Dracula. Frankenstein. Jason Voorhees. Freddy Krueger. Michael Myers. Ashley J. Williams. Pinhead. Jack Skellington. The Great Pumpkin. These are names synonymous with October. They’re some of the icons of horror and/or Halloween. And you know what? We hear enough about them.
Let’s take a second to look at the second, third, and even fourth tier down. The unsung horror icons who don’t get the mainstream love like the A-list slashers. While there are many to discuss, we figured we’d cut it down to our 31 favorites from some crazy horror movies.
You know, because Halloween and…Anyway.
Every year at Halloween it’s like, God, there are so many Basket Case costumes, you know what I mean, right? No, this sadly isn’t the world that we live in, but I wish it were. Believe it or not, there are three Basket Case films that all dig into this tiny terror. There’s a terrible X-Files episode, “Badlaa,” that many consider to be one of the worst episodes that essentially explores this idea, however where The X-Files fails, Basket Case succeeds in making this work. You need to toe a very fine line in tone to pull something like this off and the films know when to be scary and when to lean into the humor.
Basket Case explores the story of eccentric Duane Bradley, who keeps his deformed, deranged twin, Belial, in a basket hidden from the world. The film explores the classic sort of themes associated with this territory like Belial’s pent up jealousy and anger towards Duane and watching that express itself has a lot of weight to it. Surprisingly Belial gets a number of films to work through these issues, strengthening his character more each time.
Despite being the antagonist and the character the film is named after, the mummy referred to as Bubba Ho-Tep is almost unnecessary. The idea of two broken men in a retirement home insisting they’re Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy is enough on its own, but the threat of Bubba Ho-Tep lifts up the story, adds some symbolism, and is simply interesting.
Ho-Tep is an Egyptian mummy, carried across the country to be displayed at museums. Upon awakening during a bus crash, he steals the cowboy attire of a hapless victim and lays low near the decrepit retirement home in order to devour the souls of the elderly. Despite being a mystical threat, he isn’t too unstoppable, what with him ultimately being defeated by two old men who can barely walk.
Bubba Ho-Tep is like the antithesis of your usual mass-murdering unresting spirit. Usually, these kinds of guys go after the children. Bubba goes on the other side of the spectrum and takes out the weaker elderly, but the principle stays the same. The only people possibly capable of stopping him are the people who will refuse to believe the potential victims.
Just when you thought it was safe to ride a bicycle, or play a French horn by the side of the road, or make a phone call from the safety of your own kitchen…here comes THE CAR!
Six years before Stephen King’s massively successful Christine was published, The Car hit and ran its way into theaters and over our hearts. But, while the car in Christine is akin to a murderous, jealous ex-lover, the car from The Car is more of a pissed off psycho killer, completely disinterested in the rigmarole of human pair bonding.
James Brolin plays the Bumbledunk, Utah sheriff tasked with stopping the possessed car, as it crushes and smashes anyone foolish enough to be alive in its presence. The Car actually delivers a very solid performance. Sometimes it’s angry, pensive, or even frustrated. Not kidding. The Car is as well developed a character as any of its human co-stars. Did I mention that The Car can laugh? Well it can and it does. With its horn. Genius.
The film is packed to the gills with incredible car stunts, gripping suspense and a climax that would make Wile E. Coyote dance in the aisles, playing air guitar. It takes place in a canyon and involves TNT. I probably could’ve been clearer there.
P.S. Guillermo del Toro had a fully functional replica of The Car built to use as his getting-around-town vehicle. He hasn’t murdered any pedestrians with it, to our knowledge.
Tales From The Crypt Presents: Demon Knight
I know what you’re thinking.
“What if Genie from Disney’s Aladdin was a handsome demon monster with genitals made of fire?”
Well, wonder no longer. In 1995, Tales From The Crypt made the jump from the Home Box Office to the actual box office with Demon Knight. Billy Zane plays the title character, I think. They’re never really clear about whether The Collector is a demon-knight or if William Sadler is a knight who fights demons, making him the Demon Knight. Who cares?
William Sadler carries an artifact which evil demons need to reclaim power over the universe and The Collector (understandably) wants to take it from him. Sadler barricades himself inside a hotel, sealing every entrance with magic blood, poured from the artifact, forcing The Collector to manipulate the other hotel guests into helping him get inside. The Collector’s tactic of choice is the promise of wish fulfillment and you can probably guess how well that goes for everybody.
