damn near 20 for Thanksgiving dinner. As I got older, many of us took up smoking as a habit and we’d crowd on the enclosed porch (healthy) if it was too cold to go smoke outside.

The house itself had a distinct aroma, it was charming in some parts, dilapidated in others. It always seemed to be organized chaos. It certainly had something after the wood-burning stove was installed in the living room. Sometimes it felt like a sauna, even in the dead of winter. If it got cold, my uncle would just throw another piece of wood in.

All four parents are gone now. All that’s left of those Thanksgivings are memories. We didn’t take many photos of those events, despite my father’s shutterbug tendencies. I couldn’t find any pictures of Thanksgivings past. There could be slides somewhere, I’m still a little bit of a lazy ass. Maybe my cousins have some.

We weren’t rich people – far from it. We certainly were not the embodiment of the Norman Rockwell painting. But we did it this way every year with very few exceptions. I was in the Navy for 10 years, so I missed some. But when I did get back and attend, it was like I had never left.

Say what you want about what we did or how we did it. These were our Thanksgivings. We enjoyed them and each other.

The Expressway exit off 390 South.
The Expressway exit off 390 South.

I reset the trip-o-meter on a drive from my parents’ last house to my aunt’s house once. I had to know. I had driven out there a few times on my own as an adult. I still thought of it as the “country.” As I got older, it became less and less rural and more and more suburban. To me, that’s the saddest part aside from the dissolution of the get-togethers altogether.

Nine miles. An online driving directions site says just over 13. Not quite over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.

You know what? I’ll always remember it as a drive in the country to Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house. Those fences and those horse farms will always line Route 31, that barn a few hundred yards from the corner of Scottsville Road and Chili Wheatland Town Line Road, will always signal the turn.

These were our Thanksgivings and I wouldn’t have traded them for anything.

I miss them.

Drum Roll Please … The Top Three

The Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films comes to a close with the Top 3. Thank you for reading. I hope you found something worth watching on this list.

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This is my favorite movie of all-time. That may surprise a lot of people considering my affection for Gothic horror. A film crew goes to a remote island to film what has never been seen by any “white man.” Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is the intrepid filmmaker who drags destitute Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) along on a a voyage helmed by Captain Englehorn and first mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot). Driscoll falls for Ann along the way.

After landing on Skull Island, Ann is kidnapped by the natives and offered as a sacrifice to Kong, a giant gorilla. The crew encounters all kinds of prehistoric creatures as they try to rescue Ann. Eventually, Driscoll rescues her and Denham hatches a plan to take Kong to New York, with predictable disastrous results.

This film, a pipe dream by Merian C. Cooper, pioneered so many movie making techniques and effects. Willis O’Brien established himself as one of the great effects people in Hollywood, and I have a special place in my heart for sound effects man Murray Spivack.


I don’t like slasher films but I like this one. This is the quintessential Halloween scary movie. Jamie Lee Curtis carries on her mother’s scream queen legacy and Donald Pleasence continues his run as a horror movie veteran. P.J. Soles is also in this one. Six-year-old Michael Myers murders his sister and comes back 15 years later on Halloween after escaping from the mental asylum that has kept him. You never know what drives his murderous rage.

It’s suspenseful, there isn’t a lot of gore, the soundtrack pulses throughout the movie.

There are some fascinating tidbits. Myers iconic mask is actually a William Shatner mask with the eye holes enlarged. If you watch one slasher movie … watch this one.

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Ellen Burnstyn, Max von Sydow and of course, Linda Blair, star in what I believe is the scariest movie ever made. I know what’s coming, I’ve seen this film numerous times, I know what’s coming and I still jump. It gets me every time … every freaking time. This is the movie that define demonic possession movies for all time. Nothing comes close.

I grew up sort of Catholic and this movie speaks to me on so many levels. Watch the extended version with the “crab walk” scene if you can.  Watching The Exorcist is my Halloween tradition and I will be watching the Director’s Cut tonight.

Happy Halloween everyone.

And remember…

There are such things.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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

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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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.



Undead, Shapeshifters and a God

We are getting close horror fans. We cross into the Top 15 and the films are as eclectic as your humble narrator. From the undead to giant monsters, tonight’s four-pack will leave you shivering.

