Wes Craven proves he’s a master of horror and innovation with Scream, over 10 years since his last smash which pulled a similar trick – A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven had been a legend for 3 decades, but with this he made possibly his best known film, reinventing a dead genre for better and worse, making horror films profitable again. More importantly it gave horror fans something to cheer about – a smart, funny, sexy, but above all scary film.
Scream’s intro has already gone down in movie history as the benchmark of a shocking and effective way to start a film. Take an established actress, and eventually butcher her to set the tone. The phone, the knife, shocks, inevitability of death, blood, helplessness, and a love of scary movies. Craven turns what we expect on its head, and we know we are in for something special.
We are introduced to Sydney Prescott, a teenager whose mother was murdered a year ago, trying to get on with her life – coping with school, a boyfriend, the court case involving the man (Cotton) who has been charged with her mother’s murder, and intrusion from journalists. She has become strong through this ordeal, but is still vulnerable. Her boyfriend Billy wants sex, but isn’t pushy. The news of a new murder comes as a shock to the whole town though because of the town’s recent history, journalists flock in including Gail Weathers, who had previously accused Sydney of lies. In school the news spreads, and the cops question the students. Sydney’s tight group of friends try to work out who the killer was, believing everyone’s a suspect. Her friends are Tatum, feisty, strong whose boyfriend is similar yet comically manic, and Randy – movie nerd who secretly loves Sydney. When Sydney is attacked, it seems the killer is not done and may have a larger plan. The teens of the town gather together for a curfew-baiting house party all the while debating who the killer is, and who could be the next on their hit-list.
This is clearly one of the best horror movies of the decade, not just an excuse for gore, but clever on many levels, and self-referential. It is more than that, being one of the best looks at teenage life in the last few years. The characters are extremely well drawn, taking stereotypes, but changing them against our expectations, enhanced by some brilliant performances. Every cast member performs well, with special mention to Kennedy, Arquette, and Lillard for bringing the laughs. Cox is good, but Campbell is excellent, going through a myriad of emotions and proving that her character does not have to be stupid like most final girls are typically shown to be.
Craven is in control, feeding us clues as to the identity of the killer, but ensuring that by the end we are surprised. Gore is used effectively, the scares and jokes come thick and fast, but it is the story of Sydney which makes it a classic. She is strong willed, smart, and we go through every emotion with her, aided by Neve’s performance. We feel for her, and are frustrated we cannot help. The film is shot beautifully, with Woodsboro shown as an idyllic place to live, but with dark secrets. I love near-Leone style facial close-ups, and the care given to each character so that we are hurt when one is killed, but suspicious of each. The script is sharp, with many references to horror movies which fan will try to recognise.
Thematically we return to Elm Street territory; We must fight for ourselves in the world, and while our friends are the most important people in our lives, they may not be around forever and we must be able to cope with their loss. Parents are either not around, don’t care, don’t understand, or are to blame. Sydney’s mum seems to be the catalyst for the deaths, the only authority figure to gain respect is Dewey, who isn’t much older than the teens. The opening scene as Casey crawls towards her nearby parents, with the killer behind her highlights this, that the older generation will not always be able to keep us safe. The Headmaster, played by Henry Winkler hates kids, but he cannot organise or gain respect from them either.We are never certain of Gail’s intentions, another point to do with the media’s involvement in society today. Death has become trivialised, the victims just a ploy for ratings or power for those who tell the stories. Our thoughts on violence, on violent movies are challenged – Craven a veteran of criticism over use of violence. In the end it’s up to us as individuals. The film shows that places we believed to be safe -our homes, our schools, have become dangerous places today too, that we are not safe anywhere. In a group, or by yourself, we are still vulnerable. The scene in the school toilets emphasizes this point, and is another beautiful scene. However, the film teaches us that rather than being overcome by fear, by the fact that we are not always safe, we should fight.
I wanted to mention a few of my favourite scenes – Sydney on her porch, staring over the hills; Sydney and Billy in her bedroom while Gus’s cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper plays in the background. It gives a perfect glimpse of what it is like to be in love at that age, and together with Campbell’s beauty makes an odd atmosphere, especially when viewed again, having watched the other 2 films. We become intimate with Sydney, wishing we could save her from her pain.
With the combination of genres subverted, a brilliant script and score, some excellent acting, good scares and jokes, Scream paved the way for a new breed of horror films, none of which, like Halloween and Elm Street, have matched it. We should be thankful for Craven, as he has provided the world with another film which should be watched and talked about as much as those felt to be the best movies of all time. This is certainly one of the best of our time.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Scream!
Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a minute (do the kidz still say that?) since I’ve squeezed out one of these, but luckily I’ve had a lot of fibre recently and things are moving again, if you take my meaning. Wes Craven is one of my favourite directors of all time but I’ll be the first to admit he’s made a lot of rubbish over the years. He’s one of my favourites because when his films are good, they are second to none. There’s basically three tiers to Craven movies – Iconic, okay, and crap. Most people agree on what’s iconic, everyone disagrees on what’s crap/okay. No matter where you stand, there’s no doubting his place in horror, inventing or reinventing pieces of the genre at least three times, and providing us with some of the best scares, best villains, best heroes, and best movies in horror history.
10. The People Under The Stairs
It’s true to say that most people love this more than I do. I like it, but I don’t have the nostalgic connection to it which most fans have. My favourite thing about it is the Twin Peaks connection – Wendy Robie and Everett McGill star again as another unusual pairing. The story and the film, are fairly unique, but then again we’re talking late 80s, early 90s horror – a time when anything goes, so when we’re talking about a ghetto kid trying to save his family from being evicted by a pair of murderous landlords and their cannibal children, you know you’re on safe enough territory. It’s certainly funny, it’s borders on outright weird, you’d never see anything like it getting made today, and there’s plenty of gore.
9. Swamp Thing
This little seen action/comedy/horror hybrid is well worth a watch for anyone bored with today’s superhero stories and want something a little different. This is certainly a little different, Craven this time dealing with more established stars and a bigger budget than his earlier 70s work. While campy and not going for the jugular as he had been known for, this still has plenty of violence and sexy times and features genre favourites Adrienne Barbeau and Ray Wise.
