Because I’m a zombie horror writer, other up and coming zombie horror writers always want to give me their books. As a consequence, I’m well-versed in many of the undiscovered literary gems pertaining to our cannibalistic, undead friends. World War Z catapulted the zombie novel into the literary stage, but many more have followed in its wake. In addition to shock and gore, zombie stories can tell us about the primal struggles and hunger endemic to human existence. Zombie stories tell us about our hopes and dreams, our need to come together and our need to self-destruct.
#1. The Zombie Bible (Stant Litore)
An ongoing series, The Zombie Bible seeks to retell Bible stories with a twist: that our saints and prophets also fought the undead. Litore’s elegant prose shows both the horrors of an undead apocalypse in Biblical times, and the beauty of the enduring human spirit. The religious element is kept tasteful and does not seek to judge its reader, but rather to fuel the spirits of his characters.
The writing style is very literary and flowery and the stories themselves are painstakingly researched. Some may find the language used tedious or object to the lack of chainsaws, but these books are worth a look if you want something other than the usual urban nightmare.
#2. The I Zombie I Series (Jack Wallen)
I’ve been following this series for over a year, and I Zombie I is one of the most inventive zombie series I’ve ever read. The pages keep flipping and the plot twists and turns. By the end of the third book, I had no idea what to think. That’s a good thing.
What’s especially noteworthy about Wallen’s work is that he doesn’t shy away from strong female protagonists. No longer having to suffer the tired cliche of ditz-who-gets-everyone-killed, his character Bethany is a nerd girl who uses Linux, some common sense, and her mechanical aptitude to save the world. It’s not all high-tech geekery, though. All of the hallmarks of a great zombie story are in this one. Weapons, stealth, mystery, evolving zombies and intrigue are included with admission.
#3. The Zombie West Series (Angela Scott)
Zombies in the Wild West. I’m not usually a fan of the Westerns, but when done properly they do make an excellent venue to explore the mass slaughter of the walking dead.
It’s bounty hunter meets the-girl-in-the-wanted-poster. While there is a romantic sub-element to the story, it’s done in a way that isn’t absolutely annoying. The rest is standard Western fare. Saloons, shoot-outs, caravans filled with zombies and utter lawlessness are the name of the game. It’s all about a struggle to survive in a world gone horribly wrong, while trying to solve the mystery of a girl who is immune to the bite of the infected.
I’m a fickle lover. I’ve composed quite a few songs about this fact. As I’ve written in my last film review, I love horror films. So much so that ForgetTheBox film writer Thomas O’ Connor and myself have decided to have a show down. We’ve each composed our list of Top Ten Horror Films. It shouldn’t be a surprise that coming up with a top ten list of my favourite horror movies has caused me to have an existential crisis. How do I choose? What criteria should I use? Do I judge them as a whole, or by the strength of their particularly intriguing/engaging elements. Conclusion: I close my eyes and go with my gut. So, euh, welcome to my innards.
10. April Fool’s Day (Walton, 1986)
I only recently saw April Fool’s Day on (guess what) April Fools night this year and it found a special place in my heart for its wittiness. A group of college kids head out to the island mansion of their rich (and kinda nuts) friend named Muffy (yup, that’s her name) for a weekend getaway and have no clue what is in store for them. There’s something unexpectedly smart about this film: its sense of humour and the suspense and the successful combination of both. This film just keeps you guessing whilst the bodies keep piling up.
9. The Children (Shankland, 2008)
Kids are scary.
This film is one of two which caused me to have a very visceral panic attack in theatres, which a quick swig of whiskey from a friend’s flask helped calm down. Basic plot: A family drives to the woods to celebrate the holidays with their relatives. One of the kiddies is sick and acting kinda weird. It starts to spread and so does the blood. Not so basic: the effectiveness of the creep.
8. Let The Right One In (Alfredson, 2008)
Kids are scary and so are vampires. This film combines both. However, the most frightening (and unique element) in this film is the dark nature of the romance that develops between the young protagonist and his strange neighbour. A careful consideration of the fate of the man who takes care of her, reveals that such a similar fate surely awaits our protagonist. Ultimately, relationships can be more scary than a quick and bloody death.
7. The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)
The Shining is hands down amazing. Jack Nicholson’s performance is insidious and the camera work and mise-en-scene pretty darned perfect. Shelly Duval’s character is one of my all time movie favourites and I enjoy trying to put myself in her shoes, well at least for the less threatening parts of the film. However, the isolated hotel slowly outshines all the other characters as the most powerful and intriguing player in The Shining. There is mastery of the uncanny in this maze of a film.
