The werewolf genre is under represented when it comes to good films. However, there a handful of really good ones. The best of the bunch will be included later on in the countdown but I will present some tonight. You won’t see some of the bad ones like Skinwalkers, the re-make of The Wolf Man with Benicio Del Toro, or the later Howling sequels. My problem with The Wolf Man with Del Toro was that it conflated Lon Chaney, Jr.’s seminal role with Henry Hull’s turn in Werewolf of London. It took Hull’s origin story and mashed it up with Chaney’s Larry Talbot story and made one big hairy mess.
91. The Curse of the Werewolf
Most of the younger generation’s introduction to Oliver Reed came via 2000’s Gladiator as he portrayed Proximo in his last on screen performance. He died before the film’s release. This legendary actor’s performance as Leon in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf is obviously my favorite performance of his.
In the late 1950s, Hammer Studios decided to re-invent Universal Horror, with re-makes and re-boots of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy. The effort would not have been complete without a werewolf film. Again, I am not one for genre-bending, however, this film, directed by Terence Fisher, dares to be different and that’s one of the things I like about it. John Landis borrows heavily from this movie for 1981’s American Werewolf in London.
The make-up effects alone make this movie worth the watch. It is set in Spain, another element that sets it apart from other werewolf films.
90. Ginger Snaps, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning
2000, 2004, 2004
See, this is how I get more than 100 films on my list. I lump these three together because, well, the sequel to the original film wasn’t all that great. The first movie, Ginger Snaps, had cult classic written all over it. Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins star in all three installments. Isabelle plays the title role and she is quite good as the Ginger who snaps. The plays on words, the double entendres, the 1980s horror aesthetic all make for good campy, bloody fun.
Ginger Snaps 2 plays as a straight sequel to the first and Perkins’ character, Ginger’s sister, goes off the rails for me and that’s where the movie loses me. Ginger Snaps Back is more of an origin story of sorts. The relationship between the two sisters is more akin to the first film and that why I think it works better.
As far as werewolf films go, you could do a lot worse than this triumvirate. Or you could skip 2 and just make it a double-feature.
89. The Beast Must Die
This film is the cause of some division in the Hammer Horror fan community. There are those of us who love the film and there are plenty who despise it. I think it is different, unusual and unique in the genre. Calvin Lockhart, who goes on to play King Willie in Predator 2, plays a wealthy big game hunter who decides that werewolf is the ultimate prey.
An great ensemble cast is featured in this film, including Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon (Alfred in the Tim Burton Batman films), and Charles Gray (Rocky Horror Picture Show). The movie includes some audience participation elements that some find off-putting. I think it adds to the film’s charm.
I grew up watching Commander USA’s Groovy Movies on the USA Network. Every Saturday afternoon, this loony tune in a knockoff Captain America costume and a trench coat would introduce creature features. That’s how I was first made aware of films like The Beast Must Die and I am forever grateful. It also explains a lot.
If you have ever read any of my Favorite 100 Horror Films countdowns in the past, you’ll find that some films slide up and down the scale, seemingly for no reason at times. Sometimes a newer or rediscovered movie slots in above. That’s probably the case with these three.
Turner Classic Movies has started their October programming and this month they have a real treat. On Wednesday nights they are featuring the work of five iconic horror actors and TCM is starting with Lon Chaney. I have The Monster (1925) on in the background. I would watch The Phantom of the Opera, but the blog would never get done.
94. Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight
If you are anything like me then you used to watch Tales from the Crypt. I loved that show, along with Amazing Stories and Tales From the Dark Side. I have always been a fan of the Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and Tales from the Crypt was the horror version of those great sci-fi suspense classics.
I like Billy Zane, I really do, but his shot as The Phantom didn’t play well, and in Titanic, well, let’s just say he was a dick. He gets a chance to shine in Demon Knight. A great ensemble cast opposes The Collector. William Sadler, CCH Pounder, Brenda Bakke, Thomas Haden Church and Jada Pinkett Smith all have prominent roles.
