Thanks to the good folks over at Cracked and their imitators, the intertubes are awash with lists of all sorts. If you ever need to know the six best ways to milk a camel or the top ten reasons why Verdi’s Aida is better than his La traviata, the internet has a list for you. It is to this proud tradition that I now turn my hand.
Out of the many things I do to fill the time between sleep and liquor, watching awful horror films is probably the most legal. And just like a million monkeys at a million typewriters will eventually produce an episode of Grey’s Anatomy (it normally takes them about a day and a half), decades spent watching obscure horror films have produced a few gems. I’m not staking claim to any horror-schlock geekmastery here, but I will say that you shouldn’t call yourself a horror geek until you’ve seen these.
15. Nosferatu (1922)
Synopsis: It’s German Dracula. ‘Nuff said.
Memorable Quote: None. This one hails from before the “talkie” era.
There seems to be some confusion lately as to what exactly constitutes a vampire. Here’s a handy chart:
Back in the days before the MPAA made it illegal to dream about movies without paying for licensing, filmmakers took the term “derivative works” to new heights. When producer Albin Grau wanted to make a vampire film, he looked no further than the most famous vampire of all time: Bram Stoker’s then 25-year-old Dracula. Of course, making a film adaptation of Dracula would have required vaulting all sorts of legal hurdles (read: paying for it), so Grau and his director, F. W. Murnau just changed some of the names. The titular character became “Count Orlok”, and the word “vampire” was avoided. Despite this intrepid subterfuge, Prana Film (Grau’s production company) declared bankruptcy after the release, for fear of copyright lawsuits.
Nosferatu is filmed in the German expressionist style, which is to say they do fucked up things with shadows. Unlike the panty-dropping pretty boys of modern vampire fare, the Count is portrayed like a fucking monster, a fiendish, diseased ghoul who preys on the young and innocent. As the original vampire movie, the film laid the groundwork that Hollywood has been spamming for the past ninety years.
14. They Live (1988)
Synopsis: A homeless guy discovers a pair of magic sunglasses that reveal the world as it truly is: saturated with subliminal orders from our horrific alien overlords.
Memorable quote: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
What, you thought Duke Nukem originated that line? Think again, plebian. It was ad-libbed by none other than “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who took time away from pretending to fight to take a stab at pretending to act in this late-eighties John Carpenter film. The movie centers around Piper’s character, George Nada, a down-on-his-luck construction worker who stumbles upon a global alien plot to enslave humanity through consumerism and commercial media. It’s the most ham-handed critique of eighties greed imaginable, and you have absolutely no excuse for not having seen it.
13. Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)
Synopsis: A homicidal theater owner tortures, kills, and enslaves pretty much everybody.
Memorable quote: “Her mouth shall make an interesting urinal!”
Bloodsucking Freaks is a film with a serious identity complex. Its original title was Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins, which I personally think they should have stuck with. It was released in theaters as The Incredible Torture Show and on video as The Heritage of Caligula: an Orgy of Sick Minds. When Troma finally grabbed the distribution rights, they retitled it as Bloodsucking Freaks, and the name stuck.
The film revolves around Sardu, the effete proprietor of a horror theater. Showing his commitment to drama, Sardu forgoes acting and special effects, choosing to simply murder young women on stage before a live, but ignorant, studio audience. In order to give his show more credibility, he has his resident dwarf kidnap and attempt to brainwash a theater critic and a ballerina. I don’t know how this was supposed to work, but even if the theater failed, he could always fall back on his home sex-slave business.
Of course, all this “plot” is just a vehicle to carry across headfucked torture scenes and subtle dark humor. The clip below says more about the movie in twenty-four seconds than I could ever put down in words.
12. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Synopsis: A meta-critique of slasher films presented as a documentary.
Memorable quote: “I’ll tell you: never hang out with a virgin. You got a virgin in your crew, either get somebody in her pants or get the hell away from her.”
