The last few years, I’ve made my Fasso mission of October to steer you toward quality movie marathons composed by me. I’ve done my best to entertain you with alternate lists that take you down the less travelled road, and also through a parade of zombie flicks hosting both traditional Macumba shamblers, and Romero flesh eaters. But in that time, I’ve done you a disservice. At no point have I compiled a list of flicks you should avoid. Welcome to Fasso’s mission for this October.
My tastes in many aspects of life go way against the grain, and it’s no different with horror flicks. And so I take issue with some of “The Classics.” What legions of fans have taken up as the untouchable best, I find boring, poorly made, generally not scary, or some mix of all of those. For one reason or another, people revere these films, and I just don’t get it. So this Halloween season, I’ve found the kindness in my heart to help you avoid some of “The Classics.” I’ve even given you some alternate options, so you can enjoy a full Halloween without falling asleep as you languish on the couch.
So pull over your candy bowl and get comfortable. Enjoy a few Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, content in the knowledge that you have avoided the overrated, and can instead watch some quality alternate fare.
There’s a difference between disturbing and frightening. Though THE EXORCIST disturbs me, it has never frightened me. As with much of William Friedkin’s work, the film relies on gaudy, offensive material to get a reaction. So Linda Blair’s Regan transforms from nice girl to a monster who uses foul language, ejaculates liquids and masturbates with a cross. It’s icky and disgusting. But guess what? It’s not scary. I find this and the next film I’ll discuss to be the most overrated horror flicks of all time. And that’s saying something.
Alternate Blair: HELL NIGHT— An older Linda Blair, still with cherubic face and plenty of cleavage added, tries to survive the night in a mansion where a family was killed by one of its “gorked out” sons. It’s one of the better slashers out there, and Blair and Peter Barton may just be the best looking couple in any slasher.
The Ave Alternative: THE OMEN— The devil in THE EXORCIST lies around in bed and pukes on a priest. The devil’s son in THE OMEN is going to take over the Earth and bring Hell to it. You tell me which is more ambitious.
I remember watching Alfred Hitchcock’s horror “masterpiece” as a kid. For some reason my memory has Marion Crane arriving at the Bates Motel about five minutes into the film. That’s probably because that’s where PSYCHO becomes a horror film. Imagine my surprise when I watched it again as an adult and it seemed to be about five hours into the film that she arrived. Hitch spends way too much time setting up a different flick before Norman Bates, the film’s most charismatic character, hits the screen. All that suspense Hitch builds up is a waste of time, as it’s really a plot device to get poor Marion to the motel. Yes the shower scene is still shocking, and on the note of shocking, there’s the Shock Ending. And the performances by Janet Leigh as Marion and Anthony Perkins are great. But this film is more than a little dated, and let’s face it, it drags.
A better psycho option: PEEPING TOM— THE EXORCIST and PSYCHO flip flop at the top of just about ever “10 Best Horror Films” list I’ve ever seen. Know what flick never even makes those lists? Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM. Made and released the same year as Hitch’s knife wielding flick, the movie follows a filmmaker who’s got an obsession with killing people. It’s got parent issues and cutlery, just like PSYCHO. But it’s a far superior film. PEEPING TOM ruined Powell’s career. Hitch went on to be considered an even bigger genius after PSYCHO than before. Go figure.
The opening scene of THE SHINING is brilliant. Jack Torrance is driving on a deserted, mountain road through the frozen wastelands up to the Overlook Hotel. He passes by a single vehicle, which is broken down. The scene sets up the isolation the Torrance family will experience, and left me wondering if that poor guy on the side of the road froze to death. It’s all downhill from there. At times confusing, mostly leaden and boring, much like most of overrated director Stanley Kubrick’s catalogue. Kubrick lets Jack Nicholson run wild, which yielded some great quotes and fires up the film, but it doesn’t save the flick. Stephen King doesn’t like this film, and neither do I.
Better off in the dead zone option: THE DEAD ZONE— David Cronenberg steps a little outside his comfort zone, and directs a powerful King adaptation that’s more than a little underrated. Christopher Walken is a lot less Walken-like than usual, and his understated performance is a nice counterbalance to Nicholson’s act.
FRIDAY THE 13TH
Sloppily made. Poorly acted. Ridiculously scripted. FRIDAY THE 13TH is a mess. Long considered the classic of the slasher boom period, it’s not even a competently made flick. People rave about the effects by Tom Savini, but I don’t know what flick they’re watching. The reveal of the killer is inane, as it’s a character the audience has never even heard of before. And yet Sean Cunningham’s the guy who got the slasher craze rolling. Talk about lucky.
A better movie maniac: MANIAC— Instead of wasting your time with F13, watch Savini’s other slasher from 1980, MANIAC. It’s got some disturbing psychology behind lead psych Frank Zito, and Savini’s gore effects are not only top notch, but absolutely stomach turning.
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
Unlike some of the other flicks on this list of the overrated, I like John Landis’ werewolf extravaganza. But let’s face it: much like Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST, David Naughton spends way too much time in a bed here. When he’s actually out of a hospital and upright, the much lauded transformation scene, executed by Rick Baker, leaves a lot to be desired (it doesn’t even show the full werewolf. Weak.). And why is Naughton naked so much?
A better type of howl: THE HOWLING— Some of us out there prefer Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING to Landis’ flick. I prefer the bipedal werewolf look, and Rob Bottin’s execution of the transformation scene is spectacular. THE HOWLING is in the Fasso Big Six of horror flicks at the top of my list of favorites. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON will never be.
I know, I know. The dining scene with John Heard is admittedly both shocking and superbly done. It’s all that goes around it that makes ALIEN almost the equivalent of Ambien or a stout muscle relaxant. Critics and fans champion the flick’s atmosphere over action, and the old “what you don’t see is scarier than what you do.” I champion the “Wow, there’s another shadow, so what the Hell is so frightening about that?” theory. And when you finally see the Alien, it’s a guy in a rubber suit. A convincing suit, but still.
That Thing’s no rubber suit option: THE THING— You want atmosphere? There’s no more claustrophobic film in the world than John Carpenter’s end of the world masterpiece. Paranoia and isolation abound, and Rob Bottin’s special makeup effects are the pay off. They’re also the best in the history of film.
The Multiple Aliens option: ALIENS— ALIENS takes 100,000 rounds of ammo, multiple grenades and a flame thrower, then blasts, explodes and torches atmosphere. And the Alien Queen is one awesome bitch.
One critic said THE RING was the best horror film since THE EXORCIST. Nuff said.
The poltergeists already came from the TV option: POLTERGEIST— It’s beloved for good reason, and it’s really scary. That critic who wiped it out with that quote should be ashamed. This is also DE writer Nicole Fiss’ favorite horror film. Great choice.
Ok, so odds are I’ve taken shots at one or more of your favorites. If you’re really set on watching any of the flicks I mentioned, go for it. I won’t hold it against you, even if I don’t understand it. Now if you don’t like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, that I can never forgive…