by Steve Habrat
In 1985, Italian horror gurus Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento decided to collaborate on a little cult horror film known as Demons, a funky, funny, and freaky European hybrid of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. While it may be flawed, Demons is still an absolutely awesome roller coaster ride through a funhouse of violence, action, green blood, Fu Manchu pimps, and macho heroes. It’s the ultimate horror party set to a heavy metal soundtrack that will have you head banging for days after viewing it. In 1986, Bava and Argento would reunite for Demons 2, a sporadically fun but largely unremarkable follow-up party that would attempt to go much bigger than the predecessor. Well, folks, it seems that bigger isn’t always better. Demons 2 is essentially the same film as Demons and outside of a location change, there is very little that feels fresh or exciting. Sure, Demons 2 is atmospheric enough, the early scenes within the walled-off ruins will keep you tense, and when the action kicks in, it is greeted by a big slice of cheese, but the film hits way too many lulls to really hold our interest. To make things worse, Demons 2 has one of the most anti-climatic endings that you may ever see. It doesn’t even really have an ending. Everything just sort of stops and the viewer is left scratching their head and saying, “that’s it?!”
Demons 2 picks up several years after the events of the first film, with the infected area of the city walled-off and left abandoned by the government. It appears that the rampaging ghouls have died off and rotted away with the dilapidated buildings. Outside the wall, life has gone on and the horrifying events that occurred are beginning to fade from memory. A local television station decides to run a late night documentary about the incident and in an attempt to gather some information, the station sends a group of amateur journalists over the wall to investigate the ruins. It doesn’t take long for the crew to stumble upon the body of a dead demon, which they inadvertently bring back from the dead. Meanwhile, the residents of a local high-rise apartment complex are glued to the drama playing out on their television screens. Among the residents watching is sixteen-year-old Sally (played by Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni), who is currently throwing herself a rocking birthday bash. While watching the documentary, Sally becomes possessed by the demon and she proceeds to then tear through her party guests, infecting each and every one of them. As the teenage demons spill into the rest of the high-rise and infect even more residents, it is up to young couple George (played by David Edwin Knight) and Hannah (played by Nancy Brilli) to band together with juiced-up gym trainer Hank (played by Bobby Rhodes) to fend off the ghouls.
While it may not offer much in the plot department, you’re watching Demons 2 for the gooey gore and sweaty action. If you’re looking for deep explanation or clarity, don’t hold your breath. One of the moments that reigned supreme in the original Demons was an especially striking transformation scene complete with teeth dropping out of one character’s mouth only to be replaced by crooked fangs. The terrible transformation didn’t stop there. There were the discolored veins, green slime pouring from the mouth, and glowing yellow eyes. Bava and Argento seem to understand that the transformation was the highlight moment of the original film and the duo deliver even more graphic transformation sequences here. The make up and effects on the demons are breathtaking and they really hold up for a film that was released in 1986. Bava and Argento also decided to include a pint sized demon creature that crawls out of the body of a small child. There is a fun chase between Hannah and the little critter, but this Venus flytrap-looking creature is far from terrifying. Dare I say that he is actually kind of cute? I think cute is the proper description, especially when he starts squeaking like a baby.
One of the biggest problems with Demons 2 is the sluggish first twenty minutes of the film, where Bava and Argento introduce us to a handful of bland characters that will undoubtedly become demon chow. Knight’s George is the typical macho hero with very little personality and Brilli’s Hannah is the typical shrieking chick who constantly needs to be saved. The only reason we really care about Hannah is because she is pregnant and we live in fear that one of the ghouls will get ahold of her. Cataldi-Tassoni is pretty good as the demonic Sally but she is incredibly annoying as plain old party Sally. As a normal human, she throws hissy fit after hissy fit but when she transforms into a satanic cannibal, things really get fun. Hilariously, Bobby Rhodes, the Fu Manchu pimp from the original Demons, shows up again as a roid-raging gym instructor who will stop at nothing to cut down the demonic menace. Fear not, folks, he is just as intense as he was in the first film. Horror fans should also keep their eyes peeled for Argento’s young daughter, Asia, who at first is glued to the midnight documentary. Near the end of the film, she comes face to face with a pack of snarling beasts looking to tear her limb from limb.
While the make-up effects are great and the gore is top notch, Demons 2 takes way too long to find its groove. While the early scenes of all the high-rise residents will most certainly bore you to tears, the action taking place inside the walled-off ruins will certainly send chills. When the action in the high-rise kicks in, there are plenty of cool shoots of yellow-eyed demons sprinting up and down the stairs like marathon runners. The showdown between the bodybuilders and the demons in a parking garage is absolutely outrageous, but would you expect anything less from a sequence like this? The biggest problem with the film is the anti-climatic ending, which doesn’t even feel like it should really be the ending. You’d swear that the film had at least another fifteen minutes to go. Another disappointment is the absence of the heavy metal score, which has been replaced by a much more conventional horror score that would have sounded right at home in one of Lucio Fulci’s efforts. Overall, Demons 2 has plenty of satisfying action in the middle of the film, but the beginning is a chore to get through and the climax just falls to pieces. Furthermore, it would have been nice to get a bit more explanation about the demons but this just isn’t that type of movie. Demons 2 is only for those people who love the first film and even those individuals will be disappointed.
