My top picks for the best horror movies to watch on Halloween!

It’s almost that time of year again, the time of year that for horror writers is like a combination of Christmas and… well, Halloween.

Of course I’m talking about Halloween. And what better way to celebrate than by watching a suitably scary movie. But what makes a great Halloween classic? My own recipe for a ghoulish treat involves some great scares, a sense of fun, a lot of comedy, some cheesy dialogue, and a good dose of escapism.  These may not be the world’s scariest movies, but they among the most fun to watch, especially on the spookiest night of the year!

So without further ado or aplomb, here are my own favourite Halloween movies…

Goes without saying rally.

Goes without saying, really.

Dance of the Vampires aka The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

Roman Polanski’s take of two bungling vampire hunters has enough scares and laughs for everyone.

Halloween 1978 

This has to be the most appropriate movie ever made for Halloween. Pumpkins and trick-or-treaters abound in John Carpenter’s superbly economical slasher movie. By the end, you’ll be afraid to turn out the lights!

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The original zombie apocalyptic thrill ride!

The Fog (1980)

Some great scares in this John Carpenter classic about ghostly pirates. Johnny Depp is nowhere to be seen.

American Werewolf in London (1981)

John Landis pumps up the scares and the laughs in this outrageous werewolf story. Terrifying and laugh out loud funny at the same time!

Stephen King wants to tell you a bedtime story... or a few.

Stephen King wants to tell you a bedtime story… or a few.

Creepshow (1982)

Stephen King writes and acts! B-movie staples are given a fresh lease of life in this shot story compendium.

Night of the Comet (1984)

Note to self: if a particularly bright meteor shower promises a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime light show, do not watch it! Post-apocalyptic teen v zombies hijinks ensue.

Vamp (1986)

Vampire strippers. Sound familiar? But add fashion icon Grace Jones and some cheesy Eighties teens you have a recipe for a fangtastic movie. Get it? Fang-tastic? Oh, forget it.

Fright Night (1985)

Another great Eighties vampire comedy. Only the original version is actually funny. Roddy McDowell lends humour and pathos to his role as a has-been TV vampire hunter who finds the real deal living in the suburbs.

Night of the Creeps (1986)

Nobody did teen comedy better than the Eighties. Jocks getting dismembered? Check. Cheerleaders attacked by aliens? Check. Mutant alien slugs infesting people? Check… wait, what…

House (1986)

An overlooked gem starring William Katt (Greatest American Hero) as a guest in a very unwelcoming home filled with rubberized ghosts and ghouls!

Critters (1986)

Aliens make contact, and they look like prickly care bears! Great home siege movie with some very silly monsters.

The Monster Squad 1987

Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon descend upon a small American town. Who’s going to stop them? Frankenstein, that’s who!

Lost Boys (1987)

So obvious it’s barely worth a mention. But it does stand up well, even now. Coreys Haim and Feldman’s finest hour.

Evil Dead II (1987)

A retelling of the Evil Dead, but with added humour and slapstick. It’s like watching a live-action cartoon. You can almost forget this is a movie about cannibalistic, soul-stealing demons.

They're coming to get you... erm... Barbara.

They’re coming to get you… erm… Barbara.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

A light, family film but not without its share of thrills. Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker (yes, that one) star as hopeless witches out to rule the world on Halloween!

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Always good after a few beers. Most employed store staff can relate to Simon Pegg’s eponymous hero, who is distinctly unimpressed that his day is being ruined by a zombie invasion.

So there you have it, my tops picks for an entertaining night in front of the TV this Halloween. Let me know if you agree or if I missed anything. And happy screaming!

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The Best Horror Movies of the past 50 years Part 4! The Eighties!

Part 4 of our series on the most influential horror films of the last 50 years!

The end of the Seventies created the slasher movie. The mixture of low-budget filmmaking with its teenage cinema-going audience proved a winning combination. Special effects were also coming into their own, courtesy of groundbreaking science-fiction movies like “Star Wars”, and SFX and Special Make-up pioneers like Rick Baker and Savini. The Eighties would see an explosion (sometimes literally) in gore and transformation special effects. This in turn would spark off a  reactionary backlash… the “Video Nasty”.

Just keep telling yourself, "It's not Halloween! It's not Halloween!"

Just keep telling yourself, “It’s not Halloween! It’s not Halloween!”

Friday the 13th 1980

Starring a young Kevin Bacon, this textbook slasher is actually quite effective. Hot on the heels of John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, Jason is Michael Myers on steroids. The film is pretty much a carbon copy of the earlier movie, except for more gore, a scary summer camp setting, and did we say more gore? A huge success, the film spawned a vast quantity of sequels. These are unusual in that the main bogeyman, Jason, becomes not only superhuman, but a parody of himself, until at last we finally get “Jason in Space”. Even today, Jason refuses to die, getting a recent unnecessary “reboot” in 2009. Director Sean S Cunningham had  worked on Wes Craven’s notorious nasty shocker “Last House on the Left”, and like Wes Craven’s monsters, Jason would soon become a  postmodern joke. But the first instalment tries, for the most part, to pay it straight.

