Saturday, October 31, 2015

Top 20 Horror Novels - #1) Dracula by Bram Stoker (from 1897)


Not only am I ranking my Top 20 Horror Movies for you this October, but I'm doing likewise with the scary books that I hold near and dear.  As with the movies that I'm discussing in that Top 20, I'm not attempting to rank these novels based on their place in pop culture, but rather their place in my heart.  Isn't that sweet?  Seriously, there are some fine books that didn't make the cut here because there just wasn't room, and there are definitely some well-regarded books that didn't make the cut because I don't really like them.  That also means there are some personal favorites of mine on this list that you may not have heard of.  If that's the case, I promise that I'll reward your trust with a gnarly tale if you give one of them a spin.  Finally, I may have shortchanged some of the titans in the genre (hey there, Stephen King) as I didn't want to overload this list with titles by the same author, though Uncle Stevie did manage to score three direct hits on my list.

The list thus far:

#20) Amok by George Fox (from 1980) 
#19) Manstopper by Douglas Borton (from 1988)
#18) Intensity by Dean Koontz (from 1995)

#17) The Terror by Dan Simmons (from 2007) 
#16) The Snake by John Godey (from 1978)
#15) Son of the Endless Night by John Farris (from 1985)
#14) Rockinghorse by William W. Johnstone (from 1986) 
#13) Vampire$ by John Steakley (from 1990)
#12) Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (from 1978)
#11) Christine by Stephen King (from 1983)
#10) The Manitou by Graham Masterton (from 1975)
#9) At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (from 1936)
#8) All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris (from 1977)
#7) Hell House by Richard Matheson (from 1971)
#6) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (from 1971)
#5) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (from 1954)
#4) The Stand by Stephen King (from 1978)
#3) Jaws by Peter Benchley (from 1974)
#2) 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King (from 1975) 



Top 20 Horror Novels - #1) Dracula by Bram Stoker (from 1897)

First off, let's be clear: the story that is told in Dracula is a stellar combination of fright, romance, and adventure that has stood the test of time, inspiring plays and movies that are nearly as famous as Stoker's groundbreaking novel.  The character at the heart of the tale, the fiendish Count with a thirst for blood, is woven into the very fabric of the horror genre, and in the realm of fiction, he has proven immortal.  Yet I think what's often missing from praise for this thrilling book is commentary that underscores just how impressive Bram Stoker's writing is.  The style he chose for Dracula is epistolary, meaning this classic is composed of various journal entries, letters, and newspaper clippings.  The notion of telling a grand tale in such a fashion is daunting to say the very least, yet Stoker absolutely slayed it.  Various voices come into play and an engrossing plot unfolds with style.  Dracula is a fantastic yarn that is granted plausibility by the approach the author adopted, but he didn't sacrifice any momentum or flair by telling this invigorating story with a series of articles.  His ability to spin a yarn that is both haunting and seductive, much like the titular menace who remains at the forefront of the vampire sub-genre, remains a pleasure to behold.  Better than a century after he was set loose on our world, Dracula still reigns supreme in the realm of horror literature.  Those who have read this bold and enticing tale of terror will undoubtedly share my enthusiasm for Stoker's defining work, and those who haven't should pick up a copy and start their trek into the dark heart of Transylvania.

Top 20 Horror Movies - #1) The Exorcist (1973)


One of the things that I'm doing this month as I celebrate Halloween here in the Land of Way is taking the time to rank my Top 20 Horror Movies and my Top 20 Horror Novels.

Note:
I want to be clear that I'm basing these choices on my own humble opinion.  I'm not trying to rank these movies in accordance with their place in pop culture, but I'm offering up my take on the best horror films that I have ever watched and enjoyed.  There are some familiar candidates that I consider to be great pictures that didn't make the cut because there wasn't room, and there are some films that are widely regarded as great pictures that didn't make the cut because I feel that they are overrated.  There are also a few instances where it was difficult to determine whether or not a movie belonged to the horror genre (I said "no" to Aliens but "yes" to Jaws), and it may also be worth noting that this is largely a modern list (as long as you're okay with my classification of modern as anything after 1960) that only features one lonely creature from the so-called "Classic Monsters" films produced by Universal Studios.

Thus far, the list includes:

#20) The Fly (1986) 
#19) The Howling (1981)
#18) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
#17) Alien (1979) 
#16) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
#15) Suspiria (1977) 
#14) Phantasm (1979)
#13) Evil Dead 2 (1985)
#12) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) 
#11) The Descent (2005)
#10) Fright Night (1985)
#9) Halloween (1978)
#8) Return of the Living Dead (1985) 
#7) An American Werewolf in London (1981)
#6) Deep Red (1975)
#5) The Shining (1980) 
#4) Dawn of the Dead (1978)
#3) The Thing (1982)
#2) Jaws (1975) 

I had a hard time putting this list together, but determining which movie belonged at the top of the charts was rather easy.  There can be no doubt that The Exorcist is the crown jewel of horror cinema.



