Tag Archives: Top 20 Horror films

The Innocents-1961

The Innocents-1961

Director-Jack Clayton

Starring-Deborah Kerr

Top 100 Films-#98        Top 20 Horror Films- #19

Reviewed April 29, 2017

Grade: A

The Innocents is a 1961 British, psychological horror film, that is a ghost story, of sorts, and based on the novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. The film, though clearly horror, contains few of the traditional horror elements, such as contrived frights, jumps, and blood. Rather, the film succeeds by using lighting and magnificent cinematography by Freddie Francis. And, of course, wonderful story-telling and direction from Jack Clayton.

Deborah Kerr gives a wonderful turn as a beleaguered governess hired by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) to tend to his young niece and nephew- Flora and Miles. The setting is a lavish, yet creepy, mansion somewhere outside of London. As the Uncle goes away to India on business, Miss Giddens, with no previous experience, is left to tend to Flora and Miles, who both begin acting strangely. To complicate matters, Miss Giddens begins to see sinister ghosts lurking around the property. The ghosts are former servants of the household, who have died, in which Miss Giddens has never met before. Miss Giddens is assisted only by the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who fills her in on the servants tragic deaths.

The Innocents, shot in black and white, a very wise decision in my book, uses sound to its advantage and combined with the interesting camera angles and focus shots- mostly of the ghosts Miss Giddens sees, makes the film unique and downright scary. As she begins by hearing strange voices, she becomes convinced that Miles and Flora are playing tricks on her, engaging in mischievous games. The sounds of the whispers are quite haunting and do wonders for the affects and chills it will undoubtedly give the viewer as the film moves along.

The question all throughout the film is whether Miss Giddens is imagining the voices and visions, or if this is true reality. Could the children be sinister and be playing a vicious prank on her? Could Mrs. Grose be evil? Certainly, nobody else within the household sees or hears anything amiss- or admits to it.

Kerr, a treasured actress, plays the part with emotional facial expressions and true fear, so much so that she will win the audience over, as we side and empathize with her character. Still, is she a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown? Does she have past mental problems? Like the uncle, we know nothing of her past, only that she claims to be a minister’s daughter. How then does she have stylish, expensive clothes? Could she only be pretending to be a governess? Has she run away from her past?

The Turn of the Screw is a true ghost story, but The Innocents is a bit different- it relies, successfully, as more of a character driven story. As Miss Giddens becomes convinced that both children have become possessed by the spirits of the servants, she makes it her mission to rescue the children from the spirits. We have an ominous feeling that events will not end well and they most certainly do not.

Several scenes will frighten the viewer- as Miss Giddens sees a haggard ghost (the female servant) quietly standing in the distance near a lake as Flora dances chirpily, the image of the faraway ghost figure is eerie and well-shot. In this way, the film draws comparisons to the classic Hitchcock film, Rebecca, as each are British, taking place in large mansions, and feature dead characters as complex villains. Also, in each film, the main characters sanity is in question.

With a compelling story and the nuts and bolts surrounding the story to add clever effects and a chilling conclusion to the film, the film succeeds as a wonderful and smart horror film. With great acting all around, including great performances by the child actors, The Innocents scares the daylights out of any horror fan, and uses exterior and interior scenes to make the film an all around marvel.

My Bloody Valentine-1981

My Bloody Valentine-1981

Director-George Mihalka

Starring-Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier

Top 20 Horror Films-#20

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Grade: A

Reviewed May 15, 2016

My Bloody Valentine is a perfect slasher film to watch on the romantic holiday of Valentine’s Day or, in fact, any day during the cold and snowy month of February. The film sort of loses something if watched during summer or any other time of the year, since the dark and harsh feeling of the film is perfect atmosphere if watched appropriately.

In my opinion, My Bloody Valentine is an underrated gem of the early 1980’s- just as Black Christmas was to the 1970’s- and both ironically are heralded so by directors such as Quentin Tarantino. Other less gritty films of this nature received greater exposure and commercial success, but I am proud to name My Bloody Valentine as one of my Top 100 favorite films. Both are also “holiday themed” films.

The plot is basic, yet layered, with a unique setting. Rather than a creepy house, a summer camp, or some other tried and true device, we have the ingenious coal mine setting- immediately fraught with great potential. Think about it- a coal mine is dark, suffocating, creepy, with countless secret passages, the fear of being lost, and running out of oxygen. It is also underground where help can easily be unobtainable. The town is aptly named Valentine Bluff (how clever) so Valentine’s Day is a major holiday. The Mayor and police chief figure prominently in the story and the use of town history makes the film engaging.

Typical for the slasher genre we have a bunch of horny teens, partying to the max, who decide that the coal mine is the perfect place to throw a Valentine’s Day party, and they do so with gusto. There are a few middle-aged characters with meaty stuff to do, and the main plot is of the whodunit sort. The killer’s get up is simply genius. He (or she) is wearing a miner’s outfit, completely dark, with an oxygen mask, which elicits a heavy breathing sound adding to the great atmosphere that My Bloody Valentine contains.

One of my favorite scenes involves the offing of Mabel Osbourne, the earnest, sweet-natured party planner, who excitedly is preparing the annual Valentine’s day town dance. She marvels at receiving a box of chocolates with a wonderful poem until she reads the poem. “Roses are red, violets are blue- two are dead and so are you”! Poor Mabel then has her heart removed and it is sent (gift wrapped naturally) to the Mayor and police chief. The scene is both horrific and comical.

My Bloody Valentine is a favorite of the genre for me and actually cascades that genre with its bloodiness, fun storytelling, and wicked charm.

Suspiria-1977

Suspiria-1977

Director-Dario Argento

Starring-Jessica Harper

Top 100 Films-#54     Top 20 Horror Films-#14

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Reviewed July 10, 2016

Grade: A

Suspiria is a horror masterpiece, made in 1977, by my favorite Italian horror director, Dario Argento. A combination of complex storytelling, glossy colors, and a unique art direction, make this film a treasure and an influence in “the look” of a film attempting to achieve an interesting art direction choice. The color red is highly prevalent throughout Suspiria, which makes sense due to the subject matter of witchcraft and demons. The musical score is brilliant and chilling. This film is perfect and one of my favorites.

The film takes place in Germany and the opening sequence is fantastic. We meet our heroine, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), an American ballet student, as she arrives in blustery Munich to attend a prestigious ballet school. The shot of the driving wind and rain as she exits the airport are a great example of the ultimate style of this film. Suzy meets a creepy taxi driver who drives her to the school, where she witnesses a frantic student, Pat Hingle, fleeing the school. Suzy is then denied access to the school by a mysterious voice over the intercom.  The focus of the film then shifts briefly to Pat’s perspective as she meets a sinister fate when she stays with a friend.