Demons 2 is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
If you happen to be a horror nostalgia nut and are looking to relive the glory days of the genre, you most certainly have heard of or seen Fred Dekker’s 1986 nod to 50s science fiction, zombie flicks, and B-movies Night of the Creeps. Basically a Heinz 57 mash-up of everything including zombies, the slasher genre, the hardboiled detective, 50s alien flicks, and Ed Wood’s schlocky classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, Night of the Creeps is a fairly satisfying, if a bit flawed, tribute to the horror genre. Wearing its influences on its bloody sleeves (the characters are all named after legendary horror directors), if you’re a diehard fan of horror (or 80s movies), you’re going to find plenty to chuckle over for 90 minutes. Night of the Creeps puts quite a bit of emphasis on its zombie angle and Dekker knows how to deliver the zombie action, but in places, the film appears to be juggling too many references and some fall flat. Still, Night of the Creeps stands as one of the stronger efforts in the zombie genre, and it also gets by on its nifty black and white opening sequences and some truly memorable performances from Steve Marshall as the handicapped J.C. and Tom Atkins as the heartbroken detective Ray Cameron who shouts “Thrill me” when he arrives at a crime scene.
Night of the Creeps begins in 1959, with a deadly alien experiment accidentally being unleashed from a UFO and crashing to earth. Meanwhile, a young college man picks up his date and the two head to a local make out spot to gaze at the stars despite warnings of an escaped homicidal maniac roaming the woods. As the two stare off into space, they spot an unusually bright shooting star that crashes into the woods. The young man dashes into the woods to investigate and leaves his date alone in the car. Naturally, the homicidal maniac stumbles upon the girl and hacks her up with an axe and the boy is exposed to strange alien-like slugs that attack him. 28 years later, nerdy college students Chris Romero (Played by Jason Lively) and James Carpenter “J.C.” Hooper (Played by Steve Marshall) are prowling Corman University’s campus searching for girls. Chris sets his sights on cool girl Cynthia Cronenberg (Played by Jill Whitlow), a sorority sister who seems to only be interested in fraternity guys. To impress Cynthia, Chris and J.C. decide to join a fraternity. As part of their pledge, Chris and J.C. are forced to steal a cadaver from the university medical center and leave it on the steps of Cynthia’s sorority house. While snooping around the medical center, Chris and J.C. stumble upon a mysterious cadaver that has been frozen and sealed off in a top-secret room. Chris and J.C. attempt to steal the body but they are scared off when the cadaver wakes up and tries to grab them. As Chris and J.C. rethink how to impress Cynthia, the mysterious cadaver begins prowling the campus and unleashing the alien worms, which infect the students and turn them into zombies. Meanwhile, Detective Ray Cameron (Played by Tom Atkins) investigates gruesome deaths around the campus, slowly realizing that he may be battling the walking dead.
As a tip of the hat to horror subgenres, Night of the Creeps is pretty solid but some of the tributes don’t gel like they should. The film attempts to work in a slasher angle that seems glaringly out of place and it is sort of left dangling at the end. However, when Dekker remains in the science fiction/zombie realm, the film is really a lot of fun. Being mostly a zombie movie, you naturally expect the violence to be cranked up to eleven but Night of the Creeps never gets too out of hand with its carnage. The zombies have some nasty wounds and there are a few glimpses of dead bodies with their heads split open, but Dekker never embraces Romero or Fulci levels of zombie violence. Still, that doesn’t mean that Dekker is soft on the viewer and doesn’t deliver the zombie mayhem. There is a fun little siege on a sorority house that finds Atkins storming in and announcing, “I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.” It is morbid little gems of dialogue like this that really make up for the lack of gut munching and blood slurping. The lack of overly elaborate special effects has helped Night of the Creeps age a bit more gracefully than some 80s horror movies but the film does shoot itself in the foot when it tosses in a few zombie pets. Sure, the viewer is supposed to take them with a wink and a big slice of cheese, but they certainly are not convincing. At least Dekker uses a zombified kitty to pay respect to Lucio Fulci’s blood-soaked classic Zombie.