The Collector can conjure anything out of thin air, manipulate perceptions of reality and even turn his own tongue into an actual sponge. If you’re a thirsty alcoholic, he can grant your wish of living in a never-ending, fully stocked Tiki torch party, populated by dozens of ladies who left their bikini tops at home. See? Just like Genie.
Rumor has it that James Cameron cast Billy Zane in Titanic based on his performance in this film. He’s just so darn good at pretending to be a colossal jerk.
First off, if you haven’t seen the 1981 slasher, The Burning, stop what you’re doing and get to that immediately. This list isn’t going anywhere. The Burning holds a lot of history behind it, like being Jason Alexander’s feature film debut, containing effects work by Tom Savini, and being the first theatrical release by Miramax Films, but it also just has a deeply disturbing villain behind it all!
Cropsy is a mentally deranged former camp counselor who has a grudge to settle with garden shears acting as his primary means of negotiation. There’s such a blunt, swiftness to Cropsy’s work that makes him particularly creepy, and when you consider that the character is loosely based on the “real” story of New York’s Cropsey from the ‘60s, the villain gains even more brutal poignancy.
And for what it’s worth, the infamous villain from the Clock Tower series of video games is based on Cropsy and his unusual weapon. So every time you freak out or shut off your copy of Clock Tower in terror, know that that’s actually residual Cropsy fear that you’re feeling.
This year audiences were treated to Sadako Vs Kayako from the Ringu and Ju-On franchises respectively, but what we should have been getting is Shin Godzilla vs The Host. Bong Joon-ho is a director who is absolutely a visionary and someone who’s work you should consume completely and as quickly as possible, but his take on some “Godzilla Movie” is something to behold. For one, it’s certainly saying a lot more than the typical Godzilla movie, opening up discussions on things like war, radiation, and the politics in between, but on another note, Bong Joon-ho’s monster is just straight up scary. That scene on the beach? That’s just art. Like take that in.
Unpredictable is perhaps a more descriptive word of what Bong Joon-ho creates here, and watching in dreadful anticipation as the monster waits in anticipation for his attack is beautiful storytelling. From that point on all bets are off and this monster is very much controlling this narrative with you just becoming part of its prey. When was the last time you felt that in a Godzilla film?
OK, so the Creep only shows up as the “host” in the two legitimate Creepshow movies and all of their attendant marketing materials. But as an homage to the horror hosts of classic comics like Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear, he’s second to none, and he was doing it long before John Kassir made The Cryptkeeper an iconic horror TV ficture on HBO.
But while characters like The Cryptkeeper, the Vault-Keeper, and The Old Witch were almost lovable, pun-slinging, purveyors of ironic horror, there’s something distinctly more sinister about the Creep, especially when he shows up to warp a young mind in the bookend of the first Creepshow movie.
Okay, so this might not be an actual monster per se, but there’s no denying that the Cube from Cube is a villain of sorts. It’s a sentient(-ish) fortress with the express purpose of taking down and trapping its prey. What’s more to the point and efficient than that? So Cube might not offer up some beast with hundreds of jagged teeth or a dozen claws or something, but it does do things like this.
What I love so much about Cube (and to a lesser extent Cube II: Hypercube and Cube Zero) is that there is genuinely a feeling of helplessness in play here. There are 17,576 torturous rooms to navigate through here. Much like the people stuck inside the Cube, you too have no idea what’s going on, how this prison works, or what’s possibly coming next. That might read as a little cheap for some people but it’s crazy how easy it is to get on the Cube’s side here and be rooting for it.
An American Werewolf in London
Borrowing the title structure from Jan Gerber’s 1919 silent film, A Yugoslavian Frankenstein In Peru, John Landis wrote and directed what turned out to be a seminal film in both creature design and the criminally underused horror/comedy genre.
David Naughton plays David, a young man who is cursed with werewolfitis while backpacking across Europe with his friend, Jack (Griffin Dunne). While walking along the moors the two are attacked by a monstrous wolf, which kills Jack, but is only able to wound David before it is shot dead by local inebriates. Upon the next full moon, David transforms into a lion-sized wolf and kills several people before waking up naked and human at the zoo.
You’re probably wondering why the wolf isn’t the one listed as the big bad, instead of David. Surely the wolf is the monster in this film. Right? Wrong.
