Like a big, sloppy kiss from your great-aunt Matilda, FEARnet’s giving you the chills this Thanksgiving Season! And while we’re not dishing out any smooches just yet, we are bringing you our top horror turkeys. And no, we’re not bringing you a rundown of our favorite flicks featuring those feathered fiends (though, for the record, our favorite horror flicks with killer turkeys happen to be: Blood Freak, which follows a drug-addict-turned-giant-mutant-turkey, and The Giant Claw, a late ‘50s monster movie with arguably the worst movie monster of all time – a giant, turkey-like flying creature). Instead, we’ll be dishing up a serving of movies that are considered “turkeys” by many, but are ones that we just gobble up! Join us ‘round the table as we carve into some of the best of the worst. It’ll be heaven to your bad-taste buds!
The White Meat
This is our first, and definitely broadest, section. Like the white meat of the turkey – that part that everyone seems to love – we go crazy for these selections just like everyone else. And just as there are different types of white meat, we’re going to break down our favorite types of broad-appeal horror movies.
Mmm…nothing like a nice, juicy piece of white turkey meat. There aren’t many people who can pass up a slice. If it’s cooked just right, you’ll want to come back for more and more. In the horror world, we equate this succulent piece of bird with the big horror movie franchises and the sequels that come with them. The formula for Hostel was simple. Take a group of young men, send them to a foreign country, and watch as they’re stalked and tortured. Director Eli Roth flipped the formula around for Hostel II, focusing on a group of young women as the victims, and paying more attention to the killers. Though this differed from the original, it pleased a good portion of the fans. This modern sequel’s success is a testament to the power of the original. The Saw sequels are another indicator of this. These sequels are nothing like the original Saw. Sure, the traps are still there, as is Jigsaw (mostly), but the group dynamics, the pacing, and the plots stray very far from the ground the original tread. This again leads us to believe a sequel can succeed if the original was strong enough. These white-meat movie sequels often bank on the power of the original. Perhaps the best indicator of this trend of films that we can’t get enough of is the Friday the 13th sequels. When one thinks of Friday the 13th, a hockey-masked Jason Voorhees is the first image that comes to mind. This is pretty remarkable, considering that he wasn’t the killer until the second film, and didn’t wear a hockey mask until the third! But we love the Friday the 13th sequels so much that, in some ways, they are held in higher esteem than the original.
You know the scenario: your Grandma Mary makes the perfect turkey, but when it’s Uncle Edward’s turn to cook the bird, things get a little wonky. And what’s the usual reason for a ruined piece of meat? Drying out. You see, like the dry pieces of the turkey, we believe that PG-13 movies could use a little juice. Where’s the blood? Where’s the sex? Where are all the terrible things that make us love a good horror flick? Well, regardless of how juiced-up a flick may be, we have to admit that we love a fair amount of PG-13 horror movies. Looking at things historically, a lot of good, graphic movies (both horror and not) were released in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, in a world where the MPAA still wasn’t sure what a rating should mean. Case in point: Jaws. How many of us can attest to shying away from oceans after first seeing this shark-attack classic? This bloody blockbuster got away with a paltry PG rating! That ain’t much for a movie that featured a killer who tore his victims apart and ate them. The monster classic Gremlins also got away with a PG rating, even though those little devils were decapitated, blown to pieces, and microwaved alive. Sure, Gizmo was adorable, but splash a little water on his compadres and they turned to seething, slimy little imps! Other fantastic movies that came out in this time period under a probably-too-light rating were flicks like Poltergeist, The Gate, and even Beetlejuice. Today the reigns are pulled a lot tighter, but good movies are still being made without the “R.” Gore Verbinski’s The Ring brought overseas terror home and really ushered in (for better or worse) the Japanese horror movie remake craze. Heavy rating or not, any time a sopping wet, raven-haired dead girl comes crawling out of a TV, you know you’re in for a fright! This movie had all the freak-outs, spooks, and atmosphere of an R horror, but utilized the ghost genre to keep it fairly gore-free. Even just last year, Cloverfield, with its breakneck pace, crazy monsters, and violence, managed to shock and frighten under a PG-13. So don’t trash every piece of dry turkey out there, you might be throwing away some delicious morsels!
What do you get when you’re the last in line for the Thanksgiving Day bird? That’s right – scraps… the shredded, dried-up, and wimpy carvings that have trouble holding up no matter how much gravy you douse them in! And what horror movies feel like someone’s been at the bird too many times? Remakes. The name itself might send shivers up your spine, but fear not! We’re connoisseurs of all parts of the turkey (yep, even the dreaded giblets), and we’re connoisseurs of all parts of the horror genre. But as horror fans, we sometimes want to lump a group of movies together. We want to believe that we’ll never be interested in a PG-13 horror movie. We want to believe that all remakes are crap, but this just isn’t always the case. Sometimes a remake can amp up a horror movie, making it more intense, as is the case with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead and 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes. A brilliant title sequence, featuring “When the Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash playing over scenes of zombie decimation, set the tone for the Dawn of the Dead remake. And let’s be completely honest for a moment here – the original Dawn was fantastic, but it was perhaps a bit long and drawn out (the author recognizes he’ll now be strung up by his toes by hordes of Romeo fans). As for The Hills Have Eyes remake, it came on the scene at a time when no one wanted another horror remake, but Alexander Aja breathed new life and vibrancy into the film, and it far surpassed almost everyone’s expectations. It was hard, gritty and realistic, not to mention legitimately scary. There are other instances of remakes enhancing (or even surpassing) their original films. Sometimes a remake can elevate the original, like David Cronenberg’s nihilistic, super-gory The Fly, John Carpenter’s superbly crafted The Thing, and the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We still get the creeps when we think about Jeff Goldblum pulling off his own nails in The Fly. That sure as hell wasn’t in the 1958 original! Call us dogs if you like, but we can’t help but love these “scraps.”
