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.

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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.

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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.

MV5BMTkyNzc4NjkwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzI2Mjc1MDE@._V1_18. Hellraiser

“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.


Avant Garde French Horror, Two Films in One and Universal Monsters Run Amok

I have another four-pack of horror films for you tonight as we crack the Top 30 and zombie shuffle our way to Halloween.

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I saw this gem for the first time last Halloween on Turner Classic Movies as part of their October of horror films and I was quite taken by it. It’s atmospheric, it’s haunting, Billy Idol named a song after it … what’s not to like?

Georges Franju directed this avant garde French horror film that envisions face transplant surgery that wouldn’t happen for some 45 years, in France (of course). A surgeon experiments on unfortunate women (against their will) trying to give his daughter a new face after a disfiguring accident. Of course, the daughter goes insane in the process as surgery after surgery fails to restore her countenance.

The mask the daughter wears to hide her disfigurement is hauntingly beautiful and you can certainly understand why she finally snaps.

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I consider this to be George Clooney best movie. It is really two movies in one – taut hostage drama/batshit crazy vampire film. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the Gecko brothers, a pair of fugitives on the run from the law. They kidnap Harvey Keitel and his family – Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu – and hatch a plan to cross the border into Mexico, where they are to meet up with Cheech Marin (who plays three characters in the movie) who is to take them to the sanctuary city of El Ray.

Everything goes smoothly until they head to the rendezvous, a bar called the Titty Twister. The band of border crossers meet up with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (Frost) and Tom Savini (Sex Machine) at the bar, which happens to be run by vampires – Cheech, Danny Trejo (Razor Charlie), all the dancers, the wait staff, the band, and the leader – Santanico Pandemonium (played by Salma Hayek).

The vampires show their true colors and all hell breaks loose. This is a fun, ridiculous movies. Michael Parks plays recurring Tarantino/Rodriguez character Texas Ranger Earl McGraw.

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Not much horror was done in the 1940s because of World War II, however, there were horror comedies with Abbott and Costello, and a few mash-ups. I love the mash-ups. These, again, were shown on Saturday afternoons or late Friday night and they featured all of your favorite Universal monsters. This one includes Dracula, the Wolf-Man and Frankenstein’s monster. Noted cowboy and western star Glenn Strange takes a turn as the monster. John Carradine plays Dracula and of course Lon Chaney, Jr., is Larry Talbot/The Wolf-Man.

Both Dracula and The Wolf-Man seek cures for their afflictions and will do just about anything to be normal. Onslow Stevens plays the mad scientist who would rob Dracula of his immortality for himself.

MV5BMjM5NjkwOTk3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDM4MTczMjE@._V1_26. House of Frankenstein

Released a year before House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein features Boris Karloff as a mad scientist who gets the band back together to do his bidding. John Carradine plays Dracula, and Lon Chaney, Jr., The Wolf-Man. Lionel Atwill also stars.

Karloff’s character and his hunchback assistant plan to use the stable of monsters to exact revenge on their enemies. Karloff is his usual menacing self and is the real treat in this film. Atwill plays Inspector Arnz, who is famously parodied in Young Frankenstein.

This isn’t the first of the mash-up movies, that was Frankenstein Meets The Wolf-Man, which I’ll have for you tomorrow night. Universal was really trying to milk their stable of creatures for all they were worth, with inconsistent results. They are fun Saturday afternoon matinee fun all the same.

Oliver Reed’s Best Performance, the Best Horror Anthology Ever, the Best Japanese Horror Film Remake, and a Giant Spider

We claw our way into the Top 30 tonight as the Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Movies rolls on to its climax on All Hallow’s Eve.

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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 remakes and reboots of FrankensteinDracula 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. The more I see and read about this movie makes me like it that much more. It is set in Spain, another element that sets it apart from other werewolf films.

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George Romero directed this fantastic anthology featuring an all-star cast including Leslie Nielsen, Hal Holbrook (The Fog), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Swamp Thing), and E.G. Marshall. Several tales inspired by and tied together by a vagabond horror comic book are depicted. Ted Danson also stars. The Crate, featuring Holbrook, Barbeau and Fritz Weaver, may just be the best horror short ever filmed.

Danson and Gaylen Ross team up to get revenge on Nielsen, Marshall plays a tycoon tormented by insects in his supposedly secure penthouse apartment, Ed Harris appears in a story called Father’s Day, and Stephen King, who wrote the screenplay, stars in his own short about a rube who finds a meteorite that changes, well, everything.

I do like horror anthologies and I think this is the best one ever made.

MV5BNDA2NTg2NjE4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjYxMDg5._V1_31. The Ring

After a slew of films in which a person who develops medium-like abilities is enlisted to help a spirit find its way in the afterlife after a horrific crime, you’d think this film was in the same vein. However, the creepy little girl from beyond really is evil and should be left in the well.

