5. Mandy (2018)
Nicolas Cage has always been well-known for his extremely over-the-top acting, so starring in an extremely over-the-top horror film only seemed like a matter of time. His performances have always had a reputation for being marvelously unhinged and that talent is put to great use here, where he’s allowed to let loose as madman at the edge of his sanity. With direction from Panos Cosmatos, who made the equally surreal “Beyond the Black Rainbow”, it’s a match made in heaven.
Set during the early 80’s, the film is about Red Miller, a forest logger and recovering veteran living with his loving wife Mandy. During a night of tragedy, Red and his beloved are kidnapped by a psychotic cult led by Sand, a failed folk musician. For rejecting his advances, Mandy is drugged with LSD and burned at a stake, all for Red to watch. Enraged and filled with grief, he unleashes into a murderous rampage as an act of revenge.
Arguably, Mandy is one of the most unique horror films of the modern era. It’s a psychedelic, heavy metal-inspired revenge thriller soaked in blood red. It’s unapologetically violent, nightmarish, and chaotic. Of course, that’s exactly what’s so wonderful about it. There’s nothing quite as embracing of its own aesthetic as Mandy, neither before nor since. It’s a loud, angry film that demands your attention with every single kaleidoscopic frame it throws at you, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
4. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
There’s no director on Earth more known for the comically gruesome than Sami Rami, who’s a darling of horror lovers everywhere. With his most famous accomplishment, the Evil Dead trilogy (which may or may not come back on this list), he established himself as a master of camp horror and one of the defining filmmakers of the genre. In 2009, he took it upon himself to recapture the goofy magic of Evil Dead for both diehard fans and a new age of filmgoers.
Christine Brown, a loan officer desperately aiming for a promotion, makes the tough decision to evict an elderly Romani woman from her home. In revenge, she places a curse on the woman and makes her life a never-ending nightmare. She’s haunted mercilessly by demons and her soul is condemned for a place in hell, all while being reminded of her selfishness. Somehow, she must find a way to break the curse and escape her eternal torment.
As a modern follow-up to Evil Dead, it’s hard to call it perfect. Part of Evil Dead’s charm was its creative usage of practical effects, so it’s rather jarring to have a film attempt that level of campy grotesqueness with CGI. Despite that, it luckily succeeds very well at mimicking the sheer batshit playfulness of its inspiration. The film is riddled with hardcore satanic imagery, cruelty towards its main character, and a few bits of gross-out. There are plenty of moments that are equal parts scary and hilarious, which is quite an accomplishment. It’s both a disgusting and beautiful wonder to behold.
3. Hausu (1977)
Japanese horror films have always stood out compared to their western contemporaries. Where horror films from the US are valued for being “scary” or straight-forwardly frightening, the ones from Japan are known for their atmosphere. They rely more on building a sense of dread and otherworldliness to their stories, with much of them relying on surreal horror. The best example of this is Hausu (also known as House), one of the most famous surreal horror films ever made.
For summer vacation, a girl and her friend group of six travel to her aunt’s house. However, they soon find out that her home is haunted. On the surface, it sounds like a typical haunted house film, but what follows is anything but. Household objects come to life, one girl’s head is turned into a watermelon, and fingers are bitten off by a piano. Clearly, this is the strangest film on this list.
But what makes it stand out amongst the other entries is its peculiar elegance. It’s not really a film you could call “schlocky” or “trashy”, as it never exactly roams into the grotesque. It’s more like a trippy fairy tale for adults, much like Suspiria. There’s nothing convincing about the movie’s special effects, but they have the sophisticated simplicity of a child’s imagination. What lands itself on this list though, is its relentless narrative of nonsense. Lacking the restraints of a typical plot structure, it’s a flowing parade of dreamlike imagery one after another and for that, it’s a true experience.
2. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Evil Dead 2 needs no introduction whatsoever. The Evil Dead trilogy as a whole is a cherished treasure trove of bonkers horror cheese and there’s nothing more glorious. Really, both the first and Army of Darkness could’ve fit perfectly well on here, but the second one was the most obvious choice. Not just because it’s the fan favorite, but because it has the perfect balance of supernatural fun and goofy comedy.
Acting as more of a remake of the first than a sequel, Evil Dead 2 starts off the same way with Ash taking his girlfriend to a cabin in the woods. In it, he finds a recording warning him of the Necronomicon, known as The Book of the Dead. Ironically, the incantation to unleash the dead is read out loud in the tape, causing an evil demon to possess his girlfriend. When a group of strangers inspect the cabin, they all must survive a night of pure hell as the demon tries to turn them all into deadites.
Obviously, this film is a masterclass in horror comedy and to many, one of the funniest movies ever made. While the first movie takes itself relatively more seriously, Evil Dead 2 is a straight-up cartoon. A live-action Looney Tunes short with slapstick and gory violence blending together seamlessly. It’s a movie that knows what it is and wholeheartedly loves itself. That kind of confidence in its own absurdity is intoxicating, and a good reason why it’s a classic. In other words, it’s groovy.
1. Braindead (1992)
It’s hard to believe that before Peter Jackson broke into the mainstream with the legendary LOTR trilogy, he was an auteur of splatter comedies. In the early days of his career, he was just a young New Zealander obsessed with shocking his audience. He made such crude films as Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles, but the crowning jewel of this period undoubtedly has to be Braindead (or Dead Alive, as North America calls it).
The film follows Lionel Cosgrove, a timid pushover who lives under the thumb of his controlling mother. While on a date at the zoo, she follows her son and ends up getting bitten by a “Sumatran rat-monkey”, a diseased abomination of nature. As time goes on, she gradually decays into a zombie and begins spreading the virus to others. Lionel does his best to keep the zombies out of sight, but his life delves into utter chaos as a result.
In all the world, there isn’t a single film more tasteless, repulsive, and fascinatingly batshit as Braindead. Saying this film is gory might just be a huge understatement, since graphic content is littered in just about every scene and somehow manages to keep topping itself (especially the climax…dear lord). To Jackson, the human body is nothing but a mere toy to be torn to pieces, stripped down to the bone, and blended into a paste. The best way of describing it would be to call it the cinematic equivalent of roadkill. It’s stomach-churning, greatly disturbing, and you probably want to throw up while looking at it but by god, it’s too interesting to turn away from.