After I stalked, I mean, uh, asked, my good friend, Thomas Flowers agreed to share his top three horror film with us. It’s always fun to see what a horror writer considers scary.
Three Top Favorite Horror Movies
By: Thomas S Flowers
Whenever asked the proverbial go-to question among fellow horror fans, “Hey, what’s your favorite scary movie?” the geek in me races to find solace in some discover of self: “Just what is my favorite? Can I break it down in genre? Sub-Genre? Decade? Country?” It is a mind numbing endeavor to be sure, especially among the more fanatical of horror fiends. There are just so many movies to choice from! However, I’ve been handed this task of solidifying my top three among the multitudinous of macabre. And I aim to do so. This great commission can be made easier if we are able to rate our so-called favorites by replayability. Many horror movies can be categorized into “seasonal.” And by this I mean, summer (Friday the 13th’s, most slashers), Halloween (this may seem redundant, however there are special horror movies reserved for just this time of year), Christmas (Gremlins), etc. For my favorites, I’ve avoided what I’d consider to be “seasonal” in favor for the year-round playability. So, without further ado, here is my TOP THREE! Enjoy!
For better or worse, John Carpenter’s take on John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” has been at my number one spot for the last few years. There is just something unique about its creepy ambience that keeps me coming back, over and over again. From the opening scene with the alien craft crash landing into earth’s atmosphere, to the Norwegians hunting down the mysterious snow dog, to MacReady getting drunk of J&B, to the growing sense of paranoia among the Antarctic crew, “whose human, whose not,” the movie reels me in and never let’s go. Carpenter makes use of the most classic among horror motifs, isolation. And the movie is topped with some of his best musical scores. Released during the summer of 1982, John Carpenter’s pivotal horror flick was originally received with discontent.
“Too graphic,” some said. “Not a good ‘remake’ of the 1951 sci-fi movie,” others said. Perhaps the case is that the true greats are never appreciated in their day and age. Since 1982, The Thing has grown (replicated) in the hearts of horror fans and into a successful cult film. The Thing’s “too graphic” graphics are now heralded as some of the best practical effects in the industry – ever. Legendary effects master Rob Bottin most certainly left his mark on the world with his hideously attractive creations. As for the nefarious comments regarding “not a good remake of the 1951 film,” well to be honest, while The Thing from Another World (1951) was good, it was not a true vision of Campbell’s novella — the alien in the Atomic Age rendition was more Frankenstein than replicating parasite. As far as characters go, John Carpenter could not have picked a better actor to play anti-hero MacReady than Kurt Russel. His portrayal as the moody, drunk camp pilot, loner was spot on and completely believable. The same could be said regarding the rest of the actors, including both Wilford Brimley (Cocoon) and Keith David (They Live). Each and every character was perfectly portrayed without the cheesy need of over explaining everything. Another bonus is with the deeper story. Carpenter has a tendency to add a bit of “social commentary” to his films, and The Thing is no exception. There seems to be an overwhelming sense of criticism towards the attitudes during the 1980’s Cold War era in which the film was made and how it didn’t seem people trusted one another very much. Just as MacReady tells Blair, “Trust is a hard thing to come by these days.”
2.Dawn of the Dead (1978)
For starters, let me say how difficult it is for a Romero fan to pick only one film from among the “dead” trilogy. Night of the Living Dead most certainly started it all, changed the very nature of the zombie motif. It was also my “start” into horror films. It’s the movie I remember most as “turning me on” to the macabre. A fuzzy recollection of movie nights with my older sister, set up in front of the tube with tubs of buttery popcorn and junk food galore. And Day of the Dead was a phenomenal work in and of itself. But, much like The Thing, there is just something about Dawn of the Dead that speaks more universally to me than any other movie by George A. Romero.
