EXCEPTIONALLY STRANGE HORROR CULT CLASSICSby Zachar_Laskewicz | created - 14 Jul 2011 | updated - 02 Oct 2014 | Public
A simplistic definition of the horror genre assumes that it has to contain monsters and to follow a strict set of genre rules. I believe, however, that horror has the potential to work on a number of different levels, both metaphorical, existential and purely visceral. By its very nature it creates possibilities for expression of pretty complex questions about the nature of existence; more importantly it allows questioning film-makers to completely shatter any pre-existing ideas about what can be defined as normal. Here it is used to explore and criticise society in ways no other genre can, primarily because it is much maligned and misunderstood; film-makers have the freedom to create metaphysical spaces that would be otherwise impossible. In this list I'm interested in looking at those aspects of particular films which make them stand out from the others, which make fans of those of us who are attuned to what horror sometimes tries to communicate (and alienates as many). Horror is also an ambiguous zone of possibility that allows experimentation with forms of representation not allowable in anything outside the avant-garde. These days it's hard to find a horror film that really touches you deeply in the nightmarish kind of way true horror really should. The more recent Hollywood spectacles may look good but lack true depth, often providing a humanistic outlook frosted with a prudishly moral acceptance of empty concepts. In short, I rarely see anthing that more than skirts the edges of true horror. Sometimes you have to look really hard, both into the past and to films that aren't produced by the formulaic cemetery for cinema which calls itself an industry. The idea is to include some of them here. I'm going to try to suggest in short some of the reasons why I've added them to the list (with as few spoilers as possible); the ultimate plan is to include at my website more detailed analyses and descriptions which you can find here: http://www.nachtschimmen.eu/places/projects/ESHCC. My other lists contains films that follow the rules set by Hollywood and are not necessarily awful, but should in any case be avoided by anyone who expects something cogent from the genre. Any suggestions for this or my other list are welcome; I'd love to be made aware of more truly weird and exceptional horror films that may be worthy of this list. I'd also like to thank Frank Edelamn who is the sole creator of his astoudingly complete exploration of low-budget, exploitation and anti-Hollywood cinematic offerings in his extensive website, both well written and well-researched. He calls it, aptly, 'Critical Condition' and can be found at the following URL: http://www.critcononline.com. His site and advice helped me add many of the titles to this list.
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1. House of Usher (1960)
Not Rated | 79 min | Drama, Horror
Upon entering his fiancée's family mansion, a man discovers a savage family curse and fears that his future brother-in-law has entombed his bride-to-be prematurely.
2. Carnival of Souls (1962)
PG | 78 min | Horror, Mystery
After a traumatic accident, a woman becomes drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival.
Truly well-made and spooky film about a woman who during the coarse of the film gradually realises that she is dead. Made on a shoestring budget with wonderful scenes involving her seduction into the bizarre and scary 'carnival' and its set of weird characters who are metaphoric of the death awaiting us all.
3. The Haunting (1963)
G | 112 min | Horror
A scientist doing research on the paranormal invites two women to a haunted mansion. One of the participants soon starts losing her mind.
Votes: 29,376 | Gross: $2.62M
If you were unfortunate enough to see the dreadful remake of this film which appears more an exaggeration of this film than a readaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel, then you really should watch the original which is in stark black and white and truly scary to the extent that haunted houses that go bump in the night can be scary. Its a good adaptation of Jackson's effective novel, and its main deviation is casting one of the psychic characters as a lesbian played by Claire Bloom.
4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Not Rated | 96 min | Horror
There is panic throughout the nation as the dead suddenly come back to life. The film follows a group of characters who barricade themselves in an old farmhouse in an attempt to remain safe from these bloodthirsty, flesh-eating monsters.
Votes: 99,065 | Gross: $0.09M
The mother of all 'nature/culture' metaphor films which has a small group stuck in a typical family home trying to keep a horde of sepulchral ghouls from eating their flesh. I still love this film, although I have to confess that I'm fond of this particular metaphor (not so much zombies). Films like 'The Evil-Dead' and the more recent filming of Scott Smith's novel 'The Ruins' (among many others) owe a lot to this film which became a prototype to an almost endless series of sequels, imitations and finally more recent television series like 'The Walking Dead'. The acting may be campy and the horror far less violent than what we've become used to; but this somehow adds to the sense of doom on the characters, none of whom are spared the horror which envelops them and which ultimately remains unexplained. What also makes it interesting is its characterisation of its hero as a negro; although his authoritative air makes everyone trapped in the house obey his advice, they all die because of following it without question, and the very fact that he's the last to die, shot because he's feared to be one of the living dead in the title, is also indicative of racial hatred still strongly felt in a country divided by race and wealth.
5. The Devils (1971)
R | 111 min | Biography, Drama, History
In 17th-century France, Father Urbain Grandier seeks to protect the city of Loudun from the corrupt establishment of Cardinal Richelieu. Hysteria occurs within the city when he is accused of witchcraft by a sexually repressed nun.
Ken Russell's film may be based on historical fact which took place in France during the Middle-Ages, it certainly is of film with horrific undertones and with the amazing acting talent of Vanessa Redgrave as the hunchback witch who falsely accuses the the renegade priest of sexual atrocities against her, a horrific unjustice takes place made more potent by a particularly strong original score by Peter Maxwell-Davies and Ken Russell's impressive use of imagery.
6. Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
PG-13 | 89 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery
A recently institutionalized woman has bizarre experiences after moving into a supposedly haunted country farmhouse and fears she may be losing her sanity once again.
The lurid title could easily side-track you from what is essentially an extremely frightening exploration of a woman's descent into madness. You can read it, of course, in a material sense as the title suggests; but everything in this film has the potential to signify something else entirely, and its this ambiguity that makes this film so macarbe and interesting. Everything, from the killing of the 'mole' to the conclusion during which Jessica is trapped the films ambivelent set of monsters on the middle of the lake on a barely floating boat (classic metaphor for human consciousness and mental health) communicates on different levels. The fact that there is no ultimate explanation for the strange set of phenomena that take place is also demonstrative of the horrific and inexplicable quality of psychotic behaviour for those suffering from schizophrenia (for those of us that have had the misfortune to experience it) or the side-effects of drugs.
7. Daughters of Darkness (1971)
R | 87 min | Horror
A newlywed couple are passing through a vacation resort. Their paths cross with a mysterious, strikingly beautiful countess and her aide.
Delphine Seyrig plays a magnificently evil lesbian vampire in this cult film erroneously well-known for the fact that it is one of the only motion pictures ever filmed entirely on location in Ostende. With a primarily European cast, the vampire character played by Seyrig presents a convincing argument for the preference of lesbian vampire life, and is taken as the positive alternative to a violent and abusing husband - newly discovered since the couple who become the protagonists are newly wed.
8. Messiah of Evil (1973)
R | 90 min | Horror
A young woman goes searching for her missing artist father. Her journey takes her to a strange Californian seaside town governed by a mysterious undead cult.
Also known under its alternative title 'Dead People', this unusual little film, although painfully dated, is in a way similar to some of the themes of 'Let's Scare Jessica to Death' where the sanity of the heroine, who in this case is searching for her father in an isolated village filled, as it turns out, with a cult of flesh-eating ghouls waiting the return of the leader who bring them on a cross-country quest of ultimate desctruction. Although allowed to leave the village because everyone knows no one will believe her, the film starts and ends in a mental institution and contains many moments of genuine cloying and unpleasant fear. It is slow-moving and ambiguous; it doesn't feel the necessity to keep you constantly excited and some of the acting is less than fantastic; but in many respects those are elements which make this film worth the effort. It's certainly a disquieting experience convincingly played at the beginning and conclusion by its head protagonist. This film also has the dubious honour of being one of the start vehicles of the porn actress 'Joy Bang', although I couldn''t specificy exactly which character she was playing.
9. The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)
PG | 91 min | Comedy, Horror
The small town of Paris, Australia deliberately causes car accidents, then sells/salvages all valuables from the wrecks as a means of economy.
This film was released with title 'The Cars that Ate Paris' and was the first part of the Peter Weir trilogy of horror films that at the time received funding from the Australian government, a blessing which resulted in lesser-known but no less deserving of attention classics like this. It explores a given that can be understood in Australian context; the vast expanse of territory allows the givens of this film to be imaginable, picturing a country bumpkin village situated in the middle of nowhere filled with inhabitants who make their living by setting traps to cause car accidents for innocent travellers who happen to make the unfortunate mistake of driving too close to the city. The wrecks are salvaged, and if the victims are unfortunate enough to survive, they become the experimentation fodder for a mad-doctor who promptly lobotomises them. This surreal environment has become metaphoric for a world strangled by technology; in an Australian-sense it also expresses the nightmare trapped feeling of being isolated in a world of mediocrity; the ending which has the youth taking a bizarre revenge by destroying the village with the imaginatively designed monster-like cars they've created from the wrecks that previously were the cities livelihood, is truly appropriate for the films thematic content and intention and this film certainly deserves its place on any list of horror cult classics; films that may seem extremely weird, but as time passes seem to make more sense as an overpopulated world becomes consumed by its obsession for wealth, oil and material gain. The two other horror films in the trilogy were 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', further on in this list, and 'The Last Wave', a far less successful venture into aboriginal mythology (but still worth a look).
10. Devil Times Five (1974)
R | 88 min | Horror
When 5 kids get in a bus wreck they start killing people at the lodge who insulted them or was rude to them.
The seventies was a strange era of film-making and a lot of experimentation took place by masters of the era like Pasolini. Then you had lesser-known gems like the 'The Little Girl who Lives Down the Lane', 'The Effect of Radiation on Man in the Moon Marigolds' and 'Devil Times Five' aka 'Peopletoys'. This second title, evidently the one chosen initially by the film makers doesn't seem to make much sense; why fuse two words together in this context? The children, although representing the stereotypes of adults they base their sense of selves upon, are all flesh and blood and not at all toy like. The climactic seconds of the film, which interestingly, is concluded instead with the ominous words 'the beginning', explains exactly the Peopletoys being referred to in the title; it took me the whole length of the film to work that one out but in retrospect it makes the conclusion precariously obvious and is explicative of why the film is better known under its more popular heading, Devil Times Five, a title which gives little away about what is the motivation behind the action of the children. Devil Times Five is interesting because its collection of characters are quirky and human and the five psychopathic children who murder without conscience are logical caricatures of the adult world they believe they have the right to wreak havoc upon. With the dubious honour of having as its executive producer Jordan Wank, this film makes imaginative use of colour and slow motion in ways that probably seemed unique in the seventies. If you believe that children have the real potential to commit 'evil' acts and if you enjoy films with shirt-ripping, breast-exposing cat-fights, then you'll love this extremely strange and violent romp as the set of adults trapped in the wintry isolated mansion of its over-bearing and extremely wealthy owner 'Papa Doc' who keeps going on about how hard he works and how little education he needed to achieve that wealth, then you'll enjoy this film which is gradually forming a well-deserved cult. The children, normally seen as the joy of the present and the hope for the future, spend the last third of this film ripping Papa Doc's rather loathsome American dream into pieces, and turning the adults into the very dead playthings of the five children who are then free to move on to their next conquest. It's interesting to note that one of the young male psychopaths, years before Silence of the Lambs would make the subject a taboo, likes to dress as a girl, is obsessed with his beauty and fantasises about seducing one of the older men.
11. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Not Rated | 83 min | Horror
Two siblings and three of their friends en route to visit their grandfather's grave in Texas end up falling victim to a family of cannibalistic psychopaths.
Votes: 112,437 | Gross: $30.86M
Despite the endless array of sequels and remakes that could make the original seem rather tacky and outdated, I still find this film to be highly shocking. Tobe Hooper did something new; based very loosely on the Ed Gein case, a group of people on tour in the American heartlands make a wrong-turn and end up meeting violent deaths at the hands of a group of savage and crazy lunatics. I can't say I enjoyed watching this film; but despite its being dated it still shocked me and provided the horror genre with an entirely new direction. From right at the beginning when the disabled man is savagely and brutally killed to the bloody and screaming escape of the single heroine at the end, a rivetting sense of tension and distaste is held and even if you find the subject matter as revolting as I did it's hard not to pay attention to it and give it the respect it deserves. It actually has about as much to do with the Ed Gein case as Psycho does; but its surprising what imaginative film-makers can do with rather unpleasant truths.
12. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
PG | 115 min | Drama, Mystery
During a rural summer picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls' school vanish without a trace. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.
Votes: 28,389 | Gross: $0.23M
On Valentine's day in Victorian-era Australia a group from a local girls' boarding school head off for a picnic in the bush. Three of the girls and one of the teachers go off for a walk and disappear, never to be seen again. The film begins with images focussing on the eroticism of the girls who are bursting into puberty; as natural forces collide with material ones, the rock of the title undresses and consumes them. The rest of the film concerns the complex ways this event plays off in the lives of the ones left behind. Haunting evocation of the horror inherent in an unfriendly and indifferent environment.
13. Shivers (1975)
R | 87 min | Horror, Sci-Fi
The residents of a suburban high-rise apartment building are being infected by a strain of parasites that turn them into mindless, sex-crazed fiends out to infect others by the slightest sexual contact.
This is perhaps Cronenberg's most controversial film which managed to completely escape the censors, since it was classed down as a video nasty and was therefore not considered to be attempting to achieve anything higher than shock value. Like 'Rabid', it went to second feature drive-in emissions or straight onto VHS. The subject, however, is extremely pernicious and challenging. It concerns a doctor who is experimenting on dabbling with genetics, the manipulation of flesh and pederasty where a doctor basically creates worm like creatures that enter the body through the sexual organs and turn the victim into a sex maniac. Set in a modern Toronto complex, the new type of living that was fashionable at that time, the inhabitants of the building become part of an experiment that goes dreadfully wrong. Here the relationship between outbursts of sexual expression, disease and some of the problematic ideas suggested manage to be hidden under what could equally be viewed as a slimy monster movie that turns the flat residents into undead like things. Very interesting and worthy of further analysis.
14. The Tenant (1976)
R | 126 min | Drama, Thriller
A bureaucrat rents a Paris apartment where he finds himself drawn into a rabbit hole of dangerous paranoia.
Votes: 31,910 | Gross: $1.92M
Polanski directed and starred in this remarkable and haunting film about obsession and death; I found it original and interesting - and really quirky. Rosemary's Baby was a frightening film; but it was based on a silly novel by Ira Levin - its the actors and direction that make it unique. This film, however, is entirely unique. Shelley Winters, in what must have been one of her last roles, plays a subdued landlord while the tenant played by Polanski becomes obsessed with the woman who died in the apartment he lives in. Things are left unexplained and as the haunting terror reaches its conclusion, we are left to wonder why the protagonist throws himself out the window, and after surviving this first attempt, crawls, heavily injured up the stairs, still dressed in the female clothing he's wearing, and throws himself out again!
15. Eraserhead (1977)
Not Rated | 89 min | Horror
Henry Spencer tries to survive his industrial environment, his angry girlfriend, and the unbearable screams of his newly born mutant child.
Votes: 83,795 | Gross: $7.00M
If you like surrealistic horror metaphor films, this one has a lot of potential for you. Don't mistake it for an 'art'-film, although it has been put in that category by many. The statements it makes about the world we live in, both through imagery, metaphor and sound, are in themselves horrific.
16. The Haunting of Julia (1977)
R | 98 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery
After the death of her daughter, Julia Lofting, a wealthy housewife, moves to London to re-start her life. All seems well until she is haunted by the sadness of losing her own child and the ghosts of other children.