The Shining 1980

Stanley Kubrick’s re-imagining of Stephen King’s masterful haunted house story is a rare thing – a horror movie and a work of art. Jack Nicholson descends into madness with a little help from the ghosts of the deserted Overlook Hotel, turning on his wife Shelley Duvall ( I challenge you to find a better screamer)  and his psychic young son. The hotel becomes part of the horror, its patterned carpets and maze-like structure twisting  the mind out of true. Nicholson’s performance is Oscar-worthy.  Kubrick’s direction flawless. Even the opening scene with its alien viewpoint becomes unsettling. Copied countless times, this is a true classic.

American Werewolf in London 1981

John Landis, better known perhaps for  comedies such as “The Blues Brothers” and “Coming to America” left an indelible impression on the horror genre with this tale of an American boy who gets bitten by a werewolf on the Yorkshire Moors. From then on, things get truly hairy. Landis plays with horror and comedy. The result is a very unsettling picture. But the star of this film is the magnificent werewolf transformation scene designed by Rick Baker. Excruciating in its agony and detail, we really believe we are seeing a man transform into a creature of the night. The uneven tone caught many critics by surprise, but this one stands the test of time, and has been copied by virtually every werewolf movie since.

The Howling 1981

It would be remiss not to mention “The Howling” as well. There is some controversy over which movie was in the works first. Landis maintains he had the idea for “American Werewolf” before production started on “The Howling. Both are werewolf movies, both feature excellent transformation scenes. Both have comedic elements. But “The Howling” for the most part is a serious story, as evidenced by the opening scene in which reporter Dee Wallace (the mom in “E.T.”) finds her interviewee in a seedy sex video store, only to be driven half insane when she sees him transform before her eyes. The scene is one of the most intense I’ve ever watched. Great acting fro the likes of Patrick McNee and John Carradine flesh out the cast, but again the real star is the special effects. Baker again had a hand in these, before leaving the production to work on “American Werewolf”.

The Thing 1982

Baker’s successor on “The Howling” was Rob Bottin. Bottin came into his own as designer of the many gut-wrenching and terrifying effects used in this John Carpenter masterpiece. The story is a simple one – scientists in a remote Antarctic base discover an  unfriendly alien life form that assimilates and takes over all other life forms, including man. The great cast makes the whole thing believable, while Carpenter is on top form, dishing out the scares.  But by now the “Video Nasty” craze was in full swing, especially in the UK, where various consumer groups battled to get such films banned.  That, and negative comparison to the “feel good” alien blockbuster “E.T.” released that year, prevented “The Thing” from being a box office success. Thirty years later, it has cult status.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984

Another Wes Craven creation, scarred undead child-murderer Freddy Kruger would go on to become one of the most recognizable monsters in horror. “Nightmare” is a genuinely frightening picture, with some very effective scares. It spawned an army of sequels and reboots of varying quality. But it too would suffer from the postmodern disease of become a self-parody,until finally we get “Jason vs Freddy”, a film that doesn’t even try to suspend disbelief.

Be afraid.. of the fly!

Be afraid.. of the fly!

The Fly 1986

David Cronenberg had made several pictures after “Shivers”, notable the excellent “Scanners”. But he hit the big time with this remake of a Vincent Price shocker about a scientists who experiments with teleportation only to swap heads with a fly. It doesn’t sound like a recipe for success — a horribly disfigured Jeff Goldblum gradually transforming into a homicidal half-man/half-fly. But stalwart acting from Goldblum and Gena Davis, combined with a highly intelligent script, turned audiences on everywhere and the Fly became a bona fide hit. The tagline “Be Afraid. Be very afraid” has become a part of popular culture. One of the high points of horror in the 80s.

Evil Dead II 1987

Sam Raimi had burst onto movie screens with the 1981 classic “The Evil Dead”. Raimi’s penchant for weird camera angles and cartoony special effects was an underground hit, attracting the attention of the anti-Video Nasty brigade due to one very unpleasant scene. In “Evil Dead II” he took this one step further, creating his own unique blend of comedy and slapstick, and making a star out of straight man Bruce Campbell. As horror lightened in tone after the mid-Eighties, Raimi’s style fitted the mood of the times perfectly. The film is a basic remake of the first movie, but ends on a hysterically crazed note. The violence is cartoon, the plot insane. Fanbooys loved it, and have been lapping it up ever since.

