Mike’s Top 10 Horror Movie Picks
Last year in the month of October, I watched 31 horror movies in 31 days and shared them on Facebook. I intended to do something along those lines this year as well, but somehow the month crept up on me like a machete-wielding, hockey mask-wearing, time-stealing slasher.
So, this year for the month of my favorite holiday, Halloween, I’ve decided to do some Top 10 Horror lists---which seems somehow supernaturally significant, as the day I came up with this idea was the tenth day of the month. I’m sure there’s some nefarious numerology involved which will summon terrifying forces beyond our control. Or hopefully entertain us and encourage a narrative on our favorites of the horror genre.
Let’s kick this thing off with my Top 10 Horror Movie Picks. Most Top 10 lists start with number ten and work their way to number one. But it seems more in the spirit of Halloween and Satan's example to flip the script. I'm just evil like that.
1.) The Exorcist
What can I say about this movie—besides the fact that it’s one of the few horror flicks that ever truly got under my skin? I mean, this thing scared the shit out of me before I really even knew what it was. I remembered as a little kid—and I mean little—sitting in the back of the car while my mom was in the store. My dad was waiting behind the wheel. The store was right next to a drive-in theater (yeah, I’m that old). That’s where I caught my first glimpse of The Exorcist. No sound. No context. Just the sight of Linda Blair covered in scars and puke. And those fucking scary-ass yellow eyes.
As a child I fell in love with all things horror. From watching Alice Cooper perform Welcome to My Nightmare on TV, to embracing the Universal Monster Movies and the bloodier, edgier Hammer Horror Films, I gravitated to this genre like a vampire bat to a Victorian damsel’s jugular.
But I had never seen anything like those brief minutes of The Exorcist. I had no idea what I was seeing, but I knew it terrified me—so much that I wouldn’t attempt to watch the movie again until I was 14. Even so, I wouldn’t get through the entire movie until in my 30s.
2.) Let the Right One In
Kids are just creepy. That’s actually a scientific fact. Google it. I swear I’m not making this shit up. When they’re vampire kids, it just makes them creepier. Let the Right One In is a movie with a brilliant take on the vampire genre. Everything about this movie exudes doom, despair and sometimes brutal horror, yet it somehow finds a way to touch your heart. This is truly a love story at its core. A fucking scary, demented love story, but still romantic in many ways. Just don’t get this confused with the inferior American version, Let Me In.
3.) 28 Days Later
This flick really redefined the zombie genre, although it’s not really a zombie movie. The scary-fast transformation of the Rage virus victims, and the speed at which they violently attack anybody that hasn’t succumbed to the virus, makes for many tense moments. The wonderful and sometimes heartbreaking performances from the actors—not to mention the brilliant script—lift 28 Days Later far above the typical apocalyptical horror story.
4.) The Shining
Yet another movie that I probably shouldn’t have watched when I was younger—let alone while I was by myself at night. By the time I got through this Stanley Kubrick classic, my parents came home to every light on in the house and me too freaked out and wired to go to bed for something like two or three days. From Jack Nicolson’s gonzo performance, to the horrifying ghosts and blood spilling from elevators, the tension in this movie winds, winds and winds—and then explodes in an orgy of axe-wielding violence and frozen horror. If you haven’t seen the fascinating—and equally gonzo—documentary about The Shining, Room 237, check it out. The documentary is chalk full of fun and crazy, just like The Shining.
5.) An American Werewolf in London
This is my favorite werewolf flick of all time. There have been some other great films, like Dog Soldiers, Wer, and Ginger Snaps to name a few, but this classic redefined the genre more than any other movie made before or after its release. Rick Baker’s werewolf transformation scene is breathtaking and will never be surpassed by even the best CGI transformation effects. The scary, often funny and heart-touching script separates An American Werewolf in London from the pack. The tongue-in-cheek dialog and the chemistry between the two male lead actors, set up a believable world that deftly counterbalances the sheer nightmarish terror of the rest of the story. Scary. Funny. Gory. What else could a horror fan ask for?
6.) Halloween (the original)
It could be argued that there were slasher flicks before Halloween, but this movie truly brought the idea of a masked, sharp weapon-wielding, relentless killer to the masses. This low budget indie flick succeeded because of its stark simplicity and the charisma of its lead actress, Jamie Lee Curtis. Halloween launched her Scream Queen career and pushed director John Carpenter into the ranks of the Masters of Horror. The funny thing about this slasher flick? There’s really very little blood and gore. Carpenter pulls an Alfred Hitchcock with his direction—mostly implying gore and letting the viewer’s imagination do the rest. Rob Zombie’s remakes in the Halloween series are great horror movies in their own bloodier right, so check those out too.
7.) Near Dark
Near Dark features many members of the cast of Aliens as nomadic, ass-kicking vampires. The mood and the terrific casting make this flick stand out in the genre. Of all of the vampire movies in my collection—which take up an entire shelf in my movie library—Near Dark’s take on the undead really influenced the vampires in my first novel, Hollywood Cowboys. The vamps in Near Dark and the vamps in Hollywood Cowboys don’t sparkle! They kick ass, take no prisoners and scare the shit out of you---like a vampire should!
8.) The Conjuring
Following the exploits of two “real life” paranormal investigators, The Conjuring is a wickedly fun and scary mash-up of the movies Poltergeist and The Exorcist, in my humble opinion The Conjuring has an outstanding cast and script, not to mention fantastic direction from James Wan (who also brought us the terrifying Insidious), making this flick a modern horror classic of the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. And did I mention creepy dolls?
9.) Night of the Living Dead
The zombie movie that started it all! This is the template for the modern zombie film. It’s got everything a good zombie flick needs: hordes of flesh-eating undead, racial and socio-economic tension, and humanity at its best and worst. Scary and claustrophobic, Night of the Living Dead is pure, low budget, indie film making at its finest!
This silent movie era Horror icon is basically an unauthorized retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But putting all the controversy aside, this is a defining movie for the horror genre and vampire flicks in general. The performance of Max Schreck as the titular undead and the make up used for the monster are truly frightening, even by today’s standards. The sense of dread and fear when one of cinema's earliest vampires takes the screen seems to be heightened by the lack of dialog and effects. Coupled with the eerie way that early film stock captures the images of the actors, I think that Nosferatu is an outstanding example of cinema’s early love affair with horror.