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Sunday, October 23, 2022

The UBW Top 100 Horror Movies - #25-1

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 wrap this thing up and see what the top films are!

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
Director: Philip Kaufman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright
There’s maybe a handful of remakes that surpass the original and this is one of them. While the original had the scare of communism at its heart, this one - coming at the tail end of the 70s - is more akin to the fear that the hippies of the 60s and early 70s had to becoming yuppies and losing their whole counterculture street cred. There’s also the specter of government surveillance hovering over everything (like a spy satellite!), all of which - in addition to that ending - makes for one scary world.

Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Director: Georges Franju
Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Édith Scob, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel
Wearing a mask to conceal her disfigured face, Christiane - the daughter of a slightly nutty surgeon - slowly becomes aware of her father’s methods in which he attempts to restore her unscarred face (that he caused).  Showing skin-graft surgery was pretty wild for the times, and some movie-goers actually passed out when watching the film. Tame by today’s standards, there is - nonetheless - some pretty shocking stuff here.

Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley
There are two types of horror fans in the world.  One of them says this is a sequel to The Evil Dead and the other believes this is a remake - and we’re inclined to be in the second camp. Consider the first one a proof of concept type of thing, afterall - everything in the Evil Dead universe that followed has more tightly wound roots to this film.  Regardless of where you stand, the fact remains that this is a much more polished, tighter, bloodier, and all-around more entertaining version of the events of the first movie.

Don't Look Now (1973)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Starring: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland
Known more for its editing, imagery, and a controversial sex scene than its horror vibe, Don’t Look Now still has enough creepy stuff going on to crack the top 25.  Through a fragmented timeline, the notion of precognition is not only delivered to the parents of a drowned child, but imprinted on the viewer in both obvious and subtle ways. It’s the study of grief, though, that makes this not only an exceptionally mind-trip of a horror experience, but a great character study as well.

Frankenstein (1931)
Director: James Whale
Starring: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Boris Karloff
While this wasn’t the first horror movie, or even the first Universal Monster movie, it’s still held in such high regard that it is considered by many to be the grand-daddy of the horror flick.  Beautifully shot with wonderful, gothic set pieces and a laboratory full of gizmos and Tesla coils that would become the template for the mad scientist lair, the story of how a man became God by creating life is one of the greatest films ever made.

Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Director: George Romero
Starring: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
There are many people who call this the quintessential zombie movie, and we here at Uphill Both Ways would agree.  From the tenements of Philadelphia to a shopping mall outside of Pittsburgh, Dawn of the Dead is sandwiched in-between Night and Day of the Living Dead in George Romero’s living dead trilogy, but easily succeeds as a stand-alone film since no characters here appear in the others and vice versa.  Much talked about for its satirical take on consumerism and sporadic dark humor, it’s also gory and grim as hell with some of the best practical effects seen on film. We’re actually a little surprised this didn’t place a bit higher on the list.

The Innocents (1961)
Director: Jack Clayton
Starring: Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave
There’s a lot of ghost movies in this countdown and The Innocents is one of them.  Or is it?  Full of eeriness, the ambiguity of the paranormal is central to this story of Miss Giddens (Kerr), a governess who is hired to care for the niece and nephew of a wealthy bachelor at his estate, Bly Manor. Giddens becomes convinced that the children are possessed by the ghosts of two previous employees at the estate.  There’s plenty of odd goings on that may or may not be of supernatural origin to keep the anxiety levels high as this plays out.  

The Wicker Man (1973)
Director: Robin Hardy
Starring: Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento, Christopher Lee
When one thinks of “folk horror”, The Wicker Man is most likely the first film that springs to mind.  While not scary or horrific in the sense that many of the moves on this list may be, there is a certain air of underlying doom that floats around everything.  There’s the total dismissal of Christianity in favor of pagan gods that shocks Police Sgt. Neil Howie (Woodward), who is looking into the disappearance of a girl who may have been sacrificed, odd remedies for ailments, casual sex in the fields, and a propensity for singing all of which create an unnerving film.