8. Red Eye
A late in the game box office and critical success for Craven, this is a surprisingly straight, taut, and effective thriller which holds up well today. Featuring reliable performers Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, and Brian Cox it is another entry in the ‘bad shit happens on a plane’ sub-genre. It has the twists of Scream without the meta stuff and plays out like a modern Hitchcock film, cranking up the tension until the climax. This gets straight to the point, plays its game with no chaff, and remains gripping throughout.
7. The Hills Have Eyes
Here’s an interesting one – I much prefer the remake of this. Craven’s ideas are solid and the story and characters all in place, but it lacks the budget and power to be executed fully. The remake has the money and conviction and it is wonderfully brutal in all the most delightful ways. Still, this is the original and therefore worth giving due attention and respect. Like his previous film, this works as a nightmare scenario of US family values, of how simply and quickly the perfect family can devolve into gruesome violence. The film follows the extended Carter family on a road trip who take a wrong turn and end up being picked off by another family – albeit deformed cannibals. The invention and wit and energy here tends to surpass most modern horror but is only defeated by the lack of money to fully pull off everything required to make it perfect.
6. Scream 3
Often seen as the weakest in the series, while that may be true it always holds a special place in my heart. It was the first in the series I saw in the Cinema and brought along my girlfriend at the time who was also a series fan. The ideas were wearing thin at this point, but there are enough trilogy smarts and in jokes to still make it a fun ride. With Neve, Courtney, David and co all returning, that affinity with the characters is still present and I enjoy the callbacks to the previous entries. The series remains one of the best written and fun in horror, and it’ll always be dear to me, even if it isn’t a patch on Part 1.
5. Music Of The Heart
I imagine I’ll get a lot of heat for this one, but for some reason I’ve always enjoyed the ‘tough kids get won over by teacher’ movies. I don’t know why, but they give me a kick. To see Wes Craven making one, to see Wes Craven directing a Meryl Streep movie, is still hilarious to me, and I think he pulls it off. Sure, there isn’t an original bone in its body, but it proves that Craven can work completely outside horror and make an effective light-hearted drama. Streep even got nominated for an Oscar, as did the title track, but it was a box office flop. It’s a little overlong and probably came out a few years too late, but it’s still one of my under the radar favourites.
4. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Craven’s first experiment with meta or post modern horror or whatever the hell you want to call it, sees him returning to his most famous franchise and ostensibly releasing his most feared creation upon the real world. New Nightmare’s set up is that Heather Langenkamp – Nancy from the original movie – is married and has a son, and that the boy’s nightmares about Freddy are somehow bringing the clawed killer into the real world. This means we have various actors, writers, and directors playing themselves while being stalked by Kruger. It’s clever, and it’s violent, with Robert Englund playing himself, playing traditional Freddy, and playing the all new, more vicious Freddy.
3. The Last House On The Left
Englund’s first impact on the horror scene was this low budget exploitation movie about a family resorting to revenge and torture upon the rapists and killers who did the same to their daughters. It’s a film of two halves, each half complementing the other while advancing the plot and showing how violence begets violence. The first half follows a couple of teenage girls heading to a concert but who are attacked by a group of killers, the second finds the killers accidentally stopping off at the parent’s house and seeing the tables turned. It’s not an easy watch and Craven doesn’t hold back in his depictions of torture, rape, and murder. The remake ups the budget and gore and makes for an interesting companion piece, but for me it lacks the gut punch and shock of the original.
My top two picks aren’t going to surprise anyone. Scream is a perfect film in my eyes. I understand why others will disagree with me and I’m not so blind to agreeing with its criticism, but that doesn’t change how I feel about it. It’s my generation’s horror movie and even though I was 13 or 14 when it released it still felt like it was made for me. I understood most of the references, I loved the twists, I recognised most of the characters in myself and people I knew, the dialogue was sharp, and the cast was peppered with people I either already loved or would come to. It gave us two new horror icons in killer Ghostface and heroine Sydney, played by my other world wife Neve Campbell. It’s funny, stylish, and has some great scares and kills, and it’s a movie I’ll never tire of.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The only film which could beat Scream is my favourite horror movie of all time. This is the one which got me into horror, even before I’d watched it. I knew Kruger, I knew the plot, and I’d seen bits of it when I was a child, and the artwork in the video stores always intrigued me. It’s one of Craven’s most successful movies, it’s his best work, his most inventive, and it is even critically acclaimed to a certain degree – not always unusual for horror, but definitely rate for one so visceral. The film and its villain gained iconic status leading to a long series of spin-offs and sequels, none of which have matched the skill and precision of the original. Langenkamp and Englund are terrific, the effects are nightmarish, and the idea of someone stalking your dreams (for the sins of your parents no less) remains potent. Horror often bleeds into fantasy, but I don’t think it was ever worked so successfully than with this undoubted masterpiece.
Let us know in the comments which movies you would include in your Top Ten Wes Craven list!
Greetings, Glancers! It’s been an age and a half since I did one of these Top Ten Tuesdays lists, and that is simply unacceptable. As it’s the season of ghouls and murder I’m going to throw my head into the ring and let you know my Top Ten favourite Horror Movies of all time. Now, I haven’t put a lot of thought into this – I’ve just gone back to my old, faithful, never updated since created Top 250 IMDB favourite movies list and picked the highest ranking horror films. The lowest ranking movie in this Top Ten comes in at 40th in my IMDB list – so you know how much I love horror when 10 movies appear in my top 40 favourite films of all time.
Yes, I’ve loved horror all my life, and I’ve always been the morbid kid. One of my first Primary School stories came back with a note from the teacher saying I had a keen interest in the macabre. I had no clue what that meant, or how to pronounce it. Most of my stories and the games I imagined up to play with my friends involved monsters and gruesome mayhem. And ninjas – it was the 80s after all. I’ve probably mentioned it before – how I was always drawn to the horror section of the VHS store – and I don’t really know where it comes from. I think some of us are just born the right kind of wrong. That’s a good thing too, otherwise we would have never had many wonderful works of fiction and film.