Top 20 Horror Movies - #1) The Exorcist (1973)

Believe the hype.  The Exorcist is the most frightening movie ever made.  William Friedkin did a flawless job of bringing William Peter Blatty's novel to the screen.  His efforts were greatly enhanced by legendary effects work from the great Dick Smith and a fantastic cast that nailed the difficult material.  Ellen Burstyn is unbelievably good and it is her work here that truly defines the experience, though Linda Blair, Jason Miller, and the one and only Max Von Sydow (who plays the title role) all brought their A-game to the table.  The score is haunting, the script is razor-sharp, and most importantly, Friedkin (a superb director with a considerable legacy who still doesn't get the love he so richly deserves) was at his very best when he made the greatest horror movie of them all.  The subject matter is extremely disturbing and equally frightening, largely due to Burstyn's bravura performance as she plays the character that viewers relate to throughout the picture.  The Exorcist is as daring as it is horrifying; I am positive that you couldn't make this movie in this day and age without significant alterations to some of the more explicit portions of this grim journey into demonic possession and despair.  I treasure both this film and the book it was based upon, but I’ve only read the book a couple of times and I’ve only watched the movie four times.  When I’m looking for a horror film to watch, I frequently grab this Blu-Ray only to pause long enough to wonder if I really want to spend another night with Reagan and Father Karras.  If you have never experienced The Exorcist, there could be no better time than Halloween to do so.  Please don’t invite me over, however, because I’m not ready for another descent into the devil’s domain just yet.

Note: The original theatrical release is awesome but I prefer the updated version from 2001.  The "spider walk" is one of my favorite scenes in the movie.


Friedkin used every trick at his disposal to bring William Peter Blatty's terrifying novel to life in spectacular fashion.
They say it's the scariest movie ever made, and this time they are right.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween in the Land of Way - Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 from Marvel


Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 from Marvel

 I took one look at the cover of this comic and I had to have it.  If you feel the same way about a team of Marvel's kookiest monsters representing S.H.I.E.L.D. in the field as a "supernatural threat division," be sure to grab a copy for yourself.  The art is decidedly old school, conjuring memories of those golden horror comics of the past, while the story was witty and subversive.  Played for laughs and thrills, this first issue sets the stage for a cool series and proved exciting from cover to cover.  If the notion of a monster mash-up/creepy war comic doesn't really float your bug, stick to the guys and gals in tights.  On the other hand, if you like spooky shenanigans and you're looking for a proper comic to sit down with as Halloween draws nigh, I think that this book is the one for you.  The creative team delivered the goods and I enjoyed the humor that permeates this weird book as much as the festive action and the minimal gore. 

Final Grade: B+

Top 20 Horror Novels - #2) 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King (from 1975)


Not only am I ranking my Top 20 Horror Movies for you this October, but I'm doing likewise with the scary books that I hold near and dear.  As with the movies that I'm discussing in that Top 20, I'm not attempting to rank these novels based on their place in pop culture, but rather their place in my heart.  Isn't that sweet?  Seriously, there are some fine books that didn't make the cut here because there just wasn't room, and there are definitely some well-regarded books that didn't make the cut because I don't really like them.  That also means there are some personal favorites of mine on this list that you may not have heard of.  If that's the case, I promise that I'll reward your trust with a gnarly tale if you give one of them a spin.  Finally, I may have shortchanged some of the titans in the genre (hey there, Stephen King) as I didn't want to overload this list with titles by the same author, though Uncle Stevie did manage to score three direct hits on my list.

The list thus far:

#20) Amok by George Fox (from 1980) 
#19) Manstopper by Douglas Borton (from 1988)
#18) Intensity by Dean Koontz (from 1995)

#17) The Terror by Dan Simmons (from 2007) 
#16) The Snake by John Godey (from 1978)
#15) Son of the Endless Night by John Farris (from 1985)
#14) Rockinghorse by William W. Johnstone (from 1986) 
#13) Vampire$ by John Steakley (from 1990)
#12) Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (from 1978)
#11) Christine by Stephen King (from 1983)
#10) The Manitou by Graham Masterton (from 1975)
#9) At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (from 1936)
#8) All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris (from 1977)
#7) Hell House by Richard Matheson (from 1971)
#6) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (from 1971)
#5) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (from 1954)
#4) The Stand by Stephen King (from 1978)
#3) Jaws by Peter Benchley (from 1974)


Top 20 Horror Novels - #2) 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King (from 1975)

'Salem’s Lot was Stephen King’s second published novel, and even the master himself has gone on record as stating that it is his favorite.  Ben Mears is a fabulous hero, maybe the finest protagonist aside from Roland that King’s fertile mind has given birth to, and the town of Jerusalem’s Lot is so well-defined and utterly fascinating that it becomes a character in and of itself.  As this masterpiece unfolds, we come to know and love both the characters and the setting for this dark epic.  By the time the tale draws to a close, nearly all of the players and the town itself have suffered a grisly fate.  This is just my kind of book: King takes his time with the story, building a strong foundation before unleashing hell in a frantic third act that takes no prisoners.  No one is safe in ‘Salem’s Lot, and the action is both brutal and realistic, giving the supernatural yarn an air of authenticity.  The basic premise is rooted in the absurd, yet this feels like a poignant character study of the highest order.  If I’m gushing, that’s probably because I truly love this book.  I read it every year, typically in the fall, and it only seems to grow larger and more wonderful each time I return to 'Salem's Lot.  It's the type of book that I would recommend to those who don’t really care for stories about things that go bump in the night as well as those who cherish the horror genre as much as I do.  I have often said that King’s work is typically equal parts blood-curdling terror and thoughtful meditation on American culture.  This 1975 smash hit is no exception, and I believe it stands as the maestro’s finest hour. 

Top 20 Horror Movies - #2) Jaws (1975)


One of the things that I'm doing this month as I celebrate Halloween here in the Land of Way is taking the time to rank my Top 20 Horror Movies and my Top 20 Horror Novels.

