I’d consider myself a complete a-hole if I didn’t include The Exorcist on this list. I think it’s actually in the “scary movie list” bylaws. But for damn good reason. There isn’t a soul that watched this movie and wasn’t messed up by it in some way. It’s just scary as all hell (literally.) There are few movies out there that seem to be able to alter people’s psyche, but this is one of them. I consistently hear stories from people that say they saw this like 20 years ago and are still affected by it. Think about that power. One viewing, 20 years ago, and it STILL sticks with people. I dream of making a movie like that. But this movie really does have something for everyone. The subliminal flashes of the demon faces were what always got to me. But man, poor little Linda Blair. The things she went through: head rotations, majorly aggressive puking, some serious blasphemy, including some insane Jesus and God lines, and even a little, um, crucifix pleasuring… But man, my new favorite sequence has got to be the spider walking, which is only on the more recent director’s cut. Almost worth a check out for that scene alone. So bizarrely nuts and haunting, even if it isn’t a little misplaced within the film. Regardless what it is that you find scary or creepy, it’s all in there. This flick broke so many rules, and basically set the bar for all devil and possession movies that followed after it. I know most people have already seen it, but it’s Halloween, do yourself a favor and revisit it. Welcome the devil into your lives and relish the darkness (my pals in Utah will absolutely LOVE that last line, ha!) Now, just close your eyes and hear that amazing music. If you’re like me, you can’t help but smile. Then in 20 years you can tell someone how it still messes with your head.
Jaws is like a horror movie gateway drug. It’s got that warm and fuzzy Spielberg tag so people feel safe with it. In addition it was released with that family friendly PG rating. Aww, this must be a sweet movie about a lovable shark named Jaws that a local aquarium adopts and a family grows to love… Hmm, not quite. Jaws is atop many people’s scary movie lists for good reason. It really did make you feel unsafe to go into the water again. I mean if the opening doesn’t do it for you, then the rest will. And if you’re questioning this movie’s brutality, how about this? Most people tend to forget that a small boy (yes, a BOY) is brutally decimated by a shark less than 30 minutes into the movie. How many movies nowadays would kill a child, let alone brutally like this one does? Exactly. This movie set a bar back in 1975 that many have still not reached. This is the perfect example of the old adage that “what you don’t see is the scariest.” But the funny part is that this pretty much happened by accident because they felt the shark looked too fake to show. Happy accident indeed, because it made for one hell of a thrilling scenario. Throw in a gang of great actors who are brought together for a memorable second half shark hunting trip, and you’ve got yourself a really entertaining film. When I was younger, I used to live near a reservoir. One of the greatest things a bunch of us ever did was go out to the middle of the lake on a friend’s motorboat during the night, everyone jumped in the water with a lifejacket on, and we put the TV on the deck with Jaws playing. We watched Jaws while floating aimlessly in the dark water during a pitch black summer night. You want complete and utter fear, repeat that. You’ll never forget it. Until you can have that experience, use Jaws as that gateway drug to the non-horror inclined and start to bring them over to the dark side.
Here is another of those pivotal 80’s classics that helped model my youth. I loved everything about this movie when I was a kid, right down to being fascinated by the poster (to this day I have it hanging up in my office.) Tom Holland’s fun flick is another in my personal favorite style of horror blended with comedy. The basic premise is a horror standard – someone discovers something macabre and no one believes him. Here, it’s a kid obsessed with horror movies that discovers his neighbor is an actual vampire, and then of course, no one believes him. Enter the absolutely fantastic Roddy McDowell as a washed up actor, that now hosts late night horror movies (a’la Elvira) as his only confidant. He was always my absolute favorite part of this movie. It’s the 80’s, so not only do you get awesome clothes, older “hey, I remember him” actors, great cheesy music, but what you also get is some great practical effects work (no CGI because it wasn’t invented yet!) The effects were so fun in its day. Personal favorite was Amy’s tooth-filled “smiling face” that just was so amazing. Now I know that Evil Ed’s voice may be grating at times, but bear with it. Chris Sarandon’s soothing pipes more than makes up for it. He just rules. Hell, everyone in this movie does a great job. It’s just entertaining and fun, the way movies should be. **NOTE: Yes, since I wrote this review in 2010, it has been remade. The remake is fine. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but is entertaining enough. But like most of these remakes, it just felt unnecessary in the first place because the original still stands high above it as the better of the two. Regardless, if you haven’t seen either of them, when thinking about which to choose, please choose this 80’s gem. It’s far superior.
Yep, another no brainer, but a necessary one. Think back to 1991 if you can. Just when it seemed like it would never happen, here was the movie that finally combined the worlds of the serial killer horror film and the mainstream Academy Award winning darling. You thought the two worlds blended together like oil and water, but this genius little flick was able to do the impossible and marry the two. All it took was a pitch perfect screenplay, based on a best selling novel, incredible and top-of-its-class acting, masterful direction, and a million other perfectly lined up components. Easy right? No way, this was a unique, perfect storm that happens once in a lifetime. You might actually how brutal and terrifying Silence of the Lambs actually is because you initially think of it as a mainstream award winner. But remember, this is a movie that featured a man cutting off and wearing another man’s face, another one that is murdering women in order to sew together a human skin suit, a high-security psychopath wing featuring some of the most disturbing people alive, a jar with a human head in it, an “art piece” featuring a man split wide open and using his own skin as wings, I mean seriously… this flick is jacked up. And honestly, I know he’s pretty much taken on a life of his own, as well holds an eternal place in horror villain-dom, but how incredible was Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector? No one has resonated like that in ages. The super intelligent artist and chef who was both cannibalistic and completely psychopathic is still to this day one of the greatest horror creations ever. Do yourself a favor and re-watch this baby. Remember why it won Best Picture in 1992 in addition to holding a dear place in horror people’s bloody hearts everywhere.
