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Sunday, October 9, 2022

The UBW Top 100 Horror Movies - #75-51

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!

The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Director: Paul Leni
Starring: Laura La Plante, Forrest Stanley, Creighton Hale
With a plot that certainly seems to have influenced many ‘Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?’ episodes, this old, silent film includes some dark humor that serves to break up some of the most eerie segments. Following the death of the wealthy Cyrus West, his will leaves the inheritance to niece Annabelle solely due to her being the most distant relative named ‘West’.  Of course, she has to be declared sane by a doctor and as the rest of the family starts seeing dollar signs, the excitement begins. Filled with fun visual elements and some wonderful, gothic sets, this is not only a great haunted house movie, it looks good, too.

Fright Night (1985)
Director: Tom Holland
Starring:  Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Amanda Bearse
Despite listing in Mike’s top 20, this story of Charlie Brewster and the vampire who moves in next door barely cracks the overall top 75.  And that’s a darn shame because this is a classic tale of the undead that includes, and plays with, most of the conventional lore seen in earlier vampire movies. There’s hardly any slow bits as things start pretty quickly and only gain momentum until the final battle between the blood-sucking Jerry Dandridge and Charley Brewster along with movie vampire hunter turned TV horror host, Peter Vincent (played perfectly by the great Roddy McDowell.

The Mummy (1932)
Director: Karl Freund
Starring: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manner
More atmospheric than scary, The Mummy follows the accidental resurrection of Imhotep (an ancient Egyptian who was entombed alive as punishment for attempting to bring his dead lover back to life), by some archaeologists.  While the scenes where Imhotep is wrapped, leaving only his frightened, pleading eyes visible is, indeed, quite disturbing, the profound lack of actual mummies wrapped in gauze and walking stiff-legged after people is a bit of a letdown, if that’s what you were hoping for.   

Onibaba (1964)
Director: Kaneto Shindo
Starring: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Satō
A mother and daughter loot dead bodies and seduce a couple of merchants to unload their ill-gotten goods.  That’s when a mysterious samurai shows up and things get hot and heavy - literally and figuratively There’s secret sex trysts, jealous fits of rage, a little murder, and a wicked looking Hannya mask that has some pretty gripping qualities.  Set in medieval Japan, there’s plenty of stuff going on to keep even jaded viewers engaged.

Child's Play (1988)
Director: Tom Holland
Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Dinah Manoff
It’s probably a safe bet that, as a result of the numerous sequels, a reboot, a TV show, toys and probably underwear, most everyone knows this story of the demonic Good Guy named Chucky.  When a voodoo spell transfers a serial killer’s mind and soul into a talking, child-sized, red-haired doll, things rapidly go downhill.  Layered with dark humor that is mainly a result of the juxtaposition of a cute, friendly looking toy doing murderous things and using language more suited for a sailor, there is also a decidedly horrific element of a child in peril. Things may have gotten a bit goofy in the later films, but this one remains a solid thriller.

Hour Of The Wolf (1967)
Director:  Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Gertrud Fridh
Gothically surreal, Hour of the Wolf is the story of a painter, Johan, who begins having disturbing visions and severe insomnia. Confiding to his wife, Alma, he recounts a childhood trauma and tells her about the ‘Hour of the Wolf’ which "...is the hour when most people die, when sleep is deepest, when nightmares are more real”.  It’s said that Bergman drew from his own life and experiences in this tale of demons (real and/or imagined) layered with themes of sexuality, infidelity, and insanity.

Island of Lost Souls (1933)
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Starring: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi
This, the first full-blown adaptation of H. G. Wells' 1896 novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, was pretty controversial when it was released, resulting in it being banned in 14 states. Not for its depiction of Moreau’s terrifying human-animal hybrids or anything they do, but for its themes of biological evolution including the line "Do you know what it means to feel like God?" uttered by Moreau in regards to his aforementioned creatures. Now we can look back at this film and be frightened not by outdated philosophical themes, but by the fact that a dude was making his own personal monsters keeping them in line with ‘The Law’ and his ‘House of Pain’.

The Last House on the Left (1972)
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David A. Hess, Fred Lincoln
One of the few movies on this list that makes some people feel filthy or grungy just from watching it.  While the ending should be satisfying to most everyone, the graphic violence and rape present between that and the start of the film will make it hard for them to get there.  The inclusion of slapstick-like scenes of bumbling cops intercut with the brutality itself is enough to turn some people off. Despite, or actually, because of, its subject matter, this is much more horrific than its ranking may indicate.

