This list is dedicated to the Leatherfaces of this world. Not the Horace Pinkers. Enjoy.
10 .The Hills Have Eyes (1977) The Clan Plot: A family from the city get savagely attacked by inbred cannibals.
Wes Craven, eh? This is his best film. If you try to argue with that, don't waste your time - you're wrong. Here, he creates a brutal portrayal of a really rather nasty family who live in the hills of a desert. The location is awesomely unsettling, as is the physical appearance of the clan members. They rape, kill, steal babies, display uncouth eating habits, and really should show kinder hospitality towards their city friends. The clan members are named after planets – Jupiter, Pluto, Mars, etc. Michael Berryman became a Wes Craven horror icon for his role as Pluto. Craven made use of his bizarre features – a result of numerous birth defects - to disturbingly good effect. A kind of Freddie Kruger without the make-up, if you like. Pa Jupiter, the father of this delightful family doesn’t get as much screen time as we would like, but when he’s there, he shines (and stinks, probably). He’s also got the best ‘attack through the window’ moments ever shot on film, as he drags his poor long-suffering father away through the window of his gas station. THHE is rough around the edges, but in a gorgeous 70’s guerrilla-film-making kind of way. Every frame of it is menacing, and the ending is at once beautifully vicious, sublime and immediate.
9 .Nightmare on Elm Street series (1984) Freddie Krueger Plot: 1... 2... Freddy's coming for you. 3... 4... Freddy's at your door...
In the mid-80s Wes Craven rejuvenated the then waning slasher genre with a movie based on the old wives tale that if you died in your sleep you died in real life, and in the process created a merchandising phenomena. Do you own a fake Freddy glove? Shit, I know I do, but it wasn't necessarily those infamous blades which made Freddy so frightening. Craven's real trick was to bring Freddy to life not in the real world but in the confusing realm of dreams where Freddy has the power to manipulate his environment at will, giving him carte blanche to terrorise his dozing victims as he sees fit. Once he has you it's only a matter of time - so you'd better not go to sleep. The first of the series certainly has it's chilling moments (and we're not talking about the 80s fashions either) - Freddy's long arm sequence, the body bag in the school and a young Johnny Depp getting sucked down to hell through his own bed clothes all spring to mind - it's a shame that the sequels didn't make quite as much effort. But with those trademark claws, the stripey jumper and battered old hat, Freddy has quickly become one of the most recognized horror icons the world over, standing proudly alongside the Leatherfaces and Jason's of this world. Hey, wouldn't it be good if Jason and Freddy got together and... Say, wait a minute...
8 .Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Henry Plot: Henry Lee Lucas visits an old friend and kills a few people. He doesn't seem too bothered about it though.
John McNaughton came from nowhere with this indie break-out movie in 1986, following the (true?) story of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Michael Rooker plays Henry to perfection, as he arrives in Chicago to meet his old prison buddy (Otis) and his timid sister (Becky) before slowly drawing them both into his dark world of casual murder. Disturbing from the outset, the violence turns ever more graphic, culminating in a BBFC-problem scene where Henry and Otis rape and murder a family before calmly re-watching the event again and again on video. Rooker is frighteningly intense as the cold-blooded killer, unblinking and detached. It's his cool matter-of-fact approach that makes the film so disturbing and almost unwatchable. And even when hope and redemption is offered through his relationship with Becky at the end of the film, it is rejected in favour of a devastatingly downbeat closure. Frightening, ferocious and haunting.
"Yeah, I killed my mom. I shot / stabbed / strangled her."
7 .Maniac Cop (1987) The Maniac Cop Plot: A maniac killer is on the loose. You have the right to remain silent... forever.
This heavily underrated 80s cheese-slicer is stuff of B-movie dreams. Not only is this baby directed by Bill Lustig (of 'Maniac' fame), but it's produced by B-legend Larry Cohen, for Christ's sake. Eh, you want more? You want Bruce Campbell? You want Tom Atkins? You want Robert Z'Dar? (eh - who?) Well you get all of them and more as you also get plenty of death for your money. The Maniac Cop kills innocent people, innocent people mistakenly kill innocent cops and the innocent cops kill innocent people in return, just to even the score. But no one kills the Maniac Cop, he's developed that same uncanny sense of invulnerability as most cheapo 80s slasher movie baddies and won't go down for no love nor money, at least not before Maniac Cop 3 anyway. Sorry, did I say cheapo? I didn't mean it. Robert Z'Dar was in Tango and Cash you know...
6 .The Burning (1981) Cropsy Plot: Disfigured ex-camp caretaker takes indiscriminate 'revenge' on kids who like to go camping.
