I have been a fan of horror films for pretty much as long as I can remember. However, it wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 years old way back in ’81 or ’82 when I saw Friday the 13th for the first time on ON TV that I became fascinated with not only the genre but with Special Makeup Effects. The effects I saw in Friday the 13th blew my mind. I had never seen anything like it. The effects in that movie rival anything I’ve seen since.
I saved up and I bought a copy of his book Grande Illusions when it came out a year later. I tore through that book, it was the most fascinating book I had every read. Of course was just 12 but I’m 45 now and it’s still the most fascinating non-fiction book I’ve read. Sadly the book had suffered server water damage and was completely ruined. I got choked up when I lost that book, it was like a part of me died. Like I lost a friend.
I spent most of my youth watching horror movies, some of them I watched not only forward but in reverse. Why? Well, I was a young teen and being able to fast-forward and rewind movies was a new thing. Normal people couldn’t do that prior to the invention of a VCR’s. Because of this I watched Friday the 13th and Halloween both in reverse because I felt, that’s commitment. That makes me a true fan. Crazy I know but I was 13. Some kids went to concerts and screamed at the bands, I watched horror movies and wanted to know they did that.
I spent a few years torturing my parents with makeup effects. I was constantly killing myself. Trying out new effects. I didn’t have money to by liquid latex so I would take my mom’s liquid skin colored makeup and mix it with flower to thicken it up and I would apply it to my skin, cut it up and poor some fake blood on it and it looked pretty damn good! It was Tom Savini that taught me to be creative and problem solve.
I turned 15 and there was a convention in the Los Angeles area somewhere. Tom Savini was going to be there. I begged my parents to take me and they did! It was one of the best times of my life. Sitting in the audience I was amazed at everything he said. He was passing out makeup props he had used in his movies to the audience. I got to hold the very hand that gets sliced down the middle in Friday the 13th Part IV! I didn’t want to let that thing go.
After the show he sat on little bench outside the auditorium and signed things for people and answered questions. When it was my turn to talk to him, I tried hard not to scream like little girl at a One Direction concert. I told him how much I loved his book and then I asked him an effects question and he told me a simple trick to get it done.
I had been wanting to do a full head cast. I never got to do that but I had planned to. My question to Mr. Savini was how could I get the eyes to blink? He explained how to use some paper clips to get the eyes to open and close. At least that’s how I remember it? But as I write this now I wonder if that wasn’t something in his book? But, it doesn’t matter, we did talk about that effect in some context and I couldn’t have been more enthralled by the things he was telling me.
I didn’t want to leave. He was and is the greatest in my eyes. When it comes to flat out reality in gore, there’s just no one better. He makes it look real. I have seen a lot of great make up and a lot of great of artists but too many times when doing gore artists go for the blood and guts. That’s fun but it’s not real. It’s about the flesh. You have to sell that it’s real skin and that it’s being cut, slashed, ripped apart and so on. If you don’t sell that, then it’s just gore, isn’t art and lacks a sense of realism that scares, that creeps us out and makes us believe at least for that brief moment that it’s real.
Well, after our all too brief conversation about severed heads and blinking eyes I asked him to sign my copy of his book Grande Illusions. He did and I cherished that book even more. I can’t watch a horror movie to this day and not think about the loss of that book that was signed by the man himself. I still kick myself for the loss of it but times were difficult and I couldn’t keep it as safe as I wanted. But, at least I got to talk to him. I got to hold a prop he made for the Friday the 13th series. I still think that is one of the coolest things ever.
I’ve often been asked what I mean when I say there’s difference between the art of special effects in horror movies and just a gory movie. Here’s a couple of screen captures I took from Friday the 13th that show exactly what I mean. As you look at the top photo you notice the actresses neck (Robbi Morgan). It’s just been sliced by our killer in the very first Friday the 13th. You actually see the skin start to split open then in the second photo the blood slowly pours out. That’s what I am talking about! When you see the scene in real time, you’re sold. You forget you’re watching a movie.
When I first saw that I was simply flabbergasted. Prior to that I had only seen before and after shots of wounds. For example, had this scene been done the usual way we would have seen a slash at her neck. She would have fallen to the ground and then we’d cut to her laying on the ground with her throat now slit and bloody. Mr. Savini took it to the next level, we see that flesh split open. That movie changed special effects in horror films forever.