Return Of The Living Dead (1985)
Director: Dan O'Bannon
Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley
While there’s an “in-universe” connection to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, that connection is about all that these movies have in common (aside from the obvious zombies).  Way before Shaun of the Dead, this was the go-to horror-comedy zombie flick - the comedy coming mainly courtesy of medical supply workers Frank and Freddy.  After accidentally breaking the seal of a military drum full of a toxic gas called Trioxin, things spiral out of control and before you can say “Send more paramedics” you’ve got Linnea Quigley running around topless and a bunch of the living dead looking for brains.

Kwaidan (1964)
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Rentarō Mikuni, Tetsurō Tamba, Keiko Kishi
This Japanese anthology film featuring four stories is heavy on the ghosts and if that’s your thing, you’re in for quite a treat here.  Like most anthologies not every story is a home run, and with a run time of about three hours it definitely takes a commitment.   However those that do will be treated to a magnificently shot film full of almost surreal colors that almost forgets that, at its core, it’s a horror movie and becomes something… more.

Aliens (1986)
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen
Yeah, this is a sci-fi/action movie and it seems like a stretch to see this included on this list, but stop and think about it for a minute. There’s one scene - you know which one - that has so much tension in it that you can’t help but freak out along with everyone else after Hicks takes a peek up into the ceiling.  Yeah, that scene.  That alone is enough to get this film on the list, but add to it everything else that this throws at you and yeah, you’ve got one scary sci-fi flick.

The Invisible Man (1933)
Director: James Whale
Starring: Gloria Stuart, Claude Rains, William Harrigan
Dr. Jack Griffin, after experimenting with a dubious drug, has used it to concoct a serum that renders him invisible. What he doesn’t know is that it’s also making him a bit crazy.  It’s those two things that combine to make this one of the best of the “Universal Monsters” movies.  Throw in some wicked dark humor, a smart script, and some of the best special effects seen on-screen at the time and you’ve got yourself a classic.

Phantasm (1979)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Starring: Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm
When one thinks of iconic horror villains there are some that come immediately to mind (three of them wear masks and one’s face is so burnt it may as well be a mask).  The fact that Angus Scrimm’s “Tall Man” isn’t among them is a shame because, as those who’ve seen this and its sequels know, this is one scary dude. This first film in the five film franchise is far and away the best with creepy little hooded creatures, a portal to another dimension, and a flying silver sphere that you do not want to see coming after you.  Add in the Tall Man, and ice cream truck driving Reggie, his friend Jody and Jody’s brother Mike don’t seem to have much of a chance of surviving this film that, at times, keeps you guessing as to what is real and what might be a dream.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno
Argento’s directorial debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is arguably of the most influential films that helped to popularize the giallo genre of horror movies.  Witnessing a brutal attack, Sam - an American writer - soon finds himself embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer that has been terrorizing Rome. To say much more than that might spoil some of the surprises that this holds.  Suffice it to say this is a well-crafted thriller with eye-catching stylized violence and a stylish flair.

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)
Director: John McNaughton
Starring: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold
Here’s another film that will make you feel like you need a shower after watching it.  Henry and his buddy Otis are not good people. With a “them or us” mindset they wantonly kill just about anyone they come across, eventually filming their deeds after acquiring a camcorder. At one point during an intimate reveal with Otis’ sister Becky, you think there might be hope for Henry when he tells her that he’s not cool with sexual violence against women. Of course that doesn’t stop him from killing them.  Henry’s gritty and realistic portrayal of graphic violence locked it out of theaters for a couple of years due to the anticipated ‘X’ rating from the MPAA.

Dead of Night (1945)
Directors: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden
Starring: Michael Redgrave, Mervyn Johns, Frederick Valk, Roland Culver
Another anthology, another bag of hits and misses.  When Craig, an architect, arrives at a country cottage to discuss some renovations, he realizes that he’s seen all of the people that are present in a dream. This leads the guests to share stories of eerie events with one another, and thus our setup for the five tales that follow, with one involving a ventriloquist’s dummy named Hugo being the better of the lot.  A return to Craig and the guests wraps up the bookend events.  A little too much humor probably cost this a few spots, but it’s still a chillingly good movie for its time.

