Best Ghost Films –I will gladly admit it…I am a big sucker for anything that has to do with ghosts. Ghost, spirits, psychics, extrasensory perception. You name it, I am fascinated by it. So, it should not surprise you that I get super excited every time I see a new movie come out that deals in any way with the paranormal or the supernatural. Unfortunately, that means that I have spent a lot of time and money watching really crappy movies, for the list of great ones is short. There were a few more that didn’t necessarily make the short list here, but that I absolutely adored all the same—movies like What Lies Beneath, The Mothman Prophecies, Stir of Echoes, and The Frighteners. So, if any of them are currently on your list of movies that you haven’t seen, you really can’t go wrong. But, for the sake of argument, here are my top 3 ghostly movies.
#1 – The Sixth Sense (1999) – We might as well just continue with our praise of M. Night Shyamalan while we’re on the subject because, not only did he make one of the best alien movies, he also made one of the most iconic ghost story films of all time with his 1999 masterpiece The Sixth Sense. Once again, Shyamalan’s greatest weapon is the subtlety of the storytelling. The characters are so well written and cast that they pull you in from the very first line in the opening scene. And, while Shyamalan is known for the “twists” in his movies, he certainly doesn’t take any cheap shots at the audience (well, except for his recent failure The Happening, which is actually in the running for top spot on my Worst Movies Ever list, but we’ll just try to forget about that one). All of the clues and the little details in The Sixth Sense lead up to the big payoff, and if you don’t happen to figure it out before it slaps you in the face, you are guaranteed to be kicking yourself and wondering how you missed it. As a whole, good ghost movies are hard to come by, because writers and directors tend to rely almost solely on just trying to make people jump. Only the greatest ghost stories combine suspense and thrills with a solid storyline, and The Sixth Sense has it all.
#2 – The Lady in White (1988) – As long as we’re talking about brilliance through subtlety, we have to talk about The Lady in White. This is one of those movies that most people haven’t seen, and it’s a damn shame. Set in an idyllic small town in the early 1960’s this low-budget supernatural thriller skillfully combines both a well-written script with a good, old-fashioned ghost story. In a nutshell, young Frankie Scarlatti gets locked in his classroom cloakroom by a couple of bullies on Halloween, and ends up having the most terrifying night of his life when he witnesses the ghostly image of a young girl reenacting her brutal murder, and almost becomes the killer’s next victim. As Frankie continues to be haunted by the young girl, he is determined to learn the identity of her killer, even as the clues continue to lead him closer and closer to home. If you’re looking for blood and gore and senseless violence, you won’t find it here. But, if you want a classically creepy Halloween movie that you can enjoy with the whole family, you can’t go wrong with the Lady in White.
#3 – Poltergeist(1982) – Can it really get much better than a creepy little girl named Carol Anne announcing the arrival of some seriously pissed off spirits with what has become one of the most recognizable movie quotes of all time? “They’re heeeeere!” Oh yeah, and then there’s the creepy clown doll and the scene where Craig T. Nelson peels his face off in front of the bathroom mirror. Whatever advances the film industry has made in special effects since the 1980’s are no match for an original story like this one. If you ask me, not seeing Poltergeist at least once in your life is downright un-American.
Best Serial Killer Films – Okay, so I already spoke yesterday about how I am completely fascinated by the minds of serials killers, and I won’t rehash it again because, well, that just makes me look creepy. But, when you’re talking about scary movies, it’s hard not to put a couple films on the list that are about serial killers. There have been many attempts over the years at exploring the mind of a sadistic killer on the big screen, and so very few of them are really worth your time. But, there are two that stand out head and shoulders above the rest, and that deserve a spot on any short list of any must-see scary movies.