Because of him and his book I learned to respect the art. I watch Face Off and daydream about how I could and should still be doing effects makeup. I learned who Dick Smith was because of him. I appreciate the art of practical effects over CGI. His story of being a photographer during Vietnam War taught me how to deal with the horrible things I later had to see while I was in Law Enforcement. His work has never failed to impress me. There are many greats in the industry of special makeup effects. But, when it comes to practical special effects in horror movies, he is the best.
Top 25 Scary Horror Movies…
I have gone through a lot of horror movies in my day. Been a fan since I was just a child. I think my first favorite scary movie was, “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” starring Michael Landon. I must have been 4 years old the first time I saw it on TV back in the early 70’s. But, what really got me hooked was a Vincent Price movie that I shouldn’t have seen when I was around the same age. I don’t know the name of it. I just remember Vincent Price walking over to a woman I believed to be his wife in the film. She’s sitting down, as if she were at her makeup table getting reading for the evening perhaps. He touches her hair, softly and her head falls off. Being 4 or 5 years old at the time, I just didn’t see it coming. And, ever since then, I have been a fan of the genre.
Something to consider about this list. I’m not completely happy with it. The reason is. I love horror movies but very few actually scare me. It’s easy for a horror movie to scare you with scenes that make you jump. It’s harder to make something that sticks with you long after you’ve left the theater. Movies, that make think you twice about walking into that dark room at the end of the hall. I am not saying these are my favorite horror movies of all time. I am just trying to put together a list of films that I think do both well.
One last thing before I begin. I am sure there will be movies left out that shouldn’t have been. There are probably films that are more scary that I either haven’t seen or just didn’t recall at the time I sat to write this list. In case you’re wondering, that time is 11:17 pm Arizona time. So should anyone ever read this list and disagree with it or want to yell at me because I didn’t list you’re favorite. Forgive me, and try to understand, this is my list, it isn’t your list. If it were your list, you would have written it.
Here we go…
25. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954 Directed by Jack Arnold)
Here’s why this is on the list. It’s the perfect monster movie. It’s an excluded, exotic location that gives the film a sense of aloneness. There’s a sense scientific plausibility that this creature could exist. The cinematography is really well done. The shots of Julie Adams’s character swimming with the creature swimming right below her are so much creepy fun. There’s a sense of compassion for the creature as well as fascination for it. It’s Beauty and the Beast meets King Kong. Oh and one thing a lot of people don’t know. This was a trilogy. I didn’t know there was a third movie until about 10 years ago.
24. The Blair Witch Project (1999 Directed by Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánche)
Good or bad this movie is responsible for the found footage craze. It wasn’t the first to do it but it was certainly the most successful at the time. It was a new experience for the general public and it managed to create a panic and fear for a lot viewers. It tapped into that sense that what we were watching was real. More than that, it did it with acting. There were no huge special effects, not really any gore. It took you on paranormal, witching ride and let a lot of the scares happen in your mind. I remember seeing this in the theater and I fell for it. I enjoyed every single minute of it. There are also people to this day that are so stupid, they still think the movie is real. The movie is 15 years old now and there have been two or three found footage films released almost every year since. That’s an impact that can’t be denied.
23. Signs (2002 Directed by Directed M Night Shyamalan)
The suspense in this film was so fun. It’s the last M Night film I truly enjoyed. As I recall it was long before most of us realized that Mel Gibson was bat shit crazy and M Night sadly became a joke. Signs told an interesting story, with believability, imagination and a lot of creepiness. There’s two main stories here, there’s the alien invasion story and also the sad story of Mel Gibson’s character losing his wife and his faith. It wonderfully blends both stories together while working them both into a significant life changes to all the characters in the film.
22. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984 Directed by Wes Craven)
I love this movie mostly because I wrote it, sort of. I will explain what I mean by that in my closing below. A Nightmare on Elm Street was such an original story. The thought of bringing something back from our nightmares, literally. The silly idea that if you die in your dreams, you die in real life. People seriously believe stuff like that and this film took full advantage of it. A brilliant villain played by Robert Englund with a stunning, realistic make up by Kevin Yagher who also did the Crypt Keeper and Chucky. And, let’s not forget the costume and that infamous bladed glove.
21. The Fog (1979 Directed by John Carpenter)
Director John Carpenter’s 1st appearance on my list. This film was more creepy than scary in my opinion. But, it ended with zombie ghosts, you can’t beat that. The acting was well done, the story was a tale of reckoning from beyond the grave. And, I believe it was the first time Jaime Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh starred in a film together. What I like about this film is that it does something that I hate in almost every horror movie but it does it so well I didn’t even realize it until I started writing this. I hate when horror movies try to build suspense by not doing anything until the final moments of the film. Too much talking, too much information. I am reminded of Dead Sea. It did it wrong. The Fog does it right by mixing an interesting mystery with actual things happening along the way. People die, go missing and we know there’s something in the fog but we don’t know what it is. And, if we want to know, we have to let the story unfold as it reveals clues with some talking, some action and some scares. Very well done.
20. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Directed by Philip Kaufman)
I loved the original but I chose this remake for the very scene above. I saw this when it came it out. I was just a kid but when Donald Southerland’s character pointed her out and made that godawful sound, it was just so creepy. It added things just mentioned in the original version and it added them well. The more I think about it, the more I think I really need to watch this again.
19. Dawn of the Dead (1978 Directed by George A. Romero)
Two things make this movie great. The direction by George Romero and the special effects by Tom Savini. The theme of this movie has been copied over and over again. A small group of group people all centrally located in one place and they have to fight for their lives to survive. Sure it was done in the original as well but it wasn’t until the sequel that Hollywood really took notice that format. The zombie craze was truly born and horror movie after horror movie took a group of people, put them all in one place and killed them.
18. An American Werewolf in London (1981 Directed by John Landis)
I can’t say enough about this horror movie. Gore, it’s fun, it’s scary, it’s creepy, and it when it first came out we all were convinced that David Naughton really turned into a werewolf. The special effects were so well done. It was the first movie since Friday the 13th that did special effects with such skill you couldn’t help but be amazed. And, this was long before CGI started to ruin everything. This is such a great story, told so well by John Landis.
17. Frailty (2001, Directed by Bill Paxton)
Not a lot of people saw this but for me I found it terrifying. It contains two things that scare the shit out of me. Insane, religious extremist killing people and worse than that, the insane, religious extremist killing people aren’t crazy.
16. The Amityville Horror (1979, Directed by Stuart Rosenberg)
The story of George and Kathy Lutz and the whole, evil ghosts made me do it thing has long since been debunked. But, the “based on a true story” concept sells. It was an incredible true story of an insane man’s defense for killing his family. The movie sells the evil in the house well. I watched this movie about 10 years ago. I lived alone and as I try to do with all horror movies, I watch them alone at night. I couldn’t help but be creeped out by the movie. I watch so many horror and when one of them actually creeps me out enough that even after the movie is over I turn the light on first before walking into my dark bedroom, it’s a good movie.
15. Psycho (1960 Alfred Hitchcock)
I will be honest about this movie. When I first saw it as a kid, I was so bored that I wanted to cry. It wasn’t suspenseful to me, it wasn’t really scary. Yes the shower scene freaked me out and like most people, to this day it’s why I lock the door anytime I use the bathroom. But, it’s that one scene that makes me put this film on the list. Sure, watching it now, I can understand the suspense. I understand the insanity of Norman bates. But, it’s that shower scene that haunts most of us. Nearly 55 years later and this scene is still recognizable. Consider that, most of the people alive today weren’t even born when this movie came out and everyone knows the music and knows about the shower scene.
14. The Sixth Sense (1999 Directed M Night Shyamalan)
I remember seeing this in the theaters. I thought it was okay until the ending. Then, I thought it was great. I went to see it with one of my friends. When Bruce Willis’s character looks on at his wife, a sleep in her chair with the TV in the background playing their wedding videos, I felt sad for them. Two seconds later when the wedding band hits the floor I actually said, “Oh shit!” Bill, my friend said, “What?!” I told him to just wait. Then the film brilliantly shows us flashes of the past letting the rest of the audience catch up. I will never forget all the, “Oh my God’s!” and gasps as the reality of it all sank in. One of the best ending to a horror movie, ever!
13. Final Destination 2 (2003 Directed by David R. Ellis)
“How can this be on the list?!” some of you might be screaming right now. It’s simple, it’s a sequel that was just as good as (in my opinion better) than the original. To this very day, I see a logging truck on the road and I pull the fuck over or fly past it and keep that shit in the rearview mirror. This movie was so much fun and so well done. From great special effects to really good acting. When I watch Criminal Minds, I still look at A.J. Cook and think of her as Kimberly Corman from this movie. Some of what made this movie great were the clues as to how people were going to die. For example, the kid that wins the lottery. Watch as he is in the kitchen and one of the magnet letters falls off the fridge leaving the word “Eye” spelled out. So many little fun clues not a lot of people pick up on.