Released in 1978, Dawn of the Dead invokes a magnum opus of tragedy, friendship, loss, and uncertainty. And it’s backed with one of the most relevant quips on consumerism, if there ever was one. When the world turns to shit, where do we run to? Where can we go? Who do we trust? As fate would have it, the small group of friends in the movie, after traversing the country side, discovers an abandoned mall that’s not so abandoned. What started as a temporary safe refuge to catch a nap and a meal, quickly and suddenly becomes more permanent. Francine, aka “flygirl,” see’s the folly in settling in this visage of the “old world,” however, she becomes silenced by chauvinism and the men folks desire to set up shop in short lived happiness. It seems the dead and the living cannot help but converge on this emblem of consumerism. Francine is one of my favorite characters. Underscored, but strong, nevertheless. Roger is loveable. Peter is a badass. And Stephen – well, what can really be said of our favorite “flyboy” zombie? Tom Savini and company really outdid themselves with the practical effects. 37 years later and the gore is still enjoyable and realistic (well, more in an artistic sense, perhaps). And of course the dream eventually comes to an end. Even before the raiders attack the mall, you can see it in the eyes of the characters. All this stuff they’ve horded and fought the dead for has little meaning in a world where an enumerable number of corpses walk the earth. Dawn of the Dead, for me, is an amazing movie and rightly deserves the number two spot because it depicts the American Dream turned black comedy – cruel and terrifyingly human.
You may say that M is not true horror. That M is more thriller-crime-drama than spooky. But I want to challenge that viewpoint and urge you to watch M. I believe it’s posted on YouTube for free at the moment. M is not only, in my opinion, an introspective horror film, but also a historically significant film. M was overshadowed in its day and age by the rise of Nazism and the collapse of the Weimar Republic. In no short measure, M acts as a warning to Germany of the growing hysteria among the emerging National Socialist Party. Though, even without the history, the story itself pulls us in. M is filled with shadows cut against the backdrop of “be-on-the-look-out” posters on posts notifying that there is a child murderer on the loose. The creepiest scene is at the beginning, a high angle shot showing a circle of children singing an eerie nursery rhythm mixed with silent stills and unnerving echoes of a mother’s anguished calls for her baby girl to come home, but little Elsie Beckmann never does.
Anyone who’s seen a Fritz Lang flick will recognize his talent for using powerful images in a minimalist picture. Even the title itself screams minimal! The story from the little girl turned missing follows a city filled with various characters, each group or person seeking their own resolution to the problem at hand, a child killer on the loose. My favorite moments during the movie are with the late great Peter Lorre (Casablanca, Mad Love) who without his powerful performance, I’d never had considered M to be a horror movie in the first place. There is a terrifyingly chilling scene after the killer (Lorre) is captured by a group of criminals. They want to silence the killer, i.e. dispose of him proper (death, to be blunt), however, they still give him a “trial” of sorts. Though we know from the get go is rigged. No matter what the killer’s defense may be, the outcome will ultimately be the same. They indent on killing the child murderer. Perhaps the mock trial is really Lang’s quip at the state of justice during this hideously transformational period in Germany, as the Republic dies and dictatorship rises. Either way, the scene, as I said, is very chilling. The judges prods the killer till he finally confesses, but what he confesses is not exactly what the witnesses may have expected. The killer is no ordinary criminal who chooses to slay children. He’s caught and tormented in his own madness. As he says:
“What do you know about it? Who are you anyway? Who are you? Criminals? Are you proud of yourselves? Proud of breaking safes or cheating at cards? Things you could just as well keep your fingers off. But I…? I have no control over this, this evil thing inside of me — the fire, the voices, the torment! It’s there all the time, driving me out to wander the streets, following me, silently, but I can feel it there. It’s me, pursuing myself! I want to escape, to escape from myself! But it’s impossible. I can’t escape, I have to obey it. I have to run, run…endless streets. I want to escape, to get away! [But] I’m pursued by ghosts of the mothers and the children.”
It’s a stunning and starling scene, and Peter Lorre’s performance is breathtakingly frightful. His facial expressions, down to his body movements, and voice are all so eerie. M, for me, is a psychological horror film on par with any of today’s modern serial killer movies. Though, because it’s an older flick (1931), today’s audience will need a certain amount of patience to get through it. But it’ll all be worth it in the end.
Live, Laugh, Scream. Father. Husband. Veteran. Degenerate horror blogger. Thomas blogs at machinemean(dot)org, commenting and reviewing movies, books, shows, and historical content. He is an author of horror thriller Reinheit, and other works available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @machinemeannow to keep up with his works and reviews.