TIME movies

Sixteen Candles Turns 30: Where Are the Stars Now?

Universal Pictures Molly Ringwald, Director John Hughes and Mark Schoeffling

Thirty years after Sixteen Candles defined the teen movie, what's become of its exceptional cast?

It was bracing a few years back, at least for those of us of a certain age, to see Molly Ringwald cast as a grandmother on TV’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Wasn’t it been just yesterday that she was the archetypal American teenager herself in Sixteen Candles? How can it have been 30 years since that iconic film opened in May 1984?

It would be impossible to overstate how large Sixteen Candles looms in the imaginations of three decades’ worth of moviegoers. Not only did the film make stars of Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and others, not only did it mark the directing debut of John Hughes, but it also became one of the signature movies of the 1980s and the template for most high school comedies of the last 30 years. Hughes’ genius was to see teens as they saw themselves, to appreciate that their seemingly trivial moments of high drama really were high drama, and to let them know that, no matter how freakish they felt, they were not alone.

It’s tempting, then, to see the kids of Sixteen Candles as icons frozen in time. But they’ve moved on, as we all do, some to greener pastures, some not so green. If Ringwald and her schoolmates held a 30th class reunion, these are the stories they might tell of their lives.

Universal Pictures; Kevin Winter—Getty ImagesMolly Ringwald

Molly Ringwald (Samantha Baker)

At 15, Ringwald became Hughes’ muse on the strength of her headshot alone; he wrote the lead role in Sixteen Candles with the Tempest actress in mind. She famously followed the film up with starring roles in Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. She graduated to more mature roles in The Pick-Up Artist, Fresh Horses, and Betsy’s Wedding, but her movie career never returned to its Hughes-era heights. She fared better on TV, in projects from the Stephen King mini-series The Stand to her mom/grandma role on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Now 45, Ringwald has yet to announce any new projects since the five-year run of Secret Life ended in 2013.

Michael Schoeffling (Jake Ryan)

Playing nice-guy dreamboat Jake Ryan was Michael Schoffling’s big break at age 23; he won the part over fellow unknown Viggo Mortensen. Still, after playing similarly soft-spoken hunks in Vision Quest, Slaves of New York, Longtime Companion, Mermaids, and finally 1991’s Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, he quit showbiz. He moved to Newfoundland, Pa., married, raised a family, and worked as a carpenter building custom furniture. Now 53, he’s been absent from the screen for 23 years, so we never had to watch Jake Ryan get old.

Universal Pictures; Gilbert Carrasquillo—Getty ImagesAnthony Michael Hall

Anthony Michael Hall (Farmer Ted)

Hall, 15, had so impressed Hughes when he played Rusty Griswold in the Hughes-scripted National Lampoon’s Vacation that Hughes wrote for him the part of Farmer Ted, simply known as The Geek, in Sixteen Candles. After his immortal performance in that film, followed by his similar roles in Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and Weird Science, Hall was typecast forever more in geeky parts. Even a late-teen growth spurt that had him playing jocks in Johnny Be Good and Edward Scissorhands couldn’t erase his geek cred. He played Bill Gates in the 1999 TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, the Christopher Walken role on USA’s The Dead Zone for five seasons, and villain Walter Sykes on SyFy series Warehouse 13 (2011-12). The 45-year-old will be back on the big screen in November, alongside Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carell, in the indie drama Foxcatcher.

Haviland Morris (Caroline Mulford)

Morris was 24 when she made her film debut in 1984’s Reckless, the same year she played Jake’s beautiful, bored girlfriend in Sixteen Candles. Her later films included Who’s That Girl?, Gremlins 2: The New Batch (alongside Gedde Watanabe), Home Alone 3, and The Baxter. On TV, she did numerous guest spots on Law & Order and its spinoffs, as well as One Tree Hill and (most recently, in 2012) The Good Wife. Now 54, Morris has a day job as a Manhattan realtor, but she continues to act; her next film, naval drama Burning Blue, is due in theaters next month.

Universal Pictures; Steve Mack—Getty ImagesBlanche Baker

Blanche Baker (Ginny Baker)

The daughter of Oscar-nominated Baby Doll star Carroll Baker, Blanche Baker was already an Emmy-winning TV actress (Holocaust) when she landed at 27 the Sixteen Candles role of Ginny, Samantha’s soon-to-be-married sister. She went on to appear in the movies Raw Deal and The Handmaid’s Tale and on TV in Law & Order and the 2009 HBO movie Taking Chance. Now 57, she stars as a vengeful housewife in the thriller Jersey Justice, debuting on DVD this month.

Paul Dooley (Jim Baker)

Dooley has made a career of playing put-upon dads, from Robert Altman’s A Wedding and Breaking Away to Sixteen Candles, in which he co-starred at age 55. He’s continued to play such roles on film and TV, including Dream On, Waiting for Guffman, The Practice, ER, Desperate Housewives, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Cars (and Cars 2), and Super Fun Night. Now 85, Dooley made his most recent appearance earlier this year on an episode of Parenthood.

Carlin Glynn (Brenda Baker)

Glynn was 39 when she made her Tony-winning Broadway debut in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a musical co-written by her husband, playwright/director Peter Masterson. Five years later, the 44-year-old played Ringwald’s mother in Sixteen Candles. The following year, she co-starred in The Trip to Bountiful, directed by her husband. Her other films included Gardens of Stone, Judy Berlin, and Whiskey School (her final feature, from 2005). She retired from acting in 2006. Glynn (now 74) and Masterson are the parents of Mary Stuart Masterson, who starred in Hughes’ Some Kind of Wonderful.