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

The Lost Boys 1987

All this seems to be part of a pattern. The serious, horrifying movies of the Seventies were transforming, as studios targeted their prime audience, and began churning out products that college kids out on a date could enjoy. Cynical marketing? Probably. This was the Eighties, after all. Whatever the reason, two movies came out in 1987 that reinvented the vampire genre. One was “Near Dark”, the other was “The Lost Boys”. This is where vampire chic has its roots. Kiefer Sutherland heads a posse of Eighties vampires, compete with rock star looks and clad in the latest fashions. They are everything vampires are (attractive, immortal, evil etc.) but updated. The movie is a very slick production, with some favourite child actors, some great comedy scenes, and a top-notch Eighties soft-rock soundtrack. “Lost Boys” was an instant hit. Since then, almost every “cool” vampire movie or TV show owes a debt to this movie, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Twilight”.

Near Dark 1987

The other movie that redefined the vampire genre was the little-seen “Near Dark”. But whereas “The Lost Boys” drew in audiences, this film took 25 years to become a cult classic. A tour-de-force of filmmaking by Oscar–wining director Kathryn Bigelow, it includes  a dream cast, many of whom had appeared together in Bigelow’s then-husband James Cameron’s “Aliens”. “Near Dark” features grubby, streetwise vampires prowling the American MidWest. This is no Gothic romance, nor is it high fashion. Lane Henriksen’s performance is chilling and compelling, Bill Paxton is at his rebellious finest, and sadly underused actress Jenny Wright at her most beguiling. These vampires are down and dirty. In many ways this movie is the opposite of “The Lost Boys”.

Hellraiser 1987

At the end of the Eighties, a Liverpudlian horror author with a dodgy transatlantic accent came to prominence. He was also a film director. Clive Barker brought a new vision to horror. His was horror filled with spectacle, almost operatic. The plot revolves around a puzzle box that, when opened, summons a trio of leather-clad sado-masochistic demons. Like Cronenberg, Barker likes to explore the forbidden or taboo. In “Hellraiser” he gave the world the iconic and somewhat literally-named monster Pinhead. And lo, a franchise was born! The movie is  unsettling and takes itself very seriously. Barker would follow this up with a variety of cult classics, such as “Nightbreed” and “Lord of Illusions” – all of which were overlooked by mainstream audiences despite their originality and quality.

In conclusion…

The Eighties created some wonderful horror movies, and saw the rise of the horror-comedy as a way to reinvigorate the genre. The wild and wacky craze of the Video Nasties gave way to more mainstream hits. Horror became homogenized. Maverick directors like Cronenberg became accepted by the movie-going public, and by the end of the Eighties, horror movies were no longer a Video Nasty to be burned or kept on the top shelf of your local video store but instead became big business, and somewhat tamer as a result.  Sequels multiplied faster than zombies. It was the coming of a time of exploitation, not of stereotypes this time, but of wallets.

Next time…

Horror in 1990s-2000s. In which sequelitis runs rampant, we all see dead people, vampires get all mushy, camera angles become shakier, and ghosts turn Japanese! See you there!

 

 

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Notes from FantasyCon2014

Great artwork for the brochure reproduced here by Larry Rostant

Great artwork for the brochure reproduced here by Larry Rostant

FantasyCon 2014, run by the British Fantasy Society, was held at the Royal York Hotel on Friday 5th – Sunday 7th September 2014.

This was my first time at Fantasycon, the annual gathering of the British Fantasy Society. So I didn’t know what to expect. I did know, however, that there were quite a few eminent guests, including Charlaine Harris, author of the phenomenally successful Sookie Stackhouse series, better known as TV vampire show “True Blood”. Other luminaries included horror author Ramsey Campbell and “Chocolat” writer Joanna Harris, as well as “Dr Who” scribe Toby Whithouse to name but a few.

The convention was held at the Royal York Hotel, adjacent to the train station and therefore a very convenient location. The hotel itself was a grand old affair. Sadly, the cost of staying there was prohibitively expensive. In fact, as I had only decided to go at the last minute, getting a hotel in York proved a difficult task, so I had to commute from Manchester on the two days I attended. However, this wasn’t too bad, thanks to a convenient rail link.

Prior to booking, the lack of information on the website was perplexing and gave the convention the feel of a “members only” club. However, this wasn’t the reality when I got there. Although many people came in groups, overall I found people to be very friendly and accommodating. But a better website, and even a forum, would have helped a lot. As it was, I threw caution to the wind and bought my ticket. But I can’t help but think how many other people were put off by the impersonal nature of the web page.

The first day was an introduction to the convention. Once I had acquired a map of the rather confusing (and sprawling) hotel layout, I grabbed myself some great free books for attendees (always a bonus!). There were also some fantastic discounts available in the dealer room from some sellers, while others remained reassuringly expensive.

I was very grateful for the introductory session which got me talking to several other attendees. The rest of the day passed in a blur. The crowd was an eclectic one, with attendees from as far as the USA. It was great to see people who were as enthusiastic about sci-fi, fantasy and horror as myself, if not more so. The staff too were friendly, and the convention rather relaxed. A little too relaxed, unfortunately. I missed several author signings despite being in the same bar! A bit of an announcement would have been nice.