The opening credits feature one of my favorite songs of all-time, Hey Man Nice Shot by Filter. It is wonderfully shot and it sets the stage for the entire film. I didn’t care much for Tales From the Crypt’s other feature film entry, Bordello of Blood despite Angie Everhart, Erika Eleniak, Dennis Miller and Corey Feldman’s best efforts. And I use that term loosely. I do like a good deadtime story.
I am usually not one for genre bending when it comes to vampires. However, in the opening credit sequence of the first Stephen King adaptation on this list, a slate appears that connects the origin of the vampire myth to ancient Egypt. As a published author of vampire fiction myself, I am fascinated by the origin of the vampire legend.
Brian Krause, Madchen Amick and Alice Krige star in what almost plays as a dark comedy. What I find interesting is the use of cats in the folklore. The antagonists fear and can be harmed by cats, which are revered in ancient Egyptian culture. King is a master at scratching the surface of a myth or a legend, peeling back the curtain and letting you see just enough beyond the veil to terrify you for a little while.
I enjoy this because it is corny and cheesy, but it also has a certain charm. Released in 1992, it plays more like a a solid mid-1980s horror film. And ladies, if an attractive young man in a blue Trans Am invites you to the cemetery to do some gravestone rubbings, make it a hard pass.
This film is one of the most pleasant surprises on this list. It flies so far below the radar and it is so good. Tim Daly (Wings, Storm of the Century), Kelly Preston and Rick Rossovich star in this tale of witches, covens and devil worship. I saw this when I was in the Navy after working hours during a short trip to Nevada in the TV lounge in the barracks and I was stunned.
Now, I hate Top Gun, but Rossovich redeems himself in this, never mind his guest spot on International House Hunters a few years ago.
This one is hard because I don’t want to give any spoilers away. Let’s just say that M. Night Shyamalan could do well to go back and watch this one to re-learn the art of the twist. My jaw dropped and I gasped the first time I watched this the twist was so good.
Last night I kicked off the reboot of My 100 Favorite Horror Films with a couple of Hammer Horror vampire classics and a newer film I like very much. Tonight, the countdown continues with two relatively new films and a movie that brought a unique perspective to vampire lore and stories. Different is the theme for this evening, but you won’t see It Follows anywhere on this countdown. What a terrible disappointment that was.
There was a time when numerous films came out that sure looked and sounded like vampire movies, but the antagonist was something … else. Roger Corman’s Wasp Woman character had vampiric tendencies, as did Hammer’s The Reptile.
97. The Lair of The White Worm
Perhaps no other film I’ve seen plays on these concepts like Wasp Woman and The Reptile quite like The Lair of the White Worm. Virginal sacrifices, a giant snake, flashbacks to Roman debauchery, a young Hugh Grant, an emerging Sammi Davis, and Amanda Donohoe (with whom I happen to share a birthday) in all her pre-LA Law lesbian lawyer glory as a snake-like vampire creature. Donohoe really vamps it up while preying on the populace of a small burg.
The plot involves a local legend and folklore with Grant playing the role of a lord whose ancestor tangled with a predecessor of the title’s D’Ampton worm.
I personally find a lot of charm in this film. It has been awhile since I’ve seen it and it is time to view it again. The pub band and song that tells the legend of the D’Ampton worm is one of the best parts of the movie. I’ll share it here.
I have never liked Ethan Hawke. Ever since Reality Bites, I don’t like him. I don’t know what it is, I can’t put my finger on it. But when I saw the trailer for Sinister, I really didn’t care who was in it, I was going to see the movie. And Hawke is good in this. Sinister reminded me of why I don’t go see scary movies by myself. Yes, it is a touch predictable, and it leaves you wondering what the hell has happened to Vincent D’Onofrio, but what I like about it is its attempt at being something different. There is a confusing plot point at the end but don’t let that get in the way of you enjoying this well-made film.
Hawke plays a true crime writer who moves his family into the murder house on which he is basing his new book. Obviously, this doesn’t sit none too well with the missus. Before long, the family falls victim to a demon.