Justin Henry (Mike Baker)

For his first performance, as Dustin Hoffman’s son in Kramer vs. Kramer, seven-year-old Henry became the youngest actor ever nominated for an Oscar. He was 12 when he played Ringwald’s bratty brother in Sixteen Candles. He continued to act sporadically during the 1980s in such films as Martin’s Day and Sweet Heart’s Dance. After college, he seldom acted but remained in showbiz, as the founder of the short-life Slamdunk film festival (1998-2003) and as an executive at streaming video site Veoh. Now 42, he appears on screen in the sci-fi/horror feature Reaper, due in theaters later this year.

Edward Andrews (Howard Baker)

By the time 69-year-old Andrews appeared as Samantha’s paternal grandfather, Howard, in Sixteen Candles, he’d had a long and distinguished career as a film and TV character actor, with roles in such films as Tea and Sympathy, Elmer Gantry, The Absent-Minded Professor, Send Me No Flowers, and Tora! Tora! Tora! After Candles, he appeared in one more film, Gremlins, before his death in 1985 at age 70.

Billie Bird (Dorothy Baker)

Bird had a long career in vaudeville and theater before enjoying her film breakthrough as a comic actress in her sixties in The Odd Couple. She was 75 when she played Samantha’s paternal grandmother, Dorothy, in Sixteen Candles. Afterwards, she was a series regular on Benson, appeared in two Police Academy sequels, and acted in the Hughes-scripted comedies Home Alone and Dennis the Menace. Her last film was Pauly Shore’s Jury Duty in 1995. She died in 2002 at age 94.

Universal Pictures; David Livingston—Getty ImagesGedde Watanabe

Gedde Watanabe (Long Duk Dong)

Born Gary Watanabe, the 28-year-old actor was so convincing in his audition (and later, on screen) in the role of hard-partying Chinese exchange student Long Duk Dong that few observers realized he was born and raised in Utah. Watanabe went on to play memorable comic roles in Volunteers, Gung Ho, and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. He showed off a more dramatic side during his six-year stint as a nurse on ER. Now 58, he’s continued to make an impression in such recent films as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Parental Guidance, and his most recent work, last year’s 47 Ronin.

Carole Cook (Grandma Helen)

A protégée of Lucille Ball’s, comic actress Cook had appeared in such films as The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Gauntlet, and American Gigolo when, at 59, she got to co-star in Sixteen Candles as the grandma who feels up pubescent granddaughter Samantha. Her movie roles since have included Grandview U.S.A., Lost & Found, and Home on the Range. The 90-year-old’s last acting appearance was a 2006 guest spot on Grey’s Anatomy.

Max Showalter (Grandpa Fred)

Before his turn at 66 as Samantha’s wisecracking maternal grandfather in Sixteen Candles, Showalter had been a movie character actor for four decades in such films as Niagara and Bus Stop (both with Marilyn Monroe) and Elmer Gantry (with future fellow Sixteen Candles grandpa Edward Andrews). In fact, Sixteen Candles was his last appearance. His retirement lasted 16 years until his death at 83 in 2000.

Debbie Pollack (Marlene Lumberjack)

Pollack made her screen debut in Sixteen Candles as Marlene Lumberjack, an Amazon who takes an instant liking to Long Duk Dong. She went on to a recurring role on the soap Santa Barbara and other TV guest roles on such shows as St. Elsewhere, Newhart, and ER. She took a 14-year absence to raise a family and get a stockbroker’s license, but she returned to TV in recent years with guest spots on Criminal Minds (2011) and American Horror Story (also 2011). Her most recent appearance was as a mystery woman during the 2012 series finale of Desperate Housewives.

Liane Curtis (Randy)

Having made her film debut in John Sayles’ Baby, It’s You (1983), Curtis was 18 when she played Ringwald’s pal in Sixteen Candles. It remains her highest profile to date, though she also appeared in such films as Critters 2: The Main Course, Girlfriend From Hell, Queens Logic, and Benny & Joon, as well as TV guest spots on such shows as ER and Sons of Anarchy. Now a music producer, the 48-year-old Curtis will be seen on screen in Body High, a comedy due for release this spring.

John Kapelos (Rudy)

The Sixteen Candles role of bridegroom Rudy was one of 27-year-old Kapelos’ first film roles. He reunited with Hughes (and Anthony Michael Hall) in Weird Science and The Breakfast Club (where he played all-knowing janitor Carl, perhaps his best-known role). Since then, he’s appeared in countless TV shows and movies, including Roxanne, Internal Affairs, Forever Knight, Seinfeld, The West Wing, Legally Blonde, The Dead Zone (which reteamed him with Hall), Queer as Folk, Desperate Housewives, Modern Family, and Justified. Watch for the 57-year-old in August’s action film Underdogs.

Universal Pictures; Luca Teuchmann—Getty ImagesJohn Cusack

John Cusack (Bryce)

His Sixteen Candles role as geek sidekick Bryce was only 17-year-old Cusack’s second film role, but by the following year, he’d graduated to lead in such films as The Sure Thing and Better Off Dead. By the end of the decade, with Say Anything, he became one of his generation’s favorite leading men. He followed that up with such indelible films as The Grifters, Bullets Over Broadway, Grosse Pointe Blank, Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, and 2012. He spoofed his own ’80s teen stardom in 2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine. Watch for the 47-year-old in several 2014 films, including thriller The Bag Man, David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, and Beach Boy Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy.

