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31 Great Horror Movies: ‘Halloween’ (1978)



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In 1978 John Carpenter put together a little movie with a little budget called “Halloween.” That little movie exploded at the box office and is still THE staple for Halloween movies today. And, needless to say, it’s my favorite horror movie and the No. 1 spot in our 31 Days of Horror list.

“Halloween” opens in Haddonfield, Illinois, on Halloween night. Little Michael Myers snaps and kills his older sister in her bedroom. And evil is born. The movie then cuts to “present day” Haddonfield where a now-grown Michael Myers has escaped from the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. The following day is Halloween, the night He came home.

Michael goes on a mission to find and eliminate his other sister, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis). At this point, no one knows she’s his sister. As far as we know, he’s just a maniac thirsty for blood. And those kind make the best movie slasher. No motive. Just pure psycho.

Laurie and her friends are attacked by Michael on Halloween night. Laurie, with the help of Michael’s doctor Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) survives. But so does Michael. And he’s gone. He will return later that night in “Halloween II” and continue stalking Laurie. But that’s another movie, another time.

The genius in “Halloween” is that it’s subtle, but still scary as Hell. There’s very little blood. The body count is low. But Michael Myers managers to keep your heart pumping. Adorning only a spray-painted William Shatner mask and some overalls, his weapon of choice is a butcher knife. You can’t get much simpler than that. Or scarier.

After you add in Carpenter’s spine-tingling score, you have a movie worthy of anyone’s library. It’s never been bested (no, not even by you Rob Zombie) or even matched. It’s a classic. And it’s our No. 1.

“Halloween” 1978

Memorable Quotes: Laurie: “It was the Boogie Man.” Loomis: “As a matter of fact, it was.”

Best Scene: It’s easily Bob’s death. That puppy-dog head tilt at the end of the scene is priceless:

Did You Know? John Carpenter named a lot of the characters after real people or other movie characters. Laurie Strode was his first girlfriend. Tommy Doyle’s name was from Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and Sam Loomis’ name is from “Psycho.” The name of the sheriff is “Leigh Brackett”. Leigh Brackett was also the name of the screenwriter of Howard Hawks’ classic “Rio Bravo”, which was the inspiration for Carpenter’s previous film, “Assault on Precinct 13.” Michael Myers was named after the European distributor of “Assault on Precinct 13” as a kind of weird “thank you” for the film’s overseas success.

See the rest of the 31 Great Horror Movies.

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31 Great Horror Movies: ’28 Days Later’



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I have a feeling a lot of people might not agree with me putting such a current movie this high on our 31 Great Horror Movies list. But I have a great defense. As a life-long horror movie fan, I’ve always had to rely on horror movies that were always around, many made even before I was born. I could no longer be scared by a movie. I could appreciate them, but couldn’t be scared by them.

Then “28 Days Later” came out. And it scared the hell out of me.

So that instantly became one of my personal new classics. Not only did it scare me, but I was actually able to believe it. It’s the only zombie/apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen. Every detail of how this outbreak happened was explained. And explained well.

Backing up, “28 Days Later” tells the story of a “virus” that has broken out in London. The virus is called “Rage” and its symptoms are like nothing we’ve ever seen. The change is instant. The eyes turn red. You spit blood everywhere. You’re an absolute maniac.

Twenty-eight days later, most of the population is dead or also infected with Rage. An bike courier named Jim (Cillian Murphy), who was injured more than 28 days ago, wakes up in a deserted hospital. He has no idea what has been happening. He wanders out into the empty London streets where he sees trash in the streets, burned out cars and no one else in sight. Except for rabid zombies. And they’re coming at him fast — far faster than previous zombies we’ve seen.

Following other zombie film formulas, Jim runs into other survivors and together they fight to stay alive. But again, there’s just something better about all of this.

Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle‘s use of digital video ads an extra layer of something new for us. The shots are jagged and raw, which makes the zombies even more scary. Boyle’s genius really shines in this film. “Slumdog Millionaire” what?

Watch this movie. Now. The mood is just right.

“28 Days Later” 2002

Memorable Quote: “Have you got any plans, Jim? Do you want us to find a cure and save the world or just fall in love and f***? Plans are pointless. Staying alive’s as good as it gets.”