#1 – Seven (1995) – Of all the “scary” movies I have ever seen, this is one of the very few that I will say seriously disturbed me, if for no other reason than I walked out of the theater knowing that there a sick people in the world just like the sadistic “John Doe”. This is one of those films that will horrify you, but that you will find yourself watching again and again. Everything about it is brilliant, the story, the characters (and the actors chosen to portray them), the cinematography, the dialogue, the setting—everything just weaves together naturally and carries the momentum without a hitch from beginning to end. And the only serial killer that rivals Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of John Doe for the ultimate creepy psychokiller is Anthony Hopkins’ as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. The only question is, if these two characters were the last two serial killers on earth, which one would ultimately win the prize in a winner-takes-all death match?
#2 – The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – This is one of those movies that I would actually publicly protest if any feeble-minded Hollywood type ever thought he/she wanted to try and remake or reboot it. There’s a reason you don’t mess with perfection—the only possible outcome is that you are going to seriously mess things up and make a total jackass out of yourself. Thomas Harris’ novel was brilliance all its own, and if you haven’t read it, you are sorely missing out. In our world of movie adaptations that just never quite live up to the books they are based on, The Silence of the Lambs is at the top of a very short list of films that adapted beautifully from the page to the screen. Actors? Brilliant. Script? Brilliant. Dialogue? Brilliant, and you are guaranteed to hear the haunting lilt of Hannibal Lecter’s voice in your dreams. Scare Factor? Off the charts. You may not be guaranteed to be jumping out of your seat and screaming every five minutes, but this is one film that will get under your skin and stay there for a long, long time.
#3 – Saw (2004) – These days, it would be hard to talk about really great serial killer flicks without at least giving Saw and honorable mention. And I’m really only talking about the first one in the series because, let’s face it, though they continued to up the ante on the overall gross out factor of the films, only the first one really managed to both scare you, surprise you, and quite possibly scar you for life. Everything that came after was just an attempt to continue to capitalize on what was a truly terrifying movie in a vast sea of so-so scares that came out post-Y2K. And I have to give props to writer Leigh Whannell and writer/director James Wan for pulling off what may have been one of the greatest plot twists of all time at the end. For an avid movie lover who is rarely surprised with the outcome of films, I have to say, I never saw that one coming. Bravo!
Best Movies That Broke the Mold – There seems to be something of a formula when it comes to making horror movies. Hell, there was even a movie made about this horror movie formula—it’s called Scream, and if I were expanding my list to a top 25 or top 30 list, Scream is a film that certainly would have made the cut. But, even sticking to a basic formula does not necessarily guarantee cinematic success when it comes to scary movies because, let’s face it, our fears tend to change. Something that scared the bejesus out of us when we were twelve might hardly make us bat an eye by the age of sixteen. The best filmmakers understand this, and they know that it can pay off to break the mold and try something different.
#1 – The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Arguably one of the most innovative horror movies ever made, The Blair Witch Project has carved itself a very unique place in horror movie history. When I first saw the film in the theater in 1999, most people still had no idea that it wasn’t a documentary pieced together from the footage shot by three film students who went missing in the Maryland woods after setting out to discover the truth about the legend of the Blair Witch. Luckily, the truth came out a few weeks later, saving me from packing up my car and heading down to Maryland for a little investigation of my own. I did end up seeing in two more times in theaters that summer, and even teaming up with my friend Anette to make a spoof called The BiSH Witch Project based on one of the legendary English professors at our college. If only our little spoof had made even half of the $250 million that The Blair Witch Project grossed worldwide. Shot entirely on small handheld cameras by three actors who had only vague directions instead of a script and were terrorized by members of the production crew as they filmed for just eight days in the middle of the Maryland woods, The Blair Witch Project opened the doors for a whole new kind of “realistic” horror movie, and paved the way for recent films like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, neither of which could quite live up to their predecessor’s glory. If you’ve never seen The Blair Witch Project, you are definitely missing out on a vital piece of American horror movie history.