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George Romero defined the zombie genre for generations to come with this low-budget, black and white chiller. Previously, most zombies were voodoo-commanded revenants. Romero changed all that adding a science fiction element.

The crush of the weight of the mob of zombies, the desperate people holed up in the farmhouse boarding up doors and windows, the coward who falters at the wrong moment, Night of the Living Dead set the standard and the formula for the modern-day zombie film.

Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea star in what is widely considered a genre-defining horror masterpiece. Often imitated, never duplicated.

MV5BNTYzMDk3MzIyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM2OTE4MzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,634,1000_AL_16. An American Werewolf in London

Quite possibly the greatest werewolf movie ever made.  John Landis directed this award-winning gem starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, Brian Glover (Alien III).

Naughton and Dunne play college students backpacking across Europe who stop in at a pub on the English countryside. After a weird experience with the locals, the boys set out again. Dunne is mauled to death by a werewolf and Naughton is injured. He transforms during the next full moon in the greatest werewolf transformation scene ever filmed. 

Agutter plays the sympathetic nurse that falls for Naughton’s character and tries to help him. John Woodvine is great as the London doctor who also tries to help. 

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Let’s see … Jason Patric (son of Jason Miller, The Exorcist’s Father Damien Karras), Keifer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, the two Coreys, an awesome soundtrack, vampires … what’s not to like?

Set in Santa Carla, Calif., (actually Santa Cruz, along the beach boardwalk), vampires take up residence and they are recruiting. Well done in a manner that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s heavy with lighthearted moments. This film explores the seduction of the life a vampire offers and the struggle to maintain humanity.

Soundtrack spoiler, this is a bit of a pet peeve – it’s Echo and the Bunnymen’s version of People are Strange over the closing credits, not The Doors. That being written, I think this film has the best horror movie soundtrack in movie history.

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If you don’t think Godzilla is a horror film go back and watch it again. The original, not the Americanized release of the original with Raymond Burr. An allegory for the nuclear nightmare unleashed on Japan during World War II, Godzilla is awakened and rampages throughout Japan. The destruction he brings is portrayed poignantly as we see the human cost of the monster’s mere existence.

Eventually Godzilla is defeated by a scientist, Daisuke Serizawa, and a controversial weapon. The scientist sacrifices himself to vanquish the monster.

This film spawned one of the most successful movie franchises of all-time and Godzilla is enjoying a resurgence with Hollywood’s Monsterverse films – uneven quality, reviews and success, they are at least paying homage to the original movies.  The original is dark and apocalyptic. You can’t tell me it’s not a horror movie.



Bullied Teens, the Greatest Jumpscare Ever Filmed and the Birth of a Franchise

We are in the Top of the Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films kiddies. We are getting to the point where the films need no introductions, but I’ll write the descriptions anyway.

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For my money, this is the best Stephen King adaptation of them all. Based on the novel that launched King’s mercurial career, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta, William Katt (Greatest American Hero), Amy Irving, Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles all star in this tale of the supernatural and kinetic rage.

Shy, oppressed Carrie White is asked to the prom and a horrible prank leads to Carrie unleashing her telekinetic abilities on her fellow prom-goers. The recent remake with Chloe Grace Moretz was passable but it didn’t have the believability of the characters of the original. Moretz didn’t fly as the bullied, repressed, tortured soul that Spacek pulled off wonderfully, although Julianne Moore does a nice job as Mrs. White.

.There are many iconic moments in this film. For some reason, filmmakers have had trouble over the decades adapting King’s work for the big screen. Brian De Palma did a great job with this one.

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As you can see, there aren’t very many newer films in the top end of the countdown. A movie really has to grab me. I also find that remakes tend to fall flat. These two are exceptions.

A young bullied boy befriends the female vampire who moves in next door. The original Swedish version is phenomenal and the American remake is excellent. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz star in the American version. The relationship between the bullied Oskar and Eli/Owen and Abby (U.S. version) begins as friendship and slowly becomes co-dependence and maybe even love as the two learn to protect each other, and even desire to do so. Although a bit slow paced, these films are unusual and different and very well acted.

Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it’s a tale of Gothic horror for the vampire and a coming of age story for the bullied boy, these movies are well-written and gritty.