One fantastic aspect of Suspiria is we know something is wrong with the ballet academy, we just do not know what or who it involves. With great creativity, Dario Argento builds a set that is modern, sophisticated, but laced with underlying menace. As we meet the supporting characters, Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), we know something is not right with them either. Blanc is kindhearted; Tanner is a drill sergeant, but both seem to have something to hide and claim to know nothing of Pat’s terror. There is also Daniel, the blind piano player, whose seeing eye dog suddenly turns vicious.

The plot is complex and does not always make perfect sense, but the elements of Suspiria make it a masterpiece.  Pat’s death scene is laced with greatness as she dangles from a high glass ceiling dripping blood. Her hysterical friend is sliced to bits by the falling glass. This is the best double-death scene in horror film history.

When creepy maggots invade the school leaving the girls feeling for safety, the film goes all out. A later scene involving Suzy’s best friend and fellow student, Sarah, attempting to flee the school via the basement, only to struggle in a pit of razor wire is splendid.

Much of Suspiria is dubbed in English mainly due to the actors either speaking German or Italian, but Jessica Harper and Joan Bennett have distinguishable voices, which lend texture and richness to the dialogue.

Suspiria is a grand horror film, not solely for its mysterious story, but for all the added components that Argento throws into the mix- strange characters, weird sets, and the heavy dose of blood red- pretty fitting.

The Omen-1976

The Omen-1976

Director-Richard Donner

Starring-Gregory Peck, Lee Remick

Top 100 Films-#67     Top 20 Horror Films-#18

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Reviewed February 24, 2017

Grade: A

On the heels of similarly themed supernatural horror films, and all three classics in my view, The Omen follows suit with the religious minded terrifying piece that resembles both The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. In fact, all three films are cherished gems and favorite horror films of mine. Clearly, The Omen (last to be released) is quite possibly the weaker entry having taken much from the other two films, and at the forefront is a child encompassed by devilish forces. But to say “weaker” implies it is not good, which is not the case- The Omen is a masterpiece.

Set mostly in London, the film actually begins in Rome. Gregory Peck plays a powerful diplomat, Robert Thorn. Robert’s wife, Katherine (Lee Remick), has just given birth to a baby, who dies. Unbeknownst to her, Robert and a priest have taken a newborn whose mother has just died, thereby fooling Katherine into thinking she has delivered a healthy baby boy. They name their child Damien. Soon, Robert is named U.S. Ambassador of the United Kingdom- an astounding honor, but his and Katherine’s lives spin out of control when strange events begin to occur surrounding Damien, and they realize the child is not “right”.

I adore the many aspects of The Omen. The locale of sophisticated and royal London is perfect. The Thorn’s live in a grand, palatial estate just oozing with possible horror elements. During a vast party for little Damien’s fifth birthday, the attendees are gathered on the perfectly manicured grounds of the Thorn home. It is a bright and cheery afternoon. Suddenly, from the top floor bedroom window, Damien’s fresh faced nanny publicly hangs herself from the window proudly shouting, “This is all for you Damien”! This scene is one of the most horrific and surprising scenes in the film. When Damien’s new nanny shows up, she is off-putting and sinister. The inclusion of a pack of black dogs hovering around the estate is fiendish, and an innocent trip to the zoo results in the scared animals fleeing from Damien as if he is the anti-christ, which of course, he is revealed to be.

Fantastic is the religious element of The Omen, a sure measure to frighten and freak out audiences brave enough to watch this film. Who will not be on edge as a sweet looking little kid is assumed to be the devil?  Religious elements in horror have been prevalent through the ages, and hardly work better than they do in The Omen. Perhaps it is the Italian and British accents and settings that add layers of fear to the film?

What I love most about the film is its cynicism. The Omen is not a happy film by any means, nor does it result in a happy ending- Satan wins in the end. Two memorable scenes are the pole through the heart of the priest scene and the gruesome decapitation of a photographer by a sheet of glass. In both scenes Satan causes the deaths.

The finale of the film is incredibly compelling and downright shocking- the face off of Robert and Damien in a church and the prevailing conclusion sets the stage for a sequel, which of course there was more than one. The sinister smile at the end of the film is immeasurable in its evil nature. The Omen is a film that I love to watch and revel in fright when the chills start to creep up my back. What a fantastic film.

The Exorcist-1973

The Exorcist-1973

Director-William Friedkin

Starring-Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair

Top 100 Films-#39    Top 20 Horror Films-#13

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Reviewed February 11, 2017

Grade: A

Making a lasting mark on cinematic history and impossible not to be familiar with through some form of pop culture, The Exorcist is a classic supernatural horror film that transcends the genre to become a Hollywood success story. Along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, these three films have similarly haunting “religious” subject matters and deal with dark and sinister topics such as “god versus the devil” and “good versus evil”. The Exorcist is a masterpiece on every level and is adapted from the 1971 hit novel of the same name.

The story centers on “demonic possession” and was quite simply a shocking subject when The Exorcist was released in 1973, scaring the wits out of those brave enough to see it (especially Christians) everywhere. Some abhorred the subject matter and refused to have any part of the film-their loss.

Ellen Burstyn stars as Chris MacNeil, an actress of note who moves to Georgetown to film a movie. In tow is her twelve year old daughter Regan (Linda Blair). As shooting on the film wraps, Regan begins acting very strangely- making noises, becoming belligerent, and peeing on the floor during a dinner party. Worried, Chris enlists the assistance of priests (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller). Things progress from bad to worse as Regan spirals out of control and Chris and the priests determine that an exorcism is the only resolution to the problem.

The Exorcist-mainly director William Freidkin sets up the film in a clever way by using various technical elements to build the tension. For starters, the eerie musical score is highly successful at scaring the audience and the score is similar to that of Rosemary’s Baby. The film is also lit very well, so it appears dark with dim lighting- the cinematography and the windy rustling of leaves in the exterior sets is great. The cover art of the film should give an indication of the unique style used- black and white, a man with a hat and suitcase peers up at the second floor of a house where a glowing light is illuminating- the image is intriguing and haunting.

Enough cannot be said for Linda Blair’s performance as Regan, especially in the final act. Certainly, during the “pea soup” and the “jesus crucifix” scenes a different voice was used, but the facial expressions and the emotions that Blair uses are admirable. As Regan is bed-ridden, angry, scared, and emotional, there is no limit to Blair’s range. Throughout a large part of the film she is a sweet, young girl- innocent, so much so that her transformation is both shocking and disturbing to witness.

The final act of the film- the “exorcism” is riveting and a groundbreaking aspect of film history. The terrifying scene all taking place in one child’s tiny bedroom elicits fright and is nail-biting beyond belief. The Exorcist is a very influential film that inspired filmmakers for decades to come and still resonates with audiences to this day.

