I love top ten lists! I have, in fact, already published two top ten lists related to scary movies. “Psycho,” “Halloween,” “The Shining,” “Friday the 13th,” and “The Sixth Sense” are just five of my favorites, and they each appeared somewhere in the (thus far) top 20. My original lists are here and here.
It is a funny thing about horror movies, though. They seem rife not just for sequels but for remakes. Four of the five films mentioned above have been remade (with the original remaining superior in each instance). As I continued the list for this Halloween season with ten more scary movies, I noticed that four of those films have also been, or are currently being, remade. Additionally, one of them is the sequel to a film that was remade, while another one is a remake!
What else can be said, except to remark about the genre’s durability and profitability…and for me to share my list of ten more great scary movies:
21) Stephen King’s It (1990): It was just two months ago when I last re-read Stephen King’s mammoth, 1,100-page masterpiece “It,” about a centuries-old clown from another world who awakens from hibernation every 30 years to feed on the children of turn-a-blind-eye-to-what-displeases-them parents in the haunted river town of Derry, Maine. The book remains a masterpiece. ABC Television Network’s two-night miniseries event, just released on Blu-ray for the first time, is a surprisingly competent (though obviously condensed) adaptation of a book once thought un-filmable (and another version is coming to theaters in 2017!). As a single, 187-minute movie, it plays well, although the cast of child actors leave a more lasting impression than their adult counterparts. Richard Thomas, John-Boy from “The Waltons,” plays “Loser’s Club” leader Bill Denbrough as an adult, while troubled child actor Jonathan Brandis, who committed suicide in 2003, played Bill as a preteen boy. That being said, the actor whose performance lingers longest in your memory is Tim Curry, casting perfection as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, aka “It.” If you like this, see also: “The Stand” (1994), “Storm of the Century” (1999).
22) Let the Right One In (2008): This captivating, cold-blooded Swedish vampire movie is refreshingly original, and a terrific addition to the genre. “Låt Den Rätte Komma In” tells of the friendship – and budding romance, perhaps – between Oskar and Eli. One is a pale blond boy whose parents are divorced and who is regularly bullied at school. The other is his 12-year-old brunette neighbor, who never wears shoes, who has blood stains on her sweater, and who only comes out at night. Who is killing the residents of their apartment complex? And why is a woman who was recently bitten suddenly allergic to sunlight? If “Interview with the Vampire” (#8 on my original list) is the vampire movie as elegiac soap opera, then “Let the Right One In” is the vampire movie as art house indie. The film is moody and quite gory…and based on a novel, believe it or not. Young newcomers Kåre Hedebrant (as Oskar) and Lina Leandersson (as Eli) are real finds. I haven’t seen them in anything since then, but they have promising careers ahead of them. If you like this, see also: “Let Me In” (2010), “Insomnia” (Norwegian version – 1997).
23) Misery (1990): Sure, “Misery” is another screen adaptation of another Stephen King work, but the movie (directed by Rob Reiner, with a screenplay by William “The Princess Bride” Goldman) is perhaps more famous for one historic cinematic first: It was the first horror movie to win a major acting Oscar, for Best Actress Kathy Bates! (The feat would be accomplished the next year as well, with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins each winning statuettes for their work in “The Silence of the Lambs,” the #3 horror movie on my original list). As for the plot, it’s a taut one: Paul Sheldon (James Caan), the bestselling author of a series of bodice-ripping romance novels, accidentally drives his car off the road during a Colorado blizzard. He is rescued by Annie Wilkes (Bates, unforgettable), who nurses him back to health…and, as his self-proclaimed “number one fan,” refuses to let him leave. If you like this, see also: “Dolores Claiborne” (1995), “Secret Window” (2004).
24) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007): “The trouble with poet/Is how do you know it’s/Deceased/Try the Priest.” So sings Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the pale-faced proprietor of Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pies in darkest, Dickensian London. Her maggoty meat pies are reviled by everyone, but she decides on a new recipe after her upstairs tenant, the ashen-faced barber Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), seeking vengeance following the supposed death of his wife and child so many years earlier, kills a snitch in a fit of rage. What better way, it would appear, to dispose of a body than by grinding it into foodstuffs? “Soylent Green” is people, and director Tim Burton is a genius. So, for that matter, is lyricist Stephen Sondheim, whose musical numbers are pitch-perfect. Grim, gruesome, and funny as hell. Depp and Carter give the performances of their distinguished careers, with Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Sacha Baron Cohen pitching in as needed. And can they sing? They can sing! If you like this, see also: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975), “From Hell” (2001).
25) Poltergeist (1982): The Freelings are a well-to-do California family. Architect dad Steven (Craig T. Nelson) recently moved everyone into a home in a new subdivision called Cuesta Verde. All is well until daughter Carol Anne (the late Heather O’Rourke) begins communicating via the TV with ghosts living in their home. “They’re here,” she tells them…and is later abducted. “They” turn out to be poltergeists angry that the house was built on land that was once an Indian burial ground. No wonder Steven’s company got the land for so cheap! The pint-sized Zelda Rubenstein steals the show as Tangina, a medium who attempts to communicate with the ghosts and bring back Carol Anne…but the cost may be the family’s sanity. “Poltergeist” was written and produced by Steven Spielberg, and was partially responsible for the eventual creation of the PG-13 rating. The PG-rated film has enough thrills and scares to fill four movies, but even scarier is the “curse” that befell the movie’s cast: four of its cast members, including young O’Rourke, died within six years of the film’s release. If you like this, see also: “The Frighteners” (1996), “The Exorcist” (1973).
