My Childhood Horror Favorites
Halloween is upon us, and so I thought it would be fitting to revisit some of my favorite horror films from when I was growing up. I want to warn you, there is a really good chance that nobody else holds these movies sacred but me, but that's cool. I can live with that. Another warning, if I may, by "childhood", I mean the 90s. Which pretty much means I'm going to subject you to some horrors from the 80s and earlier.
My first encounter with this gem was on a television network. I was channel surfing for a horror movie, and stumbled upon this creature feature. A house of horrors awaits travelers, who serve as fodder for the myriad creations of the evil sorcerer/necromancer/living dead guy Kreon. Kreon's sole purpose is to bring his wife back to life, The special effects are pretty terrible, the sets are dark, the acting is less than inspired, but the make-up is pretty good. Be on the lookout for a red-eyed grim reaper, a spider woman, and a plethora of farting mud-men. Altogether, it's a fun romp, though you'll have to watch it on YouTube, because it is only available for purchase in Region 2.
Even if pressed, I couldn't tell you which movie I liked better. I had a huge crush on William Katt growing up, but then again, Aztec skulls are pretty interesting too! Both films follow the struggles of the inhabitants of the houses as they battle the various demons, spirits, and curses contained therein. The special effects in both movies are pretty good, considering the time period. In the first movie, William Katt's zombie Vietnam War buddy's makeup is pretty convincing, while House II featured a crazy long-dead relative in search of an Aztec skull. (While researching this part of the post, I saw that there is actually a movie called The Horror Show, aka House III, though I've never seen it. It was made in 1989, so it certainly follows chronologically. I will let you know if I ever get to see it.)
This tongue-in-cheek horror film scared me witless as a child! The scenes with the evil gremlin's hands reaching over desks and through wall vents terrified me. I still have trouble walking by wall vents today, and when I pass a floor vent, I can't help but stop and search it for a few minutes, just in case. Despite all the funny moments (leg-warmer gremlin anyone?) the movie was still extremely chilling, and the special effects hold up today. When I turned 16 and became a lifeguard at the local town pool, I couldn't help but think of Gremlins every time I dove or jumped into the deep end. I remembered the way the water bubbled and broiled as the gremlins inside began to multiply. I could only imagine what they looked like climbing out to go and terrorize the little community in the movie. Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, and Cory Feldman steal the show. (No, the sequel is not worth watching.)
The Critters franchise is populated with a crew of misfit-Tribbles, who run amok wherever they can. Their preferred method of annihilation is to tuck themselves into a ball, roll like hell, and shoot quills that make people fall asleep. The franchise starts out in a quiet rural town, and ends up where most 80s franchises eventually wind up - Space. The sharp-toothed, murdering bastards somehow wind up cryogenically frozen, and wake up in space where they continue their hungry rampage. It's alright if you can't help but laugh at the thought of them barreling through a spaceship - you're not alone! Throughout the series, look for stand-out performances from Dee Wallace, Billy Zane, Leonardo DiCaprio, Angela Bassett, Brad Dourif, and Lin Shaye.
I'll admit I've only seen the first two, and didn't realize there were two more movies until working on this post tonight. (Incidentally, I'm watching the first one on Netflix, which is what got me thinking about writing this post.) When I was a child, I was focused solely on how crazy the little Ghoulie pack looked, and it amused me that they were coming out of a toilet on the VHS cover. However, in watching it again, I realize I missed 95% of the plot. Apparently there's attempted child sacrifice, demonic possession, Satanic rituals, attempted murder, dwarven servants, a creepy clown doll, and zombies. Lots of zombies. And a woman who screams like a whistling teakettle. (That list ought to disappoint some deviant web searchers when they find out it's only a movie review!) The possession special effects are lacking, but the puppetry of the Ghoulies is still fun to watch. Standout cast include Mariska Hargitay, Jason Scott Lee, and Matthew Lillard.
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988)
Good. Grief. This tale of voodoo, Haitian history, and the search for the elusive tetrodotoxin was extremely memorable. Bill Pullman stars as Wade Davis, the renowned ethnobotanist, in a highly fictionalized version of his search for the secret behind the voodoo powder. The film also delves shallowly into the world of the cruel dictatorship of Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier, who ruled Haiti at that time. The book (of the same name) is an extremely worthwhile read. Even though it's not a supernatural tale, the rich history contained is both interesting and enlightening.
If I had a penny for every time I made my parents sit through this movie with me, I would have enough money to bail our country out of debt. I literally turned the majority of the early 90s into a spider-infested Hell for my parents, insisting on watching this movie every time it came on TV. Then my parents gave in and bought me the VHS. Basically, a tarantula hitches a ride to America in a coffin, sucking the juices out of the body of the man it killed a few scenes prior, and gets loose. A rampage of epic proportions ensues as the spider's offspring dominate a small and peaceful town. (Some of the spider animatronics towards the end may look a little silly, but if you're like me and you hate spiders, it's the thought that counts. It's also worth noting that there are enough real spiders in the movie to inspire a healthy dose of terror from any arachnophobe.) It's up to Jeff Daniels, John Goodman, and Julian Sands to save the day in style.
This movie also has the distinction of being the first DVD I ever owned. Once again, a favorite that I would coerce my parents into watching with me. Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and Reba McEntire have to battle giant underground worms. The idea is that the heroes have to stop the worms before they leave the valley and cause irrevocable damage to he rest of the world. 90s B-movie horror at it's best! This movie is gross as Hell, and pretty funny as well. Bacon leads a credible cast, and the special effects aren't bad either! The gore is just explicit enough that you may want to forego anything with tomato sauce immediately before or after watching it.
I wanted to save my ultimate favorite for last. From the moment I first saw JAWS, and continuing today, I have always loved this movie. It inspired in me a lifelong fascination with sharks. It also made sure that I will always look at the ocean with terrified respect. As a child, I would clean my room while listening to the soundtrack, reciting the lines. I watched every movie documentary and behind the scenes, any any other material I could get my hands on. I knew the name of the mechanical shark was Bruce, I knew that the salt water played havoc on all the models, and I knew the name of most of the crew that worked on the film. I used to make up trivia questions (the harbormaster is Frank Silva - don't believe me? Watch the movie!) The raw simplicity of the story line - three men out to conquer a monster - was enticing. Glimpses of the shark are infrequent, allowing suspense to build, but when it does make its appearance, it is no disappointment! This movie is based on a popular book by Peter Benchley, but I haven't read it yet. That's one book I'm not sure that I will ever read, because I've come across comparisons online, and I'm not sure if I am ready for the characters I grew up loving like family to turn out so differently.
What are some of your favorite movies?