Carrie-1976

Carrie-1976

Director-Brian De Palma

Starring-Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie

Top 100 Films-#37     Top 20 Horror Films-#12

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Reviewed September 25, 2016

Grade: A

Carrie is a horror film from 1976 that is adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same name. Many King adaptations have been fails, but Carrie (along with The Shining) is among the best. Going beyond the scope of horror and receiving more than one major Oscar nomination (largely unheard of in horror), Carrie influenced films and filmmakers for decades beyond release. This is largely due to the dream-like and breathtaking direction of mood master Brian De Palma.

By this time (2016), the film and the character of Carrie White are legendary. Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is a lonely suburban teenager, ostracized by her classmates for being “weird”. Her mother (Piper Laurie) is a devout Christian who spreads the word of god amongst the neighbors. Carrie has a special ability to move things, usually during anger- this is called telekinesis. After a humiliating incident in the girls locker room when Carrie begins menstruating, one of the nicer girls in the class, Sue Snell (Amy Irving) feels sorry for Carrie and convinces her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to take Carrie to the prom. When others in the class take revenge upon Carrie with a sick joke, things take a horrific turn.

Betty Buckley as the empathetic gym teacher, Miss Collins, and John Travolta and Nancy Allen, as dastardly Billy and Chris, also star and are perfectly cast.

The direction in the film is second to none. De Palma adds interesting camera work throughout the film. During a tender, lovely prom dance between Carrie and Tommy, the camera circles the pair repeatedly, giving a spellbinding, but not dizzying quality. The use of slow motion in the important “pig blood” scene is immeasurably effective. The seemingly eternal time it takes for the blood spilling to occur, the camera (in slow motion) goes from Sue to Miss Collins to Chris to the bucket of blood is fantastic. The list of inspired and intense scenes go on and on- from the climactic scene between Carrie and Mrs. White to the “jump out of your seat” final scene.

The acting is also worthy of high praise. Spacek and Laurie deservedly received Oscar nominations for their work. Spacek elicits so much rooting value into her role with a shred of psychosis bubbling just beneath the surface. Carrie wants to fit in and have a happy life so the audience is immersed in her corner and celebrates her short-lived happiness with Tommy at the prom. Spacek is just perfectly cast. Laurie on the other hand, exudes crazy in every sense, but we do feel pangs of sympathy for her. We largely believe she cares for her daughter and wants to protect her from the dangerous world.

Carrie is a masterpiece that continues to hold up well and influence generations who can relate to school bullying,  taunting, and the desire to see the nasty popular kids get their just desserts. More than a great horror film, it is a revered classic with a dreamy, moody vibe. One of my all-time favorites.

The Silence of the Lambs-1991

The Silence of the Lambs-1991

Director-Jonathan Demme

Starring-Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster

Top 100 Films-#31     Top 20 Horror Films-#9

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Reviewed February 9, 2017

Grade: A

The Silence of the Lambs has the honorary achievement of being one of only three films to win the top five Oscar statuettes, having been awarded Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins) and Best Actress (Jodie Foster) at the 1991 Oscar ceremonies. This is no small feat, especially considering the film was released in March (not an Oscar happy month) and is a horror film. These elements speak volumes for the level of mastery that is The Silence of the Lambs and the film holds up incredibly well as the years go by. The film was a sleeper hit at the time of release and gradually built momentum throughout the year, becoming a phenomenon and forever a classic.

The film is adapted from the novel of the same name- written by Thomas Harris and, despite being a horror film, contains little gore. The film stars Foster as Clarice Starling, and FBI trainee, sent by her superiors to interview the infamous Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal, “The Cannibal”, is a highly intelligent former psychiatrist who has been banished to a maximum security insane asylum after having been found guilty of killing and eating his victims. The FBI hopes that Hannibal will aid them in a current case involving “Buffalo Bill”, a serial killer who skins his female victims.

Hannibal and Clarice embark on an intense and strange relationship in which he gets under her skin and questions her unhappy childhood in exchange for information about “Buffalo Bill”. This relationship leaves Clarice vulnerable, though the pair develop a strong connection. As Hannibal makes more and more demands in exchange for information, he eventually escapes form custody and a chilling and bizarre escape.

The psychological elements and the intense relationship between Hannibal and Clarice are of monumental importance and Hopkins and Foster share amazing chemistry. Hopkins gives a top notch and downright creepy performance as the cannibalistic killer. His mannerisms stiff and calculating, his tone of voice monotone, he simply embodies his character, making him a legendary and recognizable presence in film history. Two memorable lines that he utters are, “I do wish we could chat longer, but I am having an old friend for dinner.”, and “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”.

The character of “Buffalo Bill” is as terrifying as Hannibal Lecter. Portrayed by Ted Levine, the character is maniacal, sexually confused, and otherwise downtrodden. A tailor, he aspires to make a full “woman suit” costume out of his victims skin. His current hostage, a Senator’s daughter, is kept confined in an old well and terrorized by Bill’s antics. His famous line, “It puts the lotion on or it gets the hose again” still terrifies.

Highly influential, mimicked for years to come, and containing multiple lines and characters permanently etched in film history, The Silence of The Lambs is a classic not soon forgotten. The film was followed by multiple sequels, none of which comes close to the power and psychological complexities of the original.

The Shining-1980

The Shining-1980

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall

Top 100 Films-#20     Top 20 Horror Films-#7

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Reviewed November 20, 2016

Grade: A

The Shining is one of the great horror masterpieces of all time. Released in 1980 and atypical of the slasher craze that was running rampant at that time, the film is a psychological ghost story with frightening elements including musical score, long camera shots, and a haunting grandiose hotel in a deserted locale. Without the brilliant direction of Stanley Kubrick, The Shining would not be the masterpiece that it is- to say nothing of the talents of Nicholson and Duvall in the lead roles. Based on the popular horror novel by Stephen King.

Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, an author and alcoholic, who takes his wife Wendy (Duvall) and son Danny to serve as caretakers at the vast Overlook hotel- for the winter in snowy Colorado. The lavish hotel will be deserted for the season and Jack looks forward to months of peace and quite which will enable him to complete his novel. Unfortunately, the hotel is haunted by spirits of the past, and the added burden of the previous caretaker going mad and chopping his family to bits with an ax.

The real success of The Shining is that the hotel itself is really a character and has nuances of its own. The hotel is deathly quiet as the Torrances take over for the season as long hallways are featured and the forbidden Room 237 takes on a life of its own. Creepy images of two young girls and red blood gushing from the elevators take over. Young Danny is able to communicate with the chef without speaking to each other. Jack imagines a gorgeous nude woman in the bathtub only to discover she is really a shriveled old hag.

