They’re technically not, but the FAQ page needs filling. What better time to do that than–
I was originally just going to do my five favorite horror fims. Upon consulting Flickchart–the website I use to rank every movie I’ve ever seen–I found out that I’d already covered my top two picks: Perfect Blue and Psycho. The next three on the list were all monster movies, so I decided to bite into this topic instead. I was surprised at the new results because, while all of my picks contain moments of indelible terror, two of them skew closer to the adventure genre. I’m happy with the order, though, and I’d watch any of these in October.
I don’t know your favorite horror films, green font, nor do I care. I do, however, greatly value my readers’ opinions. If your pick isn’t on here, let me know; that way, if I haven’t seen it, I’ll have things to watch and review this winter!
Rick O’Connel is about to be hung for deserting his post in the French Foreign Legion. He’d argue that anyone would leave after seeing what he did: an ominous warning to stay away from Hamunaptra, The City of the Dead. Evelyn and her pickpocket brother, Jonathan, offer him freedom, on the condition that he journey with them back to the city’s entrance. On the way, Rick reunites with the despicable Beni Gabor, a fellow legionnaire who left Rick to die in the desert after being frightened off by Hamunaptra’s omen. Beni’s got his own crew of rowdy American treasure hunters, all of whom plan on using local labor to disarm the city’s traps. Rick’s team, however, is more interested in archelogical finds–specifically The Book of the Dead. Curious to a fault, Evelyn reads aloud the book upon finding it, awakening an ancient high priest who’d been condemned to the darkest curses and mummification process. He’s bent on making the book’s reader his new bride… and absorbing everyone who gets in his way.
Back in June, I revealed my unabashed love for pulp fiction (not the movie, though I like that too). The Mummy fits slam-bam in the middle of this tone, expertly using tongue-in-cheek humor and winking references. Thankfully, the film balances these exchanges with danger, adventure, and horror. It’s more thrilling than a ride in a biplane with a reckless WWI pilot.
Does the previous paragraph not sell you on the movie? I’ll admit, then, that you may not like it. The saying, “there’s no accounting for taste” rings true here; I believe its quality is undeniable, but so are the pyramids of Giza. That doesn’t mean that Anakin Skywalker would enjoy the trip.
Baffling, however, are critics’ appraisal of The Mummy at the time of its release. It stands at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes while The Phantom Menace, released the same summer, is at 60%! Especially galling are the refrains of the movie’s stereotypical depiction of its middle eastern characters and the film’s poor reflection to the vastly superior 1932 version.
While I am judging, unfairly, from a 23-year distance, this portrayal of Egyptian people is laughably benign compared to the post-9/11 islamophobia that would come just two years later and is still being repeated today. Separately, the 1932 Mummy movie is painfully boring. I’m not just saying that because the film is old (see my picks below); I’m saying that because it’s directed like a middle-school stage production and any mystery that would be involved is erased because the titular Mummy just… wakes up in the first scene. Critics still longing for this “classic” may as well submit to Imhotep, since they’re mindlessly nostalgic anyways.
Amity is a summer town that needs summer dollars. Sharks can’t spend money, though, so they don’t really care about the financial problems of island towns. This specific, oversized Great White Shark only cares about its next meal, and Amity just told everyone to get in the water. Local sheriff, Brody, is desperately trying to figure out why these attacks are happening. As more limbs float to the shoreline, Brody and his team realize that only one question matters: “How do we stop this thing?”
First off, sharks in real life hate the taste of humans. Attacks are much more rare than society thinks, and, when they do happen, it’s usually because the shark is curious and decided to figure out what the human is–using its teeth. Meanwhile, trawlers and shark-fin hunters are killing these necessary predators in record numbers, making them endangered for the first time in their 400-million year existence. Divers who are trained and aware of sharks’ behavior have helped remove nets, hooks, and harpoons from these fishes’ bodies, and the sharks have both thanked the divers and remembered them as friends, greeting them when the divers make subsequent visits. Sharks are cool and deserve environmental protection.
Second off, Jaws is an amazing film. It’s a perfectly timed suspense machine and still contains effective scares for first-time viewers. If you time the movie as you watch it (I did, but that was for a film-school assignment), you’ll likely be surprised by how fast and efficient the opening minutes are. The famous “Zolly” shot on Brody’s shocked face happens at minute 12!