There are some unique elements to this one. I like the use of home movies as an inter-dimensional vehicle for the demon. There are plenty of jump scares to go along with true moments of horrific suspense. The late Fred Thompson makes one of his last screen appearances as the local sheriff. Just don’t watch this one alone.
95. The Witch, or The VVitch: A New England Folktale
I really wanted to love this movie. Hell, I struggled to like it as first. I had to watch it more than once. This was on my radar early on. A24 studios is really trying to carve out a niche and this was almost a case of the trailer being better than the movie. Set in the 1600s, the dialogue is thick and hard to navigate, as is the plot at times. It is beautifully shot if you enjoy deep dark woods and ominous gray skies.
The pace is what killed me. It is a slow burn, and I mean a slooooooooow burn. Anya Taylor-Joy, Morgan and Split, plays what ends up becoming the main character. She does a wonderful job portraying a descent from innocence, purity and piety into desire, temptation, sin and evil. However, there is a little too much telling and not enough showing during key moments.
I do love the setting, the atmosphere, the aesthetic. It is a dark and gritty film and I love all the things that it is trying to be. Ralph Ineson’s gravelly voice and dogged determination to maintain the attempt at period-accurate dialogue is painful to understand at times. But there are witches and there is plenty of witchery afoot. If you want something different, this might be the film for you.
Anyone who knows me understands that my chosen forms of entertainment usually involve the macabre. I recently wrote a post for my official web site that described where the fascination with horror came from. It was a made for TV movie starring Jack Palance as Dracula. The first time I saw it I was four years old. I watched it for the first time in 45 years and found it to be surprisingly good.
Horror movies get a bad rap. Critics usually don’t care for them much and I never let a critic or lack of Academy Award recognition keep me from watching a horror film. I do have an eclectic palette when it comes to my horror films and I have found it necessary to expand the definition.
I started this countdown several years ago as a Facebook thing and brought it to my blog in 2015. It has been awhile since I updated the list. Several new films appear on the list and several didn’t make the, ahem, cut. Remember, these are my favorite horror films, not the “best.”
In the 1930s, prior to select showings of the titular Frankenstein, actor Edward Van Sloan would give a bit of a speech to the audience. I will borrow a line.
Mr. Jerry Knaak feels that it would be unkind to present this countdown without a word of friendly warning, “… I think it will thrill you, it may shock you, it might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to, uh, well, we warned you.”
So, without further ado, here are the first three films.
100. Horror of Dracula
Christopher Lee’s first outing as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing’s first turn as Van Helsing. I do love the Hammer horror films, but this is my least favorite of the Lee Dracula films. Not because of the performances. Both actors set new standards for both characters as Lee emerged from the shadows to put his own spin on the Prince of Darkness after Bela Lugosi had set the bar in 1931.
What I don’t like about this movie is the plot. It strays too far from the source material. Even Tod Browning’s Dracula in 1931 didn’t adhere to Bram Stoker’s original novel.
Don’t get me wrong, it is stunning to see Dracula in technicolor for the first time and Lee is commanding as the Count, but even Lee himself longed to play the Transylvanian bloodsucker in all of Stoker’s glory and he never got the chance. The film stands on its own with Jimmy Sangster’s script but I would have liked to see a faithful adaptation for Lee’s first turn in the cape.
99. The Brides of Dracula
The follow up to Horror of Dracula didn’t even have Dracula in it. Peter Cushing reprised his role as Van Helsing, but Christopher Lee and Dracula are absent. Instead, David Peel takes a turn as Baron Meinster. The plot is absolutely ludicrous, but Hammer was trying to find their footing as a major player in the genre.
The ease with which the main character falls in love with and agrees to marry the vampire antagonist is laughable at best. But it is a Hammer vampire film and the cinematography and rich set design make it a very watchable film. Plenty of fangs and blood.
Once again, Jimmy Sangster et al penned the screenplay. Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher directed.
98. The Ritual
I have an affinity for horror films that focus on village superstition and folklore and I am not talking about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village either. The Old Ones, the Old Gods, ancient, prehistoric gods and monsters almost forgotten, make for great source material.
