January 15, 2012

Top 13 Pre-2000 HORROR Films That I Saw for the First Time in 2011

#13 MANHUNTER - I'm pretty sure I saw this at some point back in the day, but I don't believe I've ever watched it in its entirety until late in 2011. While I do like the Hannibal Lector films, they aren't movies that I go out of my way to see, and the same can be said for the films of director Michael Mann. It could also be argued that, like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and the films that followed it, this a thriller and not a horror movie. Whatever. There's a serial killer in it and I wanted to include it on this list, so shut your stupid mouth. All of that being said, it's no accident that MANHUNTER went unseen by me for many years. Now that I finally got caught up on it, it's a movie that I'm obviously glad I got to see. MANHUNTER is a slow burn and even though I thought lead actor William Petersen was good, he doesn't exactly scream "leading man". However, it's beautifully shot and one of the more stylish American serial killer films out there. Tom Noonan is chilling as Francis Dollarhyde, and the initial reveal of his character is utterly creepy.

#12 SNAPSHOT - A model is stalked by a dangerous admirer. Pretty simple. I liked this one mostly because of the cast, and especially lead actress Sigrid Thornton, who plays the damsel in distress. High Keays-Byrne of MAD MAX fame is great as an eccentric photographer, as is Chantal Contouri as the wealthy woman who takes a liking to Thornton's character and introduces her to the world of modeling after getting her to quit her job at a hair salon. You can check out my brief review of the film here. Again, not something I'd strongly recommend to anyone, nor is it particularly outstanding, but there's something about it that appealed to me.

#11 DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK - What some would consider an essential made-for-TV horror movie was recently remade and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, so I thought there would be no better time than now (well, a few months ago) to finally watch it. Perhaps I'll talk about the remake some other time, but as for this particular film, it's one of those movies that I watch and find myself in absolute awe that it aired on network television once upon a time. It's not a perfect horror movie by any means, and some would probably say that the creature effects in the film are rather goofy, but there's something consistently unsettling about the film. It's quite strange as a whole, and there are moments in the film that are genuinely frightening. I was hoping the remake would finally lead to a legitimate release of this film (it was unavailable for many years until Warner made it available as an on-demand DVDR), but alas, like the creatures in the film, it remains in the dark.

#10 PSYCHO - As much as I love two filmmakers who were greatly inspired by Hitchcock, Dario Argento and Brian De Palma, I haven't had much of a desire to go back and watch his films. I watched a handful of them in high school, but haven't really made any attempt to see his movies since. I'm sure I may have caught some (or most) of PSYCHO on television over the years, but it wasn't until some time in 2011 that I sat down to watch it all the way through. I've heard people call this film overrated and go on to praise PEEPING TOM as the better of the two essential "proto-slashers", but, for me, this one lived up to my expectations and then some. Masterful camera work, a great performance by Anthony Perkins, and generally well-constructed. It's just a shame that, because it's been talked about so much since it's release, it's almost impossible to go into this movie completely oblivious to the numerous tricks that it has up its sleeves. It's funny how, over time, what was once considered an important plot twist has become common knowledge, but yet it doesn't affect the film at all. PSYCHO should be higher on the list, but it's not a film that I'll revisit any time soon.

#9 GANJA AND HESS - Perhaps one of the most ambiguous examples of an unconventional horror film that I've ever seen. Duane Jones of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD stars as the eponymous Hess (Dr. Hess to be exact) who meets a mysterious woman named Ganja, played by the lovely Marlene Clark. Together, the two engage in bizarre blood-drinking rituals in a film that acts as a metaphor for an uncontrollable addiction. This unique film culminates in a wonderful church scene in which Hess may or may not turn to God to be cleansed of said addiction, incorporating the religious iconography that has become commonplace in vampire lore. It's an extremely well put together, albeit bare bones, film with a borderline experimental score from Sam Waymon, who also starred in the movie as a preacher. GANJA AND HESS is a great conversation piece and, arguably, and important film in early black cinema.

#8 STRANGE BEHAVIOR - An odd Aussie horror film that begins as a slasher before veering off into mad science territory. A demented scientist draped in mystery turns a group of teenagers into thoughtless murderers. STRANGE BEHAVIOR is a flawed film and not great by any means, but there's something about the film's tone and atmosphere that appealed to me a great deal. I adore the synthy Tangerine Dream score, as well as the occasional use of non-original pop music throughout the film, especially "Jumping out a Window" by New Zealand New Wave act Pop Mechanix in the end credits. There's also a cool Halloween party scene that put a smile on my face, in which a bunch of teenagers dance in synchronicity to Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes". The film aslo teases what could have been a great slasher with a killer in a goofy Tor Johnson mask. Never got around to reviewing this one, but maybe I'll talk about it more one day.

