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Sunday, October 2, 2022

The UBW Top 100 Horror Movies - #100-76

We here at Uphill Both Ways love our horror movies.  Both of us grew up with vampires, werewolves, swamp monsters, irradiated beasts and everything around and in-between, and never has our love of the genre wavered. And it's with that love in mind that we decided to create our ultimate top 100 list of horror movies.  The only catch is that the films couldn't be newer than 1989. Sixties, fifties, or earlier? That's fine, as long as it's something we watched during the 70s and 80s  - and that only makes sense since that's the time frame we like to reminisce about here and on our podcast.  So how did we decide on this spooktacular countdown? We scoured the Internet for dozens of "Top Horror" movie lists, collated everything, eliminated ineligible entries, added, divided, averaged, and then sorted it all and then added our own personal rankings to the mix.  Really, the process is something a mad scientist would love and make lesser men tremble. We'd like to think that this process has given us the definitive list of movies that could have been watched on fuzzy UHF channels or VHS tapes back in the day.  Enough talk - let's get this going!

Wait Until Dark (1967)
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Things are much scarier in the dark! A bit of a slow burn out of the gate, the pace eventually quickens as Hepburn, playing blind Susy Hendrix, is in-between a doll full of heroin and three men eager to recover the drugs. Hepburn was so good in the film that she was nominated for an Academy Award.

Night Of The Demon (1957)
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Starring: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis
Barely cracking into the list, Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, which tells the story of an American psychologist who travels to England to investigate a satanic cult, was fraught with behind the scenes drama between producer Hal E. Chester, members of the cast, and Tourneur himself. Martin Scorsese, who is clearly not as cool as us here at Uphill Both Ways, puts the film in his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time

Asylum (1972)
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Starring: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse, Patrick Magee
This British anthology, like most anthologies, is a bit scattered in quality of the stories, but it’s the wraparound and segment-unifying story wherein a potential doctor at an insane asylum has to interview inmates to determine which was the former head of the asylum, that this one shines.

Maniac (1980)
Director: William Lustig
Starring: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro
Released without an MPAA rating, Maniac sees Spinell’s Frank Zito killing and scalping young women before finally crossing paths with Munro’s Anna.  While there’s plenty of cringe-worthy gore, there’s one scene that is particularly gruesome that stands out as one of SFX master Tom Savini’s best. Equal parts sleaze and grunge, the film’s rather seedy feel only adds to its overall aura of discomfort.

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Director: Amy Holden Jones
Starring: Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella
Symbolism and feminism abound in this slasher classic that, despite being labled as misogynistic by some, was written and directed by women.  At less than 80s minutes, things move at a brisk pace, leaving little room for too much character building as escaped murderer Russ Thorn terrorizes a group of high school seniors having a slumber party. A big part of the symbolism often mentioned is Thorn’s choice of a power drill with a very large and long drill bit illustrating that, sometimes, “a [cigar] is not always just a [cigar]”.

They Live (1988)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster
Not a horror movie in the strict sense, the subject matter is nothing if not horrific for anyone that wouldn’t find themselves aligned with the antagonists here.  Famous to many for Roddy Piper’s ad-libbed “I have come to chew bubblegum and kick ass - and I’m all outta bubblegum” line, Carpenter’s classic is as relevant today as it was in 1988, if not more so.

M (1931)
Director: Fritz Lang
Starring: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Gründgens
If we were ranking movies for their influence on cinema and their overall “greatness” or worth, this ground-breaking film about a serial killer of children directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre, would easily be in the top 10. There is no on-screen violence and while it’s more of a social critique than anything, the subject matter alone is enough to make our list.

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)
Director: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford
One of the strongest arguments for why this is so good is the real-life animosity between Davis and Crawford. Of course, the fact that both were stellar actresses is a given and their portrayals of the fallen-from-grace child actress (Jane), and her reserved, yet now successful actress (Blanche), are the main reasons this makes so many ‘Best Movies’ lists.  But that rivalry made this psychological thriller all the more suspenseful.

Godzilla (1954)
Director: Ishirō Honda
Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura
Anyone that knows Mike and Joseph will be surprised to see this film barely missing out on being in the top 90, but while the titular monster’s rampage over and destruction of Tokyo (itself a thinly veiled allegory for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than ten years earlier), is indeed horrific, it’s known far more as a science-fiction/monster movie by everyone, including Uphill Both Ways.

The Uninvited (1944)
Director: Lewis Allen
Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Gail Russell
There’s no unscrupulous businessmen trying to scare the brother and sister who buy a seaside house in Cornwall, England on the cheap, nor are there any easily explainable causes for the seemingly supernatural happenings that plague Windward House.  So then who - or what - is causing the unexplained oddities? It’s no spoiler to say that the explanation is honest-to-gosh ghosts.  Everything is played straight and serious and that makes this all the more creepy.

Häxan (1922)
Director: Benjamin Christensen
Starring: Benjamin Christensen, Clara Pontoppidan, Oscar Stribolt, Astrid Holm, Maren Pedersen
With its interesting mix of documentary and traditional narrative styles of storytelling, Häxan tells the story of witchcraft and the superstitions surrounding it. There’s plenty of convincing effects (for the time), and a host of controversial subject matter and themes (for the time) that resulted in censors being concerned about the effects the film might have on viewers.

Les Diaboliques (1955)
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
A wife and her husband’s mistress conspire to kill the man whom they both apparently dislike because of his cruel and boorish attitude. However things don’t quite go as planned (do they ever?)  There’s plenty of tension and a sense of unease that help elevate this past just being some melodramatic story about an unlikeable man, his chronically sick wife, and a woman who plays a pivotal role in their lives.