Throughout the Con, there were book launches, author readings, even short film showings. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to the bitter end to witness the delights of Karaoke on Friday, which apparently was a pity.

On Saturday, I got there early and bleary-eyed to attend a great panel discussion on whether there was a place for hope in horror. The panel consisted of Ramsey Campbell, Roz Kaveney, Guy Adams, Sara Jayne Townsend and Adam Neville. After a spirited debate, the panel ended with Roz Kaveney’s revelation that he once worked in the same restaurant as serial killer Dennis Nielsen! A very enlightening discussion that showed the versatility of the horror genre.

Charlaine Harris entertains at FantasyCon 2014.

Charlaine Harris entertains at FantasyCon 2014.

Later, Charlaine Harris gave us the lowdown on what it feel like to become an overnight sensation after thirty years of writing mystery novels, as well as the agony and ecstasy of selling your work to cable TV. Ms Harris was very entertaining, and was a regular fixture in the lobby, as were several other authors, giving the con an even more relaxed feel.

Later, I attended a panel on horror in TV. This featured “Dr Who” scribe Toby Whithouse, screenwriter author and editor Paul Kane, and Stephen Volk, writer of notorious BBC 1992 fake documentary “Ghostwatch”. Bizarrely, everyone on the panel agreed that CGI was not a good alternative for strong stories. Maybe there is hope for TV.

There were many other panels to attend, including an enthusiastic demonstration in swordfighting. Inevitably, I found that a lot of the most interesting panels conflicted. Yet there did seem to be a lull between 2-5pm.  But perhaps someone else with different interests would have told you the opposite.

Saturday ended with a mass signing. However, I sacrificed this in favour of hanging out in the bar. This is because for me the most rewarding aspect of FantasyCon was meeting other fans. As a writer, you tend to spend too much time in isolation. This means you lose touch with the people who matter most – the readers. I was amazed at their passion, their interest and their knowledge.  It really made me want to up my game.

On Saturday night, I headed home, my hunger for the speculative satiated for the moment, clutching my bagfuls of cheap books and signed copies. One of my aims had been to find new authors to broaden my reading, and I had certainly been given enough food for thought. I came away with a much greater knowledge of the blossoming sc-fi, horror and fantasy market, and with several new authors to sink my teeth into (figuratively).

A little light reading.

A little light reading.

Sunday proved a bridge too far for me. As there were only panels in the morning, I decided not to attend and save myself a hefty train fare. The afternoon was taken up with the British Fantasy Awards. But again, there was a curious lack of publicity about these on the net. The FantasyCon Twitter feed was also strangely silent throughout the weekend. The BFS produce some great publications, so it is odd that it doesn’t toot its own horn more.  Maybe the BFS could even televise the event on a Youtube channel!

In summary, this was a very worthwhile Con. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to meet likeminded people and who enjoy lively debates about everything in the world of speculative fiction and movies. I hope to go again next year and have an even better experience. However, a little more information would have been nice from the organisers for those who have not boldly gone to the Convention before. More Twitter updates would be a definite plus as well. But if you are a fan or creator of sci-fi/fantasy and horror in the UK, this is one convention you cannot afford to miss.

My  advice  is to book early and stay late, something I hope to do next time around!

 

Next year’s FantasyCon 2015 is to be held in Nottingham, UK.

 

 

 

 

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“MEET MY MAIN CHARACTER” Blog Tour!

Today, I have been kindly nominated by science-fiction novelist writer Craig Pay to join the “Meet My Main Characters” blog tour and tell you a little about the protagonist of my forthcoming sci-fi horror vampire novel, PROJECT NINE!

FrontCover2

What is the name of your main character?

The main character is Luke. Shall we call him a hero? That would be a problem, seeing as he commits multiple murder throughout the novel and digests the blood of his victims. Admittedly he does so to stay alive, but I’m jumping ahead of myself…

When and where is the story set?

The present day. Mainly around Iowa and Kansas. There are also some scenes set during various historical periods throughout the last century, seen in flashback.

What should we know about Luke?

Actually, we know very little about Luke before the main story begins. We first meet him when he is burying his mother. We next see him when he’s getting very drunk. Then the action starts…

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

He falls in love, of course. What else? Unfortunately for Luke, the girl he falls in love with (Lynne) happens to have escaped from a secret government research facility that has created real vampires through gene therapy. Before he knows what’s happening, Lynne has infected him with the genetic virus that causes vampirism. But theirs is no romantic world of opera capes and Romanian castles. Luke’s new existence is a grubby one, where he must commit brutal murder every night and drink the blood of his victims in order to survive. Left with no other option, Luke joins Lynne and her three friends, fellow escapees from Project Nine. However, an obsessive Iowa detective learns the truth, and sets about pursuing them across three states. And the detective is not alone, because the government department responsible for infecting Lynne and her friends are determined to bury their mistakes, permanently.