Joan Cusack (Geek Girl #1)

Sixteen Candles wasn’t the first film that 21-year-old Joan Cusack appeared in alongside her brother John (that would be 1983’s Class), and it was far from the last. As an unnamed geek, Cusack enjoyed a memorable sight gag involving a drinking fountain. She went on to star on the ill-fated 1985-86 season of Saturday Night Live (along with Anthony Michael Hall) before moving on to acclaimed comic roles in such films as Broadcast News, Working Girl (which earned her an Oscar nomination), Addams Family Values, Grosse Pointe Blank (a collaboration with John), In & Out (another Oscar-nominated role), Runaway Bride, Toy Story 2 (and 3), School of Rock, and Chicken Little. The 51-year-old is due later this year in the comedy-drama Welcome to Me.

Jami Gertz (Robin)

Like Ringwald, Gertz was an alumna of the prep-school sitcom The Facts of Life when she landed a role in Sixteen Candles; at 18, she got to play Caroline’s scissor-wielding friend Robin. Gertz went on to star in such iconic ’80s movies as The Lost Boys and Less Than Zero. Despite such prominent films as Twister, Gertz has focused in recent years on TV roles, including long sitcom stints on Still Standing and Entourage. Now 48, she’s a star of the current ABC comedy The Neighbors.

TIME movies

A La Mode: 10 Unforgettable Pie Scenes in Movies

Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet's peachy pastry-baking session in Labor Day recalls prominent pie moments from pictures past

  • Upper Crust

    We used to think that there were so many pie scenes in movies because the dessert is so evocative: home and hearth, family holidays, and late-night comfort — even at a lonely roadside diner. But now, we think it’s probably just because pie is so deliciously messy.

    Take, for instance, the already much-discussed pie-baking scene in the new movie Labor Day, where Josh Brolin’s demonstration to Kate Winslet of how to make a delicious peach pie serves as the same kind of gooey-yet-artisanal foreplay as the pottery-wheel scene in Ghost. To prepare for the scene, Labor Day novelist Joyce Maynard (who put her family recipe into the book) and former Martha Stewart food stylist Susan Spungen came to the set as consultants, and Brolin baked countless pies as rehearsal.

    Of course, the flip side of baking a pie is destroying it – especially in the movies. That perfect crust gets pierced, filling and crumbs are mashed together — or, sometimes, the whole pie just gets thrown into someone’s face. If movie pies mean love and warmth, they also mean gluttony and humiliation.

    Here, then, are 10 movies that made us reconsider what pie is really all about.

  • American Pie

    American Pie
    Universal Pictures

    The most notorious pie scene ever comes in this 1999 teen sex comedy that raised the bar (or lowered it, maybe) for gross-outs and embarrassment for the sake of laughs. Actually, the movie’s overarching joke – and it’s a film that grasped this before most – is that, in the Internet era, there’s no longer any expectation of privacy, so you shouldn’t expect your most shameful sexual secrets to remain secret for long.

    This holds true repeatedly for the virginal Jim (Jason Biggs). Told that a woman’s genitals feel like warm apple pie, Jim spies his mom’s freshly-baked pastry cooling in the kitchen and does to the pie what Alexander Portnoy once did to a piece of liver, only to be caught in the act by his dad (Eugene Levy). Hard to tell who should be more embarrassed: Jim? Or Biggs, who will forever be known as the actor who humped a pie?

  • Waitress

    Fox Searchlight

    Here’s a whole movie about pies — ones that are lovingly constructed by Southern diner waitress Jenna (Keri Russell). In her expert, flour-dusted hands, each pie is a masterpiece, and each has a meaning, related to whatever Jenna was feeling at the time she baked it. Some of her custard- or fruit-filled desserts are happy pies, but many are miserable, since Jenna is a virtual prisoner of her Neanderthal husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto). He’s wary when she becomes pregnant, but outright livid when she wants to enter a pie bake-off with a cash jackpot, since he fears (justifiably, it turns out),that both the baby and the contest will distance his wife from him.

    In fact, Jenna has an affair with her OB/GYN (Nathan Fillion), an illicit bond cemented with gifts of pie. Still, for all the movie’s ominous atmosphere and romance-gone-wrong, it’s actually a very sweet film — one that ends with a pie-themed lullaby, and with all the characters getting their just desserts.

  • Shane

    Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

    Alan Ladd’s reluctant gunslinger hero is a man of few words, but then, so much of Shane is about things that must go unsaid. After all, the title character’s arrival at the Starrett farm threatens to displace paterfamilias Joe (Van Heflin), both as the father figure most admired by little Joey Starrett (Brandon de Wilde) and in the affections of Joe’s wife, Marian (Jean Arthur).

    Shane and Marian are both too decent to act on their mutual attraction or even acknowledge it in words, but Joe seems to recognize that something is up when, with Shane as their dinner guest, Marian serves up the most delectable-looking apple pie in movie history, on the good china, with extra dessert forks. Soon, the pie-fueled Shane and Joe are trying to out-macho each other by chopping away at an old tree stump Joe has been unable to uproot by himself. The two men dig into it the way they dug into the pie, politely but ravenously, while a flushed Marian looks on.

  • Stand By Me

    Stand By Me
    Columbia Pictures

    We know at the beginning of Stand By Me that Gordie (Wil Wheaton) is destined to grow up to be a writer. In fact, it seems like he’s going to become Stephen King (who wrote “The Body,” the story that is the movie’s source), judging by the grotesque campfire story Gordie tells his pals. There are no ghosts or ghouls, but the story of “Lardass” Hogan is a cautionary revenge tale of a bullied youngster with a disgusting denouement worthy of King’s Carrie.

