By Darin Skaggs
During the month of October I decided to watch a horror movie a day. I did do it and will never try anything like that again. Nevertheless, I did do it and saw some brilliant films, and some not very good. So because I have accomplished the ridiculous task I will now do something even more crazy and rank all of the movies from worst to greatest. I am not counting my re-watch of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE which will probably be my favorite horror movie for as long as I live, so that is why there is only thirty films being ranked. So now, here is the Thirty-One Terror Tales Rank All. Enjoy.
30. DEVIL (2010)
One of the stupidest movies I have ever seen, John Erick Dowdle’s Devil is about five people trapped in an elevator and when everyone realizes they are being killed off one by one a security guard figures out one of them is most likely the Devil. It happens he is right and everyone including the guards, firefighters, a police man with troubled past and other trapped passengers try to rescue everyone from the elevator. There is an insanely bad twist, lots of insane paranoia and a load of fun Devil theories.
29. THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE (1959)
The Atomic Submarine is the worst movie that I could give a decent recommendation that I saw for the month. It has our heroes in the submarine driving around trying to get rid of unknown forces, but really this is such a snoozefest. They talk about nothing and everything, but truly nothing that matters much. I could not care about most of it, especially the characters fates.
28. TREMORS 5: BLOODLINES (2015)
I watched Tremors 5: Bloodlines at the end of my first week because I wanted a break from the creepy and the scary I encountered earlier in the week. Most of all I needed a break from the immense quality from those first six days. And luckily, I got my wish. Not only is Tremors 5 a bad monster movie, it is a bad Tremors movie. Every film adds another life cycle and unique distinction for the monsters that ups the ante. The movie only adds minor changes to the crazy creatures. Frankly one aspect they change is pretty cool, but certainly under used. Unlike the other films and unless I missed something the creatures are all CGI. The other three, the fourth doesn’t exist in my book, had at least one practical monster effect. This one hides its special effects of the monsters and hides them in the dark because they are not all up to par. Not really sure why this was even made, or why Jamie Kennedy is in it or why it has the same emotional beats as Indy 4? None of that really matters; no one will remember this anyhow.
27. THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015)
This movie is dumb; a man becomes cursed with immortality and uses it to hunt witches. It works on some levels and might have been better in different hands and if Vin Diesel wasn’t in the starring role. I have to give it props for being super nerdy, Diesel wields a sword and slays witches with it, but ultimately it does not work as a whole.
26. SCREAM 3 (2000)
It is almost charming the fact that Scream 3 is bad. The whole point of the franchise is to deconstruct the slasher genre. And with most horror franchises it becomes worse as you go along, with a few “Back to form” films that are pretty good, that is where Scream 4 comes in. There is a whole other meta element that comes in from the series lessening with Scream 3, it has its moments, mostly with Neve Campbell and a few moments in the beginning. It goes too far at some points and has the worst forced cameo from Jamie Kennedy.
25. SLEEPY HALLOW (1999)
For the late eighties and the entire nineties Tim Burton made really quality work. For most of the 2000’s he made movies considered the worst all time. Sleepy Hallow is the bridge to those two times in his career. At times the movie is very creepy, there are tons of heads that are violently sliced right off their bodies and also the scenes involving that freaky tree. Those scenes work pretty well. Then comes the Tim Burton we have come to know. This is his first attempt at making a movie that is an adaptation of a classic tale with his own lazy screenwriting to make the shorter tale longer. This also seems to be the beginning of the end for Johnny Depp as well.
24. HELLRAISER (1987)
The one aspect of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is that it was gross. Intentionally gross, but when I was watching I felt I was not in the mood for all the nasty elements the film had to offer. The whole plot is a married women killing so the dead man that she was having an affair with can absorb the flesh of the others so he can take human form again. Then the creepiest looking creatures come after her and her family. Those guys look cool, we have the classic horror character Pinhead introduced here and those other ones who are equally gross and despicable. It is all not very good, tries to gross you out rather than make a good movie.