Peter Straub is one of my favourite writers of horror and Full Circle [aka The Haunting of Julia] (1977) is the best adaptation into film I’ve seen of his work. It has all the elements of a ghost story, so many in fact that on a superficial review of the exposition you could be fooled into thinking it is a clone of films involved with hauntings. Like The Changeling (1980) – a highly competent haunted house film - it involves a spectre attached to a location into which a recently bereaved character moves, just as the realisation of both plots have the main protagonists uncovering the dark secrets held by the house. It’s also interesting to note that the terrible Disney adaptation of Straub called Ghost Story (based flimsily on the complex novel of the same name) tries and so dismally fails to make the extremely complex and frightening horror narrative weaved by Straub interesting precisely because they tried to turn it into the ‘ghost story’ it most certainly wasn’t. This film, however, doesn’t shy away from the horrible secrets haunting the past or any of the taboo subjects that are touched on in the book; the idea of evil children is hardly new, but suggesting a pre-pubescent child could have physical and sexual charisma to attract other children to help her perform evil deeds and sexual acts wouldn’t be so easily touched upon today, in a world so horrified by the fact that children can have access to the internet and pornography, let alone commit sexual acts. This film is multi-facetted and interesting but hasn’t received the attention it deserved. Watching Julia Lofting, played perfectly by Mia Farrow, being subsumed by her obsession with the evil child she is ultimately responsible for evoking, is one of growing dread. Tales of haunting like The Changeling involve resolution and restitution; this film, is filled with a dense atmosphere and a growing sense of dread. There’s nothing nice, logical or justified about the resolution longed for and attained by the nasty little spectre in this film. More comparable to the Japanese Ju-On which similarly involves a malevolent spirit, almost everyone involved falls victim. The title of the film also intrigued me. I thought initially it must have had something to do with the author’s intentions because I read a book with the same name. On rewatching the film, however, I noticed straightaway that the film was actually a screenplay based on an adaptation of Straub’s Julia. After a little research I discovered that the book was republished with the film’s title, so I imagine the two parties involved in adapting the book for the screen, attempted to redirect the attention of the audience towards the narrative, one which involves a cycle revolving around an evil child and the revenge it takes upon those who had let her down in life; I’m also reminded of the haunting shot that ends the film: the camera circles around the main character, panning to reveal the bloody and circular wound cutting Julia’s throat leaving her very dead. The alternative title, The Haunting of Julia, although more descriptively accurate of the film’s contents and the author’s original title, is far less intriguing. This film has been compared to Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973), and although the plot shares a few aspects, the mourning of a dead child and obsessed parents searching for a ghostly apparition, but the comparisons between the two stop there; Roeg’s lingering obsession with shots of the film’s location (Venice) and the physical presence of its two competent leads (Christie and Sutherland), where Don’t Look Now lingers Full Circle is active in realizing a very busy plot as a great number of interesting and quirky characters created by Straub are encountered as Julia gradually uncovers her involvement in the ultimate horror of an extremely nasty child she inadvertently resurrected. Roeg’s film is also based on a short story by Daphne Du Maurier; there is actually little plot to tell and so Roeg enjoys the sumptuous location which, although praised at the time, doesn’t actually say very much at all. Full Circle doesn’t have the sumptuous colour of Don’t Look Now; if anything it presents a rather ruddy set of dark blues and browns – true to London and films of the seventies but also true to the dark themes explored in the film. Any suggestion that Full Circle is in a similar fashion slow-moving either didn’t pay attention to the film or allowed the complexity of the story to completely pass them by. Full Circle constantly tells a story, whereas Don’t Look Now spends a hell of a long time teasing you into thinking you’re seeing something that actually has a story worth telling. Although the book is remarkably true to Straub’s novel and actually manages to fit in a great deal of the content, it has some moments of its own, like a scene early on in the London residence, where she’s seen building a house of cards; as the camera closes in on Julia’s face, the card house naturally topples and you see that the playing cards actually contain identical images of her dead daughter’s face. Where the film does differ from the book, it does so mostly in ways that allow the complex story to be told without giving you the impression that you’re being fed a lot of information. No scene is wasted in revealing Straub’s narrative. The casting of Keir Dullea as the overbearing husband Magnus was an unusual choice, but in the few scenes he has he comes across sufficiently abusive. This is one variation on Straub’s intended plot that I prefer; the alduterous and criminally abusive drunk whose primary interest in his wife is attaining power of attorney over her money, is the first to fall victim to the house whereas in the novel he undeservedly survives. Another thing that makes the film special is the unusually pervasive score which is both haunting and at times horrific; in any case strange in its overbearing constancy. The themes are interchanged between recorded instruments and electronic ones; when the house is dangerous the theremin-like expression of the theme dominates; it’s overbearing like the atmosphere of the house in the book which is always so hot, dank and smelly. What makes this film worthwhile, however, is the fact that in spite of the dense plot the sense of horror develops slowly and aside from Magnus’ early death there is little actual violence or even appearances of supernatural entities – it is implied and a sense of dread gradually leads you the horrific closing of the circle suggested by the title.
17. Rabid (1977)
R | 91 min | Horror, Sci-Fi
A young woman develops a taste for human blood after undergoing experimental plastic surgery, and her victims turn into rabid, blood-thirsty zombies who proceed to infect others, which turns into a city-wide epidemic.
