Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's Halloween Season! My Top 15 Horror Movies

Ah, the month of October. When the New England weather begins to change and get cool, reminding all of the impending winter. While most spend the month bundling up and preparing, I like to bust out my movie collection and immerse myself in horror movies. Many TV channels will do the same, offering marathons of scary movies on at all times of the day and night. This is the time when the younger generation, more in-tune and aware of recent remakes than their predecessors, are able to catch the originals, made well before DVDs and Blu-Ray discs ever existed. (Side note: My collection consists of many VHS tapes – yikes! Now that’s scary!)

In the spirit of All Hallow’s Eve, I wanted to share my list of the top 15 scariest movies ever made that might serve as inspiration for anyone looking for ones to watch.

So without further ado, here is my list of the Top 15 Scariest Movies Ever Made:

15.) Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Although this is a sequel, it is greatly superior to director George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which unfortunately, is now dated. With a limited budget, Romero expertly crafted this zombie film that makes its audience feel just as trapped as the main characters. Definitely check this one out before seeing the 2004 remake, if possible. This could possibly be the best zombie film ever made.

14.) Alien (1979)

Speaking of claustrophobia, what movie personifies this better than Ridley Scott’s Alien? Featuring uber-female-protagonist Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, Alien has it all – great aesthetics, great scares (you’ll be checking your own chest after certain scenes!) and a great antagonist. While the movie’s memorable tagline is “In space, no one can hear you scream,” your neighbors will definitely know it’s you when you’re watching this one.

13.) The Evil Dead (1981)

Perhaps now best known for being the first full-length feature from Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman series), The Evil Dead was a horror movie unto itself upon release. While it deals with zombies, it really pushes the card as far as reincarnation goes. The main character, Ash, played by Bruce Campbell (now found on USA’s Burn Notice), is one this generation’s great cult characters. This one is not for the faint of heart.

12.) Ju-On (2000)

Better known in the U.S. as The Grudge, Ju-On originally appeared in Japan in 2000 and contains among the creepier scenes I’ve witnessed. The film definitely lures you in with an intriguing premise and seems innocent for the first act until the true hide-under-the-blanket, edge-of-your-seat scariness sets in. I’d rather not ruin too much here for those that successfully avoided The Grudge.

11.) The Brood (1979)

I had to include a film from sci-fi / horror aficionado and director David Cronenberg on here. With so many to choose from (Scanners, The Fly, Videodrome, Dead Ringers), I choose the one with the most originality (though all of the aforementioned are quite original). The Broodrevolves around a man who desperately tries to uncover the mysteries of a local therapist as things begin to get creepy. He succeeds and finds something far more terror-inducing than he anticipated – a brood of mutant children, with stone cold, black eyes, intent on destroying anything in their wake. Yikes.

10.) Black Christmas (1974)

Unfortunately, this is another one that has a more recent, less-than-gratifying remake, which came out in 2006. This original, however, is ahead of its time. Know the old urban myth about the crazed killer’s calls coming from the line in the attic? This is first to feature this subplot prominently. Using the usually familial and comforting holiday of Christmas as the back drop, Black Christmas really attacks the security people feel that the holiday season inherently brings with it. While not the first slasher film, this film is creepy enough to think twice about going up to the attic all alone.

9.) Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

And another classic ruined by a less-than-perfect remake. What makesNightmare so scary is its innovation. Take a franchise serial killer with a new weapon (a glove with knife fingers) and have him attack you where you’re most vulnerable – your dreams. What’s your reaction? Of course – just don’t sleep. Well, the kids in the film are just as wise, but unfortunately, they’re just as human as you. Eventually sleep wins out and you have to face your dreams, or in this case, your worst Nightmares. (A plus is that a young Johnny Depp makes his first movie appearance in the film! I won’t ruin how it ends for JDepp.)

8.) The Ring (1998)

One of the more innovative horror flicks to come out in the last couple decades. The Ring brings an array of truly creepy images mixed with new age pop-out scares. I think what’s most unsettling about this film is that every character – intentional or not – looks creepy. If you’re up for it, check out the original Japanese version, Ringu, which has a more intricate explanation at the end.

7.) Jaws (1975)

Anytime a movie can make the majority of America – heck, even the world – second guess going in the water, that’s a scary movie! What makes Jaws so scary is its incredible simplicity. People go in the water all the time. Sharks live in the water. People know this and still go. So what’s so inconceivable about a great white shark just eating people instead of fattening seals? While the third act of the film is more adventure than horror, you still never feel quite comfortable and the infamous scene when Roy Scheider is chumming confirms this. Not only will you need a “bigger boat,” you’ll probably need a bigger bed to hide in after watching this by yourself.

6.) The Thing (1982)

Aliens? Shape-shifting monsters that can take the form of anything or anyone? Secluded snow base in Antarctica? These are all elements that make The Thing not only one of the best horror movie remakes ever, but just one of the scariest flicks ever. Director John Carpenter, of Halloween fame, brings his incredible sci-fi eye to this flick, using advanced techniques to showcase his monster and its abilities throughout the film. Each transformation the monster makes becomes more stomach churning than the previous one. Add the fact that none of the characters OR the audience members knows who is the monster and who isn’t makes this one a truly edge-of-your-seat Halloween flick.