Note:
I want to be clear that I'm basing these choices on my own humble opinion.  I'm not trying to rank these movies in accordance with their place in pop culture, but I'm offering up my take on the best horror films that I have ever watched and enjoyed.  There are some familiar candidates that I consider to be great pictures that didn't make the cut because there wasn't room, and there are some films that are widely regarded as great pictures that didn't make the cut because I feel that they are overrated.  There are also a few instances where it was difficult to determine whether or not a movie belonged to the horror genre (I said "no" to Aliens but "yes" to Jaws), and it may also be worth noting that this is largely a modern list (as long as you're okay with my classification of modern as anything after 1960) that only features one lonely creature from the so-called "Classic Monsters" films produced by Universal Studios.

Thus far, the list includes:

#20) The Fly (1986) 
#19) The Howling (1981)
#18) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
#17) Alien (1979) 
#16) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
#15) Suspiria (1977) 
#14) Phantasm (1979)
#13) Evil Dead 2 (1985)
#12) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) 
#11) The Descent (2005)
#10) Fright Night (1985)
#9) Halloween (1978)
#8) Return of the Living Dead (1985) 
#7) An American Werewolf in London (1981)
#6) Deep Red (1975)
#5) The Shining (1980) 
#4) Dawn of the Dead (1978)
#3) The Thing (1982)

As we near the end of this list, it's time to break down a pair of exceptional movies based on novels that I hold near and dear to my heart.  First up, we've got my favorite movie of all time.


Top 20 Horror Movies - #2) Jaws (1975)

Steven Spielberg's efforts as a filmmaker have yielded an amazing filmography, but the thrilling motion picture that put him on the map remains his finest offering.  Working from Peter Benchley's stellar novel, Spielberg fashioned a tale of terror that continues to scare moviegoers away from the beach better than 40 years after it gave birth to the summer blockbuster.  At the end of the day, this is a horror movie that nearly matches Benchley's ability to convey the might and fury of a great white shark, driving home the terror that encountering such a creature in its natural environment would generate.  There are some brutal moments in this vibrant shocker, and yet the warmth and drama that propels the film toward a grand finale do make it seem a bit too adventurous for the genre at times.  The three leads take a fabulous script and run wild with it, with Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss both doing a tremendous job while Robert Shaw dominates the screen with one of the richest performances in the history of the cinema.  The score from John Williams is as simple as it is iconic, the effects are far better than the mechanical sharks' place in film history would have you believe, and Spielberg's gifts have never been so evident.  There are big scares, big laughs, and even when things settle down, Jaws is ten times more enchanting than most movies.  This is my favorite movie, and if we were talking about movies in general, I would surely put it atop my list.  Yet I did elect to place it at #2 on my list because I cannot fathom putting anything other than the scariest movie ever made at #1.  Having said that, second place here is no small prize, and I hope I have made my affection for this grand voyage into horror on the high seas evident. 

Jaws has inspired numerous imitations, yet 40 years later it still reigns supreme.
Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss shine only to be blown away by Robert Shaw as Quint.

Top 20 Horror Movies - #3) The Thing (1982)


One of the things that I'm doing this month as I celebrate Halloween here in the Land of Way is taking the time to rank my Top 20 Horror Movies and my Top 20 Horror Novels.

Note:
I want to be clear that I'm basing these choices on my own humble opinion.  I'm not trying to rank these movies in accordance with their place in pop culture, but I'm offering up my take on the best horror films that I have ever watched and enjoyed.  There are some familiar candidates that I consider to be great pictures that didn't make the cut because there wasn't room, and there are some films that are widely regarded as great pictures that didn't make the cut because I feel that they are overrated.  There are also a few instances where it was difficult to determine whether or not a movie belonged to the horror genre (I said "no" to Aliens but "yes" to Jaws), and it may also be worth noting that this is largely a modern list (as long as you're okay with my classification of modern as anything after 1960) that only features one lonely creature from the so-called "Classic Monsters" films produced by Universal Studios.

Thus far, the list includes:

#20) The Fly (1986) 
#19) The Howling (1981)
#18) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
#17) Alien (1979) 
#16) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
#15) Suspiria (1977) 
#14) Phantasm (1979)
#13) Evil Dead 2 (1985)
#12) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) 
#11) The Descent (2005)
#10) Fright Night (1985)
#9) Halloween (1978)
#8) Return of the Living Dead (1985) 
#7) An American Werewolf in London (1981)
#6) Deep Red (1975)
#5) The Shining (1980) 
#4) Dawn of the Dead (1978)

My favorite director strikes again!  That's right, John Carpenter's back in the mix with his best horror flick, a picture that was savaged by critics and labelled a failure after it struck out at the box office.
  

Top 20 Horror Movies - #3) The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter is directly responsible for so many awesome movies.  Many were major hits, but he has also produced his fair share of cult classics.  That's why it should probably come as no surprise that his best horror film was so poorly regarded upon its initial release.  Arriving hot on the heels of E.T., this grim and gory monster movie was too dark for mainstream success in 1982, but over time more and more people have warmed up to it.  Kurt Russell is the star, and though this part is far more somber than the roles he played in his other pairings with Carpenter, he delivers another riveting performance.  The effects courtesy of Rob Bottin are outrageous and the main theme from Ennio Morricone (this is the rare instance where Carpenter passed the baton on that front) is a truly magnificent symphony of doom.  The locations give the movie the stark realism that it needs to draw audiences into a tense and horrific struggle that leads to a bleak conclusion with apocalyptic implications.  Carpenter's shot selection is superb and his dynamic vision yields a fantastic vision of isolation and desperation unlike any other.  Technically a remake, this epic creature greatly improves upon The Thing From Another World, a nifty gem from 1951.  Despite the downer nature of the piece, it remains one of my favorite horror films to watch.  The movie I have at #1 on this list is so damn disturbing that I rarely view it, but The Thing is a great movie to revisit whenever you want to see Kurt Russell rock cinema's gnarliest beard in John Carpenter's mindbending trip to Antarctica.  It's an immersive experience that slowly draws the viewer into a paranoia-fueled nightmare where brave men battle a wretched invader from beyond the stars.  It's The Thing, the biggest and baddest monster movie of them all, and I'm thrilled to include it here.