What is the personal goal of the character?

Luke wants to spend eternity with the woman he loves. But he also wants to survive at any cost. And that desire is going to lead him down some very dark alleyways indeed…

When can we expect the book to be published?

“Project Nine” is going to be published very, very soon. “Like” my Facebook page to receive regular updates:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eric-Steele-Author-and-Screenwriter/522318187899385?ref=hl

You can also follow me on Twitter under: @EISteele for my “a horror movie a day” tweets and other goodies.

The next nominated writer in this blog tour is:

Kevin A Ransom created the movie film criticism site MovieCrypt.com in the late 1990s. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and channels the site’s host, Grim D. Reaper. Kevin has two book series: The Spooky Chronicles; and The Matriarch. He is also an active member of The Horror Society. His website is: http://thinkingskull.com/

In the meantime, pleasant dreams…

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The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 Years, Part 3! The Seventies! 1976-1979!

Hi, there, horror fans! Last time we looked at how Hollywood was unafraid to make more experimental horror features in the early 1970s. Although Spielberg’s “JAWS” would lead to studios forever chasing the summer blockbuster, the late Seventies were still an exciting time for horror movies. Foreign filmmakers like David Cronenberg and Dario Argento were developing cult followings. Meanwhile, low budget filmmaking was about to come into its own, as was a certain young horror writer from Maine, New England…

Let’s start our list of late seventies horror with…

The Omen 1976

No-one can doubt the influence of Richard Donner’s by-the-numbers horror movie. With more than just a passing nod to artsy horror masterpiece “The Exorcist”, this is a rip-roaring Hollywood-style horror flick. It boasts some bravura set-pieces, such as the decapitated photographer. With stalwart acting from heavyweights Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Billy Whitelaw, and David Warner, the picture is very believable. But there’s no happy ending here as the Antichrist is born to a powerful American politician. This movie created a profitable and mostly well-made series of sequels that gave the world Sam Neil. It also became the bane of children named Damien everywhere.

Martin... a new kind of vampire.

Martin… a new kind of vampire.

Martin 1976

George A Romero, back from “Night of the Living Dead”, triumphed again with this underappreciated cinematic gem. It’s a genuinely original take on vampires. Is homicidal young loner Martin a vampire or not? Is he merely disturbed, or is there some truth in his bizarre flashbacks to another time? Terrific, glory, explicit, sensual, thought-provoking and beautifully filmed, this movie features an amazing performance by the underused John Amplas. Overlooked at its time, this has become a true cult classic.

Carrie 1976

The arrival of a young writer called Stephen King created a reign of terror that is still going today. Hollywood struck gold with King’s curiously brief tale of an alienated young girl with awesome telekinetic powers. Phenomenal directing by Brian De Palma (of “Sisters” fame) catapulted King into the popular consciousness. At one level this is a time-tested tale of an ugly duckling who gets her revenge. But DePalma used split screen and slow motion camera work to viscera effect for the final massacre that is actually too much to fit on one screen! What is mentioned less often is the great cast of actors including Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. This is one horror blockbuster that stands the test of time.

Suspiria 1977

Italian Filmmaker Dario Argento’s most well-known film is about a coven of witches posing as a ballet school in Italy. Some memorable set-pieces elevate this beyond its video-nasty style violence. Argento often treads a fine line between good and poor taste. Here, he manages to keep it on the straight and narrow. It also boasts a great score by the world’s foremost horror band… Goblin!

Dawn of the Dead 1978

Which brings us to George A Romero’s sequel to “Night of the Living Dead”. Where “Night” finished, “Dawn” goes a step further. Civilization is falling into chaos at the hands of the zombie invasion. We begin with some great scenes of things literally going to hell. Four survivors hitch a ride on a helicopter and hole up at an abandoned shopping mall. They soon learn that having everything does not make you happy. A social satire as well as a very frightening movie, the impact of “Dawn” may be diluted now due to dated make-up effects and the current trend for fast-running zombies. But the Romero’s innumerable hordes of shambling ghouls still make for claustrophobic viewing. This movie gave us memorable images like the Hari Krishna zombie, elevators full of undead shoppers, and an eerie kids’ TV theme tune. It also features some great acting from a cast who sadly never went on to stardom. “Dawn” has influenced virtually every horror movie since, including current TV sensation “The Walking Dead” and 2004’s delightful “zombie-rom-com” “Shaun of the Dead”. And come on, don’t you wish you were in that world, just a little bit?

The slasher genre... the most profitable genre in movies!

The slasher genre… the most profitable genre in movies!

