Why a question mark on the headline? After all, aren’t Brad’s Top Five lists final and authoritative?
Well, not this one. Because I am not a horror fan. This may be an oversimplification — because there some films in this genre I do like — but in general, I feel like we have enough stress and disgust and shocks in real life. I feel the same way about scary rides at the fair. I’m not paying somebody good money to make me unhappy.
In some ways this is odd, I suppose, because when I was a kid — starting when I was 9 or 10 — I was a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. When I lived in Ecuador in the fifth and sixth grades, I had an hour ride on the bus either way. My friend Tony and I would sit in the back and tell each other the Poe stories we’d read, to while away the time.
Which reminds me. The creepiest of all Poe’s stories was “The Fall of the House of Usher.” I was very, very disappointed to see that Netflix was presenting a TV series with that title. The very straightforward story — the meat of the narrative takes place over a single evening, as I recall, although what goes before is creepy enough — lends itself in no way to a TV series. The only way you can do that is to hire some writers who are not Poe and have them cram a bunch of excess stuff into it. Worse, it appears to be one of those execrable “updates.” Enough said.
There are so many works in literature — such as my faves of recent years, O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series of novels — that call for that kind of treatment, that beg for it. The world would be such a better place if Hollywood would address that need. But no, it’s considered more profitable to ruin Poe.
You might say I’d change my mind if I watched it. That is possible, but extremely unlikely. And not worth wasting time on. I watch a lot of TV (and movies on TV), but I am selective, because I do have a life. If it looks extremely unlikely that I’ll like it, or learn anything from it, I spend the time instead on something that I’m pretty sure will be rewarding — there are enough things out there fitting that description to fill 100 lifetimes.
For that reason, I have never seen, for instance, “The Exorcist,” the anniversary of which is being so overcelebrated at the moment. I paid attention to the marketing at the time — the head-spinning, the floating above the bed, the especially gross vomiting — and moved on to other things.
So my body of experience producing this list is woefully inadequate. But I often find that I enjoy seeing what items y’all will name, and all of you are probably more knowledgeable about this than I am. So, to start a discussion, here goes:
- Psycho — You don’t get more classic than this, or more perfect. It might be Hitchcock’s best film, in addition to being the best horror film. Every touch is just right. Anthony Perkins is astounding, but of course the key scene is Janet Leigh naked in the shower. Doesn’t show much, but it’s pretty titillating for 1960. And it’s such a brilliant stroke to pull the viewers (the males anyway, especially the young ones) in with such a stunning woman in the altogether, and utterly shatter it with possibly the greatest “jump scare” in film history. By the way, I was inspired to write this post by a piece in the Post today assessing movies by the number of such “jump scares.” The writers seemed to think more is better. There are only three in this one — that I recall thinking back — and that’s just the right number: the shower scene, Martin Balsam climbing the stairs, and the final reveal about Norman’s mother. More than that would have ruined it.
- Dracula (1931) — Yep, I trend toward classics, and this, to me, is the very best of the great ones of the ’30s. It’s not about the blood, folks. It’s about the amazing creation and maintenance of a mood of dread and horror. Think of Dracula’s “brides” gliding across the room. That epitomizes what I’m talking about. That’s the essence.
- The Sixth Sense — This one would utterly fail that “jump scares” test I mentioned before. There’s really just one, at the end, and you build to it over the course of the film. And I’m not sure the intellectual realization of what’s been going on qualifies as such a “scare.” Probably not. Although at times it just feels like a Bruce Willis movie, only a bit darker, the kid who sees dead people keeps it in the horror genre throughout. Anyway, the director has been trying so hard for so long to be scary — even changing his middle name to “Night” when he was in college — that I feel like we should throw him a bone here.
- Alien — This was a great, ground-breaking sci-fi film, realistically depicting what extended life in space might conceivably be like, if it ever proves to be truly feasible. But in terms of plot, it was basically a haunted house story, and maybe the best ever. Also, it gave us Sigourney Weaver. Top that.
- The Walking Dead — This is why I added “TV shows,” parenthetically, to the headline. I felt obliged to include this as an illustration of when I was wrong for refusing to watch it for the longest time. I finally gave in and started, and was hooked — for six seasons. After watching the last episode of the sixth, I decided the writers had run out of ideas, and stopped. But there’s still a lot I love about it in those first seasons. Favorite character? Daryl Dixon, who adapted to post-apocalyptic life more smoothly than anyone. Least favorite character? Andrea, who never missed a chance to do the wrong thing and put her companions in danger. Finally, aside from this being a TV series, I debated most over including it because, is it really a horror movie? That whole genre seems a bit more like dystopian science fiction. But for awhile, I liked it. One reason why: Nobody says “zombie.” (I vaguely recall someone saying it and getting corrected once. Am I remembering that right?)
There are some honorable mentions in my limited repertoire, such as “An American Werewolf In London.” And if I had insisted on keeping the list to movies, the best of the zombie apocalypse genre was “28 Days Later,” which of course starts the same as “The Walking Dead.” And the same as the last great music video, “Party Rock Anthem.”
Some lists included “Young Frankenstein.” That is a great pick for any list — the best Mel Brooks movie by far — and if I included it in the five above, it would probably top the list. I love it. But I’m gonna be pedantic here, and admit it’s not a horror movie. It’s a brilliant comedy that mocks horror movies. That suggests another sort of list, which would include “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” (Or should those two be on a sub-sub-list, “musical horror comedies?” It’s difficult to say.)