Happy Birthday, you big ol' blog you. Today, we're going to let drop the Official ANTSS 31 Greatest Horror Flicks of All Freakin' Time. Bold it when you say it. And by "Greatest" I mean: I like them. And by "Of All Freakin' Time," I mean: as of this morning.
Look, we could ramble on about this, or, you know, we could just get to stepping.
I agree, Screamers and Screamettes. Let's go.
And they're off!
31. Tarantula (1955)
Dir: Jack Arnold
This film has a giant freakin' tarantula in it. I remember watching it on the late night monster flick show with my pops back when I still wore footie pajamas. Is it good? I guess not. Is it important? Well, since it started my love affair with creature features, monstrous movies, and fright flicks, then, yeah, it's important to me. (Strangely, the strictly workman director Jack Arnold appears on my list twice.)
30. Les Revenants (2004)
Dir: Robin Campillo
Normally, I don't have no truck with ostentatiously displaying the un-translated title of a flick as a badge of my filmic coolosity, but in this case – where the English title is the clunky They Came Back - I'll make an exception. At the very cusp of a zombie pic glut, this quiet, somber, thoughtful flick re-invented the entire genre.
29. Frailty (2001)
Dir: Bill Paxton
A creepy and effective story about a family in the grips of religious mania – or are they really plagued by angels and demons? Think Jim Thompson's Exorcist.
28. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Dir: John McNaughton
Here's a little story about this nihilistic bit of work. When the filmmaker submitted Henry to the ratings board, it came back NC-17. Normally, when that happens, the board sends the filmmakers a list of what could be cut to achieve an R rating. No such letter came back with their film. They wrote the board requesting the letter. They were told that their film, which is actually light on explicit gore and sex, received the rating because of its tone and its attitude towards its subject, real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. There were no content cuts that could be made which would make the flick acceptable.
27. Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004)
Dir: Brett Sullivan
Fueled by the success of the Buffy television series, their was a slew of fright flicks that used monstrousness as a metaphor for the teen years (a pomo rehash of a crucial 1950s horror theme). The best of this lot was the teen-girl/werewolf flick Ginger Snaps. But, that perfectly acceptable film was topped by its inky dark sequel. That flick took the characters over the deep-end and took the monster/teen metaphor to it ultimate, grim conclusion. This flick combines genuine suspense with a sense of humor that is almost sadistic. Fuzzy head and hairy shoulders above the neo-slasher flicks that clogged the market at the time.
26. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Dir: Jacques Tourneur
In '43, Val Lewton got the rights to a fairly stale series of non-fiction articles on voodoo. He wed the dry stuff to the plot of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and then handed it all to Tourneur. Sounds like a disaster in the making, but it ended up producing a remarkably effective and stylish fusion of melodrama and horror.
25. Nosferatu (1922)
Dir: F. W. Murnau
With a plot that streamlines Stoker's novel to essentials (while keeping the best bi, ignored by most adaptations: the scenes on the ship) and monster make-up that is still instantly recognizable, this film is one off the foundations of modern horror cinema – and I dig it.
24. Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
Dir: Herschell Gordon Lewis
I'm not a big gore for gore's sake type of horror fan, but there's something about this Southern revenge fantasy/cannibal flick that warms my sesch heart. As an aside, I actually watch this flick and ponder if, through a display of mad endurance, I could survive any of the traps in it. Which brings us to . . .
23. Saw (2005)
Dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
Unjustly shares the blame for the brief mainstream interest in "torture porn" with the justly maligned Hostel. What set Saw apart was its genuine dramatic tension, the fact that the protagonists in Jigsaw's traps might, in fact, escape by something other than the ghost-in-the-machine intervention of the director. This real tension made it something more than a straight up endurance test.
22. House of Wax (1953)
Dir: Andre De Toth
This could have been any of a hundred Vincent Price films. On my right arm is a tattoo of the "devil," though, really, it is just a stylized portrait of a young Vincent Price. That's why this movie is on my list.
21. The Hitcher (1986)
Dir: Robert Harmon
C. Thomas "Tommy" Howell, the same year as his famous blackface role in Soul Man, went up against Rutger "I'm Creepy" Hauer (his mom actually gave him that nickname – true story, swear to God) in this mean-spirited little flick. Basically, the road film as nightmare. Has one of the greatest "no they didn't" moments in '80s horror.
20. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Dir: Robert Wiene
Possibly the most famous of all silent horror flicks. The amazing set design and circular plotting continue to inspire.
19. Devil's Backbone (2001)
Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Before Pan's Labyrinth, del Toro shot this haunted house tale featuring children trying to make sense of the Spanish Civil War. I might be alone in this, but I actually thing this beats Pan. It is more thoughtful, better looking, and scarier.
18. Godzilla (1954)
Dir: Ishiro Honda
The big rubber lizard's first outing is actually a surprisingly effective film. Even setting aside the obviously political overtones, the images of Tokyo's destruction are haunting. If you haven't seen the original Japanese version, I recommend it highly. It's a real eye-opener.
17. Freaks (1932)
Dir: Tod Browning
An elaborate form of career suicide – the director of Dracula followed up that smash hit blockbuster with a flick so controversial that is pretty much eighty-sixed his Hollywood success story. Built around a melodramatic carny suspense story, the real draw of this flick is the live sideshow performers who fill out the cast. In an age of CGI and larger than life special effects, there's something magnetic about this strange little flick.
16. Häxan (1922)
Dir: Benjamin Christensen
Intended as a documentary proposing a psychological cause for the witchcraft trials of Europe and colonial America, Christensen's imagination and runaway talent got the best of him and he ended up making a film that transcended his pedagogical aims. This trippy flick was fave of the French Surrealists and was later remade with narration by William S. Burroughs. And amazing and often overlooked gem from the early days of cinematic horror.