12. Friday the 13th (1980 Directed by Sean S. Cunningham)
What made this movie so great besides Tom Savini’s amazing special effects was the story. It had a really good story. It was a simple story, but it made sense. It wasn’t silly or unrealistic. Most horror movies that copy this movie completely forget that when they try to copy it. This movie was just as much a slasher film as it was a whodunit. As you watch it, you start to think that maybe the killer is one of the counselors or at the very least someone we’ve met in the film thus far. I remember watching it as a kid and when one of the characters kills the snake in the cabin, he looks at it, there’s a creepiness to it, a subtle look makes you wonder if he’s the killer. I remember us wondering who the killer was. Slasher movies don’t have that mystery much anymore. We don’t even really wonder who the killer is. We just know it’s going to be some psycho person that’s killing just for the sake of the film. In “Friday”, there was a reason the killer was killing. It gave clues and it spawned, in sequels, probably the most recognizable movie killer in history.
11. Poltergeist (1982, Directed by Tobe Hooper)
I am not a fan of PG horror movies. Chances are if it’s a PG movie it is PG because the studio wanted all the gore and sex cut out so kids can see it and bring in more money. This isn’t the case here. Not really any gore or sex. Just a fascinating take on ghost stories. Suspense, a creepy clown, things under the bed, ghosts and a sweet faced little girl that was able to be cute in one scene and totally creepy in the next. Then there’s all the tragedy surrounding the deaths some of those involved in the series of films. So many urban legends. You can read the truth behind them on Snopes.com.
10. Jaws (1975 Directed by Steven Spielberg)
I know, it’s not really a horror movie. But, it’s scary and it belongs here. I remember people saying that the shark looks fake, that sharks don’t jump out of the water. Both, completely not true. This film started my fascination with sharks and I soon learned way back in the 70’s that sharks do in fact jump out of the water. Well, I can’t say it was fact but I had read something about it. I had several playground arguments over this fact. No one would believe me when I said that sharks can jump out of the water. It would be about 20 years later that the world finally got to see this when it aired, “Air Jaws” during Shark Week. But, I was vindicated. The film was more real than not. We’ve since seen rogue sharks, sharks jumping out of the water and of course sharks attacking and killing people. as well they should. We kill an estimated 100 million of them every year and they kill about 4 or 5 people every year. Proving once again, man is always the true villain.
9. The Descent (2006 Directed by Neil Marshall)
I enjoyed this for many reasons. It was creepy, it was scary and it had strong women. Hell, if they could have thrown in some nudity in a hot lesbian scene I would put this film at number one! But seriously, I have seen a lot of critics shit on this movie and I am pretty sure it’s because they are full of shit. It had some really good scares in it. It had suspense, scenes that really made you understand what being claustrophobic is like and gore. But, best of all it had an interesting, believable story with a cast of mostly females that acted well and it didn’t resort to cheap sex and unneeded nudity. Being a guy, I always want nudity, I own that. But, it’s not always needed and many times it can take away from the story. This was very well done.
8. Halloween (1978 Directed by John Carpenter)
Halloween makes the list because it really did start the insane killer craze. It was scary and John Carpenters Halloween theme was every bit effective as tool to create suspense and scares as was Michael Myer’s mask. However, as much as love this movie, I almost didn’t put it on the list. Because it does another thing that I really, really hate in horror movies. It has a main character that is an idiot. Sorry, but in this movie, Laurie Strode is an idiot. How many times does she think she’s killed Michael only to have him pop back up? Once, is enough to ruin a horror movie in my eyes. Twice and I want the character to die. If the character doesn’t die, I feel cheated. Laurie Strode walks away from Myers twice! The above photo is the second time, she turns her back on the guy! However, it wasn’t a cliche when this movie did it. It became one because of this movie. Keeping that in mind, Laurie Strode was a strong character and the film gave us my favorite killer of all time.
7. Halloween II (1981 Directed by Rick Rosenthal)
Halloween II in my opinion is far better than the first one. I believed every minute of this movie. I was sold on the fact that Michael Myers was pure evil. He was an unstoppable force you couldn’t escape from. I could have done without the Samhain crap that went nowhere but the rest of the movie was just simply a good time. When he walked through glass doors of the hospital, I think that I actually smiled. It just set him apart from every other killer out there. He is so methodical in his actions. His silent rage was so pure. And, Laurie Strode learned from her mistakes. She knew he was still out there, he was still coming for her and he couldn’t be stopped.
6. The Evil Dead (1981, Directed by Sam Raimi)
I first watched this trilogy about 15 or so years ago. Though I wasn’t really impressed with part 2. This one stands out as unusual, creepy and this zombie thing poking her head out from the basement was just freaky to me. I don’t know what the hell it was but that face and the way it moved, I’ve had nightmares with that face in it. And, of course there’s the Bruce Campbell factor. You could tell this film was going to be a cult classic from the beginning.
