I’m really just a girl, sitting in front of her TV, staring at her Netflix queue in search of something scary to watch.
Hi. My name is Xina. No, not the Warrior Princess. She spells her name Xena anyway. It’s a play off my first name, Christina, and I’m a wife, a mother, a writer, and a lover of horror – all things horror… OK, most things horror… Well, maybe a lot of things that are horror!
I grew up watching horror films. I converted my husband and passed my love of the genre on to our children – I’m pretty sure while they were still in the womb. I’ve seen a little bit of everything and a lot of the really bad stuff, but I keep plodding away, looking for the next great scare.
As a quick introduction, I’d like to present Xin’a Top Ten. I have to be honest. This probably isn’t my top ten of all time. Some of these would be in my top ten, and some of these I just really, really like and stand out in my mind right now. However, if pressed, they would all be in my top 25!
So, let’s get started…
10) Cujo (1983) – What? Hang on a minute. Listen. I think I was about ten when I saw this, and it scared the heck out of me! The kills aren’t overly gory, and there isn’t an abundance of them, but it was the idea. Cujo was the family dog! Cujo was the dog you let your toddler lay on in front of a fire place. And the setting – trapped in a car! It’s so isolating. A mother, her sick child, and a rabid dog. If that doesn’t scare you, you’re a braver man than I. Oh wait… I’m not a man! On to the next one!
9) Frankenstein (1931) – The 1931 masterpiece with Boris Karloff. I’ve seen most of the classic ‘monster films,’ and I admit it, I like the flashy stuff. But this one has stayed with me. I watched this with my dad one day. I was probably about 8 or 9, and my mom was sick. I wandered into the den where my sister was passed out on my dad’s lap. For once, my father really took the time to explain to me the deeper themes here, and they always stuck with me. The true monster isn’t the guy with the bolts in his neck. Sure, he looked scary, but his creator wanted to play God. And the villagers didn’t bother to look any further than his ugly ass shoes. Perhaps it’s the fond memory of spending a rainy afternoon with my dad, but this one has stuck with me for over 30 years. That says a lot.
8) Grindhouse (2007) – The 2007 double feature by the amazing Quentin Tarantino and the awesome Robert Rodriguez is horribly underrated in my book. I think people went in expecting another Pulp Fiction, not really understanding what the whole grindhouse/exploitation experience is supposed to be about. I dragged my husband to the theater, and we settled in. Planet Terror rocked the party. Hello! A prosthetic leg made out of a machine gun! But I think it was Death Proof that really surprised me. Sure, Kurt Russell is cool, and I secretly covet any and all muscle cars, but it was such a simple premise. Stuntman Mike is angry, so he decides that killing pretty girls is the way to go. Too bad he didn’t count on the rightous Zoë Bell (stuntwoman extraordinaire). Let’s just say he got what was coming to him.
7) From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – No review of this movie would be complete without a mention of the gorgeous Salma Hayek as Santanico Pandemonium – even the name is awesome. Compared to Pulp Fiction, this movie was a bomb, but that didn’t stop me from seeing it. And the first half is very Tarantino. Snarky one-liners, lots of gun fire, and foul language. OK, cool. But the back half is why it’s on my list. There is plenty for the vampire purist, but there are some new twists as well. Hello! An ugly Salma Hayek – never saw that one before! Green blood. And who can forget the always cool Tom Savini as Sex Machine. George Clooney also sports a righteous neck tat.
6) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) – I’ll go on record and say that slasher films are my favorite sub-genre, and Jason is my favorite slasher of all time. So why isn’t this number one, you ask? As much as I love him, and I do love Jason, there is more to life than watching nubile teens die grisly deaths. I can’t think of anything right now… but on with it. I think this is the first movie of the series where I realized just how badass Jason really was. And who can forget poor Crispin Glover? But I dug the psychological manipulation at the end. Corey Feldman really came through for his big sis. The guy that gets chopped in half while walking on his hands was pretty crazy too. (Though I think Jason’s best kill is in Jason X.)