You know what David does after he realizes that he had killed the night before and will inevitably kill again the following night? Suicide? Nope. Catch a bus to the middle of nowhere to try to minimize the damage he’ll do? Nope. This jerk strolls around London and ends up in crowded Piccadilly Circus with less than the duration of a porno film’s runtime to get himself to a safe distance. Are you serious, David?
Nightbreed is basically what would happen if the Morlocks from the X-Men got their own movie and it was rated-R. A race of monster people hide away from the world, only to be discovered via an escaped mental patient who may or may not be a serial killer.
Turns out, the answer is “may not.” Aaron Boone (not that one) is merely a pawn in the game of his psychotherapist, Dr. Phillip Decker. Decker is the true threat, slaughtering families while wearing one of the creepiest masks, and hoping to use Boone to take the blame for his bloody past.
Yes, even in a movie about a civilization of weird creatures, the most menacing monster is just a guy with a burlap gimp mask and crooked zipper mouth.
DR. WILLIAM WEIR
Oh Event Horizon. I should love you. I should unfairly compare all future loves to you. But, though I’ll always cherish our time together, I think we’re better off as friends.
Seriously. It’s about a haunted spaceship that has been to Hell. This should be my all-time favorite film. What should have been Hellraiser in space turned out to be more like Hellraiser: Bloodline in space. I mean, Bloodline was already in space, partly. They were both edited into oblivion and should have been much stronger films. That was the point. Did you know that Guillermo del Toro was approached to direct Hellraiser: Bloodline, but turned it down to direct Mimic? It’s true. Wait, now I’m talking about Bloodline. Why am I here? Oh yeah. Dr. Weir!
Dr. Weir (Sam Neil) is the inventor of a gravity drive that reduces travel time in outer space by folding reality via the creation of black holes. What could go wrong? Everything. The gravity drive was tested aboard the starship Event Horizon, which promptly disappeared. Dr. Weir tags along with the crew of a ship sent to find the missing Event Horizon, which (surprise!) they do.
It turns out that while spending some time in an alternate Hell-like dimension, the Event Horizon has become a sentient being. Anyone that steps aboard her is made to hallucinate, mutilate themselves and/or die horribly. Then, back down to Hell they all go. Everyone gets wise pretty quick and they decide that destroying the ship and its gravity drive is the only logical move. Dr. Weir, however, becomes possessed by the haunted ship and begins killing the crew.
There are some very gruesome deaths and anyone who gets the jibblies from eyeball stuff will get the jibblies, but it always feels like the really grotesque scenes are severely edited to avoid an NC-17 rating. It’s understandable, but it makes you constantly aware that you’re watching a film that is inferior to the one that was intended.
P.S. The band .357 Lover wrote a rockin’ crustbuster about this film which is absolutely worth your time.
Evil children are the worst. I mean, what do you do to defend yourself? Administer noogies? Grab their arms and force them to repeatedly punch themselves in the face? Do that thing where you hold your hand on their forehead while they struggle to walk towards you? And what if the evil child is your own child? What a pickle.
The pet cemetery mentioned in the title is the gateway to a separate mystical burial ground that sends back any dead thing buried in its stony earth. Only catch is, whatever comes back is now evil.
After Dr. Louis Creed sees his toddler son Gage toddle his way in front of a speeding truck, grief kicks logic in the stomach and Louis decides to bury Gage in the aforementioned burial ground. Gage comes back, evil as all get out and with a substantially more advanced vocabulary. The bad decisions pile up pretty quickly in this film and as far as I can assess, zero lessons are learned.
Gage is played by Miko Hughes, who you most likely recognize as the kid from Kindergarten Cop who knew which genders had which genitals.
THE GEMINI KILLER
Exorcist III > The Exorcist
*sound of the needle scratching a record, everyone stops what they’re doing and stares, a bald man wearing a monocle chokes and spits out his bite of shark’s fin soup, a woman wearing a silk dress and opera gloves faints, but no one catches her*
Okay, okay. It wasn’t THAT bold of a statement, but it’s one that I stand by. This film is beautiful, oppressive and it growls. It literally growls at you. While you’re sitting in your living room, watching it, it feels like there’s an impure presence in the room, watching with you. It also happens to have the all-time heavyweight champ of jump scares.
Brad Dourif’s performance as the Gemini Killer is nothing short of extraordinary. Whether he’s revoltingly reflecting on the many murders he’s committed, or screaming and spitting out a half a page of dialogue in a shaking rage, Dourif runs a clinic on master thespian-ism. And he does all of this from the confines of a straight jacket.