The films cinematography coupled with the looming, morose, musical score perfectly go hand in and hand and, in my opinion, are the reasons for the films success. Throughout the film there is a sense of dread and a forbidden presence that works beautifully. The very first scene is an aerial shot of the Torrances driving along a mountainous road to be interviewed for the caretaker position. The vast land and mountains as we eventually see the Overlook immediately reveal to us the feeling of isolation, which is really what the film is about. These exterior scenes are also gorgeous to marvel at.

The crisp, gloomy, winter scenes and the endless maze of animal shrubbery come into play during the films final act as Jack, now completely mad, chases Danny throughout the snowy paths that seemingly lead to nowhere. The catch phrase, “Here’s Johnny!”, that is uttered from an ax wielding Nicholson, is permanently ensconced in the relics of pop culture.

Nicholson and Duvall have such dynamic and palpable on-screen chemistry that makes the film work from a character perspective. There is something slightly off with each of the characters, readily apparent from the outset, but that is more to do with each actor being rather non-traditional in appearance. I can imagine no other actors in these roles.

Author, Stephen King, who reportedly despised the film version of his novel, has since grown to respect the film and Kubrick’s direction, a great deal. The Shining is one of my favorite horror films in addition to being one of my favorite films of all time.

Black Christmas-1974

Black Christmas-1974

Director-Bob Clark

Starring-Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder

Top 100 Films-#36     Top 20 Horror Films-#11

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Reviewed December 29, 2015

Grade: A

Black Christmas is one of my favorite horror films of all time and, in my opinion, an under-appreciated classic.  Somehow it is just not the first, second, or third film mentioned when most discuss the influential horror films of years past. I make sure to watch it each holiday season. It largely influenced Halloween (another love of mine) from the killer point of view camera shots to the seasonal element. It is quite horrifying in several key scenes, in fact, and I am proud to list it as one of favorite films. Black Christmas is a must-see for fans of the horror genre.

The setting (a cold and snowy Christmas) is perfect and the film is shot quite dark. There are Christmas lights and carolers for a great winter holiday effect. Most of the film takes place at night and the location is primarily inside a huge, rather creepy, sorority house. The ambiance is well thought out.

Several sorority girls, led by boozy Barb (Margot Kidder) and sweet-natured Jess (Olivia Hussey), prepare to depart for the holiday season by having a small farewell Christmas party. Recently, the girls have been harassed by a prank caller spouting nonsensical gibberish on a daily basis. As in true horror fashion, the girls are systematically offed one by one as events turn dire. Two sub-plots which ultimately merge with the central plot include Jess’s pregnancy by suspicious boyfriend Peter, and the search in the park for a missing young girl.

The best part of Black Christmas is that it is an honest, raw film, made on a small budget, that does not include gimmicks or contrivances. It has authenticity. A disturbing film for sure,  one victim being posed in a rocking chair continuously rocking back and forth next to the attic window, while said victim is bound in plastic wrap, holding a doll, mouth and eyes wide, is one of the most chilling in horror film history. The nuances of the killer also scare and the brilliance of this is that his motivations are mysterious and unclear (in large part the success of Michael Meyers as well). We never fully see the killer except his shape and eyes, and that is the brilliance of the film.

The one slight negative to the film is the decision to make the cops appear incompetent. The desk sergeant in particular is a complete dope- one wonders how he got his job- as a sexual joke by one of the girls goes over his head while the other detectives laugh like fools. Why is this necessary? I suppose for comic relief, but isn’t that the purpose of Mrs. Mac, the overweight, boozy sorority mother?  Her constant treasure hunt for hidden booze (the toilet, inside a book) are comical and fun. And her posing and posturing in front of the mirror (she is a very frumpy, average woman) are a delight and balance the heavy drama.

The conclusion of Black Christmas is vague and fantastic and works very well. Due, once again, to the police errors, the final victims fate is left unclear as we see her in a vulnerable state, unaware that the killer is looming nearby. We only hear a ringing phone and wonder what happens next.

My admiration for Black Christmas only grows upon each viewing as I am once again compelled, noticing more and more ingenious nuances to the film. Can’t wait until next Christmas to watch it again.

Frenzy-1972

Frenzy-1972

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Jon Finch, Barry Foster

Top 100 Films-#24     Top 20 Horror Films-#8    

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Reviewed May 16, 2015

Grade: A

Frenzy is a latter day Alfred Hitchcock film that returns the masterful director to his roots of London, England, Hitchcock’s country of origin, and where his early films were made. As with numerous other Hitchcock stories, the protagonist is falsely accused of a murder and struggles mightily to prove his innocence before time runs out and he meets his doom. The film is quite British, with an entirely British cast, and mixes in a humorous side story of the primary investigator’s wife, a horrid cook, who prepares exotic, yet tasteless meals for her husband. This comic relief perfectly balances the heavy drama encompassing the main murder story as Frenzy is one of Hitchcock’s most violent and graphic. Made in 1972- post movie sanctions, he was able to get away with much more explicit content.

A neck-tie murderer, who also rapes his female victims, is on the loose in London. In the opening sequence we see a dead woman floating in the Thames river during broad daylight, nude, except for a neck-tie that she has been strangled with. A crowd of spectators races to see what all the fuss is. We then meet the central character of the film- down on his luck bartender Richard Blaney, who is fired from his job as a bartender by his hateful boss. Blaney has a loyal girlfriend in Babs, a bar maid at the same local watering hole. Babs is sexy, yet plain. He also has a successful ex-wife, Brenda, who runs a dating company. Blaney regularly sponges money and dinners from Brenda. Also in the picture is successful fruit-market trader, Bob Rusk, who is a friend of Blaney’s. All four of these central characters have much to do with the main plot.

As events begin to unfold, the film is not a whodunit as traditionally it could have been. Instead, the audience knows very quickly who the murderer is and his motivations, which is an interesting twist in itself. Regardless of this knowledge, the film is quite compelling as a classic Hitchcock horror thriller.

It is interesting for Hitchcock fans to compare this film with many of his earlier works. Released in 1972, at a point in film history where aforementioned censors were much more lax, it is the first Hitchcock film to feature nudity. It is also the film of Hitchcock’s that features the most brutal rape/murder scene of all, surpassing the shower scene from Psycho, in my opinion. The victims ordeal is prolonged, as she begins praying, thinking she will only be raped, at first unaware that her attacker is also the neck-tie murderer and her life is running short. This leads to a sad, gruesome outcome for her.