I’m not saying any or all of the below films are wonderful, or masterpieces, or anything like that – just that they represent a decent picture of what I love from the genre (however some of them are genuine masterpieces). I don’t think this list will be too different from any horror fan’s list but maybe there will be a few surprises. If I went back to my Top 250 there would be some definite changes, not just to the ordering but additions, removals, and not just from the horror genre. Enough warbling though. The below ten films are as good an introduction to Horror Movies as any, and they have provided me with a lifetime of entertainment and insight. Scares? Yeah, scares too.
10. Interview With The Vampire
This is probably the most controversial and least loved film on my list. I’m actually surprised I had it so high on my Top 250 too, but there you go. I do love the film, and it’s a great adaptation of one of my favourite books. The cast is top notch, it looks gorgeous, it’s sexy, bloody, and in Claudia we have one of my favourite tragic figures.
9. The Lost Boys
The ultimate MTV generation movie. One of the coolest movies ever too, but you had to be there around the time of release to see that, because watching today it looks either cheesy as hell or a product of another world. It’s vampires again, but rather than mopey, sorry figures, these guys are perma-teens of the cool kids club – sleeping all day, partying all night, pouting in leather and denim. Again there’s a great cast, everyone is ultra-hot, it’s hilarious, quotable, and endlessly entertaining.
8. Night Of The Living Dead
Probably the most important film on the list, this is where modern horror truly kicked off – Psycho started things rolling, but this brought realism where Psycho still felt like a movie. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the film where zombies feel most plausible and most scary. Other films use their zombies for sheer shocks and gore, Romero included, but here they are at their most chilling – we don’t know where they’ve come from, they look like our loved ones, and they just keep coming.
I’m going to assume everyone has seen this. It’s the ultimate gateway horror film, and one its best to see in your youth. Its scares range from jump-shocks, dread, tension, gore, but at its core it’s a story of man versus monster with universal characters and a simple, entertaining story.
Horror in the 90s was in a downward spiral – Scream almost single-handedly brought it back to relevance, making a tonne of money and getting praise from critics and fans new and old. As much as it nods, winks, and plays with tropes, it’s still an emotive story with a great heroine, tonnes of memorable dialogue and iconic scenes, and plenty of violence, laughs, and scares.
5. The Stand
I could get a lot of stick for this, but I don’t care – I love The Stand. It’s probably my favourite or second favourite book ever, and Mick Garris does it justice. Sure, some of the acting is painful in places and its age and budget are showing now, but the opening scenes and the following collapse of society were shamelessly stolen by The Walking Dead and yet are still effective. There are jump scares, there is violence, nihilism, hope, but it’s the ultimate battle of good versus evil. The soundtrack is also on regular rotation in my car/pocket. As much as I love it, I think an updated version could be epic.
4. The Thing
Now, these top four films – every one of them is a masterpiece – that can’t be disputed – and there isn’t much between how much I love, respect, and appreciate them. The Thing transcends horror – it’s one of the best movies of all time. It’s one of those movies I can’t really fault… the only thing I would say is, as great as the cast is, maybe we don’t spend enough time in the early moments with certain characters, and it can be difficult to differentiate between them. Regardless, it’s a perfect film.
3. Dawn Of The Dead
I can find fault with Dawn Of The Dead, and yet I love it just as much, if not more. The Thing is bad-ass, but Dawn Of The Dead was life-changing. I already loved horror, I already loved zombies, but this opened up a whole new world – it’s one of those movies that feels like something I would make or write. You know when you’re starting out as a writer or performer or artist – and I’m speaking to those of us who started young – as children – you get an idea and you begin tossing it around your juvenile mind, working out the plot and intricacies, and then one day you find out that someone else has already done it. They got there before you, and did it better than you ever could – suddenly you see your dream or nightmare on screen before you, but rather than being bitter, you love it. Someone else gets it. That’s Dawn Of The Dead, and it’s mind-blowing every time.
This one was also life-changing. I already love foreign movies, Japanese movies, but my experience of Asian Horror was fairly limited. When I first saw Ringu around 1999 I had never seen anything like it. It was modern, beautifully shot, paced to perfection, and holy heavens did it scare my soul away. I couldn’t buy it anywhere, but once it came to TV a year or two later I recorded it and must have watched it every day for a week, showing it to my brother, sister, friends, and loving it every time. I don’t think I’ve had a horror film which has made me do that before or since. Sure I have recommended films to people and have sat people down and forced them to watch some movies, but no movie felt so necessary – I had to see and feel their reactions and I had to be part of that world again. I love the sequels, I love the books, but this is where it started. I was picking up every single Asian horror film I could find after this.
1. A Nightmare On Elm Street
I don’t want to say this is where it all began – the first true horror film I remember seeing was Salem’s Lot – but really this is where it all began, and where it’s still at. Those VHS stores I mentioned – the Elm Street movie VHS covers were the ones which most caught my eye. Sometimes there would be a poster or cardboard cutout of Freddy there and I’d look at it cautiously, waiting for it to come to life. Who was this guy? What was that glove about? What happened his face, what was he doing? Somehow – credit to the wonderful powers of childhood imagination – somehow, though reading the backs of the videos, looking at the pictures, and splicing together rumours, by the time I was 6 or 7 I kind of had the whole thing worked out. I knew Krueger’s name, I knew the 1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you song, I knew that he got you in your sleep, and yet I didn’t see any movie until years later.
I somehow caught the last minute or so of the movie once, and that stayed in my head for years, even after I finally watched the whole thing. The same goes for snippets of other films in the series – something about the characters crept inside me on a personal level to the extent that I credit Krueger, Craven, and the series as being my true doorway to horror cinema. That idea of not being safe in your sleep is something chilling for all of us, but I think it’s something kids are especially susceptible too. We’re supposed to go to sleep, dream sweet dreams, and wake knowing we are safe and warm and loved. Craven turns that upside down and inside out, and goes further, exploring that idea that it’s the fault of the protector, the parent, that we are put in this mess. That idea is explored in many of his films – the mistakes of the parent coming back to haunt the child, but it’s perfected here. I still have a crush on Langenkamp, and while the film doesn’t remotely scare me any more, I can still put it on and love the imagination, the characters, the nostalgia, the story, and all of the more artistic and technical elements.