According to John Carpenter, Rob Bottin got the job on the basis of his kooky storyboards.  Once they got on set, John asked him how he was going to pull all this crazy stuff off and Rob basically said, "Shit, man.  I don't know."  In the end, he delivered in a big way, and his effects are a big reason why fans continue to flip out over The Thing.
Obviously, I've got mad love for Carpenter, and I'm also a huge Kurt Russell fan, so I should note that their work together may represent the best that each of these supremely talented individuals had to offer.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Top 20 Horror Novels - #3) Jaws by Peter Benchley (from 1974)


Not only am I ranking my Top 20 Horror Movies for you this October, but I'm doing likewise with the scary books that I hold near and dear.  As with the movies that I'm discussing in that Top 20, I'm not attempting to rank these novels based on their place in pop culture, but rather their place in my heart.  Isn't that sweet?  Seriously, there are some fine books that didn't make the cut here because there just wasn't room, and there are definitely some well-regarded books that didn't make the cut because I don't really like them.  That also means there are some personal favorites of mine on this list that you may not have heard of.  If that's the case, I promise that I'll reward your trust with a gnarly tale if you give one of them a spin.  Finally, I may have shortchanged some of the titans in the genre (hey there, Stephen King) as I didn't want to overload this list with titles by the same author, though Uncle Stevie did manage to score three direct hits on my list.

The list thus far:

#20) Amok by George Fox (from 1980) 
#19) Manstopper by Douglas Borton (from 1988)
#18) Intensity by Dean Koontz (from 1995)

#17) The Terror by Dan Simmons (from 2007) 
#16) The Snake by John Godey (from 1978)
#15) Son of the Endless Night by John Farris (from 1985)
#14) Rockinghorse by William W. Johnstone (from 1986) 
#13) Vampire$ by John Steakley (from 1990)
#12) Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (from 1978)
#11) Christine by Stephen King (from 1983)
#10) The Manitou by Graham Masterton (from 1975)
#9) At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (from 1936)
#8) All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris (from 1977)
#7) Hell House by Richard Matheson (from 1971)
#6) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (from 1971)
#5) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (from 1954)
#4) The Stand by Stephen King (from 1978)


Top 20 Horror Novels - #3) Jaws by Peter Benchley (from 1974)

Jaws is a different kind of horror novel, but that's precisely what makes it so powerful.  There are no supernatural entities or terrifying madman on the loose, merely a big fish that Peter Benchley presents as a deadly force of nature.  Any allusions to this actual sea monster's intelligence or nature are slight enough that we're never asked to believe that it is on a diabolical rampage.  It's just a really big shark with a really big appetite that decides to camp out in the same area for a little while.  Benchley's considerable knowledge and experience gave him the authority to present a believable account of what might happen if such a predator were to linger in the waters off a quaint little seaside community.  It's that realism that makes his novel so terrifying.  I love Dracula, but I'm not afraid of vampires because they don't really exist.  Yet, like many, though I enjoy the ocean greatly, I do fear that one day a shark might decide to see what I taste like.  It's an awful prospect, and Benchley had the talent to match his expertise--his brisk writing paints a vivid picture of the awful carnage that a massive great white shark could inflict on a human being.  Benchley also gave us a wonderful setting for his tale, the lovable town of Amity, and his characters spring to life as we sink deeper and deeper into his robust tale.  Those who know the movie well but have never experienced the book will discover a pair of exciting subplots that didn't make it to the screen, namely the stubborn mayor's ties to the mob and Ellen Brody's fling with Hooper.  Chief Brody is never certain of his wife's infidelity, but he knows something is amiss, and this particular subplot creates a wealth of tension when he and Hooper take to the sea alongside the salty sailor Quint in a rousing third act.  Primary characters who survived the movie perish in the novel, and the conclusion of the book is far different (and vastly superior) to the exciting climax that Spielberg chose for his film.  There's also a lot of warmth and character development that serves to keep readers thoroughly invested.  Honestly, my favorite scene in the book is a dinner party where Brody has a bit too much to drink.  In closing, Jaws is one of the best books ever written, and it still has enough bite to scare people away from the ocean. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Top 20 Horror Movies - #4) Dawn of the Dead (1978)


One of the things that I'm doing this month as I celebrate Halloween here in the Land of Way is taking the time to rank my Top 20 Horror Movies and my Top 20 Horror Novels.

Note:
I want to be clear that I'm basing these choices on my own humble opinion.  I'm not trying to rank these movies in accordance with their place in pop culture, but I'm offering up my take on the best horror films that I have ever watched and enjoyed.  There are some familiar candidates that I consider to be great pictures that didn't make the cut because there wasn't room, and there are some films that are widely regarded as great pictures that didn't make the cut because I feel that they are overrated.  There are also a few instances where it was difficult to determine whether or not a movie belonged to the horror genre (I said "no" to Aliens but "yes" to Jaws), and it may also be worth noting that this is largely a modern list (as long as you're okay with my classification of modern as anything after 1960) that only features one lonely creature from the so-called "Classic Monsters" films produced by Universal Studios.