Cronenberg's ambiguous answer to the dangers of playing with the human body; pre-dates the idea of genetic harvesting but proposes ideas which seem remarkably valid. I watched it again recently and was surprised by its provocative message, one which went by the critics and censors as it was generally sent directly to second feature drive-in films and the video nasties section when both of those places still existed. Its attraction was its star, Marilyn Chambers, who for a porn actress doesn't do a bad job. The idea of a woman having a sexual appendage, essentially penis or enlarged-clitoris like, somewhere else on her body that jumps out and bites you was quite forward thinking; and as the infection she introduces spreads it becomes an all out living dead nightmare.
18. Suspiria (1977)
R | 92 min | Horror
An American newcomer to a prestigious German ballet academy comes to realize that the school is a front for something sinister amid a series of grisly murders.
This film, with its over-the-top art-deco and art-nouveau European settings, its brilliant tones, truly fascinating audio soundtrack and the superb acting of a young and beautiful Jessica Harper, gets better each time I watch it. The screen is always filled with things to see; beatiful and ugly things. I think it has one of the most horrifying opening slayings I've ever seen, in the most exquisite of settings.
19. The Brood (1979)
R | 92 min | Horror, Sci-Fi
A man tries to uncover an unconventional psychologist's therapy techniques on his institutionalized wife, amidst a series of brutal murders.
Cronenberg's cult classic; well-known for the scene in which Samanthat Eggar reveals the extended womb attached to her navel which she rips open with her teeth, birthing in the most bizarre way another member of the title's 'broood'; creatures resulting from the rage of the extremely mentally disturbed mother - monsters which she, thanks to the help of her psychologist (played by Oliver Reed) and the dark and typically Cronenberg 'organisation' responsible for its perpetuation, produces without the help of a male. Arguably more shocking and controversial than the Alien bursting out of John Hurt's stomach in the similarly titled film; certainly one for the most creepy films of all time, and certainly pre-dating this film. If you like horror films and you haven't seen this, shame on you.
20. Tourist Trap (1979)
PG | 90 min | Horror
A group of young friends stranded at a secluded roadside museum are stalked by a masked assailant who uses his telekenetic powers to control the attraction's mannequins.
This little known film is surprisingly frightening. Although when I saw it, it was like many others of its irk released directly as a second film drive-in special or directly to video, its really quite well made and deserves to be seen by any fans of the genre.
21. Motel Hell (1980)
R | 101 min | Comedy, Horror, Thriller
A seemingly friendly farmer and his sister kidnap unsuspecting travelers and bury them alive, using them to create the "special meat" they are famous for.
Votes: 7,926 | Gross: $6.34M
This unusual horror parody with its harvesting of motel guests who have their vocal chords cut and have been 'planted' in the garden for later use in sausages, seems to be making a commentary on vegetarianism, or at least that is what I felt when I saw it. The reduction of the human figure to screaming crazed animalism, along with the strange murderous pig-mask wearing butcher at the end (who confesses in his dying moments to 'using artificial ingredients' in his sausages) certainly seem to promote the advantages of a green lifestyle!
22. Scanners (1981)
R | 103 min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
A scientist sends a man with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him.
Votes: 40,306 | Gross: $14.23M
Did you think De Palma's adaptation of the idea of psychic powers as a destructive force in 'The Fury' was predictable and lame? Then you should see Cronenberg's Scanners which does really interesting things with the idea, using it as a point of departure rather than a point of arrival.
23. Dead & Buried (1981)
R | 94 min | Horror, Mystery
A suspense horror film set in a small coastal town where, after a series of gory murders commited by mobs of townspeople against visiting tourists, the corpses begin to come back to life.
Votes: 8,115 | Gross: $0.22M
I saw this film recently and I was both astounded and shocked by its fascinating use of location, costume, atmosphere and violence to create the horrific build-up to its macarbe conclusion. It has extremely scary moments but at the same time no expense is spared in taking care of smaller details.
24. The Evil Dead (1981)
NC-17 | 85 min | Horror
Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons.
Votes: 160,378 | Gross: $2.40M
As well as being a land-breaking film on a visceral level, gripping you almost from the very beginning into its extremely morbid atmosphere, this film has meant a lot to me because of the culture/nature metaphor which is represented by those who think they're protected inside the house, and the extremely unfriendly forces outside which roots them out (no pun intended) one by one. I'm afraid I found the sequels embarrassing laughathons; and Sam Raimi has demonstrated that he can do little more than follow the Hollywood buck to film after film of horror cliché (and Spiderman? ugh). But nothing will decrease the extremity of fear and horror which is developed on a shoestring budget with only four (unknown) actors.
25. Basket Case (1982)
Not Rated | 91 min | Comedy, Horror
A young man carrying a big basket that contains his extremely deformed Siamese-twin brother seeks vengeance on the doctors who separated them against their will.
Cult classic which is these days pretty dated but was made on a low budget, has some interesting scenes and is in all not bad.
26. The Survivor (1981)
Not Rated | 87 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller
A plane crashes just after takeoff and the only survivor, the pilot, walks out of the wreckage. He doesn't remember the crash, but 300 passengers and crew are dead. As the investigation goes on people are wanting answers.
Frank Herbert wrote the book, which I didn't actually read; I was unfortunate to read other drivel this writer has forced upon a burgeoning market longing for Stephen King and (god-forbid) Koontz clones. He's even worse than Koontz as far as cliches, superficial characterisation, ridiculous plots and unoriginal storylines. But this filmisation, set in Australia but still in the period during which the only Australian movies that made it out of Australia starred non-Australian actors, Jenny Agutter plays a strong part as a psychic and Robert Powerll is good as the sole survivor. I haven't seen the recent remake, but this film, with its limited means, was a scary entry into the genre and has remained largely ignored. Agutter, a truly beautiful actress, returned to England and now stars largely in television.