As far as the acting goes, Night of the Creeps turns out to be a mixed body bag. Atkins does most of the heavy lifting as the massively entertaining Ray Cameron but his character does suffer a bit because he is linked to the slasher side story. It adds depth to his character and it allows him to connect with Lively’s Chris, but it still seemed unnecessary. Marshall is also a stand out of the sarcastic J.C., the handicapped best bud who does everything in his power to get his best buddy laid. He gets in a number of good jabs at the obnoxious fraternity brothers that torment them. Lively tries his best to hang with Marshall but his Chris is lacking the feisty personality that J.C. possesses. Still, he gets by and we do sort of root for him to pull the girl. Perhaps the worst of the main players is Whitlow’s Cynthia, a pretty girl who just can’t seem to stop flirting with beer chugging goofballs and flashing her boobs. Her character seemed a bit too whiny at times and there simply for eye candy, but she does step up in the final stretch of the film. I suppose a flamethrower can make anyone look cool. Alan Kayser also shows up as the ultimate bully douche bag, Brad, who enjoys tormenting poor Chris and J.C. He shines as the dimwitted oaf and he is even better as a cloudy-eyed zombie who shows up at Cynthia’s door.
While Night of the Creeps is never very scary, the movie does have more than enough raunchy teen comedy to go around. The exchanges between Chris and J.C. are pretty great and Atkins is hilariously over the top as the hardboiled detective. There are a few tense moments here and there, especially when Chris and Cynthia get trapped in a garden shed as zombies attempt to get in from every side. Fans of 50s science fiction will also be giddy during the marvelous black and white opening sequence. Every horror fan will also have a blast with the names of the characters and spotting references to their favorite classic horror film. Make sure you stay alert for references to George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), John Carpenter (Halloween), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), James Cameron (Aliens), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), David Cronenberg (The Fly), and Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2). Overall, Night of the Creeps is more of a big college party than an all out horror fest and there are plenty of surprises to keep you hooked, but some shaky acting and clunky tributes prevent the film from reaching a classic status. It doesn’t matter though, because you’ll keep coming back and screaming “thrill me” right along with Atkins.
Night of the Creeps is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
A few years ago, I happened to catch an episode of Sy-Fy’s Destination Truth, the reality show where obnoxious douche bag Josh Gates hunts down paranormal entities and other beasties around the world. In the episode, the extremely unfunny Gates and his crew traveled to Ukraine to investigate the ghosts of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. The episode claimed that many of the guards who man the multiple checkpoints into the abandoned city have seen ghostly apparitions and various other creepy things that you’d most likely not want to see in the dark. The episode did catch a handful of “evidence” and whether it is authentic or not is anyone’s guess, but I will say that what the group supposedly caught was pretty unsettling. It’s hard for me to believe that a paranormal reality show with an irritating host could actually creep me out more than director Bradley Parker’s new horror throwaway Chernobyl Diaries but that’s the truth. Chernobyl Diaries has plenty of atmosphere, enough to pass out to a slew of other lame Hollywood spookfests, but the lack of any character development, sharply written dialogue, and a payoff that seems like it was ripped off from The Hills Have Eyes contaminate what could have been a decent little horror movie. At least we get a free tour of a fake Pripyat complete with lots of blood!
Chernobyl Diaries introduces us to Chris (Played by Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Played by Olivia Taylor Dudley), and their friend Amanda (Played by Devin Kelley). While on a tour of Europe, the group stops by Kiev, Ukraine, to visit Chris’s brother Paul (Played by Jonathan Sadowski), who is delighted by their visit. The group goes out clubbing and doing things that the kids in Hostel did way back in 2006. After a night of boozing, Paul asks the group if they have ever heard of “extreme tourism” and then asks if they are familiar with the Chernobyl disaster. The group mumbles that they are somewhat familiar with it but they don’t seem too sure (Kids today! Tsk, tsk.). After meeting up with their sketchy tour guide Uri (Played by Dimitri Diatchenko) and Australian backpacking couple Zoe (Played by Ingrid Bolso Berdal) and Michael (Played by Nathan Phillips), the group piles into a rusty Mystery Machine-esque van and heads for the abandoned city of Pripyat. Uri finds an unguarded back way in to the quarantined city and begins exploring the radiated ruins. When the group goes to leave, the van refuses to start, stranding the tourists in the thick darkness that falls at night. The group soon discovers that they are not alone in Pripyat and they start disappearing one by one.
Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli produces Chernobyl Diaries and it shows in the way the film is shot. A good majority of the shots are the shaky, hand-held approach but the film never falls into mockumentary territory. Using a great location, the early parts of Chernobyl Diaries, the ones where the group snoops around the abandoned buildings and gets fed little fun facts by Uri is really interesting, especially if you aren’t familiar with the disaster. The shots are unforgettable, a little girl’s doll lies near the twisted skeleton of a playground, a Ferris wheel stands eerily still surrounded by barely recognizable bumper cars with weeds sitting in the driver’s seat. At times, it does feel like a “found footage” type film, especially in these early, documentary/tour style sequences. When the lights go out and things start going bump loudly in the dark, the film really takes on a Paranormal Activity feel but it becomes repetitive and the spine-tingling effect quickly wears off.