#2 – 28 Days Later (2002) – Zombie movies have been around almost as long as the film industry itself, and there is a bit of a debate as to which film was the first. If you consider a reanimated corpse to be a “zombie”, then the 1910 film Frankenstein just might fit the bill, followed by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1919 and White Zombie in 1932. But, no matter which film you choose to see as the first, it is safe to say that zombie films have a long history of both delighting us and making us squirm. In general, zombies are creatures that are both human, and not quite human, usually portrayed as either reanimated corpses or mindless, soulless corpses that walk the earth with an overwhelming desire to feed on human flesh. As the times have changed, so have zombies, evolving from the weak, lumbering beings from classic movies like Night of the Living Dead to the strong, cunning and freakishly fast zombies we see in Danny Boyle’s 2002 breakout hit 28 Days Later. This is, hands down, my favorite zombie movie, and I will recommend it to everyone, even people who hate horror movies. The film’s opening sequence is one of the best I have ever seen as the main character, Jim, awakens from a coma in a London hospital room and realizes he is alone, completely alone. If seeing one lone person wandering through the deserted, garbage strewn streets of a once bustling city is not enough to make your skin crawl, then perhaps the first glimpse of Boyle’s “Rage”-infected zombies will. From the acting and the storyline to the cinematography and the soundtrack, 28 Days Later ushers in a whole new generation of classic zombie horror.
Best Scary (Funny) Movies – There are great horror films out there. There are terrible horror films. And then there are horror films that make you laugh as effectively (if not more effectively) than they make you cringe. While these movies probably won’t appear anywhere near the top of any Scariest Movies lists, I couldn’t bring myself to leave them out, because they’re just too good to miss. So, if you will, here are my top 3 picks if you’re torn between watching a horror film or a comedy. These films combine both, and they do it well. You’ll laugh, you’ll jump, and you’ll probably end up recommending them to your friends or stopping to watch them again if you happen to flip by them when you’re surfing the channels on the TV.
#1 – Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) – Really, the title says it all. They are killer Klowns (not to be mistaken with harmless human circus clowns), and they are here for a reason—to feast on humans. With a giant spaceship that looks like a circus tent, popcorn guns, cotton candy cocoons for their human captives, and a whole lot of other circus clown space shenanigans up their sleeves, these Klowns are no joke. Well, maybe a little bit of a joke. So, what are you waiting for?
#2 – The People Under the Stairs (1991) – Okay, so maybe this one is not quite as funny to most other people as it is to me, but as a big Twin Peaks fan, the pairing of Everett McGill and Wendy Robie as the psychotic brother/sister/Mommy/Daddy duo makes for some great entertainment. The name Wes Craven is synonymous with some seriously great horror films over the years—films like The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and most notably A Nightmare on Elm Street (which did not make this list, but is a definite Honorable Mention). In The People Under the Stairs, Craven invites you inside that one creepy house in every neighborhood that people do their best to avoid. There are plenty of chills, thrills, chuckles and things that will make you jump in this movie, and it’s an enjoyable ride from beginning to end. Definitely a must see.
#3 – Leprechaun (1993) – From the adorable Lucky that graces the front of every box of Lucky Charms cereal to the wily King Brian Connors from the 1959 Disney classic Darby O’Gill and the Little People, the leprechaun legend has intrigued and entertained us for centuries. But I guarantee, you’ve never seen a leprechaun like this—evil, cunning, and downright bloodthirsty as he is hellbent to steal back his gold. It’s hard to imagine that the adorable Warwick Davis from Willow, Star Wars, and the Harry Potter films cast as the murderous leprechaun, but he absolutely shines in the role. Oh, and let’s not forget Jennifer Aniston. That’s right, I said Jennifer Aniston. Leprechaun was Aniston’s first feature movie. Oh, how far she has come, but everyone has to start somewhere right?
And there you have it folks. Today’s (and yesterdays) 365 Project entry is dedicated to all of the scary movies I love the most. There are definitely more that deserve to be mentioned, but this is a long list already. Perhaps I’ll share a few more of my favorites another day. And, I know many of you may debate some of my choices on this list, so I would love to hear some of the scary movies that you would place on your own Top Twenty.