*SIGH* Do you easterners and northerners know what Halloween in southern California looks like? Or for that matter, do you know what Thanksgiving in southern California looks like? Or Christmas? Or Easter? If you’ve never spent an entire year here, then I’ll give you the answer – the all look exactly fucking the same. *SIGH* Do you easterners and northerners know what Halloween in southern California looks like? Or for that matter, do you know what Thanksgiving in southern California looks like? Or Christmas? Or Easter? If you’ve never spent an entire year here, then I’ll give you the answer – the all look exactly fucking the same. There’s barely any season change. It gets slightly hotter or slightly colder, slightly drier or slightly wetter, that’s it. As someone who grew up in New England, and who has just spent his first full year living in Los Angeles, I am not used to the lack of a real autumn and winter. I am also not used to being able to walk around in the middle of October in a T-shirt and shorts. But, as out of place as I may still feel in my new home, I still have some mementos to remind me of Octobers back east – my horror DVD collection. All I need to do is put a disc in my player and I can be reminded of the old days when there were still bare maple trees outside my window instead of these darn palm trees. So please enjoy my list as I recount some of the horror films that have a special place in my heart and my memories. 10. The Stand (1994) As a little boy I was an extremely good reader and could read at an advanced level compared to the other kids in my class, so much so that by the age of 11 it was possible for me to process a four hundred page novel in less than a week. After reading several moderate length Stephen King novels I turned my attention to The Stand, which had recently been republished in a re-worked form that added hundreds of pages to the length. It took me much longer than a week to get through that one, but I finished it and enjoyed every moment. Three hundred or so pages into reading the novel it was announced in TV Guide that an eight-hour miniseries adaptation would be airing on ABC during the spring sweeps week. I finished the book a month before the premiere and watched the miniseries with great enjoyment. As I had a 9:30 bedtime back then my mom would have to tape each episode on the VCR, and I would run home from school each day eager to watch the latest installment. What I didn’t realize at the time, though, was that even though I had been old enough to follow the plot of the novel, to understand the language and the story, I did not possess the maturity to understand the various subtexts of the book, nor was I able to pick up on those subtexts when I first watched the miniseries (a very faithful adaptation). All the apocalyptic horror and religious symbolism simply went over my head. It wasn’t until six months later when I decided to pull out the VHS tape and watch the miniseries again that all this stuff clicked with me – and I was horrified like I had never been before. Never before in my life had I seriously contemplated the end of the world and the complete breakdown of society. Never before had I imagined what a great global plague would really be like. And, as religion was not a part of my family’s life, I was ignorant of Christianity except in its most basic form, which meant there was plenty of room in my head to be filled up with the novel’s and miniseries’ graphic take on the battle between good and evil. Let me tell you folks, if you’re eleven years old you do not want Stephen King as your theology teacher. I have not seen the miniseries of The Stand since the summer of 1994, and have always gone out of my way to avoid watching it on home video. I suppose if I was to watch it now after fifteen years I would probably find it to be terribly cheesy – but I would rather not find out. Writer Stephen King and director Mick Garris, you warped me for life. Thank you. 9. Return of the Evil Dead (1973) As an adolescent I watched the entire “Blind Dead” series on VHS in their chronological order, and of the four films the one which left me the most disappointed was actually the original Tombs of the Blind Dead, which I saw in its original Spanish version on the old Anchor Bay tape. Despite some brilliant and frightening scenes, Tombs was too long (over a hundred minutes from start to finish) and the script dissipated much of the suspense by stretching the action out over too many locations with too many subplots. The terrifying extended climax saved the film for me, but I was left with a feeling that Tombs of the Blind could have been much more. For that reason, the most enjoyable entry to the series for me is this film, the second. Although it introduces some inanities into the story which Tombs managed to avoid, it is also better paced, with much more Templar action and suspense, including a beautifully done, nerve wracking finale. Check out the original Spanish version, as the American edit muddles the plot by cutting important story elements. 8. The Devil Bat (1940) At one point in this cheesy but irresistibly enjoyable poverty row vehicle, a character bids goodnight to Dr. Paul Carruthers, a mad chemist played by Bela Lugosi. Not knowing that he has just put on an aftershave lotion with a scent that will attract a giant, killer bat to him, the character looks somewhat surprised when Carruthers says, in a hilariously overstated manner, “Goodbye, Roy.” This moment, famed amongst horror fans, captures perfectly the essence of The Devil Bat, an exuberant, cheap, stupid and fun quickie directed by Jean Yarbrough. Wisecracking 40’s reporters, giant bats, secret passageways and Bela Lugosi at his hammy best. How can anyone resist? 