26) The Conjuring (2013): “The Conjuring” made an appearance at #8 on my Top Ten Films of 2013 post from three years ago. In the spirit of expedience, I shall reference that review here: “James Wan, the Malaysian-born director of such torture porn ‘classics’ as “Saw” and “Insidious,” may seem like an odd choice to direct this gore-less throwback to 1970’s haunted house/demon possession classics like “The Amityville Horror” and “The Exorcist,” but as it happens, he brought just the right touch to the proceedings. “The Conjuring” follows disco generation demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as they attempt to rid a drafty Rhode Island house of the vengeful spirit(s) that reside within, driving a financially-strapped family close to the breaking point. The film is as much about the convictions of Ed and Lorraine as it is about the close-knit family bond felt by the Perron family. Ron Livingston and especially Lili Taylor are excellent as the Perrons, parents of five girls, who moved into this country home for a country bargain. And no wonder. Old school horror FTW.” If you like this, see also: “The Amityville Horror” (original version – 1979), “Annabelle” (2014).
27) The Devil’s Backbone (2001): It was less than one week ago when I watched “Crimson Peak,” the latest mood piece from “Pan’s Labyrinth” director Guillermo del Toro. But if “Pan’s Labyrinth” was del Toro’s most artistic film, and 2013’s “Pacific Rim” was his most ambitious, “Crimson Peak” represented del Toro returning to his supernatural roots. In fact, so much of “Crimson Peak” was taken from his best film, 2001’s “The Devil’s Backbone,” that it’s a shame “Crimson Peak” isn’t better than it was. Both films are period ghost stories; “El Espinazo del Diablo” follows the exploits of young Carlos, the newest ward of an isolated Spanish orphanage during the heyday of the Spanish Civil War (a setting that del Toro used again, five years later, in “Pan’s Labyrinth”). An unexploded bomb sits, nose-deep, in the orphanage courtyard, while the headmistress limps around on a wooden leg, a violent handyman obsesses over the contents of the orphanage safe, pro-Franco rebels linger in the surrounding hills, and (the key to everything, perhaps?) the ghost of a murdered student lingers about after dark. Somber and elegiac. If you like this, see also: “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), “Crimson Peak” (2015).
28) The Thing (1982): “Halloween” maestro John Carpenter turned down directing duties for that movie’s inevitable sequel in favor of this seminal classic, set on an Antarctic research base. Though billed as science fiction, the title character, accidentally unearthed when Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Donald Moffat and others discover a spaceship from 100,000 buried beneath the ice, is nothing less than the stuff horror movies are made of. For one thing, the thing shape shifts, taking possession of humans it encounters, filling the whole research station with dread. For another thing, the dozen or so men in Russell’s charge are down there…in Antarctica…all alone. What will happen when their relief/resupply team arrives? Horrifying stuff, with chilling special effects and an ending left open for a sequel that never came. If you like this, see also: “The Thing from Another World” (1951), “Body Snatchers” (1993).
29) Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987): There has been much talk about remakes in this post but little about sequels. Well, one of the best – and funniest – horror movie sequels is this literal and figurative yukfest. Remember Ash (Bruce Campbell), our flannel-wearing romantic hero from the first film? All he wanted was take his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) to a rustic cabin in the woods (near Morristown, TN) for a romantic weekend. Curiosity got the better of him, however, when he discovered – and started reading from – the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead. He survived the initial encounter, but his hand, possessed by a demon not long after the sequel begins, didn’t fare so well. A bigger budget allows for a cast of witnesses/victims to Ash’s possessed actions, and for audiences to roll with laughter as Ash fashions a chainsaw to the stump that remains of his arm. His response: “Groovy.” Director Sam Raimi would later find better commercial success with the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” films, but in a way, his career peaked with this first trilogy. If you like this, see also: “The Evil Dead” (original version – 1981), “Army of Darkness” (1992).
30) The Ring (2002): Forget everything I wrote in my opening paragraph about how remakes are inferior to the original. “The Ring,” a big budget remake of the 1998 Japanese thriller “Ringu,” is that rare remake that is better than the film it was inspired by. The premise is simple, yet terrifying: a VHS tape is making its rounds. The images: a ladder, a fly, and a well among them, are creepy yet innocuous by themselves. But within a week after seeing them, anyone watching the tape dies. Seattle journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) has her doubts, but, having seem the video herself, is determined to get to the bottom of things, especially after discovering that three teens who were said to have watched the video together all perished at the exact same time. And what’s this? Her precocious young son just watched the video!!! “The Ring” is surprisingly scary for a PG-13 film, and was an early high water mark for director Gore Verbinski, who later helmed the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. If you like this, see also: “Ringu“ (1998), “Shutter Island” (2010).
How many of the above films have you seen? Which one is your favorite?