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.

10.  Hellraiser  (1987)

It’s the film that introduced us to the horrifying Pinhead and the Cenobites, though — much like Jason in the first Friday the 13th movie — we don’t really see much of them until the end of the film.  But having Pinhead in small doses makes his appearance at the movie’s climax that much more effective.

The story is about a puzzle box — a Rubik’s Cube that opens a gateway to Hell.  But more than that, it’s a movie about flawed human beings and their relationships with one another.  It’s a story about a decent man, Larry Cotton (played by Andrew Robinson), his daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), and his unfaithful, scheming wife (Claire Higgins) — who had once had an affair with Larry’s brother, Frank — who’d found himself sucked into the Hell of the box.  But with Claire’s help, Frank has found a way to escape the Cenobites who torture him endlessly — until Kirsty unwittingly summons Pinhead and his minions herself.

The movie’s theme revolve around sex and sadomasochism, the violence is disturbing and graphic, and there’s no shortage of blood spilled throughout.  Hellraiser is frightening and suspenseful, and the scenes with the Cenobites are nightmarish.  Doug Bradley’s work as Pinhead is masterful — as a force not necessarily of evil, but of nature — his character is fittingly:  scary as hell.

9.  The Fly (1986)

Even more surprising than seeing a John Landis-directed film on this list yesterday is seeing a Mel Brooks — yes, that Mel Brooks — produced film on today’s list.  And as the story goes, when this remake of the 1958 original was first screened, the studio executives present apparently thought they were seeing another wacky Brooks comedy like Blazing Saddles.  Oops.

But it wasn’t Brooks behind the camera, but David Cronenberg — which should have been a tip-off that the laughs were going to be few and far between.  What the audience would get would be a tragic story of an eccentric inventor’s misstep that leaves him slowly transforming into something no longer human.

Where can I begin in gushing over this film?  I nearly ranked it higher on this list, except that while I think it’s a better film than some of the entries ahead of it, it’s not necessarily a scarier one, which had to be weighed.  But the acting of the leads, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, is incredible — Goldblum was jobbed out of an Academy Award nomination (and Siskel and Ebert agreed with me at the time).  The special effects and makeup are astounding.  The story is rich in symbolism.  And the ending is one of the most heart-wrenching finales I’ve ever seen in any film, not just a horror film.  This is a film you owe it to yourself to see if you haven’t.

8.  Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George Romero’s classic that introduced the cinematic world to zombies introduces today’s offerings, and it’s a groundbreaking film in more ways than you might imagine.  One of only two black-and-white films that made this list, Night of the Living Dead was a low-budget independent movie that was Romero’s first work as a director (the low budget was the reason the film wasn’t made in color).  The black-and-white lends a gritty realism to the movie, as well as providing a nod back to classic horror cinema.  The plot is straight-forward — the dead have come back to life and are coming to get a group of disparate people hiding out in a rural home — and the cast is unknown.

The casting of African-American actor Duane Jones, who played the male lead Ben, as the hero in an otherwise all-white cast in 1968 was groundbreaking.  The movie builds up tension throughout, as the zombies effectiveness isn’t in their speed or ferocity, but in their sheer numbers that are increasing as the area of safety for the protagonists continues to shrink.  The violence and the gore are effective and disturbing, and unlike most movies of the time, there was no happy ending to send audiences home with.

Night of the Living Dead spawned a number of sequels, remakes, and copycats, and it’s the reason we have zombie cinema (like the excellent 28 Days Later and the upcoming AMC series The Walking Dead) today.  It’s a classic of the big screen, and if you’ve never seen the original — what are you waiting for?

7.  Psycho  (1960)

This entry stands out from the rest of the film on this list for a number of reasons.  It’s one of only two black and white films on the list.  It’s also the oldest film of the bunch, and the least violent, as there’s almost no blood and no gore to be seen anywhere.  And of course, it’s directed by the Master of Suspense himself, the legendary Alfred Hitchcock.

If there’s a problem for modern audiences in viewing Psycho, it’s that the surprises are long since gone, and it’s impossible for anyone today to replicate what viewers back in 1960 went through went they first saw the film.  Thankfully, my first viewing — when I was still just a kid many years ago — saw me unaware of the twists that today’s audiences are privy to, and I was just as stunned as they were back then when Janet Leigh took her shower — and never came out.

The film is a true masterpiece.  Anthony Perkins’ performance is brilliant, and the musical score is a classic that is instantly identifiable when you hear it.  It’s arguably Hitchcock’s finest film, and it’s a testament to the fact that you don’t need to show everything on film in order to get a reaction from the audience — or to scare them.

6.   The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Upon it’s initial release, Tobe Hooper’s film — presented as a true story (it wasn’t) of a group of friends ambushed and slaughtered by a family of cannibals while traveling through the sparsely populated regions of Texas — quickly became one of the most controversial movie releases of all time.

The film’s main killer, Leatherface, was modeled after real-life serial killer Ed Gein (as had been Norman Bates beforehand and Silence of the Lambs killer Buffalo Bill afterward).  And it was easy to see why many people believed that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a true story — the film itself had a grainy quality to it that many have commented make watching it akin to viewing a snuff film.

The sadistic violence and the gore, while at the time unlike what most audiences had even seen in a theater, are frankly nothing compared to what’s on the screen in the current “torture porn” movies (like Eli Roth’s Hostel, for example).  But the sense of terror that comes through on the screen is no less effective now than it was almost forty years ago.  Famous film critic Rex Reed once described it as “the most terrifying film he had ever seen”.   It’s also the film that in many ways — for better or for worse — started the slasher film sub-genre.

And finally — keep checking back as we recap our final top-5!

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

  1. […] So It’s Time For A Good Scare — My Top 20 Horror Movies Of All Time, Part 1 My Top-20 Horror Movies Of All Time — Part 3 […]

  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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