27. The Changeling (1980)
R | 107 min | Horror
A man staying at a secluded historical mansion finds himself being haunted by the presence of a spectre.
This film has all the elements of a ghost story, a reclusive individual who segregates himself into an old house after a family tragedy, a sceance with automatic writing, genuine fear created by sounds and the final moment when the horrible truth about awful hidden family secrets rise to the surface and consume those responsible. It's genuinely scary, has an intelligent story and with George C. Scott in the main role and Trish De Vere in a supporting role, it would be hard to go wrong. It shares many elements with films like 'Full Circle' [Haunting of Julia], and 'Ghost Story', both filmisations of very complex novels by Straub; they were both failures as films and at the box-office. What makes the story interesting is the set of clues that lead the main protagonist into exploring the history of the house, namely hidden rooms, music boxes and melodies from the past that will mysteriously appear in the music he composes. You can tell that unlike the Straub filmings, this was written for the screen. Stylishly done; perhaps not a cult film but certainly worth seeing.
28. The Thing (1982)
R | 109 min | Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi
A crew in Antarctica finds a neighboring camp destroyed and its crew dead. Whatever killed them is nowhere to be found, unless it's hidden in plain sight.
Votes: 307,635 | Gross: $13.78M
John Carpenter was doing the right thing when he chose to remake the lame fifties sci-fi formula film. turning the polar setting populated by a pack of rough and tumble scientists, doctors and workers into a claustrophobic nightmare after the infiltration of a potentially indestructible alien force which adapts in a truly horrific way as it absorbs the living things it consumes. Reminds you also of how much better and effective special effects were BEFORE digitalised animation.
29. Creepshow (1982)
R | 120 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
An anthology which tells five terrifying tales based on the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s.
Votes: 34,697 | Gross: $19.73M
This film is based on the EC-Horror Comics. But it is in no way a film intended for children. The silly moralistic stories which form the content of this anthology film are carefully crafted in such a way that they become one with the illustrated format of the media. And each of the stories is extremely horrific; I saw it again recently and felt that extremely nasty set of emotions which start in your stomach as you gradually realise that the 'horror comic' is not really funny at all. For me the most horrible remains 'The Crate' with a wonderfully exaggerated Adrienne Barbeau and her brow-beaten husband (who gets his revenge) played by Fritz Weaver. Also notable is Stephen King's cameo appearance in a story which is direct reference to Lovecraft's 'the Colour Out of Space'. Most stupid moment: when the cockroaches burst out of the guy's stomach at the end. For me, the music in this film plays a particularly strong role in creating its sense of hyped-up, irreal and frightening horror.
30. One Dark Night (1982)
PG | 89 min | Horror
As part of an initiation into a club called the Sisters, a young girl must spend the night in a mausoleum.
Although the teen actors in this film are somewhat less than illustrious, the adult nature of the extremely horrific content makes one wonder how it got a 'NRC' rating. A sexual predator who feeds off the fear of the victims he abuses and kills (the film begins with his body being carted off as his naked victims are revealed hidden around his filthy apartment) is able to assault the three girls with a barrage of dead bodies stuck for the night in the mausoleum in which he is being held. Truly horrifying moments awaiting those who are intimidated by anything sepuchral (like me).
31. Videodrome (1983)
R | 87 min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
When he acquires a different kind of show for his station, a sleazy cable-TV programmer begins to see his life and the future of media spin out of control in a terrifying new reality.
Votes: 69,830 | Gross: $2.12M
The technological nightmare film that made the world pay attention to the Canadian director Cronenberg. It pre-dates the Japanese adoption of technology into their nightmares (i.e. Ringu and the like), but it has its own Cronenberg stamps that are recognisable from earlier films, including dark, mysterious and ultimately dangerous organisations, a relationship between technology and human flesh that is more than a little sexual and borders on sado-masochism; Debbie Harry, perhaps her only major role, seems to celebrate or even glorify the merging of the flesh with the machine, whereas the character played by James Woods just gets trapped in it.
32. The Company of Wolves (1984)
R | 95 min | Horror, Fantasy
A teenage girl in a country manor falls asleep while reading a magazine, and has a disturbing dream involving wolves prowling the woods below her bedroom window.
Votes: 12,757 | Gross: $4.39M
With Neil Jordan, a competent director of interesting films, combined with the imaginative, surreal, fantastic and post-modern writings of Angela Carter, you'd expect something of fine quality which uses the genre to question rathern than conform to the genres it belongs to. Casting Angela Lansbury as the picky and moralistic grand-mother was perfect and the way it uses adolescence and the explosion of sexuality as the source for the horror, turns this haunting academic experiment into a visual and intellectual feast. Its source material is the morally intrusive fairy-tales of the past which continue to influence the way we bring up children today, i.e. the toys we make for them and our ideas about how girls and ladies should act. If those tales were designed to scare children into repressing their sexuality, this film succeeds in using the genre to explode those myths and 'Little Red Riding Hood', the primary source of much of the plot and imagery, are inverted and the very idea of horror created in such tales and their moralistic origins is questioned. If you like horror films that question rather than expound such myths, this is a film for you.