Halloween 1978

John Carpenter’s film debut is actually not his film debut. That came with sci-fi black comedy “Dark Star” (1974). But he will forever be associated with this low-budget shocker about a psychopath that comes back to a leafy suburb to kill again on the titular eve. The movie made Jamie Lee Curtis a scream queen and cemented the “slasher movie” as a staple of cinema. The slasher movie’s key components of low cost, titillation, and violence was a wining combination, one that survives to this day. Arguably, this is the one sub-genre that has blackened the reputation of horror films, due to the many terrible or poor taste rip-offs branded “video nasties” in the 80s, such as the inept “Driller Killer”. But what makes “Halloween” a lot more intelligent than many of its successors is John Carpenter’s expert direction. He makes every shadow in your living room menacing, every closet or couch the potential hiding place of a madman. So that by the end of the movie your own house is no longer a safe place to hide. For a long time the most successful independent film ever made, “Halloween” is a true horror classic.

The Amityville Horror 1979

Hollywood must have been confused by the success of “Halloween”, if this return to the tried-and-tested haunted house formula is anything to go by. To be fair, it’s a very effective movie. The haunted house is given a twist by adding a bit of demonic possession, as well as copying the “true story” myth from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to give it added credence. But the worrying priest, bleeding walls etc are all things we’ve seen before. A well-made film that spawned innumerable sequels of decreasing quality and suffered the obligatory 21st century “reboot”. But that’s really the only reason it’s here.

It's enough to put you off eggs for life.

It’s enough to put you off eggs for life.

Alien 1979

Which brings us to the end of the 1970s. If Hollywood was running out of fresh ideas, it found one of its most enduring franchises in this unofficial adaptation of the B-movie shocker  “It! The Terror From Beyond Space” (1958). At the time, science-fiction mania was sweeping the world, thanks to the pop culture phenomenon of “Star Wars” (1977) and Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). The time was ripe for a sci-fi/horrror hybrid. Cue Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Schussett’s script of a rather unpleasant alien that stows away on a space ship. A very simple movie, enhanced by amazing visuals and strong actors, this is essentially hide-and-seek on a space ship. The groundbreaking chestburster scene also gave audiences a scare they would never forget. Responsible for a slew of sequels, some better than others, the end of the Seventies showed that horror was still prepared to boldly go where no ghoul had gone before!

Next time… The Eighties arrives!

In which aliens get even nastier, vampires get even cooler, werewolves get even hairier, and a some teenagers have their sleep disturbed on Elm Street. Sweet dreams!

 

 

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The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 Years, Part 2! The Seventies! 1970-1975!

Last time we saw how horror movies changed in the 1960s, from classic Gothic horror like the Hammer films and Roger Corman’s Edger Allen Poe adaptations to pessimistic modern horror stories like “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Night of the Living Dead”. This time we turn out attention to the 1970s – possibly the most exciting time for horror since the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

During this decade, Hollywood proved it was willing to take risks with stories, to go places they had never gone before. Add to this a new tide of horror authors who wanted to update the Gothic horror staples of vampires and werewolves, including a certain Stephen King, and you have a decade of some of the greatest horror movies ever made. In fact, there are so many great horror movies of the Seventies that I’ve had to split this post up! So here are what I think are the most influential horror movies from 1970 to 1975!

blood

A Bay of Blood (1971)

One feature of early 1970s cinema is the debt it owes to cinema verite. Even Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” owes a debt in places to this documentary-style of film-making. The trend suited low-budget movie-makers and would lead to the infamous slasher movie. The start of that craze can be found here. Part Italian giallo, part murder mystery, “Bay of Blood” was made by Mario Bava, a film-maker who deserves far more recognition than he has enjoyed. A number of potential heirs and heiresses to a fortune are invited to the titular Bay. They then try to kill each other off in various gory and brutal ways. Boasts some bravura set–pieces. The octopus is a great surprise also!

Deliverance 1972

You’ll never play the banjo again. Disturbing hi-jinks in America’s backwoods when some city slickers cross paths with the twisted locals. John Boorman’s gripping horror-thriller features a young Burt Reynolds. Copied many times, sometimes humorously, sometimes not.

Exorcist 1973

This is a movie which probably needs no introduction from me. A supernatural chiller directed by William Friedkin and based on the best-seller by William Peter Blatty, itself based on a supposedly real event. It broke all records when released and became notorious not just for fainting audiences, but for the treatment its stars were subjected to. Today, it’s been copied so many times that it may have lost its power to shock. It has directly influenced every exorcism movie since, as well as forming the basis for the dubious Leslie Nielsen comedy “Repossessed”. Still, as a meditation on the power and seductiveness of evil, it’s compelling.

Sisters 1973

Brian DePalma’s first movie. So demented it’s terrific. Margot Kidder stars as a pair of French-Canadian Siamese twins that were separated with horrific consequences. This is a movie that seeks to turn horror tropes and clichés on its head. Its twists keep going right to the end. It is also part of the illustrious mad-doctor movie that became popular with “Eyes Without A Face” and keeps on going today with movies like “Hostel” and the distasteful “Human Centipede” films.