And every once in awhile, a film comes along that really surprises you. It’s better than you thought it was going to be, it flew under the radar, it was a Netflix release, something. The Ritual is one of those movies. A group of friends take a trip to the forest to memorialize a fallen comrade only to find something is stalking them, something inconceivable.
I need to watch it again, it probably should be much higher on this list.
This film is well-acted, well-written and beautifully shot. Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, David Bruckner directed.
So, join me each night for the next 31 days as I could down to Halloween. I’ll post three movies at a time.
When I first took up exercise and healthier eating and living five and half years ago, I started with walking. I tried to walk at least three miles per day but I got bored with it and lower leg injuries started to get me down. Four months in I turned to weight lifting as well.
A family friend who is an avid runner told me that I was going to catch the bug. I told her she was nuts. I enjoyed a nice bit of humble pie with a side of crow when I had to admit to her that she was right. I had caught the running bug. I started with my standard, pat distance of three miles. My dearest friend, who just happens to be a cross-country coach, and former cross-country teammate of mine, told me I better switch up distances and pace or else wasn’t going to get any better.
Over time, I gained an appreciation for running. It became therapy. It became an idea incubator for my fiction writing. It became a sanctuary. Me, my music and residence in my own head. I ran a few organized 5Ks and I was building up to bigger races.
When I hurt my back in 2015, one of the toughest parts of recovery after surgery was not being able to run. I busted my hump to be able to get back to it and even had a 5K to train for to keep me focused.
A 2014 run in England hatched an idea. Normally, I travel a lot for work, as I have chronicled in this space. So, my regular readers will recall that I set a goal to run in every city I visit. The first year, I missed a run in Detroit because of the flu, the second year, I missed a run in Denver because I had the flu, and last year I hit them all, including Mexico City for the second year in a row.
The last run of the year and of the travel schedule was in Los Angeles. After that I must have felt like I had accomplished something. I no longer had the fire or the energy to run. I washed my hands of it.
Now, I hadn’t become a marathoner, hell, I haven’t even tried a half yet. I never managed to run an organized 10K either. My longest run to date is eight miles in Baltimore. In five and a half years, I have logged nearly 1,400 miles walking and running using the Nike Running Club app. I know that mileage is some people’s one year total, but I’m pretty sure I have logged 1,398 more miles than a lot of people.
I tried to pick running back up in March. Back pain, fear of injury, cardio-vascular degradation because of lack of running, tight quads and a terrible pace kept me from getting back to it on a regular basis. My last run came along the beach in Carlsbad, Calif., during a vacation back in June. That was more “Jerry wants to run on the beach in Carlsbad” than “Jerry is running for exercise.”
But I suppose that has been the point all along, right? Enjoy it. Run in different places. Experience the world through a different lens. I had forgotten that.
After that run in Los Angeles, you could say I fell out of love with running. After today, I won’t say I have fallen for running again, but it was a good first date.
When you are a new author in the stable of a small, indie publishing house, a fair amount of the promotion and marketing for your books falls on you. That’s not a complaint, it’s just what is. Although there are many advantages to being traditionally published, promotional work is part of the author’s responsibilities. Building a brand and cultivating an audience are just part of it. I have crafted and sent press releases and media advisories, set up book signings, ordered bookmarks and postcards, written dozens upon dozens of social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and more.
As a digital media professional turned historian, I quite enjoy working with social media platforms. My podcast is fun, although I don’t produce episodes nearly often enough. Social media is also very visual. But, there are only so many posts of your book covers you can do.
I’ve traveled to some of the locations in my books and posted photos from those spots. Several readers have sent or posted selfies while reading the books. Folks have taken the books on vacation and taken photos of them in far-flung locations. I’ve interacted with the craft brewery whose beer inspired the title of the first book.
With Summer Reading season in full-swing, I have been encouraging readers to take a copy of The Dark Truth or The Dark Descent, either paperback or e-book, to the pool and read poolside. I thought a staged photo of the books by my pool would be fun and drive home the point.