15. 28 Days Later (2002)
Dir: Danny Boyle
I should probably hate this flick for rejuvenating the zombie genre and, therefore, being directly responsible for the fact that we've had to wallow in cut rate zombie flick crap for half a decade now. But who can stay mad at you 28 Days Later? Since it is bound to come up, I prefer the American ending.
14. Susperia (1976)
Like some gorgeous foreign supermodel you meet at a bar, Agento's flick is beautiful, stylish, and completely incomprehensible. Though you know that it isn't going anywhere, you buy the drinks and hang out anyway – after all, how often are you around such hotness?
13. Alien (1979)
Do you go with Alien or Aliens? A tough call, especially as I dig the "army versus monster" subgenre of horror. But, in the end, the first film shows more flair and visual style. Plus, the original's claustrophobia is simply more frightening.
12. The Thing from Another World (1951)
Dir: Christian Nyby
Archetypal '50s creature feature. Even if the rumors that Howard Hawks directed most of this flick aren't true, you can feel is influence throughout.
11. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Dir: Edgar Wright
In a sane world, folks would have seen Shaun and realized that there was simply no point in continuing to make zombie flicks.
10. Frankenstein (1931)
Dir: James Whale
Part off the Class of '31: American horror's watershed year. I know that critical conventional wisdom holds the sequel Bride to be the better flick, but I stand by the iconic original. Whale's film didn't so much adapt Shelly's novel as it distilled it to primal basics – and it retains that raw and savage grace that is at the root of its continuing attraction. I should point out that the brilliant Dwight Frye, who plays Fritz the lab assistant, appears twice on my list (see Dracula). Frye's deliciously unhinged performances always please.
9. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Dir: Jonathan Demme
"You know what you look like to me, Clarice? With your good purse and your bad shoes? You look like a rube."
8. The Haunting (1963)
Dir: Robert Wise
Just two years after West Side Story and one year before The Sound of Music, the peripatetic Wise squeezed in a black-and-white adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting off Hill House. Pauline Kael (who would later lose her job at McCall's for completely thrashing Wise's Sound of Music) held up this brilliant flick up as an example of what smart, adult, complicated horror could be. Is the best example of the "they can't hurt you, but can scare you into hurting yourself" subgenre of ghost story.
7. Psycho (1960)
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
Because a boy's best friend is his mother.
6. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Dir: George Romero
Later, the shambling zombie stars of Romero's Dead franchise would nearly vanish under the weight of Romero's increasingly ham-fisted political allegories. But this first flick manages to pack in scares and insight by allowing the story to unfold without overt moralizing or speechifying. This is an almost perfect horror machine, a simple and hellish tale told with brutal efficiency.
5. Dracula (1931)
Dir: Tod Browning
Browning might deserve some sort of an award for being the worst director to mange to create timeless films. Never fully comfortable with sounded and hobbled by a stagy and static film sense (see the simultaneous Spanish production for a Dracula produced my a more talented and innovative director), Browning none the less managed to permanently rework Bram Stoker's novel, making sure everybody thought of Bela Lugosi the moment the name Dracula was uttered. Though the scary edge may have long dulled on this classic, it continues to have a sort of lavish, dream-like pull on the imagination.
4. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Dir: Jack Arnold
No sane wannabe arbiter of cinematic quality has any right placing Creature so high up on their list; but, well, screw that. This is my list, not your list. Get your own list if it means so damn much to you. Great monster design, a wonderful fusion of horror and sci-fi tropes, some near flirtation with environmental themes, a classic "trapped" plot, and wonderful cheesy 3-D effects. Even I, Lucas, cannot resist the Fish-Man's film.
3. Jaws (1975)
Dir: Steven Spielberg
Though elitist film-buffs and critics may now turn their noses up at the thought of Spielberg, Jaws used the then-young filmmakers storytelling talents perfectly. Editor Verna Fields also gets credit for teaching the fledgling filmmaker that teasing us with the sight of "Bruce," rather than revealing the shark immediately, was the way to go.
2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Dir: Tobe Hooper
This remains the only real must-see in the long and disappointing career of Tobe Hooper (assuming the Poltergeist was, in fact, the work of Spielberg). But still, if you're only going to have one film, this is a hell of flick to have. The verité-feel and sun-bleached look of the flick are perfect for framing this bloody and surreal tale that Hooper tells with a dead-pan tone that just heightens the horror. The workman-like manner with which Leatherface gets about his grim deeds still gives me the shivers. Later remakes missed the point when they drenched the film in shadows and other conventional spookshow trappings. What made TCM so T was the fact that is all seems to happen in these sun-baked open plains.
And, finally, drum roll please . . .
1. The Shining (1980)
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
Perhaps the greatest counter-argument to the lazy chestnut that "books make bad movies" this side of The Godfather. Though Kubrick was probably intellectually slumming it, he brought his A-game and dedicated his relentlessly precise brand of film craftsmanship to a genre that's too often home to half-talented hacks. Case in point, the scene where young Danny is riding his big wheel through the hotel and runs into the ghostly daughters of the previous caretaker. Though everybody remembers the ominous sound of the wheels as the alternate from hardwood floor to carpet, what most people don't realize is that the cycle of sound gets shorter and shorter until we finally meet the daughters. It is a subtle, tension-building countdown. That sort of insane attention to detail makes this one of the most meticulously constructed horror films ever. And it pays off. The Shining is scary.
Whew. That's something you can only do once a year.
A big ANTSS thanks all the readers – especially the Screamin' regulars: cattleworks, Sassy, Heather, spacejack, and dave. And thanks to the wifey, who actually hates horror films with a passion, but puts up with my crap because she's amazing like that.