Chernobyl Diaries suffers from unconvincing acting that never once comes off as natural. The dialogue is fake and forced, coming from characters that are not particularly likable and who make one dumb decision after another. The early scenes between Chris and Paul are a little too sugary sweet (“I’m so happy you’re here, little bro!” *the two wrap each other up in a big bro bear hug) and offer little to no background about their characters. About the only things we do learn is that Chris plans to propose to Natalie and that Paul is constantly getting Chris into trouble. I really didn’t care for either of their characters, Chris constantly whining and in hysterics over their situation and Paul acting like an illogical hardass. The three gals all resort to screaming, crying, and running away from shadowy tormentors we never really see. They are all there to just look hot for the male audience members. Uri is a fairly entertaining character but his role is tour guide and it stays that way. Phillips and Berdal do a passable job as the Australian backpacking couple but we barely hear a word from Berdal. Phillips’s Michael is the only one who uses any form of common sense and the only one of the characters I actually was rooting for.
Chernobyl Diaries refuses to offer up any clear explanation about the shadowy figures that have been attacking this pretty group of morons for an hour and half. Normally, I would say that is a good thing, especially in a horror film. In a horror film, the less we know about the monsters, the creepier they are (Original Halloween anyone? We know next to nothing about Michael Myers!), but here, it would have been nice to know what these things are. We don’t even get the luxury of that and all we know is that they seem to bark! The final forty-five minutes of Chernobyl Diaries is basically the group running around different parts of the city, giving us an extended and up-close tour of the underbelly of Pripyat. Director Parker does do a fantastic job recreating the restricted city (the film was not actually filmed in Pripyat), one of the only aspects of Chernobyl Diaries worth praising. Parker and Peli end up leaning too heavily on the chilling atmosphere, paying more attention to that than the people we are supposed to be rooting for (Or are we?). Overall, if you really want to be chilled to your core, Google pictures of Pripyat or even check out that episode of Destination Truth (that is, if you can stand Josh Gates for more than five minutes). The real incident is far more unsettling than any pricey CGI mutant or sudden loud noise that Hollywood can throw at us.
by Steve Habrat
After seeing the slow burner that was Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, you would never in a million years expect the follow up would be a breakneck action-thriller that refuses to let up. James Cameron’s Aliens is just that breakneck action-thriller, one that flaunts grand industrial style, chest-bursting thrills, and enough explosions that would make Michael Bay envious. Taking the world that was briefly seen in Alien, Cameron cleverly elaborates on Scott’s vision and delivers a world full of corrupt corporations, billowing doom, sleeveless masculinity, and hair-raising maternal protection (Both Ripley and the Queen!), all while strapping us in and sending us on a stomach dropping roller-coaster ride. Watch out, because you may get splashed with acidic alien blood! The true beauty of Aliens lies in the fact that, while most sequels resort to over-explaining everything, Cameron doesn’t explain, he just expertly expands the scope to give us a bit more breathing room.
Aliens begins with the rescue of Ellen Ripley (Played by Sigourney Weaver), who is the only survivor of a horrific alien attack that left the rest of the crew of the space freighter Nostromo dead. Ripley goes before the board of her employer, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and explains what attacked the Nostromo crew. Her story is dismissed and as a result, she looses her space-flight license. To her horror, she learns that the planetoid that housed the strange ship and alien eggs is now home to a terraforming colony. After contact is lost with the colony, Weyland-Yutani representative Carter Burke (Played by Paul Reiser) and Lieutenant Gorman (Played by William Hope) approach Ripley about accompanying a unit of marines to investigate what has happened to the colonists. They tell her that if she agrees to accompany the marines and act as a consultant, they will allow her to have her flight license back. After finding the colony abandoned, the marines begin to search a nuclear-powered atmosphere processing station, where they believe the colonists are taking refuge. As their investigation continues, the marines begin making horrific discoveries within the station and soon find themselves getting attacked by seemingly endless hordes of bloodthirsty aliens.
Unlike Scott’s 1979 film, Cameron’s film isn’t as sly with its intellectual undertones and it quickly calls attention to aspects that should have been left to us to figure out. Aliens makes it very clear that the film is interested in ideas about motherhood and protection of a mother’s young. Ripley has to assume the role of mother and protector to a young girl who calls herself Newt (Played by Carrie Henn). I wish Cameron wouldn’t have thrown this aspect of Aliens in our face but sadly, he does. Early on, Newt begins calling Ripley mother and the two share an emotional scene where Ripley talks about a daughter she lost and then instantly claims Newt as her new daughter. Cameron also calls quite a bit of attention to the gender roles within the film, mostly playing with the idea of the tough guy marine who is all talk when nothing is happening but is revealed to be a coward when things get nice and violent. It is especially apparent in Hudson (Played by Bill Paxton), a mouthy marine who likes to talk big but is revealed to be a coward when attacked by the aliens. His character does begin to come around near the end, but he remains far from the hard ass he portrayed when we first meet him.
