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Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Jeremy's Halloween Top Ten 2013
I’M BAAAAACKKK!!!!...Sort of. Having had very little to do with this website for several years now, and having barely posted any reviews during that time, this October marks a return of sorts to being active here, if only at a low level for the moment. Writing is hard, it’s hard getting back in the flow of things after you’ve stepped resolutions…let’s get on with the sweet stuff.
I’M BAAAAACKKK!!!!...Sort of. Having had very little to do with this website for several years now, and having barely posted any reviews during that time, this October marks a return of sorts to being active here, if only at a low level for the moment. Writing is hard, it’s hard getting back in the flow of things after you’ve stepped away from something like this for awhile, and this top ten list has probably been the hardest that I’ve had to write in a long while. But this is also a more personal list than usual. Of course these are all personal lists, but this one more than most, for this year I’ve included fewer movies that earn a spot simply for being good and more that earn spots because they mean something personally to me. In the end I enjoyed putting it together, and I hope you enjoy reading it.
|10. The Day of the Triffids (1962)|
John Wyndham’s slow but rewarding novel is a story of individual and communal survival after most of the world’s population is blinded by the glare from a meteorite shower. The killer Triffids are but one part of a complex narrative, with the walking, stinging plants being one of – but by no means the only – pressing challenge that humanity faces while trying to rebuild civilization. In contrast, Steve Sekely’s adaptation is mostly a monster movie, one that puts the Triffids front and center and ignores many of the novel’s other plot elements. That is less of a criticism than an observation, for the screen version of The Day of the Triffids is remarkably successful as an example of the genre. Scarier, more mature and more polished than most American monster movies of the same time period, and with a superior cast, this film was a longtime favorite of mine as a child. In fact I still own one of the VHS versions that I had as a kid, although that’s partly because a halfway decent DVD version has yet to appear. A restoration of the film was completed several years ago and new prints occasionally play the repertory circuit, although as yet I am saddened to report that no DVD or Blu-Ray has yet appeared.
|9. Waxwork (1988)|
I have a shocking confession to make; it was not until earlier this year that I saw Waxwork, and the only reason I started watching the film was because it was listed as being about to disappear from Netflix. I have no excuse for this shocking lapse, especially considering that Dave has reviewed seemingly every disc version of the movie in existence. Nope, I just goofed and spent years missing out on this awesome flick. Waxwork is a great macabre comedy, but it takes itself just seriously enough to also work as a horror film, with the scenes in the mummy’s tomb and the vampire castle being my favorites. While decent versions have appeared overseas, this one is desperately in need of a restored, remastered North American edition, with the current, anemic-looking R1 releases being barely adequate.
|8. Doctor X (1932)|
This one was a recent rediscovery of mine. I had seen Doctor X just once nearly fifteen years ago, and while I remember being impressed and amused by the film, my enjoyment somehow did not translate into a second viewing until this summer when I attended a Lionel Atwill repertory tribute. While Atwill is better remembered for his many horror outings as a villainous character (like in Mystery in the Wax Museum, which was double featured with this one at the screening), he also managed to play good guys in a number of genre productions, including this one, where he takes a turn as Dr. Xavier, the head of a New York City medical school where one of the faculty members is suspected of being the cannibalistic “Moonlight Killer”. Afraid that a police investigation will ruin the reputation of his institution, the authorities reluctantly consent to give Xavier time to expose the fiend using his own scientific methods. This leads to him and his faculty, along with his daughter (Fay Wray, no less) and a nosy newspaper reporter, being locked inside his rural seaside mansion with the killer loose among them. Doctor X was filmed in the early two-strip Technicolor process and has aged surprisingly well. While not quite living up to the same standards as the Universal classics, for lovers of Golden Age horror it still comes highly recommended.
|7. Planet of the Vampires (1965)|
Even though it doesn’t top any lists of Mario Bava’s best films, this amalgamation of sci-fi and horror remains my personal favorite from the director’s canon. The story begins intriguingly, with two spaceships, the Argos and the Galliot, making a landing on a remote, inhospitable planet. Upon entry into the atmosphere the crewmembers of both ships go crazy and attack each other. The crewmembers of the Galliot manage to regain control of themselves, but the Argos crashes, with those aboard it having slaughtered themselves. It turns out that the planet is home to a race of formless beings who can take over dead bodies, and who do so in an attempt to escape from their dying world. Mario Bava was a master of images, yet in my mind the most haunting piece of imagery he ever filmed is the scene where the crew of the Argos rise from the dead. Having been wrapped in sheets of clear cellophane before burial, the corpses rise from the alien soil and free themselves by ripping the plastic off in slow motion. The scene stayed with me for days after I saw it for the first time as a kid, and I remember recreating it by wrapping some of my action figures in plastic sandwich bags and burying them in the backyard, only to dig them up a day or two later and “resurrect” them.
