5 Phenomenal Horror Movies

THE PHENOMENAL 5

What better way to start my ’10 Days of Horror’ than doing a Phenomenal 5 on the greatest movies of the genre (according to me of course). This is certainly a wide open list and everyone has their opinions. But this is the one genre where I can list my top 5 without hesitation. The horror genre goes way back to the silent movie era and it has kept audiences fascinated ever since. These 5 frightening films are the ones that I can’t get enough of. For me, they are the best of the genre and I truly love each. So here we go. Now considering how broad a subject this is I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But you can’t deny that these 5 horror movie classics are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “PSYCHO”

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece “Psycho” has arguably the most well-known scene in horror movie history. But there’s also so much greatness wrapped around Janet Leigh’s memorable murder in the shower at the hands…err, knife of Norman Bates. Anthony Perkins is as creepy as they come and you know there’s something not quite right about the guy from the first moment you see him until that final unnerving grin. And of course there is his macabre relationship with his dear, dear mother. For my money “Psycho” is brilliant and it’s the perfect mix of mystery and horror presented with the sharp style of a master filmmaker. It has its share of detractors but I will always love it.

#4 – “HALLOWEEN”

Oh there are so many things I love about “Halloween”. The great John Carpenter gives us a host of special ingredients that makes this film unforgettable. “Halloween” gives us the quintessential scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. It gives us the frightening Michael Myers. It gives us Donald Pleasence’s wonderfully goofy prophecies of doom. And how can you forget the simple yet to haunting piano score by Carpenter himself. Working with an incredibly small budget, the movie still broke new ground and invented the great horror movie cliches that are still imitated today. It’s a horror movie classic and the king of the slasher sub genre. It also still entertains me just as much as when I first watched it.

#3 – THE EVIL DEAD

In 1981 two young new filmmakers, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, made what would become one of the scariest horror movies of all time. “The Evil Dead” is another example of creating a great horror film with a tiny budget. It’s a highly influential picture that spawned two great sequels. It’s the story of five college kids who spend spring break in an isolated cabin in the woods. They accidentally release demons who begin killing them one by one. “The Evil Dead” is one of the few movies that I would call genuinely scary. The creepy concept and disturbing makeup effects still stick with me to this day. And of course it introduced us to the wonderful character Ash. This is a horror treasure that beats anything that comes out these days.

#2 – “THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE”

For years I thought “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was based on a true story. It was one of the most frightening movies I had ever seen. It’s been years since I found out that the story is purely fictional yet the movie still has the same effect on me today. Tobe Hooper directed, produced, and co-wrote the film that was made for under $300,000 and featured a cast of unknowns. The story of five friends who encounter a cannibalistic family in rural Texas didn’t rely on a buckets of blood and gore for its frights. Instead Hooper creates a disturbing sense of uneasiness with this material alone. Throw in Leatherface and pinches of dark comedy and you have one of the greatest horror movies of all-time.

#1 – “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD”

I never have a hard time telling people what my favorite horror movie of all time is. George Romero’s classic “Night of the Living Dead” was the first horror movie that really effected me. This is the film that put zombies on the map and there have been countless imitators since. As with the others on this list, Romero uses a small budget and no-name actors yet develops a horror picture that is unlike any other. Expertly crafted and wonderfully unsettling, “Night of the Living Dead” sets its creepy tone early and keeps it through so many clever techniques. I love everything about this true classic. It’s not just my favorite horror movie, it’s one of my favorite movies of all-time.

There they are – 5 Phenomenal Horror Movies. As I mentioned, this is a broad list and everyone has their favorites. But I’ll put my five up up against anyone’s. These five films showed that if you’re creative and skilled you don’t need loads of money and big backing to make a great horror picture. So what did I miss? What would you have included on the list? Which of my choices do you disagree with? Please take time to comment below.

“THE THING” (2011) – 3 STARS

While I would hardly call 2011’s “The Thing” necessary, this prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic manages to capture enough of the shocks and paranoia of its predecessor to be successful. While it is indeed a prequel, in many ways it’s a remake borrowing more from Carpenter’s version than offering much new. But trying to recreate a tried-and-true formula isn’t a bad thing and “The Thing” almost nails it. It works more often times than not but it does fall victim to its own poor choices.

The film sets the table for the 1982 picture by detailing the discovery and unleashing of the deadly shape-shifting extraterrestrial by a Norwegian research team in Antarctica. One of the film’s biggest strengths is its desire for a fluid continuity between the two movies. Everything is connected nicely and any fan of the earlier film will appreciate the effort. Here the Norwegian team has found a UFO and a life form buried under the ice. Against wiser suggestions, the head of the group orders the creature be brought back to their base for research. After the creature reveals it’s still alive and escapes, the team learns that the alien assimilates its victims and then imitates them both physically and verbally. Soon everyone is suspected of being a host which leads to fear and panic throughout the base.

Sound familiar? Like I said, the film borrows a lot from its predecessor. It’s moody and creepy and the isolated Antarctic setting still works really well. But it never lives up to Carpenter’s version. One of the problems is the overloaded cast of characters, most of which we never connect to. Only a few characters really stand out while others feel like token kills for the alien. You could have easily cut out about five meaningless characters. They would have never been missed and the others would have benefited from it. Also while the movie does finally start to capture some of the intense paranoia of the earlier film, it seems to come and go. Carpenter’s film was driven by the paranoia and unnerving suspicions of his characters. I also thought this movie got a little off track close to the end. There’s an out-of-place sequence in the underground UFO that felt completely disconnected from the rest of the film. That was one attempt at originality that really fell flat.

On the flip side, Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. does effectively employ several of the techniques used by Carpenter. And while I wouldn’t call the special effects better, the availability of CGI does give this creature much more fluid motions and his assimilations are pretty grotesque. Of course I mean that in a good way. The film is also helped by some really good acting throughout. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as especially impressive as a paleontologist who becomes the lead character. The wonderful Australian actor Joel Edgerton is also quite good as an American helicopter pilot who tends to sit on the outside of the largely scientific group. Both performances are natural and true even when the material let’s them down a bit.

“The Thing” is a film that will largely appeal to a small audience. Fans of the 1982 classic will want to see it and should find a lot to like. While it trips itself up with an overloaded cast and a few scenes which feel like they belong in another film, it does deliver that almost old-school sci-fi monster movie feel. It captures some of the paranoia that I keep harping on and it’s connection to the previous picture is very well done.  Top it off with some nice performances and you have a film that is very watchable. Oh, and did I mention they have flamethrowers???