Earlier this year, we published a list of our 10 best movies that were set and filmed in Florida. With Halloween on the horizon, it seems only appropriate that we offer up the FORWARD Florida list of Best Florida Horror Movies.
Frankly, there is a not a deep pool of classics from which to choose, so we’re relaxing the rules a little. A film does not have to be set in Florida, but a reasonable amount of the movie has to be filmed here. We’ll accept films that try to pass Florida off as someplace else, but we’re still rejecting films that try to pass someplace else off as Florida.
This list is subjective, of course, and we can all but guarantee we’ve overlooked someone’s favorite. With that disclaimer, here goes.
It may have been hard to find good Florida horror movies, but we had less trouble finding bad ones. We decided to pick two as representative of the worst: Frogs and Stanley.
Frogs is quite possibly the most boring horror movie ever made – in any state. This 1972 effort aspires to be an eco-horror flick, with an aging Ray Milland playing a crotchety, nature-hating millionaire on a private Florida island and a young Sam Elliott as a freelance photographer sent to document the natural beauty Milland is trying to destroy. He also romances Milland’s daughter (a pre-Knots Landing Joan Van Ark). Nature eventually rebels, and Elliot and Van Ark escape just before frogs overrun the mansion and claim Milland. If marauding frogs don’t sound scary, it’s because they’re not.
However, it might be Citizen Kane compared to Stanley. Also from 1972, the movie follows a young Seminole man named Tim and his pet rattlesnake Stanley (couldn’t make this up if I tried). Tim uses Stanley to exact revenge on people he believes have wronged him, his people and their land. The movie doesn’t end well for much of anyone – especially Tim.
So, why choose these two to represent the worst in Florida horror movies? So I could write my own cathartic Paragraph of Shame. My dark secret is that I actually saw both of these films. In the theater. During their first run. I was 12 – it’s my only defense.
With film therapy out of the way, here are the five best.
5. Shock Waves (1977)
This movie has Peter Cushing and John Carradine, so it has serious horror cred. It also features Brooke Adams the year before her big career breakthrough (Days of Heaven and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake) and Luke Halpin of Flipper fame. South Florida plays the role of a Caribbean island where stranded young people discover a Nazi scientist has been hiding and perfecting zombie (not the Walking Dead kind) storm troopers. It doesn’t sound much better than Frogs or Stanley but, trust me, it somehow works.
4. Jeepers Creepers (2001)
We’re going to have to trust other people on this one. I’ve never seen it, but it made just about every list of significant horror movies made in Florida and it almost reached 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It tells the tale of a flesh-eating creature that a brother and sister encounter around Ocala on their way home from spring break. Sounds like something for Netflix.
3. Psycho IV – The Beginning (1990)
We bent the rules a little here, because this technically is a made-for-cable movie and it barely qualifies because of a few scenes shot at the Bates Motel replica at Universal Studios Orlando. It’s here because it was Anthony Perkins’ last appearance as Norman Bates and because Perkins himself was an alumnus of Rollins College. In it, we see an older Norman going on a radio show to relate how his upbringing led him to kill. E.T.’s Henry Thomas plays young Norman, and Olivia Hussey plays his infamous (pre-taxidermy) mother. The film doesn’t hold up against the original but watching Perkins in his iconic role is never a waste of time.
2. Day of the Dead (1985)
Now we get to the zombies most people know, and we have a film from the master of the genre, George A. Romero. This is Romero’s third installment in his zombie saga, following Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978). Unlike the first two, it is not set near Romero’s beloved Pittsburgh. Romero was living in Florida at the time, so the outdoor scenes were shot in and around Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. (For the underground scenes, it was back to PA.) Set a little further into the zombie apocalypse (but before the dead all became tax exiles in Georgia), it focuses on a group of survivors, primarily scientists and the military, who are trying to find a cure before they turn on each other. If it were on par with Romero’s first two “dead” films, it would be our No. 1, but instead the honor goes to . . .
1. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
A true classic, filmed at multiple Florida locations (as well as California), the film depicts a scientific expedition to the Amazon that stumbles onto a creature that becomes captivated by the crew’s obligatory gorgeous woman. Think of it as Beauty and the Beast with Gills. This is the kind of movie that inspires people to say, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”
So what did you think of our list? Which of your favorites did we leave out? Let us know what you think – you might even convince us to publish a revised version somewhere down the road.