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This is the sequel to The Exorcist we should have gotten. From IMDB, “A police Lieutenant uncovers more than he bargained for as his investigation of a series of murders, which have all the hallmarks of the deceased Gemini serial killer, leads him to question the patients of a psychiatric ward.”

That description doesn’t come close. George C. Scott plays that police lieutenant as all kinds of Satanic goings on plague him. He plays the Kinderman character and Ed Flanders plays Father Dyer from the first film, as Pazuzu continues to terrorize Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Basketball great Patrick Ewing and model Fabio make cameo appearances.

This movie features the single greatest jumpscare ever filmed. Brad Dourif also stars and he is his usual creepy self.

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“We’ll tear your soul apart!” Clive Barker is at his best with this film that centers around a puzzle box that can summon all kinds of hell – literally. We were introduced to Pinhead and the Cenobites. Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence and Sean Chapman star in this gory thriller.

Chapman plays Frank, a macabre adrenaline junkie who wants to test the limits of pleasure and pain. He finds his solution in the form of the puzzle box. He finds a way back from the other side and embroils his brother’s family in his evil. Doug Bradley stars as the iconic Pinhead.

Based on the novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser spawned an entire universe that includes several sequels, novels and comic books. I watched this again recently and I was surprised at how well it still holds up 32 years later.

A Trio of Universal Classics and Satan Fathers a Child

I do love Universal horror, I have since I was a very young child. Whether is was on Chiller Theater on a Friday or Saturday night or a Saturday afternoon flick on cable, I never wasted a chance to watch any one of them. I have three for you tonight, plus one of the greatest Satanic cult movies ever made.

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The Universal monster mash-ups begin with this one as Bela Lugosi takes a turn as Frankenstein’s monster, the role he turned down for the original Frankenstein. A choice Lugosi would later regret as Boris Karloff claimed it and created an icon. Lugosi’s career never panned out as he was typecast as a cape-wearing vampire. Lon Chaney, Jr., reprises the Wolf-Man role as he tries to find a cure for his lycanthropy. Lionel Atwill appears in this one as well in one of his many Universal monster film roles.

Roy William Neill directed this film based on Curt Siodmak’s screenplay. Illona Massey plays Baroness Elsa Frankenstein, Patric Knowles appears as Dr. Frank Mannering, and Maria Ouspenskaya reprises her role as Maleva.

Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf-Man fight it out until the bitter end.

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Of all of Universal’s monster franchises, Frankenstein has the best stable of films, front to back. From Bride of Frankenstein on, each sequel ranks better in quality than most of the sequels for the other monsters.

Boris Karloff once again plays Frankenstein’s creation, Lionel Atwill plays yet another character, and Bela Lugosi turns in the best performance of his career outside of Dracula as Ygor. Basil Rathbone takes a turn as the mad scientist in this one.

Lugosi’s is amazing as Ygor, his nuanced performance should not be overlooked. Watch all of the Frankenstein films in order, you won’t be disappointed.

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Universal introduced The Mummy a year after the debut of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Boris Karloff plays the ancient priest cursed 3,000 years ago because of forbidden love. Karl Freund directs this tale that is more of a re-telling of Dracula than it is an original story. Universal regulars Edwards van Sloan and David Manners also star. Zita Johann plays the Mummy’s love interest, his reincarnated princess.

Toss aside the fact that Universal wanted to capitalize on the success of Dracula by recycling the plotline. Boris Karloff, as is this case with all his films, is the reason to watch this one. He is mesmerizing and exudes controlled cruelty and menace.

The Mummy sequels are not listed in the countdown because, as charming as they are, they’re quite silly. Anyone who is caught and killed by the lumbering gauze-wrapped Lon Chaney, Jr., deserves to die.

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Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes star as a young couple on the verge of creating the miracle of life. Only problem is, Rosemary’s husband has a stand-in the night of conception. As noted in numerous films where Satan tries to bring his son, the antichrist, into the world, the devil likes to get his freak on.

Rosemary lives the nightmare of discovering that her husband isn’t quite what he seems, the neighbors are up to something, and the baby’s not quite right. This is true horror classic from director Roman Polanski.

The tension and terror builds slowly but surely throughout the film and the payoff at the end is the stuff of horror movie legend.