I am a horror movie fan. My tastes range from the slasher genre to ghost stories and it is my film belief that zombies or vampires make everything better. Yesterday I bemoaned the lack of any good horror flicks in the cinema which reminded me that I have enough DVDs to own my own rental store. My horror movie collection is adequate and I thought I would list my favorite flicks of the season that aren’t the usual suspects. In no particular order of course.
12. May (2002)
Plot: May never really fit in and growing up with a pirate's patch to cover her lazy eye did not make things easier. Even as an adult her best friend and sole companion is a doll given to her by her mother... until she sees Adam. In awe of his beauty especially his hands she pursues a relationship for the first time in her life. But she soon finds out that people are not 100% perfect... only certain parts of them are.
Why It’s Good: I love this film. May is a mousy, socially awkward girl whom you cannot help but love. Angela Bettis plays her with a fragile beauty and her attempts at romance and friendship are ones you can relate on some level to. She spends her evenings confiding in a doll her mother would never let her take out of its glass casing and wishing she had someone to call her own. When she finally feels comfortable enough to venture out and away from her isolation things don’t go the way she had planned. The film is part black humor horror film, part bizarre romance and part tragedy. It’s a great film (I even went as May one Halloween dressed as her Halloween costume) that most people overlooked. They shouldn’t have.
11. Suspiria (1977)
Plot: Jessica Harper (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) stars as Suzy Banyon, a young American ballet dancer who arrives at a prestigious European dance academy run by the mysterious Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett of DARK SHADOWS) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli of KILLER NUN). But when a series of bizarre incidents and horrific crimes (including what Entertainment Weekly calls "the most vicious murder scene ever filmed") turn the school into a waking nightmare of the damned, Suzy must escape the academy's unspeakable secret of supernatural evil.
Why It’s Good: Thanks to my best friend Paul, I learned the joys of Dario Argento. This stylishly beautiful film has the creeps and scares you would expect in a horror film. It has one of the best opening scenes I have ever seen and the bizarre color palette, haunting music, and menacing atmosphere doesn’t stop until the very end. While the plot may be a little convoluted, it doesn’t matter. Any film where a man’s Seeing Eye dog attacks him is certainly worth watching, don’t you think? And Ugh maggots in your hair and hairbrush, its enough to make this girly girl cringe every time, but that is why I love it.
10. Exorcist 3 (1990)
Plot: After the death of Father Karras in the original film, his good friend, Lt. William Kinderman is sent on a mysterious murder investigation. Victim after victim starts appearing, with the blames being placed on an old frail woman. Could these murders relate to demons and possession? And how does the patient, who claims to be the Gemini Killer fit into all this?
Why It’s Good: Of course the original Exorcist is a horror movie staple as it should be. Now most of us forget that Exorcist 2 ever happened and walk on over to the real sequel. I think it is as creepy as the original (hallway scene anyone) and relies more on unsettling you than assaulting you with an over abundance of gore or green bile. Some may find it slow, but it is one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. There are some great moments of dialogue. George C Scott gives a great performance as does Brad Dourif who will always be his character from this film despite my love for the LotR trilogy. A creepy little film that scares you just when you have your guard down and has those iconic memorable scenes.
9. Session 9 (2001)
Plot: A hazardous-materials-cleanup company has been hired to eliminate asbestos tiles and other toxic material from a gigantic mental hospital that had been shut down in the 1980s. But as one member of the team starts to nose into old files in the office, he uncovers a series of tape recordings of psychiatric sessions--nine of them--related to a notorious sexual abuse case. Soon, toxic materials and dark spirits start to merge.
Why It’s Good: For me some of the best horror films are those that rely more on taut plots and build on creepy atmospheres than on flimsy plots and heavy doses of CGI. Session 9 belongs in the creepy atmospheric category. It is a horror film, a thriller, and a psychological character study all in one intensified by creepy shots, spooky sounds and chilling voices that whisper in the dark. I’m not a big David Caruso fan and the fact that I love this film despite him is a testament to how great this film is. One of my favorite scenes involves one of the characters finding some coins stuck in a wall and discovering a treasure, but it isn’t what it appears to be. Excellent film.
8. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Plot: During the Spanish Civil War, young Carlos is abandoned at a completely isolated orphanage. The tensions therein have been building for years, exacerbated by the unexploded bomb resting menacingly in the courtyard. Bullies scheme, tempers flare, and a ghost that visits Carlos's bed seems to be the key to it all.
Why It’s Good: From the mind of Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy), who I adore, comes a film that is more a drama with ghosts in it rather than just a straight horror film. It is stylish and well paced with a great atmosphere that relies on as much foreboding as your typical horror film. In my opinion it has some of the best ‘ghost’ effects that I have seen with ‘The One Who Sighs’ from the minute little water bubbles to the blood in water effect. The Orphanage holds more than the murdered boy and watching it all unfold is a delight. So worth checking out.
7. The Orphanage (2008)
Plot: The Orphanage pivots on a pretty woman and an unusual child. When her old orphanage goes on the market, Laura (Belén Rueda, Amenábar's The Sea Inside) and Carlos (Fernando Cayo) settle in with their son, Simón (Roger Príncep). Once acclimated to the remote seaside surroundings, they plan to re-open it as a home for special-needs children. Meanwhile, their seven-year-old doesn't know he's adopted or that he has a life-threatening illness. He does, however, have a lot of imaginary playmates. When Simón disappears without a trace, his parents contact the police, but to no avail. Because Laura has been hearing odd noises and having strange visions, they proceed to consult a medium. Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin, speaking perfect Spanish) is convinced they aren't alone. Carlos has his doubts, but Laura makes like a detective and revisits her childhood--through photographs, home movies, and exploration of the spooky stone manor--to determine who or what abducted her son.