So there you have it, my very own favourite horror movies. What are your’s? Let us know in the comments! Before I go though, as a bonus, I have other genre crossover movies which some would consider horror or as having horror elements that I rate just as highly, if not higher than some of the above (in other words, they are not lower than 40 on my Top 250 list):
Firmly placed in the action genre – it’s essentially a chase movie – nevertheless The Terminator has a lot in common with the slasher genre. There’s a final girl, an unstoppable killer, tonnes of violence, and plenty of kills.
Unstoppable killer, violence kills, sort of a final girl, but a bunch of bad-ass marines kicking ass. Predator is a horror icon, even though this is more entrenched in the sci-fi genre.
Unstoppable killer, violence kills, a definite final girl, but a bunch of bad-ass marines kicking ass. The Alien is a horror icon, even though this is more entrenched in the sci-fi genre.
It’s questionable that anyone should include this in the Horror genre… but if it’s not, then what the hell is it? Drama, action, satire, and horror elements – kids forced to kill each other. Regardless, I still say it’s the best film of the 21st Century.
Is comic book adaptation its own genre? There are loose connections to horror here, with the unstoppable killer being the hero. The dark visuals and the origin plot are horror.
Assault On Precinct 13
Like many (most?) of Carpenter’s movies, this is a siege film. There isn’t anything supernatural, but it features hordes of faceless gang members attacking relentlessly – Night Of The Living Dead anyone? Also – ice cream.
It’s lighter and more family friendly than Jaws, but it’s still Spielbergian horror. Kids under threat from dinosaurs, huge unstoppable monsters, nowhere to run – good stuff.
Happy October everyone – Happy Halloween, Happy Horror Watching, and don’t forget to share your comments and memories!
The sun is shining and my mouth is open. That can only mean one thing: I’m talking crap whilst rubbing myself in the front garden…
11. Aliens. (1987, Cameron): Aliens has a nice blend of Science Fiction, Drama, Horror, Comedy, even Romance, and dialogue which would shine in any genre film from the aforementioned genres, AND manages to blend into a seemless whole. Nothing seems out of place, and the balance between the gung-ho and the tender is perfect. Most of the film fixes on our group of hard as nails Marines, but we also get great lines from Scientists, suits, mothers, and children. Bit players like pilot Ferro get to say future Buffy classic ‘Five by Five’, and Frost (when informed they can’t use their firearms) ‘What the hell are we supposed to use man? Harsh language?’ while Sgt. Apone gets the best military dialogue sounding like a hardened, Vietnam vet: ‘Check those corners’, ‘Look into my eye’, ‘Assholes and elbows’ etc etc. Ripley and Hudson get the best bits. Everyone knows Hudson’s ‘Game over, man’ and Ripley’s ‘Get away from her, you BITCH’, but rarely a minute passes without something special being uttered; I honestly can’t pick a favourite, but I imagine it would be something from Paxton.
12. Battle Royale. (2000, Fukasaku): Battle Royale is less about the quotes and more about the action, emotion, and general Japanese wackiness. Although the likes of Kitano and Mitsuko get some memorable one liners, I think my favourite (and yours) has to be taken from our favourite fun-filled BR survival video; Woman is explaining that you each get a back-pack with food, water, and special item/woman produces hatchet from back-pack/woman grins and says ‘This one’s super lucky!’
13. Dawn of the Dead. (1979, Romero): Romero’s epic is filled with entertaining pie, gore, and blood pressure machine related hijinks, as well as plenty of well documented social commentary. Naysayers would say that this is just a mindless zombie film, but in many ways the power of the script is in the quiet moments where nothing is said; Fran staring through the shop windows at begging zombies, the utter horror of the situation felt by a suicidal soldier in the opening segment. The script does have plenty of zingers and memorable speak, best of all when discussing the inevitability of it all. Fran says ‘It’s really all over… isn’t it?’ when viewing the last gasp talk show solutions, Roger gives the simple comment ‘Jesus, it’s everywhere’ and gives my current favourite line in his final moments when hoping that he won’t die and come back as a zombie ‘ I’m gonna try… not to… I’m gonna try… not to… come back. I’m gonna try… not to… ‘ It’s at once funny, pathetic, tragic, and horrific.
14. The Crow. (1994, Proyas). The Crow made superhero movies Tits at a time when superhero movies were Balls. A lot of this was down to the Proyas look and feel, but most of it was down to the faithful adaptation of O’Barr’s grim comic. While there is the expected assortment of action movie one-liners, the script transcends the norm with moments of poignancy, thankfully none of which require the volume to be turned up to 11 and a world language/accent chip inserted into your brain.
The Sound Of A Dog Barking Backwards
The message of the film is ultimately one of redemption and remembrance, though it is the downbeat lines which come off strongest such as ‘Victims; aren’t we all’ and ‘childhood’s over the moment you know you’re going to die’ and my current favourite ‘nothing is trivial’ which can be understood in many ways.
15. The Stand. (1994, Garris): Stephen King’s greatest standalone epic gets an insane but justified amount of praise. The TV mini-series which adapts it? Not so much. Looking past the cheese, the (at times) cheap feel, the Molly Ringwald, you’ll find there is a bad-ass story about the end of the world which retains a bright outlook throughout even though almost everyone dies. Not to mention the glorious soundtrack. King wrote the screenplay, so you can be sure that there will be plenty of creative swearing and memorable one lines.
There is plenty of religious and spiritual spewing and some classic baddy lines from Flagg and crew, and even those who haven’t seen it or read the book know about M-O-O-N – that spells Meme. If I’m ever in dire need of some motivation though, nothing helps quite as much as a dose of Mother Abigail. ‘I’m 106 years old and I still makes my own bread’ is great while ‘mayhap it is or mayhap it ain’t’ gets used at least once a week. My choice today goes to immortal poultry related madness, a quote which I will endeavor to reenact frequently once the apocalypse hits: ‘Come down and eat chicken with me, beautiful, it’s sooo dark!’ Beautiful indeed.