33. Rabid Grannies (1988)
R | 89 min | Comedy, Horror
When given a demonic present by their black sheep nephew two kindly old grannies are transformed into demons who proceed to gorily knock-off their greedy relatives.
Unusual Belgian horror-comedy. The Rabbington aunts, sweet and loving towards their greedy half-witted family, hold the keys to the family fortune. The film begins on the day of their birthday when the family comes together for a celebratory feast. An unusual gift from a strange visitor changes the aunts into a pair of viscous bloodthirsty demons who wreak comic revenge on their money-hungry family. I know the film as Rabid Grannies in a director's cut, and although it seems to be filmed at Flemish locations, it is known on this database by its French title. It was probably filmed multilingually; perhaps the acting is better in the French version!
34. Threads (1984 TV Movie)
112 min | Drama, Sci-Fi, War
The effects of a nuclear holocaust on the working class city of Sheffield, England and the eventual long-term effects of nuclear war on civilization.
This extremely disturbing depiction of a nuclear holocaust should not be underestimated for its shock value. It shocked me in the 80's when I originally saw it and it shocked me when I rewatched it recently; it makes the far tamer 'The Day After' look like a pleasant walk in the woods. Centring on a main character, Ruth, recently pregnant, it witnesses the shocking destruction of society as we know it. It is an indictiment of nuclear warfare but it's also a relenting display of the impending doom that awaits our society should it continue to develop nuclear weapons. It hides its horror in the form of a documentary; figures are shown on the screen of the city of Sheffield as a major centre of steel industry and descriptions are made of the contingencies already in place should a nuclear attack take place. This is all a ruse as the 'threads' initially demonstrated as a spider's web in the opening moments of the film, are literally blown into non-existence.
35. Rejuvenatrix (1988)
R | 90 min | Horror, Sci-Fi
A rich actress who has gotten too old for leading roles employs a scientist who is working on a formula for eternal youth. The formula involves withdrawing certain fluids from the human ... See full summary »
Wonderful little horror gem from the golden age of video nasties; it's a moral fable about the follies of scientific endeavour and human vanity, one where money, female beauty and an aged actress out for eternal beauty becomes a slave to the horrific outcome of the experiments performed on her in the name of research, a very willing slave at that.
36. Candyman (1992)
R | 99 min | Horror, Thriller
The Candyman, a murderous soul with a hook for a hand, is accidentally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student researching the monster's myth.
Votes: 55,636 | Gross: $25.79M
This is a class act, right from the opening credits which fly by above a geometrically facetted view of the highway system of Chicago and its overwhelming Philip Glass score; but it certainly deserves a place on this list not only because of what it did to the idea of urban legends, but also the imaginative comparison between two different cultures, upper middle-class educated academics and the gang-ruled anti-culture which the character played so well by Victoria Madsen goes to analyse for her thesis. I'm not really a Clive Barker fan at all, but his two books of short stories 'Books of Blood' impressed me. This film is based on a story called 'The Forbidden' taken from one of these collections. The stories are incredibly imaginative and worth reading, although the story this film is based on is one of the least interesting. In the credits, Clive Barker is listed only as executive producer as far as I could see. The imaginative application of the basis ideas of the short story which flower into a magnificently horrifying clash of cultures (architecture and economics playing a role) appears to have been done by Bernard Rose. Madsen is perfectly cast as femme fatale and the way the rumours about the story of the 'Candyman' and the death of 'Ruthie Jean' are cleverly montaged together until the highest moment of horror is reached and Madsen becomes implicated in the crimes herself, turning her academic experiment into urban legend into one of extreme horror as she becomes inextricably drawn into the world 'created by the writing on the wall'. It may seem a bit dated now seeing that films have been making references to urban legends since this film was released, it still packs a wallop and the Philip Glass score certainly helps.
37. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
R | 95 min | Fantasy, Horror, Mystery
An insurance investigator begins discovering that the impact a horror writer's books have on his fans is more than inspirational.
Votes: 49,627 | Gross: $8.95M
38. Bleeders (1997)
R | 89 min | Horror
A man travels to an island with his girlfriend in search of his relatives but he finds maybe more than what he wanted to know.
If you like Lovecraft, you'll love this film; it's one of the most understated Lovecraft adaptations to date, and is authentic to not just one but a number of different wierd tales. It's got all the things a good Lovecraft tale should have: a prodigal son, truly ugly deformities in the cellar, a lighthouse, unspeakable interbreeding, an idyllic New-England island setting (although it was probably filmed in Quebec). It also lacks some of the less memorable qualities of other 80's and 90's adaptations, including Jeffrey Coombs [truly awful actor], excessive gore, sexuality gone rampant overtaking the horror of the film, among others. Interstingly, this film is not credited as being connected to Lovecraft in any way and I haven't seen it included in any of the Lovecraft films lists.
39. Cube (1997)
R | 90 min | Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
6 complete strangers of widely varying personality characteristics are involuntarily placed in an endless maze containing deadly traps.
Votes: 181,406 | Gross: $0.50M
Quikcly developed into a cult-film; in many ways it was a simplified realisation of how they achieved variation in the film 'The Descent' (quite a nasty little horror/nature shocker), but in this case they take it to the extreme and it seems a group of people seemingly unconnected are trapped in a series of constantly shifting cubes every so often which are filled with deadly traps. The raison d'etre for this film, like a lot of other films on a low budget and relying on visceral and intellectual thrills rather than just full on fear fest, this film has an unpleasant undertone and is metaphoric for how many of us feel about being trapped in society, not free to make the choices we want; the only many who escapes is the completely autistic one who can't communicate with anyone; everyone else perishes. It's bleak but a highly interesting venture into the human psyche and human dynamics.
