Not because of any grand plan that started with the beginning of this blog, but just because the site evolved that way, I often dig up B movies that are flawed but interesting. Bad B movies are gloriously terrible. They are. Many of them are independent, and because of that, because the directors aren’t answering to any big producer or studio when they’re working, you really don’t know what you might see. For example, Death Nurse, a movie with a running time of 60 min that manages to include a long scene where a doctor digs a grave by hand and then sits around eating ice cream. It makes you say, what the fuck am I watching?
I don’t know why I’m always on the search for WTF, but if it makes any sense, I’m the same way in real life. All it takes to make my whole week is a station wagon on bigfoot tires with flames painted on the doors, or a particularly unusual attempt to flirt with me in a store, or someone asking me in all seriousness if Jesus would be down with beer drinking and then demanding to know why I am smiling, a garden wall made of old televisions, really good freight train car graffiti, or even something as simple as a great mullet or an impossibly large butt sighting. I am, and have always been, easily amused. It’s a blessing.
Because of my habit of posting almost exclusively about the nearly unwatchable, sometimes people will email me and ask, “Why don’t you have [insert awesome movie here] on your site?” It’s simple: it is my opinion that there are lots of great movies about which everything has been said which can possibly be said. But such a movie is perfect for including on a fun list, which is why some of those I’m about to name check were included in my 30 days of horror thingamajig. So in the interest of doing something a little different, I have made a list of twenty movies I love that have over a 7 rating on IMDb (the lowest rated one is a 7.1), and I invite you to tell me what I have left off. I often say that I like something but can’t recommend it; well, all of these I not only recommend, I urge you to see them if for some reason you haven’t. I’m not going to synopsize them, I’m just going to list my favorite scene from each one. And here we go!
20. Planet Terror
Cherry and Dakota fight off the rapists. Everyone wants to see hot ladies kicking some ass, and nobody ever thought they’d see a melting pair of testicles attached to a man who isn’t really all that concerned. You’re hoping the women don’t get raped and murdered (and you know that Cherry won’t be murdered because at that point we haven’t seen her wooden leg replaced with a gun) but you don’t know, and it builds some momentary tension. Yeah, this is a fake B movie, but in my opinion it’s the best fake B movie.
19. The Hitcher
The trend of making me tense continues with this choice. Dramatic irony strikes as we the audience know the killer is Rutger Hauer but it actually looks like the cops are going to blame C. Thomas Howell. That infuriated me as an 11 year old watching this movie! When the cop has Howell’s character at gunpoint and says, “You spit on my wrist; wipe it off,” in an effort to trick him into grabbing the gun so he can shoot him, all my fear of crooked policemen grabs me by the throat.
18. A Nightmare on Elm Street
This was among the first twenty or so horror movies I ever watched, so it imprinted me. When Nancy falls asleep in school and Tina appears, scratching at her body bag from inside, I want to stick my arm against a hot pipe. And when she is lying on the floor, an invisible force picks up her legs to drag her away, and her arm flops lifelessly on the floor as she leaves behind a trail of blood in the school hallway, kill me now.
When Jessica Harper dances while trying not to collapse, we don’t know what direction the film is going to take. We don’t know if she has been bewitched or poisoned, and when she falls on the floor, she might be dead. There is something about a person being attacked while they’re surrounded by people, who can only watch but can’t help, that gets to me. It bothers me much more than seeing one person face off against a killer when it’s just the two of them in the scene.
This is going to sound like major bullshit, but I swear it’s true. The scene I like best in this movie is when we see a vision of the main character’s dead wife look at him and then step to the side behind a tree and disappear. It conveys a sense of foreboding that is very effective if you consider that perhaps the dead know things that we don’t.
15. Cemetery Man
In a movie filled with zombies and murder, it is perhaps surprising that I would remember a car wreck, but the bus vs. the mopeds actually shocked me the first time I saw this. Of course, with almost my next breath I was laughing my ass off since the scene was followed very soon by a funeral where we hear a choir singing a song with the words “shouldn’t have gone on the Boy Scout picnic.”
14. Black Christmas
The sorority girls are all standing around listening to the killer on the phone. Everyone is frightened, and to be honest, the sounds he is making are creepy, and somehow reminiscent of the sounds on the recording in The Exorcist. But Margo Kidder is drunk, smoking, rolling her eyes all unimpressed, and she grabs the phone from Olivia Hussey and tells the caller what to do with himself. Too bad he isn’t fucking around when he coldly says “I’m going to kill you.”
13. The Ring (remake)
The first time I saw the scene on the ferry where the horse broke out of its trailer I almost cried, first out of the fear created by the horse starting to go nuts in Rachel’s presence (and what that must mean) and then because of what happens to the horse. Anyone with any love of animals at all would hate to see that beautiful creature jump over the side, a horror punctuated by the blood flowing into the water after it is sucked under the boat. The horse actor did a great job of acting terrified!
The first time our filmmaker-within-the-film tries to talk to the woman who lives in the house where one can hear the voices of babies crying is an early shocking scene. The movie then backs off, only to build to the end. The angry woman, screaming and seeming (rightly) so evil, reminds us during all the rest of the mystery solving that something unspeakable must be lurking with the final clues.
11. Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob is lying in the hospital bed, unable to get up because of his back. He cries and says he wants to go home, and then we hear a cold voice from the side of the bed say, “Dream on.” Worst of all, the camera never shows us who or what said it! Wondering where that awful voice came from sometimes makes me afraid of what might be next to my own bed when I try to sleep after watching this film.
10. The Omen
The scene in which Gregory Peck finds a jackal’s bones in the grave of his adopted son’s mother gives me such a feeling that something unnatural and purely evil is going on that I almost can’t stand it.
9. Hour of the Wolf
Max Von Sydow has been going on for the whole movie about demons, and we think he is going insane. He may be, but he has taken us with him when we see that man/demon walk up the wall and onto the ceiling.
8. The Innocents
Definitely the best scene in this classic film is the one where we see the ghost of Miss Jessel across the lake in the rain. She just stands there, out of focus, her eyes like black holes in her face, but she radiates pure insanity.
7. An American Werewolf in London
At the beginning of the film, by design, we have spent a few minutes getting to know and like the two young travelers; this is so that we will be shocked by the kill. And even though we know from the Slaughtered Lamb patrons’ behavior that something is out there, we’re still not quite prepared for the sudden brutality of the wolf attack when it comes.
6. The Changeling
I’m pretty sure this was the first horror movie I ever saw, so it was probably the first time I saw a seance in a movie as well. Maybe that’s why I still don’t like listening to EVPs, even when they’re obviously fake. Hearing that voice on the tape say “My father, my medal” scarred me for life.
The scene I get most excited about seeing, every time I watch this, is the one where the family and the researchers watch the ghosts come down the stairs in their filmy human shapes. I particularly like seeing that some of them have gone to the trouble to manifest hats on their incorporeal heads!
4. The Exorcist
Father Karras’s dream is my favorite part of The Exorcist. The combination of seeing him try to speak to his mother in the dream, seeing the too-bright sunlight on the street as she stands on the other side of the intersection, and hearing his sleeping body trying to scream, makes me feel like I’m the one having the nightmare. And then, of course, there are the subliminal flashes of the demon face! I’m sure anyone who’s ever experienced a nasty dream with sleep paralysis can relate.
3. Carnival of Souls
As someone who is greatly affected by sounds in the movies, now that the ending of the film is something I am aware of (and therefore no longer shocked by), the best scene for me is the one in the church when Mary plays that demonic music on the organ and then gets fired. She is all alone in the world, and has lost her mind as well.
2. Deep Red
I enjoy the entire sequence with David Hemmings in the killer’s house, trying to get behind the wall with the strange drawing. We’ve been told that the house is haunted, and we definitely can feel that he is not alone, bu we aren’t sure what is there with him. It shocks me to see just how obsessed he is with the mystery when he begins digging at the wall with a piece of glass he holds in his bare hands; shouldn’t a pianist be protecting his hands better than that?
1. The Shining
I used to be most affected by what is in room 237, to the point that well into adulthood I was still checking behind shower curtains for that lady. But the past couple of years, that scene has been replaced by the confrontation between Grady and Jack in the ballroom bathroom. The surreal feeling created by the red bathroom and all those mirrors, combined with the inhuman instructions to “correct” the family, makes me almost want to dissociate. It is at that point I am seized again every time by the impossible horror that the hotel itself is talking to Jack, and that he now belongs to it. I guess I’m just fated to be scared of bathrooms.