Lest you think character is sacrificed for action, Jaws cleverly uses voice and action to reveal how each person ticks. From the infamous chalkboard-scraping scene to the widow’s face slap, every role in the film efficiently uses the precious time they’ve been given. This is the rare monster movie that’s dense–and not in the intelligence department–meaning the replay factor is high. I relish sinking my teeth into this movie again and again. And to those who think they can sail through this film without it leaving a mark, all I can say is, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Ellen Ripley is stuck on the corporate ship Nostromo. She and her cremates are just trying to get home and get paid, but a distress beacon on a nearby moon wakes the crew from stasis. Frustrated but understanding, the crew lands on the moon against Ripley’s wishes. On the surface, the crew discovers a bizarre, abandoned alien ship–completely wiped out. Beneath the ship, however, are perfectly spaced rows of… eggs? Kane, an executive officer, gets too close to one of the pods and becomes intimately familiar with what’s inside. Kane is let aboard despite Ripley’s vehement objections–but is fine the next morning! The crew sits down for a meal (eggs, once again), but, unbeknownst to them, they’re joined by one more guest who’s hatching its own plan and is about to break free…
I’ve seen this movie four times now, but the second and third watch, each with different friend groups, didn’t pack the same terrorizing punch that my first viewing did. Why? I believe it’s because my initial watch was at 2am and on VHS. Obsessed, I showed my college friends immediately upon return from break… in 1080 HD. Over a decade later, I showed my friends for a Halloween party, and the host streamed the movie… in 4K. No matter the circumstances, Alien is an exquisitely crafted film, but when the audience can see the alien a full ten seconds before the victim gets “surprised,” the suspense gets sucked out of the room faster than oxygen out an open airlock. While I hardly pine for the “Be Kind, Rewind” days of agitated video heads and magnetic-tape sprockets, I understand where some home-video nostalgists are coming from. Higher resolution isn’t ALWAYS better, and can ruin the magic some films are trying to convey. Crisp, pristine photography is only preferable 95% of the time.
I bet the crew of the Nostromos wishes they had 4K cameras though…
Picking up the INSTANT Frankenstein (1931) ends, this sequel sees Dr. Frankenstein, near dead, brought to his fiancé, Elizabeth. Thankfully, Dr. Frankenstein, after being nursed back to health, realizes the error of his ways from making the monster in the first film. Looking for moral guidance, Frankenstein visits his mentor, Dr. Pretorius. Pretorius is… not the right person to impart this advice. Instead, Pretorius coaxes Frankenstein to try again, making a mate for his monster. Meanwhile, The Monster escapes the ruins of the lab in the first film, trying to fit in with and learn about society. After some heartbreaking rejections, The Monster agrees that Dr. Frankenstein must make him a companion. The (trying to be) good doctor is faced with an impossible choice: stay reformed or complete the obligations incurred in his past.
In stark contrast to The Mummy (1932), Universal’s Frankenstein (1931) creates life with a paltry budget. Because the first film was a smash hit, Bride of Frankenstein has much more robust resources with the same creative team. The result is sumptuous. Many of today’s viewers will find find the movie strikes the old-school vibe just right, equal parts classy and pulpy. The camera moves with grace and vision, largely thanks to ahead-of-his-time director James Whale; unlike Alien, this film hums when watched in pristine resolution. While the film is hardly scary to modern viewers, numerous moments elicit spooky wonder–like driving past that one neighborhood house that went ALL out with the Halloween decorations. The melancholy message of the film STILL resonates today, and does so leaving the viewer wanting more. Its efficient, 75-minute runtime is breathtaking. For these reasons and many more, the film has NEVER been remade in the 87 years since its release despite Frankenstein having over a dozen iterations.
Rightly so–this film is one-of-a-kind.
Paleo-experts Alan Grant and Ellie Satler have been called to Isla Nublar along with chaos theory specialist Dr. Ian Malcolm. They’ve been summoned by the super-rich entrepreneur John Hammond and his lawyer to verify the safety of his new theme park. That’s going to be challenging because dinosaurs are inherently dangerous. You know what’s more dangerous? Corporate greed. Hammond hasn’t been paying one of his worker’s enough, which leads to a double cross that lowers the cages, freeing all the dinosaurs. Now, these experts will have to use their knowledge of dinosaur bones to deal with them in the flesh–before human flesh becomes the next attraction!
Regardless of genre or taste, anyone interested in writing, directing, or editing a film NEEDS to watch Jurassic Park. Why? Its pacing. Yes, the concept is iconic and the characters are memorable, but the precise momentum that each scene contributes to its successor is rarely replicated.
As such, Jurassic Park is a film highly in tune with its audience’s emotions. Like a server at a restaurant who refills your drink two seconds before you think to ask for it, this movie gives its viewers exactly what they’re wishing for, proactively fulfilling the audience’s requests on a nearly psychic level.
This is popcorn Spielberg at his best (he released Schindler’s List THE SAME YEAR). Here, he balances the story he wants to tell through the vision he wants to portray while making enough concessions to ensure those viewing it appreciate the undertaking. Funny moments elicit laughs, scary moments elicit yelps, tense moments elicit gasps–yet the film never plays too broad, its humor distinctly its own.
Suffice to say the reason this film tops this list is because it’s clever. Now, let’s hope it hasn’t figured out how to open doors.
Though I didn’t mean to, four of my five picks are from Universal Studios (Alien was 20th Century Fox). Starting with Dracula, their first effort into the O.G. Cinematic Universe, the studio with the globe logo has been in the monster movie business for over 90 years! They even manage to occasionally recapture their mad scientist’s lightning in a bottle. Check out 2020’s The Invisible Man for recent evidence. We’ll see if next year’s Renfield (with Nicolas Cage as Dracula) can stir their ancient blood!
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Obligatory Animated Viewing from 2023
Obligatory Live-Action Viewing from 2023
Rocky: Yo, Adrian!
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The Big Sleep: “You’re Cute.” “Gettin’ Cuter Every Minute.”