#7 DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS - Dark, atmospheric, sexy, and downright bizarre. Admittedly, I've always had a soft spot for the vampire genre. When done right and handled with care by people who bring a certain level of intelligence and creativity to the table, vampire movies can be fascinating and among the best that the horror genre has to offer. That beng said, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, despite being flawed, is an outstanding vampire movie for a number of reasons, which you can read about here.

#6 HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW - HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW begins as a pretty standard campus slasher with surprisingly entertaining moments scattered throughout, but then it takes a completely awesome turn in the final act and introduces an almost Dario Argento feel with gelled lighting and a Goblin-esque score from composer Richard Band. The atmosphere gets turned up to eleven in the back end of the film, turning an otherwise decent slasher into a rather impressive piece of filmmaking. It takes a while for this one to pick up in terms of delivering the traditional slasher elements, but once it reaches that point, it becomes a fast-paced series of kill scenes and slasher conventions. Kate McNeil is impressive as the Final Girl (who I also praised here), rivaling Amy Steel of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 and APRIL FOOL'S DAY fame. Yeah, I said it. There's a severed head in a toilet that makes an appearance, making this one of three '80s slashers that I'm aware of to feature such a thing. Overall, a damn fine slasher film.

#5 MAGIC - Horror films with puppets are hit or miss. Some filmmakers know how to use them and others can't seem to take full advantage of how inherently creepy dolls and puppets are. I'd say (based on what I've seen) there's a short list of horror movies that get it right, and MAGIC is definitely one of those films. Anthony Hopkins plays a failing magician whose career gets a boost when he incorporates a ventriloquist puppet into his act. However, he leaves it all behind when he travels out to the country and attempts to rekindle an old friendship with a woman whom he crushed on for many years (Ann-Margret). In the meantime, Hopkins regularly has conversations with his puppet. As the film progresses, the puppet seemingly turns on Hopkins and develops the ability to move at will - or does it? As a fan of psychological horror films with unreliable narrators, I found MAGIC to be utterly impressive because of its ambiguity, not to mention the fact that it's incredibly creepy for obvious reasons.

#4 HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS - This was another title that came up when I reached out to the Death Rattlers for my Reader's Choice theme. I was a bit surprised when Karl Brezdin from the Fist of B-List picked this one for me to review; I expected him to drop some machismo action movies on me since those are the films that I most associate him with (check out his great blog and you'll know why), but instead he picked this Italian horror film, which I had previously heard about and was planning on seeing sooner or later but obviously had never gotten around to. Karl picking it made me finally move it to the top of my must-see list, and I'm extremely glad it worked out that way. There's nothing funny about HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS. It's a dark, eerie, atmospheric, and just flat out fucking weird. Check out my review of it here.

#3 CRITTERS 2 - I may have seen this back and the day as a little brat, perhaps on VHS or on cable late one night, but it doesn't really stick out in my memory, so I'm counting my recent viewing of CRITTERS 2 as a first. I watched this towards the very end of the year, as I had purchased the set of all four CRITTERS films for pretty cheap and decided to check out the sequels. Well, the viewing of the subsequent films didn't really pan out like I had expected. I watched the third and the first few minutes of the fourth, and it was apparent that none of them could even come close to the second one in terms of entertainment value.

The second CRITTERS is far and away the best of the four because it takes everything you could expect from these campy B-movies and turns it up to eleven. One of my favorite gimmicks of these films is the fact that the intergalactic bounty hunters are faceless beings who assume the identities of humans in order to blend in on Earth, and this particular entry in the series does a great job of playing with that gimmick and using it for comedic effect. At one point, one of the bounty hunters turns into 80's comedic actor Eddie Deezen, and at one point it's teased that the same bounty hunter will turn into Freddy Krueger before one of his cohorts puts a stop to it. Aside from that, this movie features some great violence and lots of laughs, and those Critters are just so gosh darn cute. Also, CHEESBURGERS!