Peeping Tom (1960)
Director: Michael Powell
Starring: Carl Boehm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley
The title of the movie tells you a lot of what you need to know - that we’re dealing with a voyeur.  Mark Lewis (the titular “peeper”), is a movie crew member who aspires to make his own film. When we learn what makes Mark tick, you can’t help but feel a little sorry for the awkward and shy guy, however when Mark crosses the line more than once it’s hard to find any sympathy for him.  Elements of Peeping Tom are found in the slasher sub-genre making this an early proto-slasher type of film.

The Exorcist (1973)
Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Linda Blair
Spinning heads, floating beds, inappropriate use of a crucifix - these are just a few of the things that make this such a memorable film. Linda Blair is fantastic as young Regan who is seemingly possessed. The scares come from the sight of a young and innocent girl forced to speak in tongues, spew vomit, undergo painful medical tests, and other horrible actions.  The biblical implications and portrayals of “good” and “evil” are easy buttons to push in a lot of people and The Exorcist had its share of moral and ethical arguments lobbed at it which helped create a buzz about the film and more than likely played a part in the rumors and urban legends of the film being cursed.  Through all of that, though, the scariest part of this movie is arguably Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells musical score.

The Thing (1982)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, A. Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Dysart
Originally considered to be too nihilistic at a time when optimism reigned, The Thing has since become one of the most revered sci-fi films of all time and we couldn’t be happier.  With amazing practical effects, great portrayals of the characters by the actors involved, and terrific music by Ennio Morricone and Carpenter himself, we here at UBW would certainly slide this into our personal top10s.  Full of tension, some fun and claustrophobic action, a simple plot that engages you with the fear of not knowing who may be infected, and that - yes, nihilistic - ending make this a classic of both sci-fi and horror.

Freaks (1932)
Director: Tod Browning
Starring: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates
It took almost 30 years for this film to overcome the stigma of its portrayal of the titular “freaks” as being a controversial exploitation of the disabled actors. Claimed to be “too grotesque” and “brutal”, it was initially banned in the United Kingdom.  All of the controversy aside, this is - without a doubt - a horrific sideshow (no pun intended) of revenge full of memorable imagery and plot points.  While it isn’t PC to say it, you really can’t refuse to mention that the visuals of the eponymous Freaks add to the horror of the experience. But it’s that “fear” of something different that helps portray the sideshow performers as regular people who live and love just like the rest of us.  Gooble gobble.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund
Before he became the one-liner spitting Bugs Bunny of the slasher sub-genre, Freddy Krueger was one of the scariest dudes on screen in any decade.  With the blurred lines of reality, Nightmare and Krueger presented a hellish existence that even sleep couldn’t provide respite from and, honestly, was probably worse than being awake.  There’s plenty of things about Nightmare on Elm Street that are scary and earn horror street-cred in spades, from the premise of Krueger murdering children, to scenes of him walking up an alley, his arms stretching out to the sides, to an ending that rivals that of Carrie for its shock value. While it’s debatable as to referring to this as modern is accurate considering it’s almost 40 years old, this is without a doubt a “modern classic”.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen
While not the first movie to fit the “slasher” model or to feature social commentary by way of characters and events within the film, Texas Chain Saw Massacre certainly refined and utilized them quite well.  A mostly bloodless affair, the true horror and violence is depicted in such a real and visceral way that the imagery stays with you longer as your subconscious adds in details it expected to see.  So effective at delivering the scares, numerous other creators such as Ridley Scott and  Wes Craven consider it to be one of the most influential movies to their own work.

Carrie (1976)
Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, William Katt, John Travolta, P.J. Soles, Piper Laurie
Horror hits on a few different levels here - bullying, a changing body, and supernatural powers. Mix all that up and you have a recipe for trouble.  While the ending, or the entire prom, might get the most recognition, the most horrific scene comes much earlier in the movie in the girl’s locker room at school. This first film adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel spawned a bit of a franchise, but the less said about all of them, the better.

The Fly (1986)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
There are a handful of remakes in this countdown, but none ranking so much higher than the original as The Fly, and with good measure.  While the original The Fly is a solid B-movie sci-fi flick with horrific elements, this version is straight up horror with sci-fi merely serving as the platform on which Cronenberg serves this pre-digested dish.  Body horror, gore, and a dream sequence that isn’t for those with weak stomachs.