Best Scene: The emotion in this scene is ridiculous (in a good way):

Did You Know? The ‘design’ for the symptoms of Rage was based on Ebola, which is communicable in all primates (including humans), and is transmitted through the blood. Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever which leads to a rash, red eyes and both internal and external bleeding.

See the rest of the 31 Great Horror Movies.

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31 Great Horror Movies: ‘The Silence of the Lambs’



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In 1991, “The Silence of the Lambs” did what no other horror film had done. It won the three major Academy Awards – Best Actress Jodie Foster, Best Actor Anthony Hopkins and Best Picture. The movie deserved every bit of it.

The third movie based loosely on the cannibalistic murder Ed Gein, “The Silence of the Lambs” tells the story of FBI agent Clarice Starling (Foster). She’s on the hunt for a killer named Buffalo Bill by the media. He earned that name because he skins his victims. Seeking answers, she goes to get some advice from convicted killer and cannibal, Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins).

Lecter doesn’t quite come through, as he spends most of Clarice”s time messing with her head. Some of the movie’s best scenes are between the two of them. What makes that worth mentioning is that nothing horror-movie like happens during their scenes. The movie switches to a psychological mind f***.

Cut back to Buffalo Bill. His actions are what makes up most of the horror aspects of the movie. He has captured his next victim and is keeping her in a hole in his basement. He’s starving her so that when he skins her, it will be loose enough to wear. She is to be the latest contribution to his woman suit. Bill is one creepy killer.

Eventually, Lecter tricks the FBI into transferring him so he can manage his escape. Just as Bill is caught, Lecter escapes. One killer is caught, while a (perhaps) more dangerous one is free.

Hopkins is surely the star of the movie. He is absolutely amazing as the genius psychopath. Foster plays well off him as the vulnerable, yet determined young agent.

“The Silence of the Lambs” 1991

Memorable Quote: Avoiding the obvious, I’m going with “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.”

Best Scene: To accompany the best quote:

Did You Know? The movie is not only based on Ed Gein’s story. It’s also based on killers Ted Bundy and Gary Heidnick.

See the rest of the 31 Great Horror Movies.

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31 Great Horror Movies: ‘Psycho’



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Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is the second movie on the list that was inspired by real cannibal Ed Gein. Norman Bates is actually based loosely on Gein. Of course Norman only wore women’s clothing. Gein wore women’s skin.

Norman Bates is a real mamma’s boy. So much so that he’s still under her control even though she’s been dead for years. Her control leads him to murder. The first victim in the movie dies in one of the most famous movie scenes in history. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) made the mistake of stopping by the Bates Motel. Her second mistake was taking a shower. Norman, dressed like mother, stabs her to death in the shower. It’s the scene we all know.

“Psycho” isn’t necessarily jumpy scary to modern audiences (but you can bet it was in 1960). What makes it a great movie is Anthony Perkins‘ performance of Bates and Hitchcock’s directing job. Perkins is perfect. He’s this odd mixture of handsome, innocent and crazy. It’s hard to imagine that such a soft-spoken man can really be a monster.

Hitchcock was meticulous with every scene. From character closeups to camera angles, the work is pure genius.

“Psycho” 1960

Memorable Quote: “We all go a little mad sometimes.”

Best Scene: The only obvious choice:

Did You Know? “Psycho” was the first American film ever to show a toilet flushing on screen.

See the rest of the 31 Great Horror Movies.

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31 Great Horror Movies: ‘Alien’



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Finally. The Top 5. “Alien” makes it to No. 5 because of its innovation (at the time) and it’s stomach-turning gore. In 1979, no movie had done what “Alien” did. It took the basic stalking/slasher story and sent it to space. We have a group of people on a ship who have to make a stop on a random planet to check out an S.O.S.

During their stop, one of them is attacked by an alien. Said alien attaches itself it his face. The face hugger eventually releases itself and the crew member is fine and dandy. For a little while at least. It turns out the alien impregnated the poor guy and he is about to give birth (through a bloody explosion of the chest).

Out comes a tiny little alien, but it scurries away even before the umbilical cord can be cut. The human host is dead and the rest of the crew decide to hunt down the little creature before it can cause any more harm. The plan sounds a lot easier than it is. One by one, the crew members are stalked and eliminated while the alien grows at a rapid pace.

Finally, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been distinguished as the surprise lone survivor. She takes out the alien and escapes.