23. SISTERS (1973)
Brian De Palma’s early work Sisters reason for existence is to simply pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock and more specifically Psycho. The story is about a girl who invites a man to her apartment, they sleep together. When she wakes up she goes to her twin sister’s bedroom to talk to her. We do not see her at all and she has a strange voice. Huh, wonder what is up there. Well the man is murdered by the twin sister…or is he and the movie becomes about a woman across the apartment that saw the whole thing go down try and prove she saw the whole thing go down. This movie is so much like Psycho that De Palma even got Bernard Herman, the man who scored the 1960 classic, to score this movie as well.
22. OPEN WATER (2003)
Open Water is scary at times and certainly anxiety ridden when the two main characters are in the aforementioned, open water after being ditched accidently by their group. When they are on land or on the boat waiting to dive the scenes are edited, acted and directed very awkwardly. It is short enough to get through, but ultimately does not make itself worthwhile.
21. SUSPIRIA (1977)
Suspiria is an odd film. I cannot say I liked it and cannot say I hated it. At times I thought it was trying way too hard, and others I was delighted by its freakiness. The movie is coated in red; with red blood, red walls and even red lighting at times. The movie is all about a dance academy that is way more than it seems. The opening scene is nearly perfect from the tenseness brought by the constant rain and the creepiness from the film’s first few deaths. From there it does not get much better with some moments of intense creepiness.
20. FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958)
Fiend Without a Face is all about the paranoia every country felt for one another and the effects that could have come from an attack from each other. The monster here is invisible, it could be a surprise attack of poisonous gas, an atomic bomb sent to annihilate all or countless of other things. It also works as a pretty affective monster flick. Eventually our group of characters figure out how to make the monsters visible which lends to some cool stop motion animated attacks.
19. SCANNERS (1981)
David Cronenberg’s Scanners has one of the most shocking and memorable scenes right at the beginning of the movie. Then it waits for the very ending to bring us an equally shocking and great scene. All the credit is due to the crazy special effects and the wild imaginative mind of Cronenberg. The in between is fairly decent, drags from time to time, with our heroes, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) and Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill) using there telepathic powers to knock the expendable villain soldiers. At times their powers just seem that they are an easy way out so our heroes can get out of the situation they are in. The first and last scene does make the whole film worth it, but the middle does lessen the film as a whole.
18. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Not the classic it has been brought up to be, just still pretty terrifying. The now immortalized Freddy Kruger does all his haunting in the dark and does not get a lot of screen time. The violence is insane in this movie, especially Johnny Depp’s blood bath and that poor girl who gets flailed around. It is fine, but not as great as people claim.
17. HAXEN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGHOUT THE AGES (1922)
Haxen is a faux documentary all about witches and witchcraft as they were dealt with in the past. It is a very odd movie that begins with a history lesson type slide show and eventually goes in to crazy nuns and demon butter innuendos. I saw the 100 minute version which is frankly too long. I am not the biggest fan of the movie, but the complete weirdness makes it respectable.
16. THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001)
Between this film and Crimson Peak it is clear that Guillermo del Toro does not think that ghost are a threat to this world, but a lost spirit’s presence on the Earth to be a warning from dangers that are still living. The Devil’s Backbone is set during the Spanish Civil War in a rundown orphanage. Most of the workers mean well, but the war has made supplies rash. One patron is, well kind of evil and the younger orphans are haunted by his murderous past. A haunting tale with amazing imagery, this is not a great movie, but a solid effort for Del Toro.
15. SCREAM 2 (1997)
Scream 2 is one of the best sequels ever. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it deals with the fact that it might not be as good as the original. It goes too far with the concepts in a few scenes but nothing that brings the film down. It kills off people you would not expect, nearly the entire cast who survived the first movie is back, as well some new comers. The reveal on who the killer’s identity is weaker than the first, but the first two acts are arguably better than the original.
14. 28 DAYS LATER… (2002)
The first half of Danny Boyle’s zombie film is at times brilliant. The introduction to our main character Jim (Cillian Murphy) has him waking up all alone in hospital. He wanders out onto the London streets and finds they are abandoned. The scene then drags it out for an extended period of time and builds up the music giving off the perfect sense of dread and loneliness. When we do meet others, they turn out to be the fastest zombies, which make for some genially terrifying sequences. Eventually, we do run into humans who are not infected Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley). The movie pulls another genius move and has Mark get infected only twenty minutes after his introduction and killed before being turned into a raging zombie. It really raises the stakes and makes you nervous for everyone else. The movie then becomes a road film when we meet father and daughter duo Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Hannah (Megan Burns). The last third falls apart, claiming that human beings are the true enemy.
