Lists. Everyone loves lists. They are easy to read, fun to compile, and you can get to the meat of the article with an easy, clever title. Although lists tend to be all the above, they also tend to be a bit difficult on the writer’s end of the spectrum. Top Tens, All-Time Favs, Goriest, etc tend to go under the editing knife more than a few times to narrow down and even then the writer could possibly be adequate in his contentment of the finish product.
I am a self-proclaimed “Film Nazi”. I tend to be extremely hard on horror films and not give too much attention to anything big budget hitting the theaters and direct-to-stream independent efforts have been very shoddy and formulaic at best. A few recent exceptional standouts are the two zombie films Train To Busan (2016) & Extinction (2015), as well as the scathing vampire tale Stakeland (2010).
Thus, when I was asked for my Top 10 films that I could not live without if I were stuck on a deserted island (with electricity and a means to view these films I’m assuming), I immediately blurted them aloud as confirmation.
The only drawback I gave myself to this list was the exclusion of films that didn’t stray toward the darker, seedier side of cinema solemnity. So in keeping with the theme of our lovely website, films I adore like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) (still rather dark at times), Coming To America (1988), The Wanderers (1979) (but…The Ducky Boys!), and The Room (2003) (absolutely HORROR-ible) were unfortunately left off the list in dismay.
So without further ado and in no particular order, here are my Top 10 Films I Would Need If Stranded On A Deserted Island!
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – directed by Tobe Hooper
There is no denying the mark The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) branded on the audiences of early 70s cinema. A film so raw, so cinéma vérité, and so perversely obscene that theater goers were packing in theaters and then subsequently purging from their seats in a frenzied waltz. The film’s gore was so prevalent that the film was banned in many countries and it was deemed too salacious for audiences…except it wasn’t!
The horror the film emits is in it’s aesthetically captivating camera work, by Daniel Pearl, coupled with the almost autochthonous film score, abhorrent set decorations, and stellar cast including Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen (as Leatherface), Jim Siedow, and Ed “Hitchhiker” Neal. Tobe Hooper’s magnificent documentary-style film making was renegade shooting at its finest. It’s no surprise that “TTCM” has stood the test of time and continues to enthrall audiences with its title alone.
My love affair with this film has spanned decades and the cover art of the VHS tape I had as a kid (the Media Home Entertainment slip) was so terrifying to me that I refused to look at it when seeking it out for watching. Rex Reed‘s Cannes Film Festival review slathered at the top was indeed just that to me.
Day of the Dead (1985) – directed by George A. Romero
I have an absolute amorous adoration for Romero’s original Dead trilogy, consisting of Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) , and Day of the Dead (1985). Night being the catalyst for the creation of the modern zombie, Dawn setting the rules by giving the reanimated vessels a shadow of their former selves (a purpose almost), and Day shattering the mold, humanizing their very existence and bringing a new life to their insatiable hunger. Despite Day’s “sunny” title disposition, it remains the darkest, most unforgiving zombie film of Romero’s original trilogy.
[Day of the Dead] forever changed my perception of film, of humans, of make-believe, of life: George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (Media Home Entertainment slipcase). I admit freely, as I should, that Romero’s social commentary flew by me at lightning speed. I had no idea what sort of idealism or political righteousness Romero was trying to convey…the film was a garish nightmare. Even the talky parts where visceral and haunting. I was grateful that my dad was nothing like Capt. Rhodes.
The film was slick with gore. I had never seen anything like it in all of my 4 years of existence (and to this day that premise still remains). One of the parts that stands out the most is Miguel’s death scene. Although I don’t believe it to be the most gruesome of the film, the tears he streams from his eyes as the zombies tear him apart were enough of a validation for me.
The images of Day of the Dead were imprinted into my consciousness for a long time that night. And as time went on, I grew a sweeping admiration for it. I watched it every chance I could get. I stumbled across Tom Savini’s Scream Greats a few years later. Watching the movie magic tricks that went into the films gave me chills. It didn’t take anything away from the universe I was immersed in. It made me want to watch again and again!
Howard Hawk’s The Thing From Another World (1951) – directed by Christian Nyby
Despite John Carpenter‘s lovingly formulated The Thing (1982) remake being a favorite of mine and one of the most ambitious special effects make-up efforts of any film era, Howard Hawk’s The Thing From Another World (1951) is a terrifying, amorously Lovecraftian at times, journey through the hey-day of 1950s sci-fi films.