Cameron’s Aliens benefits from strong acting, mostly from Weaver, who ended up with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work in this film. While Ripley doesn’t really reveal too much new about herself, her descent into protector is undeniably compelling. She is the toughest of all the flexing bad-asses around her. Her end confrontation with the Queen alien has to rank as one of the best movie showdowns of all time. She also gets one of the best one liners that science fiction has to offer: “Get away from her, you BITCH!” She is still the teeth-gritting feminist hero that she became in Scott’s Alien and here, she comes equipped with a bigger gun and flamethrower. While Ripley is all business 90% of the time, her quieter moments really resonated with me, especially when her eyes show a brief flash of a broken heart, one that I have to assume has made her the tough gal that she is.
As far as everyone else is concerned, Reiser is perfectly slimy as the corrupt Weyland-Yutani representative who has little regard for the human life around him. Michael Biehn punches in a perfectly measured macho role as Corporal Dwayne Hicks, who growls all of his dialogue but does reveal moments of vulnerability. I have to say that next to Ripley, Hicks has to be my other favorite character in Aliens. The young Henn wins us over as the adorable Newt, who salutes Hicks when he gives orders and quickly clings to Ripley. Lance Henrikson shows up as the android executive officer Bishop who has a hard time earning Ripley’s trust. Jenette Goldstein is another tough cookie as “smart gun” operator Private Jenette Vasquez, who shows just as much strength as Ripley. Paxton’s Hudson is the only character that I find slightly irritating and the one who gets the some of the worst dialogue in the film.
Aliens turns out to posses a large amount of the tension that made Alien such an prickly experience but it happens to be woven into white-knuckle action scenes. However, I wouldn’t be quick to call Aliens a horror movie, as there is more of an emphasis on action rather than scares. For all its palpable moments, Cameron still serves up a lean storyline that locks us in its icy grip for all two and a half hours. Cameron also offers up some heart-stopping sequences that are classic cinema moments as far as I’m concerned. I absolutely love the final fifteen minutes of the beastly thrill ride. I also have to say I am a fan of the marine’s first encounter with the aliens (shown through grainy camera footage shot by one of the marines) and a scene in which Ripley, Hudson, Hicks, Burke, Vasquez, and Newt await a slew of chomping aliens to attack will have your stomach doing somersaults. The downside to all of this is the fact that Aliens just isn’t as bright as Scott’s Alien, but you will be willing to forgive because Cameron does try his best to make this an intellectually rewarding experience in its own way. Practicing some remarkable discipline in the action department while also giving us exactly what we want, Cameron’s Aliens smartly builds upon Scott’s classic while leaving its own fingerprint on the Alien franchise.
Aliens is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Here we are, boys and ghouls! We have made it to my top 10 scariest movies of all time. I hope I have introduced you to a few horror movies you haven’t seen or heard of and tackled a few of your favorites as well. So without further ado, these are my top 10 favorite horror films that have curdled my blood, given me goose bumps, made me a little uneasy to turn out my bedside lamp at night, and made me consider shutting the films off.
10.) The Evil Dead (1981)
The ultimate sleepover horror flick! With a budget barely over $375,000 and a handful of no name actors, first time director Sam Raimi tore onto the directorial scene with The Evil Dead, a gruesome little supernatural horror film that follows a group of teens as the travel to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of drinking a few beers and hooking up. Once secluded in the cabin, they stumble upon a book called, naturally, The Book of the Dead, and they, of course, read from it. The book just so happens to release an ancient force that possess all who stand in its way, turning the teens into bloodthirsty, demonic zombies. Stopping to consider the budget, the special effects here are a true marvel, even if they are dated and the sound effects will give your goose bumps more goose bumps. While Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn and Army of Darkness descended into campville one of the most amazing parts of The Evil Dead is the fact that it refuses to offer any comedic relief. The most grueling aspect of the film is that by the end, our hero Ash has to face the terror all by his lonesome. Absolutely unyielding once it gets moving and savagely in-your-face, The Evil Dead will without question fry your nerves.
9.) Suspira (1977)
Italian director Dario Argento created perhaps one of the most visually striking horror films to date. Suspira is scary decked out in bright neon colors. Following a young American woman who is accepted to a prestigious ballet school in Europe where it may or may not be under the control of witches is the real deal. The film begins with easily one of the most intense murder sequences ever filmed and it should almost be criminal with how well Argento builds tension and suspense within it. While mostly scaring you through supernatural occurrences and basically becoming a mystery film, Suspira leaves its mark with images that sear in well-lit rooms. Nothing ever happens in the dark in this film, and usually its what we do not see that is the scariest. And to deny the fact that this film is a breath of fresh air to the horror genre would be utterly absurd. The best advice I can give is just wait until the end of the film. You will be left pinned to your seat.
