The scares continue with part 2 of my favorite horror movies. Remember, horror comes in many different forms.
#7 – The Evil Dead (1981)
Quoted by Stephen King as the “most ferociously original film of the year,” The Evil Dead is the ultimate cabin in the woods film.
Five friends spend a weekend at a cabin high in the mountains of Tennessee. They come across the Necronomicon Ex-Morits, roughly translated as the book of the dead. Afterwards, horrible spirits awaken and torment them one by one.
What this film does very well is establish the threat of the evil dead. These demons don’t want to just kill these people, they want to torture them. They want to make their existence, for what they will become, as painful as possible.
Written and directed by Sam Raimi, and staring Bruce Campbell, this was the first film by the pair. Raising money from doing odd jobs, a crew made up of mostly friends and family, and terrible conditions. This is a perfect example of gorilla film making. Because of the low budget the actors did most of their own stunts, especially Bruce Campbell, which resulted in a few injuries.
Despite the troubles, this led to one of the best horror films and a cult classic
#6 – The Fly (1986)
“I’m working on something that will change the world and human life as we know it.”
This was the wish of scientist Seth Brundle, an intelligent but socially awkward guy. While at a press event he meets journalist Veronica Quaife, who is hoping to find an exciting story. Taking her back to his lab, he shows her his amazing invention, teleportation. Things go well until a simple house fly gets stuck in the machine during a test. Confused, the computer decides to splice the two together.
If you came across this on TV during the beginning I’d doubt you think this was a horror film. At first it feels like a drama peppered with science fiction. It takes its time to establish the characters and their relationship. When the horror starts, it’s terrifying and heartbreaking. This comes down to the great performances by Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. They are instantly likable and have great chemistry. In fact, they actually dated for awhile.
Smart writing, great makeup, which still holds up, and excellent acting. The Fly has it all. If body horror creeps you out, this is a must watch.
#5 – The Shining (1980)
We can’t talk horror without mentioning this Stanley Kubrick classic.
Taking a job as the winter caretaker for the Overlook hotel, Jack Torrance is hoping that the solitude will be the perfect chance to work on his writing. He’s joined by his wife Wendy and son Danny. Danny has a unique ability called “shining” that gives him psychic powers. Through this, he see’s into the hotels disturbing past and the fate of the previous caretakers family.
Rather then making a completely faithful adaptation to the novel, Kubrick took the foundation of that story and made it his own. The film makes you second guess as to whether the forces the family are seeing are real or just a symptom of cabin fever. Jack Nicholson is excellent as the unhinged Jack Torrance, as you’d expect.
Stephen King purists may hate how the movie deviates from the novel, but for the rest of us, this is not only one of the best horror movies, it’s easily Kubrick’s best.
#4 – Evil Dead 2 (1987)
We return to the creepy cabin in the woods with a film that is part sequel and part remake. After surviving the night against the demonic horde, Ash must brave the evil dead once again. When talking about The Evil Dead series, this is the one that stands out for most people. It introduced the series trademark comedy and Ash’s iconic chainsaw arm.
After making the original film, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell wanted to move on to other projects. Their next film was called Crimewave. But due to studio interference and creative differences, it was a massive bomb upon release. After that disaster and no other option, Raimi decided to make another Evil Dead.
Rather then doing straight horror again, Sam and Bruce wanted the sequel to be more of a horror comedy.
Initially there was a debate as to whether Evil Dead 2 was just a sequel or a remake. The plan was to do a recap at the start, using footage from the first film. Unfortunately they couldn’t get the rights because it was owned by a different company. Instead it was “reimagined and recreated.” Which basically means that due to time and money only Ash and his girlfriend Linda (who was recast) are in the new recap. At the time audiences thought Ash was dumb enough to go back to the cabin with a new girlfriend.
This was later followed by a third movie, Army of Darkness, which I feel lost too much of what made the first and especially the second great; the horror and gore. The comedy was still there but it was more tamed. It felt like diet Evil Dead 2, if that makes sense. Luckily the Starz network brought back the series in 2015. Taking place long after the movies, the show returns to its creepy, funny, and gory roots.
If I had to summarize I’d say that Evil Dead 2 is like a really fun haunted house ride; you laugh and get scared.
#3 – Aliens (1986)
After losing contact with a colony in the middle of space, a team of marines are sent in to investigate. These soldiers are suppose to be the best of the best, they can handle anything. But they soon come across something that they have never faced before. Accompanying them is Ellen Ripely, a woman whose had dealings with the aliens before. Only she will be able to keep everyone together and hopefully escape.
Blown away by the original, James Cameron wanted to do a sequel that advanced the story of Ripley while also taking it in a different direction. Personally I feel that most sequels, especially in horror, fail to live up to the first one because they try so hard to replicate them. Cameron wanted to avoid that. Rather than doing Gothic horror, he chose to make an action movie within a horror setting. This gives the film its own identity
We get to know more about Ripley as a character. She obviously has some PTSD from before, as one would expect. The aliens have directly and indirectly effected her life and you feel that in the first twenty minutes.
Aliens is a prime example on how to do a sequel while also standing on its own two feet.
#2 – John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
The number 2 spot also happens to be my favorite John Carpenter film.
A research team stationed in Antarctica come across a strange creature buried deep in the ice. After examining it they discover, too late, that the creature has the ability to assimilate and then imitate anything it touches on a cellular level.
Paranoia and tension soon rises as everyone starts to turn on one another, questioning who is really human and who is the thing.
The film is a remake of the 1951 original, The Thing From Another World, and both are based on the 1938 novella Who Goes There?. Carpenter was initially reluctant to make the movie because he was such a fan of the first. When he finally agreed to do it, he made the decision to make his version more close to the novella. The creature in the first one was more like a Frankenstein monster rather then the imitator.
The effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Artist Rob Bottin came up with the concept that the creature could look like anything. Instead of having one default appearance, it would be an amalgamation of all the things its ever imitated, on earth and anywhere else. Some have shown their age but on the whole, they hold up very well.
It bombed critically and commercially during its original release. Reasons for its failure was duo to the competition of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and the fact that people were going through a recession at the time. Audiences were turned off by its nihilistic tone, instead preferring movies that were more optimistic.
I’m happy that public opinion has changed over the years.
We’re near the end of the list. Check back on Halloween where I’ll reveal my favorite horror movie.