Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Horror Marathon: Top 10 Horror Films


This horror week has been harder than I thought. Truth be told, I had two more franchise breakdowns ready to go, but I no longer saw the need to propel the trend that I long ago discovered: many original horror films are awesome – grade A, perhaps. And their subsequent sequels/prequels/remakes are, by and large, dogshit.

So let’s have some fun. Below is my list of my personal favorite horror films. A few notes: masterpieces like Psycho, Alien, and Jaws won’t be mentioned below. More on why here. 

Also, these films are listed in order of how… horrific they are. For example, the number three film on this list is my favorite movie of the bunch, but the number one choice is my favorite horror film of the bunch. Enjoy!

10. Scream (1996)
By far the most entertaining film on this list (and, admittedly, the least scary) is Wes Craven’s slice of pulp fiction bravado, Scream. It’s a ballsy move, really: create a horror film which not-so-subtly makes fun of the genre’s many clich├ęs and inaccuracies. And considering Craven has no qualms about making fun of himself here, I find it continually impossible to not enjoy the hell out of this flick.

The first scene rewrote the rules, and Craven, writer Kevin Williamson, and the fantastic company of young actors involved, spent the subsequent 100 minutes having the best possible time creating something fresh.

9. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
I’m a weird dude, I know. Call me crazy, but I actually prefer Werner Herzog’s take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula to F.W. Murnau’s. Don’t get me wrong, Murnau’s film is a masterpiece, but as far as sheer dread goes, I simply think Herzog and his mad ass crazy genius collaborator, Klaus Kinski, created something more effective.

And, to be honest, if you’ve seen both films, you know they really are very different. There’s the obvious notion of color vs. black and white and talkie vs. silent, but deeper than that, Kinski’s Dracula is a tender, more sexualized being than Max Schreck’s, which makes the revulsion that much more disturbing once it fully takes hold.

Also, this has nothing to do with horror, but Wagner’s “Das Rheingold (Prelude)” is a reoccurring theme here, and it is fucking gorgeous. A fantastic juxtaposition to the understated terror (and so very different from Terrence Malick’s usage of it in The New World). 

8. Carrie (1976)
I’m not sure who to blame here. And by blame, I mean thank. The wonderment of Carrie, you see, is so difficult to pin point precisely. Do we credit Stephen King’s chilling source novel? Brian De Palma’s fearless, confident direction? Sissy Spacek’s Oscar-nominated incarnation of innocence-turned-scorned? Piper Laurie’s Oscar-nominated incarnation of one of the craziest bitches that’s ever lived? I’m not sure who gets the credit for Carrie. What I do know is that it works, and works so very well in all the best ways.

And, when you consider that Carrie is a sort-of anti horror film (it builds on its terror as opposed to killing, building, killing, repeat, etc.) I’d say it’s one hell of an accomplishment, no matter if I can’t decide who deserves the praise.

7. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
From Mia Farrow’s impossibly creepy lullaby, to John Cassavetes’ spineless husband, to Roman Polanski’s faultless direction, to Ruth Gordon’s superb portrayal of the next door neighbor who truly is too good to be true, Rosemary’s Baby is the type of horror film that carries with it serious weight, and has no problem backing it up.

The kind of film that not only lives up to expectations, but exceeds them gloriously. As Rosemary, Mia Farrow delivers one of the finest female lead performances in horror history. Her on screen transformation from a sprightly newlywed to a helpless, deformed being is utterly mortifying. The ending only solidifies the film’s unique terror.

6. The Descent (2005)
I knew what The Descent was about when I first saw it in theaters, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be my type of movie. A handful of women go spelunking and find themselves face to face with murderous, unidentifiable beasts. How generic, I thought. Well, after the film’s shocking opening sequence, you can bet your ass I was eating my words.

So, quite literally, from scene one, The Descent boldly asserts itself as something different. It’s shocking, grotesque, terrifying, but, most importantly, smart. So many horror films rely on the same blueprint to tell their stories. Why? Because it sells. To put it another way: The Descent is the most contemporary film on this list. There’s a reason for that.

(Note: the version of this film that I saw in theaters contains a different ending than the version released on DVD. Both are good, but the DVD one is oh so much better.)

5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Much like the first Paranormal Activity, I hear people mention constantly that they weren’t scared by The Blair Witch Project. Please don’t mistake this as an I’m right and you’re wrong assertion. What scares you scares you, and I’m certainly not one to convince you otherwise. All’s I’m saying is that, if you watched The Blair Witch Project in your home, with the lights on, during the day, with the pause button close, then, yes, the illusion is dampened. But goddamn, if you saw this movie in a dark, crowded theater, then you know. You just… know.

