12. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Director: Eli Craig
Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss
There’s an unwritten rule denoting that any movie with the word “vs” in its title should suck by default, but here’s a relatively obscure horror/comedy gem that came out of nowhere and charmed the pants off of all who saw it. The premise behind Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is relatively “one note” – two “hillbilly” types, resembling classic horror villains, are actually nice guys, but due to their appearance and a few unlucky coincidences, a group of archetypical teens become convinced that the pair are out to murder them, and – as a result – end up killing themselves by accident in gruesome and Darwin Award-worthy ways.
The film brilliantly plays around with the tropes and clichés fans will have come to expect from such a teen horror, offering plenty of in-jokes, great death scenes for the gore-hounds out there as well as providing a little sentimentality to boot. This is actually a pretty amiable movie.
11. Jug Face (2013)
Director: Chad Crawford Kinkle
Stars: Sean Bridgers, Lauren Ashley Carter, Kaitlin Cullum, Larry Fessenden
Vibrantly lensed in rural Tennessee, Jug Face is an impressively oozing slab of horror. The brisk, brief feature appears more atmospheric than terrifying, but its bare-bones tale gets under the skin, telling of a pregnant teen whose impending sacrifice to a backwoods community’s worship pit causes hell to break loose.
Writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle displays a strong knack for setting and atmosphere without the aid of many shorthand indicators. The community’s backwoods isolation at times feels so pervasive and otherworldly that signs of modernity come as a shock. It doesn’t seem possible that they could have trucks, filtered cigarettes, and ovens, and even when we see our main characters drive into town to sell moonshine, the outside world somehow remains firmly inaccessible. This is a tiny film. It likely had a very small budget and just barely makes it to an 80 minute long running time. A lot goes into those 80 minutes, though. The film is in many ways skeletal, but can also feel robust within its small framework. Above all, it remains interesting throughout and never succumbs to simplicity.
10. Wolf Creek (2005)
Director: Greg McLean
Stars: Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips
Three young travelers (an Aussie guy and two Brit girls) are making their way across the remote West-Australian outback, and run into car trouble. They’re assisted by the likeable-but-odd Mick, who tows them back to his camp, and works on their vehicle while they rest. One of the girls awakes to find herself bound and gagged, and things are about to get a lot worse…
Given the slow-crawling pace of its first half and absurdist hell of its second, this grue-marinated film invites comparisons to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The opening and closing title cards are major downers, but Wolf Creek is a beautiful piece of horror that doesn’t come with the noxious social and sexual baggage that typically dooms its ilk—like the technically proficient High Tension and Marcus Nispel’s version of TCM. The film’s context is existential. Characters charge into the desert, so blinded by the heat and dirt that they come to resemble moving Rorschach ink blots. Like the film’s opening shot, these images are expressionistic in nature; they express a gripping vision of characters struggling and resisting to be made out by a terror at once terrestrial and alien.
9. Hatchet (2006)
Director: Adam Green
Stars: Kane Hodder, Tamara Feldman, Joel David Moore, Deon Richmond
Adam Green’s horror debut, Hatchet, as the film’s marketing at the time had trumpeted, was a true throwback to the slashers of days past. This isn’t a tribute. It’s not a homage. Hatchet is an original, often hilarious, no frills gore-fest. Green eschews antagonists whose back-stories are as convoluted as their killing styles for Victor Crowley, a tormented freak with a propensity for ripping off limbs.
The plot of Hatchet see a group of three male, college friends seeking to take a temporary break from the constant barrage of booze and boobs of Mardi Gras to take a haunted swamp tour. Additional members of the tour group include the Asian American tour guide, an older husband and wife tourist couple, a seedy softcore porn director and his two “actresses,” and finally the girl with a mysterious past. The tour takes a turn for the worse when the boat runs aground and they get stranded out in the middle of the bayou. Things go from bad to even worse when the groups happens upon the ghostly yet physical manifestation of Victor Crowley’s childhood home. Prepare yourself for heads being ripped in half and belt sanders to the mouth.
8. Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)
Director: Steve Miner
Stars: Amy Steel, John Furey, Kirsten Baker, Stu Charno, Marta Kober, Bill Randolph, Russell Todd, Lauren-Marie Taylor, Tom McBride, Walt Gorney, Adrienne King
Many fans remember this film the most for being the debut of Jason Voorhees, or at least the debut of adult Jason Voorhees. It’s also memorable because it’s the only film where Jason is the killer and he isn’t wearing his iconic hockey mask. Instead he’s wearing a homemade sack mask with one eye hole cut out of it (which is far more scary if you ask us).
Jason proves he can live up to his mother’s legacy by mercilessly killing a new group of teenagers in new inventive ways. This is also, by the way, the last time that any sympathy can be felt for anyone dumb enough to go up to Camp Crystal Lake. The rest of the sequels are filled with people who deserve to die anyway for being so naive.
7. Frontier(s) (2007)
Director: Xavier Gens
Stars: Karina Testa, Aurélien Wiik, Patrick Ligardes, Estelle Lefébure
Opening in complete chaos (and never really leaving there), Frontier(s) revolves around four young people who have fled a riot-torn Paris with a bag of cash, and are heading towards Amsterdam. After splitting up into two groups the friends decide to meet at a secluded bed and breakfast near the French border. Soon enough the friends realize that the folks running the establishment are fascist neo-Nazi cannibals intent on creating a superior race and having an unconventional meal.