#2 CAT PEOPLE - Directed by one of American cinema's greatest assets, Paul Schrader, this remake of the Val Lewton-produced CAT PEOPLE is a tad overlong and it kinda drags in spots, but I absolutely adored it. This strange little erotic horror film is very sexy, beautifully filmed, has an atmosphere akin to Italian horror movies, and has a wonderful synth-heavy score from one of my favorite composers of the 80's, Giorgio Moroder. In fact, I love the score so much that I'm actually listening to it as I write this post. However, it's the gorgeous Nastassja Kinski who I find to be the most noteworthy thing about this film; with her exotic beauty, I can't think of anyone at the time who would have been more perfect for the role she played. If you desire, you can read my full review of the film here. Meow.

#1 HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER - Along with PSYCHO, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER was one of my more important horror firsts of 2011. Just for the simple fact that this movie has already been talked about to death, I opted not to review it last year, but it did come up in a couple of my short-lived Death Rattle Arena posts, where I paired it up against two other films to see which was the more dominant piece of cinema.

Going back and watching the "classics" is something I don't do very often. For the last couple of years, discovering underseen films for myself or wading through the sewers of somewhat obscure cinema is something I prefer over educating myself and striving to be a knowledgeable cinephile. Plus, more often than not, the "classics" bore me and I'd rather watch a movie about a masked killer who slays big-titty college girls. But HENRY is one of those films that not only was I glad to go back and see, but a film that made me think to myself: "I've been missing out all these years." Don't get me wrong, I would have gotten to it eventually, but you know how that goes. So many movies, not enough hours in a day.

One of the things that I like about HENRY is that it doesn't glorify murder, and the film never really basks in the violence; it's more of a reminder that, yes, there are fucked up people out there, and there will always be fucked up people out there. What surprised me about HENRY was how occasionally funny it was despite everything else. The on-screen pairing of Michael Rooker and Tom Towles is wonderful; I could easily watch an entire series of non-related films with the both of them playing buddies in various scenarios. And that theme song. Simple yet powerful and undeniably haunting.


  1. HENRY is a film that I've been watching for the last fifteen years... at one point I was watching it on such a constant basis that I would just recite the film's dialogue along the whole way through. No, hot goddess over at Day of the Woman, that's not a pissing contest comment. ;) They used to show clips of this in my criminal psychology classes too. Fun stuff. Very powerful film with one of the most disturbing ass soundtracks evur!

    1. I haven't reached the point of memorizing the dialogue yet, but it is a very re-watchable film despite the subject matter. I think I watched it like four or five times last year; I rarely revisit movies that often.

  2. In a way, I'm still too scared to actually watch it.

    Great list.

  3. Finally I have the reason I needed to watch Snapshot. Very impressive list sir. I love me some Pupi Avati love.

    1. Thanks, Brad. Remember, don't get your hopes up too high for SNAPSHOT. Not a great movie but something about it just clicked with me.

  4. I'm pumped you enjoyed Psycho! I'm glad you weren't bored and disillusioned by the twist that's no longer a twist.
    Also, House with the Laughing Windows is so fucking creepy. Love it.

    1. Oh, for sure. I'm not gonna lie, I was bored with parts of PSYCHO, but as a whole it wasn't a letdown by any means!

  5. Magic always creeped the hell out of me. *shudders*

  6. Another great list, Aaron. I had a similar experience with watching PSYCHO in that it took me years to finally sit down and watch it from start to finish. I guess it's been about ten years ago now and after buying the dvd and seeing it in its entirety I wondered just why in the hell it took me so long. Now if only I could go ahead and bust open the handful of other Hitch flicks sittin on the shelf, lol.

    HENRY disturbed me when I first saw it and I felt dirty after watching it as well as a slight bit ashamed. If my grandparents had known what I had rented I woulda been in some deep shit. It's one of those movies I prefer to never watch again at least not by myself as it depressed the hell out of me. Watching it with somebody else to see their whole reaction to it is fine.

    I'm not a fan of the CRITTERS movies at all, but when part two came out, I really dug it a lot and couldn't figure out why it was getting slammed for being a boring, inferior sequel. I figured some folks had seen a different movie from what I had seen, lol.

    1. I really need to watch more Hitchcock in general. Him and Kurosawa both are two important filmmakers whose works I'm sorely lacking in, but at the end of the day I'd simply rather watch something stupid, violent, and preferable 90 minutes or shorter. C'est la vie. As for CRITTERS, I like the first movie but it's not a favorite of mine, and after seeing the third I'm not in a rush to watch the fourth, but I'll definitely be revisiting Part 2 on a semi-regular basis. It's so much fun.