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Ranking the Rankings 2: Horror Film

What follows is the second of my Ranking the Rankings pieces. The first explored horror fiction listings, while this one focuses on horror film. Compiling it was, frankly, a bitch, and far more difficult overall than the earlier ranking. The problem was simply the sheer volume of horror movie listings, of which it seems just about everyone (including me) has made up at least one.

     My preferred rankings are those that contain interesting and eclectic selections that don’t recur on other such lists. THE EXORCIST, DAWN OF THE DEAD, THE EVIL DEAD and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS are all terrific films, but there exist many, many more examples of first-rate horror cinema that don’t show up on too many lists.

     As in the earlier Ranking the Rankings piece, I’ve culled ten lists from various books and magazines (and transcribed the actual listings where appropriate), ranked from best to least-best, starting with:

1. The Scariest Films Ever Made by Stephen King
DANSE MACABRE; 1981

1. WAIT UNTIL DARK
2. HALLOWEEN
3. PSYCHO
4. COMA
5. LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR
6. ALIEN
7. THE HAUNTING
8. MIDNIGHT EXPRESS
9. THE BAD SEED
10. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
11. NIGHT WATCH
12. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
13. THE BIRDS
14. DEMENTIA-13
15. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
16. I BURY THE LIVING
17. MACABRE
18. X--THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES
19. THE OMEN
20. DELIVERANCE

     It shouldn’t come as any surprise that this Stephen King penned list, included in his nonfiction tome DANSE MACABRE, made my number one spot. King’s survey of the 100 best horror books, after all, was the #1 pick in my previous Ranking the Rankings, and proved the man really knows his horror media--something this horror movie ranking, which over the years has had an incalculable effect on my viewing choices, further proves. Truly, you can’t beat the King.
     Incidentally, King provided an updated scary movie listing in the 1992 tome GRAVEN IMAGES. In it King narrowed down his choices to 10, beginning with ALIEN and concluding with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE--and self-indulgently including PET SEMATERY in the #9 slot. I prefer the present list, which is far more inclusive and wide-ranging.

2. Filmography by Jack Hunter
INSIDE TERRADOME; 1995
     A “short, personal selection” of 42 films that “between them illustrate the whole spectrum of freak film.” Appearing at the end of the freak film guidebook INSIDE TERRADOME, this is an amazing selection of films from the silent era and our own. Included are EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL, UN CHIEN ANDALOU, FELLINI SATYRICON, FREAKS, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, SPIDER BABY and EYES WITHOUT A FACE.
     Whether you’re into human oddities (as I am) or not, this list provides an excellent slice of horror movie history.

3. Barry Gifford’s Fifteen Favorite Late-Night Tinglers
THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR; 2008

1. ISLAND OF LOST SOULS
2. I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE
3. SUNSET BOULEVARD
4. STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR
5. NOSFERATU
6. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
7. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
8. REPULSION
9. CULT OF THE COBRA
10. CAPE FEAR
11. LOST HIGHWAY
12. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
13. INVADERS FROM MARS
14. SERIE NOIRE
15. THE RED HOUSE

     This ranking (presented “in no particular order”) by novelist Barry Gifford is about as eclectic a horror movie list as any you’ll find. I’m not sure all of Mr. Gifford’s picks are horror (SUNSET BOULEVARD and SERIE NOIRE in particular), and his inclusion of LOST HIGHWAY is a bit questionable considering he co-scripted it, but it’s a terrific ranking nonetheless, with nary a dud in the bunch.

4. Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made by Stanley Wiater
CUT!: HORROR WRITERS ON HORROR FILM; 1992

1. SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM
2. MEN BEHIND THE SUN
3. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE
4. BLOODSUCKING FREAKS
5. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
6. MANIAC
7. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST
8. HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER
9. IN A GLASS CAGE
10. NEKROMANTIK
11. ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS
12. COMBAT SHOCK
13. ERASERHEAD

     The most famous of these rankings, this list was initially published in the nonfiction anthology CUT! HORROR WRITERS ON HORROR FILM. It’s since become an internet sensation, and is said to have introduced many people to films like SALO, NEKROMANTIK and COMBAT SHOCK. For that Stanley Wiater deserves credit; many of his selections, keep in mind, were quite obscure back in ‘92. I’m not in complete agreement with all Wiater’s choices (I’d excise MANIAC and ILSA, and move IN A GLASS CAGE up several spots), but this is a first-rate guide to extreme cinema that’s fully deserving of its popularity.

5. The 50 Best Horror Films of the Post-Modern Era by Chas. Balun
RED INK; 1999
     A robust listing by the late Chas. Balun. Most all the modern classics (THE EXORCIST, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, ROSEMARY’S BABY) are represented, although (as you might expect from the creator of the Gore Score) the overall slant is toward splatter flicks.
     Balun’s typically profane and enthusiastic comments, at least, are priceless--about EVIL DEAD 2: “You’ll practically gag on the non-stop barrage of chunkblowing excess but you’ll willingly swallow the bile to feel the burn.”