16. The Thing. (1982, Carpenter): For a film which features only men, dogs, and aliens in extreme isolation , you’d be right in assuming that those on screen aren’t the chattiest bunch. Most of the men keep to themselves, either swearing at chess cheating computers (‘cheating bitch’), or following through after an Antarctic Curry (‘Which one of you disrespectful men have been tossing his dirty drawers in the kitchen trash-can, huh?’). All it takes to spice things up is the introduction of a spindly booty-stealing, arm-chomping alien freak. This leads to such treats as ‘I don’t know what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off whatever it is’ and ‘You believe any of this voodoo bullshit?’. However, one of the greatest movie shapeshifting scenes leads to one of the greatest sci-fi one liners ever. It’s not much of a line in and of itself, but after what we’ve seen and the way it is impeccably delivered, it is undoubtedly a classic: ‘You gotta be fucking kidding’.
17. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. (1989, Herek): As we eagerly await the inevitably disastrous 3rd film in the series, it’s good to look back at a more simple time – the late 1980s. This was a time when there was no such thing as terrorists in the US, when we had no idea what a Snooki was, when a Hilton was something to climb into at night and regret staying in for so long the next day
Music was more simple too, with MTV playing a healthy dose of good rock, bad rock, and crap rock. Senor Cobain and his wonderful ilk were on the verge of telling us that rock music did not have to be vacuous, empty, juvenile, flaccid garbage but until then we had to rely on Mr Reeves and Mr Winter for most excellent guidance. Amongst all the obvious ‘wooos’ , ‘boguses’ and ‘San Dimas High School Football Ruleses’ it is my little French friend, Napoleon, who gets my most quoted lines. ‘Le glace?’, ‘Attend!’ and of course, the reason why Bill’s little brother stopped looking after him – ‘He was a Dick!’
18. Edward Scissorhands. (1990, Burton): A timeless, perfect movie with wonderful performances all round, Edward Scissorhands is a bittersweet, twisted fairytale which catapulted Johnny Depp to superstardom. You’d expect a film about a weirdo with scissors instead of hands to be ripe with interesting dialogue
but Scissorhands charms us more with its imagery, quirky style, and performances. It’s also surprisingly funny, something which people seem to have forgotten over the years, with plenty of slapstick and visual gags. My favourite comedic line from Ed: ‘Mrs Monroe showed me where the salon’s going to be….. And then she showed me the back room where she took all of her clothes off’.
19. Scream. (1996, Craven): Scream was revolutionary in many ways, almost single-handedly bringing the horror genre back to profitability and back into the minds of critics who normally dismiss the genre for being dumb. Williamson’s script plays with plenty of tropes of the genre in a post modern way, but while poking fun at the genre it also pays its utmost respects. Unlike many of the other movies which were played for cools at the time, the dialogue here hasn’t aged at all – the only thing that has changed is that today we have a group of kids who are much more aware of horror clichés and old movies thanks to ease of access; in 96 it was still an unusual geeky thing to be a massive horror movie fan, now it’s much more widespread and acceptable. We all remember the questions and the rules, but what about Billy’s epic ‘That woman was a slut-bag whore who flashed her shit all over town like she was Sharon Stone or something’? or Sidney’s simple but evocative and pertinent ‘But this is life. This isn’t a movie’.
Why Yes, Mr. Nightman, I Will Marry You
20. Wayne’s World. (1992, Spheeris): Like Bill and Ted before it, Wayne’s World can be accused of dumbing down the rock music genre and making its fans look like morons, but this isn’t a satire, it’s just a love story about our relationship with the music we adore with a lot of silly moments and appreciation for big hair and guitars. Once again, we all know the obvious lines which have gone down into folklore, or worse, memes. I offer my quartet of underappreciated delights from Garth: ‘If she were a president, she would be Baberham Lincoln’, ‘Hey Mr. Donut Man, who’s trying to kill ya? I don’t know but they better not! AUGH UGH oh, that’s not good, I’m not happy! Oh NO!’, Glen: ‘You know, if you stab a man in the dead of winter, steam will rise up from the wounds’ , and Wayne: ‘No Stairway. Denied!’
Aah, Halloween- the most wonderful time of the year. When even those who wouldn’t usually subject themselves to all manner of terrors decide to watch the odd scary movie or 2. Unfortunately for me, this part of the Spac Hole which I currently inhabit does not indulge in the season as seriously and joyfully as other places, so I have always felt a little deprived. Sure, we had some parties, sure we threw fireworks at Gerry’s house, and yes we would watch whatever limited choice of movies were on over the few days but compared to other places (particularly you festive folks in the US) it just didn’t seem as much damn fun. In my mind, the whole month of October should be a vessel for Halloween activities, from dressing up to trick or treating, to watching scary movies and hiding under the beds of people you don’t know with a chainsaw.
To that end I have helpfully made a few lists of classic horror movies which sould chill you to the bone, and add to the singular atmosphere of this most evil time of the year. This list of 31 movies was created so that you can split the fun over the entire month (alternatively you could wait until closer to the day and have a few marathon sessions) and let yourself tremble ever so slightly in the supposed safety of your own home. Just be sure to lock your doors and windows, close the curtains, and tuck up the kids tightly in bed (checking underneath and in closets for me) before turning off the lights. Maybe check those locks once more, you can never be too sure or too safe. Oh, what’s that? That noise from outside? I wouldn’t worry, probably just the wind. By all means go out and check, but that would mean going into the basement to find batteries for your torch. Really, just relax and watch the film, your paranoia can’t hurt you. The thing outside, yeah- it could hurt you. But you locked the doors, right?
These don’t have to be watched in any particular order, but some would suit the big day (or night) better than others. This is not meant to be a list of the best or even my favourite horror movies (though I love them all) but rather I feel these offer something of the atmosphere of Halloween. Enjoy.
An American Werewolf in London: This one has it all- gore, jump scares, atmosphere, action, humour, and a great plot with likeable characters. WereWolves, like Vampires have taken a rather glossy beating recently. This proves that you can wrap up a love story with horror without being teeny, without being sparkly, without being demeaning to viewers with brains. Classic Halloween scene: The Nazi section.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: Wes Craven, Johnny Depp, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Robert Englund- lovely ingredients for a tasty Halloween Pie. This is the original and best, before the horrific character of Freddy (Here just Fred) became a snuggleable, bantering chum. What could be better for Halloween than scaring yourself so badly that you can’t sleep- knowing that something terrible may be waiting for you in your dreams. A story with more depth than it gets credit for, dealing with the Craven standard of ill-advised parenting and how the children have to cope with the mistakes of the elders, this is full of genius set pieces and bloody action. Classic Halloween Scene: Nancy gets a bloody post coital surprise- but not what you’d expect. And did they say she was 14??