A true 'maniac', this guy. His preferred tool of choice: a fucking huge pair of garden shears. We see Cropsy's face at the start of the film, albeit very breifly, in the dark, before he gets chargrilled, and we don't see him again until the end of the movie. The wait pays off. Tom Savini (Praise the Lord!) provided the special make up effects for the film and it is certainly one of his finest moments. Cropsy's disfigured face is well worth the wait and is more than enough to remind us to never play with matches. Or to play a prank on someone you don't like by placing a hollowed-out human head with candles inside on top of them while they're sleeping. Music this time comes from none other than ex-Yes keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman and he did an excellent job, creating a creepy, ominous synth score. The killings are brutal and nasty, the standout scene being the lake massacre. Snip snip...off come the fingers. Although basically a Friday the 13th cash-in, its deserving of your time. Definitely enough to put you off going on an American camping trip though...
5 .Friday the 13th series (1980) Jason Voorhees (and family) Plot: Backward boy rises from a watery grave to avenge the death of his murderous mother.
No maniacs list would be complete without the guy who did more for hockey mask sales than the entire NHL. Yes, along with Halloween, Friday the 13th played a huge part in cementing the 'how to survive a slasher movie' rulebook - don't have sex, don't drink, don't do drugs and don't go off on your own (especially late at night or into the woods) or Jason'll have you with that big ol' machette of his. At least he would from the second in the series onwards - the first tells the story of his mother's brutal slaughter of random campers who she blames for young Jason's death. But with that infamous shock ending, you just knew Jason would be back again. And again, and again - another ten times in fact. While most of the later 'Jason' flicks turned out to be big steaming cinematic turds, I have fond memories off the first couple, no small thanks due to Mr Savini's typically excellent make-up effects. Oh, and I like any movie that Kevin Bacon gets killed in.
4 .Deranged (1971) Ezra Cobb Plot: Mummy's boy can't cope with mum's death so digs her up and keeps her at home. Soon he finds some company for her...
Closely based on the same source material that inspired TCM, Deranged is a little known gem. The superb Roberts Blossom plays Ezra (Ed Gein) Cobb with an authenticity that's nothing short of worrying. "They ain't missin'. I got 'em up at my place" he says when people are talking about local disappearances, and everyone thinks he's joking. Its funny in the darkest kid of way and from halfway though, you'll be totally hooked to the end so you can see him getting busted. The scenes at his table with his collection of 'ladies' are awesomely unsettling and if you want to see something deeply disturbing, check out the scene with the old gramophone player. It'll make you laugh, but it'll probably also give you unpleasant dreams.
3 .The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973) Leatherface Plot: Completely bonkers-mentalist hick family bludgeon, torture and make dinner for unlucky youths.
He makes noises like a pig instead of talking like the rest of us. But if you want to make an issue to that to his leather face, then by all means, be my guest. Just wait until I'm far, far away. Like the above two, Leatherface has always been there. Played by the amiable Gunnar Hansen and wearing dead skin masks, Leatherface squeals, panics, bashes men with huge hammers, hangs sexy chicks on meat hooks, cuts people up with his chainsaw, and ruins front doors. He isn't even the main character in the film, just one of the family, but by far the most hysterical, deadly and inhuman. Check out the crazy chainsaw dance he does at the end after Sally gets away - priceless. But perhaps under the mask there's just a really nice guy who wants to date girls and go to the high school prom. I blame it on the parents.
2 .Halloween (1978) Michael Myers (AKA The Shape) Plot: Maniac killer terrorises teenage babysitters on Halloween.
Carpenter's mate Nick Castle walking about in a black boiler suit and wearing a William Shatner Captain Kirk mask, painted white. Again, carrying a fucking huge kitchen knife. It doesn't take much does it? Not with a director like a young, hungry John Carpenter, who was, as mentioned below, a huge fan of Psycho. After making Halloweeen he was compared to Hitchcock - something he's always found a bit of a joke, but you can see where people are coming from. Like Psycho, Halloween has a soundtrack that is 100% indispensable. Everyone recognises that simple 4/5 time piano motif. The simplicity is the key factor here. Simple premise, simple soundtrack, and simple make-up for The Shape. Quite simply, a masterpiece.
1 .Psycho (1960) Norman Bates Plot: Schizophrenic motel owner dresses up as jealous mum and stabs female customers.
A charming but shy mummy's boy who looks after the 'family' motel. Don't let him show you into Room 1 whatever you do. Anthony Perkins' performance is typically exceptional - he had great courage being willing to dress up in an old lady's frock running about with a huge kitchen knife in 1960, but I suppose if you were going to do that for anyone, you'd do it for Alfred Hitchcock (who apparently was a top director though I've never heard of him). Bernard Herrman's music makes for half the impact of the film in my opinion. John Carpenter called Psycho the granddaddy of modern horror films. I think he's right, so its going in at number one.
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