There’s a shoehorned subplot about an exorcist that almost derails the ending, but all in all, there is very little to complain about in this film. The Exorcist is legendary and disturbing, to be sure. Exorcist III is an evil entity that will not rest until you are trembling on your couch.
P.S. Patrick Ewing makes a cameo as the angel of death, which is a bit miscast. Every Knicks fan knows that the angel of death is Reggie Miller.
The pitch for Ghoulies was probably pretty damn short—what if we did Gremlins, but they were like toilet Gremlins??—but that’s part of the reason why these creatures work so well. The bathroom is understandably one of the last bastions of safety in cinema, which is why turning something as routine as sitting on the toilet into an exercise in anxiety can manage to create such terror. Ghoulies is your basic tale of black magic gone wrong, but it’s the versatility of these creatures that keeps them so entertaining (they even populate a funhouse at one point), with a sense of humor that’s equally dark and could give the Critters a run for their money.
Believe it or not, the Ghoulies managed to populate four cult films, which even saw them going to college along the way (when’s the last time you ever saw a Tremor with a GED?). The beasts might have only gained the ability of speech in Ghoulies III, but they come in a number of different styles while remaining a quirky, incorrigible group of demons.
In a short story “Tuesday the 17th,” a girl named Wendy tricks some so-called friends into going into the woods with her to draw out a killer as bait. The same killer that murdered her previous friends in ways that just didn’t make sense, logically. Wendy hopes to both get her revenge and use her video camera to prove to the world that she wasn’t making her story up.
The killer, who may as well just be Jason Voorhees unofficially, refuses to play by her rules. When she films the killer, her camera simply refuses to record him. He appears as a tracking glitch, reduced to a blur that can’t be comprehended. The slaughtering of Wendy and the others becomes a meta moral about the supernatural because in the end, they don’t care about your science or attempts to make sense of their actions. You will die whether you believe in them or not.
MALE JUDAS BREED
Insect horror can be deeply compelling when put in the right hands and there’s something even more engaging about the idea of an insect evolving and replicating humans at an alarming rate. The idea of covertly being replaced by some other species is a deeply upsetting one and Mimic brings in an as much fact from insect genealogy to lend as much authenticity to this horror as possible.
The adult version of the male Judas is a terrifying creature that shows a burgeoning Guillermo Del Toro beginning to refine his skills. Mimic doesn’t have the same polish as his other films do, but it’s still an impressive, unique take on horror that offers up a fresh villain. It’s easy to see how this guy would move onto things like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim. Guillermo del Toro just feels most at home when he’s playing with monsters.
Vampires are generally villainous, but only the greats are total jerk-bags about it.
When teenager Charlie Brewster deduces that his new neighbor Jerry Dandridge is, in fact, a killer vampire, he takes it upon himself to expose and destroy the beast. Rather than simply kill Charlie, Jerry decides to systematically wreck the junior vampire hunter’s life, turning his girlfriend into an unwilling disciple and just generally making Charlie look stupid at every opportunity. Sure, Jerry would likely have to uproot and settle in a new town if he killed Charlie outright, if only to avoid all the unnecessary suspicion, but the dedication he has to making sure that this inconsequential teenage dork has what amounts to one really bad week, is impressively heartless. He even turns Charlie’s one friend, ONE friend, into a vampire. Brutal.
Eventually, Charlie enlists the help of horror TV host/fictional vampire hunter Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) to dispatch Jerry. At first, Peter is skeptical about Charlie’s story, but soon realizes that Mr. Dandridge is the real deal. And what does Jerry do when confronted by this dime store Van Helsing? He mocks him, belittles him and sends him running away in complete shame. Jerry Dandridge, prince of jerkness.
The Saw franchise became famous by creating a wealth of messed up ultimatums and torture scenarios while nearly singlehandedly legitimizing the “torture porn” sub genre of horror. While Jigsaw and his methods are incredibly graphic, what I love so much about this character is that his real goal with all of this is to help and inspire people, and he actually does it, too. Kramer wants people to value life, stop wasting it, and realize the good that can be done in the world. Sure, a lot of people might not live to see the moral of that story, but these severely twisted Kevorkian-like methods is the stuff of truly complex characters.