The Wicker Man 1973

The world’s first horror musical! Fantastic British chiller starring Edward Woodward as a religious police officer who goes to investigate a disappearance on a remote Scottish island where paganism is rife. Although it was remade poorly, this really is a one-of-a-kind movie. Music by folk-rock band Pentangle serves as an atmospheric soundtrack  to what is probably the bleakest ending ever.

Black Christmas 1974

This expertly-made psycho-thriller started the old gag that the killer is making phone calls from inside the victim’s house.A killer is stalking a sorority sisterhood. Margot Kidder again resurfaces, this time as the victim.  A genuinely disturbing movie in some places and a forerunner of the teen slasher movie that was to come.

Texas chainsaw Massacre 1974

Another 70s shocker that has lost most of its power due to continually being copied. It’s hard to imagine the modern psycho-killer movie without TCM. This brutal film began the “endurance horror” craze and took the idea of murderous hillbillies one step further. You actually see very little gore in this movie. But audiences were convinced they saw more, such was the power of suggestion. Today, its ferocity is hard to understand, but on release this was one of the movies that changed the horror landscape and paved the way for the “video nasties” of the 1980s.

Deep Red 1975

Dario Argento’s best movie. This is a true giallo film — a type of Italian thriller that closely identifies with the killer and features elaborate set-pieces. David Hemmings is the American out of his depth who witnesses a murder in Rome. Or did he? A superb mystery with some excellent death scenes. Probably the finest giallo movie ever made.

Shivers 1975

This unsettling sex horror (is that even a genre?) signalled the arrival of Canadian body horror maestro David Cronenberg. The residents of a luxury apartment building are attacked by repulsive turd-shaped parasites that drive the into a sexual frenzy. This is a movie that is bound to deeply disturb anyone remotely normal. Which of course, is great. The body-horror genre has its roots in the Atomic bomb era of the 1950s and the plethora of paranoid B-movies where the main character was mutated by radiation.  Cronenberg made that fantasy disturbing reality, which would lead to many other movies in that genre, such as Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” and Cronenberg’s own “The Fly” in the 1980s, as well as direct homages such as 2006’s “Slither”.

You'll never get into the bathtub again... Cronenberg's "Shivers"!

You’ll never get into the bathtub again… Cronenberg’s “Shivers”!

Jaws 1975

The daddy of summer blockbusters. “Jaws” rewrote the Hollywood paradigm for making movies and still rules the waves. Okay, so the shark looks a bit rubber now. But thanks to a mechanical failure, Spielberg has given us one of the best (and most quotable) thrillers ever made. The movie’s success would lead to other popcorn movies like 1977’s “Star Wars”. As we know, these movies would influence the box-office for decades to come. Not for much longer would studios take a gamble on artistic and risky fare. Eventually, this would lead to the cut-and-paste plots of most big-budget movies today. In a way, “Jaws” sounded the death-knell of the kind of low-budget film-making that created so many different kinds of horror movie in the 1970s.

Next…

1975 – 1979!

Telepathic teenagers go on a rampage, zombies go for a morning stroll in a supermarket, a particularly unpleasant alien hitches a ride on a passing spacecraft, and a certain Michael Myers decides its time he went home…

 

 

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The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 years! Part 1! The Sixties!

If you’ve ever wondered what the most influential horror films of the past 50 years are, ponder no more!

As we are in 2014 right now, I thought I would go back 50 years, no earlier, to bring you what I think is the definitive list of the best horror movies ever made. Now, I don’t claim to have got it right (if there is even such a thing), so let me qualify that. Here are the movies I think have influenced filmmakers more than any other? Don;t agree? Let me know! I’m always looking to expand the list!

And you find this list interesting or helpful, let me know that too! It’s always nice to think you are more than one hand clapping.

PART 1

THE SIXTIES… GOTHIC GORE TO GUT-MUNCHING GHOULS! 

 

Gothic horror reigned supreme at the start of the Sixties!

Gothic horror reigned supreme at the start of the Sixties!

 

As this list promises to be a big one, let’s tackle it decade by decade. Starting with the decade that saw the most change of all, the Supernatural Sixties! We see the swing from Gothic horror to modern survival horror taking place here. But along the way are some great horror movies that are not to be missed!

Masque of the Red Death (1964)

We begin the journey of horror over the past 50 years with a classic Gothic horror tale. It seems appropriate to note just how much storytelling in horror movies was to change over the decade, going from an old-fashioned ghost story to something far more sophisticated and modern, as the audience’s demand to be shocked grew. The Late Fifties were notable for the emergence of British horror studio Hammer as an international force. Their ability to churn out cheap productions of classic horror stories, with added blood and nudity, was a crowd pleaser. Most of the time they used only an old British stately home and some horses. But the Americans soon started making adaptations of their own master of the macabre. And, of course, these were bigger if not better. Roger Corman’s Edge Allen Poe adaptation is one of the best, full of sex, death and menace with a truly great ending that rises above the rather exploitational subject-matter of a wicked price having his way with just about everyone he gets his hands on.

