Time for another Guest Post from our old pal ACD! This time, Ace dives deep into the Netflix pool in order to seek out the precious pearls of horror movie goodness with which to liven up your Halloween night, be it a hang-out with friends, a full-blown party, or all by your lonesome! Enjoy! - YOPJ
Throw a rubber dart at your TV screen if you want a really bad horror movie on Netflix. As for really good ones, there are no timeless horror classics available. There is no Exorcist or Omen or House On Haunted Hill or Silence Of The Lambs or The Shining or Wait Until Dark, nor even cheesy genre standards such as The Hills Have Eyes or Last House On The Left or either Evil Dead (I prefer the second, wittier one) or Nosferatu or Village Of The Damned. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night Of The Living Dead were there a few weeks ago, and maybe still are.
I’d rather do a Top 10 list in the order of 10 through 1, but let’s get the three good ones out of the way at the outset, which most of you have seen, probably more than once, and for the rest of you, you must see immediately, for they represent a glaring lacuna in your cinematic lexicon. Then we can plumb the fun-but-not-necessary ones.
1. JAWS ~ It isn't classic horror, but it’s one of the reasons Spielberg has more films in the AFI Top 100 than Kubrick or Hitchcock or Ford or Wilder. My ex won’t let her daughter watch it, and I understand why – it spoilt me for deep-water swimming also. Its special effects, ground-breaking at the time, have aged worse than 2001 or The Day The Earth Stood Still. The shark is almost an object of derision now, and most people under 40 who watch the film just sort of chortle at how improbable the shark looks to the modern eye.
But let’s remember whom the young Spielberg had to direct: Robert Shaw, just a few years after Academy Award nominated performances in A Man For All Seasons and The Sting, and shortly before his untimely death; Roy Scheider in his prime, between The French Connection and All That Jazz; and Richard Dreyfuss in his equivalent prime, between American Graffiti and Close Encounters.
Also let us not forget that this was a very good film indeed. It won three Oscars, it was nominated for Best Picture, and it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Would I let my kid watch it? Probably not. But maybe so. It’s not my call to make. And I’m in Denver right now, where there are no sharks in the water.
2. Young Frankenstein ~ Seriously? If you haven’t seen this of course you must watch it. I first saw it before marijuana entered my behavioral repertoire, and it was just as funny then. Whereas try watching Superbad or Harold & Kumar without getting high (warning, not nearly as funny). It is also fantastic for younger children. It’s not particularly scary, nor is it meant to be. The two sexual innuendos – Roll Roll Roll In The Hay, and the final scene, inquiring which anatomical part the monster had traded for the brain – go straight over the heads of any kid younger than 12. And it’s just so damn funny.
One of the perennially under-appreciated contributions to comedic genius is The Set-Up Guy. Tommy Smothers to Dickie Smothers, Laurel to Hardy, Gracie to George. Dan Ackroyd is wonderful, and neither Belushi, Murray, Martin nor Chase would have been half as funny without his nerdly softball pitches for them to swing at. But among the best ever have been women. Audrey Meadows, Mary Tyler Moore, Kate Hudson, Rosalind Russell, Claudette Colbert, even Salma Hayek. And one thing that surprises me every time I watch Young Frankenstein is that among its stellar cast of over-the-top goofballs – Gene Wilder, Cloris Leachman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, and Marty Feldman – the one who consistently sets them up, with pitch-perfect timing, is the lovely young Terri Garr. She should be required watching in Comedy 101 classes in drama school.
I saw this movie in 6th or 7th grade. I’ve watched it with kids as young as 5 or 6. You actually can’t watch Blazing Saddles with them. You’ll need to be explaining ethical issues the whole time, regarding the N-word and the status of women and the fact that there weren’t any women and so men needed to dress up as women and take it up the ass… ad nauseum, until you turn it off 19 minutes in and say “hey, ya know, we’ll watch this when you’re in 8th grade.” But Young Frankenstein works from ages 5 to 90.
Even if you can anticipate every fucking joke. Put, the candle, back.
3. The Sixth Sense ~ This is a tricky film. I’m pretty good at anticipating where some non-linear narratives are heading, and I had Mulholland Drive and Irreversible and The Salton Sea and Memento sussed out pretty early – in fact, with a couple of them I actually guessed that they would take it a step farther than they did. My extra twists would have made them better, ahem. But I was genuinely surprised at the end of The Sixth Sense. So if you’ve never seen it, you really ought to. It’s not a horror film in the standard definition, but it’s scary, and fun, and well-acted, and well-scripted.
But here’s the real problem – if you HAVE seen it before, it just doesn’t work nearly as well. Because all of your brain that processes sub-rosa context will be telling you: “dude, you know what’s really going on”, and it becomes anti-climactic. When a horror movie pretty much depends on one surprise punchline to pull it together, and you already know the punchline, it really undermines the sense of wonder that you enjoyed the first time ‘round. I’ve found that watching The Sixth Sense after the first time is an annoying exercise in spotting which scenes must be imaginary and which ones are actually plot flaws, because backtracking from the surprise, they couldn’t have happened that way.
So, while avoiding too much spoiler discussion, my recommendation is schizophrenic:
- If you’ve never seen it, watch it. It’s quite good.
- If you’ve seen it, wait another decade, when you won’t have forgotten the punchline, but you won’t be as nit-picky about how they got to the punchline.