8.) Psycho (1960)
When it comes to unforgettable movie monsters, give me Norman Bates over Freddy or Jason any day. Everyone is familiar with what is perhaps the most famous and scariest of all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, this film literally could be the closest to perfect that any motion picture will get. The score is unforgettable. It breaks the rules by killing off its main star in the first forty minutes. It keeps you guessing until the very end. It WILL terrify you by its sudden outbursts of brutal violence. And seriously, who is not familiar with the shower sequence? Still not convinced? See it simply for Anthony Perkin’s performance as mama’s boy Norman Bates. I guarantee he will find his way into your nightmares. Remarkably, the film lacks all the crows’ feet of aging as it still manages to be one of the scariest horror of personality films to date. While it was needlessly remade in 1998 to disappoint results, the original is a true classic in literally every way. Psycho breaks all the rules of horror, and leaves the viewer disoriented and wowed all at once.
7.) Straw Dogs (1971)
Never heard of Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 home invasion film Straw Dogs? Well, you have now and you have no excuse not to see it. As an added bonus, it stars Dustin Hoffman! I noticed that on many of your favorite horror films that you have sent me, you listed the 2008 film The Strangers. While The Strangers is creepy, Straw Dogs is flat out gritty, unrepentant viciousness. A nerdy math professor and his wife move out to the British countryside where they are looking to enjoy a simple life of peace and quite. Their pursuit of happiness falls short when the couple becomes the victims to bullying by the locals. The bullying soon boils up to a vicious rape and an attack on the couple’s home that leads to one hell of a nail-bitting standoff. Many consider it a thriller, but this is flat out horror in my book. The film becomes an exploration of the violence in all of us. Yes, even the ones we least expect. We never see the violence coming from the mild mannered math teacher. Even worse, it leaves us with the unshakeable notion that this horrendous violence lurks in all of us. Another great quality of the film is the fact that it will spark conversations after viewing it. What would you do in that situation? Would you allow yourself to be the victim or would you stand up and fight for what is yours? Sound simple? Straw Dogs is far from simple. It will etch itself into your mind.
6.) Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Nosferatu is on here twice?!?! Sort of. Nosferatu indeed deserves its place among the greats but Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is without question the greatest vampire movie of all time. It drives a silver dagger right through the heart of all the vampire flicks out there (Take that Twilight!). Part remake, part valentine to F.W. Murnau, part Dracula; this is an undeniably sweeping horror film. Who would have believed that a slow motion image of a bat could make the hair on your arms stand up? Elegant and astonishing beautiful, one could recommend the film on the cinemamatogrphy alone. This interpretation of Nosferatu abandons the name Count Orlok and instead is Count Dracula. The appearance of Count Dracula is almost identical to Count Orlok but the rest plays out like Dracula. The film features what could be one of the most mesmerizing performances ever caught on film with Klaus Kinski’s interpretation of Count Dracula. He is at once heart breaking and threatening. The film’s apocalyptic images are spellbinding. The score is the stuff that nightmares are made of. The acting is top notch. The scares are slight and real. This is the scariest vampire movie ever and one of the most underrated horror movies ever made.
5.) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The glaring problem with the 2003 remake of this disturbing 1974 classic is that the 2003 remake was more concerned with being a sleek experience rather than a gritty and realistic slasher flick. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre does a fantastic job making you feel the Texas heat, as this movie is an absolute scorcher. On top of that, the film uses surprisingly little gore and still manages to gross you out to the point of you seriously considering becoming a vegan. What makes the film so traumatic is the fact that it does not only contain one monster, it has several. There is basically no escape from the dreaded, chainsaw wielding Leatherface and his merry band of cannibals. The film also throws another monkey wrench into the equation: one of the main characters is in a wheelchair. Yikes! The final chase of the film seems like it was ripped right out of an old newsreel and it has such a realistic tone that the atmosphere actually overrides the horrific murders. I recently read a quote from Stephen King about his favorite horror films and I have to admit that I heavily agree with him. He says “One thing that seems clear to me, looking back at the ten or a dozen films that truly scared me, is that most really good horror films are low-budget affairs with special effects cooked up in someone’s basement or garage.” If this quote applies to any horror film, it would be Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Amen, Mr. King!
