If you missed last week’s post, where I alphabetically listed horror films (A – M) definitely worth watching, check it out here. This is the second half, N – Z. Happy Hauntings!
Here’s N – Z:
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” would become the quote to know from George Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead, though Johnny (Russell Streiner) was only teasing Barbra (Jusith O’Dea) when he said that. How was he to know that an undead horde would actually be coming to get her? These “ghouls,” as they’re called in the movie, are the first example of the modern zombie: they eat human flesh, they die only if their brain is destroyed, and they have the tendency to turn humans against each other. These are just a few of the tropes which hundreds of zombie movies and tv shows have adopted since Night. In addition to popularizing the undead genre, Romero inadvertently made a striking social statement in casting Duane Jones, a black actor, as the lead role during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
One Cut of the Dead (2017)
(If you’ve stuck with Jack’s Freaky Flick Picks from the beginning, this one might be familiar). A Japanese indie gem that did so well as to make back over 1,000 times its budget, Shinichirou Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead is all at once a comedy, horror, and love letter to filmmaking. It’s also the most mind-blowing deep fake of a comedy you’ll ever see. Do yourself a favor and do not watch the trailer for this one, because it gives away the huge twist. One Cut is a movie about the filming of an amateur zombie flick that goes horribly wrong when real zombies crash the set. It’s the kind of movie that rewards you for paying attention, so don’t miss a beat!
If you have seen the movie, you might balk at the very idea, but hear me out: John McTiernan’s Predator is a secret slasher. Just like in Alien, the perfect killing organism from a foreign planet mercilessly hunts its human prey, one by one…only, Predator has a lot more guns and muscles. It’s no wonder the two films’ iconic monsters got together to form the Alien vs. Predator sci-fi action franchise—they remain the coolest alien designs to date. Even if you’re not familiar with Predator as a whole, you’ve probably seen a clip of the most jacked handshake ever, between Carl Weathers and Arnold Schwarzenegger, or heard someone do their Arnold impression: “GET TO THE CHOPPA!” But we can’t forget that underneath all the memeage lies a truly innovative and thrilling picture.
A Quiet Place (2018)
Directed by and starring Jim Halpert himself (John Krasinski), the familiar “extraterrestrial monsters are after humans” premise gets upgraded with a clever gimmick: the monsters are blind and hunt by sound. And these creatures will kill anything that makes a peep, so no coughing, sneezing, or farting, let alone talking. Fortunately, Lee (Krasinski) and his family can communicate through sign language, which was learned by the entire cast (with the exception of Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf in reality and already fluent in ASL). A Quiet Place really tests the limits of tension with its lack of many sounds, and thus relies largely on the fantastic performances of the actors.
You might never see a horror comedy as delightfully over-the-top as theater veteran Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (Gordon would write Honey, I Shrunk the Kids a few years later). Jeffrey Combs in particular chews at the scenery as Herbert West, the mad scientist who invents a serum that can reanimate dead tissue, thus creating some problematic zombies. Dan (Bruce Abbott) isn’t thrilled about West being his new roommate, but he’s got to pay the rent somehow. Re-Animator has a tight script and a plot that steadily ramps up to ridiculous heights. The scene in which Combs and Bruce Abbott throw an undead cat puppet around their basement is truly a gift to cinema.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
There are tons of great movies I could have chosen for “S,” but I thought I’d give a shoutout to musicals with Tim Burton’s cinematic adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s play. The movie centers around Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), who is free after being wrongly incarcerated by Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), a man whom Barker believes killed his wife and has sworn revenge upon. Barker changes his name to Sweeney Todd and takes up residence as a barber above Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) pie shop, patiently waiting for Turpin to come in for a shave, and all the while slitting the throats of everyone who gets in the way. Sweeney Todd is filled to the brim with blood (and people pies!), but it was nevertheless a mainstream success.