Alien: Often described as Halloween in space, or a Haunted House in Space, Alien deals with our fears of isolation, of being trapped, of being in s situation way beyond our control and way above our heads. Remove the alien, remove the setting, and this could be any slasher movie from the time. However, that would be taking away the fun, the fear, the atmosphere, and the ingenuity. This is dark, claustrophobic stuff, and the perfect film for Halloween to make you look out the windows into pitch darkness and wonder if something is staring back. Classic Halloween Scene: Dallas goes hunting, but realizes too late that he is the prey.
The Blair Witch Project: Similar to Alien this deals with our fears of isolation and the un-experienced unknown, but spices things up with issues of abandonment, paranoia, and things that go bump in the woods. A classic survival tale for city folk poking their ill-prepared noses where they don’t belong, Blair Witch succeeded because of it’s innovative filming and marketing techniques. It still succeeds today amongst a rubbish tip of similar films because the plot is solid, the acting is real, the rising tension and fear played out between the characters feels exactly like how we would react, the growing dread is almost unrivalled, and the climax is absolutely chilling. Classic Halloween Scene: The search for Josh in the freakshow house at the end will get you tingling and gripping the seat every time.
Creepshow: Halloween isn’t just about traumatizing each other, it’s also about good old fashioned camp-fire tales to warm the heart and soul. This is cheesy at times, but never boring or irritating, it feels nostalgic both for children of the 80s and of the 50-60s. The tales are brief, well written and acted, the effects are still top-notch with an earthy feel, and the scares are tense and fun. Classic Halloween Scene: Trying to convince your abusive wife to enter a box where a monster lives has never looked so enjoyable.
Candyman: Both Cliver Barker and Tony Todd are vital ingredients in any scare-fest- put them together and you’d better have a few spare pairs of pants lying around. An intellegent, sexy, city based horror which merges old world supernatural fears with the modern world of big business, CSI policework, snooping journalists, and end of the century hairdos. Barker at his height was a fountain of invention, bringing a freshness to the genre which made everyone else’s ideas look like old creaky mummy movies. Candyman merges urban myths with ancient folklore, mysticism with science, gore and shocks with beauty and lyricism. Todd’s presence is as powerful as any of the classic monsters, while Madsen gives a refreshing twist on the final girl character. Classic Halloween Scene: Hook through the chest.
Carrie: One for the teens this, though it may have aged some due to being so authentically 70s, the scares and the themes of abuse, loneliness, bullying, and separation are no less relevant or universal today. The story is simple but pumped up by ideas of religion, extremism, and psychotic mummies (not those ones). The acting by the main players is superb, there is something bleak about the whole sordid business, and we manage both to sympathize with and be scared by Carrie. And wish we had her gift. De Palma twists the tension knobs until they break off, though some of the intrusive camera guff is laughable now. Classic Halloween Scene: Everything between the bucket dropping and the school burning.
Child’s Play: The evil doll is a well worn sub genre of horror, but one which has very few, if any, classics. Child’s Play is amongst the best, and the series is certainly the most notorious. Like many 80s horrors, the series was unfairly derided for it’s supposed impact on our youth with some people going so far as blaming it for some grisly murders. As with most of these series, the quality decreased as the sequels increased, but the original remains surprisingly effective given the silly subject matter. If you don’t know the story- multi murdering maniac transfers his soul into a popular doll moments before his death, doll is picked up by young boy, doll begins murderous rampage again until it realises that it needs to sacrifice the boy to become human again. There are sure to be some laughs, some screams of just kick him in the balls and throw hm out the window!’, but maybe a few jumps too. Classic Halloween Scene: Chucky terrorizes the baby-sitter and we all jump when the phone rings.
Dawn Of The Dead: There is something quite special which you may not know about Dawn. If you watch it at Dawn- depending on where you live etc, try to time it where the film will just be ending as the sunrises. Then go for a walk immediately. It’s likely there won’t be many people around. The ones you will see will probably be shambling. The bleak nature of the film rarely hits harder than in these moments and you will surely look around yourself and feel a stark aura fill your being. There are few things more terrifying than waking up to an otherwise beautiful day and not wanting to be any part of it. Classic Halloween Scene: So many to choose from, from funny, to scary, to bleak, but I’ll go for the truck parking section as we realize that paradise can quickly become hell, and a haven can suddenly become a tomb.
Day Of The Dead: Surely the most grim of all the DEAD films, this is perfect Halloween viewing, not only because of the exquisite gore and effects. Claustrophobia and paranoia again play a large part, and you can’t help wondering why all these psychopaths keep getting in the way of your enjoyable apocalypse. Most people would be happily looting and whiling away their days watching DVDs, playing games, reading books, getting drunk, but there always has to be a crazy doctor or maniacal military group to spoil your good times. Halloween is all about good times, stick this on to reap the benefits. Classic Scene: When the Zombies step on the lift and it begins moving downwards- you just know all hell is about to break loose.
Dracula (30s): A classic to chill the bones of all comers, this still has the ability to… worry those who haven’t seen it before. A film that’s almost a hundred years old- how could that possibly be scary? Well, there’s a reason why this is still considered the best version. Classic Halloween Scene: When Harker first meets The Count.
The Exorcist: Now we get into the truly demanding territory. A rarity in the genre, The Exorcist was a massive financial and critical hit upon release, pampered with awards and then…uh, banned. It may not be as hard-hitting these days, but it’s still rough, creepy stuff. Plus it is played extremely coldly, and without a hint of humour. This is as bleak as horror gets, and even the supposed happy ending leaves us with a bitter, fearful taste. Excellent performances, bewildering jump scares, and freaky moments all conspire to chill the soul and ensure you cuddle up to your beloved in bed. Classic Halloween Scene: Spider walk.
The Evil Dead: This was mostly played for scares over the played for laughs sequel, and while there is humour here, the main focus is on sudden frights and wonderful, innovative camera techniques. You’ll have fun watching this one as each character gets picked off, comes back, and gets picked off again. Classic Halloween Scene: Cheryl at the window, not in the cupboard.