One of the most obvious things to note about this film is that it wears its influences on its sleeve. The obvious reference point is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You have human remains laid about causally, gun shot wounds, fingers blow away, a throat bit out, and the list goes on. Also, remember in Hot Fuzz where Nick Frost’s character asks, “Is it true that there’s a place in a man’s head that if you shoot it, it will blow up?”? Frontier(s) answers that question with, “Hell yes!”
6. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Director: Rob Zombie
Stars: Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, William Forsythe
Rob Zombie’s follow-up to his directorial debut House Of 1,000 Corpses in 2003, the far more serious The Devil’s Rejects, knocked fools on their behinds two years later. Continuing the murderous exploits of Corpses villains Captain Spaulding, Otis, and Baby, The Devil’s Rejects forgets all about the first movie’s dark comedy.
The look and feel of this film is a total nightmare, and some of the most effective American mood-making in years. We got senseless murder, necrophilia, torture, gun-rape and an old dirty clown having even dirtier sex. And what gives Zombie the nerve, the sheer audacity, to keep moviegoers interested in material that ought to be sneered at with contempt? Rarely has our need to dismiss an idea been replaced so thoroughly with a morbid desire to watch on in fascination.
5. Spider Baby (1968)
Director: Jack Hill
Stars: Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker, Sid Haig
Spider Baby starts off with a musical cartoon montage about the ‘maddest story ever told’ to set the mood. Then, a man with a book on rare diseases discusses “Merrye Syndrome.” A genetic disorder which causes a degeneration of the inflicted’s physical and mental state, causing them to become childish sociopaths.
The last three known Merryes are Ralph, Virginia, and Elizabeth. Ralph is a mute but excitable manchild. Elizabeth is the more restrained and bullied sibling. And Virginia is a violent womanchild obsessed with bugs and spiders. The titular Spider Baby ‘trapping’ a deliveryman in her web before brutally stabbing him to death. Using a pair of knives as her pincers. The guardian of the trio and the estate is their chauffeur Bruno, a kindly old man who just wants to keep the poor remnants of the Merrye family afloat and sane. But when distantly related Merrye family members arrive to claim the estate, it will turn into the most fearsome family reunion ever!
4. The Last House On The Left (1972)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Jeramie Rain
Based loosely on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, Wes Craven’s The Last House On The Left is an exploitation film that is notorious for its unrestrained violence and sexual humiliation that run rampant throughout. In the film, two young girls, while en route to a rock concert, get kidnapped by four reprehensible criminals. They’re taken into the woods, and forced to perform numerous sexual acts, before ultimately being killed.
Craven made an exceptionally brutal film which does not glamorize violence, rather it seeks to show the true nature of it as horrific and ugly. The only criticism of the film is the faffing about of useless policemen characters. If they are meant to be comic relief, they don’t work. But other than that, the film couldn’t get any nastier than what it is, or it would veer into Grand Guignol territory.
3. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Susan Lanier, Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, John Steadman
The upper crust Carter family is traveling on vacation towing a travel trailer from Ohio to Los Angeles. On the way, the family insists on seeing a silver mine in the Nevada desert as part of their trip. An hysterical old man at a petrol station tells them not to go there, but of course our intrepid family ignore him and end up with a broken car in the middle of nowhere. They end up in the hands of mutant, redneck cannibals who survive in the barren area by preying on unsuspecting families like the Carters. After a night of extreme violence at the hands of the cannibal family, the remainder of the Carter family decide to take revenge on the rednecks which leads to even greater bloodshed.
After 1972’s Last House On The Left director Wes Craven didn’t make a horror film for five years, perhaps drained by filming the unrelentingly grim Last House and the controversy that followed it. In 1977 he returned to the horror genre with The Hills Have Eyes. This, while still certainly grim in places, doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of depravity that Last House achieved, and is all the more re-watchable for it. This is one satisfying piece of pulp.
2. I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
Director: Meir Zarchi
Stars: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols
I Spit On Your Grave (aka Day Of The Woman) is one of the most controversial cult classic rape and revenge films of all time. The story follows a New York City writer who heads up to a secluded cabin in the woods to write her first novel. While there, she is heartlessly raped by four country boys and left for dead. Surviving the assault, she carefully plots and implements horrific, bloody revenge against her attackers.
I Spit On Your Grave was widely panned and discredited upon its release (Roger Ebert called the film a “vile bag of garbage”), but the film does have its admirers, and managed to spawn a remake in 2010, and even a remake sequel in 2013 and 2015. Those willing to defend the film do so on the grounds that I Spit On Your Grave is as merciless and relentless as the brutal act of rape that it is attempting to portray – raw, bloody, and unflinching. Does that make it a good movie? Hard to say. But it certainly makes it one of the most infamous films of its kind ever made.
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Paul A. Partain, Teri McMinn
In short, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a genuine classic of the genre, a punishing, unrelenting nightmare that never allows viewers even a moment of sanity or security. The film can, and will, be reinterpreted by critics and theorists for decades to come. Though, the movie tells a fairly simple tale at heart. A group of five teenagers driving through rural Texas happen upon a deranged, cannibalistic family. Psychological terror and chainsaw mayhem ensue.
In the years since Texas Chain Saw first hit theaters, there have been countless imitators, sequels and reboots. Yet as loved and influential as the original classic has been, many who would seek to emulate its vision seem to overlook its true strengths. Oh, and Leatherface is still one of the greatest antagonists in horror history – watching him swinging that chainsaw around is almost hypnotic.