5.) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The slasher film that might possibly have shaped an entire generation. Directed by Tobe Hooper and made for next to nothing, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film many never forget. Set deep in the woods, a group of teens stumble upon a terror previously unimaginable. Brandishing a weapon unused in horror films before, the infamous Leatherface plays by no rules and only appears when you feel the most calm. This film captures the true essence of a horror film – few cheap scares combined with terror-inducing aesthetics. You might not always see Leatherface, but you’ll certainly hear that chainsaw ripping in the night. Notoriously based upon the true life story of Ed Gein, this film is purely frightening.

4.) The Shining (1980)

My personal favorite, this film is the perfect storm of creative minds, based upon the original novel from Stephen King and helmed by famed director Stanley Kubrick. With one of many career-defining performances from Jack Nicholson, this film excels in situational and psychological horror. You thought being trapped in mall with zombies was scary? Try being trapped in a hotel amidst a snowstorm with your psychotic husband and the hotel’s ghosts. “Here’s Johnny!”

3.) Psycho (1960)

The classic, defining work of Alfred Hitchcock, widely considered to be the king of suspense. Anthony Perkins stars as the infamous Norman Bates, caretaker of the equally infamous Bates Motel. Featuring one of the most memorable and unforgettable scenes, Psycho essential did to the shower what Jaws did to the water 15 years later. With eerie landscape and unnerving serenity surrounding the environment,Psycho, way ahead of its time, paved the way for the future slasher generation. Without this film, the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees might never exist. Be sure to keep your eyes open for the entire film, or else you’ll miss the controversial and terrifying finale!

2.) Halloween (1978)

The quintessential scary movie for All Hallow’s Eve. Sometimes the scariest movies can be the simplest ideas. Take a crazed killer and have him use the most cliched and obviously night to conduct his reign of terror. Wielding a butcher knife (nothing extravagant) and moving slowly, Michael Myers is now synonymous with Halloween, not just because that’s the title of the film, either. Sure, there are some cheap pop-out scares here and there, but the spray-painted William Shatner mask slowly appearing in a dark frame behind the unsuspecting character? That’s terror personified!

1.) The Exorcist (1973)

The quintessential horror movie, period. Featuring quite possibly the scariest antagonist ever conceived – that of 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, possessed by the Devil – The Exorcist succeeds in conveying true horror without any of the cheap conventions of today. No pop-out scares here, just pure terror personified by a 12-year-old girl and expressed through the characters witnessing her transformation. There’s a reason audience members were throwing up and leaving the theatres back in 1973. This is NOT one to watch alone.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2010 MLB Playoffs

I admit, I'm not consistent with my blog posts. They've become incredibly sporadic, and apparently they draw the uncontrolled ire of readers. (Still curious about that one...) However, one thing I have been able to keep up with since the earliest days of my blog is the MLB Playoffs. I like to think I typically know what I'm talking... er, blogging about in regards to October baseball. So here goes:

Texas RANGERS (90-72) vs. Tampa Bay RAYS (96-66)

2010 Regular Season Series: Tampa Bay, 4-2

I'll tell you right now, the Rays are my favorite to represent the AL in the World Series. Do they have flaws? Big time. A team that hits .247 collectively is not one to typically rally behind. They were dangerously close to being no-hit multiple times this season and were held to two or fewer hits eight times this season. Patient at the plate they are not, which is normally a major key to success. Their offense, however, is opportunistic. Give them an inch and they'll make you pay dearly. With news coming out last night that Evan Longoria has been cleared to play in Game 1, their lineup becomes that much stronger. While BJ Upton went on an absolute tear in the 2008 playoffs - which definitely propelled them - he should still be feared and heavily respected. Obviously, Longoria, Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford are the big guns to look out for, but Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett and even Sean Rodriguez can make you pay with their excellent situational hitting. I'm actually incredibly pleased to see the Rangers back in the playoffs finally. They're a franchise that deserves to win sooner rather than later. I can appreciate Nolan Ryan and his eagerness to produce a winner down in Arlington. Also, bringing in Cliff Lee was the best midseason move any team made - yes, including the Roy Oswalt deal in Philadelphia. Lee gives the Rangers the legitimate ace the team has lacked since ... well ... maybe Ryan himself. Despite Lee's late season struggles, you can't ignore his postseason dominance of a year ago (4-0, 1.56 ERA, 33/6 K:BB ratio in 5 starts for the Phillies). Past Lee though, the Rangers' rotation scares me. Lee has the ability to simply dominate teams and keep them guessing. CJ Wilson and Tommy Hunter do not. While posting respectable season stats (15-8, 3.35 and 13-4, 3.73, respectively), they'll be overmatched with the Rays' firepower. Both teams have terrific bullpens, featuring two of the top three closers in the league in Rafael Soriano and soon-to-be-named AL ROY Neftali Feliz. So caution to both teams: don't get caught down a run or two late, or else it's over. One area that the Rangers do have going for them is their potent offense. Regaining the AL MVP in Josh Hamilton keeps considerably and Vladimir Guerrero is already an established postseason stalwart. The Rangers led the entire league in batting average, which clearly cannot be ignored; however, I just feel the overall lack of postseason experience will catch up to the Rangers. And oh yeah - I'd take Joe Maddon 50 times out of 50 before ever taking Ron Washington in a series. That really cannot be ignored. I expect Lee to beat the Rays in Game 1 before the Rays take the next three, which includes beating Lee on short rest in Game 4.