6. Ginger Snaps (Fawcett, 2000)
Puberty sucks. In this film, puberty kills. Two sisters, outcasts and self-proclaimed weirdos, are really into gore … until it becomes ‘real life’ and tears their relationship (and several people) apart. I rented this film on my 16th birthday, almost a decade ago and felt sick to my stomach watching it. Ginger Snaps made my viscera uncomfortable, made my skin crawl, and most of all, made me aware of the (real) importance of safe sex: I’ll give you one guess why and it isn’t herpes.
5. The Last Winter (Fessenden, 2006)
The Last Winter is my favourite eco-horror. Its strengths lie in the pace of the film, the Arctic environment the characters find themselves in and the film’s soundtrack. The Last Winter (like The Shining) reminds us that the places we find ourselves in have the potential to be extremely frightening especially when a threat is felt but not seen. Perceived but not understood. It’s pretty great. The last scene, however, is total shit (cliche and uninteresting) and I have mentally erased it so as to include The Last Winter in this list.
4. May (McKee, 2002)
May Dove Canaday is a special young woman who works at a Veterinarian clinic and who really just wants to find love and friendship. Pretty basic needs, very relate-able. But May has a lazy eye which we are made to understand made her a social outcast in her youth and May has her (once best friend) doll named Suzie to contend with on her quest for human interaction. Dolls are scary and so too are the complexities of human sexuality and relationships. This film has a strange and ultimately potent mixture of these two frightening things, strong characterization, and well, Jeremy Sisto. Thus it makes the top four.
3. Marianne (Tegstedt, 2011)
As soon as I saw the trailer for Marianne, I knew I had to see it. I mean the guy is clearly suffering and shit looks dark and hard. Marianne isn’t a perfect film, in fact in a few years it wouldn’t make it this high on my list due to some editing choices that marr its otherwise great subject matter and characterization. However, every now and again, when I think of certain scenes, I can’t sleep with the lights off or sleep at all really. This swedish film also places importance on the location of the events, the folklore of the place, and on the most gut wrenching of human emotions: guilt and mourning. The monster reveal is kinda shitty and so I pretend it didn’t happen (just a small mental edit on my part).
2. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Levine, 2006)
The nerdy outcast in me takes pleasure in seeing the “popular kids” suffer in films: Take that you drunken horny teenagers! But what I’m an even bigger sucker for is interesting characterization. How can those two things be compatible? A bloodbath and intriguing psychologically complex characters? Well, naysayer, I didn’t say all the characters had to be well developed: one or two really interesting ones will suffice. I saw this film in theaters twice, at Fantasia of course. Then, after a lengthy discussion with a friend, I came home and wrote a small operetta about the killer. So yes, there’s something special about Mandy and this weekend away on a ranch leads to sex, alcohol, and blood … and someone in the shadows.
1. Disturbing Behavior (Nutter, 1998)
A boy named Steve moves to a small town where jocks and popular kids are acting strange: they are really intense about charity and doing their math homework. Steve hangs out with high school rejects (including a ‘skankified’ Katie Holmes) who have a (conspiracy?) theory about what is going on and it’s definitely something “bad, wrong, wrong, bad”. Disturbing Behavior is directed by David Nutter of the X-Files and stars James Marsden as our leading man. The soundtrack is heavenly 90’s, and Nick Stahl – who happens to have gone missing recently – is great in this film as Gavin Strick, the outcast who tries to warn Steve. Disturbing Behaviour reminds me of my years reading John Saul novels whilst watching the X-Files. Therefore, it takes home the prize.
Honourable mentions:Battle Royale (Fukasaku, 2000),The Ring (Verbinski, 2002), The Mist (Darabont, 2007), Absentia (Flanagan, 2011), Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski, 1968), REC (Paza and Balageuro, 2007), Single White Female (Schroeder, 1992), Videodrome (Cronenberg, 1983) and Odishon (Miike,1999)
A little while ago my new-found FTB film cohort Pamela Fillion approached me with a proposition: A horror movie top 10. We each write a post of our top ten horror films, to make all the internet cower beneath the turgid, obsidian monolith of our good taste. This presents a few problems for me, however.
Firstly: how in God’s good name can I describe the sheer beauty of Evil Dead 2 in less than a hundred words. Ask me to perform brain surgery next time, Pammy dear.
Second, while she may be all hip with her foreign and indie tastes, my choices are almost all embarrassingly mainstream. But as a certain video game critic once said “It’s worth remembering that sometimes popular things are popular for a reason: because they’re good”.
