So you’re looking for a horror film to watch this October 31st, and you’ve already seen Halloween, Friday The 13th and every other film with a date in the title. You even sat through Halloween: Resurrection, and were stunned when Busta Rhymes kicked down a door with the zinger, “Trick or treat, motherf**ker!”
In terms of wit, verve and storytelling genius, Halloween: Resurrection is the second greatest horror film ever made. The first is anything else. What follows is a list of films that, while not necessarily the cream of the crop, still provide twenty socking reasons to dim the lights, fire up the jack o’ lantern and gorge yourself on candy this Halloween.
Also, it should be noted that compared to a movie where a bad rapper tells Michael Myers to “scoot, skedaddle, get the f**k outta Dodge”, and later fights him off with mixed martial arts, even the weakest of these films looks like a collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Dalton Trumbo.
20. The Burning (1981)
Had it been shot in late 1979, The Burning might’ve beaten Friday The 13th to the punch, been picked up by Paramount and become a phenomenon that spawned sequels, clones, a TV show, bath towels etc.
There’s plenty of talent in the movie: the effects are by Tom Savini, so throats are slit and fingers are hacked off, and the cast includes Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit) plus The Piano’s Holly Hunter in her film debut. The editor is Jack Sholder, who later directed The Hidden, and the producers are Brad Grey (The Sopranos), plus Bob and Harvey Weinstein.
Once again, a bunch of meddling kids get theirs courtesy of a barely seen psycho, this time a garden shears-wielding caretaker named Cropsey who takes revenge after being burned in a prank gone awry. Whenever Cropsey’s offscreen, though, the movie strays into Porky’s territory: the nerd watches showering starlets, jocks discuss masturbation while reading Hustler and the bully gets his comeuppance when he’s shot in the ass.
With its porno cinemas, prostitutes and blood-spattered walls, as well as a heavy breathing psycho who owns a subjective camera and a synthesizer, The Burning occasionally resembles Homecoming, Eli Roth’s fake Grindhouse trailer. That’s the film’s true home – playing to the rubes on 42nd Street, probably on a double bill with Don’t Go In The Woods.
19. Grizzly (1976)
When “eighteen feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror” runs amok in his national park, Warden Christopher George attempts to evacuate the area but is overruled by his boss, who fears bad publicity, so he turns to an eccentric bear expert for help and together with an eccentric adventurer they venture into the wilderness to trap and kill the beast, ultimately blowing it to smithereens.
If the plot of William Girdler’s movie sounds familiar, that’s because it was patterned after Spielberg’s blockbuster to cash in on Jaws, a move that paid off to the tune of $36m in worldwide grosses, making it one of the most profitable independent films of all time and Girdler’s biggest success.
It was producer Edward L Montoro’s biggest hit, too, so a year later he reteamed the filmmaker with stars George, Richard Jaeckal and Teddy the “trained but untamed” bear for Day of the Animals, another nature-fights-back yarn. The movie was not a success, so Girdler and Montoro went their separate ways afterwards, and not amicably: Girdler had to sue the producer to receive his share of Grizzly’s profits.
With such unscrupulous characters behind the scenes, you might anticipate a fast-and-cheap exercise in hucksterism, but like most of Girdler’s output, Grizzly’s a perfectly solid b-movie. For the budget and schedule, it’s well shot, tightly edited and goes about its business with the kind of simplicity that seems lost on modern filmmakers. Sure, it’s a knock-off, but it’s not the worst of ‘em.
18. C.H.U.D. (1984)
Six years before encountering Macauley Culkin, John Heard and Daniel Stern prepared for Home Alone by accepting roles in a low-budget horror picture that required them to wade through sewage and fight a monster that threatened to steal the show. It’s called The Method, people.
With its New York setting and nefarious officials, C.H.U.D. could be a 1950s monster movie, retooled for Reagan-era America. Gone is the Reds-under-the-bed paranoia of the Eisenhower decade and in, courtesy of Ronnie’s demolition of the welfare system, comes a critique of the rise in the city’s homeless population.
Or at least that appears to be the film’s “subtext.” Before going down that particular road, however, and claiming that this entertaining, often silly film is really a condemnation of Reaganomics, let’s not forget that it also features rubber monsters, a gratuitous shower scene and John Goodman as a cop who fails to notice that the diner he’s in has been surrounded by creatures slathered in KY jelly.
NYC, 1984: On the surface, life for Heard and Kim Griest is, if not peaches and cream, then yuppies and condominiums, as all their photographer/model couple has to worry about is whether or not the perfume they’re hawking “smells like faeces.” Not so Stern’s soup kitchen worker who like the rest of the city’s derelicts is far more concerned with the radiation-spawned monsters in the sewers. Yep, radiation is still the #1 cause of monsters, but in this decade, more money is spent denying the problem exists than tackling it.
17. The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)
If you associate Vincent Price with any one character, hopefully it’s Dr Anton Phibes, a demented Biblical scholar (and organist) who, following injuries sustained during a car crash, wears a rubber face mask and drinks through a hole in the side of his neck.
He’s also conducting a vendetta against the surgeons who failed to save his wife Victoria (Caroline Munro) on the operating table. Not just any old vendetta, mind you – this one involves recreating the 10 plagues of Egypt from the Old Testament. So one character is attacked by rats, another is eaten by locusts and, representing a plague of hail, one surgeon encounters a machine that spews ice.
It’s unlikely that anyone other than Price could’ve pulled the character off – capable of speaking only through an electronic voice box he created, Phibes’s voice is seldom heard, meaning Price has to bring him to life via body language. In even his more sympathetic roles, the actor appears menacing, but here he really pulls out the stops to create a flamboyant supervillain.
16. From Beyond The Grave (1974)
According to Hollywood, anthology films never work and fail commercially, so it fell to Amicus to make the pictures that came to define the genre (Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors, Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood etc.), the most fun of which is From Beyond The Grave.
Clever, atmospheric and (at times) very funny, the film comprises four stories (based on the work of R Chetwynd-Hayes) linked by Peter Cushing’s antique shop, Temptations Ltd, which has “lots of bargains. All tastes catered to – and a big novelty surprise comes with every purchase.”
The guest stars include David Warner (who purchases a haunted mirror), Donald Pleasance (who shows a child “an act of kindness” by murdering his parents) and Ian Ogilvy (who installs a door that opens on another that opens on another dimension). Special mention, however, must be made of Margaret Leighton as Madame Orloff, a flaky clairvoyant who specializes in exorcising elementals.
15. Basket Case (1982)
Dedicated to Herschell Gordon Lewis, Frank Henenlotter’s $35,000 debut is as cheap and tasteless as its pedigree would suggest, but less ineptly made. Disarmingly inventive, and shot on the sleaziest locations possible, Basket Case brings to mind the early films of John Waters, whose 70s Baltimore was as scuzzy-looking as Henenlotter’s New York City.
Described by Duane Bradley (Van Hentenryck) as looking like a squashed octopus, Belial is in fact his Siamese twin, who he carries around in a wicker basket to the understandable puzzlement of strangers. Separated against their wishes, Belial survives being unceremoniously disposed of in a trash bag to convince Dwayne to take revenge against the doctors responsible as well as their father, who Belial personally despatches with a circular saw.
When the movie played 42nd Street, Henenlotter was thrilled to see stills from his picture adorning a garish plywood archway, full of spattered blood, even though the caption (“His brother is a deformed twin!”) gave the plot away. By Henenlotter’s own (somewhat harsh) admission, nobody enjoys Basket Case because it’s great filmmaking but because it’s a fun time. Considering its pedigree, how could it not be?