    In Gordie’s story, the harassed fat kid wreaks vengeance on his community at the local pie-eating contest. Before the blueberry feast, he swallows a bottle of castor oil and a raw egg. After stuffing his face with pie, Davey projectile vomits a blue gusher over the crowd, prompting a chain reaction of vomiting, or what Gordie calls “a complete and total barf-o-rama.” Gordie’s audience of 12-year-old boys is enraptured, but if you’re a grown-up watching the movie at home, you might feel inclined to fast-forward past this part.

  • Blazing Saddles

    Blazing Saddles
    Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

    Not only does the climax of Mel Brooks’ classic Western spoof Blazing Saddles break through the fourth wall, it hurls a fusillade of pies through it. The movie’s final brawl between the good townsfolk of Rock Ridge and the desperadoes hired to drive them from their homes spills over onto an adjoining soundstage at the Warner Bros. studio lot, bursting through the set where a musical is being filmed. Once the gang of chorus boys has joined the melee, the fight moves to the studio commissary, where a pie fight is announced, and the entire cast gets creamed (including a group of hapless visitors on a studio tour).

    Chief villain Hedy Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) ducks into the men’s room, but not even he can stay dapper and fastidious for long; when he reappears, he’s been pied, too. It’s not the biggest pie fight in screen history, but it’s one of the funniest — and probably the most famous.

  • Sweeney Todd

    The foulest pies on film are surely those baked up in Tim Burton’s gory adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical satire on capitalism. Vengeful 19th-century London barber Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) gets the rich and powerful to climb to his second-story salon and bare their necks to his razors. The bodies go through a trap door, down a chute, and into the basement, where they become fodder for Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) savory meat pie shop on the ground floor. (When she boasts in song that she offers “the worst pies in London,” she’s not kidding.)

    Soon, her business is booming — and so is his, despite the lack of repeat customers. Still, there seems to be an endless supply of hateful aristocrats and corrupt bureaucrats. So many, in fact, that you find yourself perversely rooting for Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett to keep cranking out the pasties.

  • The Help

    Further proof that revenge is a dish best served in a pie tin comes in The Help, where housemaid Minny Jackson (Oscar-winning Octavia Spencer) comes up with a recipe for poetic justice after Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) fires her for daring to use the white folks’ toilet. In an apparent good will gesture, Minny bakes Hilly a chocolate pie and serves her a couple of helpings – then reveals to her that not all the brown filling in the pie is chocolate.

    The incident comes back to haunt Hilly at a charity raffle where she wins one of Minny’s chocolate pies (a real one) and assumes she’s being insulted. Fortunately for Minny, Hilly can’t retaliate against her without making public her own humiliation. Minny refers to her poo-filled pastry as “the Terrible Awful,” but she could also have called it Humble Pie.

  • Dr. Strangelove

    Stanley Kubrick wanted to end his 1964 satire of nuclear doomsday in a very specific way: a pie fight between Russian and American officials in the War Room beneath Washington where the President (Peter Sellers), adviser Dr. Strangelove (also Sellers), General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) and other officials have tried and failed to prevent the rogue missile launch. But Kubrick felt the filmed result wrecked the tone of the movie, taking it from dry ironic absurdity to slapstick silliness. Plus, Turgidson had a line about the young president being struck down in the prime of his life by a pie; in the months following the JFK assassination, that line suddenly seemed in bad taste.

    Kubrick cut the film so that it would end with Strangelove miraculously rising from his wheelchair (“Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!”, followed by a montage of mushroom clouds. The footage of the pie fight seems to have been lost, but still photos remain, giving a good idea of the gooey chaos that, even in a movie whose punchline was the destruction of the world, was just too over-the-top. (You can see the stills in the behind-the-scenes documentary embedded on this page, starting at about 35:30.)

  • The Great Race

    Inspired by the epic pie fight staged by Laurel and Hardy in their short “Battle of the Century,” director Blake Edwards decided to throw the biggest pie fight of all time in The Great Race. The comedy about a cross-continental early 20th-century auto race between daredevils The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) and Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) takes a detour in a European kingdom called Carpania, where the rivalry blunders into a vast bakery.

    According to Hollywood lore, the ensuing battle involved some 2,500 pies made with real fruit and custard, and it took three days to shoot. It runs for a good five minutes on screen, with Curtis remaining miraculously immaculate long after the rest of the cast looks like walking Jackson Pollock paintings. (Finally, Natalie Wood lands a good solid hit to Curtis’ face.) It may not be the funniest pie fight ever, but it’s surely the grandest.

  • Heartburn

    Nora Ephron made some witty movies about cooking (Julie & Julia) and love (Sleepless in Seattle), but food and love didn’t always go together harmoniously in her films. Think of Meg Ryan irking Billy Crystal with her persnickety salad and pie order (or embarrassing him with her fake orgasm in the deli, for that matter) in When Harry Met Sally, or Ryan scolding a gluttonous Tom Hanks for eating the party tray garnish in You’ve Got Mail, or Ryan and her sisters having a flour fight while trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner in Hanging Up. But nowhere is the food-love connection messier than in Ephron’s screenplay for Heartburn, based on her autobiographical novel about her marriage to Carl Bernstein.

    In the Mike Nichols-directed film, the Ephron character, food writer Rachel (Meryl Streep) spends a lot of time enchanting the Bernstein character, political columnist Mark (Jack Nicholson), with her repertoire of recipes. Yet neither her cooking prowess nor even her pregnancy is enough to keep him from straying. In the movie’s climax, at a dinner party, she’s confronted with his latest betrayal. She walks to the kitchen counter, returns with a cream pie, thrusts it in his face, calmly asks him for the car keys and drives out of his life forever.