“Alien” is the quintessential movie for a lot of sci-fi horror fans. Even though I have a ton of respect for the movie, I could never put it in any No. 1 spot. It’s terribly dated and that ridiculously phony-looking scene with the talking robot head almost ruins the entire movie’s credibility. That all being said, it’s still a very scary movie. Director Ridley Scott achieves a lot by confusing the viewer. We never know exactly what’s going but there’s little time for that. Our minds are scrambled and vulnerable and then before we know it, there’s an alien mutilating someone else.

Alien”  1979

Memorable Quote: “I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”

Best Scene: No surprise choice here:

Did You Know? The original title was “Star Beast”.

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31 Great Horror Movies: ‘Frailty’



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Frailty” is one of those secret gems. Most people haven’t heard of it or think it must be a terrible film since it was directed by (and stars) Bill Paxton. That’s a very unfair assumption. It’s actually a fantastic movie loaded with darkness, chills and suspense.

The movie opens with Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) paying a visit to a FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Booth) to talk about the God’s Hand Killer, who has been responsible for a series of grizzly murders. Fneton claims he knows who is the killer is and begins telling Wesley a story. So begins a series of flashbacks which make most of the movie.

Fenton reveal that he and his little brother Adam were forced by their religious-fanatic father (Paxton) to assist in killing bad guys. The father (who is never named) says that God came to him and told him he and his family need to find and eliminate demons who are posing as regular humans. Adam jumps right on board, thinking he and his family will be super heroes. Fenton, being the older brother, resists.

So now we have two horror stories on our hands. One one side, we have these victims being lured to the Meiks farm to be slaughtered by Dad and sons. Then we have the innocent kids who can’t escape their dad’s insanity.

The story is brilliantly told. And for a moment, you believe that God has told Paxton’s character to do this. He offers some pretty convincing proof that the victims have done some pretty bad things. The clincher comes later when you find out the effect dad had on the boys. One of them is the God’s Hand killer. Surely it’s Adam. Or is it Fenton?

“Frailty” 2001

Memorable Quote: “Do it like I showed you, the neck is first.”

Did You Know? Directors James Cameron, Sam Raimi and author Stephen King all singled out “Frailty” for high praise. King thought it one of the best horror movies of its year.

See the rest of the 31 Great Horror Movies.

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31 Great Horror Movies: ‘The Thing’



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John Carpenter‘s loose remake of the sci-fi classic “The Thing From From Another World” has grown to be a favorite for many horror fans through the years. Some even call “The Thing” Carpenter’s best work. I beg to differ, as you’ll find out somewhere in the Top Five of this list.

“The Thing” tells the story of a group of men at a research facility in Antarctica who are being terrorized by a shape-shifting alien. This nasty creature doesn’t just kill his victims, he becomes them. Which allows the alien to trick the others into falling prey.

What sets this movie apart from most of Carpenter’s other films is that he tossed aside his trademark subtlety. The gore, monsters and frights are all in your face with a little help from Rob Bottin’s special effects. The movie, which triples as a horror/action/sci-fi movie, might not be the best horror movie, but it’s definitely the best alien-invasion movie (which we’ve already deemed in an earlier post).

“The Thing” 1982

Memorable Quote: “I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS F***ING COUCH!”

Best Scene: Trying to save someone’s life has never been so dangerous:

Did You Know? “The Thing” was released two weeks after “E.T.” Moviegoers continued to prefer the sweet innocent alien to the nasty killer one. “The Thing” pretty much failed at the box office.

See the rest of the 31 Great Horror Movies.

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31 Great Horror Movies: ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’



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Some movies are just givens when it comes to lists like this. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is one of them. Tobe Hooper‘s grizzly tale of a deranged family is loosley based on the real-life crimes of cannibal Ed Gein. In the movie, Leatherface would be the part of Gein, only an exaggerated version.

The movie follows five friends who are out and about doing basically nothing. They pick up a hitchiker and it’s all downhill from there. They quickly let off the nutjob, but they haven’t seen the last of them. They make it to their destination and are soon being hunted by the crazy hitchhiker’s cannibalistic family, including Leatherface and his chainsaw.

One by one, they are brutally massacred until only Sally remains. She is being tortured by the crazy family when she manages to escape.

