Wow. It’s hard to believe that October has already arrived. A year has passed since the first time I participated in Horror Digital’s October Madness, though it hasn’t felt like even a tenth that time has passed. Seriously, it seems like just last week I was preparing my first Halloween Top Ten. Now here I am again, a year older, hopefully a bit wiser, trying to whittle a shortlist of more than thirty selections down to just ten. It gets harder every year with tons of great new movies being released Wow. It’s hard to believe that October has already arrived. A year has passed since the first time I participated in Horror Digital’s October Madness, though it hasn’t felt like even a tenth that time has passed. Seriously, it seems like just last week I was preparing my first Halloween Top Ten. Now here I am again, a year older, hopefully a bit wiser, trying to whittle a shortlist of more than thirty selections down to just ten. It gets harder every year with tons of great new movies being released and a cryptful of older films being resurrected from obscurity. The past few years have seen studios open their vaults to provide manufacture on demand availability for some of their more obscure titles. It’s also witnessed the rise of HD cable and satellite stations specializing in horror, along with instant streaming services like Netflix. Every day it seems like it’s getting easier and easier to see obscure gems from around the world. I know many members of my generation are lamenting the decline of the brick and mortar video store but, with a world of films literally at your fingertips, there’s never been a better time to be a horror fan. When I set out to compile this list, I didn’t have a particular theme in mind. I just perused my movie collection and started pulling out the films that appealed to me most. Looking over the list now that it’s complete, I do see that a definite pattern has emerged. Overwhelmingly, these films star human monsters rather than supernatural ones. They’re films where the horror is internalized; the most frightening dark is the one that resides in each and every one of us. It’s uncomfortable to look into the abyss of our own subconscious and to see hate, cruelty and malevolence staring back. Being human isn’t about supressing that darkness but about exploring it and giving it a healthy outlet so it doesn’t overtake us. I think that vicarious release is one of the biggest appeals of horror films, or at least it is for me. Interested in touching the darkness? Start here: 10. Manhunter (1986) Seeing Drive this fall really put me in the mood for the neon drenched milieu of early 80’s crime films. No director typified this motif better than Miami Vice creator Michael Mann. Luckily, he also just happens to be the director of one of the greatest serial killer films ever, Manhunter. The sharpness of the basic premise of Manhunter has been dulled in the intervening years due to a slew of sequels, remakes and copycats. Mann’s grim procedural thriller remains potent nearly 30 years later thanks to stylish direction and, especially, strong performances from William Peterson and Tom Noonan. The two actors play largely flips ides of the same coin: Peterson’s Will Graham internalizes his darkness and uses it as a tool to track serial killers, yet has a tough time keeping it at bay. On the flip side, Noonan’s Francis Dolarhyde is overtaken by the hurt and pain in his past and becomes a human monster because of it. Both represent a unique brand of human tragedy. While serial killer films like Seven ooze with dark menace and atmosphere, Manhunter pulses with a gritty, low-key intensity that never fails to get under my skin. 9. Body Parts (1991) A modern take on the Frankenstein story, Body Parts could very well be described as one part science gone wrong, one part serial killer thriller and one part meditation on the nature of evil. As the story of recent amputees who receive new limbs via unwilling donation by a notorious serial killer, only to experience unforeseen side effects, this patchwork blending of elements seems appropriate. Just before its theatrical debut was scheduled in February 1991, the Jeffery Dahmer story broke and, in the interest of sensitivity, Paramount unceremoniously (and quite understandably) pulled almost all the advertising for Body Parts. The film came and went with little fanfare; the only people seeing it were the critics panning it. Enough time has passed now that it’s ripe for re-evaluation and rediscovery, without having to sit in the prejudicial shadow of real life tragedy. In Body Parts, director/co-screenwriter Eric Red crafted a Cronenbergian tale of revolt of the flesh against its master that is as lurid and trashy as Cronenberg is classy, thoughtful and restrained. With an icy, wan, late November in Canada look to it and an evocative, classically influenced score by Loek Dikker, Body Parts is a potent and unfairly dismissed film. 8. Varney the Vampire or, The Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rymer (1845) Okay, so…it’s a book. Books are digital, too. Predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by a good 50 years, the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire is one of the oldest, yet lesser known English vampire tales. I’m going to sidestep levelling a charge of outright plagiarism against Stoker but the similarities between Count Dracula and Sir Francis Varney are too numerous to be mere coincidence. My wife and I have been reading Varney aloud serially, a chapter or two a night, for the better part of a year. We’ve loved the atmosphere, the mix of soap opera and gothic horror and experiencing this tawdry tale in small, tantalizing instalments. If you’re similarly interested in the origins of the western interpretation of the vampire myth, this is a great place to start. Best of all you can read it online in its entirety and completely free of charge if you’re hesitant to shell out $35 for the complete, annotated edition. http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/PreVarn.html 7. Martyrs (2007) Some movies leave impressions. Martyrs leaves scars. You have been warned. 