Bucket (of Blood) List – 10 horror films to see before you die

Life is short. So many horror films – so little time. Quite the predickelment. “Hey” you say – is that even a word? No. But who has time for things like grammar, linguistics and etymology – we’ve got things like vampires, zombies and demons to discuss. And movies to watch. Lotsa movies.

I think many would agree that the films listed below are true classics of the genre – so there’s a good chance you’ve seen them all already. But if there are any films on this list you haven’t seen – I’d say sit your horror-film-lovin’ carcass down, right now, and start a watchin’.

Dracula (1931)

Dracula“Listen to dem…children of de night…vhat music dey make.” Iconic lines delivered in the unmistakable voice of the actor who, to this day, is the definitive blood-sucker – the most Dracula-ist of all Draculas – Bela Lugosi. It’s like, how much more Drac could he be? The answer is none. None more Drac. Yes, the film Nosferatu, was released a full 9 years earlier, and is certainly a classic in it’s own right, but Tod Brownings’ Dracula laid the unhallowed groundwork for countless vampire flicks to come.

Psycho (1960)

Psycho

Girl steals money from work, leaves town, and finds an off-the-beaten-path hotel for an overnight stay. Good set up for any standard horror/suspense film, but this film is so masterfully crafted that even those who are not fans of the genre should be thoroughly entertained. And, of course, it contains one of the best-known (and most studied) 45 seconds of film in the history of cinema – the shower scene (“Mother! Oh God, mother! Blood! Blood!”). It’s unarguably among Alfred Hitchcock’s best films. If you need more convincing – the American Film Institute lists it as #14 on their list of the 100 greatest films of all time.

 Carnival of Souls (1962)

CarnivalOfSoulsOK, I’m not great with math, but I think the “equation” for this film would be something like: creepy + creepy, divided by low budget + more creepy = creepy to the 10th power. What I’m trying to say this movie is…creepy. The slow pacing, extremely low production values and amateurish acting (other than from our lead – Candace Hilligoss – who’s performance is dead on) may, at points, distract, but overall add to the pervasive feeling of unease. The story of a woman who has a series of strange experiences after a car accident gets an “A” for atmosphere. Director Herk Harvey’s one and only feature film will haunt you long after the carnival has left town.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

NightOfTheLivingDeadThe dead were born right here; a horror sub genre started with this film. There were other zombie films before this, but the earlier films lurked somewhere a bit closer to reality – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligiri (1920) dealt with hypnotism, and White Zombie (1932) was a tale of voodoo. It was director George Romero, who truly defined the zombie as we know it – the shuffling, rotting dead, with a big appetite for life.
Night of the Living Dead trailer


Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

RosemaryThe story of a pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) who fears that everyone around her intends to harm her unborn child. Roman Polanski’s cinematic adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel was a critical (an Oscar for best supporting actress – Ruth Gordon) and commercial success. But its biggest success may be the powerful and paralyzing sense of pure paranoia that permeates the picture.
Rosemary’s Baby Trailer

 

The Exorcist (1973)

ExorcistThe first horror film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture (it lost in that category, but won Best Adapted Screenplay), also finds itself first on many “greatest horror films of all time” lists, and with good reason. The story, of a girl possessed by the devil and a priest whose faith is fading, contains plenty of intense moments and genuine scares. One or two of the special effects may not quite hold up fully to today’s standards, but overall the make-up (by Dick Smith) is incredible, and the scenes of Reagan in full-on-possession mode (her scarred face spewing split-pea-soup-coated profanities) will find a permanent residence in your brain.
The Exorcist trailer

The Omen (1976)Omen

Richard Donner directs old-school Hollywood stars Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in this story of a diplomat and his wife who become the foster parents to the antichrist. This terrifying tale of a terror-inducing tyke on a tricycle, with it’s creative death scenes and Oscar-winning score by Jerry Goldsmith (perhaps the best horror soundtrack ever), put this way out in front of most other spawn-of-Satan flicks.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

DawnoftheDeadRomero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead successfully mixes horror with a healthy dose of social satire. But what really makes this flick so much fun are the “fantasy” elements that speak to the 12-year-old in all of us: living in a shopping mall, having an arsenal of weapons and an endless supply of slow moving targets, being among the last people on earth, etc. Throw in loads of comic-book-style gore and you’ve got yourself a bloody good time.
Dawn of the Dead trailer

The Shining (1980)

ShiningStanley Kubrick’s meticulous direction, Jack Nicholson’s tour-de-force performance, and Stephen Kings’ finely crafted novel (about a family who spend a winter as caretakers of a remote, haunted resort) combine for a perfect trifecta of terror. While, at times, the over-the-top sense of drama may bring some unintended humor, overall, Kubrick’s unique interpretation of the source material, the film’s poetic cinematography, and the evocative, intensely effective score, make the film truly hypnotic.