Hush Hush… Sweet Charlotte 1964

A hysterical Southern Gothic tale that boasts some terrific actors (Better Davis, Jospeh Cotton), but which owes much to Tennessee Williams. Almost not a horror movie at all but a sensationalistic thriller. But the atmosphere of dread and tension that hangs over Davis as the tormented and possibly insane Southern belle pushes this into the realm of horror.

Kwaidan 1964

The most expensive film ever made by Japan. This portmanteau film retells several medieval Japanese ghost stories. Among them, “Snow Woman” is the best. Sometimes criticized for being too slow. But each shot is like watching a beautiful Japanese painting. Japanese horror has always been obsessed by the past. At this point, they were still drawing on tales of peasant life for inspiration.

Onibaba 1964

Which brings us to Onibaba (translation: The Hole). This is a must-see World Cinema classic and that rare thing: a horror film that is appreciated by movie critics. Dripping with atmosphere. Two women lure wandering samurai to their deaths using a deep hole in a cornfield. The ending is full of great grotesque irony.

Repulsion 1965

Surreal, bizarre, claustrophobic thriller from Roman Polanski that veers into horror by the sheer intensity of its imagery. Beautiful, young Catherine Deneuve is left alone too much in her apartment, until she starts to go crazy. An exercise in understated menace.

Dracula Prince of Darkness 1965

Sequel to the original Hammer classic. This one sees Christopher Lee not even speaking as the evil Count. It has all the hallmarks of classic Hammer horror: buxom vampire brides, blood so crimson it almost glows, hysterical music. An example of how Gothic horror allowed audiences in the Sixties to experience images that would have been unthinkable in the ‘Fifties.

Dance of the Vampires aka The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

Roman Polanski’s comedy horror film is so beautifully shot you could be mistaken for thinking it’s the greater Hammer film ever made. In fact, it’s a quite funny slapstick affair concerning two inept vampire hunters. It also has its genuinely creepy moments.

Kuroneko 1968

Another “feudal” Japanese horror movie. Modern horror hit “The Grudge” owes a debt to this retelling of a classic ghost story involving two women who are killed by pesky bandits and return as cat demons. Some great cinematography makes this a classic of Oriental cinema.

The Devil Rides Out 1968

Another Hammer classic, this time featuring Christopher Lee as the good guy. Devil-worshipping in the English countryside this time, based on the old-schol adventure yarn by Dennis Wheatley. Features a terrific “devil”, although the story is a bit staid compared to a lot of other Hammer productions.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Capitalizing on the Satanism craze of the Swinging Sixties, Ira Levin’s updating of the devil worshipping story to modern-day Manhattan was a huge hit that prefigured the coming of Stephen King a decade or so later. For the first time, the supernatural is found not in an old castle in Transylvania, but in an upscale apartment building. Features the great John Cassavetes and a startling ending that has may have become the paranoid nightmare of pregnant women everywhere. It’s no coincidence that this very realistic supernatural horror came out at the same tie as our next movie…

Night of the Living Dead 1968

And so the Sixties ends with the movie that redefined the horror genre. Many articles have been written on how this is a socio-political tale. The filmmakers have since denied this. According to director George A Romero, the lead actor was originally intended to be a white guy, but at the last minute, he wasn’t available, so they substituted a black actor instead.  What a difference! This movie turns many horror clichés on their head. The hero is not the white, lantern-jawed, all-American hero, but a black man (who is probably the only sane guy in the picture). There is no real explanation for the zombies; the dead simply rise from their graves. And they don’t carry the heroine off into the sunset. They eat you. In fact, they eat your guts. Science, often the salvation of the A-Bomb-inspired B-movies of the Fifties, can’t save us either. In fact, nothing can save us. The divided society falls, just as the folks who try to protect themselves in an isolated farmhouse are killed one by one. Romero has since said that Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend” (filmed as both The Omega Man and I Am Legend) inspired the movie. But the real inspiration is the end of the Sixties themselves. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and the end of the Hippie dream of free love and peace, had all conspired to create an atmosphere of cynicism. The world is not what it was promised to be. Society is fractured. Tension are rife. The survivors cannot agree on anything.  In the end, only ignorance survives – symbolized by the gun-happy rednecks who shoot both the living and the dead at the end of the picture. Still powerfully unsettling today, right down to the last frame, Night of the Living Dead would break new taboos, and pave the way for the more extreme horror of the 70s, and even the “video nasty” era of the 80s…

 

Vietnam, Woodstock, and the Civil Rights movements all had a profound effect upon Sixties horror!

Vietnam, Woodstock, and the Civil Rights movements all had a profound effect upon Sixties horror!

 

Next time…

THE SEVENTIES… SLASHERS, SATANISTS, AND A VERY BIG SHARK!

 

 

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