As I was setting up up for the shot, a copy of The Dark Descent went tumbling into the pool. I knew it was going to happen. I watched it happen. It was in slow-motion. I fished the book out, moved the little table back fro the edge of the pool and re-staged the shot. It came out great. It’s amazing how much better the book stood on end while it was sopping wet.
Sorry, I know it’s been awhile since I penned a substantive Jerry Project blog. Life truly does get in the way sometimes. Between two book tours in support of my first two novels, working on the third, and the marketing that goes with all that, the day job and family life, the blog has fallen by the wayside a bit. I have gotten lazy with regard to memoirs and remembrances, content with just recycling previous posts about my parents on the anniversaries of their deaths and on special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
A thought occurred to me when my 11-year-old repeatedly asked for high-fives the other day. From the moment our children begin to interact with other human beings, one of the first things we teach them is the high-five. Meant as a greeting and also the exercise of some cognitive ability coupled with a motor skill, I’m sure it aids in some kind of early childhood development. The slapping of hands can evolve into a fist-bump perhaps, but it inevitably leads to learning a traditional handshake.
I like a good, strong, firm handshake. I can’t stand dead fish handshakes. Have you ever gotten one of those from someone? I think I’d rather hold a fish. The whole hand, firm grip, good squeeze. I like strong, whole-hand handshakes from women too, not the dainty finger grab. Is that weird?
The handshake was once meant to indicate to people meeting for the first time that their hands were empty. That’s to say they were unarmed. Over time it has come to signify many different things – a greeting between friends, a means of introduction, congratulations, or that a deal has been struck.
We Americans have become a society of high-fivers. We do it to celebrate a great play made by our favorite sports team, we do it when our friend agrees with us or we are passionately like-minded on a subject, and sometimes as a means to give respect for a quip or a zinger. The “bro hug” often takes the place of a traditional handshake with mini-chest bump added in for affectionate effect.
Did Los Angeles Dodger Glenn Burke really invent the up-top hand slap in 1977? The up-top back-around to low-five was popularized (for a minute) by the movie Top Gun. There’s the two-handed high-five, and then there’s the traditional low-five which was more common in the 1970s.
But this isn’t mean to be a history lesson on the handshake or the high-five.
My father, the late John Knaak, didn’t give credence to any of it. Oh, I don’t think he minded seeing it on the sports field or court. (We did joke about athletes’ propensity to slap each other on the ass after a great play.) He just didn’t care for it in life.
You see, you had to earn my father’s handshake. It was important. It meant something. Even when he met new people he gave it reluctantly. I think I saw him shake his friend Jim’s hand once and that was after Jim had come over to fix our furnace. He’d just as soon have you call him “Jack” before he gave you his hand.
My father died in February 2007 at age 71, four months shy of my 37th birthday. In the 36+ years I knew him and had him in my life, my father shook my hand exactly THREE times and I remember each one vividly.
I was 15 or 16 the first time. I was a pitcher for my little league team in the Northwest Youth Athletic Association, which played its games at what is now known as Paul Bianchi Park at the corner of Emerson and Glide streets in Rochester, N.Y. I was the starting pitcher in an all-star game. I was a wisp of a thing at the time. I was a good pitcher that year, I struck out a season-high 16 batters in one game, and I averaged 11 strikeouts an appearance. My high school coaches never fancied me a pitcher, so summer league is where I had the opportunity.
Admittedly, I didn’t have my best stuff in this all-star game. My fastball had no zip and I was hanging curveballs like they were paintings. Even my knuckleball wouldn’t dance. My fastball never had much velocity, but on this day, my normally live arm was anything but. However, I scratched and clawed and scuffled and kept the game close. We were up 4-2 late in the game and a couple of defensive errors put two men on. The go-ahead run came to the plate, the clean-up hitter, the guy I had trouble with all day. I threw everything at this guy, even a KY ball, but he kept fouling pitches off. Eventually, I made a mistake and hung a curve ball out over the heart of the plate. I don’t think it’s come down yet. The three-run home run gave them a 5-4 lead and was the difference in the game. Although I should have been out of the inning, I still felt like I could have salvaged it by getting this guy out.