It’s a mesmerizing psychological study of the disintegration of a family – and a spooky, brilliant mood piece.
The Shining trailer

The Evil Dead (1981)

EvilDeadA group of college friends, off in a cabin in the woods, find the Necronomicon (a book of the dead), and high-octane-horror hijinx ensue. Sam Raimi’s generous use of blood and gore and high-energy camera work make for a wonderfully messy thrill ride of a movie. Filming some of the gore scenes in stop-motion animation gives the film an extra feeling of the bizarre. The love of the genre and the pure joy of movie-making are evident in every scene of this low-budget, frantic fright fest.

Author Stephen King’s quote says it all:
“The most ferociously original horror film of the year.”
Evil Dead trailer

Jeeze, that’s 10 already, and we’re only up to 1981. Lots more good stuff beyond that…but I guess that’ll be for another list, another time….assuming we don’t kick the bucket between now and then…

-S. Blood

Rod Serling, R.I.P.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Night Gallery…

Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone

My kind of TV

Rodman Edward Serling (“Rod”) was a writer, television producer and narrator, best known for taking us on a weekly journey to the wonderfully bizarre, sometimes dark (but always brilliant) place, called the Twilight Zone. It was a television show unlike most others of its time; censorship reigned throughout TV land, yet we find social commentary and moral criticism heavily woven into the science fiction and fantasy fabric of the Twilight Zone. A strong foundation of incredible stories (many of them written or adapted by Serling) and solid acting (from numerous soon-to-be-famous actors) combined to build a thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining series. Among the 156 episodes, those not to be missed: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (crazy passenger William Shatner has an awful flight), Living Doll (Telly Savalas is a bad dad who hates his step-daughter’s new toy),It’s A Good Life (everyone must think good thoughts, ‘cause little Billy Mumy will be very upset if you don’t), The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (Claude Akins and his suburban neighbors are whipped into a frenzy of paranoia), To Serve Man (Richard Kiel is 9-foot tall alien who says he’s on Earth to aid mankind), and, perhaps my favorite, Five Characters in Search of an Exit (a heartbreaking little slice of existentialism). The series (which ran from 1959 – 1964) has more than stood the test of time – many of it’s messages are still just as relevant today, and the twist endings still just as impactful – it is quite simply one of the best TV shows ever.

The Night Gallery

Picture if you will…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, there was – Night Gallery. Serling’s next project found him leaning away from sci-fi and more towards horror, and, the series may have missed the mark more often than not. Regardless, as a kid, I fully embraced it. My preadolescent brain thought this was one of the best things to ever happen to TV. The music and images of the opening credits alone did (and still does) scare the bejesus out of me (and, call me finicky, but I prefer my bejesus deep inside of me, thank you very much). When I would hear the opening notes of that twisted tune, the tone was set – I knew that I was in for a delightfully disturbing hour of horror. Seen recently thru adult eyes, I’ll say that Night Gallery perhaps hasn’t aged quite as well as the Twilight Zone, but between spying long gone actors and chuckling over hairstyles and fashions of the day (1970-1973), there’s a wonderful nostalgia trip to be had in watching almost any of the episodes. That being said, the show does indeed have moments of true creepiness. In fact, some episodes were quite effective: The Sins of the Fathers (famine forces a boy, Richard Thomas, to become a sin-eater), The Caterpillar (put it in your ear and it eats through your brain!), and perhaps my favorite – The Flip-Side of Satan. It’s a bit goofy (it does star Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s Arte Johnson after all), but the story of a late night dj working alone at an isolated radio station has a moment that still freaks me out – the sound of the demonic incantations from the mysterious record he plays continue to haunt me (it’s just as spooky as the opening title score!).

Premature Burial

Funeral for a friend…

Rod had a productive career – ranging from radio to TV to film (he co-wrote the screenplay for the original Planet of the Apes movie). He was the winner of multiple awards (including 6 Emmys) – and thanks to his talent and success (and partly through his many censorship battles and various network struggles), he actually helped to form some of televisions industry standards.

Friday, June 28, 2013 marks 38 years since Rod Serlings’ passing. He died of a heart attack at age 50. As Rod said in the Twilight Zone Ring-a-Ding Girl episode: “We are all travellers. The trip starts in a place called birth – and ends in that lonely town called death. And that’s the end of the journey, unless you happen to exist for a few hours in the misty regions of the Twilight Zone…”

-Seymour Blood

Serling's grave

Mr. Serling’s final home