Welcome back to week 4 of my Top 25 Horror Films countdown. In this weeks’ edition, we explore back-woods cannibals, a disturbed inn keeper, a pair of nocturnal bloodsuckers and a gaggle of British NOT zombies.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Especially for it’s time, Massacre was the most gonzo, over the top gore movie I had ever seen growing up. I think the rules of everything you should avoid in a horror film were based on the misadventures of Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her friends. Sally and her wheelchair bound brother Franklin (Paul Partain) travel to their grandfathers grave after they become aware of grave-robbing and vandalism. They travel with Sally’s boyfriend Jerry (Allen Danziger), her best friend Pam (Teri McMinn) and her boyfriend Kirk (William Vail). Upon arrival, Sally is relieved to find her granddad’s grave intact. They decide to visit their grandparent’s old farmhouse that is now abandoned. They pick up a hitchhiker along the way who exhibits strange behavior, demanding money for a Polaroid he takes of Franklin. When they refuse, he cuts himself and Franklin with a knife before being tossed out of the van. Shaken by this experience, the gang stop for gas but are informed that the tanks are dry. Moving onto the farmhouse, Pam and Kirk go off to explore an old swimming spot that Franklin tells them about, but it has run dry. Kirk hears a motor running that could be a generator and goes into the house to see if he can find ant residents living there but is immediately killed by Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen). As the film goes along, every member is killed by Leatherface and his cannibalistic clan except for Sally, who manages to escape the sadistic Leatherface, laughing at his frustration of his escaped prey.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a nightmare of blood, guts, cannibals and interesting home decorating. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the psychotic back-wood clans.
9. Psycho (1960)
In the Hitchcock classic, we are introduced to a horror not born of myth or lore, but directly from the human mind. What kind of terrible atrocities can occur when a disturbed person is left unchecked?
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a real estate secretary in the midst of a crisis. She desperately wants to marry her lover Sam (John Gavin), but he is hesitant for financial reason. An opportunity arises at her office to steal a large deposit a customer has made on a house and she seizes it. She leaves town to meet up with Sam to start a new life with him. Afraid to be discovered, she stops to sleep in her car on the side of the road but is awoken by a State patrolman. He becomes suspicious of her based on her nervousness but allows her to leave without citation. She trades in her car to avoid detection but takes a wrong turn during a rainstorm and ends up at a run down hotel. Seeing lights on at the main house, she beeps the car horn, which prompts the proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), to come down to check her in. He seems to be a nice young man if not a bit shy. During her conversations with Norman she has a change of heart about the money and decides to return home to make amends. In one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history, an elderly woman slips into Marion’s bathroom as she showers. The shower curtain is pulled back as the old woman stabs Marion to death with a kitchen knife. Once Sam realizes Marion is missing, he goes in search of her along with a private eye hired to track down the stolen money. In an epic twist, it is revealed that Norman is the true killer having murdered his mother years ago and adapted her personality.
Psycho is the first film I can recall that gave me chills based solely on an actor’s portrayal and not from monsters, ghosts or ghouls.
8. Let The Right One In
A bullied boy, a new isolated neighbor and the bleak Stockholm winter serve as the backdrop of the Swedish made tale of vampire pre-teen angst that isn’t close to the glossy allure of the vamps of Twilight.
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a 12 year old wimpy kid. He is constantly harassed by his classmates but never fights back because fear overwhelms him. In lieu of cowardly reality, Oskar imagines fighting back, practicing various knife attacks on the tree in his apartment complex courtyard. One day he notices a man and his sickly looking daughter moving into one of the vacant apartments. He tries to befriend the girl, whose name is Eli (Lina Leandersson), but at first she shies away. The next day Oskar encounters Eli again in the courtyard. She is not wearing a coat even though it is freezing outside and notices she smells awful. Nevertheless, he shares his Rubik’s cube with her. Their friendship grows and when Oskar is attacked once again by the school bullies, Eli implores him to stand up to them in order to make the harassment stop. Eventually it is discovered that Eli is in fact a vampire but that doesn’t stop Oskar’s affection from growing. Oskar finally does stand up to his tormentors, slicing one boy’s ear with a tree branch, which sets up the conclusion of a final attack in an indoor swimming complex which results in a truly memorable and horrific scene.