Inexplicably my father greeted me behind the backstop after the game and shook my hand. I said something to the effect of, “but I lost. I just didn’t have it today.” He responded with something like, “but you battled, you didn’t give up. You fought hard.”
You see, dad was a high school legend at Scottsville High. Soccer, baseball and basketball – he had a page dedicated to him in his high school yearbook. He played college basketball. I never lived up to his standard as an athlete. I always managed to make the team, but I was never good enough to start. I was a bench warmer most of the time, I played CYO basketball for the playing time, and I gave up on Pop Warner football after two years. For him to shake my hand in this instance really meant something.
The second time he shook my hand was upon my gradation from Edison Technical and Occupational Education Center – fancy name for Edison Tech high school. In June of 1987, I graduated 15th in my class of 300, was already a member of the National Honor Society and earned the Presidential Academic Fitness Award. Also, I was already enlisted in the United States Navy’s delayed entry program. I had played basketball and baseball, and ran cross country. I was involved in student government.
After walking across the stage, collecting my diploma and exiting the George Eastman Theater, my father shook my hand. This one I understood, I had accomplished something. High school wasn’t exactly an easy time for me, but a lot of kids could say that. And considering the events of the past few years, there are thousands of kids who have had it way worse than I ever did.
A lot of good came of that time as well. I did graduate, I was accepted to the two colleges I applied to (even though I didn’t go), I eventually developed my musical taste (which has stuck with me for life) and I met my best friend, who is still that to this day.
The third time came in 1991. I had just returned from Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm aboard the USS Saratoga (CV 60). I had told my parents I didn’t want any fanfare when I landed at the Rochester International Airport. I told them to just pick me up. They didn’t listen. I didn’t feel like I had done anything during the Gulf War. I ran my squadron’s tool control program. Yes, I was a trained flight deck troubleshooter as an aviation electronics technician, but for whatever reason, I was given the tool control job. I can’t say it wasn’t important, there were major safety concerns when it came to tools and the techs and mechanics couldn’t do their jobs if they weren’t properly equipped.
But I didn’t fight. I didn’t shoot at anyone. I wasn’t shot at. Sure, there were those occasions when we had to wear gas masks on our hips when intelligence thought Saddam Hussein’s forces might launch a SCUD missile at our ship. And yes, we had a member of our squadron taken prisoner after his F-14 Tomcat was shot down. And yes, a member of the attack squadron next door was also taken prisoner after his A-6 Intruder was downed. But for the most part, I watched the war on television like everybody else.
My cousin Debbie had joined a support group of some kind if I recall, and one of our neighbors, who was a teacher (again, if I recall), had sent a ton of letters from her students. I was greeted by a throng of people at the airport. There were balloons and signs and hugs.
And a handshake from my father.
I guess it was because I had survived a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in a combat zone. Maybe he was just happy to see me after eight months. Whatever the reason, he did it and it was the last time.
My father wasn’t what you would call an affectionate man. Oh, he wasn’t one of those men who are incapable of showing physical love, he was just choosy about how he did it. He never denied me a hug when I asked for one and I have fond memories of sitting with him watching football, basketball and baseball games on TV. He was even known to snuggle with my mother on the couch while watching movies.
But that handshake, that meant something. That was important. It wasn’t given often or lightly and if you were fortunate to get one from John Knaak, well, you must have earned it. And that places you in elite company.
On the eve of SF Comic Con at the Oakland Convention Center, fellow panelists and Trifecta Publishing House labelmates Mark London Williams and Samantha Heuwagen joined me for adult beverages and conversation at Sláinte in Jack London Square. We had a wonderful time at this literature-inspired Irish pub in the heart of the neighborhood named for Oakland’s native son and world-renown author, Jack London. Mark and I knew we had found a home for our occasional grub and libation get-togethers when we saw the portrait of Oscar Wilde on the wall during our first visit.
New sci-fi author Samantha Heuwagen makes her second appearance on the Get the Knaak podcast. We dive into the motivations and themes behind her debut novel, Dawn Among the Stars, which is due out May 21. You can pre-order the Kindle or e-book version now.