Directed by Christian Nyby and adapted from John Stuart‘s novella Who Goes There?, The Thing From Another World eschews sci-fi for more monster movie/horror elements and layers the film with tense plotting and claustrophobic set designs.
The first time I watched this film was from a VHS copy obtained from my local library. I couldn’t have been older than 10 and by that time I’ve seen it all…from Blood Feast to Cannibal Holocaust. This little black and white movie would merely be a hefty chuckle in my somewhat jaded horror film viewership. Despite my weary outlook, I was awestruck by the terror the crew faces within the barracks. Scenes were so tense and the shadow-cloaked monster so mysterious that any deviation from the formula would have made it another monster movie. To this day, “The Thing From Another World” is a habitual viewing when wanting to go back to the feeling of trepidation.
The Meateater (1979) – directed by Derek Savage
I’m willing to bet that, unless you are a VHS collecting tapehead like me, you have neither seen nor heard of the mysterious film The Meateater (1979). Originally shot and filmed in 1976-77, the film saw an early 80s VHS release in the States as well as overseas in Germany (as Blood Theatre & Blut Theater), Poland, Italy, and France (as Charognard). A presumed Canadian release has yet be verified.
The Meateater is The Room of independent DIY horror cinema although not as ambitious as Tommy Wiseau‘s “shlocksterpiece” and never trying to take itself as serious. It is an intentionally made awful film with fragments of “The Phantom of the Opera”, Golden-Age actress Jean Harlow, and an Oscar Meyer Wiener theme song thrown into a blender and then squirted into a hot dog bun with a splash of mustard and pornography as topping. I’m not joking…this film is wacky! And, as stated, intentionally so.
Derek Savage (Derek Sausage to his friends) turns up the hammy film making to 11 with this low-budget Z-film shenanigans, his only film. The film staggers around a plot involving a disfigured hermit residing in an abandon movie ‘the–ate–er’ and a do-good shoe salesman turned movie theatre owner and family that buy said theatre to project wholesome family films that include nothing “…stronger than a G.”
I’ve been fascinated with this film since I was a young kid, having the Video Treasures EP VHS tape in my collection. The movie has garnered some strong, albeit amusing, reviews from IMDB critics and is favorably received as a movie so bad it’s really bad…which makes for required viewing! I’ve created a Facebook page for the film and I am currently working with an as of now unnamed distribution company to restore the original 35mm negative of the film and bring it to bluray/dvd. Look for my exclusive interview with Derek Savage very soon and join the FB page @ www.facebook.com/themeateater
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) – directed by Tobe Hooper
The Tobe Hooper helmed sequel to his original effort does what the original didn’t…it gives light to the gore with chainsaw eviscerations, hammers to the skull, and an electric knife skinning that has to be seen to believed. Dennis Hopper is at his most sadistic as Lefty Enright (freshly sober and a few years removed from a battle with drugs and alcohol no less!), battling his character Frank Booth of Blue Velvet (1986) fame as his most memorable character of his career. Bill Moseley found fame in Rob Zombie’s House of a 1000 Corpses but has forever been known as the maniacal, unforgettable ChopTop in TTCM2 to faithful gore hounds.
My favorite actor of all-time happens to be Dennis Hopper and his chainsaw battle with Leatherface in the climax of the film stands out as one of the most perverse and knee-jerk scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The Breakfast Club-inspired Media Home Entertainment slip is probably the greatest VHS cover ever made and is made even better with the epic Cannon logo affixed to the upper right-hand side of the box. A true gem from the dead formats of yesteryears! Extremely significant viewing material for those that have never seen!
The Beyond (1981) – directed by Lucio Fulci
Lucio Fulci is responsible for a plethora of enduringly popular titles such as Zombi 2 (1979)–the Europe’s unofficial sequel to 1978’s Dawn Of The Dead), City Of The Living Dead (1980), and The New York Ripper (1982), but some may say that The Beyond (1981) is his most polished and visually stunning film of the 1980s.
