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Saturday, October 1, 2011

JER'S TURN: OCTOBER- THE BEST AND WORST HORROR FILMS

JER: As we enter my favorite month of the year, October, I immediately begin to dive into my crypt through my vast collection of horror film goodies… so many creepy, freaky and offensive fright flicks to choose from, it saddens me to know that I am only given 31 measly days to enjoy them in. Oh well… I decided that this is the perfect time to release the demons from within and talk about the scary films that some thrive in and others are repelled by!
“Horror”, as a genre of movies defined, comes in many vague descriptions. Some would classify a great horror film by the levels of gore and blood that can be visibly seen. Others can define their tastes by the suspense in its story telling, while others believe it is all subjective and left to the imagination of the viewer. With many entries to choose from, the years have brought an audience many selections to choose from. Catagories would include: supernatural, midnight dwellers, demonic, extra- terrestrial, psychopaths, slashers, the walking dead, creatures, witchcraft, occult, blood suckers and anything else your ghoulish little mind can conceive of!

By using the unlucky number of 13, I wanted to create a list of the top 10 best horror films and finish it off by listing the top 3 worst films as well.

I really didn’t think compiling my list would be this difficult… but it was! I had a few runner- ups that I wish I had room for within my “Top 10.” Films like THE EVIL DEAD, JEEPERS CREEPERS, SAW, PHANTASM, DAWN OF THE DEAD, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and FRIDAY THE 13th had to be placed within the ranks of honorable mentions.

So many to mention that I'll allow this to sum up some of the greatest moments caught in fear!

I understand that we are asking a lot from our readers. The lists are long and the read can be lengthy, however, seeing that CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT has never really touched on the genre of ‘horror’ films prior, I am definitely opening up the flood gates and letting the sewage (or guts) spill!

Here it is: my “TOP 10” Best Horror Films:

10. THE OMEN (1976): Not to be confused with that disastrous attempt of a re-make made in 2006. The original had great star appeal by pairing off actors Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as US Ambassador to Great Britain and his wife, the Thorns. When Mrs. Thorn, unaware of the outcome, delivers a stillborn child with hopes of beginning a family, Mr. Thorn is presented with a newborn baby boy whose mother passed away upon delivery. No family, no trace of any problems or issues, Mr. Thorn takes the child and presents it to his wife as their own. One slight problem, little Damien isn’t all they expected him to be… he is the arrival of evil incarnate with aspirations of world domination while destroying Christianity along the way.

The film represents that evil can take shape in any shape or form…or age! The innocence of a sweet- faced 6 year- old boy made this film even more intriguing. Director Richard Donner shaped a serious masterpiece with relentless tension and terror. The deaths of those that get in his way are complex and uncomfortable to witness. Highly imaginative and elaborate for its time, THE OMEN remains a classic!
A frightening video tribute including the theme by Jerry Goldsmith!

Robert Englund with Jer
9. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984): Sorry Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Englund will always be Freddy Krueger! Within the first few seconds of the film, we witness the horrific creation of the famous glove with knives. The attention to detail in making the claws to his satisfaction only sets you up that this going to be like nothing you had ever experienced before. If you have been living under a rock your whole life, it is difficult to describe the film’s premise. By way of dreams, a suspected child tormentor comes back to life to 'haunt' the lynch mob that took it upon themselves to place their own level of justice and set him on fire. The film that put director Wes Craven on the horror map, wrote an original story line of the crossing over of revenge and the power of dreams… or nightmares. Little did he know he was creating a new horror film icon with Freddy Krueger’s burnt face, the stripped red and green sweater, the fedora and that claw glove… it would raise the bar that anything is possible. How do you kill someone that is already dead? With minor punches of humor and a strong dose imaginary gore and violence… this film would be the best from all of its sequels to follow.

8. THE STRANGERS (2008): Taking a page from past horror films that presented more tension than blood, the film plays with your fears and makes the audience jump in reaction to things that go bump in the night. What makes this film more intense is that it was actually based on true events! A young couple decides to spend a romantic weekend in a country home away from civilization, only to be terrorized and tormented by three masked individuals with unknown intentions.

Despite doing very well in the box office, the film received mixed reviews. Gore- seekers expected more blood while others, like myself, felt that this film stayed true to its ingredients of ‘less is more.' A sequal is currently in pre- production at the time of this post.

7. DRACULA (1931): A tipping of respect to the Universal horror films must be made towards my favorite of them all, the original DRACULA with the incomparable Bela Lugosi. After his travels through the Carpathian Mountains and arriving in England, Count Dracula begins a bizarre feeding prey on human blood while followed by Dr. Van Helsing, the man determined to end his reign.