Suspiria (1977)
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci
Stylistic and crammed full of vibrant colors, Suspiria is arguably Argento’s most influential horror film.  The story is engaging as Suzy - a young American ballerina - travels to Germany to attend an esteemed dance school. If possible, things get worse following a brutal murder and accidental death as Suzy begins to deal with some discomforting episodes. While the hook is probably not much of a secret anymore, especially in light of the recent remake, we feel it’s important enough to the overall experience that we’re not going to potentially ruin it for anyone.

Nosferatu (1922)
Director: F. W. Murnau
Starring: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach
Considered by some to be more Dracula than Dracula, Nosferatu works on a number of levels.  The lighting and use of shadows is enhanced by the stark black and white, while the lack of dialogue adds to its overall creepiness factor, forcing the viewer to create the sounds and voices in their head which is always going to be a little more scary than not.  The biggest knock on the film isn’t any fault of the production, but that because of the number of different releases - all of which seem to have their own tinting and musical scores - it’s hard to find the best one to watch.

Alien (1979)
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton
When is a slasher movie not a slasher movie?  When it’s a sci-fi horror featuring a wicked, other-worldly monster stalking the crew members of a spaceship that unwittingly pick up a stowaway when investigating a derelict ship. From shock during the dinner scene to the tension as the survivors shrink in numbers as they creep down darkened walkways in search of the creature, this practically follows the template refined by Halloween a year earlier and Friday the 13th a year later.

The Shining (1980)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd
It’s not often a horror movie transcends its genre, but Kubrick managed to do just that with this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name. Much has been said and written about this film, so to even try in this small amount of space would be a folly.  Suffice it to say that, despite the differences and inconsistencies with the source material (or perhaps because of), this hits on a few different levels making it one helluva scary ride.

Jaws (1975)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary
When is a slasher movie not a slasher movie? When it’s a movie about a shark meticulously stalking its prey in the open waters off of a coastal beach town that relies on tourist money to stay alive.  Like Alien, this follows the template for a food slasher film even if said template didn’t exist yet.  Much has been written about the troubled production and the unexpected problems the mechanical sharks created, and how - ultimately - the lack of usable “shark” footage” provided the movie’s greatest scares by forcing the viewer’s imagination to picture the great white monsters.

Halloween (1978)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P. J. Soles, Nancy Kyes
The Shape. The boogeyman. Michael Myers.  Whatever you want to call him there’s no debate about how iconic Carpenter’s masked killer has become over the past 40+ years.  Numerous sequels, reboots, comic books, novelizations, video games, and toys have all worked together to cement the Halloween franchise’s place in the pantheon of horror. Arguments can be made about the quality of everything that followed, but the original will always be one of the scariest movies of all time.

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
Director: George Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman
Shot on a shoestring budget, NotLD far surpassed any expectations Romero and company could have dreamed about. Pretty tame by today’s standards, the film kicked some taboos of the time to the curb and re-defined what a “zombie” was in popular culture.  Incredibly influential, we may as well just credit it with the creation of the entire zombie horror sub-genre. Oh, and while we said it was tame by today’s standards, that’s not to say it’s not without scares and horrific elements!

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Ralph Bellamy
While Rosemary’s Baby may be the second film in Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”, (behind Repulsion and before The Tenant - see both elsewhere on this list), but without a doubt the most well known of the three.
As we watch Rosemary Woodhouse (Farrow) slowly descend into madness thanks to her unexpected pregnancy we’re treated to subtle horror as it becomes more and more clear what is going on, so that by the ending all we can do is watch.  

Psycho (1960)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, John Gavin, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam
While it can be argued that Hitchcock made better films than Psycho, it’s pretty much widely accepted that this is his most famous.  While Jaws made you afraid of going to the beach, Psycho made it pretty hard to endure a shower thanks to one particular scene everyone knows about.  While there were unnecessary sequels, a remake, and a prequel TV show, this original story of Norman Bates and his mom has secured its spot at the top of our list based on its enduring themes and horrific imagery.

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