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Sunday, October 16, 2022

The UBW Top 100 Horror Movies - #50-26

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 keep this going!

House of Wax (1953)
Director: André De Toth
Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones
While House of Wax is itself a delightful thriller, its hook was that it was a 3D picture.  While there are a few scenes that really make use of the 3D gimmick, it’s not overdone and in fact somewhat takes a backseat to the story and performances themselves. Take away the stereoscopic images and there’s still an engaging and respectable thriller on screen.  

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Director: James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester
It’s not often that a sequel is often cited as a superior film, and there are plenty of people who bestow that honor here.  Picking up right after the events of Frankenstein and following a clever opening, we learn Henry Frankenstein is alive and his mentor, the grandly-named Septimus Pretorius, wants his help to make a mate for the monster who also survived the events of the earlier film. It’s really the subject matter here that lands this so high on the list - people were not too fond of man being made to look as an equal to God - because ultimately it’s the saddest and most heartbreaking of the Universal Monster films.

Dracula (1931)
Director: Tod Browning
Starring: Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Helen Chandler
Although he later took turns as other characters from the Universal Monster movies, Lugosi is most remembered for his portrayal of the Count, itself an image that influenced the look of vampires for years to come.  The use of shadows and the great set design play a big part in making this such an effective chiller. Although there were changes from Bram Stoker’s book to the play that this was based on, it’s still a solid and defining piece of horror movie history.

The Vanishing (1988)
Director: George Sluizer
Starring: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege
Nothing could be more horrifying than being in a strange place (in this case, a foreign country), and having a loved one up and vanish. What do you do? How do you go about finding them? How can you move past such an incident?  This is exactly what Rex endures when the love of his life, Saskia disappears at a rest stop. A psychological cat and mouse game ensues which eventually ends on a rather disturbing note.

Dead Ringers (1988)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold
Irons steals the show with his portrayal of identical twin gynecologists, one of whom takes advantage of his profession to seduce women before them on to his brother. Things take a turn when Claire comes onto the scene which ultimately causes a rift between the brothers which leads to drug-addled delusions and the creation of some truly gnarly looking surgical instruments. Being guys, we here at Uphill Both Ways can only begin to imagine the horrific thoughts this may cause women to have.

Possession (1981)
Director: Andrzej Żuławski
Starring: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Margit Carstensen, Heinz Bennent
What starts out as a possible spy movie quickly spins into a psychological horror experience and rapidly descends into the madness of Cronenberg-esque body horror before settling into an uncomfortable little sci-fi box.  Truly hard to classify beyond “horror”, this is certainly that as it is yet another film in this list that landed on the UK’s “video nasties” list.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
Director: Don Siegel
Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones
You’ve got to admit that it’s weirdly odd that a movie clearly serving as an allegory for the loss of one’s personal identity within a Communist system and steeped in McCarthyism has a lead actor with the last name McCarthy.  Or maybe it’s not so odd?  Regardless, this is a pretty terrifying tale (that is sadly neutered by its theatrical ending) and is such a memorable and influential sci-fi classic that it has inspired countless remakes and/or re-imaginings.

Hellraiser (1987)
Director: Clive Barker
Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley
"We Have Such Sights To Show You” claims Pinhead, he of the Cenobites - a sect of sadomasochistic beings from another dimension in search of carnal pleasures. Unleashed on our own plane by the solving of a puzzle box, their arrival results in "brutal, graphic violence [and] horror, degradation and torture". The plot itself is rather simple and far less complex than a puzzle box, but its memorable imagery and characters launched this into a long lasting franchise and the status of a modern classic.

The Evil Dead (1981)
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker
Birthing a franchise that includes sequels, remakes, toys, video games, a TV show, and just about any other thing you can imagine, this cult-classic that put both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell on the map brings the goods.  Funny, scary, and bloody as hell, The Evil Dead is that rare independent movie that transcends its limitations to become something original and influential.