Why It’s Good: Speaking of orphanages and horror films that aren’t really horror films, Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage is amazing. If you haven’t seen this film, you really should. Another highly atmospheric film, it does have jumps even the ones you completely see coming and jump anyway. The film is eerie, thrilling and sad. And let me say you will never *ever* see me play 1,2,3 knock on the wall. Ever. It’s a great film, one of my favorites this year.
6. The Gift (2001)
Plot: When Jessica King goes missing, all eyes turn to Annabelle Wilson. Not as a murder suspect, but as a clairvoyant. Many of the towns folk go to Annabelle for help, and Jessica's fiancée, Wayne Collins, turns to Annabelle for possible guidance. Annabelle feels that she can't help, but this doesn't stop her from constantly getting visions of Jessica's fate.
Why It’s Good: Directed by Sam Raimi, starring my big girly crush Miss Cate Blanchett, and written by Billy Bob Thorton, this is a southern fired gothic horror tale. The visuals are great (look for Danny Elfman playing a fiddle in a dream sequence) and the soundtrack haunting. Best yet you get some amazing performances by Cate, Giovanni Ribisi and Greg Kinnear. But beyond that there are some great visuals and I am all about the visuals. Some people thought this was too predictable and there are certainly a lot of red herrings, but like my other choices it is a film that relies on atmosphere.
5. House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Plot: Vincent Price stars as a deliciously silky millionaire married to a greedy gold digger (Carol Ohmart) who refuses to divorce him. When he turns his wife's idea for a haunted-house party into a contest--$10,000 to whoever will spend the night in "the only truly haunted house in the world"--it seems he may have found an alternative to divorce. Five strangers gather to test their stamina, Price hands each of them delightfully twisted party favors (loaded handguns, delivered in their own tiny coffins), and the spook show begins.
Why It’s Good: I have to have at least one of Vincent price’s movies in my list if it is Halloween season and this is one of my favorites. Though I also own Dark Castle’s remake with Geoffrey Rush, CGI inkblots ruined it for me. Is it terribly scary? No. Most of it is just campy fun and I would have loved to have seen this back in the day when the skeleton flew at you from the screen. But it has some great witty banter between Frederick and Annabelle and the ending leaves it up the viewer on what really happens in the end.
4. The Strangers (2008)
Plot: Inspired by true events, this heart pounding, nail-biting frightener mercilessly explores our most universal fears, where simply opening the door to a stranger leads to a grueling night of terror one could never imagine. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman star in this relentless suspense thriller that will keep you up at night and make you never want to answer the door again!
Why It’s Good: “Because you were home.” It’s unsettling. It’s creepy and works because of how simple it is. There are no huge sets, creepy CGI effects or even haunting score (though there is one). Instead, it relies on rattling the viewer with a story that could happen. We don’t get a clever back story on the villains. The sound design is amazing and a skipping record of of folk country music has never been more creepy. In fact just thinking about the unease this film creates gives me the shivers, especially since I live in the middle of the country. You’ll love the sense of dread this will bring.
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Plot: Brain-hungry zombies shamble through the streets of London, but all unambitious electronics salesman Shaun (Simon Pegg) cares about is his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), who just dumped him. With the help of his slacker roommate Ed (Nick Frost), Shaun fights his way across town to rescue Liz, but the petty concerns of life keep getting in the way: When they're trying to use vinyl records to decapitate a pair of zombies, Shaun and Ed bicker about which bands deserve preservation--New Order they keep, but Sade becomes a lethal frisbee.
Why It’s Good: I had to have at least one zombie flick in here and despite my love for Raimi and Romero, Edgar Wright is my hero. I love this film. It’s brilliant in its hilarity and snark. It has great performances by all involved and while playing with the genre, manages to do everything it is supposed to do without being too over the top. If you haven’t seen this film, shame on you.
2. The Frighteners (1996)
Plot: In the sleepy little town of Fairwater, a monstrous evil has awakened...an evil so powerful, its reach extends beyond the grave. For Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), death is a greatway to make a living: ridding haunted houses of their "unwelcome" guests." But he's in cahoots with the very ghosts he promises to evict! It's the perfect scam...until Frank finds himself at the center of a dark mystery. A diabolical spirit is on a murderous rampage, and the whole town Why It’s Good: Peter Jackson directed this little gem that is part black comedy, part horror and part thriller. The performances are great especially Jeffrey Combs’ demented little agent. I find it clever and a great little blend of elements.
1. The Others (2001)
Plot: Nicole Kidman plays a young woman named Grace who is awaiting her husband’s return from the war with her two young children. They live an unusually isolated existence behind the locked doors and drawn curtains of a secluded island mansion. Then, after three mysterious servants arrive and it becomes chillingly clear that there is far more to his house than can be seen, Grace finds herself in a harrying fight to save her children and keep her sanity.
Why It’s Good: Scary and stylish, this film relies on its haunting atmosphere and chillingly good score to build the suspense. There are no CGI inkblots or over the top makeup, which seem to be modern day ghost story staples. Instead, you have an old fashioned ghost story that will keep you guessing. To this day, this is one of the few horror films that I have been to where the audience actually screamed.