The Old Dark House (1932)
Director: James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton
Not very well received upon its release, This Old Dark House has since become somewhat of a cult classic which might go towards explaining its higher-than-expected position on this chart. Not that it’s a bad movie - quite the opposite - but when it comes to comedic horror films there are many others that strike a better balance, having both a little more horror and a little more comedy (subtle, dark, or otherwise). Still, as one of the earliest films of weary travelers ending up at a sketchy locale, this did set a precedent. 

Opera (1987)
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Cristina Marsillach, Urbano Barberini, Daria Nicolodi, Ian Charleson
Murders at an opera house by a mysterious figure? Is this Phantom of the Opera? No, not at all - Argento’s giallo classic is much more than that. With giallo-required black gloves, the killer stalks and dispatches his prey in inventive ways until he himself is outed in a most original manner. Not what one would consider a landmark or influential film, Opera is a very solid giallo that fans of the genre could do far worse with.

The Devils (1971)
Director: Ken Russell
Starring: Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave
It might be quicker to say what this film DOESN’T contain than to say what it DOES. Telling the story of a fallen priest accused of witchcraft, The Devils goes all-in on depicting some strong sexual content that casts organized religion in a pretty bad light. Things are so controversial that the film - even with about 10 or 15 minutes cut out - was still given an ‘X’ rating in the U.S., and certainly contains themes many would considered “horrific”, earning its place on this list.

The Brood (1979)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Nuala Fitzgerald
This is a David Cronenberg film, so one should expect a fair amount of unsettling body horror and gross moments.  It also served as a bit of a cathartic exercise for Cronenberg who had just gotten divorced, so it’s a more layered film than his earlier work on, say, Rabid or Shivers.  Still, an unsettling brood of killer dwarf children isn’t the stuff of happy dreams and rainbows and, full of sub-text about familial breakdown or not, is still a pretty nasty piece of work.

Friday The 13th (1980)
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby
While by no means the first “slasher” film, Friday the 13th certainly refined and polished the template for all of the films in the sub-genre that followed. From a mix of teen archetypes, to cabins in the woods, to a virginal “final girl”, this launched a franchise that became so iconic that even non-horror fans know what to expect when they see an imposing figure wearing a hockey mask (even though THAT particular look didn’t come about until two sequels later). The fact that this doesn’t rank higher isn’t a knock on the film but a testament to the quality of the films further up the list.

The Fog (1979)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins
The second, and not last, entry directed by Carpenter on this list, The Fog may have felt like a bit of let down after Halloween, but make no mistake, this tale of ghost mariners (or are they mariner ghosts?), looking to right a horrible wrong in the coastal town of Antonio Bay, CA, is equal parts creepy, tense, and downright spooky which adds up to one supernatural chiller worth watching.

The Beyond (1981)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck
One of the U.K.’s ‘video nasties’, The Beyond is the story of a woman who inherits an old hotel in swampy Louisiana and terrible things immediately start to happen. Chock full of gruesome practical effects including a dog ripping open a neck, acid eating away some flesh, and a crucifixion! There’s plenty of ghouls and what might possibly be a gateway to hell itself all converging to make this a horrific affair that required several minutes be shaved from its run time to make an R rating in the United States.

Black Sabbath (1963)
Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michèle Mercier, Susy Andersen
Before we say anything about the film; yes, this is where Ozzy Osbourne and the rest of the band got their name. Now then… the U.S. release of this anthology is a ridiculous affair, so ensure that you’ve got the Italian version primed and ready to play, otherwise you’ll be getting a watered-down version missing all the stuff that made 60s (and 70s) Italian horror so much fun like graphic violence and sexual themes.

Creepshow (1982)
Director: George A. Romero
Starring: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen
One of the better anthologies you’ll find, this should appeal to not only fans of old EC comics like “Tales From the Crypt” and “The Vault of Horror”, but also those that like their horror in bite-sized morsels dripping with dark humor.  

Horror Of Dracula (1958)
Director: Terence Fisher
Starring: Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Christopher Lee
While Bela Lugosi’s turn as the Count is a classic, the Universal film itself is based on a play based on the book by Bram Stoker. Here, we’re coming straight as an adaptation of the novel, making this much closer to the source material, and Lee makes his own (bite) mark as the titular vampire.  Brimming with sexuality, flowing with blood, and full of horror, it’s a bit surprising that Hammer’s first Dracula movie didn’t rate higher.

Village Of The Damned (1960)
Director: Wolf Rilla
Starring: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Martin Stephens
Is it science-fiction with horror elements, or vice versa?  It doesn’t really matter because this is one of the creepiest films in this list.  When an entire English town falls unconscious at the same time and a few months later sees all of its women give birth to eerily similar children, it’s time for concern.  These hive-minded, telepathic, mind-reading darlings cause all manner of problems in what website Rotten Tomatoes calls a “...restrained, eerie atmospher[ic]... classic”.  We agree.

Theatre Of Blood (1973)
Director: Douglas Hickox
Starring: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry
A lot of modern movies try to mix comedy with humor and while some succeed (to one degree or another), this Vincent Price led affair has a near perfect blend of horror, camp, and just good old fun. In this, Price plays a humiliated stage actor who attempts suicide by leaping from a bridge into the river Thames and, after failing that and being rescued by a band of homeless folks, goes about dishing out some Shakespearian-themed retribution. And although there’s nothing horrific about her, bonus points for the lovely Diana Rigg. 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Starring: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart
A classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson, most people know it even if they haven’t read it (or seen this or any other version of the movie). The subject matter is intense at times (rape, murder), and its themes can be looked at as many different things including duality of one’s self, addiction, and even class divisions.  However, in our book, it’s the stellar effects used to portray the change of Jekyll into the id-fueled Hyde that makes this tick.

Next week: Numbers 75 through 51!

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