Vampyr (1932)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Starring: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko
In this rather slow affair that comes across as a silent movie that forgets it has a voice, a young man who is versed in the occult and supernatural stumbles into a situation involving a murder, a pair of sisters, an odd doctor, and a vampyr.  Shot with a soft focus, the film has a very ethereal feel to it which, when paired with the locations used for filming, gives it an atmospheric and creepy look when needed.

The Night Of The Hunter (1955)
Director: Charles Laughton
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin
With a straight-forward plot, director Charles Laughton had plenty of time to indulge in making The Night of the Hunter not only a thrilling film noir, but a stark, avante garde black and white (when it was cool to be in color) tale of greed, seduction, and corruption. With a controversial figure in the form of an evil preacher, sometimes surreal, dream-like cinematography and even kids in peril, it’s no wonder director Laughton called this "a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale".

Black Christmas (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon
While Halloween and Friday the 13th are often credited with creating the modern slasher, Black Christmas may have a thing or two to say about that. While admittedly a bit slow-paced, the plot features elements that would eventually become tropes within the sub-genre, from its holiday setting to a “final girl” and a twist ending.  There are inventive kills, a mysterious killer, tense moments of antica…pation, and a smart script that seems, in retrospect, to be a bit TOO smart at times. The past couple of decades have seen Black Christmas get some more of the credit it’s due and had that been the case a few years earlier, this may have jumped forward a few spots on the list.

Videodrome (1983)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry
You can’t get much more horrific than an unauthorized TV signal broadcasting what appear to be snuff films.  Well, we take that back. If you add in some hallucinations, a method of causing brain tumors in viewers, a deeply-layered conspiracy, and Blondie’s Debbie Harry as a radio host who, while looking into the broadcasts, disappears only to return on screen, you might. Seeing Cronenberg’s name might make you expect to see people with television sets growing from their bellies like nightmare Teletubbies, but honestly the whole body horror thing seems a bit toned down here when compared to most of his other films.

Deep Red (1975)
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Macha Méril
Marcus, a musician, happens to spot a murder being commited and, after rushing to see if he can stop it, finds himself a part of the killer’s deranged agenda. Often cited as one of the best the genre has to offer, Deep Red was released at the height of the giallo heyday and features plenty of bloody kills, kinetic camera work, and of course a mysterious, black-gloved killer.  

Eraserhead, (1977)
Director: David Lynch
Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts
Trying to explain the symbology, themes, and meanings that one experiences while watching a  David Lynch film is like trying to herd cats. And we mean that as the highest compliment.  Eraserhead’s horror is a result of Lynch’s cinematography, subject matter, and - most of all - its sound. Constant low-level background noise mixed with industrial sounds creates a heightened sense of dread that permeates every aspect of this surreal nightmare.

The Haunting (1963)
Director: Robert Wise
Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn
This is a bit of a polarizing film with some people feeling that it is a bore and that there is barely any plot and what plot it has is weak, while others laud it as a masterpiece and genuinely frightening haunted house film.  As always, the truth lies somewhere in between and that’s where we here at Uphill Both Ways reside.  Yes, there are some tense moments and great examples of supernatural happenings, but those complaints about the plot aren’t entirely wrong either.  In any case, The Haunting is certainly a movie worth being on this list.

The Birds (1963)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette
Seagulls just randomly attacking patrons of a gas station/diner, drawing blood and causing an explosion is one thing.  The scene where Tippi Hedren’s Melanie sits outside of a small schoolhouse while behind her crows begin to multiply on a jungle gym as the kids inside the school sing a nonsense song is on a totally different - and terrifying - level. There’s plenty more chills within, but man - none more so than that one.

The Omen (1976)
Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw
What’s more horrifying than swapping your dead newborn with the baby of a mother who died in childbirth and not telling your wife?  Doing this without realizing that the baby you’ve taken is the antichrist, that’s what.
The Omen tells the story of Robert and Kathy Thorn along with Damien - their hellspawn.  Of course, it’s not until some nasty stuff starts happening  that either realize something isn’t quite right with their five year old son and by that point it’s too late. Although critically panned upon its release, it was popular enough to warrant three sequels and a remake.

