The 13 Days of Halloween: Psycho Killers

I watch a lot of horror movies, even bad ones.  Sometimes, especially bad ones because I’ve found that even a terrible horror movie is still more entertaining than a good romantic comedy.  Nothing frightens me more than the prospect of sitting through another Jennifer Aniston Rom-com or pretty much anything with Julia Roberts, for that matter.  Terrifying!

Over the years, I’ve consumed hundreds, if not thousands, of horror movies.  Even the bad ones can offer something unique or interesting to take away.  Much like Hamlet’s line, “The play’s the thing…”, in horror, the killer’s the thing. Without an interesting killer, your movie is ultimately doomed.

I have watched some horrible films over the years that have interesting or unique killers, and I find that I’ll watch them again just for that element, despite the fact that I know the movie itself, frankly, sucks.  It’s sorta like listening to an album with two or three good songs but sitting through the lesser 10 anyway just because the good tunes are worth it.

So, here are seven of my favorite horror movie killers from over the years.  Some of the films they were featured in were pretty good, but some were admittedly lousy.  It doesn’t really matter, though, because, as I said, the killer’s the thing.

Jigsaw

Yeah, I know, everybody’s sick of the Saw franchise, myself included.  Besides, the guy died, like, four movies ago.  But think back to the original, do you remember that it was actually a very good film, and unique for its time?  I know sequels can sap the life out of a movie, especially a horror movie, but let’s not forget how cool the original concept was.

How can you not love a killer who turns people’s weaknesses on themselves but gives them a possible chance at redemption and survival, albeit with sometimes horrifying sacrifices?  Jigsaw wasn’t so much a mass murderer as he was a psychologist.  But rather than simply having his patients drone on endlessly about their problems hoping to stumble onto an epiphany, Jigsaw gives you 60 seconds to cut the key out from behind your eye before the apparatus strapped to your face tears your head in half.  Now that’s what I call therapy!

John Doe

What’s in the box?  Can anyone ever forget the immortal words of Brad Pitt in Seven when first suspecting that his wife has become a victim of a nameless, religious minded serial killer acting out the seven deadly sins to “turn each sin upon the sinner”?  John Doe was somewhat like Jigsaw in that respect, with one key difference:  there was no redemption in Doe’s machinations, even for himself.

Kevin Spacey played the role to perfection, and the intricately plotted out series of killings was as impressive for their inter-connectedness as for their sheer brutality.  The best part is, he won in the end.  Doe led the police by the nose throughout the entire film, and his plan worked out precisely the way he wanted it, down to the very minute.  And how can you not love a guy who gave Gwynneth Paltrow the most emotionally affecting moment of her career, as a head in a box?

Victor Crowley

Unlike the first two killers on this list who were obsessive and intricate planners of elaborate, meaningful deaths, Victor Crowley was a straight-up force of nature.  The movie Hatchet wasn’t a great film, but it was an awesome horror movie.  Crowley reportedly died as a deformed boy when he  accidentally took a hatchet to the face from his father when he was desperately trying to save Victor from a house fire.  Now he’s back, living in the family home in the secluded Louisiana swamps, and woe be unto anyone who crosses his path.

Crowley wasn’t creative or thoughtful with his prey.  He pretty much just tore people apart with his bare hands, ripping off limbs, snapping necks, breaking people in half across trees, all while groaning and growling indecipherable sounds from his horribly deformed face.  Yeah, it’s not great acting work, but it was certainly entertaining.

Jason’s Mom

The original Friday the 13th movie didn’t have Jason as the undead, unkillable monster as protagonist, it was his mom.  An otherwise sweet looking older woman, dressed in a nice sweater, stalking Camp Crystal Lake slaughtering the teen-age counselors to get revenge for a group of horny teenagers letting her son drown at camp years earlier because they were too busy drinking, smoking weed and hooking up to pay attention. 
This woman was flat-out nuts, going around spouting “kill her mommy” in her best squeaky five-year-old-boy voice.  This movie was truly great, combining horror with murder mystery.  It was like a psychopathic version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  Not to mention a very young Kevin Bacon getting skewered through the throat with an arrow.  In the end, Jason’s mom lost her head, quite literally, unleashing a 30 year rampage of Jason’s vengeance that took him to Manhattan, Hell, outer space and back again.  Talk about influencial!

Anton Phibes

The Abominable Dr. Phibes was a Vincent Price take on the intricately planned revenge murder sequence.  Phibes was in a horrible car accident that disfigured him and killed his beloved wife.  Years later, Phibes comes back to kill everyone involved in allowing his wife to die on the operating table.

What makes this great is that Phibes didn’t just kill them, he planned each death to correspond to one of the biblical plagues on Egypt.  Brilliant!  To wrap it up, he created a very Jigsaw-like challenge for the lead surgeon to remove a key from near the heart to free his son before having his face eaten off by acid.  Phibes definitely had style.

Pazuzu

Pazuzu was the demon who took up residence in sweet little Reagan in The Exorcist.  Not only did he twist people’s heads around and toss them out windows, but he turned a nice little girl into a drunken, foul-mouthed sailor, and made projectile vomiting cool.