TIME movies

Hidden Haunts: The 10 Scariest Movies You May Have Never Seen

Think you've seen every horror movie worth watching? Think again.

This Halloween, turn off the lights and prepare for a scare from some movies you’ve probably never seen.

  • Monsters in the Closet

    Populist: image: Halloween (1978)
    Falcon International Productions

    Looking for frightening fare to watch on Halloween night? We thought about writing a list of the most terrifying movies ever made, but you certainly don’t need the august cultural mandarins at TIME to tell you that the likes of The Exorcist and The Silence of the Lambs and John Carpenter’s Halloween (pictured) are three of the scariest movies of all time. But if you’re looking for a scary movie (or two, or 10) that you may not have seen before, look no further.

    Several of these are from overseas, from countries that have older, deeper traditions of folk storytelling and monster legends than we Americans do. So it figures that they might know what they’re doing in the horror film department. And one is silent, so they probably didn’t show it on Saturday afternoon TV too often. Here, then, are 10 of the scariest movies you haven’t seen.

  • The Vanishing

    Argos Films

    This Dutch-French co-production tells a story that Edgar Allan Poe, with his fondness for claustrophobic tales set in confined spaces, would have loved. During a vacation, Rex (Gene Bervoets) is looking away for only a moment when his girlfriend Saskia disappears at a gas statiom. (Johanna ter Steege is on screen only fleetingly, but she’s lovely enough to haunt the rest of the film.)

    He spends years looking for her, without any luck, until he starts getting letters from her abductor, Raymond (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), a banal, ordinary middle-class guy, who toys with the obsessive Rex and his need to know what ultimately become of the woman. Finally, Rex agrees to let Raymond show him, not tell him, what happened to her. The result is dramatically satisfying and thoroughly disturbing, in a way that will give you nightmares for a week.

    Director George Sluizer strings along sequences of everyday events with suspense and tension worthy of Hitchcock, and Donnadieu makes his villain all the more creepy for his mundane normalcy. Warning: Avoid the American remake, which, even though it’s also directed by Sluizer, is a horrible betrayal of his original, right down to its softened ending.

  • The Orphanage

    The Orphanage
    Picturehouse Entertainment

    Years ago, before he was pitting giant robots against massive monsters in Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro made small, spare, even elegant horror movies. He didn’t direct this one (it was written by Sergio G. Sanchez and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, who went on to collaborate on last year’s tsunami epic The Impossible), but he oversaw it as a producer, and it certainly bears his stamp.

    The building of the title is where Laura (Belen Rueda) grew up, and she returns as the mother of an adopted son to revive the old building as an orphanage for disabled children. On the abandoned grounds, her adopted son Simon claims he has met a new friend, a boy named Tomas who wears a sack over his head. When Simon disappears, Laura and her husband Carlos begin to wonder if Tomas is real. The pragmatic Carlos seeks scientific answers, but the empathetic Laura turns to a medium (Geraldine Chaplin) to solve the mystery.

    The story, complete with its creaky, bumps-in-the-night house and sinister-nanny type, may seem familiar, but Sanchez and Bayona effectively build an aura of dread so that the shocks, when they do come, are real jump-out-of-your-seat moments. Rueda (The Sea Inside) holds the film together as a mother who will go to any length to prove her love for her child. In many del Toro movies, there are haunted, ghostly children who pay for the sins of their elders, but here’s one where the elder is willing to sacrifice everything to redeem her son, which gives the movie a heart-rending quality throughout.

  • Inside

    Weinstein Company

    Writing/directing team Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury made their filmmaking debut with this French feature that reaches for new extremes in violence and gore. Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is an expectant mother who has survived the car crash that killed her husband. Months later, with the child about to be born, she’s home alone one night when she’s stalked by a nameless intruder (Beatrice Dalle, famous for going gothically nuts in the erotic drama Betty Blue) who, it becomes clear, wants to steal away the baby. What’s more, she’ll stop at nothing to get her way, as several ill-fated police officers discover when called to the house.

    As Sarah tries to defend herself, bodies pile up, and quarts liters of blood are spilled. The shocks keep coming, and people keep getting killed by assailants who beat first and ask questions later. The result is profoundly disturbing and not at all for the squeamish.

  • Session 9

    SESSION 9, Brendan Sexton III, 2001
    USA Films

    Brad Anderson became a horror-fan favorite when he directed this creepy tale set in an abandoned mental asylum. The setting (a real-life mental hospital in Danvers, Mass.) does most of the work here, though there are also effective performances by Peter Mullan, Josh Lucas, and (of all people) a pre-CSI: Miami David Caruso.

    They play members of an asbestos-cleanup crew who, while working to make the building usable once again, discover a stash of rare coins, some dangerous-looking surgical instruments, and a series of recordings of psychiatric sessions with a patient with multiple personalities. One of the men disappears mysteriously, and it soon becomes clear that there’s a psychotic presence in the building. Like Kubrick’s The Shining, the horror here is largely environmental and psychological, with an air of looming dread building throughout, before all hell breaks loose.

  • [REC]


    The found-footage subgenre of horror films, from The Blair Witch Project to the Paranormal Activity series, has become fairly rote in a short time, but this Spanish entry still brings something new to the table. Ostensibly filmed by a reality TV crew that covers the graveyard shift at a firehouse, the film follows the firemen as they answer a distress call at an old woman’s apartment. And then, the old woman sinks her teeth into an emergency worker’s neck, and suddenly, it’s zombie apocalypse time.