So without further ado, here are my top ten horror films of all time:
1) Dawn of the Dead
I can hear you horror buffs sharpening your pitchforks already, but I’m just gonna come out and say it, Dawn of the Dead is better than Night of the Living Dead. It has a tighter cast, better effects and is overall just a stronger movie. As Ridley Scott will show us further down the list, location is everything, and setting his second zombie opus in a shopping mall was a stroke of genius on Romero’s part, especially since every time I go to one now I’m constantly on the lookout for undead Hare Krishnas.
2) The Thing
It would be enough if it JUST had some of the best practical special FX ever, or JUST had an interesting and unique setting, or JUST had an oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere heightened by the guessing game the cast and audience are constantly playing. But it has all that and more. It’s also one of the few movies I known that properly get across that Antarctica is REALLY effin’ cold.
3) Evil Dead 2
Let it never be said that a guy sawing his own hand off can’t be funny as hell. Long before he was making massively overrated Spiderman movies (yes, even number 2!) Sam Raimi’s niche was horror-comedies, the crown jewel of which is Evil Dead 2, your basic cabin in the woods horror movie but played more for laughs than scares. This is also one of the few movies I know off-hand where the demon-plagued protagonist just goes “Ok, screw this” and attaches a chainsaw to his arm-stump to kick some demon ass in the thrilling conclusion.
4) Shadow of the Vampire
Before Bela Lugosi became the most iconic screen vampire, German actor Max Shreck took the lead role in F.W Murnau’s silent classicNosferatu. Shadow is set during the filming of Nosferatu, and posits that Shreck really was a vampire. This is without a doubt my favorite vampire film of all time, offering a haunting and poetic take on the genre, with Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich both giving excellent turns as Shreck and Murnau respectively.
It used to be that horror movies had to be set in deserted cabins or sleepy middle-America towns or the occasional girls’ dormitory – if you were feeling scandalous, but then out of nowhere comes Ridley Scott asking, “What about a horror movie set in space?” and once everyone in the room recovered from having their jaws hit the floor they set to work on the sci-fi/horror masterpiece Alien, a film so inventive and crammed with so much Freudian imagery (H.R Giger was and remains a strange, strange man) that if you don’t have a crippling fear of the male phallus going in, you’ll be going out with one by the end.
6) American Werewolf in London
Name five great vampire movies. Had to think about it, didn’t you? Now, name five great werewolf movies. Easy, right? Well, easy for me. (American Werewolf, Dog Soldiers, The Howling, Ginger Snaps and Silver Bullet) It seems like werewolves have an easier time on the silver screen, and American Werewolf is the prime example of this. It takes the classic werewolf story, adds some interesting new elements and ties it all together with a strong cast and the best transformation scene in any werewolf movie ever.
7) Dead Alive
Before he was a multiple Oscar-winning director known for his classy, high brow adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson directed a film in which this happens:
Dead Alive (Aka Brain Dead) is a classic horror comedy, going so far over the top in gore levels and sheer absurdity that you can’t help but laugh. But on top of that, it’s creative and masterfully executed with top-notch effects. I can’t help but wonder what Two Towers would have been like if the battle of Minas Tirith was won with upturned lawnmowers. Oh wait, yes I do: awesome!
8 ) Jaws
Sometimes it takes just one element to give a movie that kind of lasting power that current directors like to think they have. It can be a single iconic shot, a stellar performance or even one or two endlessly quotable lines, but in the case of Jaws, it all really comes down to just 2 notes of music. Trust a composer like John Williams to idly finger a few keys while passing a keyboard and come up with one of the most iconic movie scores of all time. That’s not to say the rest of the movie is bad, in fact it’s great, but what really sells it is the music. That and the part where the shark blows up… I mean, spoilers.
9) The Fly (Cronenberg)
There’s two basic facts in life as far as I’m concerned: remakes are a waste of time and flies are really damn gross. The Fly is an exception to one of these facts and a reinforcement of another. It takes the basic plot of the 1958 film and adds two important elements: Jeff Goldblum and enough awesome (and gross) practical effects to almost (ALMOST) put The Thing to shame. Also monkeys.
I don’t know what happened to Clive Barker as a child, but the man knows how to put some messed up stuff on movie screens, I’ll tell ya that. Hellraiser is definitely his most popular movie, you can tell since they made approximately a thousand sequels. The story involves sado-masochistic demons, a demonic Rubik’s cube and an escapee from hell mackin’ on his brothers’ wife, but the real draw is the sphincter-tighteningly good makeup and creature effects, easily some of the best ever put to film.
So there you have it, my top 10 horror movies of all time. Disagree? Think you could do better? Leave me a comment and I’ll debate you to the death. (Possibly with a severed limb)
In the first installment of his series Haunted Stories, Adam Kolodny tells the tale of a woman who fears a serial killer with a particular fascination with The Beatles may very well be in her house. Find out what happens!