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  October 2014

  Author Stephen King recalls the two films which terrified him most as a child.

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   Suite from SECONDS (1966) motion picture score:
   "Main Title" / "Restless Hours" / "39 Lafayette St." - J. Goldsmith

#24 - THE FUNHOUSE (1981)

     From director Tobe Hooper (the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) this visually stunning, genuinely creepy tribute to Robert Wiene's THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI was one of the better thrillers produced during the HALLOWEEN rip-off phase of the late 1970s - early 80s. A group of teens dare each other to spend the night in the strange funhouse of a with a macabre reputation. Then they become locked inside and pursued by a freakish family upon witnessing something they shouldn't have.  A refreshing change of pace to see young people reason, think and fight to stay alive, rather than just scream, run and stupidly fall prey to the villain(s).  This stylishly realized thriller on the proverbial shoestring proved the brilliance of Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE wasn't a freshman fluke, and directly led to Steven Spielberg contacting him for his next film - the "A" budget POLTERGEIST.  



     More than a satire of classic Universal horror films, Mel Brooks' immediate follow-up to BLAZING SADDLES is at the same time a loving homage to their tone and style. Stunningly photographed with actual b&w cameras by Gerald Hirschfield, and using the actual Kenneth Strickfadden "electric sparky" lab props from the original 1931 film, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN manages what most so-called genre spoofs today (i.e. SCARY MOVIE) can't. From situations and material from the originals (here from FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN) it fashions new characters whom we genuinely care about! Therefore the comedy (and pathos) is much more effective. This two-time Oscar winner was, in 2003, selected for preservation in The Library of Congress National Film Registry. And BTW, Gene Hackman's cameo is hilarious!

#22 - FLATLINERS (1990)

     After Kiefer Sutherland's breakout performance in THE LOST BOYS, we jokingly identified all succeeding Sutherland films as unofficial LOST BOYS sequels. Therefore YOUNG GUNS became "THE LOST BOYS GO WEST"; THE THREE MUSKETEERS was "THE LOST BOYS MEET RICHELIEU" and FLATLINERS "THE LOST BOYS DIE AND GO TO HELL". Truth however is it's considerably more interesting than that. Sutherland's a med student who convinces his colleges (Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and William Baldwin) he's discovered the secret of crossing into death then returning. The others join him in his experiments, and in succession bring back to the land of the living something uniquely macabre and terrifying to their individual psyches. Dir. Joel Schumacher often takes hits for his "over the top" visual style (BATMAN & ROBIN anyone?). But here, the surreal tone is a perfect fit. So is James Newton Howard's powerhouse score.



#21 - ASYLUM (1972)

     In the 1970s, Britain's Hammer Studios received considerable genre competition from producer Milton Subotsky's Amicus Pictures. And one of the best from the studio was 1972's ASYLUM. To date arguably the best structured anthology film of all time, the script (by PSYCHO novelist Robert Bloch, here adapting four of his own short stories into the framework) has a young psychiatrist (Robert Powell) auditioning for a job at a rural mental institution by seeing if he can discern, by listening to five of their "impossibly macabre" stories, which of the institution's patients is the former head doctor who recently went mad. A nifty surprise twist awaits the young applicant as well as the audience at the end. We promise you'll never look at a meat freezer in quite the same way again. The game cast also includes Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Charlotte Rampling, Britt Ekland, Barry Morse and more. Great stuff!


#20 - THE ASPHYX (1972)

     A long under-appreciated little which in recent years has seen a surge in popularity - in fact enough to lead to a gorgeously “frame by frame” restored and remastered Blu-ray . Robert Stephens is a Victorian era scientist who accidentally develops a film emulsion which can photograph the escort ("Asphyx") which snatches a soul from the human body at the moment of death. When he learns how to "trap and imprison" the Asphyx, he unlocks the secret of immortality, but at a horrifying cost. After years available only as a color faded VHS tape, this beloved film - dir. by former cinematographer Peter Newbrook (A FAREWELL TO ARMS), and lushly photographed by Freddie Young (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA), finally got the restoration and Blu-ray treatment in 2012, and it looks gorgeous! Oh yeah, it's obvious (at least to us) that Akroyd & Ramis had this film one in mind while writing GHOSTBUSTERS.


#19 - THE SHINING (1980)

     Looking closely at Stephen King one finds powerful real-world analogies placing his work on par with Dickens, Irving and Hawthorne. IT delves into the societal evil of "looking the other way", CARRIE into bullying and school violence (years before Columbine), and THE SHINING into alcoholism and domestic abuse. As such, King never felt Stanley Kubrick properly captured the essence of his 1977 novel. And he's right. But the legendary director DID manage to make what many consider the GONE WITH THE WIND of horror films, still packing a chiller-diller whallop 30 years after it's release. Jack Nicholson is a writer (and recovering alcoholic) who brings his wife and son along when he agrees to take on the lonely job of winter caretaker of a sprawling mountain valley hotel with a diabolical past; ...
one which won't stay dead.



     Directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz (CASABLANCA), and starring Lionel Atwil, Fay Wray and Glenda Farrell, MYSTERY, along with the previous year's DR. X, were two of the last studio releases in the surreal two-color Technicolor process, as well as two of the first "modern" horror films - which is to say those which moved traditional horrific elements from period castles, etc. to urban locales - in this case a 1930s New York populated by bookies and bootleggers. A plucky female reporter investigates the apparent suicide of a fashion model, and when the body is stolen from the morgue, discovers a trail leading to the mad curator of a wax museum attempting to "breathe life" into his creations. Sound familiar? 1953's HOUSE OF WAX, starring Vincent Price, was a remake of this still amazing film.