One of the most interesting murder scenes actually takes place off camera and is an ingenious idea by Hitchcock. The neck-tie murderer lures a victim to his apartment complex under the guise of being a friend of hers. They walk upstairs to his unit and go inside, all the while the camera remains poised outside of the apartment so the viewer only imagines the horrors occurring inside. The camera then slowly goes back down the stairs and out onto the street and looks up at the murderer’s window. The fact that the victim is one of the principal characters makes ones imagination run wild as to what is transpiring inside the apartment and the viewer is filled with grief. This is a brilliant choice by Hitchcock and so terribly effective to the story.

Another great scene is the potato truck sequence. As the neck-tie murderer has dumped his victim, like garbage, into a potato sack, he is panicked to realize that she has taken his pin from his jacket and presumably clenched it in her fist as a clue, despite her demise. What will he do now? The long scene features the murderer inside the potato truck attempting to unclench his pin from her hand and escape the moving truck without being caught. It is my favorite scene in Frenzy.

Frenzy is a return to triumph for Hitchcock, after the complex Topaz and Torn Curtain, underappreciated political thrillers made a few years before this film. He returns to the horror genre like gangbusters throwing some good, sophisticated British humor into his recipe for good measure. What a treat this film is.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-1974

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-1974

Director-Tobe Hooper

Starring-Marilyn Burns

Top 100 Films-#35 

Top 20 Horror Films-#10

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#5                                                          

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Reviewed December 31, 2014

Grade: A

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the grittiest, raw, frightening horror films that I have ever seen and still holds up incredibly well in present times. Containing a documentary-like look it is incredibly scary in its grainy, visual, real-life feel. It is not psychological horror- it is in your face, brutal horror. The perception of an incredibly hot, sticky, backwoods Texas summer is incredibly well done and only adds to the terror.

A group of five teenagers travel to the vast fields of Texas- aka- the middle of nowhere, presumably on a road trip. On their drive they pick up a strange hitchhiker who ends up stabbing one of the teens and cutting his own arm. Spooked by this odd occurrence, they stop for gas and directions, but veer off course and accidentally wind up at a slaughterhouse owned by cannibals. The group of teens is led by Sally Hardesty, played by Marilyn Burns.

As the teens are chopped off in grotesque fashion, similar to a slew of similar fashioned, but less interesting horror films to follow, Sally winds up the lone survivor of the group. Burns plays the first “final girl”, a title made famous in horror films as the last female remaining alive- it was almost always a female- to take on the maniacal killer.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre features one of the horror genre’s best villains- Leatherface. The viewer knows little about him as he does not speak- is he mentally disabled? Is he an intelligent man? He is disguised behind a mask made of strewn together human skin and wields a scary chain saw. We know nothing about him- only that he loves to kill. The ambiguity is immeasurable.

Besides the way that the film is shot, another shocking element is the reality of the story. Could this really happen to the viewer? The answer is yes of course it could. How many times have we been driving and gotten lost in surroundings unfamiliar to us? There are no supernatural beings or CGI effects in this film- only a group of youngsters crossing paths with maniacs and this could happen in real-life. This realization adds to the fright.

The famous- or infamous- dinner scene is revolutionary in disgust and distaste. The family attempts to serve Sally as dessert to the elderly patriarch and as he begins to suck blood from Sally’s finger, it will force the squeamish to turn away.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a short film, running at only 84 minutes, but the breathtaking finale- Sally running through the endless woods followed by Leatherface, seems interminable. Will he catch her? How can she possibly escape?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is dirty, ugly, and intense. It is no-holds barred brutality. It is one of the best horror films ever made.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?-1962

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?-1962

Director-Robert Aldrich

Starring-Bette Davis, Joan Crawford

Top 100 Films-#71     Top 20 Horror Films-#18

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Reviewed November 14, 2014

Grade: A

Kicking off a trend, prominent throughout the 1960’s, of aging Hollywood actresses starring in horror films (interestingly Bette Davis and Joan Crawford each did two- the others being Dead Ringer and Strait-Jacket), with varying degrees of success, Baby Jane is top of the heap.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, directed by Robert Aldrich, stars aforementioned Davis and Crawford as, ironically enough, two aging Hollywood actresses, Jane and Blanche Hudson. Jane (Davis), a child star in the 1920’s nick-named Baby Jane, with an adorable signature song, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy”, has long since faded from the spotlight, but continues to dress in her Baby Jane costume, consisting of a little girl dress with hair in curls and ribbons. Blanche, however, garnered her success as an adult in the 1930’s and until a tragic accident, which left her wheelchair bound and subsequently ruined her career, was a popular film star- much more popular than Jane. Blanche and Jane now wither the years away in a crumbling mansion in Los Angeles. Blanche is completely dependent on her unbalanced sister for care. Jane, resentful of Blanche’s success and popularity, plans to re-launch her career in her once famous alter ego.

The film certainly has macabre comedic elements, but never veers too far over the edge as to reach camp or foolishness. It is also a very psychological film as Jane mentally abuses Blanche and plays mind games with her to achieve the upper hand. Davis obviously had a ball with this role as her appearance alone is frightful- a grown woman of a certain age in blonde curls, pancake makeup, and a baby doll dress- she looks positively hideous! What Ever Happened to Baby Jane reminds me quite a bit of Billy Wilder’s masterpiece Sunset Boulevard in several ways- both feature successful stars of years past with delusions of returning to their former fame, both feature older women more than a tinge unbalanced, and both films are set in sunny Los Angeles.

Two of the films supporting actors are well cast, adding much to this film and simply must be given recognition- Victor Buono, later made famous for his role of King Tut in the popular late 1960’s television series Batman, is highly effective as the opportunist sloth, Edwin Flagg, who aids Jane in her comeback attempt. Maidie Norman as the Hudson sisters black housekeeper, Elvira, loyal to Blanche, but never a fan of Jane’s, slowly becomes wise to Jane’s sinister plot and does a wonderful acting job when she stands up to the manipulative sister- for 1962, a black maid verbally assaulting a white woman employer was still rather taboo and kudos to the film for bravely going there in a highly effective scene. The fact that Davis and Crawford famously despised each other in real life adds an edge that does wonders for the audience during scenes where the two women fight and claw at each other, both physically and verbally.

The film has wonderfully quotable dialogue- “we got rats in the cellar”, Jane utters matter-of-factly, as she serves Blanche a cooked rat on a bed of lettuce for lunch one day and cackles fiendishly when she hears Blanche screams of disgust. One aspect of the film that has taken me three viewings to become aware of and that I simply love is the musical score throughout the film- it features multiple and creepy versions of Jane’s signature song “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” with varying tempos.

Certainly, suspension of disbelief must be used in this film- why couldn’t Blanche pound and scream at her bedroom window to alert the neighbor of trouble instead of casually tossing a note out the window? Blanche struggling to descend steps by sliding down them and then is unable to slide across the floor to escape the mansion is silly, but alas, the film is so gripping that I happily overlook these errors and instead enjoy the suspenseful film with two actresses, rivals onscreen and off screen, that make this film a bit too realistic, a realism that makes for delightful film watching.