4. The Shining (1980)
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

That, um… about covers it.

3. The Exorcist (1973)
Movies like The Exorcist didn’t get made in 1973. Movies as honest and raw and unflinching, I mean. Teenage girls didn’t tell priests that their “mother sucks cocks in hell,” turn their heads 360 degrees, stab themselves in their vaginas with a crucifix and, well, you get it. Director William Friedkin has said on more than one occasion that if he was going to do The Exorcist, then he had to do it all the way. The result is about as uniquely terrifying a film as I’ve come by. It is also, like all of the movies on this list, intelligent in the best, most timely way.

Actually, I misspoke. Movies like The Exorcist didn’t get made in 1973… and, well, hell, movies like The Exorcist don’t even get made today.

2. Halloween (1978)
The best straightforward slasher film of all time is John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s simple, effective and mortifying from frame one. It flirts with getting bogged down by too many pointless plot details, but manages to skirt absurdity and remain freakier than all shit from start to finish.

I don’t aim to sound like a sadistic son of a bitch, but I will never grow tired of watching Michael Myers hunt down poor Laurie Strode on that dreadful Halloween night. From the open streets to the cramped closet, there’s nothing about Halloween that doesn’t hit.

1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the scariest horror film I’ve ever seen. I was young when I first saw it, but by that time, I had managed to hear plenty about it. Point being, horror films have never had much of an effect on me. It is very difficult for me to actually be scared by a horror film, let alone one I think I know something about. I thought I knew what The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was going to be, but upon seeing Marilyn Burns’ ecstatic/terrified/possessed face in the back of that speeding truck bed, I realized I didn’t know shit.

This is one of the few horror films that, to this day, I still find myself at complete unease from the moment I hit play. I think this is partly because it is so goddamn raw. Grainy and fearless, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t give a shit about making things look good, it only aims to unsettle you. Which it does. And always will.

Now remember, grandpa, hit her hard.

I mean really, when the hell else have you seen something like that?

Halloween Horror Marathon Posts:

58 comments:

  1. Terrific list man. Love that we have 5 of the same films on our lists. I haven't actually seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or either version of Nosferatu in their entirety. I'm slacking. I also need to watch The Descent.

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    1. Thanks dude! Yeah, when I saw your list, I was happy to see that we had so many in common. Honestly, I was wondering why Texas Chainsaw didn't make your cut, but I assumed you just didn't dig it (which a lot of peeps don't).

      The Descent rules, too.

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  2. Great List. Agree with Scream - least scary but most entertaining.
    You can Never go wrong with Carrie(It's Sissy Spacek I am telling you. Look at her !! LOOK), Rosemary's Baby, The Shining or The Exorcist(I truly believe that since 1973 everyone making exorcism movies has only tried to copy this. Nothing else.)
    Unfortunately, We don't see eye-to-eye about Halloween(But if my comments are to be believed no one does) and Blair Witch(But again I believe Theater experience will make a huge impact).
    I really need to see The Descent(You are like 5th person praising it) and original Texas Chainsaw(Remake didn't do much for me)
    How about Audition or have you seen Tale of Two Sisters ?

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    1. Thanks man! Spacek is so perfect in Carrie. Love her.

      Yes, every exorcism movie since The Exorcist (including its pathetic sequels) have only tried to copy Friedkin's film. And feebly at that.

      Definitely check out The Descent and Texas Chainsaw. The remake sucked big fat ass.

      Audition is remarkable, but, for reasons similar to Psycho, I wouldn't consider that a horror film. Been wanting to check out Tale of Two Sisters for a while now.

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  3. I'm not a big horror fan, so I've only seen a handful of these, and there are only a few that I actually liked. The Shining is my favorite horror film. It's completely different from the novel, but both the book and the movie are outstanding. They're just different stories. I liked Carrie too, and I'll admit I found The Exorcist disturbing.

    I think I could've liked Rosemary's Baby more than I did ... the novel probably ruined it for me. I read it when I was young and innocent, so it freaked me the hell out. What a great experience! I loved it. :-) How could seeing the movie on cable, many years later, compare to that? Plus I didn't like the ending.

    I recently added The Descent to my to-see list. I thought it looked intriguing, and I'm trying to expand my horizons in terms of kinds of movies I don't generally enjoy.

    Great post!

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    1. I'm really not a big horror film either, mostly because what is meant to scare me, doesn't. So I'm with you.

      Ohhh I LOVE the ending to Rosemary's Baby. Abandon all faith, ye who enter here...

