The 15 Best Horror Movie Sieges   Leave a comment

Scene from Return of the Living Dead.

By C. Michael Forsyth

When well executed, the siege is one of the most compelling film scenarios. With a group of disparate individuals barricaded in a confined space or otherwise trapped, surrounded by an implacable foe, the situation is ripe for suspense, interpersonal conflict and drama. The scenario is especially effective in the horror genre, where the sense of dread is heightened by the abnormal nature of the menace, even when off camera.

Here are my favorite horror movie siege scenarios: 

DEMON KNIGHT (1995) — Billy Zane, a marvelously creepy villain in Dead Calm, delivers another chilling performance as a powerful demon in human form known as The Collector. The Collector is on the hunt for drifter Frank Brayker (William Sadler) the guardian of a key that contains the blood of Jesus Christ and that can unlock enormous powers. Brakyer takes refuge in a decommissioned church that has been converted into a boarding house. The Collector is unable to enter the holy building, but summons a horde of demons to surround it and uses his cunning and supernatural powers to influence its residents. Brayker and the occupants, including the fearless owner, a prostitute, a secretive postal clerk and a convict on work release (Jada Pinkett) must hold off the Collector and his minions, while keeping the precious artifact out of his evil clutches.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) — Needless to say, this is the grandpappy of all zombie apocalypse flicks. Traumatized by the murder of her brother at the hands of a zombie, Barbra (Judith O’Dea) takes shelter in an isolated farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania. While she remains virtually catatonic for the remainder of the movie, she is protected by the resourceful Ben (Duane Jones), who drives off the undead with a rifle and sets about boarding up the home. They are soon joined by a middle-aged couple who’d been hiding in cellar, along with their young zombie-bitten daughter, and later a young couple. As the cannibalistic ghouls besiege the farmhouse in ever-increasing numbers, conflict mounts between Ben and the dad Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman).  Beyond its seminal place in the zombie subgenre, the movie is noteworthy for its eerie black and white cinematography, inspired by the surreal 1962 cult classic Carnival of Souls.  A take-charge African American protagonist was unusual at the time—and the devastating shock ending is unforgettable.

THE BLOB (1958) stars Steve McQueen in his first leading role as the young hero, also named Steve. When a meteorite crashes to Earth, it turns out to contain a small, gelatinous, amoeba-like alien that envelops and consumes its prey. A nearby Pennsylvania town falls victim to the amorphous mass as it gobbles up everything its path, including vagrants, doctors and unlucky theater goers and others, steadily becoming larger and larger. Steve, his girlfriend and her kid brother wind up trapped in a diner along with the owner and a waitress, as the now building-size creature engulfs the greasy-spoon joint. Because of the believable concept of an alien life form and its terrifying method of attack, the Blob remains one of the greatest monsters cinema history, despite what now seem primitive special effects.

DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) — It’s a dead heat between George Romero’s 1978 masterpiece and this remake helmed by Zack Snyder in his directorial debut.  The reboot lacks the sociopolitical subtext of the original, which took a swipe at consumerism. Still, I rank it slightly higher thanks to the superior effects and the stellar cast, led by Ving Rhames as police sergeant Kenneth Hall. Set in Milwaukee, Dawn of the Dead follows a group of survivors who take refuge in an upscale suburban shopping mall when the zombie apocalypse erupts. Delving deeper than the fight for survival, the film focuses on conflict between the characters, as The Walking Dead later would. One of the most gripping storylines: the group has to figure out what to do about a pregnant woman who’s been bitten—and may give birth to a zombie baby!

