Have you ever found yourself wishing unimaginable pain and misery on those who have scorned and tormented you? I have – specifically, sixth period gym class, Anacapa Middle School, 1994. And…well, a lot of other classes too. Not that I would’ve actually done anything about it – it was more like hoping fate would intervene, in the form of a lightning bolt or a spontaneous anvil falling from the sky. See, I was smart enough to know that my days as a pariah would one day come to an end (still waiting), and therein lies the difference between myself and the outcast characters in the following ten films, who decide – either still living or from beyond the grave – to take matters into their own hands and rain down some destruction on their oppressors. Which I applaud them for, in that they’re fictional creations who in no way actually committed these acts in real life, which would be totally awful and lame. Get it? Don’t try this at home, you dumbass. Shrinks exist for a good reason.
10. The Pit (1981)
This totally bizarre Canadian horror movie from the early `80s is about a disturbed, outcast young boy who discovers a strange pit in the woods that is home to several flesh-eating creatures. When his parents go away on a long trip and leave him in the care of a pretty young woman (who he naturally becomes obsessed with), he takes the opportunity to dispatch several of his tormentors by throwing them down in the pit to be eaten alive. Did I mention he also has a creepy teddy bear that talks to him when no one else is around? Red flag! Anyway, The Pit may not be a classic in the traditional sense of the word, but overall it’s good, cheesy `80s fun, with a halfway decent performance from Sammy Snyders as the unhinged preteen and some funny bits involving the hungry creatures known as “Tra-la-logs” (I have five words for you: midgets in hairy monster suits).
NOTE: Interestingly, the screenwriter initially envisioned the film as a more subtle, psychological character piece in which the creatures were merely the figment of a mentally ill young boy’s imagination, but, uh…well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. You can read more about it in an interview with him here: http://www.badmovies.org/interviews/ianstuart/.
9. Valentine (2001)
Okay, so Valentine is far from a masterpiece, but it’s still a pretty fun flick that boasts a couple of inventive death scenes to keep things interesting (SPOILER ALERT love the Denise Richards jacuzzi murder END SPOILER ALERT). The story is about four beautiful twenty-something women being stalked by a mysterious killer wearing a Cupid mask, which it soon becomes apparent is a boy they cruelly rejected in middle school who’s come back for revenge. The film, directed by Urban Legend helmer Jamie Blanks, is pretty thin stuff that suffers from a rather unconvincing setup (the first problem being – who the hell still maintains close relationships with all their best friends from middle school well into their twenties?), but nevertheless it’s mindless slasher entertainment that for the straight guys in the audience is yet another great opportunity to see Denise Richards strutting around in a bikini. BONUS: You only have to put up with Katherine Heigl’s big mouth for like ten minutes.
Cool Fan-Made Trailer:
8. Terror Train (1980)
It’s not exactly Halloween, but Jamie Lee Curtis starrer Terror Train is still a whole heap of early `80s slasher movie fun that’s perfect for a late night movie binge. The plot – if you can call it that – concerns a group of horny pre-med college students taking a New Year’s Eve train ride who are stalked by a mysterious killer that takes on the mask of each new person he kills (why they are throwing a Halloween-style costume party on New Year’s Eve is never really explained, but just go with it). I won’t give away the identity of the killer even though it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion from the very beginning, but let’s just say the movie opens with a prank targeting a nerdy member of one fraternity that begins with the promise of hot sex with Jamie Lee Curtis and ends in a cuddle-session with a real live cadaver stolen from the medical school. Haha! The ol’ “actual human corpse” gag – what a laugh! Terror Train is admittedly a dumb movie, but it’s an enjoyable sort of dumb in that it boasts an original setting, features some great third-act screaming from Jamie Lee, and even has David Copperfield in a supporting role as a magician…sporting a wicked `80s hairdo.
7. The Craft (1996)
The Craft, the Andrew Fleming-directed film about a coven of socially-discarded teenage witches who invoke an ancient spirit and end up wreaking havoc on those who have wronged them, was a surprise hit on its release, and it’s hard not to see why. Take four outcast teenage witches to appeal to the socially-awkward middle-and-high-school girls, make them hot to cater to pubescent – really, any age – boys, and presto, you’ve got yourself some box-office. Luckily the formula worked out pretty well in this case, considering The Craft is a genuinely good film anchored by a hair-raising performance from mid-`90s era “goth chick” Fairuza Balk. “HE’S SORRY – HE’S SORRY – HE’S SORRY – HE’S SORRY!!” Crash – splat! Yeah.
Fairuza Balk `The Craft’ Remix Video:
6. Freaks (1932)
Talk about outcasts – imagine being 36 inches tall or having to cart around a conjoined twin for the rest of your life. Such is the plight of the “freaks” in Tod Browning’s Freaks, the 1932 film about a circus midget who is seduced by a cold-hearted trapeze artist so she can gain access to his sizable inheritance. Included in the coterie of featured real-life sideshow performers are a bearded woman, “The Human Torso” (a man born without limbs), a “human skeleton”, Koo-Koo the Bird Girl (suffering from a rare skeletal disorder known as Virchow-Seckel Syndrome), and three microcephalics (aka “pinheads”) known as Zip, Pip and Schlitzie. And you thought you had problems. The film’s famous “gabba gabba” dinner scene, in which the trapeze artist can no longer contain her disgust for the physically abnormal sideshow group, is still a powerful scene that should strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt like an outcast.
