When it comes to horror movie franchises, there are a lot of hits and misses. Ultimately, when creating a top 10 list you have to take into account the general overall sick concept of the franchise’s killer, plus the overall body of work of such psychopath. There are lots of contenders for this list, but what it comes down to is longevity, creativity, and the ability to get a grip on new generations of audiences. I don’t consider the Alien movies, or the Hannibal Lecter movies to be true horror. The best horror film icons never truly die…and here are the best of the best.
10. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY- Four films into this popular series and the filmmakers have managed to keep audiences terrified by sticking with the simple premise that made the original work so well. Although the timeline shifted from present day back to just before present day back about two decades, then shifted forward again to present day, audiences have been able to keep up with where the storyline is headed. Yes, the budgets have steadily increased with each entry but that doesn’t take away from what actually works – causing you to literally jump out of your theater seat. I’ve enjoyed each film and they are meant to be seen on the big screen with a large audience. Wouldn’t be as much fun if the theater was empty now, would it? An empty theater doesn’t seem to be an issue for this franchise. Expect Parts 5, 6, and so on. I guess one day it will wear thin, but as of now, it’s still going strong.
9. SCREAM – Wes Craven was in desperate need of another successful horror film when this little flick debuted back in 1996. The first film in this series of four (Scream 4 lands next spring) featured a great cast and killed off Drew Barrymore in the first 10 minutes. What a beginning to a film that had several twists and turns and kept you guessing as to who the real killer was. The series was consistent in my opinion, although the first one was the best. Introducing another serial killer in the form of Ghostface not only gave people a great Halloween costume idea, but also gave us a memorable murderer who had a personal vendetta against his prey. Bottom line…it was scary and fun. The best thing about this series was that it all seemed like it could actually happen…anywhere…any town.
8. THE EVIL DEAD – five friends go to a cabin in the woods…one by one they become flesh possessing zombies. This series gave birth to one of the coolest of all horror movie icons…Ashley ‘Ash’ Williams, portrayed by Bruce Campbell. Sam Raimi created this way out there series and managed to actually improve on the original withboth Evil Dead 2 and the third entry Army of Darkness. In my opinion, this is a series that got better as it went on. It’s a shame Raimi gave up on it after the third one. The story is mostly about ‘Ash’ trying to keep himself from falling victim to the evil force in the woods that wants to turn him into a zombie…while all the people around him are not so lucky. All of the films are cleverly scripted with witty humor (especially Army) and are all very entertaining to watch. Fun series!!
7. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – Bloodthirsty zombies run amuck in George A. Romero’s long running series. There have been many, and I mean many parts of the original Living Dead series since the first one debuted in 1968. The longest active running series in horror film history features the following: Night of the Living Dead (original and remake), Dawn of the Dead (original and remake), Day of the Dead (original and remake), Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Night of the Living Dead 3D. The various tales of the dead coming back to life in zombie form are unique and Romero had quite the talent for making these near lifeless beings very creepy.
6. HELLRAISER- Clive Barker’s film about a man who needs the blood of his victims to completely reform his physical body after he had been torn apart by a group of demons – called Cenobites – is not only bloody as hell, but very disturbing to watch. The Cenobites, who are led by Pinhead, feast on the pain, suffering, and pleasure of others. The first film which revolves around one woman’s never ending desire for her husband’s late brother is truly a tale of desperation and shows the extremes that humans will go to in the name of lust. While the first is a classic, I truly enjoyed the second installment and found it to be much more disturbing. We get to see more of just what goes on in Clive’s vision of ‘hell’ and it’s not pretty. Lots of blood, body parts, flesh being ripped off…very sick things. But this is horror at it’s best. Once the Cenobites actually start to wreak havoc on Earth (part III), the thrill diminishes a bit, and the other sequels can be written off. Of course, a reboot is currently in the works, but is without the original Pinhead or Clive Barker. Not sure I really want to see this…but who knows…maybe I’ll be surprised.
5. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE- Tobe Hooper’s classic still gives me chills. Can you imagine getting lost and ending up becoming the objects of this sadistic family? Not me. Even though the original was cheaply shot (you can see the low budget in every frame), there was a creepy factor that was missing from the sequels. I did enjoy the ‘over the top’ fun that was Part 2, but Part 3 and The Next Generation were very sub-par entries for this franchise. The series did get a face-lift with the reboots that occurred a few years back. Like the Friday the 13th remake, I truly enjoyed the dark intensity that the filmmakers brought to these redos (adding Jessica Biel to the first one didn’t hurt). Like Jason, Leatherface is a beast of a man who is truly sick in the head. He gets off on torturing people, regardless of age. But the Chainsaw films are not all about him. It’s about the family. Call it poor genetics, or whatever, but this family has more than a few screws loose.
4. FRIDAY THE 13TH- Jason Voorhees. The boy who drowned at Crystal Lake. Probably the most famous character of all the slashers, Jason has the most simple back-story. He drowns under the supposed watch of teenage camp counselors…his mother seeks revenge on all teens while all the time thinking her son is dead…she dies and he takes over the reigns of killing the teens…the rest is history. The first half of this series is really good, and in fact this is one of the few series where the original is not the best. When Jason starts doing the killing (part 2), the intensity goes up a few notches. The disfigured little boy who grows up to be the disfigured mass murderer has purpose behind every kill – to avenge his mother’s death. He has no remorse for his victims – they come to Camp Crystal Lake…they die. The series did lose my in part 5 with the copycat killer, but got rejuvenated by Jason’s return in part 6 and part 7. Lost me again when he goes to Manhattan and into space. Even though the plot to bring him back in Freddy vs. Jason was silly, it was nice to see him go toe to toe with Freddy Krueger…fun to watch. And as far as remakes go, I probably enjoyed this one the best. Loved the added brutality they brought to Jason. Jason is a beast and due to his emotionless demeanor, makes him the villain you would most not want to meet in a dark alley…or wooded campgrounds.
3. SAW – This very creative series gets the top prize for being the most disgusting of all horror franchises. Not only does it bring on the ‘sick’, but the clever plot-lines that center around the revenge seeking killer Jigsaw take this series to a level that most franchises never get to. It’s smart and gory at the same time. There is a purpose to Jigsaw’s madness and even though it may be hard to understand his way of thinking…it all makes sense to him. He has a goal…to make people realize the ‘bad’ that they have done right before either ending their own life or someone they care for. The series is sort of like David Fincher’s Seven in that respect. The latest, SAW 3D, is releasing this weekend and promises to be the last in the series. Let’s hope they wrap it up nicely and finalize all of the subplots going on. With each entry, the storyline gets a little more complicated and I think audiences have lost interest in the plot altogether. But what you can count on with each entry is the creativity that goes into the death sequences. To me, that’s what this series is mostly about. How utterly sick and disgusting can they make this person, and that person die? That’s what I look forward to the most.
2. HALLOWEEN – A lot of props have to be given to John Carpenter and the creation of the masked man who comes back to kill on the ‘evilest’ of all holidays – Halloween. Michael Myers is the original mega slasher. Yes, Leatherface and Norman Bates came first, but Myers took killing to a whole other level. He was menacing, yet never said a word. Pure anger and pure hatred fueled his fire. The original, and its sequel were top notch films. The series, like most, gradually declined, but there were still some good moments in some of the sequels. Halloween 4 brought a much anticipated return of Mikey after the Myers-less third installment, which in some ways was creepy as a stand alone film. Rob Zombie’s reboots were very aggressive versions of what John Carpenter’s were, but I did enjoy the first one…second one, not so much. Still the most popular Halloween mask of all time…and justly so.
1. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – The one horror icon that really made it difficult to sleep at night. Wes Craven’s creation of Freddy Krueger seemed a strange idea on paper, but once it made it’s way to the big screen, audiences couldn’t help but be terrified at the idea that someone could kill them in their dreams. It was a unique concept, one that would be so successful that it made it’s studio New Line Cinema a force to be reckoned with. This is, in my opinion, the best overall horror series of them all. And a lot of credit has to go to Robert Englund, who perfectly embodied the sarcastic humor and terror of Freddy. Despite a few duds (Parts 2 and 6 come to mind), the other films in this series were fun to watch and a couple of them were downright creepy. The highlight was Dream Warriors which featured the best mix of humor, creativity, and plot. This was the midpoint for Freddy Krueger. This is where he switched from being ‘scary’ to being ‘humorous’. New Nightmare was an interesting concept and featured an insanely cool looking Freddy. Freddy vs. Jason was really only good in the last 20 minutes, but it was nice to see these horror icons battle it out. The main reason why Freddy is my #1 has to do with the fact that it’s just sick to think of a man that can kill you while you sleep. A scary concept indeed.
HONORABLE MENTIONS – Psycho (the first two are good, but the others stunk bad), The Exorcist (only the first is worthy of a second viewing), and the Child’s Play series (fun, silly series that made Chucky a household name).
The horror movie genre has had its ups and downs, but overall it is a genre worth celebrating. We all need to be scared once in awhile. Good for the soul. I’m a big fan of the horror icons from the late ’70’s and 80’s, but also appreciate what the new writers and directors have brought to the big screen. I enjoyed The Grudge, the original Blair Witch Project, The Ring, Sinister, Cabin in the Woods, The Strangers, and even the Hostel films. It’s good to see new creative ideas for horror films and I enjoy seeing modern filmmakers paying homage to the villains of the past. Some of the remakes fall far short of the originals, but others either come close to, or exceed expectations. I can’t wait to see what the next big wave of ‘scary’ movies will consist of over the next decade.