7. Nosferatu (1922) Any silent film capable of giving me nightmares some seventy-five years after the fact deserves a spot on this list. I was about ten years old, maybe eleven or twelve at the most, when my grandfather taped this F.W. Murnau classic off his local PBS station and mailed it to me. Here was something very new to me. I had seen silent horror films before, but none of them were as visually striking. In fact, I had never seen a movie that looked quite like this one. The shadows, the lightning, the bleak use of actual Carpathian landscapes. It was all like something out a dream. And damn it all if I wasn’t terrified of some scenes, like when the Jonathan Harker character (not called that for copyright reasons) opens the door to his room, only to see the vampire standing at the end of the distant hall looking at him, slowly moving towards his room. Perhaps what unnerved me most was the film’s bizarre use of day for night – literally. Nighttime exteriors looked like daylight (the version I was watching lacked the tinting of some of the other versions out there). Rather than ruining the atmosphere, this served to add to it. Classic vampires cannot move around in the daylight. If you see a daylight scene in a vampire film, you know you’re safe. But when day and night look the same you can never let your guard down. 6. The Plague of the Zombies (1966) “No day ever dawns for the slave, nor is it looked for. It is all night - all night forever.” Such were the words of a former slave in the pre-Civil War United States, and before movie zombies were crawling out of the grave hungry for flesh they were showing up in films such as this opulent looking Hammer production. They were not shambling automations with cannibalistic tendencies, they were undead slaves to a living master, toiling away into eternity. Pre-1968 zombie films often dealt with issues of class and race on some level. The Plague of the Zombies brings together all of the elements that Hammer was famous for – lush color, period settings and some (for the time) graphic violence. The story concerns a nobleman in a small Cornish village who rejuvenates his family’s failed tin mine by turning the local population into zombies, presumably since the undead can’t unionize. Suddenly your thankless twelve-hour shifts at a job you hate don’t seem so bad, do they? 5. The House by the Cemetery (1981) One of the many notable things about Lucio Fulci’s early 80’s horror films was the ability of him and his team to use limited location shooting outside their home country to maximum effect. Although his crowning achievement in this regard would probably be New York Ripper (which never fails to feel like it’s taking place in the Big Apple, even though almost all the interiors were filmed at a studio in Italy), his slightly lesser House by the Cemetery is a comparable achievement. It captures a beautiful, bleak atmosphere of dread and menace that is somehow both uniquely New England and uniquely Italian. Not the best of Lucio Fulci’s films, but certainly one of my favorites. 4. Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) I once watched this film with a good friend of mine from college. Her reaction? “Well, that wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought,” she said, and considering this girl’s taste in movies and music was completely opposite that of my own, for her to even say that was a big deal. I use this story as an example because in my experience Dellamorte Dellamore – or Cemetery Man, take your pick – has proven strangely accessible to a number of people I’ve known who normally would not look at a movie like this twice. I watched it repeatedly on VHS, taking in the beautiful atmosphere and the even more beautiful Anna Falchi. Dellamorte Dellamore has a lot of admirers for a lot of reasons, but what attracts me to it personally is the ambiguous, philosophical script. The movie becomes a Rubik’s cube that never seems to fit together quite the same way twice. 3. I Walked With a Zombie (1943) As modern horror fans we are most familiar with two types of zombies. We have the classic Romero style undead, which are vicious and hungry for flesh, but which are also slow, shambling and relatively weak. Then we have the post-Romero zombie, which shares the aggressiveness and hunger of its precursor, but which also is hyper-powered with seemingly limitless speed and strength. As zombie movies have a way of getting under my skin no matter what, I find both to be frightening. But, after many years spent reflecting on zombie cinema, I realize that most of all I have a special affinity for the pre-Romero zombies, hence the inclusion on this list not just of Plague of the Zombies but also of this classic. Loaded with tropical atmosphere (though presumably filmed here in California) and old time Hollywood charm, this understated masterpiece is a treasure trove of creepy moments that deserves repeated viewing. 2. Santa Sangre (1989) I never had much tolerance for Alejandro Jodorowsky prior to seeing Santa Sangre last Halloween at an all-night horror show. I had sat through Fando and Lis and decided that life was too short to bother with the rest of his movies, seeing as a friend had told me they were all very similar. Eventually I reneged and watched El Topo and The Holy Mountain. Better than Fando and Lis to be sure, but certainly not my cup of tea. In fact, the only reason I was at that particular theatre that particular night was to see Pieces as part of the show, and Santa Sangre was on first. I was blown away by the experience of watching it in a theater, and was even so touched by it that I made the decision to go back and revisit Jodorowsky’s other films. 1. Halloween (1978) Sure it’s cliché to put John Carpenter’s classic on this list, let alone at the number one spot, but it’s a cliché that I haven’t indulged in before. People have said this and that about Carpenter’s achievement, comparing it to the works of Alfred Hitchcock or Mario Bava, pontificating about the similarities between it and the Italian giallos of earlier in the decade and so on and so forth. The comparisons are certainly not without merit, but for me Halloween is the kind of modern horror movie I would have expected Val Lewton to have made, had he not died prematurely in 1951. The final moments are a triumph of understated simplicity. Michael Myers doesn’t need to be shown to be immortal. He doesn’t need to be shown jumping back to life for one final scare, probably as Loomis checks his body to make sure he’s really dead. Just show the bare spot on the ground where his body momentarily lay and end the movie, with the audience thoroughly unnerved.