13. SCREAM 4 (2011)
Scream 4 seems like the appropriate swan song for the late Wes Craven. It is a film all about the remake or later sequel topping the original in every way possible. Which Scream 4 does, its violence is more disturbing and killers end up being more intense. It can work as a passing of the torch metaphor for Craven. It is all about how the teenagers of the town want to be just as famous as Sidney Prescott was from the plot of the first movie. It tells the younger filmmakers to make horror movies inspired by him and maybe even attempt to be a little bit crazier.
12. SICARIO (2015)
Okay, this might be cheating, but Sicario is not a horror movie. Honestly, I saw it and did not feel like watching another movie that day. Thankfully the movie has extreme tense moments and genuinely terrifying moments. It is all about the drug war and how whatever we do to take it down personal or not, it will not have much effect on stopping it. The acting is brilliant, Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin are great, but Benicio Del Toro is doing the most amazing work here.
11. AUDITION (1999)
The greatest part of Takashi Miike’s Audition is that for the first half of the film you could be convinced that it is just a simple love story between the lonely, widowed Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) and shy, quiet Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina). Of course the film turns into a surreal tale of passionate revenge. Some so disturbing that it caused me to yell at the screen, an action that does not happen very often for me. Like most good horror movies there are many themes, mostly about relationships, throughout this picture. The whole torture sequences can work as Asami’s loneliness catching up to her and the surreal dream scene shows the guilt that Shigeharu feels for trying to date someone who is not his wife even after she has gone. It also works as a dark twisted tale of a creep guy setting up a fake audition to find the perfect wife and just happens to find the creepiest girl with the most messed up head.
10. CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)
Carnival of Souls opening scene is two cars who challenge each other in a street race. It is pretty evenly matched until a bridge where one car is pushed and falls off into the river. Then a search party comes and tries to retrieve the car. Our hero, Mary Henry, then walks out of the water alive and well, and so begins the film. She then gets a job as a church organist and is followed by souls who haunt the fact that she is still alive. The movie is very good, all about the fear of being a woman who lives alone and includes religious fearing themes as well.
9. MONSTER HOUSE (2006)
Monster House is one of the craziest animated films I have ever seen, and frankly one of the craziest ever in any category. It begins with an old cranky man having a heart attack and falling on top of DJ our young protagonist. After the ambulance picks him up DJ and his best friend Chowder figure out that the house is alive and attempt to make other people believe it. For most of the movie you think that it is all in the kids head and that near the end they will have a Scooby-Doo type explanation for all of this. That doesn’t happen; the house escapes its foundation and chases the kids into a dangerous and explosive finale. Apparently this is written by Dan Harmon of Community fame, which is odd to me.
8. CRIMSON PEAK (2015)
Guillermo del Toro’s new film is less a haunted house movie, but instead a film about love, lust, betrayal, jealously and rage that just happen to have a creepy house full of ghost. The whole movie looks astonishing. The story is pretty weak, but is helped by the amazing visual look of the film and the fantastic performances of the three leads Mia Wasikiowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. The supernatural elements are just a metaphor for what is going on. Wasikowska’s character literally says that ghosts are metaphors, she is talking about the ghost in the book she is writing, but it works for those and the ones in the story she is living. The finale is intense and is in competition for best scene of the year.
7. THE DESCENT (2005)
The Descent is one of the best and scariest horror films I have ever seen. It is all about a group of women, one year after a tragic car accident changed the very course of their lives. Here they are descending into unknown caves. After a cave-in they try to find their way out. The film is terrifying and claustrophobic and works as a thriller then the movie decides to introduce cave monsters. The women fight back though, doesn’t mean that they are not scary, because they are. The whole film is a metaphor for grief and tragedy taking over your life and you need to crawl out of the rut before it traps you forever.
6. SAFE (1995)
Todd Haynes’ Safe is not a horror film in any traditional sense. It is however one from the fact that there is something killing Carol White, played by Julianne Moore. It is something that the doctors cannot diagnose, something that little people believe to even be a real threat. She knows it and we clearly know it and that is what makes the movie frightening. It also works as a movie all about accepting who we are, even after years of thinking we are worthless.