40. Mimic (1997)
R | 105 min | Horror, Sci-Fi
Three years ago, entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler genetically created an insect to kill cockroaches carrying a virulent disease. Now, the insects are out to destroy their only predator, mankind.
Votes: 40,845 | Gross: $25.48M
This worthy addition to the genre, one which warns of the dangers of genetic experimentation and shows in its most monstrous form the megalithic failure of an experiment which results in the creation of a creature which evolves into a murderous threat to human-kind, but one which hides itself in a subway system, a new environment for horror. This film has an interesting plot, good actors and a scary concept which gives you food for thought.
41. Phantoms (1998)
R | 96 min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
One hundred fifty dead, and three hundred fifty missing in the tiny mountain town of Snowfield, Colorado, and that's only the beginning.
Votes: 17,620 | Gross: $5.66M
Considering how little I like the work of Dean Koontz himself, finding his stories over-sentimental and in general laughable, with extremely dubious scientific/supernatural resources and the vocabulary of a poorly educated hippy. But this film is different; the story is strongly based and presents frightening concepts. What Koontz stories does have going for them is that they get you involved straight away; this one starts by someone arriving in a strangely empty village. But what takes place is chilling and worth watching; there are no talking dogs or ludicrously mournful monsters. There's tension that builds and gets you thinking.
42. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
R | 81 min | Horror, Mystery
Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.
Votes: 207,776 | Gross: $140.54M
I find it hard to add this film to the list which, although very atmospheric and original, is not particularly scary. But it did start an enormous cult, did so on an enormously small budget, and was original enough to begin its own sub-genre. The acting of the small cast is competent and for this reason it is entirely believable; I've met people who really do believe that it took place. Admittedly, these people are either dumb or easily convinced by what they read on the internet, still, it shows that by being origial and making use of meagre means, you can create something that can really make an impact on the world. Worth seeing for anyone who likes haunting and original films; a must see for genre fanatics.
43. Infested (2002)
R | 84 min | Horror, Sci-Fi
Horror tale of insects which eat their victims from the inside out.
With a title like 'infested' it sounds like you're going to get an insect-related film of an apochalyptic nature. You actually wouldn't be far wrong, but this film spends its first half hour setting up a set of entirely genre unrelated themes that makes the sudden transferal to horror a shock, but one that makes sense when the climax reveals its 'Big Chill'-like victim who is present only through his absence as one is led to expect, returns to wreak revenge on his pretentious group of 80s clones who are more worried about the state of their clothes than the state of the world.
44. Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
R | 92 min | Horror
A mysterious and vengeful spirit marks and pursues anybody who dares enter the house in which it resides.
Votes: 35,412 | Gross: $0.33M
Really frightening Japanese horror film which is particularly effective because of its departure in style and its stylised representation of the victims of the 'grudge' as one by one its tendons slaughters mercilessly everyone it touches. Although there are many good Japanese horror films, this remains the best one I've seen.
45. Identity (2003)
R | 90 min | Mystery, Thriller
Stranded at a desolate Nevada motel during a nasty rain-storm, ten strangers become acquainted with each other when they realize that they're being killed off one by one.
Votes: 198,956 | Gross: $52.16M
A chilling film with a surprising twist; again largely unreleased in its country of origin because it was considered too complex for an American audience. I found it by chance on DVD while living in China; and was very glad to have had the chance to see a film which has a group of highly contrasting characters trapped by unforseen circumstances in the same place, and find themselves being killed off one by one; the story of a murderer on the loose plays off at the same time, and one gradually realises that the coming together of these people and their inevitable deaths is perhaps more figurative or metaphorical than you'd at first suspect.
46. Toolbox Murders (2004)
R | 95 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller
A historic Hollywood hotel houses a supernatural evil. It's been subdued for decades, but when renovations start, a series of murders take place.
This film actually seems to be a remake; at least it shares a title and the fact that there is a murderer involved who makes use of the said items and runs around in an apartment building killing off the guests. The similarity seems to stop there; this film is genuinely quirky with a set of unusual characters in an interesting art-deco building. The way the horror builds to its grand guignol conclusion and allusions to the supernatural set this film apart from films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre which centred on realism. It's funny then that Tobe Hooper should have directed this film as well; considering the quality of the film, it's a pity it didn't do so well and went practically directly to DVD, unreleased in many European countries as far as I know. This film is surprisingly good, especially if you don't have high expectations of it - it gives you a good run for the couple of dollars you may have shelled out for the unremarkable DVD!
47. Boogeyman (2005)
PG-13 | 89 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery
A young man tries to deal with the childhood terror that has affected his life.
Votes: 27,819 | Gross: $46.75M
Although not without faults, this journey into the exploration of the fears of a young boy and the secrets hiding under every kids bed and (in this case) in their closets, is a well-made and atmospheric experimentation which is worth viewing. It is filled with moments of suspense and takes full advantage of the effects; although it doesn't answer all the questions it poses, its very visceral thrills and the few surprises it does have, including the spooky village the main protagonist returns to, makes this film a worthy addition to this list.
48. The Dark (2005)
R | 93 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller