Jeremy’s Halloween List 2007 As kids, we looked forward to Halloween as a time for trick or treating, Halloween specials and dress-up. Now, as adults, we as horror fans still look forward to Halloween, if only because each September and October always comes with a slate of new genre DVD releases. But we can also look forward to Halloween as a time that enables us to sit back and contemplate on what it is that makes us horror fans, and re-watch our old favorites in the spirit of the holiday. My Halloween top ten list – my first ever for this site – is a mixture of the very old to the relatively recent, spanning five different countries and seven decades. Some are well known and well regarded. Others remain relatively unknown but deserve greater exposure. Still others are misunderstood and deserve a second chance from fans. All of them, though, sit proudly in my collection and, as an aspiring filmmaker, I would be proud to someday make a movie which I could count as being as good as any of these ten. 10. Torso (1973) This was the first true giallo that I ever saw. I still remember being 17 years old and popping the recently released Anchor Bay DVD into my player, and by the time the movie was over I was never to look at a murder mystery the same way again. Torso had so many things to it I had never seen before. It was stylish, it was violent, it was colorful, it was sexual, it was suspenseful and it kept me guessing about the killer’s identity for quite awhile. In short, it was everything that a giallo should be, and it made such a lasting impression on me that a future screenplay of mine was heavily influenced by it. It is regrettable that the film is not discussed much nowadays, something that seems partly due to the fact that some of Sergio Martino’s better giallos are now available on DVD, and partly because the Anchor Bay disc fell out of favor when it turned out to be not quite as uncut as once thought. That’s a pity, because Torso is a great thriller that should be in the collection of every giallo fan. 9. The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) Although the Stephen Vincent Benet short story is common reading in high school curriculums, many fans seem to have never heard of this wonderful adaptation. The film tells the story of Jabez Stone, a down-on-his luck 19th century New Hampshire farmer who sells his soul to the Devil for seven years of good luck. But when it comes time for Satan to collect on his transaction the poor man panics and enlists the help of prominent statesman Daniel Webster, who persuades the Devil to allow a jury trial to decide the fate of the poor Jabez’s soul. The Devil agrees, but with a twist – the “jury” turns out to be a collection of famous, damned men! The Devil and Daniel Webster is a true classic that cleverly blends history with the supernatural (Daniel Webster was an actual historical figure and Secretary of State under president John Tyler, and most of the condemned jury members are actual criminals and villains from American history), and features an absolutely unforgettable performance from the great Walter Huston as the Devil. 8. Curse of the Crying Woman (1963) After making the well-regarded El Vampiro in the mid-1950’s, Mexican producer and actor Abel Salazar made a number of cheesy movies like The Brainiac and The Living Head before returning to more classic, gothic scares with this film, a retelling of the Mexican “La Llorna” legend. Picked up by K. Gordon Murray and released in the US via AIP-TV, Curse of the Crying Woman made an impact upon viewers in spite the low-rent English dubbing that accompanied it. Despite an obviously low budget, the movie is still remarkably atmospheric and well made, only occasionally slipping into the same tacky vein as Salazar’s other productions. With the original Mexican version now easy to find on DVD, all fans should at least give this one a quick look. 7. The Blob (1958) What top-ten list would be complete without a classic creature feature like this? The little blob of space gelatin that grows into a massive, flesh-eating organism is a unique screen monster that has rightly become famous in pop culture over the decades, and many of those who grew up with TV screenings in the 60’s and 70’s can recount stories of how scary the movie really was. Sure, by today’s standards The Blob is a little cheesy, but the special effects used to bring the menace to life are still surprisingly good and the somewhat disgruntled looking Steve McQueen is on hand to fight the menace. Combined with good color photography and some decent production values, The Blob is still a respectable little movie. 6. The Thing (1951) In my mind, The Thing is of historical significance not just as the movie that kicked off the 50’s alien invasion boom, but also as the first horror film to realize that the best way to truly scare an audience was to grab them by the balls and not let go. This story of an Arctic research station being menaced by a ferocious, humanoid alien was a far cry from what passed as scary during the mid-1940’s when horror was Glenn Strange, John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. running around in tacky Universal movies as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man. The Thing was a hundred and eighty degree departure from the horror movies that had been made at Universal, RKO, PRC and Monogram. Eschewing the type of plots that had been used so often in those films, The Thing instead went with a siege plotline as a small group of people find themselves cut off from the outside world, and used techniques such as unexpected “jump out of your seat” scares and plain old white knuckle suspense. Though it may not be frightening to modern viewers - especially since so many people are more familiar with the John Carpenter remake - in 1951 it must surely have been a truly terrifying movie. 5. Scream (1996) Say what you like about Scream, but in my mind it is one of the most misunderstood horror films of recent years. It is a movie that divided fans so badly and caused so many flame wars that the electronic fan community was almost in a state of civil war during the closing years of the 90’s. Scream committed the deadly sin of daring to poke fun at the conventions of the beloved slasher genre while simultaneously setting off a wave of crappy, unwanted imitations. Many horror fans never seem to have forgiven it for doing either. The result is that the film has gradually started to fall into obscurity after just a decade, an obscurity it doesn’t deserve. It’s a clever, suspenseful and humorous thriller. 4. Viy (1967) Based on an 1835 story by the great Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, this Soviet adaptation has plenty to recommend to it, including fabulous art design and an amazing array of demons and monsters that reveal themselves at the climax. But Viy also shines not just for that but also for its ability to capture the spirit of Gogol’s story, including his humorous and satirical criticism of the decadent clergy and landowning classes that dominated Tsarist Russia. Although not well known in America, every single Russian that I have ever worked with or otherwise known seems to have seen this film and regard it highly. 3. City of the Living Dead (1980) Although its muddled storyline has left many frustrated, Lucio Fulci’s follow-up to Zombie nonetheless has all the right ingredients to make for a classic Italian splatterfest – there’s tons of gore, a pounding Fabio Frizzi soundtrack and the obligatory non-Italian performers in the lead roles. City of the Living Dead struck a relatively even balance between art and commercialism, delivering an eerie, sometimes beautifully constructed atmosphere of doom while still retaining all the elements needed to pack audiences into the theaters. In its own way it is actually more successful than the overall superior The Beyond, which took the artistic route and found itself being hacked up for American distribution. 2. Horror Express (1973) Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were a remarkable set of actors. Each man had his own unique screen presence and the capability to carry a film on his own, and when put together in a movie the two men had a distinctive chemistry that made their collaborations as famous as they themselves were. It’s sad that Hammer – the studio that invented the Lee/Cushing collaboration – so often let one or the other man be wasted in roles that failed to utilize their ability to play off each other. It’s ironic that it took this film – a Spanish production with a Spanish director, crew and supporting cast – to showcase Lee and Cushing’s abilities together. Horror Express is a great little film that always manages to be interesting and engaging, despite a rather cockamamie plot. Lee and Cushing have rarely been better together, and the movie features another great performance from Telly Savalas as a Cossack officer who’s been stationed in Siberia for just a little too long. This was a childhood favorite of mine that I still watch every now and again. 1. White Zombie (1932) In an era when the horror market was dominated by Universal, this one single, solitary, independent production truly stands out. White Zombie may be old and creaky, its hero might be weak and its supporting cast unmemorable, but it still succeeds for modern audiences willing to look past its dated feel and appreciate its atmosphere and its great performance from Bela Lugosi as the sinister zombie maker. The success of White Zombie would foreshadow how, in future decades, many of the best horror movies would be those made outside of the studio system.