    Writing/directing team Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza effectively convey a sense of what it would be like at ground zero of the zombie apocalypse. They’ve made two sequels so far (a third is on the way), and there’s been an American remake (Quarantine), but this first installment, where no one knows yet what’s going on, is the scariest.

  • The Creeping Flesh

    The Creeping Flesh
    Columbia Pictures

    Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing made countless horror films together (many for the Hammer studio) about Dracula or Frankenstein, but here’s an unsung original tale that’s just as horrifying. Set in Victorian London, it’s a Frankenstein variation in which a scientist reanimates just a finger, with understandably disastrous results. Cushing brings back a whole prehistoric hominid skeleton from his travels to New Guinea. Exploring his theory that evil is a disease akin to mental illness, against which he might develop a serum, Cushing washes the skeleton’s finger in water, and flesh grows upon it as the finger comes alive. In the finger, he finds black cells that he believes to be the source of evil.

    Lee plays Cushing’s brother, a fellow scientist who runs an asylum, and whose research is on the hereditary nature of insanity. Their interests come together in the form of Cushing’s daughter, Penelope, who is beginning to show signs of the suicidal madness that killed her mother. Cushing injects her with the experimental vaccine, but of course, there are some horrific side effects. When Lee learns of the skeleton and its role in the experiment, he plots to steal it — during a rainstorm.

    If you want, you can read the whole thing as a satire, on Victorian sexual repression, outdated science, and imperialism, but it’s easier just to sit back and scream at the elegant creepiness of Cushing and Lee or the awful spectacle of that wriggling finger.

  • Dog Soldiers

    Dog Soldiers

    British writer/director Neil Marshall, the inventive and baroque horror filmmaker who’d go on to shoot The Descent and Doomsday, made his directing debut with this gruesome shocker. British soldiers are doing drills in the Scottish countryside when they’re attacked by an unexpected menace: a pack of werewolves. The survivors retreat to a farmhouse with a lone woman, zoologist and professed werewolf expert Megan (Emma Cleasby), but the lycanthropes have more than a few surprises in store for them on this full-moon night.

    Sean Pertwee is a grizzled vet, while Kevin McKidd (Trainspotting, Grey’s Anatomy) plays the soldier who has the most to prove. They’re the standouts in a group of reasonably well-rounded characters, about whom you’ll come to care before they’re turned into wolf chow. Marshall peppers the film with unusual wit, from references to Evil Dead to that scene with Pertwee and a hungry dog (you’ll know it when you see it) — little touches that help elevate Dog Soldiers above your average werewolf movie.

  • Re-Animator

    Empire Pictures

    Stuart Gordon put himself on the horror map with this H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. Dr. Herbert West (troll-like Jeffrey Combs) is the would-be Victor Frankenstein here who develops a glowing green serum that can bring dead tissue back to life. Unfortunately, it’s just as effective on severed limbs as it is on whole bodies. So when his rival, Dr. Hill (David Gale) goes mad with power, he proves awfully hard to stop, even after West beheads him. Oh, also, he’s horny, which leads to a filthy visual pun in which his chopped-off noggin violates poor, shackled Barbara Crampton (a scream queen who should have had a Jamie Lee Curtis-like career).

    Yes, there are some tongue-in-cheek moments, but most of the film is straight-up shocks, from revived pets to an army of zombies. The effects are gory and over-the-top, but Combs manages to keep things grounded with an intense performance that goes for deadly earnestness over camp. Gordon made two more Re-Animator sequels, and there was even a Broadway musical, but this is still the one to turn to for fun and screams.

  • The Evil Dead

    The Evil Dead
    New Line Cinema

    Long before he was the big-budget studio director behind Spider-Man and Oz, The Great and Powerful Sam Raimi was a film student who made this shoestring-budget horror film that turned out to be the ultimate cabin-in-the-woods chiller. (Other rookies who worked on it: future Oscar-winning director Joel Coen and B-movie actor par excellence Bruce Campbell.)

    Full of innovative effects born of cheapness and desperation (most notably, the demon-cam that was just a regular camera mounted on a two-by-four, carried by two guys running through the forest), Evil Dead wrings maximum horror from its relentlessly paced narrative, which has five vacationing college kids reading a cursed book and unwittingly letting loose soul-swallowing demons, rapist trees, and gallons upon gallons of blood.

    Raimi followed it up with a near-identical, slightly more tongue-in-cheek sequel (Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn), then a third movie (Army of Darkness) that sent protagonist Ash (Campbell) to fight “deadites” in the Middle Ages. (Plus, there was this year’s Raimi-approved reboot.) But the first remains the most inventive and most terrifying, serving up scares with diabolical verve.

  • Nosferatu

    Frederic Lewis—Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    The first major adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to film was F.W. Murnau’s German expressionist classic. Yes it’s silent, but you can practically hear screaming every time Max Schreck shows up as Count Orlok. (The character names were changed to protect Murnau from a copyright lawsuit.) With his bald head and long pointy fingernails, he looks like a hungry rodent, not the debonair, courtly nobleman we’ve come to know from the Bela Lugosi and Gary Oldman performances.

    Not much is known about Schreck, but he’s a truly unnerving presence, one whose impact is still felt to this day. Christopher Walken’s villain in Batman Returns shares his name. His last name, which is German for “fright,” proved a good name for a certain green cartoon ogre. And he even inspired a horror flick of his own, 2000’s Shadow of the Vampire, in which it’s speculated that the reason Max Schreck (played by Willem Dafoe) was so convincing in Nosferatu was that he was an actual vampire. It’s as good an explanation as any.