      The Descent is a good horror film for people who don't really like horror films. To me, anyway. It's gruesome, but very very smart. Hope you like it!

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    2. After hearing that, I definitely need to give The Descent a try. :-) Though I'll probably cover my eyes during the gruesome parts. I do that a lot, much to the amusement of my teenaged kids.

      Cool that we have completely different opinions about the end of Rosemary's Baby. I don't remember it well, but the feeling stuck with me that the ending was over the top.

      Again, the film was probably spoiled for me by the book. The end of the novel -- unsurprisingly -- was much more subtle, without all the onlookers with cameras. ;-) Plus you could see the thoughts running through Rosemary's mind. Imagine having carried a child lovingly in your womb, and now you're contemplating throwing him out a window. Damn chilling.

      Just for fun, maybe I'll watch the ending again sometime -- I'm sure it's on You Tube.

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    3. You rewatch the ending, and I'll check out the book. Deal!

      Now that you mention it, that does make sense that a book would be better at capturing the thinkings of Rosemary's mind in the moment. Really curious now...

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    4. I like that deal. :-) Maybe I'll even rewatch the whole film.

      Keep in mind, I was in junior high when I read this novel, so I can't vouch for its literary merit after all these years. ;-) I just know it had quite an effect on me at a tender age. Although the fact that it's stuck with me for over 30 years ought to count for something.

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  4. Great list! I haven't seen Carrie...

    I actually find Texas Chainsaw Massacre a little overrated, but only because I don't remember much about it. And the sequels are soo bad (but the second one is so bad it's good). Plus the whole "Was it really Stephen Spielberg that made Poltergeist the film we love and not Tobe Hooper" deal. I kind of question Hooper's legitimacy because of that and it transfers to Chainsaw.

    Really like your horror marathon this year!

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    1. Thanks! Oh man, you gotta scope out the fall of Carrie White. Great stuff.

      I truly think one of the reasons people may be dismayed by the original Texas Chainsaw, is because of what you mentioned. The terrible sequels and worse remakes completely dogged what I consider to be a brilliant film. I don't like Poltergeist. Never have.

      Glad you're digging the marathon!

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  5. And I thought it was just me who preferred Herzog's film to Murnau's. Although, having said that, the last time I saw Murnau's Nosferatu (back in January) I finally got it for the first time in the 20-odd years since I originally saw it. And I've seen it in various ways—cut version that only ran 60 minutes, two screenings with live music, etc—but that time I saw the restoration of it with original colour tints, original score, and correct projection speed, and it just hit me that yes, this actually IS the great film everyone says it is. I haven't watched the Herzog film in years, and should do so again...

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    1. Damn man, sounds like you were privy to Murnau's vision in the best possible way. That is truly awesome. Glad to see you're a fan of Herzog's film as well!

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  6. There's a lot common in both of our lists. Haven't seen the original Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre yet but I'll hopefully see one of them by Halloween. My favourite is of course The Exorcist. I mean it's a cliche but that film is actually scary and for me "horror" in everyway.

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    1. Good stuff. Did you publish your list on your site? I couldn't find it...

      The Exorcist is boss. Scary as all hell, never dated. Love that movie.

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  7. Great list man, with the exception of Scream... I just think there are much better self-reflexive horror movies. i.e Shaun of the dead and the recent Cabin in the Woods. I would've liked to have seen The Mist (2007) get some honorable mention, for nothing else than that ending... now that is one horror movie that messed me up.

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    1. Scream was one of my favorite movies as a kid, so it holds a special place in my heart. I simply could not include it here. I've seen The Mist (and loved it) but according to Frank Darabont and Thomas Jane, I haven't actually seen The Mist. They both say the slightly extended, black and white version is the only real version of the movie people should see.

      Need to check that out soon.

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  8. Did you know that on his first date with his future wife, Robert Smith of the Cure took her to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Could you imagine that as a date movie?

    The Shining... I was watching that last week. God, I love that movie. HERE'S JOHNNY!!!!

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    1. Ha, no, I did not know that. That is a hell of date movie right there. Jesus.

      The Shining rocks! I can watch that one over and over.

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  9. I really loved The Descent, can't wait to give it another watch.

    The ones I have seen I've quite enjoyed (Exorcist, Shining, Scream). I will definitely check the others out :) Great list!

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    1. Thanks Alex! I rewatched The Descent last night - perfect horror thriller right there. Ohh definitely check out The Shining and The Exorcist when you get a chance. Two classics.

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    2. I've seen those two :) Plenty of others I need to though!

      Are the sequels to Descent worth seeing?

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    3. Oh my bad, totally misread your comment!