4.) The Shining (1980)
As far as supernatural horror movies are concerned, Stanley Kubrick’s version of the Stephen King book The Shining is the first and last word in haunted house movies. Combining hallucinatory images, a mind-bending story, and a horror of personality all into one Frankenstein’s monster of a film. Kubrick tops it all of with a big bloody bow. Jack Nicholson is at his bat-shit crazy best as Jack Torrence, a seemingly normal writer who, along with his family, are employed as the winter caretakers at the secluded Overlook Hotel. With the hotel cutoff from customers, the ghosts start coming out to play. They posses Jack’s young son Danny (REDRUM!). They torment Jack to the point where he grabs an axe and goes on a killing spree. If you have not seen this, see it just on the grounds of Jack Nicholson’s outstanding portrayal of a man slipping into homicidal madness. It is probably one of the most epic horror movies I’ve ever seen, and one of the most visually jarring. I really do not think there is anything creepier than twin girls standing in the center of a long hallway and inviting Danny to “come play with” them. The Shining leaves the viewer to figure it all out at the end. But damn does it end with some blood soaked fireworks.
3.) Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George Romero’s follow up to his 1968 zombie freak out wears the king’s crown in the land of zombie movies. This one has it all, folks. It’s dismal, gory beyond anything you could ever imagine, intelligent, shocking, and freaky as all hell. Picking up right where Night of the Living Dead left off, we are thrust into a world of chaos. I will warn you that the first half hour or so of the film is so overwhelming; you may need to take an intermission after it just to gather yourself. Romero is launching an all out assault on the viewer, testing them to see how much they are able to take. But he hasn’t even gotten going yet. Hell, the opening is actually tame compared to the gut-wrenching climax. Romero does lighten the mood a little in places because the film would be unbearable if he never did. The plot centers on four survivors who flee from war-torn Pittsburgh to an indoor shopping mall to escape the panic that has seized hold of America. This panic, of course, comes in the wake of the dead returning to life and eating the flesh of the living. They live like kings and queens in the land of consumerism, which also leads to their ultimate downfall. Greed takes hold and soon the army of zombies gathering outside is the least of their concerns. Featuring some of the most heart stopping violence to ever be thought up and some truly tense moments, Dawn of the Dead may actually cause you to have a heart attack or, at the very least, a panic attack.
2.) Hellraiser (1987)
If demonic horror scares you, then you are going to want to stay far, far away from Clive Baker’s Hellraiser. What sights the soul ripping Cenobites have to show you. What ghastly sights indeed. Bursting at the seams with some of the most unsettling images that any horror film has to offer, Hellraiser simply has it all. It has monsters for the monster crowd. It shows glimmers of the slasher genre. It satisfies the gore hounds thirst for blood. It offers up a wickedly original storyline. Following a man who ends up possessing a box that can expose you to the greatest pleasures imaginable is a pretty unnerving experience. There’s a dead guy in the attic that an unfaithful wife has to provide with male bodies so he can regenerate. There are four time traveling demons that rip apart their victims with chains. A daughter is desperately trying to unravel her father’s death. Did I mention it has lots and lots of monsters? The best part of seeing the first film in the Hellraiser series is that you get to see the Cenobites, who could very well be some of the creepiest antagonists that have ever haunted a horror film. They slink through the shadows and send icy chills up your spine. When Pinhead, or “Lead Cenobite” proclaims that they are “Angels to some and demons to others”, he is not kidding. Are they the four horsemen of the apocalypse, given the films left-field apocalyptic ending? Could be. Undeniably vicious and oddly hypnotic, the film will scare the living daylights out of you and replace those daylights with the darkness of Hell.
1.) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
During the class that I took on the horror genre in college, we discussed that the scariest movies of all are the ones that posse an unwavering realism. I seriously think that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is the embodiment of this argument. Raw, powerful, disturbing, and a searing knock out, this is without question the most terrifying film I have ever seen. You will be locking your doors and possibly adding another lock for extra good measure. The plot of the film centers on Henry who is soft-spoken exterminator who also happens to be a serial killer. Henry happens to be staying with his friend Otis, who is currently on probation and works at a gas station and also sells pot on the side. Otis has also allowed his sister Becky, who is a stripper looking for a new start in Chicago, to shack up with the two bachleors. Soon, Otis learns of Henry’s grotesque hobby and quickly decides he wants in. Henry takes him under his devil wings and the two descend into the night to prey on innocent victims. The uncanny, fly-on-the-wall vérité approach elevates the film to the territory of the unbearable. Every explosive murder is chillingly real. Every line of sadistic dialogue is muttered in a disconnected tone. The film also chills you to the bone because there is never a character to truly root for, a character to take comfort in. The closest we get to a hero is Becky, but mostly because we fear for her safety. We know she is incapable of stopping the maniacs. While the violence will shock you, and trust me it is some absolutely grisly stuff, the fear of the violence and unpredictability of it all will wear away and you will be left with the fear that this could actually happen. There are actually people out there who could be capable of doing this, and I could be next if I just so happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a masterpiece of the horror genre and it will leave you thinking about it for weeks.