Pazuzu really came into his own in the Exorcist III, though, when he possessed a patient in an asylum.  During that film, he bounced from patient to patient, sending them out to lop off people’s heads with those giant, stainless steel clipper things morticians sometimes use.  Has anyone ever invented a perfectly legitimate tool that looks more like something from a homicidal maniac’s Christmas list than those things?  They’re spring-loaded hedge clippers from pruning people’s limbs.  Totally creepy!

Death

Death is the ultimate psycho killer.  And if you’ve seen any of the Final Destination movies, you know that he also sports a creative side for taking out his victims.  Death doesn’t just toss a little cancer at you, he creates a freaky chain of events, sort of like a gory version of the game Mousetrap, that culminated in his intended victim being disembowled, crushed, exploded, impaled or otherwise dismembered in new and interesting ways.  Has there ever been a series of films with more moments where viewers have to turn their heads suddenly and shout “whoa!” at the sudden carnage than these movies?

You also can’t beat death, no matter how hard you try.  In all these movies, the group of survivors desperately try to defeat death’s plan, but everyone ultimately ends up dead anyway.  It’s the ultimate exercise in futility.  And say what you want about Saving Private Ryan, but I’ll take the opening car crash scene in Final Destination 2 as the pinnacle in awesome movie-opening carnage and mayhem.  Death is a total bad-ass killer, and he definitely has his plans in order.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween concludes…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

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The 13 Days of Halloween: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Where have all our heroes gone?  Horror fans have always had their iconic anti-heroes of the silver screen. From Lon Chaney to Bela Lugosi to Boris Karloff, the golden age of American cinema produced some of the most recognizable, and frightening, on-screen personas ever. 

Following in their footsteps was Vincent Price, who crafted a 50 year career out of the terrifying and the atmospherically creepy, with his long, lanky body and his general ability to set a viewer at unease without saying a word.  Price had more acting talent in his eyebrows than most of today’s movie stars possess in total. And then, when he spoke!  Price has a voice that, much like Karloff before him, defined horror for generations of fans.  Whenever you heard that unmistakable sound of his speech, you just knew something altogether horrible was about to happen.

But since his death in 1993, and to be honest, his on-screen death in 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, his last significant role, no one has stepped in to fill his ample shoes.  Where are the great horror icons of today?  Who are the great actors who personify the very genre just by speaking a few words?  Sadly, there are none.

Sure, we have actors like Robert Englund of Freddy Kreuger fame who seems to be making the rounds of low-budget horror circuit with cameos in many films.  But Englund doesn’t transcend the genre into mainstream consciousness the way Price had.  And his claim to fame, Kreuger, now has a new actor under the makeup.

So who else do we have?  Tony Todd of Candyman and Final Destination fame?  He certainly has the voice for it, at least following that bit of Price’s legacy.  But his principle films haven’t had the impact that Price’s body of work held and, like Englund, has been reduced to almost a caricature of himself through a series of bit parts in mediocre movies.

Anybody else?  I can’t think of any.  No, our horror icons today aren’t the actors who play the roles, they’re the characters themselves, often hidden behind grungy masks and layers of prosthetics.  Freddy Kreuger is far more famous than Englund.  Jason Vorhees is infinitely more well-known than anyone who’s ever played him.  Same for Michael Myers.  Hell, more people know that Myers’ mask was of William Shatner than could tell you the name of anyone who’s worn it on screen.

The great icons among horror actors are dead.  Vincent Price was truly the last of his kind.  Maybe someone will rise up to claim that mantle in the future, but in the 18 years since he shuffled off this mortal coil, I’ve seen no evidence that one is forth coming.  The ghost-face mask in Scream is more identifiable than anyone who’s been in those movies.  And so is the creepy puppet thing on the tricycle from the Saw franchise.

The other day, I watched the 1972 made-for-tv special An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe.  For an hour, Price, alone on stage, performed a series of the most famous and madness-inducing Poe tales in almost Shakespeareian fashion.  This wasn’t watered down, simplified for the masses material, but all the eloquence, complexity and sheer terror of Poe’s words transformed into life through Price’s unique acting talents.  It’s difficult to imagine any iconic horror actor of today pulling off that feat.  Horror may be more prolific than ever, but watching Price channel Poe’s tales of insanity and darkness, I couldn’t help but realize what we’ve lost.

Around the time of his death, the American Movie Classics cable channel ran a Vincent Price movie marathon.  I, in my excitement, filled two VHS tapes with some of the best of his film work.  This was still in the days before DVDs became the norm.  For years after, I pulled out those tapes every October and held my own little Price movie festival.  I watched The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Tomb of Ligeia, Tales of Terror, The Raven, House of Wax and The Conqueror Worm over and over.  It became an annual tradition in my household.

Since then, I’ve built quite the collection of Vincent Price movies, and I still make it a point to spend each October ensnared in his work.  While we may not have icons like Price anymore, we do have his many great films and best performances preserved for eternity.  So I don’t weep for the loss of the great horror icons.  Price, and others like him, will live on well beyond the grave, perhaps as it should be.