This movie is terrifying. It’s gritty and disgusting (in a more respectful way than say Rob Zombie’s gritty and disgusting). It’s intense. Few horror movies make me uncomfortable, but this is one of them. I think my blood pressure rises as I feel like I, too, have to escape the skin-wearing monster’s chainsaw.

As a bonus, the 2003 remake makes a very nice companion to this film. It’s one of the few remakes that is actually a good movie. It follows a lot of the original when it comes to grit and gore, but it goes a little too far with the plot (which we all know is not important when it comes to  horror movies). But it also is a good movie. It would probably come in at about 35 on this list if it went that high.

“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” 1974

Memorable Quote: “The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”

Best Scene: Two words: meat hook.

Did You Know? The film was originally entitled “Headcheese”, but was filmed as “Leatherface”, then changed again at the last minute to “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” Wise choice!

See the rest of the 31 Great Horror Movies.

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31 Great Horror Movies: ‘An American Werewolf in London’



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I love this movie. I’d make it No. 1 if I didn’t think I’d lose a little credibility. “An American Werewolf in London” is the best werewolf movie to date.  Bottom line. Between John Landis‘ directing and Rick Baker‘s makeup, it’s truly a good movie.

Best friends David and Jack are backpacking through Europe. One night they get sidetracked from the road and end up in werewolf country where they are attacked. Jack dies a grizzly death but David survives. He ends up in the hospital where he meets and falls for his nurse Alex. A dead Jack soon visits David to warn him that he will turn into a werewolf during the next full moon. He also informs David that he is the last werewolf in the bloodline and must kill himself so Jack and other victims can rest in peace.

David first thinks he’s going crazy. Then the full moon comes out and does David’s inner beast. From then on, David goes on a two-night killing rampage but has no memory of doing so. He does figure out that he is responsible for all the deaths turning up in the newspaper. He doesn’t handle it very well, of course.

The movie is a nice mixture of horror, gore and humor. There are almost as many laugh-out-loud moments as there are gory moments. As I mentioned earlier, Rick Baker’s makeup work is superb (he won an Oscar for it), particularlly David’s transformation. Set to “Blue Moon,” David goes through a very painful and graphic transformation. That’s definitely one of the greatest scenes in horror film history.

Another favorite is the job Baker did on the various stages of Jack’s decomposing body. When he first shows up, the wounds are fresh. The second time, the blood has dried and he’s turning a little green. By the third time, he’s a rotting corpse. Awesome.

“An American Werewolf in London” 1981

Memorable Quote: “The undead surround me. Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring! I’m lonely! Kill yourself, David, before you kill others.”

Best Scene: Do I even need to say it? The transformation, of course. Pure genius.

Did You Know? This is the first film to earn the Academy Award for Best Makeup. That category was created in 1981.

See the rest of the 31 Great Horror Movies.

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31 Great Horror Movies: ‘Night of the Living Dead’



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George Romero‘s 1968 “Night of the Living Dead” is the grand daddy of all zombie movies. The movie has its flaws, but it was groundbreaking and is still used today as a reference by filmmakers.

The movie opens with Barbara and her brother Johnny driving to a secluded cemetery to visit their late parents’ graves. They immediately run into trouble as the dead has risen and Johnny is killed. Barbara escapes to a farm house to avoid being killed by the zombies. Another man, Ben, has fought off the living dead and also finds his way to the farm house. It turns out Barb and Ben aren’t the only ones in the house. A group of people have already been hiding in the cellar. When they emerge, tempers flare, thus symbolizing the first hint of social demise, which is a theme throughout Romero’s Dead Trilogy. So basically, it becomes unclear who are more dangerous, the dead or the alive.

“Night of the Living Dead” isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s a good movie. Shot in black and white, its use of shadows and suggestion make for wonderful visuals. Romero’s social commentary gets a bit heavy with race and ignorance, but the movie till makes the Top 10.  Easily.

“Night of the Living Dead” 1968

Memorable Quote: “Don’t you know what’s goin’ on out there? This is no Sunday School picnic!”

Did You Know? When the zombies are eating the bodies in the burnt-out truck they were actually eating roast ham covered in chocolate sauce. The filmmakers joked that it was so nausea inducing that it was almost a waste of time putting the makeup on the zombies, as they ended up looking pale and sick anyway.

See the rest of the 31 Great Horror Movies.

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