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It's the time of year for apple-picking, flannel, mulled cider and getting your pants scared off by the things that go bump in the night. And, if you're a character in any of the following 10 films, you'll be turned to mincemeat by that thing that went bump.
You'll find some of the old favorites—your pal Jason Voorhees and his mother, for example—and some classics, and maybe a few pictures that you missed or have been lost to time. In any event, gather some friends, a big screen TV and turn off all the lights. There are scares afoot!
You're Next (2014)
What happens when you take a horror subgenre (the home-invasion story) and turn it on its head? You get You're Next, a movie in which the invaders unknowingly storm a home that's inhabited by someone who's tougher than they are. It's gory and smart, and filmmaker Joe Swanberg gets stabbed multiple times on camera. Who doesn't want to see that?
I hesitated to put this weirdo Italian giallo entry on the list because I assumed everyone and their mother (not mine, of course) had seen it, but some informal polling around the office proved otherwise. That's great, because for shear scares, there aren't many movies that'll make you crap yourself more often than this one does.
The story involves Suzy (Jessica Harper) traveling to Germany to study ballet. The only problem is that the school is also a witch's coven. Was zur Hölle? Director Dario Argento has made many creepy movies that make no sense, and Suspira is the creepiest and makes the least sense. Still, there's an unsettling sense of dread from its opening moments that ramps up to sheer terror by the conclusion. And watch out for that razor wire!
The Changeling (1980)
This isn't the movie with Angelina Jolie being told she's going nuts because her child was kidnapped and replaced with another. This is the movie with a composer (George C. Scott) moving into a creepy old house after his wife and daughter are killed in an accident. The house is haunted, naturally, but director Peter Medak slowly increases the tension over the movie's 107 minutes. Scott is great, and if you have the patience, The Changeling is scary as hell.
The Evil Dead (1981)
A lot of people out there call Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead a comedy. They must be confusing it with Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn or Ash vs. Evil Dead. The original has its darkly humorous moments, but Raimi and company saved the larfs for the sequels. In this movie, there's just amateurish acting, special effects so gory they demand a strong stomach and a terrifically unsettling tree molestation (it's actually in poor taste—you've been warned). But it's also groundbreaking in its use of space, camera work and bare-bones chills. Watch it with a friend or six.
Trick 'r Treat (2007)
Michael Dougherty's anthology Halloween horror film went virtually unnoticed during its original release but has been the highlight of midnight festivals in years since. Little wonder: It stars Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Leslie Bibb, Dylan Baker and the kid from Bad Santa. The four stories that make up this 82-minute shriekfest come together well, the acting is way above average for a movie of this type and it has a lot of stabbings. It also kills multiple children, so if that isn't your thing, steer clear.
The Incredible Melting Man (1977)
Three astronauts fly to Saturn, but before they get there, radiation kills two of them and turns the third into the ghoul of the title. How does he get from Saturn back to Earth? I don't know, and neither do the filmmakers, but that doesn't stop this movie from being a long, slow collection of scenes in which the incredible melting man melts and some guy named Dr. Ted Nelson searches for him, screaming his own name over and over (seriously). The Incredible Melting Man works better as unintentional comedy, but it features Rick Baker's stupendously nasty special effects and some of the most bizarre acting and pacing choices of 1970s horror.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The gore in this movie is so convincing director Ruggero Deodato was accused of making a snuff film. If you're watching on DVD, you can see the making-of documentary that shows all the actors are quite alive, but that doesn't stop Cannibal Holocaust from being the second-most disturbing movie on this list. (There are also scenes of real animal cruelty; I recommend you choose the version on the DVD that excises these scenes for you.)
Plot-wise, it's fairly simple: A group of dumb American filmmakers ventures into the Amazon to make a dumb documentary about cannibals and ends up the main course. There's some tacked-on baloney at the end about whether the filmmakers are actually barbarians themselves, but really, that's just Deodato taking a metaphorical shower after showering his audience with some of the most sickening footage ever assembled for a motion picture. Of note: Cannibal Holocaust is partly a found-footage movie, released two decades before The Blair Witch Project and its many imitators.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
After her family dies in an entirely preventable boat accident, Angela (Felissa Rose) is sent to live with her cousin and whackadoo aunt. Years later, Angela and cousin attend the aforementioned sleepaway camp, and a killer starts hacking the campers, counselors and owners to death. Is it Angela? Does a bear shit in the woods? The only surprises in this movie are the depths of its vulgarity. A camp cook labels prepubescents as "baldies" and the ending could probably be called transphobic if it were smarter and weren't simply used as a shock twist. The fun comes when you realize this movie really takes itself seriously and that most of the deaths are, like the boat accident at the beginning, avoidable.
A Serbian Film (2010)
Do NOT watch this movie. I mean, WATCH IT. Who the hell am I to tell you what to do? Just be prepared—though nothing can prepare you for the absolute moral depravity at this film's cold-blooded center. A Serbian Film is another movie you shouldn't watch if you a) Have children, b) Like children, c) Were once a child yourself. I can't even describe what goes on in this movie without breaking several decency laws. My God, there's rape and necrophilia, and that's literally not even close to the worst images on screen, and it all happens, horrifyingly, on screen. There is NO cutting away. Ugh, seriously, don't watch this movie. In fact, my editors should delete it from this article.
- Paramount Pictures
All the Friday the 13th films released by Paramount Pictures
The year 1980 was a simpler time: There was no internet, no one had a cell phone and filmmakers were less likely to be called out for ripping off other, better films, as director Sean S. Cunningham and screenwriter Victor Miller did when they conned (a guess) respectable studio Paramount into producing a cheapo Halloween clone. The first Friday the 13th has none of Halloween's skill or charm, but it does have a similar low budget and an admittedly bravura finale, in which Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) comes forward to claim she killed Kevin Bacon et al. because he reminded her of someone who let her son, Jason, drown. And then Alice (Adrienne King) cuts her head off in slow motion.
None of the plot-points of Friday the 13th matter, mostly because each subsequent film ignores or retcons what came before it. Looking for a movie mindfuck? Why is Jason an adult in Part II? And see if you can piece together the timeline of the events that take place over parts IV (The Final Chapter), V (A New Beginning), and VI (Jason Lives)—also notable because some of the characters seem to know they're in a horror movie—and then wonder why Part VII (The New Blood) ignores most of Part VI. Lastly, the final film in this original grouping (Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan) feels like it was made on a completely different planet (a bad idea explored years later in the nearly unrelated Jason X), and also takes place for 80 of its 100 minutes on a boat.
The Friday the 13th movies are dumb, but they deliver the kills slasher fans want and, for better or worse, no one makes them like this anymore.
Honorable Mentions: The Burning (1981), in which a young Jason Alexander and actor pals are hacked to bits by a disfigured man with garden shears, and My Bloody Valentine (1981)—a movie so gory it was shorn of its gore, most of which has been restored on Blu-ray. Plus, the accents are Canadian. Happy Halloween, eh!