An American Werewolf In London (1981)
Director: John Landis
Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine
With the name John Landis attached to this you can correctly expect it to be funny.  But scary? Worry not, because it brings a horror A-game as well.  What The Wolf Man did for werewolves in 1941, this did for them forty years later as the genre quickly eschewed the furry man with wolf-like features to full-on wolves. When David (Naughton’s character) is first shown changing into a wolf it’s one of the most terrifying transformations in cinematic history.

Poltergeist (1982)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Heather O'Rourke 
We’re not even going to go into the whole “this movie is cursed” thing because, well, we don’t need to - this is scary as hell on its own!  From little Carol Anne saying “They’re here”, to chairs stacking themselves on a table in the blink of an eye, to killer clown toys, old trees, and a foundation pit full of skeletons, there’s more than enough to keep you on the edge of your seat and gripping the arms of the chair as the Freeling family deals with their house of horrors. Oh, but it’s rated PG - it can’t be THAT scary! Wrong! It IS that scary and would have gotten an “R” rating if it weren’t for Stephen Spielberg being Stephen Spielberg and wielding the might of Stephen Spielberg.

Cat People (1942)
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph
Fear and implied dread drive this story of Irena, a fashion designer, who is convinced she comes from a line of people who turn into panthers when aroused. I think today we call them “cougars”.  Anyway, despite being a bit lacking in script or actress Simone Simon’s acting prowess, Cat People is still a very effective horror movie. Utilizing a methodical and moody look, it is both ominous and mysterious AND it originated the jump scare with a tension-filled technique that has come to be referred to as a “Lewton Bus” (named after producer Val Lewton).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Director: Robert Wiene
Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Fehér
While the story of a mad and murderous asylum director provides plenty of fear-filled thoughts, it’s undoubtedly the LOOK of the movie that rattles the cages of viewer’s imaginations the most. Looking like they sprang from the mind of an evil Dr. Seuss, everything has a twisted and warped look to it.  Perspectives are off, lines are heavy, black, and curving, the ends of shadows look like those of knives, and streets that spiral like those you might see in Oz.  To express any thoughts on the subtext of this visual style would no doubt ruin the ending, and in fact just mentioning this may be too much.  We’ll stop now except to say this is quite the disturbing looking film, and leave it at that.

Repulsion (1965)
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Patrick Wymark, Yvonne Furneaux
The first film in Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” and the second on our list (the previous one being The Tenent), Repulsion is an unsettling psychological horror. Detailing the horrific and nightmarish experiences of Mary that happen as a result of men showing amorous feelings towards her, she is clearly disturbed and most likely schizophrenic after suffering some form of sexual trauma (as is heavily implied and all but stated outright). You can’t get much more horrific (or repulsive) than that.

Re-Animator (1985)
Director: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale
There are plenty of movies on this list that mix comedy and humor to varying degrees of success, and  Re-Animator is one of the better ones.  Dark humor and outrageous situations are mined for the blood-drenched laughs as Jeffery Combs steals the show with his portrayal of the psychotic Dr. Herbert West.  Don’t be fooled by the mention of humor, though - this is full of gore, scares, and an pretty unsettling scene that gives new meaning to a sexual phrase we can’t mention since we try to remain “family friendly” here.

Carnival Of Souls (1962)

Director: Herk Harvey
Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger
Following a car accident, Mary relocates to Salt Lake City where she begins to experience some rather frightening encounters after seeing an abandoned pavilion that used to house a carnival.  What follows is an eerie and unsettling affair populated with ghouls and a chalk-white faced man, all of whom cause no small amount of terror in poor Mary. Before ultimately turning into a ghost story that feel like it would be right at home in the mind of Rod Serling, there are some effective scenes of horror as Mary attempts to deal with what she is experiencing. 

Next week - Numbers 25 through 1!

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