The Sixth Sense-1999

The Sixth Sense-1999

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring-Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment

Top 100 Films-#56     Top 20 Horror Films-#15

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Reviewed October 8, 2014

Grade: A

The Sixth Sense is a psychological thriller/horror film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, made in 1999, about ghosts, that was an incredible box-office and critical success at its time of release and made the line, “I see dead people” universally imitated.

Bruce Willis stars as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a successful and admired child psychologist, who lives a perfect life with his wife Anna in Philadelphia. Enjoying a romantic night at home, Malcolm and Anna are interrupted by a deranged former patient- played by an unrecognizable Donnie Walhberg. Malcolm is shot by the patient, who also shoots himself, and the story picks up a year later as Malcolm takes an interest in Cole, a troubled 9 year old boy, played by Haley Joel Osment. Cole is a peculiar boy- an outcast taunted at school, who can see the dead. His worried, over-worked mother, Lynn, is played by Toni Collette. Meanwhile, Malcolm and Anna appear to be going through marital problems and lack any meaningful communication towards each other. Anna begins to be pursued by a new beau much to Malcolm’s chagrin. Malcolm and Cole develop a special bond as Malcolm convinces Cole to speak to and help the ghosts that he sees rather than be terrified of them.

As the plot slowly unfolds, Cole helps a recently deceased girl named Kyra Collins, who is around his age. Kyra gives Cole a videotape that reveals she was murdered and proves who killed her. The subsequent scene is my favorite- there is a haunting quality to it and the camera follows the events in an interesting fashion- slowly and sedately. The setting is a wake at Kyra’s house where family and friends are gathered to pay respects and support Kyra’s parents. Malcolm and Cole arrive and present Kyra’s father with the plain videotape. The entire scene is powerful in its simplicity yet high emotional value. It is slow, but devastating in its climax and reveal. Small nuances are revealed- why is Kyra’s mother wearing bright red when the other guests are all wearing black? Will Kyra’s younger sister be the next victim? Superlative  film making.

A scene involving Cole’s teacher is riveting- being able to sense aspects about people’s pasts Cole realizes his teacher had a stuttering problem as a child. When his teacher is condescending towards Cole, the young boy explodes with rage and begins a chant of “Stuttering Stanley” that reduces the teacher to childhood traumas. Yet another powerful scene involves Cole and his mother sitting in a car caught in traffic- Cole admits the truth of his skill of seeing dead people to her and introduces an emotional story to her as proof. This is a scene where Toni Collette shines brightly.

Clearly, well over a decade since The Sixth Sense was released, most people know the twist and subsequent surprise ending and it is such a joy to go back, see the manipulations in the story and individual scenes, add them all up, and revel in the clever way that Shyamalan puts them all together. The Sixth Sense is not dated and is quite fresh, holding up tremendously, and I personally still get chills during the big reveal all these years later. But more than this pleasure, the film is written beautifully. Somewhere between horror and psychological thriller, it successfully tells a ghost story with interesting characters and jump out of your seat thrills that are not contrived and predictable in the traditional horror film way.

From an acting perspective, Bruce Willis is amazing and under-appreciated as Malcolm- he is calm, cool, collected and his performance is quite understated as the inquisitive and pensive psychologist. More praise should have been reaped on Willis. Haley Joel Osment gives an astounding performance of a lifetime- he emits an image to the audience of being strange yet sympathetic and he relays his very frightening fear of the ghosts so well that the pain and conflict he endures is evident on his face. Toni Collette is effective as the scared, concerning, haggard mother. Collette and Osment were rewarded with Academy award nominations- sadly Willis was not. Shyamalan was subsequently ridiculed for his later films (The Village and Unbreakable) – perhaps the manipulation and trickery from The Sixth Sense angered some people?

The Sixth Sense is a film that remains with you for days, weeks, even years and can be revisited and rediscovered for an intelligent, chilling good time.

The Birds-1963

The Birds-1963

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor

Top 100 Films-#2     Top 20 Horror Films-#2     

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Reviewed September 20, 2014

Grade: A

The Birds is one of Director Alfred Hitchcock’s finest works. Made in 1963, following Psycho, it continues Hitchcock’s run of successes, both commercially and critically. Set in northern California (in both San Francisco and Bodega Bay) it tells the story of unexplained bird attacks in a peaceful small bay town.

Tippi Hedren plays Melanie Daniels, a wealthy socialite from San Francisco, who drives to Bodega Bay to romantically pursue a love interest, Mitch Brenner. Mitch, played by Rod Taylor, is a successful attorney who meets and shares a flirtation with Melanie the day before at a San Francisco pet store. He regularly visits his mother (Jessica Tandy) and sister (Veronica Cartwright) in Bodega Bay. Once Melanie arrives in town birds begin periodically attacking the locals living in the sleepy community.

The Birds is a film that holds up incredibly well and is as exciting and horrifying today at it has ever been in the past. One intriguing aspect of the film is that it offers no rhyme or reason for the bird attacks, which keeps the viewer guessing from the moment a gull swoops down and attacks innocent Melanie- It is completely mysterious and open to interpretation- are birds fed up with being caged? Are the love birds that Melanie purchased the cause of the attacks? Do the birds hate humans? Why do they attack the children? Why do they peck the eyes of their victims out? One could spend hours debating these questions. A major creative success of the film is its elimination of a musical score. The eerie silence mixed in with the loud sounds of the birds attacking is a haunting dynamic.

My favorite scene of The Birds features Melanie sitting on a wooden bench in the schoolyard enjoying a cigarette. Behind her is a deserted jungle gym. She barely notices a tiny bird innocently fly past her and land on the jungle gym. She continues smoking her cigarette. The viewer sees what Melanie cannot- as slowly hundreds of birds land on the jungle gym behind her. Without music this scene is deadly silent and very dramatic as it switches from close-ups of Melanie to long shots of the birds gravitating behind her. Another interesting aspect of The Birds is the character relationships- Mitch’s mother Lydia is afraid of losing her son so she initially despises Melanie; Mitch’s ex-girlfriend, schoolteacher Annie Hayworth strikes up a close friendship with Melanie- one might expect them to be rivals. A hysterical mother lashes out at Melanie, calling her evil, blaming her for the attacks. One wonders, amid the long periods of calm, when the next attack will occur- and we know it will. We look for clues as to what triggers the attacks and we find none. This makes for brilliant and suspenseful film making. They hardly come better than the masterpiece that is The Birds.