Although the film shot within the Universal Studios lot, the appearances of foreign locations and European flavors made this film a visual classic to bestow. The use of black and white photography adds another layer of suspense from its shadowing and candle- lit set designs. It sets an air of mystic and exotic intrigue that makes this film an original.
The classic 1931 trailer for the original DRACULA! Enjoy!


6. ALIEN (1979): Director Ridley Scott took a bold and historic step forward by making a very realistic and suspenseful sci- fi horror film that involved an alien as the creature in question. Earlier attempts at such films were the staple of Roger Corman B- films involving radioactive bugs or less- than- impressive interpretation of life outside of our own planet.

Somewhere in the near future, an intergalactic mining crew in space responds to an S.O.S. signal and closes in on a planet with a creature that waits to board the ship and destroy the crew… one member at a time. A classic “haunted house” storyline that weaves a twist by taking it to an outer space field. A true original for its time, has since been told redundantly far too many times. At post time, director Scott is working on a prequel.

5. THE SHINING (1980): Adapted from the best- selling novel by Stephen King, the story is about a Maine novelist who takes his family to assist him in caring for an isolated hotel during the snowed- in winter months. What the family is unaware of is its long history of the hotel’s existence and the number of haunts that have gathered there.

Controversial from its approach and the straying from most of the novel’s true story, director Stanley Kubrick presented a very surreal and maniacal film while keeping us enclosed within the suffocating walls of the Overlook Hotel. How can it remain well lit yet stay dark at the same time? The cinematography almost works as a character within the film while mingling into the lives of Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall and the scene- stealing moments of little Danny Lloyd!

4. THE EXORCIST (1973): How is it that this film remains, to this date, consistently on top of many lists and all- time favorites when it comes to the genre and what it represents? I mean, the film is over 35 years old! The techniques, photography, screenplay and special effects are very different than by today’s standards. What can it be? What if it was because the film represents a snap shot in time and that it made in the right year… meaning: the serious approach to film making, the no- nonsense use of special effects long before CGI would ruin what artists could create with their own two hands. Studios were mavericks and willing to take a chance on a film of its kind without trying to sell Happy Meals with toys inside them.

Based on true events, Ellen Burstyn plays a mother protecting her daughter’s undergoing demonic possession while seeking the advice and assistance of two priests.

3. PSYCHO (1960): After running away from her guilt of taking a substantial amount of money from her work place, Marion Crane finds solace in a lonely motel operated by an introverted Norman Bates. As mother Bates pears from the window of their nearby home, in the overprotective watching- over of her son, it may seem as if nothing will get between the love of a mother and her son… or any one!

Director Alfred Hitchcock weaved a sense of intrigue and mystery when he asked theater managers to not allow anyone in once the film started. He also asked that no one reveal the ending as well. PSYCHO continues to entertain and frighten viewers for over 50 years. Accompanied by the classic soundtrack created by Bernard Herrmann and the famous “shower scene”, the film presents a feel of horror mixed with whodunit results! A classic indeed.

2. THE LOST BOYS (1987): After a recent divorce, a mother and her two teenage sons move from Arizona to Santa Carla, CA to move in with her dad while readjusting her life. The boys soon find out that the nightlife around town takes on a whole different meaning than what they are used to. Sleep all day and party all night is the motto of a group of boys who will never grow old or die…but they must feed on blood to survive!

Jer and Alex Winter (Marco) THE LOST BOYS
  It was the summer of 1987 and I saw THE LOST BOYS at the Vogue Theater on Hollywood Blvd. during a midnight showing. I can say that I was officially ‘bitten’ and my vamp world began henceforth! Director Joel Schumacher mixes a blend of fashion, comedy and horror to make a hip vampire flick. Hey, it’s the 80’s, which means it also had a great soundtrack with music artists like INXS, Lou Gramm and Roger Daltrey lending songs to the film. With an MTV cinematography- like feel, mixed with So Cal ‘tude and teenage stars including Corey Feldman, Corey Haim and Kiefer Sutherland equal fun and fright!

Enjoy this truely remarkable video tribute to the tune of "Cry Little Sister" from the original soundtrack!

1. HALLOWEEN (1978): Fifteen years ago, young Michael Myers murdered his sister and was sent to a mental facility where he remained locked up under the care of his psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis. Fifteen years later, Michael has waited for this day to arrive and plans his escape to return home and continue his senseless murdering rampage… his target is now aimed at three teenagers babysitting on the night of Halloween… the night that started it all.