6. The Incredible Melting Man (1977) After twenty or so years of anticipation, I finally saw The Incredible Melting Man for the first time this fall when I reviewed it for the main page. As soon as I finished watching it for the first time, I hit play and watched it again. That pretty much says it all. Goofy and goopy in equal measures, The Incredible Melting Man is a rare bird: a campy, silly monster movie that boasts stellar creature and gore effects (courtesy a young Rick Baker). Best of all, it an absolute blast with its stilted dialogue, awkward transitions, decidedly un-PC attitude and hilarious use of stock footage. My list is loaded with dark, grim picks this year, so I need a film to give me some fun and goofy catharsis. The Incredible Melting Man is a shit-eating, ear-to-ear grin in cinematic form. 5. Dread (2009) Here’s a gem that was easily best new horror film I saw last year. Based on, but not slavish to, the short story from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood anthology, Dread inspires just that from viewers through its carefully observed character moments and its slow build of tension, both of which culminate in one of the singularly most disturbing moments I’ve seen in a long time. A young girl so emotionally destroyed that she proceeds to try and physically destroy herself, is horrifying precisely because it’s grounded in reality. It is not the result of a supernatural entity or undead slasher, but of one human beings’ capacity for cruelty to another. To me, that’s the scariest villain you’ll ever see in a movie. 4. Carnival of Souls (1960) My list this year is loaded with gory, graphic films that revel in the visceral, so it’s nice to take a breather with a film that places emphasis solely on atmosphere. Like a lot of genre classics, Carnival of Souls’ restrained tone stems as much from its ultra-low budget as it is a result of any conscious artistic decisions. As the old saying goes: “art through adversity,” and although financial restrictions could have been a hindrance, they actually wind up being a boon. Much of Carnival of Souls is filmed in a typically flat, 1960’s way: people sitting around talking in medium shot with a minimal of coverage. Director Herk Harvey sidles the film right up to the point of boredom, lulling the viewer into lowering their guard and then shifts abruptly into the surreal and ghostly. It works like gangbusters. I can almost guarantee that you will never have a more unsettling cinematic experience than watching Carnival of Souls late at night in a darkened room with the wind outside howling through the trees and rattling the windowpanes. Carnival of Souls almost seems like the reason the word “creepy” was invented. 3. Cemetery Man (1993) One of the best genre films of the 90’s, Cemetery Man blends horror (specifically zombie movie) tropes with romantic, almost poetic sensibilities and an off-beat sense of humour. It doesn’t always work but, when it does, the result is transcendent. Rupert Everett gives a wonderfully downbeat performance in the titular role; his work here makes his relegation to comic sidekick or rom-com second banana all the more disappointing. Horror comedy is exceptionally hard to do, and nearly impossible to do well, but Cemetery Man manages the near impossible. The final shot is poignant and never fails to cause a lump in my throat. Or, as Gnaghi would say: “Gna!” 2. The Fly (1986) If I’m going to include a movie that’s neo-Cronenbergian in tone, I’d damn well better include a film by the master himself. Cronenberg’s bold reimagining of the minor 1950’s sci-fi film is still the higest grossing film of Cronenberg’s career and remains one of his most popular, as well. It’s not hard to see why: at the heart of what seems, on the surface, a drippy monster movie is a sensitive and moving modern love story. Better still is the fact that Seth Brundle’s horrifying condition and resultant transformation are due not to his lust for power or the incorrectly perceived innate untrustworthiness of science, but simply because in a moment of weakness he got careless. It stands in nice contrast to the standard cliché of science gone wrong through greed and hubris. Like many of Cronenberg’s films The Fly can be viewed as a compelling allegory for disease, yet it’s the romantic heart beating at the centre of the film that makes it works so well and keeps me coming back again and again. 1. H2: Halloween II (2009) It gets a bad rap but I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Rob Zombie’s sequel to his less than stellar series reboot is an undeniably messy affair. Yet when it’s on, it is so on. From the intense and brutal opening sequence, to the spot-on autumn atmosphere, to Danielle Harris’ surprisingly heartbreaking exit from the picture, H2 manages to find little ways to surprise at every turn. There aren’t many slasher sequels that deal with the psychological impact the events of its predecessor would have on the survivors. The earlier Halloween movies and the Friday and Nightmare sequels all gloss over this is an offhanded or flippant way. H2 spends much of its running time dealing with these very questions, and exploring the answers in a surprisingly sensitive way. The once fresh-faced Laurie now displays a hardened exterior that hides her wounded soul. Annie is angry at the wedge that’s slowly driving itself between her and her surrogate sister, while Leigh Brackett doing his best to put on a brave face and hold the makeshift familial unit together. I wish it were a little leaner, even the 100 minute theatrical version feels overstuffed by 20 minutes and that Loomis played a more central role. And the white horse imagery is undeniably embarrassing. Yet it’s still a fascinating, often very effective, film and one that I’ll be revisiting and re-evaluating for many years to come. Never thought I’d be saying that about a Rob Zombie movie.