Friday The 13th: One of the original slashers and one of the most successful, this one has plenty of ideas and violence, and staples of the sub genre which have now become clichés. It has dated, it is silly and quite tame, but it was made with love and ambition and freshness. The ending is shocking, the performances are ok, and there isn’t a hockey mask in sight. Classic Halloween Scene: Arrow through the neck- don’t have sex kids.
Final Destination: Another rarity- an inspired modern horror film with great ideas which blends humour and genuine frights. We have a series of characters who rather than getting picked off one by one in an uncaring fashion, are shown to be real kids with real lives, fears, and concerns- and then they are picked off one by one in increasingly exciting, tense, and innovative ways. A film which deals with our fear of death, of inevitability succeeds on every level. Classic Halloween Scene: During a heated discussion in his car, one reckless character refuses to accept that his life is pre-destined or that death is stalking his every move. To prove the point he parks his car on train tracks with his friends as the train hurtles towards them. He soon realizes he was wrong.
The Fog: One of the great campfire spook stories, The Fog is still sadly underrated. Carpenter creates a wonderful atmosphere here which suits the season perfectly- even better if you’re near the sea or if there is fog around. Classic Halloween Scene: The introduction with the wizened old sailor sets the tone for the rest of the show, and should set the tone for your night.
Hellraiser: Another British one now, offering something different from our American cousins. We have sex, violence, lots of gore, and some S&M themed fun. This is gritty in an Eastenders sort of way- you don’t really want to look or have anything to do with these characters. Classic Halloween Scene: When Kirsty first meets the Cenobites- what is the finger in the mouth about?
Halloween: What more can I say? This is the movie which should be watched every Halloween- not only is it a genuine classic of the genre and a kick-ass movie no matter which way you look at it, it drips with and evokes that special Seasonal feeling that few things do. Make this the highlight of your night. After you’ve cut some throats. Classic Halloween Scene: Young Laurie runs screaming down her street being chased by a murderous maniac. She clambers to the front door of a neighbour, knocks and begs for help. A light is turned on. Then switched off. Did they think it was just kids messing around? Were they too afraid to help? Welcome To America folks.
Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (70s): Some us like to dress up at Halloween as ghosts, vampires, or our favourite horror movie characters. Some people go further and pretend to be the person that the costume depicts. This definitive version of Bodysnatchers takes the idea of hiding behind a costume to dramatic and terrifying extremes- what if person next to you on the bus, your neighbour, your friend, your wife, or child was no longer the person they once were? In fact, what if some alien creature had taken their body as host and was walking around as an imperfect mockery of that person’s life? What if this alien race had designs on all your friends and everyone you’ve ever known, and what if you were next? This chilling view of a world snatched away from under our noses is all about loss of identity and mistrust, and makes for unsettling Halloween viewing. Classic Halloween Scene: The final moments. I’ll say no more.
Night Of The Living Dead: A staple of midnight viewing, the surrounding darkness makes the black and white all the more stark and cold; There are no easy answers or happy endings here. If you are watching this with a group of people, ask yourself which ones you would trust in a life/death situation. If your cosy home was surrounded suddenly by thousands of undead, who amongst you would come out as leader? Would you sit back, would you make decisions, would you think only of yourself or would you think of the safety of the group? Either way, you’re bound to get a chewing. Classic Halloween Scene: They’re coming to get you, Barbara.
The Omen: So far we don’t trust our neighbours and friends, but what if you thought your son was the Antichrist? The Omen is an apocalyptic film in more than one way and is filled with strong performances, gripping and bloody deaths, and a memorable, frightening score. Music is often pivotal in horror movies, and as you clamber the stairs to bed after this, with infernal monks chanting obscenities in your head, that corner of darkness you can’t quite see clearly may fill with unspeakable evil more readily. Classic Halloween Scene: Damian decides to ride his bike.
Prince Of Darkness: I find this to be Carpenter’s most underrated film mostly because it is awesome and should be mentioned in the same breath as Halloween and The Thing. Sure the plot is messed up with it’s evil green satanic liquid taking over zombies and bums mixed with time-travelling dream messages and psych jargon, but seriously it is awesome. It has more effective jump scares than any of his other shows and there is a creeping sense of dread and atmosphere throughout. In many ways it is classic Carpenter- a group of different thrown together in a building who have to team together or fall apart and stand against an overpowering threatening external force. It is a siege movie, it is clever for the genre though at times it doesn’t know what genre it wants to be. I think that was part of the fun though- like Big Trouble In Little China it is more than just it’s labels instead transcending notions of what it should or shouldn’t be, and is well ahead of it’s time. Classic Halloween Scene: The final survivors holding up behind some furniture while one of the crazies admires himself in a mirror with a large blade.
Ring: Please please please watch the Japanese version, not the abomination that is the remake. Sure the remake has plenty of jump moments, but it also has a deer on a boat, Brian Cox in a bath, and a director who decides it would be clever to cut away from the movie’s most important scene for the sake of a car chase. The original has Nanako Matsushima and Hiroyuki Sanada and if that isn’t enough of a recommendation then please remove thine eyes from mine page post haste. Watch this deep into the night, possibly as the last film, then play the lovely game of phone your friend once they have left to terrify them. Unfortunately the ideas first seen here have been so over-used that these games have become diluted, but the film still has an unflinching power. Not a drop of blood is shed, there are no knives, guns, or people bursting in from behind doors with a loud noise- this is the best horror film of the nineties and goes against everything that decade threw at us. And it’s a damn good story with excellent performances. Classic Halloween Scene: Sadako. TV. Sleep tight.
Scream: The second best horror movie of the nineties is the stuff of parties. By know everyone should have seen it, but many of you will have forgotten it and how good it still is. Plenty of shocks, laughs, scares, and action as well as a script the quality of which horror movies rarely get. And my beloved Neve Campbell is in it. Few horror films provide this much entertainment whilst still being scary, funny, and clever. The nods to horror movies will keep the nerds amongst your bunch happy and you can shout out when you spot a reference. Classic Halloween Scene: The final house chase scene as Neve doesn’t know where to run or who to trust.
