5. The Funhouse (1981, Hooper)
Amy, Buzz, Richie, and Liz decide to spend an evening at an amusement park and hide in the horror tunnel to spend the night there. They witness a murder committed by the monstrous son (Kevin Conway) of the entrepreneur who, noticing their presence, will begin to hunt them down. When you hear the name Tobe Hooper, it’s always in the context of “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Poltergeist”. Perhaps “Salem’s Lot” too but his other works are usually ignored.
“The Funhouse” is not necessarily a “fun” movie, because, for the big part of the film, it’s very slow. Especially for an early 80s studio slasher, it feels like a bold choice. However, it slowly involves you and then prepares you for the big, very effective finale. How is he doing it? By exploring the seedy traveling carnival atmosphere.
There are so many influences to be found from Hitchcock and Carpenter but still, it feels like Hooper’s own. He’s not too interested in cheap thrills, instead, when it comes to violence, the film is more suggestive than explicit. Hooper is seemingly more interested in unsettling the viewer than it is in grossing them out and it pays out. Quentin Tarantino recently released his book “Cinema Speculation” and he had an entire section dedicated to this film which is fun to read.
4. Deadly Blessing (1981, Craven)
How many horror directors have launched two incredibly successful horror franchises? Wes Craven did it with “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” but his whole career is full of great films. One could choose something else here too, maybe “A New Nightmare” which seems like still doesn’t get enough recognition. “Deadly Blessing”, for whatever reason didn’t get much love from the critics.
However, it’s an important film in Craven’s filmography which is some kind of bridge between his early horror films and his later commercially successful ones. More than that, it’s a pretty damn great one. The setting is amazing, the cast is very good, the score is incredible, the girls are pretty, the kills are all great, and as you can expect from Craven, he’s giving us a great dream scene as well. Craven is never simply interested in scares. His films always have depth to them, and here he’s exploring some interesting themes as well like ostracism. The ending might be a little divisive. You may think it brings the film down or it makes it all even better. No matter what you think of the ending, you must surely enjoy most of the film if you’re a fan of Craven’s stuff in general.
3. The Happiness of Katakuris (2001, Miike)
The head of a household of a Japanese family that has four generations under one roof fulfills his lifelong dream and opens a rustic mountain inn. When the first guest dies, the body is buried in the park, but things can’t go back to business because it’s only just the beginning of deaths. Takashi Miike is an incredibly prolific Japanese filmmaker who’s well known to anyone who loves cinema for his films “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer”.
He directed films in various genres, not just horror and this film is specifically picked for that reason alone because it’s a brilliant mix of comedy, musical, and horror. He’s made a lot of films that one would call “weird” and this one is in the same vein. You might also think it’s a little too gimmicky but hard to deny that it’s constantly entertaining and interesting because when you look at it, it has stop-motion animation, wacky musical numbers, zombies, lots of laugh-out-loud moments, and… well, almost everything else. It’s an endlessly creative, consistently surprising ride. That said, surprisingly, it also has a genuine heart.
2. Matinee (1993, Dante)
Seriously considered putting this one on number one but if we’re talking about horror films, it’s still better to finish with actual horror. “Matinee” is not a horror film but it’s made by an amazing director who made lots of great horror films and this is about his love for horror cinema.
The film takes place in the 60s and our lead character is Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton), a young horror fan. He and his family move to Florida because their dad is deployed to work on a submarine just off the naval base. Soon later Cuban Missile Crisis happens. Meanwhile, William Castle-like Lawrence Woolsey is trying to bring his new movie to the town. They befriend and the story goes on. The movie is just wonderful. It has many of Dante’s signature elements; he’s an expert at directing child actors and creating authentic young adult characters.
Dante often says “every film is political” and this one indeed is. Yet, everything element comes together so amazingly. This is a love letter to the movies he grew up with but also to the horror fans and the directors who made those movies. The movie calls us to choose the horrors of cinema instead of the horrors of wars and violence. Just a beautiful, charming film and a must-see for everyone, not just horror fans. Mr. Dante is one of the last old-school filmmakers alive. Hopefully, he’ll still be able to make more films as he hasn’t been able to make one for a while.
1. Someone’s Watching Me! (1978, Carpenter)
There has to be a John Carpenter movie if we’re here talking about the masters of the genre. It’s of course, fitting to put him on number one. In fact, the most fitting choice here could’ve been the Carpenter-directed episode “Cigarette Burns” on the show “Masters of Horror”. It wasn’t the best horror show ever but at least it delivered some truly great episodes and “Cigarette Burns” might have been its best. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. However, the choice here is still one of Carpenter’s television works.
Through the years, fans have called “Someone’s Watching Me” as “The lost Carpenter film” as it was not easy to find on home video. Carpenter was writing lots of scripts early in his career, he sold some of them and when he was hired to write a script based on a true story about Chicago, the studio liked the script and offered him to direct.
Thankfully, Carpenter also got creative freedom to direct in the way he wanted and that’s why the film turned out to be so good. Lauren Hutton plays a woman who moves into a fancy apartment building and starts receiving mysterious phone calls. Soon we learn that there’s a stalker in the building across. The cinematography here is so amazing and the atmosphere is very involving. It’s not one of his most original works but it’s a constantly entertaining and thrilling experience. He later used some of the techniques he learned here on “Halloween”.