|6. Grizzly (1976)|
Considered by many to be the most violent PG-rated movie ever made, I was always amazed by how much gore and nastiness William Girdler was able to get away with here. Had this been made a few short years later the MPAA would have probably demanded that half the blood be cut out simply to secure an ‘R’ rating. If this gruesomeness was the only thing that it had going for it, Grizzly probably wouldn’t be on this list. But while it isn’t quite the land version of Jaws that it aspires to be, the nastiness does get under your skin and stay there while you’re watching it. It doesn’t arouse the primal unease of Spielberg’s film, but it can be scary, and the casting of Christopher George, Andrew Prine and Richard Jaeckel in the Brody, Hooper and Quint roles proves to be very successful, even though all three men were past their prime.
|5. The Night Stalker (1972)|
Probably the best made-for-TV horror film of all time (not that there is all that much real competition for that honor), this is also one of the best vampire movies out there, packing a surprising amount of action and fright into its brief length. Movies dealing with supernatural creatures in contemporary society always have to navigate the conflict that comes with placing ancient, magical beings into a modern, scientific world, and this is the movie that does it the best, presenting a convincing scenario for how law enforcement and the media would handle a real incidence of vampirism. But more than anything The Night Stalker benefits from Darren McGavin’s turn as newspaperman Carl Kolchak. Colorful, truly endearing characters are rare in the horror genre, but McGavin takes ownership of Kolchak from the first scene and makes us root for him every moment. Full of subtle humor that is allowed to grow out of Kolchak’s personality and the absurd situation he finds himself in, McGavin takes possession of the role and makes it impossible to imagine anyone else filling his shoes (or his straw hat).
|4. Dementia 13 (1963)|
Dementia 13 has earned entirely too much of its fame from the involvement of Roger Corman and Francis Ford Coppola (as well as the exploitation of its public domain status) and not enough from its own considerable merits. Suspenseful, engaging and violent, this one makes for rewarding repeat viewings – if you can find a decent looking copy, that is. Everyone knows this as a staple of two-bit video companies who often release it in blurry, overly dark versions. I’m told that the original negative is safe under lock and key somewhere, and hopefully someday we’ll see a properly restored version.
|3. The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)|
Oliver Reed is not always an easy screen presence to like, and it can take a lot of time for a viewer to warm up to him. Thankfully time is something that The Curse of the Werewolf has, and while it hasn’t developed quite the fan base of a Horror of Dracula or a Curse of Frankenstein - perhaps because it moves entirely too slow for some tastes - this Hammer werewolf story (the only one the studio ever produced) offers a considerable reward to viewers patient enough to wade through more than an hour of character development. The payoff in terms of blood, scares and story is more than worth it, with Reed’s transformation inside his jail cell, and the subsequent death of his poor cellmate, being one of the most memorable fright scenes in Terence Fisher’s career.
|2. Friday the 13th (1980)|
I was never allowed to watch this movie as a kid or an adolescent. I’m sure there are readers out here who saw it when they were ten or twelve or thirteen. Me? I was seventeen before I saw Friday the 13th for the first time, but when the moment finally came I got to see it the right way, fully uncut (albeit with Japanese subtitles and a nasty tracking line at the bottom of the screen). For all of the moral outrage that this film’s title once generated, it is less gruesome – and better made – than a neophyte viewer would expect, and despite its simple narrative it rewards multiple viewings. Like a pair of favorite old (possibly bloody) slippers, it always seems to fit just right no matter what mood you are in, even though it isn’t a perfect film. My one regret about the making of Friday the 13th is that they didn’t hire John Carradine to play Crazy Ralph. No offense to Walt Gorney, but that would have made it perfect.
|1. The Invisible Man (1933)|
Even for audiences in the 1930’s this film would have been less scary and much funnier than a Frankenstein or a Dracula. But it’s an uneasy humor, one that disquiets you just as much as it makes you laugh. Driven mad by his own invisibility serum, Claude Rains’ character is like that volatile coworker or family member that everyone has, the kind of man who puts people on eggshells when he’s around because even the slightest provocation could cause him to explode. Perhaps because we can so easily identify with the menace posed by the invisible man and his personality (as opposed to more unworldly menace of a character like Dracula), this is the Universal horror that has aged the best, still entertaining audiences in a world in which Heath Ledger’s Joker has become the ideal of a movie villain.