The premise of the deadly videotape and the evil spirit reaching out with murderous intent makes for a good horror flick. This is borrowed from a Japanese original and it is very well done. There was influx of Japanese horror films that Hollywood just had to remake to varying degrees of success. I like Naomi Watts and she is excellent in this. She was very much in demand after this film. Martin Henderson (Smokin’ Aces) also stars.

Unless it is done a throwback, I am not exactly sure how this could ever be rebooted. I doubt a haunted Netflix stream would work the same way as a bewitched video tape. The sequels didn’t quite measure up to the quality of the original.

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I could have included any number of 1950s giant bug movies in the countdown, but then I would have to sacrifice other great films. So, I decided on Tarantula as my absolute favorite. It’s dark and ominous, it has a mad scientist, a damsel in distress and an uncredited Clint Eastwood.

After a scientist’s experiments go horribly awry, a giant tarantula is set loose on the unsuspecting countryside. After draining cattle and a few of the locals dry, the military is called in to do deal with the menace. A squadron of U.S. Air Force fighters, led by the aforementioned Eastwood, takes the enormous arachnid down. Directed by Jack Arnold and featuring John Agar and Mara Corday, Tarantula speaks to me for some reason.

The 1950s were replete with giant bug movies and I do enjoy quite a few of them – Them! The Deadly Mantis, The Black Scorpion, Earth vs the Spider, et al, but Tarantula is my favorite.

Mad Scientists, Souls for Sale and a Creature Feature for the Ages

I am upping the ante and moving to four-packs for the next week so we can end the countdown on Halloween night. I have two movies depicting descents into madness, a Saturday afternoon matinee creature feature and Mickey Rourke at his pre-boxing career best for you tonight.

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Ah, Mickey Rourke before he got his face smashed in, Lisa Bonet before she went off the deep end and Robert de Niro star in this gritty take on Faust. Rourke plays a private detective, Harry Angel, hired by a mysterious man, Louis Cyphere, to track down a crooner named Johnny Favorite, who sold his soul to devil in exchange for fortune and fame. Favorite tried to outsmart the devil and extend his time on earth. Carnage leads to the truth and the devil gets his due. But I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

Charlotte Rampling also stars in this dark, stylish thriller. Rourke was at his best during this time in neo-Noir type roles. Lisa Bonet really stretched her legs here away from The Cosby Show. Set in 1950s New Orleans, this film oozes with grit.

36. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein captivated audiences for in 1931. At the same time, Frederic March was bringing Robert Louis Stevenson’s creation to life thanks to Paramount. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, and also starring Miriam Hopkins, this movie stays acceptably close to the source material. Countless attempts have been made over the years to adapt this story to the cinema with varying degrees of success and twists and takes. I believe this is the best of the batch and it’s March’s transformation from mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll into the animalistic, almost demonic, Mr. Hyde that makes this go. One of the things I find interesting is how much science fiction is intertwined with Gothic horror.

One of the things in recent movies that drives me nuts is the portrayal of Mr. Hyde as some Incredible Hulk-type character, larger and stronger than normal human beings, with supernatural strength and muscles on top of muscles. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing are guilty of this. Hyde’s strength comes from his cruelty and rage, not physical size. He is repulsive and repugnant, yet indescribable.

I rarely read books more than once. Not that I am against it, it’s just that my to-be-read pile would give Jack’s beanstalk a run for its money. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the few novels/novellas I make an exception for.

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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 MummyDraculaFrankenstein 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.


MV5BMjMwMjA5NDkyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzYyMTY2MTE@._V1_34. Creature from the Black Lagoon

An amphibious creature terrorizes researchers and kidnaps the leading lady. Richard Carlson and Julie Adams star opposite one of the most iconic monsters ever created for the screen. This is one of those films I would catch on Saturday afternoons … one of those films that you got excited to see when it did come on TV. I saw it again not all that long ago, you are reminded how vicious the creature is which was kind of unusual for 1954. This film is better and more violent than you remember.

After a fossil is found in the Amazon, a research expedition is hastily organized with predictable results. After the discovery of the creature, who apparently sees Adams’ character as mating material, the explorers do battle with the gill-man, who finds ways to trap the researchers’ boat in the lagoon.

I own this movie on Blu-Ray and the transfer is stunning. A few years ago I got the chance to visit a museum in Jacksonville where one of the costumes from the movie is on display. It was pretty cool learning some behind-the-scenes facts about the movie, the two actors who played the creature and how certain effects were achieved.

The Unmistakable Influence of F.W. Murnau

On the heels of the revolutionary Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, German filmmaker F.W. Murnau made one of the most influential horror films ever produced. The effects of Nosferatu have reverberated throughout the world of cinema ever since. From character and set design to cinematography, Murnau’s techniques practically invented the horror film genre.