      No sir, The Descent sequel is NOT worth seeing.

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  10. Shit, I just saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The more I think about it, the more it terrifies me. Actually.

    Carrie is probably my favourite, although I do love Let the Right One In (mind you, I don't really see that as a horror). I also adore Scream, The Shining, The Exorcist, The Blair Witch Project and Rosemary's Baby.

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    1. Ha, nice. Movie is fuckin terrifying. No doubt.

      Glad we like so many of the same horror flicks. Ah, I LOVE Carrie.

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  11. I'm not so big into horror, but most of these would make my list as well. I'm actually with you on Herzog's Nosferatu. I wrote a piece comparing it and the original here: http://spectrumculture.com/2012/06/remakeremodel-nosferatu-a-symphony-of-horror-1922-vs-nosferatu-the-vampyre-1979.html/

    Ones that would make my list that don't feature on yours are Alien, one of the most perfectly ordered films ever made; Repulsion, my favorite horror film of all and the one that fills me with the most despair and fear; Possession/In the Mouth of Madness, two Lovecraftian cosmopsychological horrors featuring Sam Neill going insane (toss in Event Horizon for a nice triple feature; and The Birds, which I just saw again last night and confirmed as Hitchcock's purest piece of cinematic assault.

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    1. Nice man, can't wait to read your post. Thanks for linking it here. Any Herzog fan is a friend of mine.

      Alien and Repulsion are two of my favorite films, but I actually don't consider them horror films. Tough argument, but oh well.

      All of your other picks are really solid. Great choices there. Event Horizon would fall somewhere in my Top 11-15. Freaky fuckin' flick.

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  12. Wicker Man original. Diary of the Dead. eXistenZ.

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  13. Great list my brotha! Number nine is probably the only one I haven't seen in this whole list and makes me more curious as to what's so freaky about in the first-place. Off to Netflix!

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    1. Thanks Dan! Ah, I just love Herzog's Nosferatu. Hope you find it on Netflix or elsewhere!

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  14. I decided to watch both Scream and Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time tonight as they were the two I hadn't seen on this list. I thought Scream was brilliant, loved the metaness and how self-aware the film was.

    Texas Chainsaw Massacre fell flat for me though. I could see why people find it scary, but it felt too dated for me to get into. If I'd watched it when I was younger then it would have terrified me for life, but it couldn't generate that kind of response from me at all.

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    1. Nice man, glad you dug Scream. Love the shit out of that movie.

      I think that's a completely fair comment about Texas Chainsaw. It is very dated now, and as a grown man, I can see how it wouldn't scare you in the slightest. But as a freaked the fuck out 10 year old kid... whoa.

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  15. I've been trying to catch up on the horror genre since I've always been afraid of it in the past. This year I watched Poltergeist, Scream, The Thing, Frankenstein '31, Bride of Frankenstein, Halloween and Cabin in the Woods all for the first time. I don't think there was a bad spot in the bunch!

    I have a few more I plan to watch (Carrie, Nightmare on Elms Street Orig, Exorcist), but I made it through a lot of staples of the genre this year and I believe I might be able to rattle off some of my favorites come this time next year. Some of my favorites before this week were (Drag Me to Hell and The Ring US), but they aren't nearly as good as the films I watched recently.

    What are your thoughts on the upcoming Carrie remake?

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    1. Sounds like you've been watching some of the best the genre has to offer! Honestly, horror is one of my least favorite genres, but a good one can hit in all the best ways. Glad you've found some you like.

      I'm curious about the Carrie remake. It won't come anywhere near the first one, but I like the actors involved, and I have faith in Kimberly Peirce. Could be good, could fuckin' suck.

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  16. Great list Alex! I chose Texas Chain Saw as my scariest film in a post recently! Only one I haven't seen is the Nosferatu one. Will have to check it out!

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    1. Thanks man! I just saw your post today and was going comment after finishing my most recent entry. Texas Chainsaw is just bloody brilliant. And horrifying. Thanks for reading!

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  17. Awesome list! Most of those would be on my list too, though I always found the Tenant to be a little bit more scary than Rosemary's Baby, Farrow's performance is just unbeatable. Glad to see the Descent and Blair Witch Project on your list - these two scared the shit out of me.

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    1. Thanks! I love hearing your love for The Tenant - that's a fantastic movie. Descent and Blair Witch rock!

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  18. Great list. And fully support your choice for having Scream on here. It brought back the horror genre. Sure, it's not a totally scary film as such, but it's a modern classic.

    The Shining scared the crap out of me. The music and the sheer creepiness of it all!

    I've heard nothing but great things about The Descent. I really should do something about giving it a watch.