10. Cult Of Chucky ~ I may or may not have seen the original Child’s Play. I remember a movie about toys attacking their owners or the children in the house. Not the wonderful ABC Movie Of The Week, around 1974 or so, Trilogy Of Terror, where the last of three vignettes has a Polynesian tiki doll chasing Karen Black around her apartment. But something about evil toys or dolls with knives. Or do I mean leprechauns? Whatever. But I watched this Chucky, and it’s stupid fun. There are plot flaws you could drive a 34-wheel Mexican doble-semi-remolque through. There are all too many times you are shouting at the screen or the screenwriters “what the fucking fuck, you stupid fucks, that makes no fucking sense, you motherfucking morons. Fuck!” Which is true of most horror movies. Spoiler alert: the two middle-aged semi-hot Chucky cult chicks suck face and grab each other’s titties all through the climactic scene, while a female Chucky doll chuckles maniacally. You know you want to watch this. Marijuana recommended.
9. Children Of The Corn ~ I’d give this a middle-of-the-King thumbs-up. Here I might as well piss off YOPJ (who, any of you devotees of his out there know, is a devotee of Kubrick) by saying that this film is not in the same league as Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, or Stand By Me. Am I missing one? It is better than Cujo. Apt Pupil was a mess, so better than that too. OK, fine, Jerky, I’ll grant you, it’s not as good as The Shining either, which I thought went off the rails as soon as the boy saw the twins and the bleeding walls. Up until then, among the best suspense movies ever. For me, the climax came 45 minutes before the climax, when Olive Oil saw “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” on his typewriter. Children of the Corn is creepy, obviously derivative of the early 60s British classic, Village Of The Damned. But it’s a good horror movie.
8. The Legend Of Hell House ~ Speaking of derivative, this could have been an alternative screenplay for the wonderful House On Haunted Hill. Roddy McDowall is the star, so that should give you a measure of its class. He was probably the third-bill actor in the same year’s Planet Of The Apes. The trope is so hackneyed as to be yawn-inducing: you have to spend a night or a week in a haunted house. Maybe you have a few scientists and psychics among you who can perceive some insight before their grisly deaths. But this is solid Brit Goth, from the same era as Train of Horror, The Wicker Man, Straw Dogs, etc. Leave subtlety to Gielgud and Olivier, we’ve got screams to scream.
7. John Dies At The End ~ This is a silly satire, based on a modestly popular web serial, about two paranormal investigators, and starring Paul Giamatti. I enjoyed it, but would highly recommend marijuana beforehand and during. What I like best about it is being able to spoil it without a spoiler alert: John totally dies at the end.
6. Hostel ~ Oddly, when I first saw this film I had just been on a travel-writing assignment – a beer tour of German and Austrian and Czech towns along the Rhine and Danube. Yes I said beer tour – I was commissioned to sample beers en route (pity me, dear reader) from Amsterdam to Prague, and I believe my companion and I got to about 130 different beers over 15 days. 115 of those beers were downed after parking the car, I should add. We started in Amsterdam, where the hot female lures picked up the American dupes in the movie, and ended in Czesky Krumlov, where the torture brothel was clearly located. The plotline is creepy – international businessmen bid at auction for the right to torture to death victims of their chosen demographic. Sort of like how it works in real life at the El Paso-Juarez border. This film is graphic and unpleasant, but it does its job, and is a solid second-rate gore-fest.
5. Hellraiser ~ I saw this film in its theatrical debut, in Times Square, 1987. I can recommend no other venue, except for Harlem, Brooklyn, or The Bronx, for watching horror movies. Because you may be sure the audience will be shouting at the screen: “Don’t go into the cellar, you stupid bitch!” “Call the PO-lice, you fucking MO-ron!” The reviews upon its release were as schizophrenic as they get, ranging from Best British Horror Movie Ever to Execrable Piece Of Shit. A man buys a puzzle box, and then has the misfortune of un-puzzling it. Which leads to him being torn apart by fish-hooks from an alternate dimension. Hilarity ensues.
4. Donnie Darko ~ This is not standard horror genre fare. If you haven’t seen it, you must. If you have, then try and find the original rather than the Director’s Cut, which telegraphs some of the punches via its insipid chapter openings with tag lines that expose too many cards. What is there to say about the Gyllenhaal kids? They’ve both benefited immensely and simultaneously been smothered by their Hollywood Insider mommy and daddy. Until their legal age of majority they were only allowed to audition for parts, but never perform in anything not produced by their parents. But they were good, at a young age. Jake playing Billy Crystal’s kid in City Slickers might have been a McCauley Culkin/Haley Joel Osment sort of breakout role, but for his over-bearing parents. At the same time, he and his older sister Maggie got into Columbia, which, unlike Penn, Cornell, and Dartmouth, is a legitimate Ivy. So the parents’ being protective about childhood and studying is not the worst fate a child could suffer. Her big breakthrough was The Secretary, as Jim Spader’s S&M office slut. His was Brokeback Mountain, as Heath Ledger’s S&M office slut. Did they do it on set? Ledger’s dead, so I’m afraid we will never know. In any case, he is superb in this film, and Maggie, as a side-prop, more or less, is funny as hell, when not being poignant. A big rabbit tells him the world will end soon. Echo & The Bunnymen agree. So do Tears For Fears, the soundtrack is sublime. The rest is worthy of Wes Anderson. This is as good as B-movies get.
Editor’s Note: Netflix isn’t stupid, and the Horror section continues to expand, after the writing of this piece. A few other notable films have been added, so choose accordingly.