Friday, October 24, 2008

Top 50 Halloween movies: Part 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of the top 50 Halloween movies. The list is a mix of classic and contemporary films that includes any horror sub-genre as well horror themed comedies.

20. "Freaks" (1932)
After directing "Dracula," Todd Browning was asked to top both that film and "Frankenstein." His answer was to use real sideshow circus "freaks," including midgets, Siamese twins and limbless people. The story centers on a gold-digger, who marries one of the so-called freaks. The freaks get their revenge when she tries to kill their fellow oddity for his money. It is a truly unique film experience that is funny, heartbreaking and scary, but what makes the film so successful is that the scares and laughs never feel cruel or exploitive.

19. “Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
Obviously not a horror movie, although a solid case can be made that there is nothing more frightening than suburbia. Tim Burton’s expressionistic fantasy is a heartbreaker full of Burton’s trademark dark, oddball sensibilities. Johnny Depp is exceptional in the title role of the boy who was never finished by his creator (Vincent Price, in his final role). The rest of the cast, including Winona Ryder, Alan Arkin, Dianne Wiest and Anthony Michael Hall, are all also top-notch.

18. "Rosemary's Baby" (1968)
Roman Polanski's stylistic film starts out like cheery romance and then slowly builds into taut, nerve-racking thriller. Mia Farrow's Rosemary is pregnant, but her husband, neighbors and doctor are all acting a little odd and it becomes clear that this is no ordinary baby. Polanski gets in the viewer's head, by not showing anything and leaving the viewer to imagine the worst.

17. "Beetlejuice" (1988)
A recently deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) has to deal with an obnoxious new family in their former home, and, after a series of unsuccessful hauntings, they hire Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice to get the job done. Director Burton's wildly inventive set design and stop-motion animation in combination with Keaton's show-stopping, madcap performance and strong support from Winona Ryder and Catherine O'Hara make this a wild ride.

16. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)
How do you stop a serial killer who stalks you in your dreams? Writer/director Wes Craven created one of the most iconic boogeymen of film history with Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund.) More imaginative than most slasher franchises because the dream world allows anything to go, and for those who like unique and varied deaths it is hard to beat Freddy.

15. “Alien” (1979)
It is easy to forget that before morphing into an action franchise, the first of the series was a white-knuckle sci-fi horror film. Sigourney Weaver established the female heroine who is now a staple of Hollywood in a star-making performance. The infamous alien “chest buster” scene is still as shocking as ever, and director Ridley Scott creates maximum suspense by not fully revealing the alien to the very end of the film.

14. “Jaws” (1975)
Spielberg’s rousing combination of suspense, drama, comedy and adventure films turned people off going to the ocean for years. The film grabs attention and scares from the start with one of the best openings of all time, but Spielberg is more interested in character development than body count. The shark isn’t revealed until more than half way in, and the wait makes it all the more potent when we finally see it.

13. "The Evil Dead" (1981)
The first installment of Sam Riami's immensely popular trilogy centers on a group of college buddies at an isolated cabin in the woods who accidentally unleash evil spirits. Riami's stylish direction full of unique camera angles and excellent lighting makes his low budget go far. Bruce Campbell's Ash wouldn't turn into the one-liner-spouting, slapstick action hero until the worthy comedy/horror sequels, but for pure horror, the first is still tops.

12. "The Shining" (1980)
The combination of Jack Nicholson's astoundingly over-the-top performance and Stanley Kubrick's quietly grandiose direction make this version of Stephen King's novel an amazing film experience. Nicholson and family become caretakers at a large, isolated and haunted hotel for the winter. It isn't long before "all work and no play" and the sinister goings-on at the hotel drive Nicholson nuts. Kubrick creates perhaps the most surreal and disturbing haunted house ever, and Nicholson is equal parts shocking and comic.

11. "The Wolf Man" (1941)
One of the best of the Universal monster movies set the standard for all werewolf films to follow. After being bitten by a wolf, a man (Lon Chaney Jr.) has to deal with the horrible curse of turning into a werewolf every full moon. The film's transformation effects hold up remarkably well, and Chaney's desperate, tragic performance adds dimensions to the monster. There is also wonderful support from Bela Lugosi and Claude Rains.

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