Psycho-1960

Psycho-1960

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins

Top 100 Films-#1     Top 20 Horror Films- #1

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Reviewed October 24, 2015

Grade: A

Psycho is the film to end all films and not just within the horror genre- at the time of release it transcended the art of film to a new level and has influenced generations of films since, and still holds up incredibly well today. It is certainly one of the greatest Alfred Hitchcock films and one of the greatest films ever made,  in my opinion. Hitchcock took a huge risk and dove from the thriller genre to the horror genre with Psycho.

The story involves a young woman named Marion Crane, superbly played by Janet Leigh. Marion lives in Phoenix, Arizona and sees her boyfriend (the dashing John Gavin) for frequent afternoon rendezvous at cheap motels when he is in town, because they are both struggling financially. She is presented with an opportunity, via her job, to steal $40,000 and flee the state to start a new life with her beau. She seizes the opportunity. On the run, she stops at a run down Bates motel where she meets owner Norman Bates, hauntingly played by Anthony Perkins. Perkins and Leigh have an amazing chemistry together and the audience picks up on it- is it romantic? Is there mysteriousness to it? Something is clearly odd about Norman. They bond over a quiet meal of sandwiches at the motel while discussing life and his ailing mother.

The famous shower scene and the shocking twist at the conclusion of the film are now almost taken for granted since most people know about them already, but I can only imagine the shock when viewers were first treated to these two delights. To this day both are still suspenseful to watch. When I saw this film for the first time I fortunately did NOT know the ending and I am glad I didn’t because my breath was taken away. To kill off the star of the film halfway through was a novel idea and mind blowing at the time of release (1960). This act literally had audience’s mouths hanging open in disbelief and saying, “what now”? “How can this be followed”? This act would later influence the original Scream film and surprise audiences all over again. Per Hitchcock, no one could enter the film after it had started and viewers were persuaded not to reveal the ending- oh how I wish that occurred these days.

A very important aspect to the success and longevity of Psycho is the chemistry between Perkins and Leigh who got along famously while shooting Psycho, and more importantly, the likability of Norman Bates. There is a rooting value for him even though he is the villain. When Marion’s car is only halfway submerged in a lake containing her dead body, we root for the car to completely sink because Norman does and the concerned look on Norman’s face has a sincerity to it that affects the audience. Norman is troubled and wounded and the audience does not know why at this point in the story.

Let’s not forget the likability of Janet Leigh. The audience sympathizes with her predicament. She is hopelessly in love with her man, steals money, is conflicted, and at her core is a nice, decent, kind woman.

Halfway through the film Marion’s sister Lila, played by Vera Miles, is introduced as well as a detective and the film becomes more of a suspense/mystery as they search for Marion and investigate the Bates hotel and Norman Bates himself. Miles then takes center stage as the lead in the film, which is intriguing in itself.

The film then returns to horror at the terrific and terrifying conclusion, which will shock first time viewers. The musical score (especially the shrill strings) is incredibly effective and was a huge influence on horror films to come (Friday the 13th immediately comes to mind). Psycho is a film that can certainly be enjoyed and studied over and over again.

Dressed to Kill-1980

Dressed to Kill-1980

Director-Brian De Palma

Starring-Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine

Top 100 Films-#13    Top 20 Horror Films-#5

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Reviewed September 2, 2014

Grade: A

Dressed to Kill is Brian De Palma’s greatest work throughout his storied career. Set in New York City the film is essentially divided into two halves. The first half centers around Angie Dickinson, who plays a bored housewife named Kate. Kate is unhappy in her marriage and seeks therapy from a psychiatrist played by Michael Caine, whom she makes sexual advances towards. She is unfaithful to her husband, yet is a kind, intelligent, cultured woman. She adores her son, loves her husband, but is completely unfulfilled with life. Do we, the audience sympathize with her? Does she get what she deserves? Is she a victim? One powerful scene involves a wide-eyed little girl who cannot stop staring at Kate. Can she sense Kate’s shenanigans? Does she sense her conflict? Does Kate feel guilt? Kate is a complex character and brilliantly played by Dickinson who gives the character a sexiness, softness and appeal.

After a shocking event in a high rise elevator rivaled only by the shower scene in Psycho in its surprise and terror, the remainder of the film belongs to Nancy Allen, who plays a prostitute named Liz, determined to solve a mystery in order to clear her name. De Palma sets the dreamlike tone to the film with a sizzling opening shower scene sure to make the prudish blush in its explicitness, which I found deliciously sexy. A ten minute museum sequence speaks volumes without a bit of dialogue as Kate has a cat and mouse flirtation with a stranger.

The brilliance of Dressed to Kill is its versatility and complexity and contains one surprise after another from the elevator scene to the final reveal to the final scene itself. It is part horror film part thriller and always stylish. The film was surprisingly not well regarded upon its release, but over the years has achieved respect due to its creativity and excellent mood. Many scenes are shot in slow motion adding effect to them. Dressed to Kill is simply brilliant on every level.

Peeping Tom-1960

Peeping Tom-1960

Director-Michael Powell

Starring-Nigel Davenport

Top 100 Films-#60     Top 20 Horror Films-#16

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Reviewed July 22, 2014

Grade: A

Peeping Tom is a brilliant horror film from 1960 directed by Michael Powell. It is a British film and was released the same year as Psycho and they sort of resemble each other as both have a more character driven villain than many other contemporary horror films. Both feature male killers with a sympathetic (to them) female. Set in London, it tells the story of an assistant cameraman who kills his victims by using a camera with a spike on the end of it as he is videotaping the fear in their eyes, which he later plays back for his own psychological needs. The killer is emotionally damaged himself and the film explores this aspect in depth; his father tormented him as child with weird, traumatic experiments used on the boy for research. I loved this aspect of the film as in contrast to most films of the genre, where the killer typically has no sympathetic aspects and whose motivations are usually explored minimally. The audience has sympathy for this killer, which, in a strange way, is absurd and shocking.

Way ahead of its time, viewers were initially turned off by the film at the time of release and director Michael Powell’s (ironically playing the terrible father in videotape scenes) career ruined. Anna Massey (later to appear in the Hitchcock masterpiece Frenzy) plays the sweet natured, girl next door who develops a crush on the killer. Her blind and boozy mother is a fascinating character as she suspects and strangely bonds with the killer. The film has an erotic and voyeuristic quality that has been unmatched in horror. Peeping Tom is now considered a masterpiece and I certainly agree with that assessment. It is one of the most interesting and unique horror films ever made.

Friday the 13th- 1980

Friday the 13th-1980

Director-Sean S. Cunningham

Starring-Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King

Top 100 Films-#18     Top 20 Horror Films-#6

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Reviewed July 17, 2014

Grade: A

Friday the 13th is one of my favorite films (horror and otherwise) of all time as I have such fond and scary memories of watching at too young an age! My personal highlight is in later years watching this film alongside star Betsy Palmer herself in a movie theater. I can watch this film countless times and never tire of it. Is it high art? Hardly. Is it brilliant film making? Not a chance. But for whatever reason, this film is very close to my heart and I love it.