Frailty deserves the award for the single most underappreciated movie of the last decade. This is one of my all time favorite films, directed by one of my all time favorite actors, Bill Paxton (Game over, man! Game over!) When anyone asks me for a scary movie recommendation, most of the time I tell them to see this. It always comes to mind because it’s truly a movie that everyone can, and everyone will, love. It’s not too over the top for some of the more impressionable viewers, but it’s also not too softball for the more hardcore folks. It walks a perfect line for just about everyone. So here is my recommendation for the cheap seats… Readers of this blog, you must see this film. The creepiness is so subtle that it unknowingly sneaks up on you, until before you know it, you’ve been pulled in to a world that is absolutely haunting. The mood and atmosphere is pitch perfect. I don’t want to ruin too much because that’s the fun of the film, but needless to say it’s about a religious man’s mission to “destroy demons,” and the teaching of his two young sons to assist him. But this doesn’t even scrape the surface. There’s so much more to this movie, and the fact that you really never know where it’s heading is one of its main gifts. Plus, in the acting category, you’ve got Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, and two fantastic child actors. It’s just amazing, thrilling, twisting & turning material that will literally keep you on the edge of your seat. I seriously, from the bottom of my heart, love this movie. You will too. I 100% guarantee it.
Another double feature day today, but this one’s a little different. From Dusk Till Dawn is the film. And Full Tilt Boogie is the documentary about the making of it. Trust me, you’ll appreciate both of these equally. First, let’s tackle From Dusk Till Dawn. This flick is in a category of its own and if you haven’t seen it, it’s not an easy one to explain. It’s one of those films I’ve talked about where it’s almost two completely different movies in one – the first half, and the second half. The first half is a hard, gangster flick about two bank robbing brothers who kidnap a family in order to get across the border. The second half is… well, COMPLETELY different and has to do with a strip club full of vampires. Yep, that old tale. The first thing you need to know is that Quentin Tarantino wrote the script and Robert Rodriguez directed. That should be enough right there. Rodriguez’ action is all on show, and Quentin’s dialogue fills your ears with happiness. If you enjoy Quentin’s quick-fire, over-the-top, and absolutely unique conversations, then this movie is right there for you. Hell, the completely un-P.C. opening dialogue with the sheriff had me rolling, but if that turned you off, then turn off the whole movie because it only gets worse. Another thing I want to talk about is the amazing cast. In addition to everyone else (Harvey Keitel, Salma Hayek, et al.), here’s the deal, this was George Clooney’s FIRST film role. He was a heartthrob on ER, could have taken anything Hollywood handed him for his coming out party, and this is what he chose. That’s how I knew Clooney was the real deal. Oh, and the gore. So wonderful. Bless you KNB. Anyway, I won’t say any more. By now you know whether you’re going to watch it or not. I suggest you do.
Now, I also wanted to quickly talk about Full Tilt Boogie. If you get the collector’s DVD, then Full Tilt Boogie is already included on the disc. If not, I’m pretty sure you can find it on its own. I highly suggest you watch this movie. In addition to an awesome behind the scenes look at all the inner workings of the amazing actors, FX teams, producers, crew, director, and everyone else, it also will teach you more about the pains, trials, and tribulations of working on an independent film than anything else out there. When I first saw this documentary, I was working on some student films in film school and holy shit could I relate. It opened my eyes so much that I told everyone I knew to watch it. Just trust me on this one, if you love behind the scenes documentaries about movies, or if you’re just a From Dusk Till Dawn fan and want to know more about the insane process of getting this film made, definitely view this. You’ll have a much higher respect for independent filmmakers and the shit they have to go through on a constant basis. It’s not an easy task to get a movie made, especially an independent one (trust me.) So dig in and have yourself a nice double feature today. You’ll thank me later.
If you’re a classic horror fan, the name Hammer Films puts an immediate smile to your face. If there’s one thing I love, it’s horror movies from the 70’s (and late 60’s.) If there’s something I love even more, it’s the weird satanic movies of that same time period. Man, people were obsessed with the devil and his rituals throughout these years. The paranoia was just fascinating to watch. One of my absolute favorites, that I can pretty much guarantee very few have seen, is a classic Hammer horror film called, The Devil Rides Out. I just love this movie. It’s got all the classic components of a great devil flick. It’s got robes, rituals, chants, a villain with an evil name (in this case, “Macata”), and that beloved Hammer staple, Christopher Lee! But this one is highly unique because this is one of Christopher Lee’s only “good guy” roles in a Hammer Film. I know, it’s weird, but he’s awesome. And look, of course when you watch a movie from this time period, some of the effects don’t really match up to modern day standards (the giant spider scene laughably rules.) But don’t let that detract, this is a greatly entertaining devil film that holds up over 40 years after it was made. And as an additional bonus, Satan himself even shows up! A serious rarity in these types of films where he’s usually just hinted about. That right there is worth the price of a rental. As Satan’s movie-watching cheerleader, all I have to say is, “Goooooo SATAN!” Enjoy.