Thus far, the list includes:

#20) The Fly (1986) 
#19) The Howling (1981)
#18) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
#17) Alien (1979) 
#16) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
#15) Suspiria (1977) 
#14) Phantasm (1979)
#13) Evil Dead 2 (1985)
#12) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) 
#11) The Descent (2005)
#10) Fright Night (1985)
#9) Halloween (1978)
#8) Return of the Living Dead (1985) 
#7) An American Werewolf in London (1981)
#6) Deep Red (1975)
#5) The Shining (1980) 

Two zombie movies have made the list thus far, and now it's time for the third and final entry from that particular sub-genre to rise from the dead.


Top 20 Horror Movies - #4) Dawn of the Dead (1978)

George Romero invented the zombie genre as we know it with Night of the Living Dead, and he perfected this ever-popular sub-genre with his insightful and provocative follow-up.  Seldom has social commentary been so entertaining, and few horror films offer as much in the way of a character study.  Some may complain about the lengthy running time, but Romero made great use of every minute.  Dawn of the Dead is never dull, and the bonds that we forge with the four leads only serve to enhance the emotional undercurrent running through this captivating yarn.  At times, the picture is grim and utterly terrifying, but it also contains moments that are downright hilarious.  Then there are several thrilling sequences that give way to gory mayhem on a massive scale.  Tom Savini's effects work is wicked cool, and Romero clearly got everything that he could get out of this riveting tale.  Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, David Emge, and Scott H. Reiniger are totally invested in their roles, and each player has a nice arc that defines their character as this weary quartet struggles to survive a blood-soaked nightmare.  Dripping with gore, peppered with subversive humor, and exceptionally well-made, I think that declaring Dawn of the Dead to be the best zombie movie of all time is an easy decision.  Yes, I enjoy Return of the Living Dead a bit more, but there can be no doubt that Dawn of the Dead is a far richer movie.  

Fact: Dawn of the Dead is the best zombie movie of them all.
This is the face I make when someone asks me if I thought that the remake was better.

Top 20 Horror Novels - #4) The Stand by Stephen King (from 1978)


Not only am I ranking my Top 20 Horror Movies for you this October, but I'm doing likewise with the scary books that I hold near and dear.  As with the movies that I'm discussing in that Top 20, I'm not attempting to rank these novels based on their place in pop culture, but rather their place in my heart.  Isn't that sweet?  Seriously, there are some fine books that didn't make the cut here because there just wasn't room, and there are definitely some well-regarded books that didn't make the cut because I don't really like them.  That also means there are some personal favorites of mine on this list that you may not have heard of.  If that's the case, I promise that I'll reward your trust with a gnarly tale if you give one of them a spin.  Finally, I may have shortchanged some of the titans in the genre (hey there, Stephen King) as I didn't want to overload this list with titles by the same author, though Uncle Stevie did manage to score three direct hits on my list.

The list thus far:

#20) Amok by George Fox (from 1980) 
#19) Manstopper by Douglas Borton (from 1988)
#18) Intensity by Dean Koontz (from 1995)

#17) The Terror by Dan Simmons (from 2007) 
#16) The Snake by John Godey (from 1978)
#15) Son of the Endless Night by John Farris (from 1985)
#14) Rockinghorse by William W. Johnstone (from 1986) 
#13) Vampire$ by John Steakley (from 1990)
#12) Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (from 1978)
#11) Christine by Stephen King (from 1983)
#10) The Manitou by Graham Masterton (from 1975)
#9) At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (from 1936)
#8) All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris (from 1977)
#7) Hell House by Richard Matheson (from 1971)
#6) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (from 1971)
#5) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (from 1954)


Top 20 Horror Novels - #4) The Stand by Stephen King (from 1978)

First off, while I would happily include either version of this massive tale on my list, I do prefer Stephen King's expanded and updated version from 1990.  Either way, this epic struggle between good and evil is one of the most impressive books I have ever read.  The Stand's reach extends well beyond the horror genre and it may be King's greatest achievement.  I favor another of his works (more on that later), yet I think those who proclaim this as the finest horror novel of our time have a solid argument on their hands.  Populated by vivid characters (some of whom are good, some of whom are evil, and some who are true wild cards), this devastating tale is overflowing with riches.  Trying to pick a favorite character or sequence is all but impossible, and the book is ripe with terror, suspense, and drama--hell, there's even a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.  The quality of the writing is a testament to both the power and the charm that King wields, and the imaginative plot coupled with the dark horrors that roam these pages clearly display why genre fans have so much affection for this visionary author.  To read The Stand is to fall in love with it, and this stellar opus set the bar for any attempt to tell a scary story on a grand scale.  New readers will be blown away by the experience, and fans of the book who choose to revisit this one will always find something new to cherish upon their return.  The Stand isn't just a classic horror novel, it's truly one of the best novels ever written.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Top 20 Horror Movies - #5) The Shining (1980)


One of the things that I'm doing this month as I celebrate Halloween here in the Land of Way is taking the time to rank my Top 20 Horror Movies and my Top 20 Horror Novels.

Note:
I want to be clear that I'm basing these choices on my own humble opinion.  I'm not trying to rank these movies in accordance with their place in pop culture, but I'm offering up my take on the best horror films that I have ever watched and enjoyed.  There are some familiar candidates that I consider to be great pictures that didn't make the cut because there wasn't room, and there are some films that are widely regarded as great pictures that didn't make the cut because I feel that they are overrated.  There are also a few instances where it was difficult to determine whether or not a movie belonged to the horror genre (I said "no" to Aliens but "yes" to Jaws), and it may also be worth noting that this is largely a modern list (as long as you're okay with my classification of modern as anything after 1960) that only features one lonely creature from the so-called "Classic Monsters" films produced by Universal Studios.