5. The Thing (1982 Directed by John Carpenter)
Another movie that blends a good story with amazing special effects. It has all the things that make a great horror movie. The characters are isolated, there’s no escaping. Great musical score that helps to build the mood as well as the suspense. For the most part, no stupid characters, a great monster. Everything about this film is a win.
4. Aliens (1986 Directed by James Cameron)
I saw this in the theater with my friend Shane. I kept hearing a sloshing sound coming from his direction as the movie carried on. I finally figured out what it was. His hand, holding his coke with ice in it. His hand was shaking at the really suspenseful scenes. Another film with a good story, good acting, a strong female lead and the last hour is pretty much non-stop suspense. We both out of breath by the end of the movie. It’s as if we were on that planet with them.
3. The Changeling (1980 Directed Peter Medak)
One of the best ghost stories every written. It’s a more than that though, it becomes a murder mystery, a cover up conspiracy movie and a main character who suffers a loss so tragic you can’t help but to root for him. There’s no big special effects here. But there are some scenes that will make the hairs on the back of you neck stand up. It’s not a face paced movie, it takes it’s time to get there but stick with it, pay attention and you’ll love it.
2. The Shining (1980 Stanley Kubrick)
Another example of building suspense done well. Jack Nicholson’s character’s descent into insanity is fascinating to watch. His kid with and redrum finger. Those creepy twins. So much of this movie stands the test of time. It’s not action packed but if you haven’t seen it, watch it alone, pay attention enjoy the rabbit hole. Oh, want to see what they look like now? The Today Show has a photo here.
1. The Exorcist (1973, Directed by William Freidkin)
From the creepy music, “Tubular Bells” to that face. As someone that is not religious at all, I still think this movie is creepy and scary. I’ve been asked before, how can I find this scary if I don’t believe in any god’s. My answer is, “How can you find ghost stories scary if you don’t believe in ghosts? How can you find ‘Game of Thrones’ good if you don’t believe in dragons? It’s a movie. It’s called suspension of disbelief. If a film can’t get you to accept what it’s telling you for 90 minutes, it failed.” This movie is just frightening. Though I realize not everyone thinks so. My friend Bill that I mentioned earlier. He hadn’t seen it so I had him over to my place to watch it when we were kids back in the 80’s. When Linda Blair’s character comes out in her nightgown during that party and pees on the floor. Bill laughed. Nothing about the movie scared him. To him, it was a comedy. And, he’s somewhat religious. Go figure.
Well, there you have it. As far as the movies go, I don’t think that there were really too many surprises. I know that some will wonder how I can have some movies above others. Most of the time it comes down to was it more scary or more creepy. Was it more of a monster movie than a more traditional horror movie. For example, Jaws. It’s not really a horror movie but it is scary, the antagonist is a monster. So, it’s on the list. Even though it’s a better movie than some of the of movies that ranked higher on the list. Or, rather lower, depending upon how you look at it.
About A Nightmare on Elm Street. I was in the 7th grade when I had this nightmare. I will keep it brief but it was about this lady who drove an old Plymouth. She was terribly burned on one side of her face and she was chasing me and a friend. In fact, the same I mentioned that I went and saw The Sixth Sense with. I don’t know why she was chasing us. She ran over my friend. She chased me all the way to my neighborhood. I got to another friends house, she killed all of them. I made it to my house, she attacked in my room. For some reason I was in bed all of sudden. I got up to defend myself. She had a knife, I managed to get it from her. I had her on the ground, in front of my closet. I was stabbing her face repeatedly.
I wake from this nightmare and I am on my back and my right hand is making stabbing motions at my right leg. It was so strange. Anyways, so I get out of bed and I walk over to my closet and slide the door open and reach in for a shirt. As I pull it out, I notice on the door frame, what looks like a drop of blood on the frame.
It got me thinking, what if that dream was somehow real? That somehow parts of the dream spilled over into the waking world? So I started to write a story. It was about 8 or 10 pages when I was done. It was all about this dream killer that somehow was killing my friends through my dreams. The killer eventually comes out of my dreams into the real world.
I showed that story to a couple of teachers, one of them liked the first few pages, asked if he could borrow it over night. About a year and a half later, A Nightmare on Elm Street was released in the theaters. I’m not saying Wes Craven stole my story. I’m just saying, what are the chances that someone else comes up with my exact same idea for a story. So, now you know the truth. I want to be compensated Mr. Craven!