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    1. In regards to your Scream comments: YES! Thank you!

      The Shining is untimely freaky, and The Descent is as scary and good as I hope you've heard!

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  19. Great choices, Alex! The only film from your top 10 I haven't seen is Nosferatu (1979). I'm one of those cinephiles who can admire the ambition of the Kinski-Herzog films, but never quite fell in love with Fitzcarraldo or Aguirre due to the slow pace. Maybe next Halloween I'll give Herzog's Nosferatu a look, since you ranked it so high.

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    1. Thanks buddy! I completely understand what you're saying about the Herzog flicks - they are very different. Slow, purposefully. I love them all, but certainly not for everyone. Let me know if you check out Nosferatu though.

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  20. The Descent. Fuck yeah. Probably the best horror film I saw in my mini-marathon last month.

    Also a big fan of Halloween and The Shining. Oddly enough, I haven't seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Need to fix that ASAP!

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    1. The Descent roooocks. Glad to hear you love it. Texas Chainsaw is epic horror, dude. Highly recommend it!

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  21. NICE list. Very, very, very solid. Excellent choices across the board.

    In fact, four of your top fives are in my top five, and Blair Witch is top ten if you catch me on the right day. Excellent choices. I go Exorcist 1 and Shining 2, with Halloween and Texas Chainsaw following.

    My top five includes the original Night of the Living Dead. Cant beat that ending. :D

    Solid job man.

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    1. Thanks dude!

      So cool that our lists have so many flicks in common. Night of the Living Dead is brilliant - that is a perfect ending indeed. Off to find your list now!

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  22. Excellent list!

    I really didn't like The Descent. After hearing so much about how it's "one of the scariest films of the decade," I had to check it out! The first half of the film was excellent. The claustrophobia, intense long scenes, and even the sound of the actors' heavy breathing made my heart beat a little faster second by second. I found the movie to be really quiet.. which really added more suspense. But it all went down when the creatures came and started killing everyone. I just didn't buy it. It felt like another slasher flick from then on. Nothing special except maybe special effects. It would've been a nice twist if we DIDN'T see the creatures at all during the film.

    You should definitely check out [REC]. Hands down one of the scariest movies I've ever seen.

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    1. Thanks man!

      I do agree that the first half of The Descent is far better than the second, but I am a fan of that flick all the same.

      [REC] (and its sequel) is fantastic. Very close to making the cut here.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  23. I am always searching for that one movie that really scares me or make me feel uncomfortable and I've seen a lot of horror movies trying to find that feeling.

    Recent movies that are good in my opinion are: Paranormal Activity 1, Rec, the Conjuring and I guess VHS in a way.

    Older movies: The exorcist, It, the Shining, Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

    But IT isn't rewatchable in my opinion, well I did do that, but I was like, did that really scare me ;-). The Shining and The Exorcist are still such good and smart movies in modern time, which reminds me of the 1960's Psycho also a really smart "horror" movie ahead of it's time.

    I think the biggest problem of the horror genre is that it's packed with cliches and there aren't really a lot of inventive ideas nowadays and it became a genre of replicating instead of creating and innovating, which is sad to be honest, because I like it when a movie horrifies me :-)

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    1. I too have trouble with the horror genre, for the exact reasons you mention. I find the majority of them are just molds of the foundation already set and beat to death. But I suppose that describes the majority of most blockbuster films too, so who knows.

      The scariest film I've ever seen is Deliverance, which isn't exactly a horror film. Still, I'm mortified by that film.

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  24. I saw The Blair Witch Project at 3 AM with the lights of on my HD TV, without any pause button. Creeped out, yes. Scared to shit, just a little.

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    1. Ha, no doubt. That movie is freaky as hell.

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  25. I think what scares me most about TCM is how close I am to calling it a masterpiece- even in my terms. Literally: everything about it just... WORKS.

    Love the other choices too, though I have yet to see Blair Witch and The Descent.

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    1. And what's so cool about it is that there is such little blood. It's often called one of the goriest movies ever made, but there is hardly any blood in it!

      Blair Witch and The Descent are incredible.

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    2. Thats what surprised me most! Brutally effective without any gratuitous gore or blood- and that first appearance of Leatherface would be far less chilling if it had any.

      Will get right on watching those two. Blair Witch in on Netflix here in the UK so...

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    3. Blair Witch, man... just remember to take that one into context. NOTHING like that had ever been made and distributed on such a large scale. In 1999, as the internet was just really taking off, those motherfuckers had EVERYONE convinced that the footage of that film was real. Seriously, everyone thought it was real. I think that's important to remember, you know?

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