The real reason that John Kramer, or his more ubiquitous alter ego, Jigsaw, is such an important recent cog of the horror genre is the Ferris Bueller-esque level that he’s able to motivate others. Sure, Kramer creates too many torture devices that are some of the most unbelievable circumstances you’ll ever see, but he also commands a Tyler Durden-like mastery of how to appeal to others and inspire a generation of sycophants. After all of the cancer in John Kramer’s body has used him up, there will still be a Jigsaw. Others will replace him and continue his message of rebirth and awakening and that—that this idea will never truly be dead—is absolutely chilling.
JOHNNY BARTLETT/GRIM REAPER
The Frighteners is just straight-up fun and the side of Peter Jackson that I wish we saw more of. There’s such a gleeful innocence to the film too when it begins, with Michael J. Fox’s Frank Bannister abusing his newly found psychic abilities to run exorcism “cons” until he ends up stumbling upon the ghost to end all ghosts, a very unruly serial killer, Johnny Bartlett, that begins masquerading as the Grim Reaper as it carries out its swath of damage. Bartlett is an individual that craves nothing more than becoming the world’s most prolific serial killer and that is enough of a dangerous motivation to push this powerful force into genocide territory.
In a film that has plenty of high stakes to it, Bartlett’s Grim Reaper also manages to carry tremendous weight to him and feels legitimately threatening to both the dead and the living. That’s sometimes a hard thing to convey—especially in a film that’s filled with ghosts—but the Grim Reaper achieves this. It’s a real shame that this take on the character hasn’t been explored elsewhere or been given the opportunity to grow. Peter Jackson has created a super rich villain here. This is the sort of threat I’d like to see invading a Ghostbusters movie rather than the threats that are typically turned to.
Josef is everybody; or rather, he’s strong evidence towards the theory that everybody is capable of being a serial killer. Creep works especially hard to strip down the artifice and present to you “reality.” This means that scenes can meander and seemingly lose focus, but also that the growing tension around Josef becomes more and more palpable. Throughout much of Creep you know that something is off with Josef, you’re just not sure what, or when Josef’s true self is going to introduce himself.
This film, and Josef’s relationship with Aaron is almost one giant game of chicken. You have no clue if anything you’re seeing or hearing courtesy of Josef is true, all of which makes his unassuming, milquetoast demeanor increasingly antagonistic. Mark Duplass plays Josef with such a normal, depressing quality that really works for him. This could be a guy on the verge of a mental breakdown or it might just be some dude who’s lonely with bad people skills. Creep’s exploration of that line and keeping you guessing is why this all works so well.
Plus, that ending, you guys. Talk about a misguided trust exercise.
If Count Orlok and Agent Smith each got a good running start and smashed into each other, what you’d end up with is the reality-bending street thug of the mysterious Strangers, Mr. Hand.
While more of a sci-fi thriller than a straight up horror film, Dark City delivers the chills with an oppressive atmosphere and a smartly crafted mystery. I won’t go into the plot, because it should really be experienced spoiler-free. A lot of comparisons have been made to The Matrix with its whole reality-is-not-what-it-seems angle, but that’s not entirely fair. First of all, Dark City came out a year earlier and second, while you could follow the story of The Matrix with your brain at half power, Dark City requires the same level of attention that a good novel does.
Mr. Hand is played by Richard O’Brien, who you probably know from his role as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. All of The Strangers in this film are off-putting, but O’Brien’s Mr. Hand oozes with more menace and bad intention than the others. When he points his hand at you and says “Sleep, now”, guess what? You’re gonna sleep. Now.
I know I’ve said virtually nothing of substance about this film, but it really is out of respect for any readers who haven’t seen it yet. There are too few sci-fi films out there that reward the astute viewer and Dark City (especially the director’s cut) deserves to at least be mentioned along with the giants of the genre.
OLD CHIEF WOODENHEAD
The second Creepshow is mainly remembered for that Stephen King story about the Venom symbiote eating a bunch of dumb teenagers at the beach, but the story of Old Chief Woodenhead is pretty rad in itself. It focuses on an old couple who run a shop and peacefully do business with a Native American town elder. The old couple has a massive Native American statue in front of the store and the husband (played by George Kennedy) regularly cares for it and spruces it up with fresh war paint.
When the elder’s jackass nephew and his friends rob the place and kill the kindly old folks, the statue comes to life and swears vengeance. Old Chief Woodenhead is just as unstoppable and deadly as your usual slasher threat, but this time we get to see one born of righteousness, focused entirely on victims who deserve what’s coming to them.