#17 - THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

     A cynical, wise-cracking reporter working the Vegas beat (Darren McGavin), comes to believe a series of killings of local strippers and "working girls" isn't the work of a serial rapist, but of a centuries-old vampire who believes his actions will go mostly unnoticed in the violent land that is America. Produced by DARK SHADOWS creator Dan Curtis, and written by I AM LEGEND and SOMEWHERE IN TIME's Richard Matheson (from an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice), this TV movie became the all time ratings record breaker during it's initial airing. It was followed by a sequel film - THE NIGHT STRANGLER, and a short lived weekly series. Chris Carter has cited this as the primary inspiration for his own THE X-FILES.




     One of the best from the horror film cycle of Samuel Z. Arkoff & James Nicholson's American International Pictures. Humorous and terrifying at the same time, Vincent Price is historian Anton Phibes who, after surviving an automobile accident which took the life of his wife, blames her death on the physicians who operated on her. He then seeks vengeance by unleashing (his version of) one of the biblical Twelve Plagues of Egypt upon each of them. The scene where a swarm of locusts devours the face of a sleeping woman is still one of our all time "best-ie" horror movie moments.  Leaving such an indelible impression, to this day we specifically remember the drive-in theater in which that truly visual (and visceral) moment first floored us.  Followed one year later by the sequel DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN.



     One of the best from the most fertile career period of dir. Wes Craven, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW plays like a political thriller masquerading as horror. Very loosely based on the 1985 non fiction book by real life ethnobotanist Wade Davis, Bill Pullman portrays the representative of a pharmaceutical company who travels to Haiti during the violent Duvalier years to acquire a so-called "zombie" drug: a naturally growing herb which, when refined, can induce near death anesthesia. He crosses paths however with a Duvalier officer (the amazing Zakes Mokae) who prizes the drug as a weapon with which to control the populace through fear. Stunningly photographed by John Lindley (FIELD OF DREAMS), the cinematographer deserved an Oscar nom but didn't get it.  Also features a powerhouse electronic / acoustic percussion score by THE TERMINATOR's Brad Fidel.  A class act every which way.




     Social commentary / satire within the confines of a thriller is a delicate balancing act.  For example, while 1975's THE PARALLAX VIEW is a straight political paranoia exercise, it's also subversively and subtly funny. And few perform this "high wire routine" better than novelist / playwright Ira Levin, as proven with his still popular ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL. Dir. Bryan Forbes and screenwriter William Goldman perfectly nail the tone of Levin's 1972 novel with this sci fi / horror gem about a group of suburban men so rattled by the gender rights movement, they've taken to murdering their wives and replacing them with life-like automatons who cater to their every whim. Katherine Ross is sensational as the "new arrival" in town who stumbles upon the secret.  By the way, how NOT to adapt such a story - the 2004 remake done as flat out comedy.  We'll take the terrifying original, "thank you very much".  Even the movie poster gave us bad dreams as a child!


#13 - THE PROPHECY (1995)

     After writing such popular films as HIGHLANDER and BACKDRAFT, Gregory Widen made his directorial debut with this clever (if overly complex) thriller. A failed seminary student turned cop (Elias Koteas), finds himself a key player in an ancient civil war between angels - a SECOND ONE! This time not lead by Lucifer, but by former archangel Gabriel (Christopher Walken) who, angered that God chooses mankind over them, has rebelled and declared war against both the Creator and the Devil (a pre LORD OF THE RINGS Viggo Mortensen - who's absolutely terrifying). Odd to be sure! But never dull. And what a cast incl. Virginia Madsen, Eric Stolz, Adam Goldberg and Amanda Plummer. Oh yeah, it's also a nice change of pace to see characters who possess religious faith (and who struggle with it) not portrayed as narrow minded morons.



#12 - TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975)

     After teaming to great success on a pair of NIGHT STALKER movies, producer Dan Curtis (DARK SHADOWS) and writer Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) joined again on the super successful TV anthology film TRILOGY OF TERROR. Based on three non-related stories by Matheson, all three segments star Karen Black as three different characters. Well, actually as four - as in the second segment "Millicent And Therese" she plays both good and evil twins. The final segment however, "Prey", featuring a terryifyingly come-to-life "Zuni warrior" doll, is the one which gave nightmares to an entire generation of TV viewers. Ask anyone over 30, they'll tell you. Years later "Prey" would also serve as inspiration for the film CHILD'S PLAY.


#11 - ALIEN (1979)

     A few years earlier THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN made the horror genre respectable. But it was Ridley Scott's still potent ALIEN which took it to the mainstream. Written by the team of Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shushett (TOTAL RECALL) - and with considerable narrative contributions from producer / writers Walter Hill & David Giler, on the surface ALIEN is a dark sci-fier, but under the interstellar veneer a deliberately old school terror exercise about a demonic "thing" lurking within the creaky corners of an old dark house ... which just now happens to be a space tug / mineral refinery. Today's CGI is great, but the "chest burster scene" still ranks as one of the most jarring (and imitated) scenes in cinema history! So is Jerry Goldsmith's quietly creepy score for that matter (featuring the ancient musical instrument "the Serpent"?!).


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