Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Best Horror Movies of All Time

Note: This feature was originally posted on Myspace. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

The Best Horror Movies of All Time!

I wasn't a huge horror fan growing up. Other kids my age would talk about all these scary movies they'd watch - Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one I specifically remember them mentioning - but I was always out of the loop. It's not that I had a specific aversion to horror, it's just that, like many things in my childhood, the opportunity never really presented itself to me. And I wasn't really the type to carpe the diem.

At the ripe old age of 18ish, my horror obsession began to bloom (along with other things). It wasn't my first exposure to horror cinema, but it did mark a turning point where I slowly began to recognize my interest in the genre, and gradually began to associate myself with the term "horror fan". I like to attribute this change to the movie 28 Days Later, but in truth there were other films that played an important role. Still, seeing 28 Days Later was an iconic moment for me. It helps that I saw it in the theatre, and that it was such a damn good movie.

So enough of the background, whether you're already aware of my love of horror or not, you might be asking yourself, particularly at this time of the year, "what is zharth's favorite horror movies?" Well, you're in luck, because I'm about to tell you! Comments are appreciated. Feel free to make a list of your own, as well. After all, it's Shocktober, and this is what the month's all about!

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Although this list isn't specifically in order, this movie tops it by default, being not only one of my favorite horror movies, but one of my all-time favorite movies, period. I first saw it on television one October during high school age. I actually missed the very beginning, but from the strobe light dance rave scene, I was hooked. The movie is just fantastic. The atmosphere throughout is beautifully creepy. The demons are so well done...the problem with a lot of monster movies is that the monsters are either not scary, or look obviously fake. The demons in Jacob's Ladder are both real and terrifying. Plus, the whole movie is very artistically shot. And the psychological angle plays with your mind, something I thoroughly enjoy when I want to be entertained. I liked this movie for a lot of the same reasons I later became attached to the Silent Hill video game franchise. Psychological demon horror. And the issues of life and death and what to believe, who to trust. Masterpiece. One of my favorite non-demon scenes is when Jacob is lying in the bathtub, and the camera ever so slowly pans outward. Beautiful.

Aliens Trilogy (1979/1986/1992)

Here's the bottom line: I had serious nightmares about xenomorphs throughout my childhood. Maybe I'm making a leap here, but it might actually have something to do with the insomniac symptoms I sometimes experience. There was a period when I was deathly afraid of being the last person to fall asleep. That feeling of being alone, like as if the people sleeping were as good as dead, or just nonexistant. It was rather frightening. Course, now I feel great comfort in being the only person awake or around at any given time. I do still have a bothersome fear of arachnids, however, and I'm not 100% sure if it's a result of the xenomorphs or vice-versa. Bottom line is, xenomorphs freaked me out.

I have only a vague recollection of watching Alien for the first time. It must have been a summer evening, because I remember it was light out pretty late, until after dinner. Alien came on, I think before it even got dark, and I watched it in the living room. I don't remember much more about that experience, but when I think back on the way I used to view the Alien films, I can feel the fear deep in my gut. Even if it's not an entirely pleasant feeling, I respect things that can make me feel so strongly. As much as it scared me, I don't remember ever actually hating the films. I quite loved the sequel. And was still very scared by it.

Nowadays, though it's still pretty creepy, it doesn't freak me out near as much, but I can still respect it as a masterpiece of sci-fi horror. It goes back to that whole believability thing. The sci-fi atmosphere - in that ship, on the planet, the aliens themselves - they don't look or feel like sci-fi toys. And the seriousness of it all - this isn't a bunch of geeks getting off to wild hallucinated fantasies of intergalactic travel and bizarre alien lifeforms - this is seriously scary shit. I've probably always respected that aspect of it, too, even if not always consciously. H.R. Giger absolutely deserves some credit here. I still consider the xenomorph to be the perfect lifeform - in terms of perfect terror.

28 Days/Weeks Later (2002/2007)

There are very few films that I can credit for single-handedly getting me interested in a whole new musical genre. 28 Days Later introduced me to "post-rock", via the Sad Mafioso portion of East Hastings, a song by Godspeed You! Black Emperor used in the film's best scene. A man wakes up in a hospital, apparently coming out of a coma. The building is completely abandoned. Not a soul around. It's quiet. The man goes outside. The whole city is dead. Like as if everyone had just vanished. The man walks through town, not finding any life or signs of life, but finding clues that something very terrible has happened. And he managed to survive through it, while unconscious. Only to waken to an empty, lifeless, post-apocalyptic world. Panic sets in. Then he finds signs of life. But that's when the true terror begins.

A truly brilliant movie, which raises the bar impossibly high for the sub-genre of zombie horror. Even so, the sequel was every bit as good. Maybe even better. And a third installment is planned for sometime in the future. I hope to one day be able to refer to "the 28 trilogy" alongside "the aliens trilogy", but until then, these are two truly great horror movies for my collection.