The Beyond is a beautifully coalesced mixture of Lovecratian themes, zombies, and American Gothic-style ghost stories with captivating camera work and set design. The film is a part of Fulci’s unofficial zombie trilogy which included Gates Of Hell and The House By The Cemetary (1981).
The film was hard to find in the 80s and 90s fully intact and without the title “The 7 Doors of Death” but there were a few bootlegs making their way across the back adverts of genre rags Fangoria, Deep Red, etc. The best print was a Japanese laserdisc bootleg that had all the best stuff intact. It wasn’t until Grindhouse Releasing teamed up with Quentin Tarantino‘s Rolling Thunder Pictures in the year 2000 that the film was brought to the forefront of horror cinema and garnered a new cult of younger, endearing fans.
The Beyond is by far my favorite Fulci film and continues to awe and inspire me in my day-to-day writing endeavors. The film seems to be one of Fulci’s most beautifully shot and written efforts with some memorable roles from David Warbeck and Catriona McCall. A mandatory watch when traipsing the fields of Italian Splatter Cinema.
Fright Night (1985) – directed by Tom Holland
Although probably more well-known for kickstarting everyone’s lovable killer puppet, Chucky, in the Child’s Play (1988) franchise, Tom Holland‘s directorial effort Fright Night (1985) arguably set the tone for teen horror flicks of the 80s while simultaneously bringing that “my neighbor is a vampire” fear into every small-town USA suburb.
William Ragsdale is superb as Charlie, the teen-turned-vampire killer, teaming up with Roddy McDowell‘s baroque late night TV horror film host Peter Vincent (as in Cushing & Price) to save his girlfriend Amy (the ever so useful Amanda Bearse) from the eternally ever-loving arms of neighborly vampire Jerry Dandridge (my man-crush Chris Sarandon). “Evil” Ed Thompson (portrayed ever so amazingly by equally amazing Stephen Geoffreys) nearly steals the show as Charlie’s friend turned vampire/werewolf thingy. I say nearly because…Roddy McDowell!.
I could not get enough of this film as a kid! I lived in a similar neighborhood growing up so that mentality of my neighbor is a vampire was a real thought process within my fragile mind. No other vampire from my youth frightened me as much as Evil Ed. Injecting his morbid sense of humor while wearing the eerie prosthetics and fangs is some of the best scenes in 80s camp cinema.
Evil Dead (1981) – directed by Sam Raimi
Sam Raimi broke the mold of American independent guerilla style DIY filmmaking with his first feature film, Evil Dead (1981). Hailed by Stephen King as “The most ferociously original horror film of 1982” (with his review being the saving graces of an inaccurately marketed film), Evil Dead gave face (pun well intended) to the popular Lovecraft mytho of the Necronomicon while creating a brand new axis in said mythos with what we now today call Deadites. Although not zombies per se, it’s not completely erroneous to mistake them for their shambling, flesheating comrades.
The film gave almost immediate stardom to lead Bruce Campbell and having then film editing apprentice Joel Cohen (yes that Joel Cohen) helped down the road when the Cohen Bros. broke out. The friendship and film relationship shared by the Raimi’s, Cohen’s and Campbell continues to this day.
Nothing prepared me for this film. I remember how heavy the clam felt while I carried it. Could it be because I was 4 years old and a puny weakling compared to now? Or because this film was heavy with scenes unfit for toddler consumption? The clamshell even had a distinctive smell to it.
Silly and juvenile by today’s standard, this film was about as insane and maddening as you can get for a 4-year-old. The gore, demonic howling, tree rape…it was all there to brutalize the innocence of a toddler. I was freaked out. But I had a great time being thrown into those woods with the man I wanted to be when I grew up, Bruce Campbell.
Blue Velvet (1986) – directed by David Lynch
There is no denying that the strongest element of this film is Dennis Hopper’s performance as Frank Booth. Blue Velvet would be a mere fraction of the film it is today if not for Hopper channeling his full-throttled Lefty Enright into a psychotic delirium.
The baby-faced Kyle Maclachlan (in only his 2nd film) takes his licks from nearly everyone in the film as character Jeffrey Beaumont but is brave and insistent in uncovering the madness lurking beneath the quaint suburb of his town. We, as the viewer, are absolutely comfortable delving into the mysteries with Jeffrey and the warmly affable Sandy Williams (played as the all-american girl archetype by Laura Dern in a role completely polarizing of her future character Lula Pace from Lynch’s Wild At Heart (1990).