Thus far, the list includes:

#20) The Fly (1986) 
#19) The Howling (1981)
#18) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
#17) Alien (1979) 
#16) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
#15) Suspiria (1977) 
#14) Phantasm (1979)
#13) Evil Dead 2 (1985)
#12) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) 
#11) The Descent (2005)
#10) Fright Night (1985)
#9) Halloween (1978)
#8) Return of the Living Dead (1985) 
#7) An American Werewolf in London (1981)
#6) Deep Red (1975)

And now, ladies and gentlemen, here's Jack!  Don't worry, he's not here to hurt you.  He just wants to bash your brains in. 


Top 20 Horror Movies - #5) The Shining (1980)

More akin to a different vision of Stephen King's terrifying book than a faithful adaptation of that titan's work, this Stanley Kubrick venture is definitely one of the most striking horror films of them all.  Jack Nicholson is front and center throughout, and he wrings every drop of entertainment out of an iconic part.  True, Nicholson's Jack Torrance lacks the depth and the warmth that makes his literary counterpart's sinister downfall a tragic affair.  Yet his take on the character yields one of the most sensational villains in the history of the cinema, as Jack's work in The Shining is both horrifying and a joy to behold.  It is most certainly a performance for the ages, and thought it towers over the motion picture itself, Kubrick's peerless direction and Shelley Duvall's emotionally charged acting are also superb assets that are integral to the success of this beloved classic.  While some may chafe at the way Kubrick disregards many aspects of the source material, the movie has an irresistible appeal and it is clearly a horror film of the highest order.  The technical merits of The Shining are beyond reproach, and while there can be no doubt that Stanely Kubrick was both immensely talented and incredibly prolific, I think that this terrifying journey into insanity and violence is his most remarkable film.  Furthermore, though his career is littered with fabulous star turns, this is probably my favorite example of Jack's magnificent talent as well.  The Shining is both legitimately creepy and totally fascinating, and it greatly benefits from the presence of a gifted cast and one of the finest directors in the history of the cinema.

Shelley Duvall had a great time working with Stanley Kubrick on The Shining.
Nicholson exudes both charisma and menace as he chews scenery and positively owns the screen.

Top 20 Horror Novels - #5) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (from 1954)


Not only am I ranking my Top 20 Horror Movies for you this October, but I'm doing likewise with the scary books that I hold near and dear.  As with the movies that I'm discussing in that Top 20, I'm not attempting to rank these novels based on their place in pop culture, but rather their place in my heart.  Isn't that sweet?  Seriously, there are some fine books that didn't make the cut here because there just wasn't room, and there are definitely some well-regarded books that didn't make the cut because I don't really like them.  That also means there are some personal favorites of mine on this list that you may not have heard of.  If that's the case, I promise that I'll reward your trust with a gnarly tale if you give one of them a spin.  Finally, I may have shortchanged some of the titans in the genre (hey there, Stephen King) as I didn't want to overload this list with titles by the same author, though Uncle Stevie did manage to score three direct hits on my list.

The list thus far:

#20) Amok by George Fox (from 1980) 
#19) Manstopper by Douglas Borton (from 1988)
#18) Intensity by Dean Koontz (from 1995)

#17) The Terror by Dan Simmons (from 2007) 
#16) The Snake by John Godey (from 1978)
#15) Son of the Endless Night by John Farris (from 1985)
#14) Rockinghorse by William W. Johnstone (from 1986) 
#13) Vampire$ by John Steakley (from 1990)
#12) Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (from 1978)
#11) Christine by Stephen King (from 1983)
#10) The Manitou by Graham Masterton (from 1975)
#9) At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (from 1936)
#8) All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris (from 1977)
#7) Hell House by Richard Matheson (from 1971)
#6) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (from 1971)


Top 20 Horror Novels - #5) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (from 1954)

A case study in isolation and loneliness and a genre epic all rolled into one, this book packs a mean punch.  Matheson has an incredible body of work, but this 1954 epic is his best offering.  The tale concerns the last living man's woeful struggle to survive in a world that has been overrun by vampires.  Haunting and insightful, Robert Neville’s gripping saga culminates with one of the most compelling endings in the history of storytelling. That’s high praise indeed, and it may explain why Hollywood has put this tale on film several times now without embracing the bravery and the finesse that bringing the conclusion to life would require.  The clarity and the pace that define this work serve to provide readers with a stirring adventure that unfolds quickly.  Matheson has always believed in shipping the freight, and I Am Legend is a fine example of his ability to paint a vivid picture without any unnecessary brushstrokes. Much like the other books I’ve featured on this list, I would highly recommend this title to any reader, regardless of their feelings on the horror genre. I Am Legend is a legendary book (forgive me) and that climax will stick with you forever.

Top 20 Horror Movies - #6) Deep Red (1975)


One of the things that I'm doing this month as I celebrate Halloween here in the Land of Way is taking the time to rank my Top 20 Horror Movies and my Top 20 Horror Novels.

Note:
I want to be clear that I'm basing these choices on my own humble opinion.  I'm not trying to rank these movies in accordance with their place in pop culture, but I'm offering up my take on the best horror films that I have ever watched and enjoyed.  There are some familiar candidates that I consider to be great pictures that didn't make the cut because there wasn't room, and there are some films that are widely regarded as great pictures that didn't make the cut because I feel that they are overrated.  There are also a few instances where it was difficult to determine whether or not a movie belonged to the horror genre (I said "no" to Aliens but "yes" to Jaws), and it may also be worth noting that this is largely a modern list (as long as you're okay with my classification of modern as anything after 1960) that only features one lonely creature from the so-called "Classic Monsters" films produced by Universal Studios.