In his animated form, Old Chief doesn’t get to be on-camera for too long, but what we get looks damn good. Practical effects that look like a natural cross between animatronics and just really good prosthetics.
There’s nothing like a solid revenge story and at its core Pumpkinhead is a series that’s all about vengeance. The creature’s whole purpose is to be summoned as a fail safe method of making sure people get their just desserts. The first thing you want to get into with Pumpkinhead is his appearance, because this guy is just textbook definition monster. Seriously, this is the sort of creature you’d see on the front of a VHS in the horror aisle of a video store and rent it just because of how scary it looks. Stan Winston, who is responsible for a lot of the monsters that currently haunt your nightmares like the Xenomorph, the T-1000, and the raptor from Jurassic Park, made his directorial debut with Pumpkinhead and it’s a shame he couldn’t continue to show his skills in this area. If nothing else you can tell that Winston didn’t half-ass the monster here (even if it does look a lot like the Xenomorph at times). Winston’s said that the creature is supposed to resemble a rotting, cancerous organ, and it does.
This monster becomes more interesting when you get past his gruesome looks and dig into what’s underneath. The Pumpkinhead films are full of inconsistencies but something they all share in common is the symbiotic relationship between Pumpkinhead and the person who has conjured him. In a cruel twist of fate, the only way that you can hurt Pumpkinhead is to injure the person who summons him. It’s a nice ripple in all of this that underlines the downside of revenge once more.
Even without the monster-fighting aspect, Rudy is probably the coolest kid in an ’80s movie. He shows up as the anti-bully, sticking up for a crying and humiliated Horace by intimidating the jerks responsible. He’s the peacekeeper of middle-school and even joins Sean Crenshaw’s monster fan club, albeit so he can potentially spy on fellow member Patrick’s sister via the treehouse.
The moment actual monsters get involved, Rudy rises up as the resident street-smart badass. While the others strategize and fight defensively, Rudy is making silver bullets in shop class and marching headlong into battle.
It’s during the final conflict when we get my favorite moment of the film. In order to buy his comrades some time, Rudy storms into conflict with some vampire women. When asked what the hell he’s doing, he keeps stride with a cigarette hanging off his lip, saying, “I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?” before wasting said vampires with some wooden arrows.
Rudy’s got nards.
Trick ‘r Treat
Trick ‘r Treat has gathered steam over the years, so Sam might be too big for this list by this point. But just in case, let’s wax poetic about the enigmatic demon child.
The movie is an anthology of stories, ending with a Sam-based final tale. Despite that, he shows up constantly throughout the picture. At first, he seems like just a regular trick-or-treater with a slightly off-putting burlap outfit, but as the film progresses, more questions arise. A flashback to 30 years prior shows him existing and looking exactly the same. When a pack of werewolves feast on their victims, Sam is there in the middle of the chaos, witnessing it all unmolested.
It’s in the final story that we finally understand the nature of Sam. He is the enforcer of Halloween. The holiday’s Krampus, if you will (fitting, considering creator Michael Dougherty went on to direct Krampus). Sam makes sure that people agree to the rules of Halloween, or else. If you choose to remove your Halloween decorations too early, refuse to give out candy, or even wear a costume, he will have his sweet, sweet vengeance.
Many are remembered in October for their dark and monstrous natures, but Sam deserves love for being the avatar of the holiday itself.
SATAN (GREEN LIQUID)
Prince of Darkness
Satan has seen a lot of depictions through the many years of cinema, but one that is certainly the most creative is John Carpenter’s representation of him in Prince of Darkness. Because, y’know, when you think of Satan the first thing that comes to mind is green liquid, right?
Prince of Darkness almost operates like a reverse The Thing. A bunch of people are holed up in a church basement trying to take down this supernatural threat, only the film turns to science and religion rather than the effects showcase that The Thing falls back on. This movie still sees the “contained” Satan invading these characters minds and making them commit evil and all of this culminates on a delicious end note that hints at a much bigger universe, too.
The whole time though, this spectacle that villainous 7-Up is the bad guy here is pretty hard to get past. But hey, Alice Cooper is one of his minions briefly, so there’s also that!