Here is a list of some of my favorite film works of Vincent Price.  Maybe you can spend a day this Halloween season emersed in the terror and madness he brought to each role.  I know I will.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

Published in: on October 20, 2011 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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The 13 Days of Halloween: A few scary movies to spend a cold, dark night with

Halloween is my all-time favorite holiday.  And it’s mostly because of the horror movies.  Ever since I was a kid, spending my Saturdays watching an array of cheesy slasher pics on Commander USA’s Groovie Movies, I’ve been hooked.  I figured it was only fitting to kick off the first day of my 13 Days of Halloween with a look at some of the films that will be giving me the shivers this year.

Every Halloween season, there is nothing I like more than to settle into a cold, dark room and spend some quality time with a series of horror films.  This list is what’s on tap for this year’s special Halloween-a-thon.  These aren’t all the best, creepiest, scariest, or goriest movies ever made, just what I’ll be watching this year, in no discernible order.

The Haunting

The original 1963 version of this film, based on the fantasticly creepy Shirley Jackson novel, “The Haunting of Hill House”, is a classic.  The black and white film, made with a minimal to non-existent soundtrack at times, is still one of the most frightening things I’ve ever watched.  The scene with Theo and Nell in the bedroom and the banging sounds out in the hallway coming closer and closer always gets me.  If only film directors today could take notes on how to build tension, we’d have a lot less splatter-fests and more genuinely scary stuff out there.  And for the love of God, please avoid the 1999 remake with Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson.  It’s an affront to Shirley Jackson’s memory.  And a really, really lousy movie.

Friday the 13th

Again, I’m talking the original here.  No absurd sequels or unnecessary remakes for me.  Back in 1980, near the dawn of the slasher pic, this low-budget flick set a new bar for these kinds of films.  The franchise was later built on Jason, the supernatural, unkillable mass-murderer, but he wasn’t even in this one (other than a brief dream sequence).  This movie is great because you don’t really know who the killer is until the end, so it’s kind of a mystery wrapped inside a horror movie.  And it has a very young Kevin Bacon getting skewered through the throat with an arrow.  For years after I first saw this, I had trouble sleeping on my back for fear of someone under my bed waiting to do the same to me.  And that nice old lady saying “Kill her, mommy,” in her best high-pitched little boy voice still creeps me out.

The Exorcist

What list of Halloween movies would be complete without a film about demonic possession?  It was a close call between this and the original The Omen, but even Gregory Peck couldn’t dissuade me from picking the end-all film for exorcisms.  Originally released in 1973, the year before I was born, I finally got to see it in the theater when some new scenes were added and it was re-released a few years back.  I lived in a fourth floor apartment at the time, with access by a rickety staircase around the back of the building.  I saw a late-night showing, and when I got back home, I found that it had gotten foggy and the staircase was shrouded in white mist.  Needless to say, I ran up those stairs like a bat out of hell.  Linda Blair set the standard for pea-soup spewing, foul-mouthed little girls in this one.

Behind The Mask:  The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Many people think Scream set the standard for poking at the culture of horror movies.  Well, this one does it way better.  Behind the Mask chronicles a young documentary maker’s film about an aspiring slasher preparing for his first slumber party massacre.  Some of the scenes are just priceless, when Leslie describes the inside tricks to being a slasher killer, like planting false newspaper clippings to set up his back story, rigging the location beforehand to steer his quarry where he wants them to go, and sabotaging all the available weapons that anyone could fight back with.  People think these guys just go nuts and kill anyone at hand, but Leslie makes sure to explain the ins and outs of the weeks of preparation that go into a proper slaughter.

Cabin Fever

If there’s anything I like more than a good scare, it’s a good laugh.  As cheesy as this movie is (and it’s pretty damned cheesy) I find myself laughing every time I watch it.  The scene where Paul washes himself off with mouthwash after having sex with one of his fellow flesh-eating virus afflicted cabin-mates is a classic.  And watch out for the old man in the country store.   This is an all-out gore fest, with bodily fluids oozing from nearly everyone, nearly everywhere.  After some serious scary stuff, a little bit lighter brand of horror is always nice for a mood shifter.

28 Days Later

Just like demonic possession, what’s Halloween without a good zombie flick?  There are other zombie movies that are better (the original Night of the Living Dead, for instance) but this one is very enjoyable.  Cillian Murphy wakes up alone in a hospital after being in a coma only to find everyone gone and the world in ruins.  (This scene, by the way, was ripped off wholesale by the zombie tv series The Walking Dead).  As he looks for any signs of life, he gets accosted by a vicious zombie priest, only to be saved by a pair of survivalists.  But when one of them gets infected, he watches as his other savior brutally hacks her partner apart with a machete.  Things get progressively darker from there, with what’s left of the British military harvesting women for sex and so forth.  There’s been a rash of infected zombie pics of late, most of them pretty lousy, but this one is well worth a watch.

So, there you have it, the six films I’ll be watching this Halloween season.  Don’t get too scared.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my previous collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

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