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Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich star in this interesting film that posits what if Max Schreck really was a vampire? Set during the filming of Nosferatu, Malkovich plays filmmaker F.W. Murnau and Dafoe portrays Schreck who basically eats his way through the film crew. Murnau grants Schreck way too many concessions in order to get his epic vampire opus made. Udo Kier and Cary Elwes also star.

Part dark comedy, part mockumetary, part horror film, Dafoe is masterful as the scheming vampire. Malkovich is manic as a crazed Murnau who will do anything to get his picture finished. The concept is quite original and I enjoy this film very much. It was unexpected.

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Klaus Kinski takes on the the role of Count Orlock in Werner Herzog’s remake of F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece. Kinski’s performance is nuanced and layered. Herzog was able to use the names of the characters from Bram Stoker’s novel since rights issues have been long resolved. So, Orlock is now Dracula. Bruno Ganz plays Jonathan Harker and Isabelle Adjani plays Lucy Harker.

Another film that conflates names and characters, but it doesn’t really matter in this instance. I watched this again recently and I was surprised at how good it is.


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You know … we almost didn’t have this one. F.W. Murnau did not have the Stoker estate’s permission to use Bram Stoker’s Dracula for this movie, so Murnau changed the characters names and some plot details and scenes. Nosferatu is still basically Dracula. A judge sided with Stoker’s widow and ordered all copies destroyed. Fortunately a few survived.

I first saw this in elementary school on an old 16mm projector. I don’t remember which teacher showed it or what grade, but I am eternally grateful. Max Schreck (Schreck is German for terror) stars as Count Orlock and he is rat-like and truly frightening. This film is atmospheric and suspenseful. The influence of German expressionism is evident throughout and Murnau’s cinematography is almost a character unto itself.

My love of horror films began with this one.

Phantoms and Deranged Birds

As we continue toward No. 1, many of the trios of selections are rather eclectic. I have managed some themes and to group a few like movies together. But, in the meat of the countdown, it seems like the selections are random. I assure they are not.

MV5BNDk4MDM1NTI5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDkyMDc2MTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,614,1000_AL_ (1)43. Phantom of the Opera

This one has a special place in my heart. I saw this, on a date, when I was 12, silent, with a full orchestra. Make no mistake – this is a horror film. Featuring the man of 1,000 faces, the incomparable Lon Chaney, this is not some musical, this is not a Gerard Butler vehicle – this is a horror film. The Phantom is not a sympathetic character. He is a disfigured, monstrous kidnapper. And Lon Chaney is phenomenal in the role.

Lon Chaney was a genius and this was his signature role. He played Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923, he appeared in the lost film London After Midnight, and he was to be Dracula but died before filming could begin. His make-up techniques alone revolutionized filmmaking. He flawlessly made the transition from silent films to “talkies.” He was horror’s first superstar.

Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr., the man who brought Dracula to the big screen six years later, this is the only version of the Phantom of the Opera that matters. Herbert Lom (Pink Panther) starred in a serviceable remake from Hammer Studios in 1962. I am thoroughly disturbed by members of younger generations who don’t know this film exists and merely know the Gerard Butler musical and recent travelling theater productions. The Phantom’s reveal is one of the most iconic moments in cinema history. This film is the true dawn of Universal Horror.

MV5BMTAxNDA1ODc5MDleQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDg2MDA4OTEx._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,651,1000_AL_42. The Birds

Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette (The Bob Newhart Show), Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright (Alien) and Tippi Hedren (Marni) star in this Alfred Hitchcock classic as flocks of birds inexplicably start attacking the townsfolk on the west coast of California. No explanation for the birds’ strange behavior is ever offered. The panic seems real throughout the movie. The sense of forboding is palpable and the anxiety builds as the main characters try to escape the vicious bird attacks.

Filmed primarily in Bodega Bay, California, the small town setting adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere Hitchcock creates. The special effects don’t particularly hold up very well under the scrutiny of HD viewing or else this movie might be a little higher up the list.

Hedren is wonderful in this film and much has been documented about the filming and her relationship with Hitchcock. She turns is a great performance. The great Rod Taylor is pretty good too.

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An all-star cast featuring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lee, Michael Gambon, Christopher Walken, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gough, and Ian McDiarmid tell the classic tale of the Headless Horseman – with a few Tim Burton twists of course.

Ichabod Crane, a New York City policeman, goes to the burg of Sleepy Hollow to solve the mystery of the Headless Horseman (Walken). Stylized and stylish, this is an interesting take on Washington Irving’s original story. Murder, mayhem, witchery and a subdued Johnny Depp make for a fun movie.

Christina Ricci is excellent as a young woman embroiled in the machinations of the one who controls the Horseman. This film also marked the resurgence of Christopher Lee who used this as a launching pad for the latter part of his career.