Monday, October 10, 2005

Monster Movie Mon. - Bring Out Yer Undead!

Well, even though I actually got some movies watched this week, I feel compelled to continue with my Halloweeny horror film list. Today's list takes a look two other popular sub-genres: Ghost Stories and Zombies.

Hauntingly Good Films

The Shining: Redrum, redrum! One of those rare occasions where I can successfully separate my love of the book from my feelings towards the movie, probably because, as much as I love the book, I had fallen in love with the movie several years previous to reading it. The twin girls remain one of the creepiest things ever set to film. One mark of how successful this film is is the number of things that have made it into the cultural zeitgeist: Redrum, all work and no play, here's Johnny! Honorable mention goes to the TV mini-series version, which was much more faithful to the book, and is only really marred by a horrible casting choice for the little boy. But man, the croquet-mallet scene still makes me hurt to think about.

Poltergeist: Forget the vastly inferior sequels, this movie kicked butt. Home to one of the other creepiest things in film: the killer clown doll. This one got to me as a kid, probably because so many of the things that go after the family are informed by their fears: clown doll, spooky looking tree, etc. I always think of this as a Spielberg film, since he wrote it, but it was directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre infamy. Very informative about the dangers of building on ancient Indian burial grounds, I think they should show it to all land developers as a cautionary tale.

Ghost Story: Another vastly-different-from-the-book film that I discovered ages before I read the source material. Again, it's probably best that I did, because man, are they two different beasts; the film is a pretty straight-forward "wronged spirit seeking revenge" story, while the book is . . . something else entirely. In addition to be an entertaining story with some spooky moments, this film is notable for being the final film role of Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Fred Astaire.

House: A great haunted house story that I haven't seen in far, far too long. I mean, with a cast that includes Norm Peterson, Bull Shannon, and The Greatest American Hero, how can you go wrong? Very tongue-in-cheek, very funny.

Candyman: Based on a great short story by Clive Barker, which I didn't realize until I was watching it and thought "boy, this is a lot like something I read once . . ." This is the film that introduced me to Tony Todd, one of the creepiest men alive. Thanks to my old roomie Wrath teh Berzerkr's spot-on impression of the title character’s creepy voice calling after the lead actress, I will always think of this movie anytime I meet someone named Helen. Avoid the horrible sequels at all costs.

Movies with Braaaaaains. Braaaaaaaaaaaaaains!

Before I get into the films themselves, I'd just like to say that, while I know that there is a huge following for them, I have never been as big a fan of zombie flicks as I have most of the other sub-genres. Think a lot of the zombie-followers lean more towards the gore-hound side of the horror movie fan-base. And I have little opinion on the whole slow-moving vs. fast-moving zombies debate; I've enjoyed films of both types. I tend to enjoy the zombie films which focus more on character development and/or which have a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about themselves. And before any one asks, I'm including Shaun of the Dead in my Top 5 Horror Comedy list, which is why it's not here.

Dawn of the Dead: The slow-zombie original, not the fast-zombie remake. Not to say that I didn't enjoy the remake (it barely missed making the Top 5), but the original is one of the best zombie films around. Manages to be funny without going over the top, and also has some extremely creepy moments.

28 Days later: My favorite of the fast-zombie films. I know that there’s some debate about whether or not it’s really a zombie film, since the people are victims of a rage-inducing virus and not necessarily walking dead, but to me, since it follows all of the basic zombie film tropes, it be a zombie film. Like the best zombie films, this one is more about character study and development than scary moments, although there are plenty of those here as well. Borrows heavily from its predecessors (the military keeping a pet zombie is straight out of Romero's Day of the Dead) but still manages to maintain its own identity. I’m hoping that the upcoming sequel, 28 Months Later lives up to this one.

Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things: Over-the-top, wonderfully-cheesy B-grade zombie film. Remember, this is not a "best zombie films" list, it's a "favorite zombie films" list, and boy, I do love me some cheesy movies. This one revolves around a group of drama students (and if nothing else, the movie nails the personality traits of drama students) making a horror flick which accidentally results in the dead coming to life. Here's something odd I just discovered: the director, Bob Clark, who is staging a remake, is also responsible for directing an incredibly wide range of films, including the classic comedies A Christmas Story and Porky's, as well as the not-so-classic Rhinestone and the *shudder* Baby Geniuses franchise.

Re-Animator: Very few people do creepy and insane as well as my boy Jeffrey Combs here, and this is the film that put him on the map. Tongue-in-cheek tone and superior FX help make this one a classic. Enjoyed the sequels, but the original is still my fave.

Return of the Living Dead: Another one of those "should it go on the comedy list or not?" films. Again, even though this is a very funny zombie flick, I tend to think of it as a zombie flick foremost and comedy second, so that's what lands it here. Do not be fooled by the title, it has nothing to do with Romero's Night of the Living Dead. If I'm not mistaken, this is the film primarily responsible for the "zombies crave brains" trope.