5) The Amityville Horror (1979) – The 1979 version with James Brolin and Margot Kidder. I think people forget how truly creepy this movie is. No big special effects (which I usually want). No gory scenes. Just some really effective lighting and noises in the dark. I think this is the one movie I’ve ever seen, where I was actually afraid to turn the lights off afterward – even for just a second. I was convinced that something was on my porch, and yet I was afraid to push aside the curtain and look. Plus we have to give props to that beard Brolin sported.
4) Dog Soldiers (2002) – Werewolves haven’t gotten their due yet. Name five really good werewolf movies. And An American Werewolf in London doesn’t count. Sure, there are some decent “B’s” out there, but I’m waiting for a really big one that doesn’t ride on Kate Beckinsale in latex. Dog Soldiers comes pretty damn close. Kevin McKidd, pre-Grey’s Anatomy and with his own accent, stars as Private Cooper. Dropped into the woods for training exercises, he and his comrades soon discover there’s something evil lurking around in the night. Sean Pertwee has one of the greatest lines ever in a movie. (No, I’m not going to tell you – Watch it! Trust me!)
3) Dead Snow (2009) – First of all, it’s a Norwegian zombie movie, so you know it’s good. OK, I don’t think that really means anything, but stick with me. A draugr is a creature in Scandinavian folklore – a zombie that retains a part of its intelligence. So, in short, it’s a smart zombie (See. Told you it’s good!). A bunch of school kids are in the mountains, and Nazi zombie hell is soon unleashed on them. It seems someone touched Nazi zombie gold, and the zombies want it back. Not only was I surprised at how very cool the movie was, but some of the kill scenes are just awesome. Being run over with a snow mobile? Drawn and quartered by zombies? It is subtitled, but so worth it.
2) Attack the Block (2011) – While not a traditional horror movie, there are some truly well done horrifying scenes in the 2011 British monster movie directed by Joe Cornish. The London street slang is just awesome, and I admit that I ripped off some of the lingo. And frankly, the kids that make up the teenage street gang-turned-saviors are some of the best on film in years! The story is simple. A group of hoodlums must step up to the plate and protect their part of the city from… well, aliens. Nick Frost, from Shaun of the Dead fame, has a great role as – what else? – a pot dealer. Joe Cornish very skillfully injects humor and dread into this gem. If you haven’t seen this, you’re truly missing out.
And so we’re down to number one. I did say this might not necessarily be my all-time top ten, but this one is truly number one.
1) Aliens (1986) – Yes, many think Alien is more of a traditional horror movie, and Alien 3 has my favorite scene of the franchise (Charles Dutton as Dillon is a true badass!). When I originally saw Aliens, I was all about the girl power, but upon subsequent watchings (and watchings, and watchings…), I realized that Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, was kind of a whiny, little girl for most of the movie. How could she, you say?! What the hell is she talking about, you ask? Well, she was. How many times did she scream for Hicks? Now, I love this movie, and I love Sigourney Weaver in it, but part of what makes this movie so scary is that Ripley truly is just there to provide intel. She thinks she can just rely on the Marines, and all will turn out OK. Then we watch Apone fall. We watch Frost take the radio to his fiery death. We see Dietrich succumb to the alien, and their hope of rescue dashed. Soon, a scrappy group is locked inside the colony just trying to survive. I hated Gorman, but I cheered when he grew a pair and went back for Vasquez (the real female badass of the movie). No matter how many times I’ve seen this, Bill Paxton’s freak out makes me laugh, and when Hicks gets hurt, I gasp. In the end, Ripley has to step up. Bishop is out of commision, and so is Hicks. She has no choice, and she rallies admirably. This is a movie that, as a mother, hits all my visceral nerves. I am smaller and weaker than my husband. I would likely rely on him in a life or death situation, all the while fearing that if it came down to it and I had to, I wouldn’t be able to man up – not that I wouldn’t want to. That’s what makes this truly frightening – the unknown, the idea that it’s the weakest of the bunch that you will have to count on in the end. Weaver took that fear and showed us what a true champion looks like.
And there you have it – ten truly amazing films. No, none of them changed the world. Maybe Aliens came close. But they are all entertaining. They all have something a little more to offer than just cheap thrills and lots of blood. And from one lover of horror to another, I don’t think you will be disappointed with anything on this list.