My Take by Jim Carl
JIM’S TOP 5 FAVORITE HORROR MOVIES OF ALL TIME
Let’s make something clear: This is not a list of the best horror movies of all time. It’s a list of my personal favorites, which is something completely different. Go ahead and be miffed at me for neglecting The Shining, Halloween, The Exorcist, Suspiria, The Thing, The Evil Dead trilogy, and everything made after 1981. (Then go spit in the ocean and see if it comes back.)
These are the movies my doctors let me watch in the electroshock therapy room.
1) John Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980)
At last count, I have thirteen tattoos on my body. (You know you’re getting senile when you have to get undressed and count them.) The largest of these is of Captain Blake, the bad-ass villain from this movie, ripping through the flesh along my upper right thigh, holding a scythe in his hand. The tattoo is more than a foot long and it’s a testament of how much I love this film that I’d brand a permanent reminder of it on my carcass. And yes, it hurt. A lot. Hands down, this is my favorite scary movie of all time. No, I don’t care if you disagree with me. Get your own goddamn tattoo from your favorite movie, and after your leg stops swelling and leaking plasma for a week, you and I will talk. The Fog has all the elements I want in my creepy films, especially in its imagery and locale: sleepy coastal fishing village, majestic lighthouse, rolling oceanic waves, ragged sails on a haunted galleon, crumbling stone church on a lonely hillside, and that doom-enshrouded fog. There’s not a single scene in this movie that I feel is wasted. I’ve probably seen it a hundred times. A million times, if you count how often I’ve looked at my leg.
2) JAWS (1975)
It's not the scene where Robert Shaw talks about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis that delivers the gut-punch for me. It's the scene where the guys start singing "Show Me the Way to Go Home." I've hummed that tune a million times throughout my life (usually as I attempt avoiding conversations in elevators and during my weekly "Directors Meeting" ), and no matter how bad the day may have seemed, I always felt better afterwards. In the movies, pacing is everything. Here, Spielberg allows the audience a moment of quiet relief before all hell breaks loose. Jaws 2 was a damn fine sequel, too. I watch this movie at least once a year, usually around the start of summer. It’s tradition.
3) THE LEGACY (1979)
Basically, Satan asks Katharine Ross, "How would you like absolute power, untold billions, and a countryside mansion filled with embarassingly uptight English servants?" Transforming into a great late-70s feminist, Katharine suffers no moral dilemma and instead goes all Madeleine Albright. "Where do I sign up, Lucy Baby?" she asks before turning Sam Elliott into her man-bitch. Rather sensibly, I'm only saying. Hell, even I'm willing to admit that Sam looked smokin' hot in this movie. This is not a rip-roaring horror tale, so if you’re expecting Evil Dead-type antics, you best look somewhere else. It’s what is known as a “slow burn.” Others might even call it old-fashioned. Any way you describe it, I love it.
4) GHOST STORY (1981)
Hands down, this has my favorite movie one-sheet of all time. A mostly black background with a lonely moon and haunted house in the lower right-hand corner. The plot of this film is almost as simple. Four elderly men (Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) gather to tell scary tales to each other on snowy evenings. The scariest tale, of course, is the one they never mention: That they murdered a young woman forty years earlier and hid her body in the backseat of a car which they sank into the darkest part of the local pond. And now, the bitch is back for some comeuppance. Like The Legacy, this one is a quaint, old-fashioned horror movie with minimal gore. I can watch it again and again and never tire of it. Yes, Peter Straub’s novel is supremely different, but I actually liked this stripped-down adaptation even more.
5) (tie) THE FURY (1978) and CARRIE (1976)
Watch the scene in The Fury where Amy Irving escapes from the institution in slow motion and in loose-fitting pajamas. Brian De Palma loves putting these dialogue-free action set pieces into all his movies, but this is one of his best. It took me years to understand why this movie was called The Fury. (Hint: As you watch that final scene, start chanting, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” It makes brilliant sense.) Any movie that ends with John Cassavettes literally exploding is pretty much a must-see in my book. As for Carrie, yes, that last scene is a great “gotcha!” moment, but it’s not the reason this Stephen King adaption makes this list. It’s the scene where Carrie and her mother have that argument about the prom. As Piper Laurie storms out of the room, every door and shutter in the house slams brutally shut. Then De Palma cuts back to Sissy Spacek, smiling like the snake in the Garden of Eden. “I’m going, Mama,” she grins. “And I don’t wanna talk about it anymore.” Sound of rimshot. Sound of silence. For me, this is the best scene in the movie.
What about you? What are your personal favorite horror movies?
Runners-Up: Dolores Claiborne (1995), Halloween (1978), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), Donnie Darko (2001), Poltergeist (1982), The Exorcist (1973), Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972), Inferno (1980), Dressed to Kill (1980), and many more.