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)

Quite possibly the greatest movie remake ever made. Stranded in an antarctic research facility with an unknown terror, likely not from this earth. That's a good start for a horror film, but what really makes this move unique is a combination of two factors, among other things. The first is the special effects. Some might say they went a little overboard, but I think the fx are not only iconic, terrifying, and memorable, but also suit the nature of The Thing perfectly. The other factor that serves this movie is the paranoia. Being cooped up for extended periods at the ends of the earth is one thing, but having to face a monster that has no true form, and can perfectly imitate other life forms, really tests your trust in the people around you. Any one of them could be a monster, and they wouldn't know, until it's too late. This is definitely my favorite of John Carpenter's films.

The Descent (2005)

Spelunking can be quite terrifying on its own, when things go wrong. Being stuck below the ground, afraid that your lights will run out, and that you'll be buried alive. Throw in an underground colony of carnivorous cave-creeps, and you've got yourself a horror movie. Better yet, The Descent boasts a nearly all-female cast. There's even a psychological aspect which parallels the descent into the earth with a descent into madness. This film is a sparkling jewel of modern horror.

Hellraiser (1987)

I only saw this movie and the first of its sequels a year ago, but I really dig its style. Sadomasochistic demons who are summoned from hell by solving a puzzle box called the Lament Configuration, to give the solver a chance to experience the ultimate in pain and pleasure. Awesome. These demons, the Cenobytes, are considered angels by some, demons to others. It's only a matter of perspective. Most well-adjusted citizens would consider them demons, however. The design of the Cenobytes (including the iconic Pinhead) as well as 'The Engineer' are awesomely creepy. Sometimes it just comes down to a matter of style, and I like Hellraiser's attitude. (P.S. You might as well throw in the sequel, Hellbound, as it's required viewing for any Hellraiser fan - I still, regrettably, haven't seen the rest of the titles in the series, though).

The Exorcist (1973)

I still remember the first time I saw this film. I was relatively young. I remember staying in the house, probably on Halloween night, maybe after trick 'r treating, and watching some horror movies that my mom had picked out for us. I remember watching The Exorcist that night. All I can remember thinking about it, after it was finished, was how gruesome it was. I didn't necessarily register it as a "good" movie at the time, but I was absolutely affected by it, and I respected its ability to thoroughly shake up the core of my being. I had never seen a film anything like that before. A lot of people praise this movie, and rightfully so. It manages to pull off the religious horror angle flawlessly. Very disturbing.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

A lot of people give this movie flak, but for me, the bottom line is that I thought it was terrifying. It might not be so scary if I sat down and watched it again, but first impressions are the most important, right? Being out in the middle of the woods, in the dark, and hearing strange noises, then having people disappear. That kind of situation speaks to me. Anyone who's ever been camping before, sleeping in tents, sitting around the campfire at night, particularly as an impressionable child, can identify with the fear that the Blair Witch Project invokes. And at its heart, it's an exhibition of the fear of the unknown. A true "let your imagination fill in the scary bits" kind of film. And even if it wasn't actually real, it did feel more real than most horror movies do.

Fire In The Sky (1993)

I don't know just how many alien abduction movies there are. In fact, I'd be willing to bet there are plenty more "space invaders" type alien movies than alien abduction types. But I suppose that's irrelevant. It seems to have cooled off mostly, but there was a period of time, I wanna say it was focused around the 90's (probably concurrent with the X-Files phenomenon), that a specific kind of alien scare was prevalent. The fear of being abducted, taken right out of your bed at night, and being subjected to horrifying experiments while in the presence of strange beings that look almost like man, but different enough to freak you out. And the fact that all of this could even happen without you remembering it, until those memories resurface, perhaps during hypnosis. Yeah, it's pretty far-fetched, but there was a time when it didn't seem so unreal. At least not to me. And it was, at one time, one of my biggest fears. Once again, I don't know if seeing Fire In The Sky prompted that, or if the movie was so frightening because of that fear, but the end result is that this movie terrified me more than most I saw during my childhood. I couldn't even look at the aliens for fear of their faces haunting my dreams. And the most unsettling part is that the movie was allegedly based on a true story...

Jurassic Park (1993)

I know it feels more like a "big Hollywood action/adventure" type movie than a horror movie, but if Jaws counts as horror, then so too does Jurassic Park. Besides, at least for a child, Jurassic Park was pretty darn scary. It was also one of the films that I saw the most times in the theatre. I don't remember what the count was, but I must have seen it at least 8 times while it was still running. Dinosaurs can be pretty scary, and this is probably the most well-made dinosaur film I've ever seen.

Carnosaur (1993) [and quite possibly its sequels]

It would be unfair to list Jurassic Park and not mention Carnosaur. Carnosaur is almost certainly scarier, but I didn't have the advantage of seeing it at the same young age I saw Jurassic Park. Even though its budget can't compare to that of JP, Carnosaur is pretty damn awesome for a B movie. And its dinosaurs are first and foremost horror creatures, and only secondarily prehistoric lifeforms. I need to watch these movies again.

And at this point, the horror titles start coming up in your memory faster and faster - too fast to comment on them all - and you realize that you've probably listed the cream of the crop already anyway. So I'll finish it with a brief Honorable Mentions list.

Honorable Mentions:
Black Christmas (1974)
Halloween (1978)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Friday The 13th (1980)
Carrie (1976)
The Shining (1980)
Night of the Lepus (1972)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Ju-on/The Grudge (2002)

I hereby reserve the right to glaring omissions.

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