We are continuing to share our love of Halloween today with some more Desert Island choices from a horror master. Today, C. Robert Cargill, author of Dreams and Shadows and writer of one of 2012’s eeriest horror movies, Sinister, shares with us his choices.
There are few things I love writing more than a desert Island pick list. As a professional film critic, I spent years writing BEST OF lists. This year’s top 10 films, the top 10 films of 1982, the top 20 horror movies ever made, Heath Ledgers 6 most unforgettable performances, the top 20 actors and actresses of such and such and this and that. You name it, I’ve probably given it a number and ranked it against something else. But desert island lists are different. They’re not about what’s best; they’re about what you love the most. They’re about those movies that you reach for on a rainy Sunday afternoon when you just want to get out of a bad mood. They’re about those movies you can recite every line of. They’re about movies that, quality be damned, you would watch over any other movie of its type.
You can learn a lot more about a person by the movies they love than the movies they think are the best. And since it is that time of year, here are the seven horror movies I love the most.
THE THING stands both as one of the greatest remakes of all time (it was adapted from Howard Hawks THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD) and as one of the few truly perfect horror movies – though it didn’t start out that way. In fact, one of the most amazing things about it is that the first version of it was a complete mess. But after three weeks of grueling reshoots which included restaging key scenes and even redefining who the film’s protagonist was (it was originally an ensemble film), John Carpenter turned in the film that would sit as one of the key jewels in his directorial crown (along with HALLOWEEN and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.) A tale of an isolated research station in Antarctica under siege by an alien that imitates its prey, it is a lean, mean movie without a single wasted moment. Terrifying, bleak and altogether manly as hell, many filmmakers have tried to capture its spirit in their own work, but nothing has ever come close. It’s a film that I often pull out when I’m working through my toughest days and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and it reminds me that sometimes, just sometimes, you can rework something inches away from failure into a complete masterpiece.
Sadly neglected and mostly forgotten is this wonderful masterpiece of terror, offering one of George C. Scott’s greatest performances. A loose retelling of Richard Matheson’s STIR OF ECHOES (also later adapted as a film), the chief thrust of this film – the story of a man haunted by a spirit with an agenda who he then tries to assist – has been done many times since, but never as effectively as it was here. THE CHANGELING is a masterclass is mood and setting, always creepy, sometimes jarring, and containing some of the greatest scares in cinema history. Long ago, when I was a video store clerk, this was the film I would pass on to folks who wanted something *really* scary but had seen all the classics. They always came back asking for something just like it. I recently was interviewed about my favorite horror film over on Ain’t it Cool News and it was my pick. You can see me talk about it here.
Shaun of the Dead
The AIRPLANE! of its day, SHAUN OF THE DEAD skewers the zombie genre in a way that redefined it. Easily the best non-Romero Romero-style zombie romp, many of the jokes in this have become cultural staples, but yet, never get old. Still as funny some 10 years later, it is the horror pick I throw on whenever I just want to laugh myself silly.
As far as truly insane, bat$@*# crazy horror films go, PHEMOMENA takes the cake. The film stars Jennifer Connelly (in her first leading role) as a girl with the peculiar ability to communicate with insects. When several girls from her boarding school are brutally murdered (by a mutant dwarf) she teams up with wheelchair-bound world class entomologist Donald Pleasance (and his laser pointer guided helper monkey) to use bugs to track down the rotting corpses of the girls and, ultimately, their killer. One of Dario Argento’s heroin-era dream logic movies, the film is a pastiche of several genres, Argento’s own childhood demons and some of the craziest plot twists you’ve ever seen (including what is, for my money, the greatest revenge subplot of all time.) Every year, for my birthday, Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim league lets me have a theater to show whatever tickles my fancy that he has in his vault. Last year I showed the American cut of this (known as CREEPERS) which is half an hour shorter and thus even more mind-alteringly dreamy. It slayed the crowd and got a wild cheer for its final moments. Definitely one to dig up if you’ve never seen it. I wouldn’t go to a desert island without it.
La Hora Fria (The Cold Hour/The Dark Hour)
Entirely unknown here in the states, this awesome but poorly received Spanish film found a life in the UK on DVD (As THE DARK HOUR.) It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare filled with zombies, aliens, and mad science, all told from the point of view of an Eight-year-old boy who has never known a world outside of the grim concrete walls of his underground bunker. We get to know what may be the last few survivors of supernatural holocaust as this young boy tries to grow up surrounded by things that want to see him dead. The last ten seconds of this film are so good they demand you immediately rewatch it from beginning.
The oddball indie pick of my list, MAY is the disturbing story of a bizarre girl (played brilliantly by Angela Bettis) who becomes obsessed with the perfect little bits of those around her and sets out to create the perfect boyfriend…from those parts. Awkward, creepy, and strange, but deeply endearing, May’s journey is one that will unsettle you and make your skin crawl right through its heartbreaking final moments.
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
Of all of the films to come out of the slasher-era, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 stands as the only to potentially top its original. Penned by a handful of folks (which includes THE SHAWSHANK REDPMPTION’s Frank Darabont), this sequel both got what made the original tick and upped its menace by making the protagonists capable of defending themselves. But even as these kids learn how to fight back, not all of them are strong enough to make it to the final reel. This film is just plain, good old fashioned bloody fun and is still a delight – even while most of the other NIGHTMARE movies fall flat. I contend that the original NIGHTMARE is one of the scariest movies ever made, but this is the one I reach for when I want to revisit Freddy’s antics.
20th CENTURY GHOSTS by Joe Hill
As for my desert island horror book (they let me choose just one), I have to go with Joe Hill’s brilliant debut 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS. There are a lot of great horror writers working today, churning out tons of great, creepy material, but few are on the level of Hill. He has a talent for taking absurd premises and milking out terror where you didn’t imagine it could exist. This collection of short fiction is brimming with nightmares waiting to plague you, but the one that has stuck with me all these years is the tale of a kidnapped boy, waiting for his death in the basement of a pedophile, only to find himself hearing the voice of a previous victim…through an old disconnected phone. If I had one book of horror to take with me, this would be the one to help keep me up at night.