TIME movies

Serial Killers: The 10 Scariest Horror-Movie Franchises

From Friday the 13th to Halloween

You can’t keep a good horror-movie antagonist down. You may defeat the monster and vanquish your fears, but you can’t kill the undead. It always rises again, maybe to terrify someone else instead of you, but it will be waiting and lurking, as sure as light creates shadow.

Maybe that’s the reason so many horror films generate franchises. In the supernatural realm, where ordinary rules of logic and physics don’t apply, the writers can always find some excuse to bring the demon back and make the nightmare a recurring one. Okay, there’s also the fact that sequels are easier to conceive than originals, and that they’re lucrative, but that’s because audiences crave familiarity, even when they’re being shocked and frightened. The sequels keep offering diminished returns, and yet we keep buying the tickets, in the hope that something will scare us the way the first installment did, when we truly didn’t know what was hiding there in the dark.

Check out the list below of some of the most terrifying and enduring horror franchises ever.

Warning: Many of the clips that follow are NSFW.

  • The Evil Dead

    Evil Dead
    Renaissance Pictures

    The initial Evil Dead is a marvel of low-budget filmmaking, of ingenuity triumphing over lack of resources. It’s most surprising monster is a tree, and its most terrifying effect is generated by a camera mounted on a two-by-four, with a guy holding each end of the beam and running through the woods. The film moves at a relentless pace, unleashing increasingly gruesome shockers every few minutes.

    An archetypal college-kids-at-a-cabin-in-the-woods tale, Evil Dead was the calling card to Hollywood for a then-unknown Sam Raimi (who’d eventually go on to make the first Spider-Man trilogy and Oz the Great and Powerful). He essentially remade the movie as Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, with a bigger budget and the same protagonist, chainsaw-handed Ash (the invaluable Bruce Campbell), followed by an out-of-left field third installment, Army of Darkness, that saw Ash transported to medieval Europe to fight more demons.

    The series was rebooted this year, with Raimi and Campbell’s blessing, but the new Evil Dead, while surely the goriest of the lot so far, lacked the amateurish, homemade charm of the original.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

  • Final Destination

    Final Destination
    Getty Images

    Here’s a series that remains reliably scary because its Big Bad is the Big Kahuna himself, the Grim Reaper. Sure, the formula is the same — some youngster has a premonition that a group of pals are about to die in a horrible accident. They’re saved briefly, but Death will not be denied, and stalks the surviving teens one by one, claiming its due. The inventive part comes via the elaborate Rube Goldberg-ian processes by which Fate turns seemingly benign arrangements of random objects into sources of horrible freak accidents.

    In a way, Death is an even better monster than Jason (Friday the 13th), Freddy (Nightmare on Elm Street), or Michael (Halloween) – it’s just as implacable and impervious to bargaining, reasoning, and negotiation, but what’s more, it can’t even be seen or spoken to. And it doesn’t dispense tasteless wisecracks every time it claims a new victim. Really, there’s no reason they can’t keep making these movies forever, since Death is the one horror movie baddie that really will never run out of victims and that actually will come one day for us all.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

  • Friday the 13th

    Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Nearly everything about this series seems cribbed from the Halloween movies. There’s the silent, masked killer Jason Voorhees (his visage of choice is a hockey mask) who’s as unstoppable as a Terminator; there’s the urban-legend backstory (in this case, a summer camp ghost story), and there’s even the fateful day mentioned in the title (in this case, one that often occurs more than once a year, unlike Halloween).

    Yes, there are a few novel wrinkles (the killer in the first movie turns out to be not Jason but rather his mother; Jason’s having been left to drown in Crystal Lake as a child makes that body of water his sole weakness), but otherwise, Jason is pretty much the same stalker of teen miscreants that Michael Myers is.

    Still, he proved so durable that one installment even sent him into space. Even Freddy Krueger found him to be a badass in the first inter-franchise match-up, Freddy vs. Jason, fighting him to an apparent draw. Like Michael, he’s always just one lightning bolt away from being resurrected and resuming his murderous ways.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

  • Halloween

    Fotos International/Getty Images

    The horror franchise that pretty much wrote the rules for all horror franchises to follow. There’s the implacable killer, of course, Michael Myers, who, despite some lame attempts to psychoanalyze him, is simply pure evil, a seemingly unstoppable killing machine. Yeah, he’s wearing a William Shatner mask, he never speaks, he tends to show up around October 31, and he bears an unspecified grudge against his sister, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) that makes him come after her again and again, but those are just idiosyncrasies. (He could have come on Arbor Day and been just as scary.)

    Really, no one is safe from Michael, but especially not randy and misbehaving teenagers. As with many horror franchises, the scariest is still John Carpenter’s original, with its many hat-tips to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (including the casting of Curtis, succeeding her mom, Psycho star Janet Leigh, as the scream queen for a new generation). Nonetheless, it’s hard not to shake the fear that the unstoppable Michael is still out there, waiting for the next reboot.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

  • Hellraiser

    Murray Close/Getty Images

    The creation of horror author Clive Barker, the Hellraiser movies offer a novel twist on the usual slasher fare. Here, the menace is Pinhead (Doug Bradley), a guy with a face like a porcupine, who’s actually part of a race of demons called Cenobites, summoned to our earthly plane by unwitting mortals playing with an antique puzzle box. Pinhead and his minions come not just to torture your body but to ravage your soul as well, so killing you is just the beginning of your torments.