I have a very soft spot for the many films in the Puppet Master series, even in the franchise’s weaker moments that see it turning to topics like demons and Nazism as its driving force. While Blade becomes the unofficial mascot of the series and the “head” evil puppet, I’d argue that someone like Six-Shooter or Leech Woman is a more desirable choice here. All of Andre Toulon’s villainous bite-sized murderers connect, push his vengeance message forward, while all also containing some demonic “quirk.” Blade simply has a knife though! Sure, he slices his fair share of Achilles tendons throughout the course of the series, but come on; I can wield a knife.
Six-Shooter is a spider-cowboy hybrid that wields six guns! Leech Woman actually spews real leeches into her victims’ mouths in some disturbing kiss of death. Regardless of your favorite, these mischievous puppets are full of charm and earn the right to occupy nearly a dozen movies.
Before James Gunn was blowing your mind and creating mega-blockbusters. He was helping quirky creature features like Slither. In what very much feels like an ode to the works of David Cronenberg and the body horror films of the ’80s in general, Gunn’s Slither is a self aware romp on the alien invasion genre.
It’s fascinating to see just how much of this alien worm species from outer space he ends up displaying. They begin as slug-like worms, but we see their invasion go as far as the absolute mess that Grant becomes. These aren’t just some troublesome space worms; these guys are committed to total alienation of the self as Gunn pulls out some beautiful practical effects to bring all of this to life. Add to that the film’s biting sarcasm and you’ve got a creative winner on your hands.
Cast A Deadly Spell
Okay, full disclosure. I’m including this one for my own satisfaction. I’ll sleep well, knowing that I’ve turned at least a few people on to this hidden gem.
Cast A Deadly Spell is set In an alternate 1940s Los Angeles, where magic and witchcraft are commonly used tools by every mook in the city. Every mook, except private detective Harry P. Lovecraft (don’t you roll your eyes while I’m talking to you). Because of his distaste for all things magical, Lovecraft is hired by a wealthy warlock to track down a stolen copy of the Necronomicon, which has fallen into the hands of the mob.
HBO produced this film for TV and is (to my chagrin) unfairly overlooked. It was helmed by Martin Campbell, director of Goldeneye, Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale, and Green Lante… errr, the second Zorro movie! It also has a solid cast, including Fred Ward, Julianne Moore, Clancy Brown, David Warner and perennial character actor, Raymond O’Connor.
O’Connor plays Tugwell, a mob enforcer who has traded in his slapjack for spell book. “Pay up by Monday, or I’ll bust your kneecaps” has evolved into “Pay up, or I’ll summon a demon to pop out of your soup bowl and bite your throat out.” There’s something about the use of magic as a tool for painful murder that just doesn’t sit right and O’Connor portrays Tugwell with a slimy, jovial meanness that really makes your skin crawl. He’s a big creep.
For the longest time French actress Beatrice Dalle would continue to scare the hell out of me purely because of the virtuoso performance that she delivers in Inside. Unlike some of the other villains included on this list, the audience fully understands what The Woman’s motivation is here. She’s suffered a miscarriage and feels that the universe owes her a baby, with her being determined to get it. In a certain sense that clearly defined mission makes the Woman even more frightening. She’s as singularly focused as some force of nature like Michael Myers. She’s so unrelenting that she hardly seems human, and yet, her goal is to experience the most human thing there is—motherhood.
Everything here gets turned up even higher due to the minimalistic, bottle episode-like setting of the film, not to mention that Dalle barely even talks through the whole film. She just hunts a pregnant woman, turning to scissors, fire, and animal desecration to be properly heard.
ZEKE THE PLUMBER
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Whispers of, “Zeke the Plumber…” are enough to give a chill of nostalgia to many who were watching Nickelodeon in the early ’90s. The legend showed up in the mere second episode of the series with an eerie backstory of a soldier who lost his nose in the Philippines via parrot attack and was reduced to working as a plumber at a summer camp. When digging a hole, he hit a gas pipe, couldn’t smell the gas, and died upon lighting a match.
Through paranoia and disguises, Zeke’s “ghost” appears throughout the episode and all things considered, he looks creepy as hell. It helps that he’s a well-mixed hybrid of the three classic slashers, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. Like Myers, he wears a bland Halloween mask that makes him look expressionless and ominous. He preys on campers, much like Jason’s known for. And with Freddy, he both has the janitorial job and the ability to haunt children through their dreams.
Outside of that, he gets into your head by shoving a plunger into your face and that’s just nasty.
Gavin Jasper would like to thank Eric Wallen for his assistance. Follow Gavin on Twitter!