Train to Busan (2016)
What sets Yeon Sang-ho’s zombie film apart is its dedication to its characters. Train to Busan is so full of empathy that it had me choked up by the end. After feeling guilty for missing his daughter’s recital, Workaholic Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) takes birthday girl Su-an (Kim Su-an) on a train to Busan to see her mother. Unfortunately for them, a chemical leak has caused a massive zombie outbreak, and these zombies are fast. When the infected start flooding the train, Seok-woo does everything he can to protect his daughter, even with the people in the first-class cars leaving them for dead. Train is a thrilling and emotional story about the sacrifices we make for family, as well as a scathing commentary on the divide and distrust between social classes.
Under the Skin (2013)
In Jonathan Glazer’s critically acclaimed box office flop, Scarlett Johansson plays an alien lifeform disguised as a woman who combs the hills and streets of Scotland, seducing and abducting random men, killing some and sparing others. It isn’t a surprise that this unsettling movie did badly in theaters, but it is woefully unfortunate. Under the Skin is a divisive film because it refuses to be explicit in its narrative and is just as much about the visual aspects as it is the story. Johansson is often dead-eyed and not speaking, but through what little she does express, you can tell that her perception of herself and humanity changes as the surrealness progresses. To make the abductions seem real, Glazer used hidden cameras to get genuine reactions from non-actors (then afterwards explained what was happening).
Not everyone can stomach David Cronenberg’s body horror—in this movie, James Woods’ stomach gapes open to form a fleshy VHS tape slot—but I would encourage anyone to try out Videodrome, if not for its entertainment value, for its futuristic and cerebral take on media consumption. Max Renn (Woods) is a TV programming exec who is looking for something cutting-edge for his channel, which specializes in smut and violence. When his associate manages to pirate something called “Videodrome,” a program in which people actually get tortured and then strangled to death, Renn decides to air it, and by watching it, propels himself on a hallucinatory journey into the depths of a television-immersed reality.
The Witch (2015)
(Or The VVitch, but for the purpose of this list–not that!). Perhaps the scariest film in this alphabet, Robert Eggers’ The Witch is a meticulously crafted period horror about a 17th century family that is exiled from their settlement and then haunted by satanic influences. It’s disturbingly clear to the viewer that there is a witch in their neck of the woods, but the family begins to turn on each other when they suspect each other. Everything in The Witch instills a deep sense of dread, from the bare, natural lighting, to Mark Korvan’s chilling score, to the casting choice of Ralph Ineson as the family’s father, whose voice is so deep I was afraid I might drown in it.
X the Unknown (1956)
And unknown it certainly is, though this sci-fi B movie from English director Leslie Norman deserves more recognition. In the film, a group of soldiers in Scotland discover a primeval sludge oozing from the Earth’s crust. When people begin suffering from radioactive burns, scientist Dr. Royston (Dean Jagger) takes on the case, only to discover that the strange matter is more menacing than anyone had imagined. X, being somewhat similar to The Blob, actually preceded the red Jell-O-like monster by a couple years, but it wasn’t lucky enough to get a ton of exposure. Unlike The Blob, X is in moody, high-contrast black and white, which gives it less camp and more terror.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mary Shelley’s classic horror made classic comedy by Mel Brooks. When Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) travels to his deceased grandfather’s castle, he becomes obsessed with the feat of reanimating a dead body, and aims to prove it possible. What makes this movie so side-splitting is its zany characters, all masterfully played by the talented cast. There’s Igor (Marty Feldman), the bug-eyed humpback whose hump keeps moving around; Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), the witchy housekeeper whose name can’t be uttered without the horses neighing in terror; and who can forget the blind man (Gene Hackman), whose hospitality towards Peter Boyle’s monster turns out to be hilariously harmful.
Alternately titled (by me), Woody Harrelson’s Quest for the Golden Twinkie, Zombieland is the story of a timid guy who strictly adheres to his own rules for survival in a zombie virus-infected America, and the friends he meets on his journey to find his family. Director Ruben Fleischer wastes no time, dropping us right into the action as the protagonist, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), voices his list of survival rules over scenes of people failing to follow them, and thus, dying. Similar to Shaun of the Dead, a popular zombie comedy that came before it, Zombieland is more about the laughs than the scares—if proved by anything, the all-too-brief Bill Murray cameo. It’s a feel-good horror movie… if ever there was one.