Black Sunday (1960)
Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi
Bava’s directorial debut doesn’t disappoint as this Italian gothic horror brings the goods.  When a vampire witch and her lover are put to death in a fairly gruesome way, the witch curses those involved.  This curse comes around 200 years later and we’re treated to all sorts of things that go bump in the night like vampires, ghosts, and skeletons as well as some very effective practical effects and cinematography.  Ultimately a love story, there are plenty of thematic and visual elements that keep this squarely and effectively in the realm of horror.

Near Dark (1987)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton
There are no sparkling vampires in this Romeo and Juliet-esque tale of western-influenced undead.  What there IS, however, is a gritty group of nomadic blood-suckers who have mixed feelings about the recent addition to their ranks.  There’s also plenty of gore and the aforementioned love story that drives the plot instead of hampering it.  Lost in the success that was The Lost Boys earlier in the year, Near Dark has, over the past 20+ years, managed to carve its place into the list of exceptional vampire movies.

The Wolf Man (1941)
Director: George Waggner
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy
The defining werewolf movie, The Wolf Man features one of the most tragic and sympathetic characters in, not just horror, but all of movie history. Any fan worth their salt knows that “even a man who is pure of heart” can succumb to the bite of a werewolf, and poor Larry Talbot is no exception. Certainly a walking definition of “wrong place, wrong time”, Talbot suffers for no reason other than pure fate.

The Tenant (1976)
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas
There’s nothing more horrific than annoying neighbors that make your life a living hell, and mild-mannered Trelkovsky clearly experiences his own after moving into an apartment in which the previous tenant attempted suicide by hurling herself through a window.  Paranoia, the blurring of reality and madness, and psychological trauma all commingle to form a terrifying slow-burn of a story that explores the effects of losing one’s identity.  

Day Of The Dead (1985)
Director: George Romero
Starring: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Jarlath Conroy
While unfairly knocked as less engaging than the two previous films, Day of the Dead - the third installment in Romero’s original ‘Dead’ trilogy and the first to make it on our list - is without a doubt the most depressing. Despite having more characters, this is a much more intimate affair that doesn’t have the undercurrent of political themes but more societal ones. Despite being on the verge of extinction, the survivors still fixate on what should be trivial matters of class and community dynamics.  While a bit less ambitious than its immediate predecessor (but just as important and influential), there’s still plenty of blood, gore, and zombies.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)
Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Eva Bartok, Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Reiner
One of the earliest “proto-slasher” and giallo films, Blood and Black Lace features a black fedora and trench coat wearing killer taking aim at the beautiful models of a fashion house in Rome. Bursting at the seams with bright, vibrant colors that are juxtaposed with the savage murders, the visuals that Bava employs are striking and stylish. In addition to making this one of the earlier “slashers”, it’s a solid - despite lacking many clues - whodunnit.

The Fly (1958)
Director: Kurt Neumann
Starring: Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price
Despite being released at the height of the B-movie science fiction era, The Fly stands (flies?) above the rest thanks to its production values, script, and actors.  As was the case in many movies of the time, this deals with man’s tampering with the unknown and the unexpected consequences. While there are many terrifying scenes and situations, none are more so than one involving a “white-headed fly” discovered by Vincent Price’s François Delambre in a garden. “Help me!” indeed.

I Walked With A Zombie (1943)
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Starring: James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway
One look at the date and you’ll know that you’re not getting shambling walkers or fast-running infected.  In fact, to be honest, there really aren’t ANY zombies in sight here, but that’s okay.  The story is engaging enough with the right amount of supernatural voodoo elements to make this tale of a Canadian nurse who travels to the island of Saint Sebastian in the Caribbean where she experiences first-hand the horrors of the strongly held supernatural beliefs of the local natives.

The Changeling (1979)
Director: Peter Medak
Starring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas
When a composer moves into a Seattle mansion following the deaths of his wife and daughter it’s not long before he’s hearing noises, seeing windows inexplicably shattering, and discovering a mysterious boarded up door that leads to a room in the attic.  Scott’s performance perfectly enhances the eerie and creepy haunted house goings on that The Changeling has to offer.

Next week - Numbers 50 through 26!

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