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:
The Scariest Films Ever Made, by Stephen King
- DANSE MACABRE; 1981
- WAIT UNTIL DARK
- LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR
- THE HAUNTING
- MIDNIGHT EXPRESS
- THE BAD SEED
- NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
- NIGHT WATCH
- NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
- THE BIRDS
- WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
- I BURY THE LIVING
- X–THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES
- THE OMEN
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.
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.
Barry Gifford’s Fifteen Favorite Late-Night Tinglers
THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR; 2008
- ISLAND OF LOST SOULS
- I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE
- SUNSET BOULEVARD
- STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR
- THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
- NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
- CULT OF THE COBRA
- CAPE FEAR
- LOST HIGHWAY
- INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
- INVADERS FROM MARS
- SERIE NOIRE
- 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.
Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made, by Stanley Wiater
CUT!: HORROR WRITERS ON HORROR FILM; 1992
- SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM
- MEN BEHIND THE SUN
- I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE
- BLOODSUCKING FREAKS
- LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
- CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST
- HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER
- IN A GLASS CAGE
- ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS
- COMBAT SHOCK
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.
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.”
Orphans of the Media Gatekeepers, by Travis Crawford
Shock Cinema #11; 1997
- 1000 ROSES
- MOONLIGHT BOY
- REBELS OF THE NEON GOD
- TROP DE BONHEUR
- STEFANIE’S PRESENT
- LA BOUCHE DE JEAN-PIERRE
- TWILIGHT (1990)
- STONE (1991)
- 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.
Untitled, by Craig Ledbetter
MONDO MACABRO; 1997
- GHOST OF THE HUNCHBACK
- MYSTICS IN BALI
- BLACK PIT OF DR. M
- BUNMAN (THE UNTOLD STORY)
- MOJU (THE BLIND BEAST)
- MAN BEHIND THE SUN
- 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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
- HATED: G.G. ALLIN & THE MURDER JUNKIES
- I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER
- RED & ROSY
- MISTRESS OF THE RINGS (RINGENES HERSKERINDE)
- MY SWEET SATAN
- POLICE STATE
- SMALL WHITE HOUSE
- TRIBULATION 99
- 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!