Dracula (1931) is obviously a classic. Hell the movie was made for 80 years ago and it still has profound influence on pop culture and horror today. What I like about this one is not only Bella Lugosi’s performance but the set design and atmospheric quality of the movie. Lugosi manages to capture the charming allure and repulsive qualities of Dracula in a way that few have come close to matching. If you seek this one out get the 75th anniversary edition which has some great extra features about Lugosi and the movie. Plus, the movie has been masterfully restored in this edition.
The Mist is based on Stephen King novella of the same name. Given that a lot of the movie adaptations of his books are crap, I was glad to discover that The Mist isn’t one of those movies. What I like about The Mist is that you have all the trappings of a classic horror/suspense movie. A small group of characters with conflicting personalities/ideals stuck in a vunerable locale with no sign of help coming to the rescue. The acting and writing are done well enough that it doesn’t take long to form an opinion about the characters. Having someone to root for and against in a story always makes it more rewarding and engaging. But this is a horror movie, not a Tenesse Williams play, and in The Mist they don’t hold back on the gore/action. The creature design is quite brilliant and the use of digital effects with physical sfx works great. During the entire movie I never really felt ‘safe’. Instead I felt varying degrees of suspense and apprhension. The scene in the drug store is a perfect example of the movie amping up the horror to a beautiful level. I never felt like anyone was guranteed an escape from The Mist. The ending is rather unsettling, and some don’t like it. Myself I found it like a kick in the nuts, at least in the metaphorical sense, and I give the studio/director kudos from not shying away from it. This isn’t your typical Hollywood ending, and that’s a good thing. Horror is meant to unsettle you, and for most people the ending does just that.
In The Mouth of Madness is not only a brilliant tribute/homage to HP Lovecraft but its also one of my favorite movies by John Carpenter. The movie has all the classic elements of Lovecraft story, missing author that writes books that have strange influence on readers, a investigator searching for the author in New England, and the blurred line of reality. Sam Neil is quite brilliant as a prick-ish investigator and his descent into madness unfolds nicely over the course of the plot. Along the way fans of Lovecraft will pick up on nods to his stories, such as an inn named after Pickman’s Model and etc. But In The Mouth of Madness isn’t merely a fan boy homage to Lovecraft. The plot and characters stand on their own as a story which I found interesting and engaging. Especially when one of the characters brings up the idea that reality is just a shared idea. The town of Hobb’s End is a character unto itself as well, whether its a victim or a villian is ambigous. The special effects and creature design is great, and at times rather unsettling which is exactly what I want. The ending is rather twisted but it perfectly reflects the Lovecraft influence.
Two Evil Eyes is a hidden gem that I came across on DVD years ago. It features a short film by Georgeo Romero and Dario Argento. Both of the movies are based on a different Poe short story and its great fun to see how these two film makers adapt Poe’s classic work. Both are well done adaptations and do a great job of creating atmosphere and tension. Overall, I enjoyed both of the movies, but I will say that the performance by Harvey Kitell really stands out. Even in his early days of acting its clear that he’s a powerful actor.
HellRaiser is at its roots a haunted house movie but is twisted into something utterly bizzare and macabre by Clive Barker. The concept of the Cenobites and the mixture of lust/suffering/pain/pleasure is revolutionary in horror. In a lot of ways Barker pushes the envelope of what horror is in HellRaiser and the end results are something disturbing and brilliant. Visually, this an impressive movie as well. The transformation sequence of Frank is nothing short of a masterpiece and goes to show what you can do with stop animation. Besides all that HellRaiser has characters I can despise as well as ones I can root for throughout. In the end HellRaiser is brilliant because it takes the themes and influences of the past and twists them into something new. Although it is visceral it is very much a thinking person’s horror story.
Zombie Land is a brilliant blend of comedy and gore. Although the overall plot is realtively straightforward and simple it is the ensemble of characters and a surprise cameo that really make the movie a great one. Columbus’ list of rules is quite brilliant and the CGI use of them in certain scenes is hilarious and clever. Zombie Land is definetly a ‘popcorn’ movie, and in this case that’s not a bad thing.
Sean of the Dead is a fun movie because it manages to be a rather suspenseful zombie movie while balancing the comedic aspects without becoming cartoonish. The characters really drive the movie and I quickly formed a love or hate relationship with each of them. Not to mention that for any horror fan there’s plenty of subtle and not so subtle references/influences from Romero’s zombie movies throughout. Plus, the ending is probably one of the most hilarious and fitting ones I’ve seen in a long time.
What more can I say about Night of the Living Dead that hasn’t already been said? The influence it has on movie making and the horror genre is profound. I’ve seen this movie countless amounts of times and I still find myself engaged in it every time. The characters are well written and believable. The conflict between the survivors in the house is probably more interesting then the zombie threat, but Romero knows how to use horror/gore/violence like a maestro. What really makes this movie appealing to me is that it engages my imagination. I often wonder what would’ve happened if they’d all gone into the basement originally? Or if other events had turned out differently.
The reason I put Day of the Dead ahead of Night of the Living Dead is not because it had a bigger budget for more elaborate sfx. The reasons are because I really enjoyed the whole idea of showing what the remenants of the military/scientific community were doing during the zombie outbreak. The previous two zombie movies by Romero hinted at it, but never delved into it. The conflicting approach of how to handle the zombies by the military and scienstists is great stuff and gives a glimpse into perhaps why the government failed to handle the crisis. Then there’s Bub, a zombie that supposedly has some sentience and isn’t a mindless eatting machine. Bub is my favorite character in the whole series of Romero’s zombie movies. Romero raises a lot of interesting questions with Bub, and the scientist studying him. Romero breaks away from the traditional idea of what a zombie is in Day of the Dead. Traditions that he himself helped establish in movies. Some people hate the idea of Bub, but I always liked the way Romero presented him. Bub was the tip of the iceberg of possibilies of what a zombie could be. Besides all this philosophical bullshit, Romero proves he still has the chops to make a gory horror movie and amp up the suspense. The end scene with Rhodes meeting his grisly fate at the hands of the zombies is one of the most memorable scenes in horror for me. A brilliant piece of sfx and acting.
The Thing is my favorite movie by John Carpenter. What I love about The Thing is that there is a constant atmosphere of dread and paranoia. Both the characters and the audience never really know for sure if someone is human or a ‘thing’. Add to that the fact that the movie is set in a desolate location with no chance of a quick rescue and you have a fantastic setting that only amps up the tension. There’s a certain level of Lovecraft influence in this movie as well, something ancient and alien being dug up and causing havoc, but where Lovecraft was prone to having his characters ramble on about things, The Thing doesn’t shy away from the action/violence. Got flame throwers? Yes, indeed. But the movie doesn’t simply rely on blowing shit up to resolve the conflict. The use of scientific method to figure out what the hell The Thing is and how to see is people are ‘things’ is great. Not only does it show us something about the characters but it also creates tension/suspense. The scene where they’re doing the blood test is fantastic in terms of apprehension/suspense. The casting and acting in the movie are great, and Russell gives one of his best performances in it. Add Keith David is one of my favorites as well and manages to chew the scenery right along with Russell. Although the use of sfx is limited, they’re are brilliantly disgusting when they do occur. In particular the scene in the dog kennel. The ending is rather ambigous, but I always loved how it ended. The movie doesn’t give you a clear answer as to who is who. Nor does it tell you who will survive. It leaves it up to the viewer, and I like it that way.