6. Orphans of the Media Gatekeepers by Travis Crawford
Shock Cinema #11; 1997

1. 1000 ROSES
2. MOONLIGHT BOY
3. REBELS OF THE NEON GOD
4. TROP DE BONHEUR
5. BOMBAY
6. STEFANIE’S PRESENT
7. LA BOUCHE DE JEAN-PIERRE
8. TWILIGHT (1990)
9. STONE (1991)
10. METAL SKIN

     Several fascinating 1990s obscurities, most of them horror-tinged, are mentioned in this list. Finding them hasn’t been easy (TROP DE BONHEUR is the only one I have yet to track down), but in most instances the quality of the films (MOONLIGHT BOY and METAL SKIN in particular) has more than justified the effort I’ve put into searching them out.

7. Untitled by Craig Ledbetter
MONDO MACABRO; 1997

1. SEYTAN
2. GHOST OF THE HUNCHBACK
3. MYSTICS IN BALI
4. HIROKU
5. BLACK PIT OF DR. M
6. BUNMAN (THE UNTOLD STORY)
7. MOJU (THE BLIND BEAST)
8. ONIBABA
9. MAN BEHIND THE SUN
10. SEEDING OF A GHOST

     This list, highlighting cult cinema from Asia and South America, is one of a handful appearing at the end of Pete Tombs’ MONDO MACABRO, and in my view the most potent of the bunch. Its compiler Craig Ledbetter was the editor of European Trash Cinema, and really knows his way around the cult movie landscape. No wonder his choices are so strong.

8. Buried Treasures by Stephen R. Bissette, Dennis Daniel
Deep Red #5; 1988
     The 60-plus “Buried Treasures” mentioned here include ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, CARNIVAL OF SOULS, DEVIL DOLL, GANJA AND HESS, DEATH GAME and TOURIST TRAP. Most are readily available nowadays, and so can no longer be called “buried”--and nor, in my view, are they all “treasures” (THE TOXIC AVENGER? ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY?? DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS???). But take it from one who spent untold years tracking down the flicks mentioned in this list: you could certainly do a lot worse.
     BTW, Bissette and Daniel include three separate listings alongside this one: “The Classics,” highlighting horror masterpieces not included among the Buried Treasures, “Honorable Mention,” focusing on quality scare films that fall short of masterpiece status, and “Dishonorable Mention” of “nasty but necessary evils” like BLOOD FEAST and MANIAC.

9. Modern Midnite Movies by Skizz Cyzyk, Mike White
Cashiers du Cinemart #14; 2004
     My love of Midnight Movies isn’t exactly a secret, so I naturally have a more-than-passing interest in this 50-film listing of cinematic oddities released during the years 1994-2004. I disagree with many of the choices (SIX-STRING COWBOY, CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL, UNDEAD), although the list also mentions some really good--even great--films (THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD, SURRENDER DOROTHY, SERIES 7, DAY OF THE BEAST). It also introduced me to some interesting obscurities (THE FLEW, NOTHING) and contains a number of intriguing titles that continue to elude me (DADDY COOL, COW MONKEY, EXISTO). In short, this ranking is a vital one despite its unevenness.

10. The 25 Underground Films You Must See by David E. Williams, Dominic Griffin
Film Threat Video Guide #11; 1994
     This essential underground movie listing deliberately omits well-known underground items from filmmakers like Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger, focusing instead on obscure but potent nineties fare. Many of the films chosen for this Film Threat Video Guide published listing were--surprise!--distributed by Film Threat Video, although that’s no longer an issue today, seeing as how both FTV and FTVG have long since given up the ghost.
     The list, in any event, looks like this:

ANIMAL ATTRACTION
ARISE: THE SUBGENIUS VIDEO
BETAVILLE
A BITTER MESSAGE OF HOPELESS GRIEF
BRING ME THE HEAD OF GERALD RIVERA
CONFESSIONS OF A SOTHERN PUNK
DON FROM LAKEWOOD
DESPERATE TEENAGE LOVEDOLLS & LOVEDOLL SUPERSTAR
FERRUM 5000
FINGERED
HATED: G.G. ALLIN & THE MURDER JUNKIES
I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER
RED & ROSY
MISTRESS OF THE RINGS (RINGENES HERSKERINDE)
MY SWEET SATAN
NEKROMANTIK
POLICE STATE
SMALL WHITE HOUSE
TRIBULATION 99
SIMONLAND
TWISTED ISSUES
The Rob Lowe video
APOCALYPSE POOH
SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY
The Go-Go’s video
SHERIF CORKY

     Actually, I count 26 films (27 if you count LOVEDOLL SUPERSTAR as a separate entry). Nonetheless, nearly all are must-sees, especially ANIMAL ATTRACTION, RED & ROSY, NEKROMANTIK, TRIBULATION 99 and SUPERSTAR. Good luck tracking them down!

 

--10/25/13 

     

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