By Kevin Nickelson
Remembering the Days of VHS Horror Collection Clutter…and how Netflix Saved us all
Every time I went to a video store from, say 1983 to 2000, I could always be counted on
to be carrying home a stack of tapes nearly as tall as my 6’9” tall frame. Ok, I
exaggerate because the stores often had limits and there are only so many hours in a
day. And late fees tore through the wallets more savagely than a werewolf chowing
down on a random local human. Still, I usually managed a stack that went some 2-3 feet
at times. If you haven’t guessed yet, I was the horror nerd on the block who repelled
from outdoor activity more than he did the latex beast showing on the small screen.
Any friends that dared visit my room growing up in the family home, or in the various
apartments I’ve had since will admit to being confronted by the vision of walls seeming
made completely of Video Home System (VHS for most folks) tapes. Stacked floor to
ceiling, they were comprised mostly of chiller fodder both classic and current. A huge
portion of it was classic, from the days of Universal’s golden age and those across the
pond gore gurus Hammer Films, but I never failed to appreciate the current effects and
blood-heavy affairs of the modern world. I was the obsessive, overflowing with passion
and pride as I showed off my prizes to the eager or the unwary guests.
Who was I?
I was known on a first-name basis by each clerk who manned the various video rental haunts
I patronized around my neighborhood. They were the pushers who could count on their
most devoted addicts to bring all of the cash a struggling worker with a movie habit
could provide them. It was a satisfying, near symbiotic relationship that worked as long
as the green stuff held out.
Netflix & DVD
Then, in 1997, the Los Gatos, California-based company Netflix came along on the tails
of the new play-toy on the block, the digital video disc or DVD. Movie data was being
imprinted now on slim-sized discs similar to the music compact disc and had already
begun being sold or rented to consumers via block chain establishments such as
Blockbuster. Netflix swooped in with a mail rental service that preyed on the
weaknesses of the overworked and those of us energy-challenged types. We could now
get movies delivered to our doorstep and didn’t have to leave our abode to do it.
Fast forward to today, the industry giant now has online streaming services and a library of
film likely the size of a dozen Hollywoods. Millions of us who mainline horror on daily or
weekly basis (you know who you are!) are subscribers to one service or another with
the company. However, with the incredible volume of titles Netflix offers, one’s brain can
tend to leak blood or just explode when faced with deciding what to watch amongst all
the choices. So, as you probably don’t have housekeeping that can clean up all that
gray matter and blood on the carpet when your cranial balloon bursts, I’ve created a list
of what I consider to be the top ten chillers and Hemoglobin splattering epics the service
has to offer. I’ll even toss in a bit or bob about why this entry makes my list, which will
go from 10 to 1. And on with the scare show!
10. Fright Night (1985). The original Tom Holland blood-curdler pays homage to the frights of yore, notably Hammer and Universal, as teen Charlie Brewster enlists the aid
of a tv horror host to battle a vampire who’s taken refuge next door. Rife with juicy dialogue, imaginative effects and pitch perfect turns by Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall as vampire and vamp hunter, respectively, Fright Night touches all the bases for both new and veteran genre fans.
9. Dawn of the Dead (2004). Zach Snyder’s remake of the 1978 George Romero classic
jettison’s some of the sharp humor of the original but more than makes up for it with doses of heart and humanity in amongst the severed limbs and grotesqueries. You really care about what happens to this group. Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley, Mekhi Phifer, and Jake Weber are all first rate.
8. The Dog Soldiers (2002). Neil Marshall’s (The Descent, this year’s Hellboy remake) directorial debut features lush photography in Luxembourg and second unit work in Glen Affric, Highland, Scotland and excellent use of animatronics and stilted stunt suits for the creature effects as it tells the story of a British military unit besieged by a pack of
werewolves while on maneuver.
7. The Others (2002). Alejandro Amenabar’s ode to suggestive, as opposed to literal, storytelling. This ghost story, about a WWII widow convinced she and her two children are being tormented by ghosts in their manse in Jersey of the Channel Islands, is all about billowing curtains and mood. Exteriors at Palacio de los Hornillos, Las Fraguas, Iguña, Cantabria, Spain are mere icing on the cake.
6. Trench 11 (2017). Leo Scherman’s World War II chiller is the most unusual and
enervating mixture. Shell-shocked soldiers, germ warfare, and a zombie outbreak all
feature as a tunneling expert must guide a group of soldiers on a suicide mission into a
top secret German lab to rescue a missing battalion of men. As much about the drama
of courage under fire as it is the horrific element and all the better for it.
5. Howl (2015). Not just another werewolf movie. A claustrophobic nerve-jangler centering on a group of passengers on a disabled train stuck in a forest in the rural English countryside who are the target of a mysterious creature lurking in the woods. Paul Hyett ratchets up the suspense by keeping the titular monstrosity off-camera for much of the run time and leans more on the drama of characters under extreme duress. Nice to see veteran Sean Pertwee showing up, too, even if for only 2 ½ minutes of
4. 30 Days of Night (2007). Based on the Steve Niles/Ben Templesmith graphic novel, the film tells of the citizenry of Barrow, Alaska who experience the phenomenon of 30 days of night (twilight, really) where the sun appears to never rise. Perfect, if opportunistic, hunting ground for a group of vampires who’ve arrived for bloodsport and feeding. Director David Slade balances just the right amount of comic book and grisly gore fest, covering it all with a blanket of depressed air. Doesn’t hurt to have the doe- eyed hero appeal of Josh Hartnett either.
3. Open Water (2003). Pure, stripped down suspense. As spare of a story and locale as
could be yet the tension is palpable and the story grips. A vacationing pair of scuba
divers in the Caribbean get left behind in an area of water that’s kind of teeming with
toothy sharks. The attacks themselves are filmed in kinetic, brutal fashion by Chris
Kentis but it’s his focus on the primal fear of the pair as they struggle to survive the
onslaught that sets this one apart from the rest. That it was filmed in the pristine waters
of the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands is just an added plus.
2. Shaun of the Dead (2004). Ok, it’s a straight-out horror comic but it is both hilarious and gory all at once. And a script rife with comedic gem bits such as “As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in pie. And there's an "I" in meat pie. Anagram of meat is team… I don’t know what he’s talking about.” is just perfect on all counts. You’ll either throw up from nausea or laugh yourself sick with it, but it’s a
classic in any regard.
1. Bird Box (2018). Unseen entities invade the Earth and cause anyone who spot them to either commit suicide or go insane. Survivors are forced to don blindfolds as they struggle to reach safety. One of the best horror efforts I’ve seen in the last decade plus. A picture that forgoes visible monsters to fixate on human interactions and that reaction to duress that I mentioned earlier. Director Susanne Bier offers up the treat of leaving
the visuals of the monsters to our fertile imagination (well, aside from a few penciled drawings). Remember when that was more the norm rather than the exception, guys and ghouls? Polished and gutsy performances by Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich and Trevante Rhodes don’t hurt either. Nicely crafted from start to finish.
Now that these ten are out of the box, so to speak, I can go back to the photos I took of
my videotape collection from back in the day. Done in a nouveau filmique style popular
amongst us movie geeks of the day! Well, it was chez magnifique to us anyway!