The Dark Meat
Sure, everyone loves the white meat, but the dark meat’s not for everyone. With a richer, moister flavor than its pale counterpart, some find dark meat too “raw” tasting or greasy. But there are a fair amount of turkey fans who, for its moistness or deeper flavor, simply can’t get enough dark meat. Well, like the more succulent sections of the big bird, some movies are just too “raw” for fans. Be they too bloody, gruesome or hard to swallow, these selections aren’t for everyone…which may be why we love them so much.
Take, for instance, the splatter film genre! The splatter film entertains with geysers of blood, great, dripping gore, and tantalizing tendons. Some think these movies go too far, but we think we’ll clear some room on the plate for them. And we can’t talk about splatter films without mentioning Blood Feast, the original H.G. Lewis bloodbath. When this film came out in 1963, it terrified audiences. Sure, today the bad acting, poor sets, and weak plot seem to glare from the screen, but imagine having never seen a splatter film before, having never seen much gore on screen at all! Without Blood Feast, we wouldn’t have half the blood-soaked movies we have today. And consider that plot! A crazy Egyptian caterer named Fuad Ramses severs the body parts of women to assemble a mass sacrifice to the Egyptian goddess Ishtar. Outrageous! Another benchmark in the splatter genre is the film Brain Dead (Dead Alive). Sure you know Peter Jackson now, but did you know him in 1992? Jackson came out of nowhere and directed one of the bloodiest, most splatter-tastic films we’ve ever seen – about five years after the trend had died! Look at it this way, the movie was so gory that the original cut was 104 minutes long, but with gory scenes cut out, the U.S. R-rated version ran only 85 minutes! That’s 19 minutes of gore cut out for an R rating! But just because realism in horror has stormed the box office recently, don’t think splatter’s down for the count! This past year saw a fantastic little homage to the genre in the form of Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. This first half of Grindhouse was so many different types of good homage. But more than that, it was gory…and bloody…and messy. If people weren’t getting blown away, they were boiling up with puss and exploding! Rodriguez tapped into something eternal about these sopping wet flicks. If a horror fan can stomach the gore, he or she will probably almost always enjoy a good splatter film! And there are so many other fantastic splatter flicks, too! Add to that list a forgotten classic like Splatter: Architects of Fear which followed an SFX crew as they made some of the messiest effects in film history, and Terror Firmer, the super-schlock Troma release, and you’ve got a heaping helping of blood, guts and arterial spray!
Some of the bloodiest horror movies have come to us from other countries. Like a rare, imported turkey, these foreign movies drip with blood and gurgle with gore. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, cannibal and zombie movies proliferated in Italian cinema, and Lucio Fulci and Ruggero Deodato were on the frontlines. Fulci, with blood baths like Zombi, created some of the most graphic scenes in cinema history. It may not have been a blood bath from start to finish, but we still remember Zombi for a few key moments (i.e. the eye gouge, the shark vs. zombie). Meanwhile, Ruggero Deodato shocked the world (and almost landed himself in jail) with the release of Cannibal Holocaust. Again, not a gorefest from start to finish, but some of the scenes in this movie were so intense, that it stains our memory as one of the nastiest flicks in history. Add to this the likes of Dario Argento (who brought brutality to Italy without the use of zombies), and Takashi Miike (whose blood-soaked Japanese works Audition and Ichi the Killer left American audiences scratching their heads while cringing from the gore), and we’re bursting at the seams with bloody delight! Most of these films focus on just a few moments of intense violence or gore. This brings up an interesting point about horror… As fans we often stretch our memories of a few gory scenes to the length of an entire movie. After all, if a 90-minute movie has seventeen minutes of full-on gore, that’s less than a fifth of the film that’s actually gory. But audiences will most likely remember the whole experience as soaked in gore.
These movies push reality to the edge, and like a good piece of fatty dark meat, may not be great for the cholesterol of our soul. In fact, if we liked our turkey as raw as we like these flicks, we’d have contracted salmonella poisoning years ago!
Just because we got past the meat of the matter doesn’t mean we’re done talking turkey! Now it’s time to move on to a peculiar side dish. The casserole, often considered a meal in itself, really is a curiosity at the Thanksgiving table. With mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams and a host of other sides, why does this amalgam appear at the table? The same can be asked about these horror films. We love them like we love all good horror, but we can’t help but wonder what they’re doing in the horror section at our local video stores. Most of the time these movies don’t belong to one single genre. Like a good casserole with an amalgam of ingredients, these misplaced horror movies offer up multiple delights.
