My Top-20 Horror Movies Of All Time — Part 2

Like any good horror movie franchise, here’s my sequel to yesterday’s list of horror movies that put a scare into me.  Today, I’m looking at numbers 15-11 on my list, counting down to my number one favorite later in the week.

15.   Suspiria (1977)

If there’s a movie in my top-20 that someone reading this hasn’t seen yet, then it’s probably this one.  From the mind of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, Suspiria was a film I had never seen until recent years, when it appeared in its uncut form on one of the myriad satellite channels I get (I believe, I saw it on IFC, though I can’t remember for certain).  I heard about it originally from the Bravo special running a few years back, the 100 Scariest Movie Moments — and I’m glad I did and wish I’d seen it sooner.

The hallmarks of the movie — a tale of a American ballet student attending a dance school in Germany where terrible things are happening — are the vivid colors used throughout, giving a nightmarish quality to the the story, and the music — a powerful soundtrack unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a horror film before.   Also, the violent deaths in the movie are brutally graphic and over-the-top in their depictions of blood and gore — it’s definitely worth catching the film in as close to an uncut state as possible if you can in order to get the full effect.

If you think that all horror films are nothing more than some masked killer preying on a bunch of horny teenagers, then this movie will change your perception dramatically.  There’s nothing really out there like it, and that’s a sign of what a horror masterpiece this movie is.

14.   An American Werewolf in London  (1981)

One of the more underrated movies on this list, it was directed by John Landis — yeah, that John Landis who directed Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Trading Places.  But don’t be fooled into thinking this a comedy by any stretch of the imagination, even though there are definitely comedy elements mixed in with the horror.

The plot follows two American students traveling in England, and their encounter with a werewolf on the darkened, fog-shrouded moors.  One of the students, played by Griffin Dunne, is killed while the other, played by David Naughton, survives — though he finds that he may have been better off if he hadn’t.

The English settings and the largely English cast give the film a tremendous atmosphere, as do the great sets.  The special effects at the time (the centerpiece being the main characters transformation into a werewolf) were groundbreaking at the time, and they still hold up strongly today.  I had a soft spot at the time for the nurse played by Jenny Agutter (at age 57, she’s still gorgeous today), and the story isn’t just a horror film — it’s a tragic love story as well.  But there’s no shortage of scares — the  nightmares suffered by the protagonist, for example, are as frightening as anything you’ll see on this list.

13.   The Evil Dead  (1981)

When I watched the scene in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 where Dr. Octopus’ tentacled arms come to life and brutally kill the medical staff trying to attend to him, my first thought was, “It’s moments like this where you can see Raimi’s horror movie roots shining through.”

This horror classic follows the story of five students who travel to an isolated cabin in the Tennessee mountains to spend a weekend.  While there, they discover “The Book of the Dead” and accidentally use it to summon a host of demons and evil spirits, which then begin to possess them.  Needless to say, the weekend goes pretty much all downhill from there.

The sequels that followed the exploits of the main character Ash (portrayed by the brilliant, underrated Bruce Campbell) were far lighter in tone than the original film.   Like a number of films on this list, the violence is graphic and disturbing, but the film isn’t just a sequence of violent deaths repeated ad nauseum.  It does beg the question, however — are there any films where people go to an isolated cabin in the woods and don’t end up dead?  Certainly, that’s not the case in our next film on the list …

12.  Friday the 13th  (1980)

The original that kick-started the long-running franchise of horror films, this is also the one that’s known as “The One without Jason”.  While the hockey-masked, unstoppable killer Jason Voorhees would become the face of the series, the first only features him as a boy (and possibly only as a hallucination) at the end of the film.  This movie does follow the standard series plot, though, of having a host of hot-blooded young teenage counselors going to Camp Crystal Lake — and slowly getting picked off one by one.

What sets this film apart from the others in the series — and why it’s on this list — is that, for one — it’s genuinely scary.   With the exception of one early death, the first half of the movie is mostly about building suspense — you know someone’s stalking the doomed counselors, and half the scares are in waiting for the shoe (or axe) to drop.  Unlike many of the other Friday installments, while there’s gore and violent deaths, there’s also plenty things you don’t see but have to imagine instead (this is probably the least gory of all of the movies in the series).

In addition, there’s actually attempts made to develop the characters, and the ending where the killer is revealed is a great twist the first time you see it (though, by now, everyone knows who the killer is — it’s iconic enough to have been used in the opening of Scream).  And as a bonus — it has Kevin Bacon in it for crying out loud.   Enough said.

11.   The Blair Witch Project (1999)

This entry will almost certainly be the most controversial on my list;  it’s definitely one of those, “You either love it or you hate it” entries there’s absolutely no in between with nearly everyone who’s seen the film.

Presented as found footage discovered a year after three student filmmakers vanish in the woods in Maryland, the movie was a triumph in independent film making, Blair Witch becoming the most profitable film independent movie ever released.  So convincing was the film-s unique set-up, that many viewers initially thought that what they were watching was a real documentary (and even today there are still people who think the events of the movie actually happened).

Unlike almost every movie on this list, there’s nearly no violence, no gore, and nobody dies (presumably) until the end.  So why is it on my list?  Well, it’s what you don’t see — and what your imagination tells you is out there — that makes the story scary.

My biggest complaints is a lack of much going on for the first two thirds of the film — stop arguing about the map already! — and the nausea-inducing movements of the hand-held camera (a necessity for the film’s premise, though).  But all faults are forgiven in the spine-tingling ending in the abandoned house, which left me more than unnerved when I left the theater and kept me that way the entire drive home.

Now up for your entertainment — click here for numbers 10-6!

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3 Responses to “My Top-20 Horror Movies Of All Time — Part 2”

  1. […] My Top-20 Horror Movies Of All Time — Part 3 We’ve made it alive to our top-10!  Today, it’s numbers 10-6 as we count down to my number one favorite later in the week.  For parts one and two, click here and here. […]

  2. […] my top-5 horror movies of all time.  If you missed the first three parts, you can find them here, here, and […]

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