The premise involves seven young adults, all squeaky clean and All-American looking, who flock to Camp Crystal Lake for a summer involving counseling, partying, and frolicking around the lake. They engage in strip poker, smoke pot, and play jokes on each other, but share a good spirits.

Through flashbacks we learn that two brutal camp counselor killings occurred years ago and the camp has been unsuccessful at reopening since that time due to strange events like bad water. The residents of the town are convinced that there is a curse involving the lake and warn the teenagers to stay far away, specifically one loony townsperson named Ralph, who frequently shows up proclaiming messages from god and other rants of doom. Inevitably, the teens begin to be systematically hacked to bits one by one in creative fashion such as a slit throat, axe to the head, a dagger through the neck, and other good, old fashioned horror kills.

The film has many standard horror elements- a dark, ominous storm, a mysterious hidden killer lurking in the shadows, giving first time viewers a suspenseful whodunit. Could the killer be crazy Ralph, one of the counselors? Or Steve Christie, the man opening the camp? As each victim is killed one begins to narrow down the remaining suspects to the crimes and at least one red herring comes into play, which leads us trying to figure out the conclusion, which, critically speaking, is an enormous surprise. The looming killer, whose feet and arms/hands are really the only parts shown throughout is successfully ominous. As the killer angrily watches the counselors swim and goof around, one of them gets a sixth sense of being watches and is sure she sees someone in the trees, but quickly shrugs it off. Another ominous scene involves one counselor setting up an archery game for the kids as another counselor jokingly shoots an arrow near by. They both laugh, but the foreshadowing of what is to come is fantastic.

Betsy Palmer and Adrienne King add so much to this film, which would not be nearly as good if not for them. The conclusion involving a knock down drag out, mud fight is my favorite sequence, in addition to the final thirty minute chase scene around the camp and its vicinity. The final character hides in closets, store rooms, bushes and a cat and mouse game climaxes. Great stuff. The big twist at the end almost rivals, and is very similar to, the shocking ending to the 1976 horror classic Carrie.

The sound effects are spectacular- the distant loons and the creepy sound effects add a ton to making Friday the 13th a classic fright-fest. The line “kill her mommy, she can’t hide” is undoubtedly permanently etched in horror fan’s minds.

Friday the 13th has successfully held the test of time and is now a highly regarded classic within the horror genre. A highly entertaining, mainstream, cut above the rest, and a fun must see for all horror fans.

Halloween-1978

Halloween-1978

Director-John Carpenter

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence

Top 100 Films-#4     Top 20 Horror Films-#3

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Reviewed November 21, 2015

Grade: A

 Halloween is an iconic horror film from 1978 that set the tone for the barrage of slasher films to follow throughout the 1980’s and into the 1990’s.  Today, the film continues to hold up incredibly well and I am proud to list it as, not only one of my favorite horror films (in which I religiously watch every Halloween), but one of my favorite films of all time. The focus is on style and substance over gore (the film contains little) and the score is one of the scariest and most effective in cinema history.

The premise of the film is simple- a homicidal maniac is on the loose in a sleepy little town named Haddonfield, Illinois and is targeting three female babysitters one crisp Halloween night. The audience knows that the six-year old little boy dressed as a clown on a dark Halloween night years ago, and who butchered his older sister to death, is the now grown-up culprit. What we do not know, nor should we, is what his (Michael Meyers) motivation is.  This confusion only adds to the impact of the story. Subsequent remakes have added complexities to the character, needlessly so, but in the original, we see a seemingly happy child with stable parents and a good life.

Similar stories have been told over time in film history. But with Halloween, it is simply one of the greatest horror films ever made. As simple as the story is, it is the way the film is made that makes it a masterpiece. Everything about Halloween is mesmerizing- the lighting is perfect, the ambiance, the incredibly scary musical score brilliant, the battle between good and evil, the perfect feeling of a chilly Halloween night. Highly unusual for its time, the point of view of the killer and heavy breathing is prevalent throughout the film, which will startle and scare the viewer. The opening shot is through the eyes of a masked six year old kid wearing a clown mask. The unique technical aspects go on and on.

Director John Carpenter had a vision for this film and thankfully no studio influence ruined it since it was an independent film on a shoestring budget. The Hitchcock influences are evident in the character names- Sam Loomis. Many scenes involve someone watching the action or peeking around a corner, through a window, which makes the viewer anxious and nervous. Set in small-town USA, a frightening element of the film is that it could happen anywhere and the location is ingenious. There is very little blood, let alone gore, in Halloween- it is needless. It is the creepiness that makes the film brilliant.

The three teenagers are perfectly cast- Jamie Lee Curtis is the serious bookworm, P.J. Soles and Nancy Keyes are the flirtatious bad girls, but the chemistry between them is great and the audience buys them as best friends. The jump-out- of- your seat moments are incredibly well-timed and it is one of the few genuinely scary films.

Forget solely the horror genre- Halloween is one of the greatest films ever made.

Rosemary’s Baby-1968

Rosemary’s Baby-1968

Director-Roman Polanski

Starring-Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon

Top 100 Films-#8     Top 20 Horror Films-#4

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Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: A

 Rosemary’s Baby is not only a great film, it’s a masterpiece. Easily one of my favorites in the horror genre, it’s also towards the top of my favorite films list.

The beauty of this film is the power of suggestion and subtleties. It has none of the blood, gore, or standard horror frights one might expect. It doesn’t need them.

The audience knows something is off by clues that are given throughout the film. The closed off room in the young couple’s apartment, the sweet, but a bit odd elderly neighbors, a strange suicide, a mysterious, horrid smelling, good luck charm. Rosemary’s due date (June 6, 1966- “666”).

The strange, dreamlike conception scene is intense and surreal. Her husband- claiming Rosemary passed out from too much alcohol- begins to become a suspicious man following the incident, but we are confused by his involvement- what are the neighbors up to, we wonder? Are they sinister or simply innocent and meddlers?

In a sinister scene, Rosemary gnaws on bloody raw meat, catches her reflections in the glass and is horrified by her behavior.

Mia Farrow is frightfully good as the waifish, pregnant, Rosemary, who loses, instead of gains weight. The film also has a couple of real life eerie occurrences: the building setting (The Dakota) is where John Lennon was shot and killed, Director Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, in a cameo, was murdered shortly after filming by Charles Manson.

Similar in theme to other devilish/demon films The Exorcist and The Omen. This is a film that must be seen by everyone and only shines brighter with each subsequent viewing.