Thus far, the list includes:

#20) The Fly (1986) 
#19) The Howling (1981)
#18) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
#17) Alien (1979) 
#16) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
#15) Suspiria (1977) 
#14) Phantasm (1979)
#13) Evil Dead 2 (1985)
#12) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) 
#11) The Descent (2005)
#10) Fright Night (1985)
#9) Halloween (1978)
#8) Return of the Living Dead (1985)
#7) An American Werewolf in London (1981)


Dario Argento strikes again!  Seriously, these days the dude can't make a decent movie to save his life, but there was a time when he was a force to be reckoned with.  This is his finest achievement, a robust offering that is well-loved by many and yet vastly underrated.


Top 20 Horror Movies - #6) Deep Red (1975)

Dario Argento used to make top-notch horror films; he was known for his deft use of a moving camera and his lively color palettes which served to inject a surreal element into his work.  Dario was no stranger to gore either, and he had a serious jones for twisted plots.  Though he has completely lost his ability to make a quality film in this day and age, Argento was lighting up the screen with sensational chillers and gruesome thrillers in the 70s and 80s.  In my personal opinion, while Suspiria will always be more popular, this is his finest film.  Suspiria was #15 on my list and it is surely a top-shelf horror film, but for my money, Deep Red is more exciting and far more fulfilling.  While Suspiria is a fairy tale of sorts, Deep Red is a blood-curdling mystery that is equal parts slasher flick and ghost story, though to label it as either would be inaccurate.  David Hemmings stars as a pianist who witnesses a horrific murder without being able to identify the killer.  Soon, he and an intrepid reporter (the wonderful Daria Nicolodi as Gianna Brezzi) are trying to solve a vicious mystery that reaches into the past.  As they work to uncover the truth, the death toll rises and it becomes quite clear that they are in great danger.  Stellar cinematography, an amazing score by Goblin, and one of Argento's most inventive plots come together in Deep Red, an elaborate whodunit that is full of scares and twists.  Finally, while there can be no doubt that the death scenes in Suspiria are sick and demented, the murders that occur in Deep Red may be even more disturbing. 

The moral of the story?  If you witness a brutal murder, do yourself a favor and leave the subsequent investigation to the police.

A spectacular score, gruesome kills, and creepy imagery are among Deep Red's many highlights.

Top 20 Horror Novels - #6) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (from 1971)


Not only am I ranking my Top 20 Horror Movies for you this October, but I'm doing likewise with the scary books that I hold near and dear.  As with the movies that I'm discussing in that Top 20, I'm not attempting to rank these novels based on their place in pop culture, but rather their place in my heart.  Isn't that sweet?  Seriously, there are some fine books that didn't make the cut here because there just wasn't room, and there are definitely some well-regarded books that didn't make the cut because I don't really like them.  That also means there are some personal favorites of mine on this list that you may not have heard of.  If that's the case, I promise that I'll reward your trust with a gnarly tale if you give one of them a spin.  Finally, I may have shortchanged some of the titans in the genre (hey there, Stephen King) as I didn't want to overload this list with titles by the same author, though Uncle Stevie did manage to score three direct hits on my list.

The list thus far:

#20) Amok by George Fox (from 1980) 
#19) Manstopper by Douglas Borton (from 1988)
#18) Intensity by Dean Koontz (from 1995)

#17) The Terror by Dan Simmons (from 2007) 
#16) The Snake by John Godey (from 1978)
#15) Son of the Endless Night by John Farris (from 1985)
#14) Rockinghorse by William W. Johnstone (from 1986) 
#13) Vampire$ by John Steakley (from 1990)
#12) Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (from 1978)
#11) Christine by Stephen King (from 1983)
#10) The Manitou by Graham Masterton (from 1975)
#9) At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (from 1936)
#8) All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris (from 1977)
#7) Hell House by Richard Matheson (from 1971)


Top 20 Horror Novels - #6) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (from 1971)

 It's common knowledge that the book is always better than the movie, and this remains the case even if a film based on a book is a startling success.  In fact, this holds true even if the movie is a legitimate classic, as is the case with William Peter Blatty's defining achievement, The Exorcist.  The movie is a faithful adaptation, so readers who have never experienced the novel won't find any shocking differences.  They will find greater depth and stronger characterizations, and a greater sense of dread that grows steadily until the horrifying conclusion.  One subplot, which concerns the demon that has possessed young Reagan MacNeil toying with Father Karras by making it clear that darkest evil is at work while neglecting to provide him with the necessary proof to clear an exorcism with the church, plays a much larger role in the book.  Yet I think it is safe to say that William Friedkin did an excellent job of translating this powerful chiller to the screen, and both the novel and the movie tell the same story.  It's just that books allow for a more immersive experience, and forging a greater bond with Chris MacNeil and Father Karras only serves to escalate the mind-numbing terror that the author generates with his bold and fearsome story.  The prose is exceptional, with Blatty's gift for crafting compelling characters and his loving descriptions of grotesque developments elevating this classic tale of good versus evil to immortality.  It has often been stated that the film based on this text is the scariest movie of them all, and I happen to agree with that sentiment.  By placing The Exorcist at #6 on my list, I'm letting everyone know that William Peter Blatty's book is worthy of the same sort of  praise, and it is a far richer experience than its cinematic counterpart.