5. Tormented (2009)
This UK horror-comedy directed by John Wright has yet to be released on DVD in the U.S. (though it was offered OnDemand for a short time), but it damn well should be. Tormented tells the story of an overweight asthmatic teen who killed himself after being ruthlessly tormented by a nasty popular clique at his school, only to come back from beyond the grave to wreak his vengeance. Stylishly directed, well-acted, witty and featuring a batch of possibly the most repugnant high school bullies in movie history, Tormented is refreshing in that it refuses to redeem even its “Amy Irving” character, a brainy, seemingly good-hearted student (Tuppence Middleton) who represents a much more realistic, multi-layered interpretation of the Final Girl trope than we usually see in these types of films.
4. May (2002)
Carrie White may have been a shy and tormented outcast, but May is an out-and-out loony, in this creepy, slow-burning horror film from idiosyncratic director Lucky McKee that has amassed a good-sized cult following since it was essentially dumped into less than a dozen theaters in 2002. Angela Bettis gives an amazing performance as May Dove Canady, a girl who suffered from a lazy eye as a child and was as a result outcast by her peers. As a young woman, May’s eye has been corrected with a pair of special glasses and contact lenses, but nevertheless her only friend remains Suzy, a glass-encased doll given to her by her mother as a child. Things go from bad to worse when her brief romance with a local mechanic ends after he becomes privy to her strange tendencies, causing May to lose her shit and ultimately follow through on her own mother’s advice that “if you can’t find a friend, make one.” Though a current of black humor runs through it (a dark-haired Anna Faris is memorable as May’s lesbian co-worker at a veterinary hospital), May is ultimately more than the sum of its parts. It’s the rare film that really captures what it’s like to feel alone in the world.
3. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
This near-forgotten film (which I also featured on my Ten Underappreciated Horror Gems list) is the rare made-for-T.V. movie that far surpasses most theatrical releases in its level of quality. The story starts with Bubba, a mentally retarded man, being chased down and murdered by a group of locals after he’s erroneously blamed for the near-death of a young girl he’s befriended. When the men responsible are declared not guilty of the crime in court, Bubba’s vengeful spirit returns to hunt them down one by one and exact some poetic justice. Directed by The Entity and Audrey Rose novelist Frank De Felitta, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is surprisingly stylish and features some really effective performances, particularly by the venerable Charles Durning as the ringleader of the crime. Luckily for those who haven’t had the chance to see the film, I’m happy to report it’s officially being released on DVD for the first time by VCI Entertainment on September 28th.
2. The Toxic Avenger (1984)
What can I say? The Toxic Avenger is quite possibly the best “bad” movie ever made, a deliriously fun Troma film directed by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz that, in addition to being made in incredibly poor taste, also has more heart than almost any other film I’ve seen. The story concerns Melvin, the hopelessly nerdy mop boy at the Tromaville Health Club who falls into a vat of toxic waste after a prank gone wrong and proceeds to transform, Incredible Hulk style, into the “Toxic Avenger”, upholder of truth, justice, and…well, taking out righteously violent revenge on your most hated enemies. In this case, the enemies are Bozo and Slug, a couple of aggressive meatheads who, along with their leggy girlfriends Wanda and Julie, not only orchestrated the cruel prank on Melvin but also enjoy partaking in rather unconventional extracurricular activities like running over young boys with their car and taking photos of the bloody carnage afterwards. The film’s Z-grade production values and anti-formalist aesthetic sort of makes The Toxic Avenger the anti-Carrie, but you can’t really judge it by that comparison; it exists in an entirely different universe from de Palma’s film, and in its own way it’s something of a masterpiece.
1. Carrie (1976)
From tampon-hurling beginning to fiery, blood-drenched climax at the senior prom, Brian de Palma’s Carrie remains the ultimate in outcast revenge horror, and may remain that way forever; at least for this admirer, it’s hard to believe any film will ever top the Stephen King adaptation’s potent mixture of raw teenage pathos and savage, visceral release. De Palma smartly pared down King’s more sprawling novel to its “high school as Hell” essence (its centerpiece being malicious teen queen Chris Hargenson, played by future de Palma bride Nancy Allen) giving us one of the most harrowing (albeit over-the-top) films ever made about the cruel dynamics of teenage life. Sissy Spacek’s performance is key to the film’s success, giving the entire lurid affair a human dimension it might have lacked in the hands of a less skillful actress. Among other countless virtues, Carrie also gets points for featuring one of the most effectively unexpected, scream-at-the-top-of-your-lung jump scares in movie history.
Carrie “Slap Count”:
(Originally published September 9, 2010)