Behind the Mask is a recent addition to the genre, and one of the best horror films to come out in a long time. It’s the first and only pic from indie studio Glen Echo Entertainment. The movie follows a group of young documentary filmmakers and their newest subject: one Leslie Vernon, the Next Big Thing in costumed mass murder. Taking up the torch passed by Jason, Freddy, and Micheal, Leslie gives the crew a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be a homicidal legend. I realize the whole “meta-horror” genre has been done into the ground lately, but Behind the Mask manages to stay quick and funny while still following its own formula. It actually accomplishes what Wes Craven failed at so miserably with Scream.
11. Luther the Geek (1990)
Synopsis: A young boy is traumatized by a carnival side-show, then grows up to be a serial cannibal / chicken.
Memorable quote: “Hey chicken-man! Colonel Sanders wants to fry your ass!”
Back in the day, the term “geek” did not describe a guy who sits around in sweat pants drinking bourbon and writing about his favorite horror movies. A geek was a carnival performer who ate bugs or bit the heads off of live snakes or birds. This is what people did for entertainment before Ozzy Osbourne was born. While some geeks were simply performers with high thresholds for nasty shit, like a pre-PETA Jackass, some were die-hard alcoholics who were basically owned by the carnival promoters. Their handlers would let them dry out for a day or two before a show, then pour a bottle of liquor down a chicken’s throat before tossing it into the geek’s cage. Faced with a choice between DT’s and chugging gin from a decapitated chicken, I’m pretty sure I’d choose the chicken, too. It can’t taste any worse than Jagermeister.
Luther the Geek is yet another Troma title that pays homage to this bygone occupation. As a young boy, Luther has several teeth knocked out at a geek show attended by the cast of Deliverance. Somehow, the geek show, the taste of blood, and a childhood spent in the company of abusive dirt farmers transforms Luther into a homicidal maniac who also happens to think he’s a chicken. After the brief scene from his childhood, the story opens with Luther being paroled from prison, thirty years after commiting several brutal murders. Now, I’m all for a progressive justice system that focuses on rehabilitation and forgiveness, but I can’t imagine any situation in which a parole board would release a multiple murderer who only speaks in chicken noises. Seriously. Someone should lose their job over that.
Within minutes of being released, Luther dons a set of metal dentures (which he apparently made in the prison workshop? this isn’t really explained) and starts killing people by biting them. After the first ten minutes, the film has almost no dialogue, with the majority of the soundtrack being taken up by Luther’s clucking and bawking. The actor really gets into it, and one is left to assume that he was cast strictly for his ability to imitate a psychotic chicken. While nearly everything else in the movie is completely forgettable, his portrayal is so compelling, you just can’t stop watching it. Check out this clip to see what I mean:
The fun starts around 1:40.
The only other mentionable parts are two five-minute nude scenes starring the female lead’s truly tremendous tatas. So the movie’s got that going for it, too.
10. A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Synopsis: A wannabe beatnik kills people for art.
Memorable quote: “Life is an obscure hobo, bumming a ride on the omnibus of art.”
Billed as a comedy, Bucket of Blood is a morality play about the dangers of art and bad poetry. The main character, Walter, is a total square. He just can’t fit in with the cool cats down at the coffee shop. Like all ostracized youth, he quickly realizes that killing people will make him popular. While the director’s intent seems to be poking light-hearted fun at beatnik culture, the film is actually pretty compelling. Watching Walter descend further and further into depravity as he finds acceptance in the macabre is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Like most horror flicks of its time, Bucket of Blood aims for cheap exploitation. Through fate or chance, it manages to hit something real.
9. The Invisible Maniac (1990)
Synopsis: A mad scientist invents an invisibility potion and uses it to kill and rape high school kids.
Memorable quote: “With this injection begins my erection.”
Invisible Maniac is a straight-to-video boobfest from the early nineties. As the film opens, we are treated to a scene from Kevin Dorwinkle’s childhood, wherein he is scolded by his mother for spying on their sexy neighbor. Fast forward to adulthood, and Kevin is a scientist, presenting his theories on invisibility to his colleagues. In accordance with the peer review process, he is laughed offstage. Because science is much like prison, Kevin responds to this disrespect by killing a few of them, just to reassert his dominance. After a few year in a loony bin, he is paroled and secures a job teaching high school physics. Apparently, public schools in the nineties didn’t do background checks. When the school principal attempts to blackmail him for sex, he murders her, injects himself with his newly perfected invisibility serum, and proceeds to rape and pillage the school.