I hope all of our readers out there have enjoyed our 31 days of Halloween special- Anti-Film School’s Halloween Horror Movie Spooktacular- and will come back next year for more horror, thrills, and chills. I have personally had a blast doing this as Halloween is my favorite holiday and has been since I was in a diaper. Enjoy the next few days of horror movie posts and the review our readers chose. Have a terrifying Halloween, boys and ghouls! I know I will.
by Charles Beall
Psycho III was a mandatory sequel, much like all the Halloweens, Friday the 13ths, and Nightmare on Elm Streets of the mid- to late-1980s. However, mandatory does not equate to necessary and Psycho III (as well as its predecessor) does not escape this label. However, if we are going to have it, we might as well make it a good one and I believe that there was one person who had this belief: Anthony Perkins.
As I stated in my review yesterday, Psycho II wasn’t entirely a bad movie, per se, but an uneven one. So when the call to Tony Perkins came from Universal about the plans for another installment of Psycho, I believe he thought that it should be done right this time around. And who better to direct a film such as this than Norman Bates himself? The end result is actually a film that stands on its own (albeit in the shadow of the original) and I feel the credit is all due to the direction of Perkins.
What we have in Psycho III is an amateurish, yet brave film that attempts to stand above the crop of slasher sequels it is a member of. The film picks up about a month after the events in Psycho II, but even before we get into the mundane and quiet existence of Norman Bates, we are treated to an interesting prologue. In fact, Norman Bates doesn’t show up until about fifteen minutes into this 90-minute film. Over a black screen, we hear the words, “there is no God!” screamed out by a distressed nun named Maureen (Diana Scarwid). She is kicked out of the convent after a Vertigo-esque incident and hitchhikes with a guy named Duke (Jeff Fahey), with the two of them (via separate means) eventually ending up at the Bates Motel. Also thrown into the mix is a pesky reporter (a poorly-written part played too over-the-top by Roberta Maxwell) who is on to Norman and the suspicious occurrences that happened in Psycho II. Again, like its predecessor, Psycho III has a handful of main characters that drive the film’s story and underlying themes without being too overbearing.
An interesting theme that is, I believe, the main drive of this film is the theme of redemption. Maureen is trying to redeem herself after the events at the beginning of the film and Norman is trying to redeem himself from everything he has become. They are both trapped in their lives, and much like the connection Norman had to Marion in the original, he has one with Maureen and what is unique about Psycho III is that it expands on the human connection we saw between Norman and Marion. Norman realizes this connection and tries oh-so-hard to develop it and break free, but, alas, someone is holding him back…
Yes there is gore because this is the mid-80s and a horror film is not allowed to not have it. Yet one may be surprised about how tame Psycho III is and how legitimate it tries to be as an exploration of the mind of Norman Bates. Those who are killed are not the main characters (at least in the run-up to the finale) but are rather filler for the demands of audiences who thirst for buckets of blood. Take out the murder scenes and what you have is, at its core, a psychological character study. As I stated earlier, Anthony Perkins is really the only one who knows Norman Bates, and much like his on-screen counterpart, it was hard for Perkins to break away from this typecast.
Psycho III is incredibly personal; Norman is wrestling with his identity and trying to break away from his past. However, he will always be Norman Bates. I believe Tony Perkins felt the same way and tried to convey his innermost feelings about playing Norman Bates through the character of Norman Bates. What comes to mind when you hear the name Anthony Perkins? Yep, Norman Bates. Both the actor and the character are trapped, for lack of a better term, with this persona and whatever they try to do, they can never break free.
The ending to Psycho III, while at face value is corny, is actually quite tragic. Norman cannot break free of Mother. Anthony Perkins can’t break free of Norman Bates. Norman is humanized in this film to an extent that we have never seen a villain in film played before. There is a force that has taken hold of him, but he just isn’t strong enough to break away, and when you think he has, Mother just shows up again.
Psycho III is the best of the Psycho sequels for the sheer fact that it was directed by, essentially, Norman Bates. Perkins feels for the dilemma Bates is in he because he too is typecast in the real world as the psychopath. This unique aspect is what makes Psycho III work regardless of its flaws (and there are quite a few). On the surface, it is seen as just another horror sequel, but deep down, it is actually a moving film about trying to break free of the demons that haunt us and the redemption that so many aspire to receive, but ultimately fail to achieve. All of the credit goes to Anthony Perkins who, unfortunately, did not direct another film; he was a legitimate talent behind the camera and it is unfortunate that he was unable to direct again. However, I hope that viewers delve into Psycho III and sincerely listen to what Perkins is trying to say. One may see a slasher film, whereas I see an autobiographical piece of a character and the actor who plays him.
Tomorrow, we milk the Psycho franchise even more with the made-for-TV film Psycho IV: The Beginning to find out what Mother was really like (she was actually kind of hot!)