5. THE FLY (1986)
Might have been a bad idea to watch two previously unseen Cronenberg’s in one week, but I did. The first one I watched was The Fly and I loved it. Jeff Goldblum’s stars as a Seth Brundle, a brilliant scientist that creates the world’s first teleportation device where in a freak accident gets his molecules mixed up with a fly that has entered the pod the first time he tries the device on himself. He starts out with being strong. He has super human strength and eats like a pig. Then he starts to decay and turn into a dreaded fly. Before all this mess he falls in love with Veronica Quaife, played by Geena Davis. This romance really carries the film. You believe that they love each other and so when Seth starts to fall apart and Veronica can’t bear to look at him, you feel the sadness they both have. Seth keeps his chin up throughout, which Goldblum proves is the perfect role for him. This movie is about many things: cancer, drug abuse and love and it works extremely well along with being a creepy body horror film.
4. POLTERGEIST (1982)
Poltergeist is such a good horror movie and one of the greatest of all time. Directed by Tobe Hooper, and probably by Spielberg as well but that is not important right now. The story about a normal suburban family who find out the house they are living in is haunted. And not “Oh, do you think there are ghost behind the door?” haunted. No, it is terrifying ghost arms flying out of the TV, sucking every possible item including your child into the ghost realm, possessing trees and clown figures haunted. At times it is an actual scary horror film. Though what makes Poltergeist so great is how many themes it tries to juggle and does so very successfully. The ghost themselves are speaking to the family from the TV, which is constantly being a visual representation as a distraction for our characters to actually be a functioning family. It also tells warnings of disturbing the dead in their final resting place. The part that really spoke to me is the theme of Spielberg expressing his fear of becoming a father. The mom is allowed to talk to her young daughter who has been kidnapped into the spirit realm, except when she needs to run away from an evil spirit, so the dad needs to speak because she is more scared when he talks. The finale literally includes the family screaming “Come on Steven!” so he could get them out of danger before they are harmed yet again. I can picture a situation of Spielberg having a nightmare where his family is screaming at him to not mess up and get them to safety and so the concept of that scene is born.
3. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
Tomas Alfredso’s Let the Right One In is one of the most beautiful, haunting films I have ever seen. All about a young outcast who befriends a young girl that just happens to be a vampire. It is a look at loneliness and the troubles of being an adolescent. Darkly horrific at times with the probably ancient vampire trapped in a twelve year olds body. Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson who play the young friends are outstanding.
2. THE THING (1982)
I re-watched this John Carpenter classic for the month and realized I did not remember a single moment. This surprises me because this is one of the greatest movies ever made. It is all about a group in a bunker somewhere in the desolate Antarctica that finds an alien being that has the ability to take on any living form. Stranded on their work site the claustrophobia and extreme paranoia set in. Kurt Russell gives a fantastic performance as the leader of the group who becomes more and more apathetic to the safety of his coworkers and obsessed with destroying this foreign being. Terrifying and tense throughout, this makes me a bigger fan of John Carpenter.
- THE INNOCENTS (1961)
When I turned on Jack Clayton’s The Innocents I did not expect much. In fact I did not know what to expect. I thought maybe it could be a bit creepy, but not much. I have not been impressed much by horror movies made before the 1970’s with the limited few that I have seen. Amazingly the Taming of the Shrew adaptation is a real work of art, a brilliant work of psychological horror. The movie opens with a pitch black screen as a little girl sings “O Willow Wally.” Then as the movie fades in we hear a weeping woman and see a pair of hands. Our protagonist Miss Giddens, played by Deborah Kerr in a stellar performance, praying and pleading for the children’s safety. After all that the movie begins with a man who hires Giddens to be a governess for his nephew Miles (Martin Stephens) and niece Flora (Pamela Franklin), who give nearly equal stellar performances. After a bit of getting to know you, Miss Giddens starts to see figures standing out in the distance. Her mind gets the best of her and she starts to think the children know about these figures that may or may not be a couple who worked for the estate and died. The movie constantly makes you wonder what they kids are up to and then at a certain point how much of a reliable narrator Giddens actually is.