Throw in a scene-stealing Dean Stockwell (his haunting presentation of Roy Orbison‘s In Dreams is landmark), the gorgeous Isabella Rosselini, strong supporting roles from Brad Dourif (Chucky!) & Jack Nance (of Eraserhead fame), as well as Angelo Badalemnti‘s most orchestrated and haunting music pre-Twin Peaks, and you have a watershed film that intellectually bites while digging its claws into Hollywood and setting the way for some of Lynch’s other future esoteric creative endeavors born of the subconscious that is Blue Velvet (eg the Twin Peaks world, Lost Highway , et al).
Blue Velvet closely stays pace (but sometimes outranks) Taxi Driver (1976) as my favorite film of all-time. I’ve never loved Hopper in any other role as much as Frank Booth (Lefty Enright‘s lack of screen time in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a catalyst for that position). He is perfect in this role and has some of the most memorable lines of any movie (“I’ll send you a love letter…straight from my heart, fucker! You know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker! You receive a love letter from me, you’re fucked forever! You understand, fuck?”). Hopper’s character is also the exclusive reason I drink PBR.
Taxi Driver (1976) – directed by Martin Scorsese
If Blue Velvet can mesmerize and thrill me with its lush film making techniques, then Taxi Driver (1976) brings me back down into a sunken reality and pulls the shades back to engulf me into a personal viewing of what its like to be lonely and without control of the damning self-views inside the mind.
Never before has a film so savagely and cruelly constructed a literal presentation of life as a depressed and self-destructive man with a petulant motivation to dive head first into an uncomfortable solidarity within the deepest, darkest recesses of the quintessence. It is a fascinating study of true urban alienation and the after effects of a war that has torn a nation a part on cultural and moral levels.
Robert Deniro as Travis Bickle, the Vietnam vet/taxi triver with the consistent “bad ideas” in his head is an evocative silhouette of the times. Completely devoid of a basic human timeline and shambolic of the natural decency towards others (“This is a dirty movie…”), his purge of the cities’ dopers, murders, and all around felonious are taken to new heights when promising presidential nominee Senator Charles Palantine (TV critic and author Leonard Harris) ends up a target as a footnote to a failed attempt at winning the graces of Betsy (the gloriously gorgeous Cybill Shepherd). Jodie Foster‘s turn as “Easy” Iris is nothing short of visceral along with her on-screen interactions with Sport, a then young studded Harvey Keitel. Strong supporting glances from the likes of Albert Brooks and Peter Boyle really shape the atmosphere and environment of a city losing a battle to the decay and the filth. Do not blink at the larger than life Joe Spinnell (Maniac , The Undertaker ) in a small role as the personnel officer at the taxi depot in the beginning of the film.
There is so much to say about this film. Martin Scorsese‘s brilliant direction, Bernard Herrman‘s hauntingly surreal score, Michael Chapman‘s ability to frame the city in all of its glorious grunge, Paul Schrader‘s tight script with full, believable characters, Tom Rolf‘s intricate intercuttings and consistently tight dialogue edits…et al.
The redemption in Tax Driver is anti-climatic and, honestly, not deserved. Despite the accolades sought out by Travis, it’s the battle to continuously shut out the dour thoughts and cryptic voices in his head that should be at the forefront of his story. The suffering of the depressed man and his inability to cope within the confines of society.
I’ve always believed that this film was my biography written almost a decade before I was born. For a minute, reject the blatant themes of racism. Focus on the incessant self-suffering, the long nights of wandering through the mind. The ability to completely turn someone off you due to a lackluster personality…that was me growing up as a young man. Awkward and without guidance; fully committed to create my own personal hell and live it daily.
It is here where we find sympathy for Travis and he becomes a sort of anti-hero. Not so much Charles Bronson‘s Paul Kersey…but more on the scale of Al Pacino‘s Scarface. And it is here where I learned more about myself. And I was able to come to terms with the thought that I will forever be a ruination of the human psyche. Forever God’s Lonely Man.
And there you have it! My Top 10 Films I Would Need If Stranded On A Deserted Island!
This was truly a fun list to compile and I had so much fun going completely in-depth with each film. What films could you not do with out?