By far, the first real film I saw that scared the crap out of me and made me appreciate the craft of true horror film making. Director John Carpenter would go on to make other classics like THE FOG and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but he will always be recognized for creating the ‘slasher’ genre. Shortly thereafter, films like FRIDAY THE 13th, MY BLOODY VALENTINE and PROM NIGHT were released. Carpenter not only wrote and directed the film, but he also co- wrote, co- produced and performed the eerie soundtrack as well.
 
First Runner Up: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990): Here is a remake done right! Make-up artist virtuoso, Tom Savini (FRIDAY THE 13th, DAWN OF THE DEAD, CREEPSHOW) directs this revamp with original director’s George Romero’s blessing. It is the same storyline, punctuated with a little more intensity and drama… oh and plenty of gore, too! Who doesn’t like zombie films? Romero has been doing them since 1968. With recent films like SHAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND, it seems as if the genre is not ready to die off just yet.

Whew! That was a workout! Now comes the easier part of the blog… determining the top 3 worst horror films. Moreover, please note that all of them are all re-makes that shouldn’t have been made. I give you…

The “Top 3” Worst Horror Films:

3. FRIDAY THE 13th (2009): What is the premise for re-making horror classics? Is it to show the alleged improvements in make- up and special effect to reveal more blood and gore? Maybe it’s to reshape and build on the storyline or maybe to give an intellectual approach to the psyche of a deranged individual and his forethought into his reasoning’s? Nah! It was to make money at any cost! Is today’s audience this gullible? Will they buy into anything and throw money out the window? In adding- in more violence, the removal of character development was evident. The original drew out a great twist of a story and the premise of using a camp site was creepy.  

2. PSYCHO (1998): A ridiculous and unnecessary remake if ever there was one. Can today’s audience not deal with the classic black and white to the point that we have to shoot the same film over again in color and with less- than talented actors? The answer is ‘yes.’ The story was the same, the photography was drawn from the same and the dialog is the same…hell, even the soundtrack is the same! What isn’t the same is the obvious absence of Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and the direction and flare of Alfred Hitchcock!  

1. HALLOWEEN (2007): By far, the biggest crock of crap remade from a classic that didn’t need to be re-vamped. Director Rob Zombie made a huge ‘miss’ in his interpretation of the earlier exploits to help explain what may have caused Michael to become the murderer he would be. His vision is stereotypical in every case and misses the point entirely from what Carpenter’s vision was trying to create. The innocence of Michael’s middle- class upbringing in Carpenter’s film interprets as being more frightening because it just means that this could happen to anyone in any place. Zombie plays it off to a household enviornment plagued with a stripper mom, a drunken and abusive man living in home with them and a promiscuous sister. The home is a door- frame shy of a redneck trailer and the house is literally a target site for f-bombs dropped all too often.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Much agreed Jer - this is without a doubt the right time of the year to dive into the horror-film genre. I will try to respond with my top-10 here spanning a wide array of decades.

I will mention off the bat that "Nightmare on Elm Street” does not make my top-10 list and probably does not even reach my top-100 for a variety of reasons...primarily comprising a poor script, a dull pace and tone and performances that are sub-par to marginal at best.

Now for Chazz's Top-10:


10. "HALLOWEEN": This film is certainly a favorite running topic of my C.C. "Counterpart" Jer - and rightfully so. This perhaps ranks as one of the top American horror films ever made for so many reasons. The "teen" aspect of it hurts the ranking on my list however - and the plot is somewhat predictable. Still, the film is intense, graphic, horrifying and leaves you looking over your shoulders and around every corner on the way home. Also, how can we ever replace that chilling piano "melody" pieced together and holding the audience in a strangle for the duration of the film? The lighting is effective, the sets are purposeful and the performances and the script work for, well - for what the film stands for. Not rocket-science, but Carpenter developed a classic in 1978 for all ages and for many, many generations of film-makers and supporting cast to come...
A wonderful video tribute for HALLOWEEN


9. "BLACK SUNDAY"(1960): Another wonderful, yet amazingly horrifying Italian masterpiece. Bava directs this classic which most film students have either studied in class or without a doubt during their spare time. The film is disturbing as the cover-art and the direction, hues, sound and performances as well as the sparkling script work on a high level. I always thought that this film would play at Midnight somewhere in every big city with such a cult-like and chilling aspect to it.......perhaps one day. Imagery is crucial to this film and it's resonance: the blood, the mask with the spikes, the coffin and the crucifix are all prime examples of tools used to engage the audience into the very aspect of Italian cinema: symbolism, Catholicism, romanticism and eroticism......what a bizarre list, but how honest should I be here? Bava created a virtual masterpiece here and forced audiences to stare right into the eyes of a demon for nearly 2 hours......just incredible stuff here.

