People always ask me for my opinion on the top 10 scariest horror movies of all time, but I always precede my answer with a disclaimer — every person is unique and every person’s fears are unique. Sure, several people might be terrified of birds, but what about them? The eyes? The way they sometimes seem to flap uncontrollably? The disease-ridden white death they bombard us with daily? Maybe it’s just the way they seem to know more than they let on.
I have a friend who dreams about zombie Armageddon at least once a month. No doubt his top 10 list would be heavy on the Romero. He also thinks ghosts are “stupid,” which would exclude my top choice. So, here it is, my personal top 10 scariest horror movies of all time, probably not yours, but let’s debate. I want to hear how much I’ve insulted you by leaving one of your favorites out, or call me a wuss if you think one of mine is off. These are always much more useful to people when others help turn the top 10 into a top 100.
10. The Thing (1982) - One of the easiest ways to create a sense of dread is to drop your characters into an isolated, hostile environment and it doesn’t get much more hostile and isolated than the Antarctic. Add in an alien creature that doesn’t just eat you, but gets inside you, changes you, infects your blood… pops off your head and skitters around on the floor like a crab. At the time of my first viewing, most of us hadn’t seen anything like this. We never knew what the thing really looked like because it always seemed to be in violent transition. Here’s an example:
Once infected, the Thing’s victims continue to operate as mostly normal members of a science crew, creating a tremendous amount of paranoia. One blood-testing scene is particularly intense.
I should mention that The Thing is also probably the best example of a remake-done-right in horror history. For a marvelous mixture of an oppressive setting, heavy suspense, repulsive gore, and rapid biological mutation, this one has something to scare everyone.
Oh, you haven’t experienced the movie until you’ve seen it acted out by stop-motion G.I. Joes:
9. 28 Days Later - My zombie-loving friend hates this movie. I tell him they are not zombies, they are infected. He tells me that’s a cheap excuse.
All I know is that yes, these running, almost-barking, infected bastards don’t want to eat you, they want to tear you to pieces… to slobber on you… to spit in your face or vomit blood in your mouth. Why? Because that’s how the virus spreads. My biggest fear is completely losing myself. Going mad. Forgetting my life and family. In this movie, it can happen with one drop of blood, and it does. The change is immediate and devastating. We see the nicest people turn into monsters within seconds.
I think the audience is split between those who find the “zombies” scary and those who dread the disease. I fall into latter group.
8. The Return of the Living Dead - My zombie-loving friend just groaned again. How could I leave out Romero’s movies, especially Night of the Living Dead, but list a parody… a COMEDY? Because it’s fucking scary! Maybe not for you, but I was a kid when this thing came out and I saw it at a drive-in. I was probably wearing some horrid combination of camouflage pants and parachute jacket. I fit right into the 80s mold, just like the zombie-chow in this movie. Let’s go over what made this movie scary and then I dare you to argue its place on this list.
Zombie split-dogs. The outbreak starts in a medical supply lab where everything is animated from whining split-dogs, to pinned insects, to a giant naked cadaver I’ve always called “Sloth.” And these aren’t any normal zombies… the mandatory shot to the head? Pointless. How do you kill these things? Apparently, there is no way. You can burn them up… reduce them to ashes, but are they gone? NO! The smoke goes up into the clouds, produces split-dog-ash-rain and rains back down on… a graveyard. Oops.
The “Tar Man” who spent years stewing in a chemical barrel and has no problem admitting he wants some brains (yes, the zombies talk in this movie):
Ok, I can’t find a picture, but there is a zombie midget in this movie that run-waddles and he is terrifying. Not enough? In one scene the survivors tie up a desiccated, legless corpse-lady and ask her why the dead are eating brains. She bites at the air, severed spine wagging like a tail and leaking… something, and tells them it hurts to be dead and, of course, living brains make the pain subside. Outside, as the zombie horde grows, the sound of their suffering grows to a cacophony. Sometimes here in Montreal when they host the F1 racing, the roar of the cars echoes throughout the city and my brain momentarily translates it as the sound of Return of the Living Dead’s ravenous masses.
This movie is filled with brilliant scenes, expertly paced, and a ton of fun. It’s also hilarious. Why was it so damn scary in the 80s, then? I have no idea. It could have been the music, the special effects (which were really impressive in most cases), or the fact that we hadn’t really seen zombies act this way before. Whatever it was – it resulted in a perfect blend of horror and comedy, not unlike Evil Dead 2.
I nearly forgot the creepiest scene in the entire movie. Outside the zombie-infested area, we see a politician in bed… on the phone. Watch the top of the headboard throughout the entire scene. WHAT IS THAT? AGH!
I’ll add the next bunch on the list tomorrow!