The Shining: It’s rare for most people to get snow at Halloween, even more rare to be completely snowed in and surrounded. Try replacing the notion of snow with rain or darkness- would you want to go wandering outside if it was completely dark or hammering down? Anyway, this is another film which plays on isolation, claustrophobia, and paranoia. It’s probably best not to watch this one as a cosy night in flick with your little family- you’ll start wondering what the hell is going through each other’s minds. This is a giant of the genre with heaps of atmosphere and plenty of unsettling moments which deserves to be menti0ned at any Horror Movie Marathon. Classic Halloween Scene: Danny was warned not to go in that room. Prepare to be scared when Daddy goes looking too.
Silence Of The Lambs: The critic’s choice. Don’t invite any critics to your party as they will moan, groan, bore your girlfriends, and likely drink all your wine. There should be wine. This is nasty stuff from start to end as poor Jodie Foster tries to solve a murder whilst hiding her own fears from the unlikely Terminator Anthony Hopkins. This is better suited to smaller group viewing as it isn’t exactly cheery, blood n guts fun but it does the job when you’re on your own. Classic Halloween Scene: Anything with Bill really.
The Thing: In many ways the ultimate John Carpenter film, the ultimate macho man fest, and the number 1 examination of the paranoia which creeps into people during periods of isolation. The effects here still blow me away and they are only part of a long list of quality to describe this film- look at the cast, the performances, the music, the scares, the cinematography, and the way Carpenter drags the tension out of every shot until we don’t know who has been infected and who hasn’t. Great action adds to the great scares, but the special effects and story are kings here. Classic Halloween Scene: When the survivors are tied to chairs and Mac goes through each one by one to test if any are not human. Genius.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: This one still hurts today- it’s just so damn grim, dirty, and repulsive as to make the horror timeless. Sure they scares may be cliché now and the gore is almost non-existent, but the low down atmosphere, the miniscule budget, and the amateur (but good) performances all conspire to make this uncomfortable watching. I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who still think that there could be a family like this in their town, just as much as I’m sure that there probably are still families or people like this in the world- maybe not in your town, but possibly the next one over. And chainsaws are awfully easy to come by these days. Classic Halloween Scene: The entire dinner scene. Truly horrific, the use of sound and various camera techniques make this one of the most intense few minutes in any horror movie.
28 Days Later: A modern classic, and one of the few great British horror movies of the last few decades. Taking riffs from Romero and King this is a post apocalyptic survivalist’s wet nightmare. Empty streets, shops to loot, cars to steal- all great if it wasn’t for the hundreds of thousands of psychopaths charging towards you in search of your blood. This is the 21st century folks, and zombies ain’t got time to amble and stumble about- these are confident, successful, modern big business, stepping up to the plate, corporate bull-shitting zombies, and they won’t take closing a door in their face for an answer. If you can’t run fast, you’re screwed. And just to make things Mega Man 9 difficult- these fiends don’t even have to bite you to kill/convert you- one drop of their blood/saliva entering your body, through a gash, a scratch, a kiss, or a tear is enough it recruit you. And sheesh! They don’t even give you time to grieve for your fallen comrade- within seconds of getting exposed, your best friend will be diving for your jugular too. My advice- kill everyone you see and hide under a pile of coats till it all goes away. Classic Halloween Scene: An abandoned car sitting in the middle of an abandoned London- nothing to fear but technology.
The Wicker Man: Nothing to fear but religion. Look closely enough and all religions begin to look like cults; they all have a figurehead, the followers worship the figurehead unquestionably and offer prayers, thanks, songs, and sacrifices, there are certain rituals usually borne of centuries long since dusted, those involved are usually inviting to outsiders in person, but have a secret hatred, anger, or issue against them once backs are turned. So we have The Wicker Man, possibly the best British Horror Film of the whole sorry lot. Aah, the confusion of two worlds colliding as we watch a upstanding lawman and guardian of his own archaic faith fall victim ever so slowly to a cult even more decrepit than his own. He knows something terrible is amiss, but it isn’t until his toes turn to cinders that he realizes his fate was sealed the second his feet touched the land. Classic Halloween Scene: When we first see Mr Straw and realize our hero’s fate.
Paranormal Activity: Proof not only that horror movies still have the power to scare, entertain, and bring in the mega bucks, proof not only that a good story well executed can be more than a match for buckets of blood, but also proves that in this day and age of $200 million dollar movies that a small group with talent, an idea, and a few months worth of average salary can make a great movie. Romero did it in the 60s, Carpenter did it in the seventies, Raimi in the 80s, Myrick and Sanchez in the 90s, and now Oren Peli has continued the tradition. Using every trick in the book he has made a classic pastiche of the genre and a thrill ride akin to running naked through a field of land mines. The setting of the movie is perfect for Halloween viewing- primarily it is set in the home and most of the scares happen at night- the film invades you with a sense that you aren’t safe in your own house and makes you take a second or third glance at that cup that you swore you set on the table which now sits on the ground. Likely to lose its impact with subsequent viewings this is best served to people who haven’t seen it. The scares (while you sense them coming) are unexpected and rewarding and while the characters are painfully annoying, you’ll still soil your drawers. Classic Halloween Scene: NEVER leave your foot hanging out of bed.
Trick R Treat: Anthology movies have had their heyday- we had a succession of British hits in the 70s, then a slew of bloodier efforts in the 80s. Then for 20 years anthology fans didn’t have a lot to be excited about aside from a few cheap efforts (although Asia did produce some great ones at the turn of the century). Trick R Treat is good enough to kick start a revolution in the genre, or at least it would have been had it been released in any cinemas. Straight to DVD (yet with a decent budget and big name cast) Trick R Treat features four shorts linked by an over-arcing plot and is to Halloween what presents are to Christmas. This one is destined to be shown and loved every Halloween for years to come, possibly as a double header with Carpenter’s classic. Classic Halloween Scene: The creepy opener sets the tone for the movie and features everything we love about the season, dripping with atmosphere, and settling us in for a bumpy ride.
Please leave your comments and suggestions for films you think are best viewed at Halloween, and let us know which films terrified you when you were growing up at this time of year.
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.