8. "THE RING": America's attempt at re-making "Ringu". Nicely done, but the film comes up short in virtually every aspect - but please do not confuse this with meaning that the film is not high-quality. Naomi Watts is outstanding as always and how fresh it was to see her in what was a new genre for her as well...

#7: "NOSFERATU": The original and classic film that began a genre that will never die. All film students should focus on this film as the primary inspirations for directors over the ages. The uses of shadow and light are what create the balance and relay the "creep" factor of the film. The performances are also genuine - almost to the point where they seem too real. A must see, and a tremendous film-study for those of you who are very serious about film.
Watch, if you dare, this disturbing preview to the classic!

#6. "JU-ON": So many similarities with #8 on my list, but this was the inspiration for #8. A must-see in this horrifying genre and certainly one of the best films to ever come out of Japanese Studios over the years. The performances and direction are so carefully crafted executed with a narrative and story-line that gives nothing away to the audience- no charity here. How wonderful and refreshing this concept is in a genre that unnervingly "dummied" audiences down in the 1970's and 1980's in America (sorry, Jer.....but the truth must be told). Director Shimizu creates perhaps one of the most chilling tales and inspiring works of art ever witnessed on screen in the horror genre - and this film is slowly creeping up my list into the top-5 as we speak.....

#5. "JAWS": Did any horror film have the impact on summer beach crowds more than this one? Nobody went near the water after such terror was placed on screen. The script is quite good - very underrated on numerous counts; the sound is classic; the performances are real and genuine and the story thickens and involves all generations and film-goers. Is it a great film or a great movie? Movie probably - but that does not keep it out of the top-5 on my list. Thumbs way, way up here.......

#4. "THE FLY" (1986) Here is remake (refer to previous C.C. blogs) that tops the original 30 years prior. Cronenberg (director) succeeds in creating a dark, hallowing (not Halloween....ahem) and creepy atmosphere through subtle and evasive touches of tone, sound, language, lighting, crisp editing, timing and camerawork. Davis (Geena...but maybe Bette would have worked too....ahem) and Goldblum are a perfect complement of one another and the film continues to fascinate this critic every 3-4 months upon a thorough viewing. Great horror flick and one of the top re-makes of all time in any genre.

JER: OK, I totally missed JAWS and THE FLY... I deserved to be flogged! Please continue, JC...


JOHNNY CHAZZ: #3. "SUSPIRIA": Haunting, creepy, bizarre, eerie, very 70's, hip, cultish, Italian, sexy, erotic, very Foreign a bit corny and disturbing. A must-see for any "to-be" horror-film director of the future.


#2. "THE SHINING": Kubrick amazed us with prior works during “Fahrenheit’ and “A Clockwork Orange”, but this was a step in another direction from Sci-Fi and to complete and utter Horror. Don't get me wrong - his prior films still had a haunting presence i.e.: (‘Hal’ in “2001: Space Odyssey” etc.). Still, Kubrick makes social statements through the film medium and tells his stories without hesitation or remorse. Why should Kubrick apologize for anything he throws at us? Thus, it should be expected that "horror" would be such an engaging genre for such a risk-taking and highly creative and cerebral director. Thus, Stephen King's adaptation of his novel "The Shining" was brilliant on all counts. The behind the scenes aspects of the "making" of this film and the weather / other conditions that were experienced by the film crew are riveting! I purchased this DVD many years ago and it is safe to say that I visit it roughly 3-5 times a year. This remains a strong #2 on my list.


#1: "THE EXORCIST": Beautifully and carefully filmed, edited with performances that remain the most fruitful part of the film. “The Exorcist” is honest, plot-focused, emotional, spiritual, passionate, freaky and flat-out phenomenal. The effects are simply amazing, not to mention the wonderful Director's Cut released a few years back. It is, beyond a doubt one of the best period pieces ever filmed in this genre (Georgetown and the college / church & priesthood atmosphere) during the late 60's and early 70's. Let's call this film what it really is - the Horror film of all-time.
 A very provoking tribute to one of the greatest!

JER: A very disturbing and interesting list, if I ever I saw one! We hope that you enjoyed our first “horror”- themed blog for the month of October! What do you think? Are there any films that you feel belong on the Top 10? Let us know what they could be… tune in next week when JOHNNY CHAZZ has a chance to unearth something wicked! Until then, rest well, boils and ghouls and we will SEE YOU NEXT
WEDNESDAY!

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