Bonus Points: Blatty's sequel, Legion, is also an impressive novel, and anyone who enjoys The Exorcist should take the time to read it as well.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween in the Land of Way - Short Attention Span Review: Bone Tomahawk (2015)



First off, I recognize that a movie like Bone Tomahawk isn't for everyone.  Secondly, I'm about to do some serious raving about this wicked western/horror hybrid, because it's almost as though this one was tailor-made for me.  Some will not like the deliberate pace that grounds the first two acts, which (after a brief but suitably gruesome opening sequence) are surely classic western fare.  Some will be totally disgusted by the third act, when the riveting character study becomes a no-holds-barred descent into pure terror that houses what may be the most gruesome death ever depicted on film.  Still others won't like the Tarantino-esque dialogue or the minimalist score.  Yet novelist S. Craig Zahler scored a direct hit with each of these choices in my book, and the end result is an involving and even moving tale that allows you to bond with a quartet of prickly leads before they march into a hellish fate with the best of intentions.   The plot concerns a posse's efforts to rescue a female doctor and a deputy from a mysterious clan of cannibalistic monstrosities masquerading as men.  Kurt Russell is both the sheriff and the star of the picture, and to say that he is stellar here isn't quite enough.  He's pretty damn sublime, operating as the heart of the picture while frequently giving way to his fellow performers with the knowledge that the audience will be fully invested in his performance regardless.  Patrick Wilson is great as a rugged cowboy who just so happens to be the female doctor's husband.  He's also saddled with a broken leg and an iron will that won't allow him to sit this one out, and his struggles with his injury lead to some of the most brutal moments in the picture.  Matthew Fox is the dandy of the bunch, a slick killer in fancy duds who is quick with a gun and supremely arrogant.  Yet he's also a man with a purpose, and like everyone else involved, he shines in the part.  Finally, there's Richard Jenkins as Chicory, Russell's trusted deputy.  This is definitely one of those "last but not least" scenarios, as Jenkins brings incredible timing to his rich part and is directly responsible for most of the laughs and the warmth in Bone Tomahawk.  We come to know and love these characters as they ride toward their fate, and the horrendous conclusion that awaits them elevates a potent picture into something more.  No, it's certainly not for everyone, but I think that Bone Tomahawk is a powerful film with tremendous impact.  As someone who loves westerns, horror movies, and Kurt Russell, I can honestly say that I enjoyed this grim shocker as much as any film that I have seen in 2015.

Final Grade: A+

Kurt Russell has a great time hitting the trail and meeting new people in Bone Tomahawk.

Top 20 Horror Movies - #7) An American Werewolf in London (1981)


One of the things that I'm doing this month as I celebrate Halloween here in the Land of Way is taking the time to rank my Top 20 Horror Movies and my Top 20 Horror Novels.

Note:
I want to be clear that I'm basing these choices on my own humble opinion.  I'm not trying to rank these movies in accordance with their place in pop culture, but I'm offering up my take on the best horror films that I have ever watched and enjoyed.  There are some familiar candidates that I consider to be great pictures that didn't make the cut because there wasn't room, and there are some films that are widely regarded as great pictures that didn't make the cut because I feel that they are overrated.  There are also a few instances where it was difficult to determine whether or not a movie belonged to the horror genre (I said "no" to Aliens but "yes" to Jaws), and it may also be worth noting that this is largely a modern list (as long as you're okay with my classification of modern as anything after 1960) that only features one lonely creature from the so-called "Classic Monsters" films produced by Universal Studios.

Thus far, the list includes:

#20) The Fly (1986) 
#19) The Howling (1981)
#18) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
#17) Alien (1979) 
#16) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
#15) Suspiria (1977) 
#14) Phantasm (1979)
#13) Evil Dead 2 (1985)
#12) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) 
#11) The Descent (2005)
#10) Fright Night (1985)
#9) Halloween (1978)
#8) Return of the Living Dead (1985) 

And now for that other werewolf tale from 1981, the best film that particular sub-genre has given us.

  
Top 20 Horror Movies - #7) An American Werewolf in London (1981)

The finest werewolf movie ever filmed is quite the absurdity.  Director John Landis takes several familiar staples from this particular sub-genre and employs them to tremendous effect, yet he also runs wild with the concept.  Thus, there are big laughs, horrifying nightmare sequences, and dead friends who still drop by from time to time to hang out and encourage our main character to kill himself.  The transformation sequence is the stuff of legend, and the soundtrack that Landis put together (every song refers to the moon) is positively delightful.  The cast, led by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne as a pair of American backpackers, is splendid, and the script is lively and inventive.  Like the other movies to make my list that include a bit of humor, the film never becomes a parody, and the chuckles are offset by some chilling material that greatly benefits from stellar effects work and an obvious affection for gore.  The movie does a great job of developing a sinister mood that is frequently interrupted by gruesome hijinks and those devilish nightmares.  The end result is a special picture that is truly unique.  While offering up a sound and gripping yarn about the tragic curse of the werewolf, An American Werewolf in London takes lots and lots of left turns along the way, keeping the audience on their toes.  It's a joy to behold and calling it the finest werewolf movie ever filmed seems like a bit of an understatement.  No other film of this ilk has ever come close to challenging An American Werewolf in London for that title, and it's hard to believe that such a film will ever be produced.  This wild and hairy ride is a delirious smorgasbord of delights that should thrill any red-blooded fan of the horror genre. 

An American Werewolf in London is definitely not a movie that adheres to any sort of formula.
All these years after this one-of-a-kind frightfest hit the scne, it still boasts the best effects ever seen in a movie about werewolves.