Note that all of this happens in the first thirty minutes of the film. The next hour or so is devoted to watching young women have their clothes ripped off while they pretend to be murdered. These scenes are made especially hilarious by the fact that the main character is freaking invisible, leaving the less-than-stellar actresses to try to figure out what being strangled looks like when you’re not actually being strangled. Add in a voice-over of truly atrocious dialogue, and you end up with something very special. In a “short bus special” kind of way.
8. M (1931)
Synopsis: A pathetic child-murderer is hunted down by organized crime in pre-war Germany.
Memorable quote: “I want to escape, to get away! And I’m pursued by ghosts. Ghosts of mothers and of those children… they never leave me. They are always there… always, always, always! … Except when I do it.”
M is a classic in every sense. Peter Lorre plays a serial killer who preys on young girls. For the majority of the film, however, we never see the killer’s face. He is a shadow, or a trenchcoat, or a whistled tune. When the city’s organized criminals finally apprehend the monster, he is revealed for what he truly is, a pathetic, broken man. Lorre’s performance puts everything through, despite the subtitles. It also forever cemented his role as “that creepy bug-eyed dude in old movies”.
7. Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Synopsis: An old southern belle with a sordid past gets utterly mindfucked.
Memorable quote: “Do you know what it’s costin’ me not to kill you?”
Nobody plays crazy like Bette Davis. In this one, she plays a somewhat senile old spinster who has yet to outlive an accusation of murder from her teenage years. With her ancestral home in peril due to eminent domain, she summons her saner cousin Miriam to save the day. That is, she calls in her last surviving relative. The only one in the will. You see where this is going. The movie is worth watching just to see an aging Bette Davis pretend that she has to pretend to have dementia.
6. Bad Taste (1987)
Synopsis: Aliens invade earth and raise humans / zombies as cattle for their fast food chain.
Memorable quote: “I’m a Derek… and Dereks don’t run!”
Before Peter Jackson became a meteoric Hollywood megahobbit, he was a nerdy film kid in New Zealand. Bad Taste was his first feature, and it shows. Jackson cast his friends and filmed mostly on weekends, to avoid schedule conflicts. After four years and $25,000 the result is an orgy of chainsaw-murdering, braineating, sheepsploding fuckedupedness.
I’m not kidding about the sheep thing:
Basically, this is the movie YOU would make, if only you had a camera, friends, and talent.
5. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Synopsis: A group of Italian documentarians enter the Amazon rainforest to document cannibalistic tribespeople. Hololarity ensues.
Memorable quote: “Today people want sensationalism; the more you rape their senses the happier they are.”
A team of filmmakers descended deep into the Colombian jungle to film the savage and cannibalistic Yanomamo people. This is both the plot of Cannibal Holocaust and how they actually made the fucking movie. Director Rugerro Deodato flew his whole damned crew into the rain forest and paid indigenous people to pretend to murder and eat them. Then he paid the actors to fall off the media radar for a year. Then he released his “documentary” in Italian theaters, grossing $2,000,000 1980 dollars in ten days. Then he was arrested on multiple counts of murder. No shit.
Italian horror is typified by tremendous amounts of gore, but Deodato’s effects and cinematography were so realistic that the courts actually charged him with five counts of murder that happened in the freaking movie. He eventually had to dissolve his contract with the actors and have them appear on television before the charges were dropped. The movie was still banned in Italy for its gruesome depictions of rape, torture, and murder. Also, six animals are actually killed on camera… so, yeah.
While it attempts a thinly-veiled critique of modern media, Cannibal Holocaust is pure exploitation with some of the most realistic effects you’ll see on this side of the camera.
4. Unmasked Part 25 (1988)
Synopsis: An outright meta-parody of gory slasher films that doubles as a gory slasher film.
Memorable quote: “Ridiculous isn’t it? I mean fine.. so I have to kill. I have no choice in the matter. But you’d think they’d let me try something else as well. I do have other talents.”
Filmed in the UK (where it was originally titled Hand of Death) for what appears to be fifteen quid, Unmasked is the story of a disfigured serial killer who preys on the young and horny, all while soliloquizing about the nature of human existence. He ends up falling in love with a blind girl, forcing him to choose between domesticity and the violent life the writers have forced him into. The film really explores… um… you know what? Just watch the clip.
3. Cemetery Man
Synopsis: An exploration of love, existentialism, and human insignificance that happens to take the form of zombie-killin’.
Memorable quote: “He’s only eating me! … Mind your business! I shall be eaten by whoever I please!”
Yet another entry from those crafty Italians, Cemetery Man is an art flick posing as a zombie movie. It follows the macabre adventures of that guy from Four Weddings and a Funeral who’s NOT Hugh Grant and his faithful but dimwitted assistant Gnaghi. Four Weddings guy is the caretaker of a cemetery where the dead have problems staying down. He assists them to that end with a .44 revolver and various garden implements. He then ends up falling in love with a young widow played by the boobtacular Anna Falchi. As in any zombie flick, however, love is fleeting, as is everyone’s sanity.
Not-Hugh-Grant’s grasp on reality slips further and further as he commits random (and not so random) murders, falls for prostitutes, and tries to have his junk surgically removed. Despite the foolishness (or perhaps because of it) Cemetery Man actually has a lot to say about the strangeness of love, the finality of death, and man’s position in the universe. The fact that it says it through the dual medium of brainsplatter and titties is just icing on the (very disturbing) cake.
2. Let the Right One In (2008)
Synopsis: A story about young love and vampires that’s NOT based on a trashy romance novel.
Memorable quote: “I’m twelve, but I’ve been twelve for a very long time.”
Ah.. young love. The first girlfriend. The first kiss. The first time you lap up blood.
If you haven’t heard about this one yet, I suggest you find a a more productive place to put your head, like anywhere but in your ass. Let the Right One In is a Swedish horror flick that’s won about a kerjillion awards on the independent film circuit. It’s an inspiring coming-of-age story about two misunderstood kids who find love despite all odds, only one of them is Columbine waiting to happen. And the other one is a vampire. Who knew Swedes were so fucked up?
Seriously, this is one of the best movies of any genre that I’ve seen in a long while. The style is utterly organic, and the two leads pull off performances that would make Leonardo Dicaprio sprain something. If you have a Netflix account, it’s available on “Watch Instantly”. Do it.
1. Dead Alive (1992)
Synopsis: Evil monkeys infect a domineering mother with zombie-itis, forcing her son to get all lawnmowery.
Memorable quote: There are so goddamned many, it’s impossible to pick one. Just pick the one you like most:
- Paquita: “Your mother ate my dog!” Lionel: “Not all of it!”
- “Stand back boy! This calls for divine intervention! YAAAAHHHH! I kick ass for the LORD!”
- “They’re not dead exactly, they’re just… sort of rotting.”
- “OK, OK! I take it back. Nabakov wasn’t a pedophile. Some of my best friends are pedophiles!”
You just knew New Zealand had to make the list twice didn’t you? Fresh off of Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles Peter Jackson somehow managed to secure three million dollars to make Dead Alive (originally released as Braindead). From watching the film, it is apparent that he used the majority of that budget on corn syrup and red dye. It’s often listed as the goriest film of all time, by volume. The final scene alone used eighty gallons of fake blood.
The plot is about Lionel, a nervous and cowed young man who lives with his queen bitch mother. Out of the blue, love comes his way in the form of the beautiful and exotic Paquita. Then tragedy comes his way when “these great big rats come scuttling off the slave ships and raped all the little tree monkeys”, creating Sumatran rat-monkeys who zombify Lionel’s mother. Go ahead. Read that sentence again. I dare you.
Did your brain explode? No? Maybe I’m not getting my point across. ZOMBIE CUSTARD!
How about now? Still sane in the membrane? Would it help if I told you there’s a zombie baby?
You know where zombie babies come from, right? They come from zombie nurses fucking zombie priests. I’m not making this stuff up, folks.
Image links to source.
Oh, and there’s a lawnmower. The prop mower used in the shoot pumped fake blood at five gallons a second.
In sum, Dead Alive is everything I ever wanted in a movie. Bless you, Peter Jackson. Bless you right in your little hobbit face.