Let The Right One In is a beautifully crafted foreign film that explores the terror of bullying, loneliness and an unlikely friendship that still delivers on the fright.
7. Nosferatu (1922)
The granddaddy of all vampire films, Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is dispatched the Transylvania by his employer Knock (Alexander Granach) to close a real estate deal with Count Orlock (Max Schreck), leaving behind is newlywed wife Ellen (Greta Schroeder). As he encounters the villagers of the Karpathen Mountains, they react in horror as he informs them that he has business dealings In his room at a local tavern, he reads from a book on the stand of the Nosferatu, blood sucking creatures that dwell in the shadows. Thinking it to be nothing more than fairy tales, Hutter continues on to the Count’s castle. He meets the sinister looking Orlock and they discuss the real estate deal. While cutting his dinner, Hutter accidentally cuts his finger. The Counts reaction to the blood makes Hutter uneasy but they continue negotiations through the night on the property for sale. When he wakes in the morning, Hutter notices two small bite marks on his neck that he attributes to mosquitoes. He writes a letter to Ellen of his longing to return to her. That evening, the two are still going over the paperwork for the real estate deal when Orlock notices Ellen’s photograph and instantly closes on the deal. The next day, Hutter decides to investigate the old castle to find answers to the Count’s bizarre behavior. He discovers a coffin in the basement with Orlock inside. Weakened by the nightly bloodletting, Hutter observes the Count leaving the castle but is in no condition to pursue. Back home, Knock has been admitted into an insane asylum and is revealed to be a servant of the Count. Count Orlock charters a sailing vessel to carry him across the sea towards his newly purchased home and feasts on the ship’s crew along the way. Meanwhile, Hutter has recovered enough to hurry home to Ellen just as the madman Knock escapes the asylum. Ellen reads from the book of monsters that Hutter brought back with him and discovers the way to kill the Count. She willingly gives her blood to him, which causes Orlock to forget his surroundings. He drinks deeply until dawn but is destroyed by the rising sun.
As with most old movies, the cinematography is jumpy and the special effects are corny, but the tale of Nosferatu is classically told and still enchants movie lovers to this day.
6. 28 Days Later
First things first, 28 Days Later is NOT a zombie movie (I only emphasize that because some movie lovers become very passionate if you classify this movie as a zombie pix), but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deliver the terror of a mass of flesh eating average citizens being unleashed on an unsuspecting London.
British scientists have been using the “rage” virus to experiment on chimpanzees. Local animal rights activists decide to break into the lab and free the animals, only to be attacked and infected with the disease. The story fast forwards 28 days with a man named Jim (the excellent Cillian Murphy) awakening from a coma in a deserted London hospital. He exits to find the streets equally deserted. Suddenly, Jim is attacked by raving mad people but is rescued by two survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), who explain to him that while he was comatose, the Rage virus has infected the majority of the populous bringing down society in Britain and perhaps globally. They follow Jim to his parent’s home but find them both dead due to suicide. A gang of the infected attack, wounding Mark. Immediately Selena kills him, explaining to a horrified Jim that the disease is blood borne and Mark would become as violent as the other infected within seconds of exposure. They come across Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) and decide to team up for protection. Frank informs Jim that a local radio broadcast is looped to tell citizens that the military has found the answer to the infection. While searching for the limitary blockade, Frank is infected but immediately killed by hiding soldiers. They are brought before Major West (Christopher Eccleston) whose solution to the problem is to have the infected starve and force female survivors into sexual slavery. They find an ally in Sgt Farrell, who disagrees with the Major’s plan and he believes that only the island of Britain has been affected. While attempting escape, the group is captured. Jim and Farrell are sent to be executed while Selena and Hannah are given to the soldiers to be raped. While the soldiers argue on the method of execution, Jim manages to hop a wall and sees an airplane’s sonic trail in the sky, causing him to realize that it is not the world at large infected. Jim uses a captured infected to dispose of the Major and his men so that he can rescue the women. West appears and shoots Jim but Hannah throws him to the infected man and his death. We are left with Jim recovering and the question still posed on the groups’ salvation.
28 Days Later is expertly made to shock, startle and freak out the audience. It is the perfect tale to re-watch as Halloween approaches.
We are coming down to the wire and while the first 20 films in my countdown are sure to turn your blood to ice, next weeks reveal of my top 5 might send you to your grave!