My prediction: Rays in 4.

New York YANKEES (95-67) vs. Minnesota TWINS (94-68)

2010 Regular Season Series: New York, 4-2 So let's get this straight. The Twins are the home town and only one separated these two teams during the regular season? So why does this series feel so lopsided? The Twins have a better team batting average than the Yankees (.273 to .267), and a better team ERA (3.95 to 4.06). Is it the famed Yankee mystique? The utter, inexplicable quality that makes baseball analysts blindly pick them despite numbers that argue otherwise (::cough cough:: Jon Heyman)? The Yankees definitely stumbled down the stretch, giving away the division - and home field advantage in the AL - to the Rays. Their pitching staff looked absolutely miserable during the final week and a half, save for one AJ Burnett start. However, history is just against the Twins. Dating back to 2002, the Twins are 3-16 in their last 19 postseason games, including a 2-9 stretch in the last three postseason meetings (2003, 2004 and 2009). The Twins, unfortunately, always seem to have the "happy-to-be-here" appearance every October. Despite making an incredible push during the second half of this year sans their All-star closer and All-star, former MVP first baseman, I don't see this series going past the minimum. This series will ultimately come down to one area in my mind - the Yankees offense versus the Twins slightly-above-average pitching. The Yankee squad averaged more than 5 runs a game and beat up very good pitching. Despite Derek Jeter's uncharacteristic season and Mark Teixeira beating slightly beat up, the Yankees should feast on the likes of Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing. Francisco Liriano had a great comeback season and would normally be a great option to rely on for a Game 1 victory; however, CC will continue to be a beast for the Yankees. Given the choice, I'm not sure I'd take any pitcher in the playoffs over CC for Game 1. The Yanks announced today that they'll be going with a three-man rotation of Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte, which is definitely the right decision, as you can bring CC back on short rest. Pettitte didn't look sharp closing out the season, but he's among the most proven vets in the playoffs ever. Hughes was one of the few (or ... two...) Yank starters that didn't have the deer-in-the-headlights look to close out the season. Lastly, with Mo waiting in the pen to close it out, I don't see the Twinkies standing a chance. Maybe the Twins steal the game Pettitte starts, but I highly doubt it. My prediction: Yankees in 3
Cincinnati REDS (91-71) vs. Philadelphia PHILLIES (97-65)

2010 Regular Season Series: Philadelphia, 5-2 Nice season, Cincinnati. You held off the perennial favorites in the Cardinals and look large strides forward to realizing the talent you have. Joey Votto is my pick for the MVP and the pitching staff was quite surprising. However, this is about all I can say about the Reds for this series. Roy Halladay has never pitched a postseason inning and he'll be beyond amped to finally get a crack at it. Between Halladay, Oswalt and 2008 WS MVP Cole Hamels, no team will beat the Phillies in the short series ... or a long series, either. Not only do the Phillies have by far the best postseason rotation, they have quite the offense, too. Even with a slightly injured Jimmy Rollins, they're still loaded top to bottom. Jayson Werth has taken off during the final month+, slamming 9 HRs and driving in 22 runs. Add his late-season emergence to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez' power and the Cincinnati staff doesn't stand a chance, even with Placido Polanco still ailing. I like the Phillies in a sweep with their rotation showcasing its dominance.

My prediction: Phillies in 3.
Atlanta BRAVES (91-71) vs. San Francisco GIANTS (92-70)

2010 Regular Season Series: Atlanta, 4-3 In this series, two things make the difference for me - pitching and home field and the Giants have both in their favor. Offensively, the teams are pretty even, with the Braves collectively hitting .258 and the Giants .257. The Braves are peskier though, holding the fourth-best on-base percentage in the majors at .339, so they know how to get on. A little hypocritically speaking too, the Braves have the more proven postseason pitchers in Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. Postseason newbie Tommy Hanson is certainly no pushover, either. I personally think beating Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain three times in five games is impossible, but if there's a way to do it, it's through pesky at-bats and finding ways to get on base. Neither pitcher has thrown a frame in the postseason, which is definitely something to keep in mind. Honestly, the more I analyze these teams, the closer I see the match-up being. Thus, in such a situation, I'll always go with the home team. I think Lincecum and Cain will be too overmatching to beat three times in a series. Thanks for the memories, Bobby Cox. I'll go against the season series results for the first time.

My prediction: Giants in 5. So Rays-Yankees and Phillies and Giants. I like Rays in 7 and Phillies in 6. A rematch of the 2008 World Series - same ending, too. I'll take the Phils (in their third-straight WS appearance).