    Like other slashers, Pinhead tends to visit people who are deserving of punishment on some level, either because of their avarice, lust, or hunger for power, or just because they’re stupid enough to play with the damned box. At lest the box can be used to send Pinhead and the Cenobites back to perdition as well. So far, there have been nine Hellraiser films, five of which went straight-to-video. No telling how long it will be (if ever) before some new filmmaker opens the puzzle box yet again.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

  • Night of the Living Dead

    Murray Close/Getty Images

    George A. Romero invented the zombie genre as we know it with this 1968 classic. One could argue that it’s that initial film that’s the only truly scary one, and that the five sequels to date are merely satirical variations. Indeed, thanks to Romero, social satire and allegory is built into the very DNA of the zombie genre, and follow-ups like Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead offer wry takes on consumerism or the politics of xenophobia that resonate beyond the shocks and jolts and perhaps even overshadow them.

    Still, by the time you have whole armies of zombies marching, bent on eating flesh and destroying civilization as we know it – well, that has to give you at least a little pause. Besides, these brain-chompers are the inspiration for 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, and World War Z, so give them some undying love.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

  • A Nightmare on Elm Street

    A Nightmare On Elm Street
    Michael Ochs Archives/New Line Cinema/Getty Images

    There’s a lot to unpack in horror auteur Wes Craven’s initial Nightmare – the notion that not even your dreams are safe from a killer who stalks you through your unconscious mind; and the sins of the parents being visited on their children (yes, Freddy Krueger was always an evil child-killer, but the Springwood parents made him an immortal monster by torching him vigilante-style. Finally, there’s Freddy himself, the most inventive of the first-generation of slasher villains.

    His appearance is scary enough, with his burnt-off face and his razor-fingered glove. But there’s also his method of dispatching you, based on your own worst fears, and limited only by the imaginativeness of the Elm Street filmmakers. Of course, the most disturbing thing about Freddy (as played indelibly by Robert Englund in countless installments) may have been that audiences made the wisecracking killer into a folk anti-hero.

    At some point in the series, you realize that you’re rooting for Freddy and against his foolish victims, who apparently haven’t seen any of the previous movies. Maybe it was a generational thing; audiences who hadn’t had Freddy haunting their nightmares for three decades didn’t seem too impressed by the 2010 reboot starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy. Or maybe the series had finally been bled dry of inspiration. Or maybe it was just that Craven, with his Scream movies, had thoroughly deconstructed the slasher genre and thus deprived Freddy of his power.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

  • Paranormal Activity

    Paranormal Activity
    Blumhouse Productions

    It’s hard to separate Oren Peli’s series from the hype that’s accumulated around it. Making the most consistently effective use of the “found footage” subgenre of horror invented by The Blair Witch Project, the PA movies have a deceptively simple premise, the video recording of inexplicable phenomena afflicting a family that moves into what turns out to be a house full of angry and mischievous poltergeists.

    You’re supposed to be more than just scared; you’re also supposed to marvel at the low-budget ingenuity of the filmmakers at engineering shocks out of familiar household situations without fancy special effects. You’re even supposed to admire the marketing of the films, which managed to garner a huge following on Twitter, supposedly issuing grass-roots demands for bookings in various towns, before almost anyone had actually seen the movies.

    One thing that is novel about the series is its reverse chronology, making the series a set of prequels instead of sequels, though with the fourth film, the chronology began to move forward again. A fifth film is in production and is due next October.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

  • The Ring


    For many fans, there’s nothing scarier than J-horror, the recent wave of Japanese or Japanese-inspired horror movies, which can be more atmospheric and more inventive than their American counterparts. One of the scariest is The Ring, a remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, which starts with an urban legend premise (a videotape that, if you watch it, you suddenly get a phone call telling you that you’ll die in exactly one week) and evolves into an elaborate ghost story.

    Many of the recurring tropes of J-horror are here, from haunted-eyed children to vengeful ghosts to mysterious pools of water. The Hollywood Ring features a star-making performance by Naomi Watts as Rachel a woman trying to solve the riddle of the tape before it claims the life of her own child. She certainly proves she can scream with the best of ’em (a talent that would serve her well in King Kong).

    As Samara, the abandoned child at the heart of the mystery, Daveigh Chase is probably the scariest little girl ever put on film. The story continues in The Ring 2, directed by Nakata, in which Rachel battles Samara as she possesses the body of Rachel’s son. Not as scary, perhaps, but still, the two Ring movies are the most successful J-horror translations in Hollywood history.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

  • Saw

    Evolution Entertainment/Saw Productions Inc

    Worst. Motivational. Speaker. Ever. John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell) isn’t your typical pep rally type; his way of urging people to live life to the fullest is to trap them in a dungeon with a spring-loaded trap and a hacksaw. Also, he’s dying himself, which doesn’t stop him from inspiring followers to carry on his inspirational mission.

    That seems to include the fans who made this series an October goldmine for seven straight years. Like Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy Krueger, the creepy captor with the clown-faced puppet mascot became something of a folk anti-hero to moviegoers, especially since his victims were often contemptible people who might have deserved, at least a little bit, to pay for their sins with a pound of flesh.

    The series is generally credited with kicking off the wave of so-called “torture porn” horror (Hostel, et al) that offered catharsis by subjecting its characters (and viewers) to extremely grisly mutilations. Scholars have felt free to make connections between such films and the debased reputation of America in the Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib era; everyone else was happy merely to scream (or wince) with vicarious delight.

    Warning: This clip may not be safe for work

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