We first started thinking about the mish-mash some “horror” movies turn out to be after watching Neil Marshall’s Doomsday. Billed as a post-apocalyptic thriller, this flick blended so many genres together it’s hard to say exactly what came out (but we liked it, whatever it was). There’s infestation and disease isolation, there’s Mad Max-esque fetish-geared psychos, there’s ample gunplay…all aspects of slightly different genres. But then they throw in a Renaissance Kingdom, a Medieval arena battle, and souped-up auto racing! So why bill the entire film as a horror flick? Why plop it right there on the horror shelf next to Freddy and Jason? Maybe it’s because it was directed by Neil (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) Marshall, whose works have typically run the horror gamut. Don’t think Doomsday is actually considered a horror movie? Think again, dear reader, this movie was even the basis for an attraction at Universal Studios Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights! Horror or not, we wonder if we would have liked this movie as much if it stuck to one genre. Probably not. We’ve already seen full zombie/plague films, we’ve already seen The Road Warrior, we’ve gotten our medieval fill, and we’ve suffered through Gone in 60 Seconds: Tokyo Drift. But have we ever seen all those flicks mixed together? I think not! While Doomsday may be one of the grandest mixtures, it sure as stuffing isn’t the first film to be mis-labeled due to its genre mish-mash.
Going back a few years, we see a strange little movie that underperformed at the box office, but remains a guilty pleasure for some horror fans (this author included): the Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn starrer (have I lost you already?) The Cell. Where would you have put this movie in a rental store? Crime drama? Serial killer? Police procedural? Dream adventure!? This movie boasted some of the coolest moments of its time, like the scene in which a horse was split and separated by large panes of glass, so that each segment could be seen pumping and breathing! What was that doing in there?! We’re not sure what to do with this movie, except watch it and love it for its ridiculousness!
Finally, we come to the granddaddy of the mixed and mis-labeled, the Mondo series of films! Starting with Mondo Cane in 1962, the Mondo films are notorious for their portrayal of bizarre events from around the world. Cults, witch doctors, people eating bugs, and cruelty to animals are all fair game, but does that warrant a spot in the horror section? How do films that are, in essence, documentaries (to use the term loosely) end up on the horror shelf? This isn’t Faces of Death, after all.
Today there are plenty of other casseroles to enjoy/ponder. Like Ricco the Mean Machine, the cult classic that Dark Sky Entertainment just re-released. While it may creep up on our horror shelves, we have to wonder why. Once titled (misleadingly) The Cauldron of Death, this Italian family mobster revenge film only has a few scenes of violence, but still remains a classic in weird Italian Exploitation, just…not horror. And what about animal attack films? Just because Jaws was a true-blue horror film (with its single antagonist) doesn’t mean a movie like Arachnaphobia belongs on most horror DVD shelves. Wouldn’t that be like placing Jurassic Park or Congo there?
Stuffed as we are from all of these fantastically fowl movies, there’s always room for desert!
It’s time to get sentimental, folks… What evokes the warmth of a holiday better than pumpkin pie? Sure, the turkey’s the main deal, but without this creamy, dreamy desert, the whole thing feels a bit less like home. These horror movies are simply movies we adore. They’re the movies that, like pumpkin pie, complete the picture. These movies are, often times, the reason we started liking horror in the first place.
Nosferatu, the 1922 silent vampire film by director F.W. Murnau, is a startlingly scary success. Many consider this film the grandfather of modern horror, as it was one of the first films to truly terrify. Sure, by today’s standards, it doesn’t get the heart pumping into overdrive, but there are some extremely frightening moments. Add to that the fact that it’s eighty-six years old, and it’s not hard to figure out why this movie is so important, and why it’s so beloved by horror fans.
Of course there are legions of other movies that have gotten people into the genre, that have made them take a step back and appreciate it as a means to a masterpiece. Night of the Living Dead, for example, woke people up to A.) the power of the zombie as a movie monster, and B.) the power of social commentary in horror. Re-Animator, and even smaller films like Killer Klowns from Outer Space, interwove humor into horror, making it accessible for people too easily frightened to enjoy a straight-up scare-fest. Not to mention Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm St., and, of course…
Halloween. That’s all that needs to be said. The pinnacle of horror, the slasher genre at its best. This is the movie that got a lot of people thinking seriously about horror movies again. It was scary, dark, psychologically driven, and kept us coming back. Sure, we could have just left this with the white-meat turkey and its sequels, but this pie of a movie is a must for many fright fans. This movie was the gateway, and how many of you (despite arguments against Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Michael) can truly say that Halloween hasn’t effected you? For most of us, watching Halloween feels a bit like coming home for the holidays, doesn’t it?
That wraps up our Thanksgiving Dinner. We hope you’re good and stuffed. Don’t forget to take some leftovers. And remember, like Thanksgiving, horror is full of good turkey. Love these flicks or hate them, there’s something forever inviting about horror and the community that’s sprung from it.