When it comes to movies, there's nothing more satisfying to me than a good, balls-to-the-wall (or even better,balls-hacked-off-with-a-machete-and-flung-at-the-wall. In-3D) horror film.
Call me a romantic fool, but there's nothing more cathartic after a hard day in the university labs—being yelled at by Richard Gere's agent for misplacing a shipment of guinea pigs or accidentally pulling a Herbert West in the cadaver room—than putting on a z-grade creature feature and unwinding whilst imagining that the gormless hatchet-fodder currently having their internal organs reclassified as "external" is your mean professor of choice.
The problem is, although I've watched literally thousands of horror movies, wading through enough corn-syrup/red-food dye stage blood to put Quentin Tarantino in a sugar and/or orgasm-induced coma, out of all the countless scary movies I've seen, only a handful have ever been truly- well, scary.
Fear is of course, relative—indeed, sometimes fear is *a* relative (just ask Gary Busey's family—they haven't had a good rest in a decade, as if they take their eyes off him for more than a moment, he'll decapitate them in their sleep), but horror films are supposed to be terrifying, dangnabbit.
If I had a buck for every horror film with an impressively dentitioned monster, or maniac with a bloody (insert your favourite edged power tool here) on the poster and a blurb from Stephen King saying "this film is so scary I shat out my tub of popcorn *before* I ate it", then I'd long ago have amassed enough money to buy Bruce Campbell's life and pass it off as my own.
Take my razor-fingered glove now, gentle reader, as I lead you through the swamp of cinematic terror and point out to you the horror films that have tested the tensile strength of my favourite sphincters over the years. Just beware the moon…and stay off the s'mores.
(Note that these are almost all fairly old films—primarily because today's horror flicks are all-too often lame, cookie cutter PG snoozefests, and the words "PG-Rated" and "Horror" go together about as well as "Mel Gibson" and "Fisting"):
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)
-Once you get over the sci-fi fangasm of Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright on the same sound-stage, you'll discover that this film is a pitiless juggernaut of terror designed to separate you from clean underpants for weeks to come. It's the first and best of the three remakes of the classic Fifties film in which alien plant creatures seed the Earth with pods that destroy sleeping humans and replace them with exact duplicates that lack all human emotion. It's like World of Warcraft, only with chlorophyll.
JOHN CARPENTER'S THE FOG (1980)
– John Carpenter is my own personal lord and saviour. Conveniently, he even has the same initials as the Christian one, so I don't have to change my bible accordingly.In THE FOG, Carpenter follows up his mega-hit HALLOWEEN with a film that is arguably even scarier- featuring a preternatural mist with something lethal lurking within; yes, even
worse than passing gas in a crowded elevator. It's a tense, pared down tale of ghostly revenge, ancient secrets, Adrienne Barbeau's voice redefining the word "sultry", nasty eviscerations with cutlery and the macho, masculine presence of Eighties horror film icon Jamie-Lee Curti…er, I mean Tom Atkins. Don't even bother with the useless 2007 remake, which doesn't even have the decency to show us Tom Welling's arse during his shower scene.
THE BURNING (1981)
-Beginning unlife as a quickie cash-in of the F13TH "maniac in the woods chucks kids who chuck woodies like woodchucks" genre, THE BURNING quickly transcends its hockey-masked step-parent and becomes simultaneously horrifying and awesome…like Wayne Newton's face. A nasty summer camp janitor, Cropsy, is burned to a crosp—sorry—crisp, in a prank gone wrong, and spends the rest of the film showing the kids responsible that revenge is a dish best served badly charred and with a side order of fucking enormous gardening shears. Bonus fun-play spot the major star in their first roles (Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, Jason Alexander) helping Cropsy play pin-the-shears-on-the-college-student.
JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING (1982)
– Yes, it's another Carpenter flick. What can I say? The man knows how to scare people more effectively than Swine Flu, the Sleestaks and the Teletubbies combined. THE THING is arguably still the scariest movie ever made, 27 years after the fact. An American scientific research outpost in Antarctica is beset by a shape-changing alien mimic, which quickly takes over several of the men on the base. The race is then on for our hero, MacReady (Kurt Russell, sporting a beard you could build a thatched roof out of) to find out who is human before the shapechanger absorbs the whole outpost and then moves on to the rest of humanity for pudding. The mounting levels of paranoia get to the viewer even more than Rob Bottin's special effects, making this the perfect film to take a date to—if you never want to trust or be alone with them ever again.
Best line- Gary (after being proven human): "I know you gentlemen have been through a lot…but when you find the time I'd rather not spend the rest of the winter *TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!*
ANGEL HEART (1987)
-Robert DeNiro, is only in this brilliantly diabolical detective drama for around 15 minutes of screen time, but he's so chilling in the role of the (literal) boss from hell—alternately charmingly debonair and bestially, menacingly evil—that his cameo here more than makes up for him sleepwalking his way through every role he's had for the past ten years. If only he'd ripped out the moose's heart in THE ROCKY & BULLWINKLE MOVIE, cut off Ben Stiller's penis and fed it to him in MEET THE FOCKERS or boiled Dakota Fanning in a huge vat of soup in HIDE & SEEK, I reckon he'd have several more Oscars in his bathroom cabinet right now. Actually Bobby, it's not too late—kill Ben Stiller now and you'll earn my eternal gratitude…
-Italian splatter film about a terrifying musical production (terrifying in the scary sense, not in the "JESUS CHRIST THIS IS AWFUL SUPERSTAR' sense) that gets a taste of Alanis Morissette-style irony when the theatre the murder musical is playing at becomes the stalking ground of an actual madman, who begins exiting the cast stage right, left and centre with the aid of a big fucking knife and a seriously fucking creepy disguise—the mask of an enormous, predatory owl. This film is surely the most terrifying use of an owl onscreen since the sequence in HARRY POTTER & THE GOBLET OF FIRE where Hermoine finds out that Harry and Cedric Diggory have been playing hide-the-wand together.
"One Good…one Evil…One Body" is the neat tagline of this forgotten little gem (and is also a fairly accurate description of the Jonas Brothers- but that's a story for another day). After two people—a suicidal artist and an executed sociopath—die at exactly the same moment, but the artist is successfully resuscitated, it doesn't take long before the revenge-minded maniac's soul begins hijacking the artist's body to paint the town with fluids other than Red Dye Number 2. RETRIBUTION is that rare beast of a horror film that manages to successfully merge stark, nightmarish terror (the maniac's catchphrase, "Mother of God!" will most likely be screamed numerous times by the audience, too) with gobsmackingly brutal gore—one victim attempts to evade the possessed killer in a meat-packing plant by hiding *inside a side of beef*—needless to say, the killer and a fucking great bandsaw make sure the guy finds out the hard way what goes into a McNugget. Like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, RETRIBUTION features a final scene that will have your underwear stained a fetching shade of brown for the next month.
-Never mind the whole off-to-see-the-wizard, munchkins and red shoes shit; the titular living corn jockeys in William Wesley's under-rated shocker have worked out that the best way to get a brain is to rip it bodily out of the skull of any poor schlub who makes the mistake of trespassing on the abandoned farm which they call there's-no-place-like home. Even the scarecrows that *don't* come to life make the Uncanny Valley look like Fern Gully, and the three living scarecrows are almost as chilling as the skeletal, twig-stuffed, pumpkin-headed monstrosities on America's Next Top Model.
THE BURNING: CROPSY GIVES FISHER STEVENS THE OLD FIVE-FINGER DISCOUNT: