We continue our countdown of the Top 100 Regional Horror Films, with a look at films 50 through 36. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on the rankings so far, and keep watching this space as we work our way up to the Top 10 in October!
50. Tenement (New York, 1985): It's not exactly a horror film, but Tenement does
aptly convey the claustrophobic, siege mentality of Night of the Living Dead
(and Assault on Precinct 13). This was
one of the first non-porn films Roberta Findlay made and it may very well be
her best; it's certainly far more suspenseful than any of the straight horror
outings she made with producer and business partner Walter Sear.
49. The Orphan (New Jersey, 1979): Saddled with a misleading alternate title (Friday
the 13th: The Orphan), this low-key tale of an orphaned child, his
overly strict aunt, and his stuffed monkey shrine, builds slowly as its young
protagonist loses his grip on reality. Shot over a period of ten years, the
film has a disjointed, weird vibe that is certainly unsettling (if not
necessarily frightening). Theme song by Janis Ian.
48. Screams of a Winter Night (Louisiana, 1979): Although it had just a brief theatrical run, and the
video has been out of print for years, this low-budget anthology has still managed
to build a small cult following over the past 30 years. The wraparound segments
are better than the individual stories, but it maintains a nice, eerie vibe
47. Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (Florida,
artist Alan Ormsby delivers a warped horror comedy about a troupe of obnoxious
actors who inadvertently raise the pasty-faced dead while performing mock black
magic ceremonies on a burial island at the behest of their prissy, tyrannical
director (Ormsby himself). Although not as scary or funny as it ought to be, it
was a harbinger of the varying directions the living dead would shamble over
the next two decades. And Orville the Corpse remains one of my top five
favorite zombie performances of all time.
46. The Boogens (Utah, 1982): The title is silly, and the monsters are sillier, but The Boogens
is a well-constructed, straightforward monster movie that makes effective use
of its remote, snowy mining town locations. And since the monsters did look
kind of stupid, director James L. Conway wisely leaves them offscreen most of
the time, which ups the suspense and helps lift this no-frills creature feature
above many of its low-budget contemporaries.
45. I Drink Your Blood (New York, 1970): One half of what may have been the most notorious
double feature in exploitation film history, I Drink Your Blood
actually delivers on most of its ballyhooed promises (unlike its co-feature, I
Eat Your Skin, which was actually a
bloodless, black-and-white zombie film from Del Tenney). It's thoroughly
off-the-rails plot—rabies-infected meat pies turn hippies and hard-hats alike
into slobbering, hydrophobic homicidal maniacs—lays some of the groundwork for
the zombies-as-infected-people tropes of recent decades, while still
positioning the film as a unique piece of bug-eyed lunacy.
44. Slime City (New York, 1988): Energetic, funny romp from the "wet"
period of gory, independent New York filmmaking about a man transformed into a
murderous slime monster via an addiction to "Himalayan Yogurt."
43. Brain Damage (New York, 1988): Although Frank Henenlotter's first film, Basket
Case, tends to get all the accolades, I've always been partial to
his follow up feature. A snarky, talking, phallic parasitic slug takes over the
life of his host (Rick Hearst) as he searches for more brains to eat. Featuring
the voice of horror host John Zacherle and some of the strangest imagery in any
42. Don't Look in the Basement (Texas,1973): S.F. Brownrigg may not have been
the most successful regional horror director, or the most well known, but he
may very well have the most distinctive visual style in the entire genre
(unless you count H.G. Lewis' approach, which was more an anti-style). This is
probably his backwoods masterpiece, and features appropriately keyed up
performances from his familiar repertory players (Bill McGhee, Camilla Carr,
Annabelle Weenick, Gene Ross), and a gritty, sweaty ambience that you can
41. Two Thousand Maniacs! (Florida, 1964): Blood Feast was the first, and Wizard of Gore was
the most structurally ambitious, but I've always felt this was H.G. Lewis' most
watchable film. This gore-drenched version of Brigadoon not only boasts an
awesome bluegrass theme song (performed by Lewis himself), but also a
relatively fast-paced plot and decent acting (minor miracles in a Lewis
40. Psycho From Texas (Arkansas, 1974): The psycho may have been from Texas, but the film
and its director Jim Feazell hail from El Dorado, Arkansas. With its botched
kidnapping plot and murderous, poorly-coifed lead psycho, I'm not sure this
wasn't the inspiration for both Fargo and No Country for Old
Men. Think about it.
39. Manos: The Hands of Fate (Texas, 1966): Allegedly made on a bet placed between insurance
salesman Hal Warren and screenwriter Sterling Silliphant, Manos as emerged as a
cult film whose reputation may very well have surpassed that of Plan 9 From
Outer Space and other "worst film" candidates. Nothing
else quite touches the level of tedious delirium you experience watching Manos; it defies so many cinematic conventions it's almost
not a film at all. Genius or madness?
38. The Carrier (Michigan, 1988): There's nothing I like more than a low-budget horror
film that displays some narrative ambition. That's exactly what you get with
this oddball AIDS allegory that inventively combines monsters, disease,
trashbags, and cat hoarding.
37. The Boogeyman (Maryland, 1980): Before he slid into the direct-to-video ghetto,
director Ulli Lommel made this impressive supernatural slasher flick about an
evil spirit released from the shards of a broken mirror. When I despair at the
umpteenth serial killer film in Lommel's prolific body of work (he's directed
55 films!), I always think fondly back to this one, which was financed by
Lommel's wife/leading lady/DuPont heiress Suzanna Love.
36. The Werewolf of Washington (New York/Washington,
D.C., 1973): This film has gotten a bad
rap, primarily because of its title and its wide availability as a murky public
domain item. But if you give it a chance, you'll find it contains a very good
performance from Dean Stockwell, some great bits of comedy, and some biting
political satire, much of which still holds up. I was even more impressed with
it once I learned that it had been written and filmed BEFORE the details of the
Watergate scandal were made public.
My book, Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990, is entering the final stages of layout and production, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be available by this Halloween. In the meantime, I thought I'd try to present a preview of the types of films featured in the book by presenting my completely arbitrary list of the Top 100 Regional Horror Films of All Time.
I initially thought I'd make a list of the best regional horrors, but I quickly realized that by focusing on quality I'd be leaving out some important (but crappy) films. Instead, what I'm presenting here is list of the best, the most well-known, and most influential regional horror flicks. This is the bottom 50, and I'll be working my way up to the top 10 as we get closer to Halloween. I had to weigh notoriety against quality, in many cases, which is why you'll see some pretty bad films outranking better films as we get further into the list; on the other hand, I put some very good (but lesser known) films in the top 25. The descriptions below are brief, but as we get into the higher rankings I plan to spend more time explaining why the films are important, so expect longer entries.
Please feel free to post comments and send me feedback on the list; I'm curious to see what films you think belong in the top 10, and how they match up to my picks.
100. Blood Cult (Oklahoma, 1985): Not the first shot-on-video horror film, nor the best. But it was the biggest, and it launched a hundred (probably a thousand) even worse imitators.
99. Blood Sucking Freaks (New York, 1976): Joel M. Reed's offensive masterpiece (?).
98. Driller Killer (New York, 1979): Abel Ferrara's shrill (and often dull) tale of urban insanity made the UK "Video Nasties" list.
97. Satan's Children (Florida, 1975): Simultaneously homophobic and homoerotic, and one of the most peculiar of the Florida films (which is saying something).
96. Flesh Feast (Florida, 1970): Maggots, Hitler and Veronica Lake collide in the Florida heat.
95. Killing Spree (Florida, 1987): Follow-up to Tim Ritter's Truth or Dare? starring the unforgettable Asbestos Felt.
94. Mars Needs Women (Texas, 1967): Possibly the most poetically direct movie title in history.
93. The Wizard of Gore (Illinois, 1970): H.G. Lewis goes all cerebral and meta on us. Montag!
92. Zaat (Florida, 1973): A good, old-fashioned monster movie that suffered from multiple title changes and underhanded distribution.
91. Blood Sisters (New York, 1987): You can best describe Roberta Findlay's approach to horror films as "satisfyingly disinterested."
90. Zontar the Thing from Venus (Texas, 1966): Larry Buchanan's most beloved sci-fi flick was embraced by the Church of the Subgenius.
89. The Alpha Incident (Wisconsin, 1978): A talky sci-fi drama that, nonetheless, may be Bill Rebane's finest film.
88. The Dead Next Door (Ohio, 1988): The most expensive Super 8 movie ever made, probably.
87. Don't Go in the Woods (Utah, 1981): Especially if you happen to be in a wheelchair.
86. Redeemer! Son of Satan (Virginia, 1978): A confounding early slasher film with religious undertones and a freaky marionette.
85. Don't Go in the House (New York, 1979): Troubling early slasher film that in many ways serves as a precursor to the better-known Maniac.
84. I Eat Your Skin (Florida, 1964): Underrated film that lays the groundwork for a number of later Italian zombie flicks.
83. Beyond Dream's Door (Ohio, 1989): Intriguing early work from low-budget director Jay Woelfel.
82. Invasion of the Blood Farmers (New York, 1972): Don't eat before you see it, and you'll have nothing to lose!
81. The Giant Spider Invasion (Wisconsin, 1975): One big spider (and a bunch of little ones) arrive from space to eat Wisconsin.
80. Blood Stalkers (Florida, 1976): More than just a Bigfoot movie, more than just a killer hillbilly flick; the finale will leave you speechless and exhausted.
79. Chillers (West Virginia, 1988): Enjoyable horror anthology with genuine Appalachian accents on display.
78. Liquid Sky (New York, 1982): Arthouse sci-fi that features the only other film appearance of Alice, Sweet Alice star Paula Sheppard.
77. Keep My Grave Open (Texas, 1976): A minor, but still satisfying, entry from Texas stylist S.F. Brownrigg.
Just a quick note on some developing book and film projects we've been following, and that you should add to your Christmas list for next year:
First, author John Szpunar will debut his new book, Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine, at Fantacon 2013 in Albany, N.Y. Published by HeadPress, the book includes interviews with more than 50 'zine editors from the 1970s and 1980s, providing the inside scoop on titles like Sleazoid Express, Gore Gazette and Deep Red.
HeadPress is also publishing Bleeding Skull! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey, based on Joseph Ziemba's excellent Bleeding Skull website. The current site is idle while Ziemba and Dan Budnik finish up the book, but they are providing updates on Facebook. The book is also due out in 2013.
Finally, a gaggle of enterprising filmmakers in Austin is working on a VHS documentary called Rewind This!, about the cultural and historical impact of the VHS tape. You can check out the trailer below:
The Dead Next Door is a blog about regional or "backyard" horror and science fiction films made from the late 1950s to the earlyl 1990s (and beyond). These films were released during the peak years of independent film production, created by a motley crew of seasoned pros, gifted amateurs, and enthusiastic genre fans, along with dozens of eccentric dreamers -- doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, publishers, commercial filmmakers, TV production crews and moonlighting pornographers -- all looking for their big break or a fast buck or both.