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) — One of the best horror-comedies of all time, this zombie siege is set in a medical supply warehouse.  Two dimwitted employees accidentally unseal a military drum, releasing a toxic gas called Trioxin that resurrects the dead and unleashes a horde of shambling, brain-munching zombies. The intrepid owner Burt (Clu Gulager), his hapless workers, his mortician buddy and a band of teenage punks become trapped inside. The wickedly funny flick introduced the trope of zombies craving brains as their preferred a delicacy.  Among the highlights is Linnea Quigley as Trash, a morbid exhibitionist who tempts fate by dancing naked in a cemetery and describing her fantasies about being ravished by ghouls. It’s not before her wish is granted, and she returns as the world’s sexiest nude zombie.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996) The first half hour or so of the movie seems like an ordinary thriller as two fugitive bank robbers, the Gecko brothers, flee toward Mexico. Seth (George Clooney) is an unflappable professional, while Richie (Quentin Tarantino) is a perverted psycho who clearly climbed out of the shallow end of the gene pool.  The hoodlums kidnap a family with an RV in order to smuggle themselves over the border. The driver Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is a recently widowed pastor experiencing a crisis of faith, traveling with his teenage children. In Mexico, they arrive at the Titty Twister, a strip club where the Gecko brothers are supposed to meet their cohort Carlos at dawn. The place appears to be a raunchy paradise, especially when Salma Hayek at her bodacious prime performs a tantalizing striptease. Unfortunately, the topless bar turns out to be a vampire nest, and Seth and the hostages soon find themselves barricaded inside while a host of bat-like bloodsuckers lay siege. Two other patrons survive the initial battle: a two-fisted tough guy played by Black exploitation era icon Fred Williamson and a biker named Sex Machine played by special effects wizard Tom Savini in a rare appearance in front of the camera.

DOG SOLDIERS (2002)—A squad of six British soldiers are dropped off by chopper in a forest in the Scottish Highlands for a routine training exercise. Attacked by a pack of towering, ferocious werewolves, they manage to make it to a cottage, which is quickly surrounded by what turns out to be a family of lycanthropes. The grunts are armed with automatic weapons, but since the bullets are not made of silver, they merely slow the wolfmen down. The plucky soldiers desperately fend off the creatures, hoping that if they can make it to sunrise, the shapeshifters will revert to human form.  The Brits display stiff upper lips and Cockney courage–especially one lad who has the gumption to box a wolfman who busts into the house. Kevin McKidd stars as the heroic Pvt. Lawrence Cooper along with Sean Pertwee as Sgt. Wells—the squad leader who shows true grit even after being disemboweled and bitten.

THE KILLER SHREWS (1959) – Although widely dismissed as laughable schlock, that’s primarily to the low-budget “special effects.” The plot was actually pretty neat.  Employing more logic than the typical mad scientist, a genius doc performs genetic research using shrews because of their short life spans, which allows him to track the progress of his DNA tinkering over multiple generations. Putting safety first, he conducts his experiments on a remote island. Nevertheless, the best laid plans of shrews and men goes astray when the critters evolve to the size of collies—and since shrews eat three times their body weight each day, they are incredibly voracious. Ship Captain Thorne Sherman (James Best) and his party become trapped in the scientist’s compound, surrounded by the flesh-hungry giant rodents. (Which, thanks to that low budget, WERE portrayed by dogs wearing shrew masks!)

 TREMORS (1990) – Rugged handymen Valentine “Val” McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred  Ward) find themselves pitted against giant, prehistoric, worm-like monsters that live around  a small desert town of Perfection, Nevada. Joined by a pretty seismologist who has detected odd underground activity, and with the help of a gun-crazy survivalist couple, they try to protect the townsfolk from the carnivorous creatures they dub Graboids. To avoid the monsters, which are drawn to vibrations, the survivors are forced onto the roof of the general store and other high spots.  That siege is followed by an even more precarious situation when the group is stranded on boulders. The movie boasts one of my favorite lines, when Ward says, “Running isn’t a plan. Running is what you do what a plan fails!” Michael Gross, previously best known as the mild-mannered, liberal dad on TV’s Family Ties, gleefully shows another side as Burt Gummer, the gun-toting conspiracy theorist and prepper.

THE MIST (2007) is a based a novella by Stephen King, and not unexpectedly is set in Maine. After a severe thunderstorm causes the power to go out, several residents of a small town visit a supermarket to pick up supplies. An unnatural mist envelops the area—from which colossal, spider-like, Lovecraftian monsters emerge.  Tensions quickly rise among the shoppers as they fight to stay alive. Thomas Jane stars as David Drayton, a painter trapped in the store with wife, 8-year-old son and townsfolk, including a religious fanatic who believes the mist to be the wrath of God.

THE CRAWLING EYE AKA THE TROLLENBERG TERROR (1958) — Forrest Tucker, best known as conniving Sgt. O’Rourke on TV’s F Troop, stars as U.N. troubleshooter Alan Brooks, who is dispatched to investigate mysterious fatal accidents that have occurred near a resort hotel on the fictional Mount Trollenberg in Switzerland. The source of the deaths is a weird, radioactive cloud that locals believe is inhabited. It sure is–by a giant, tentacled beast with a single huge eye! Brooks, a mind-reading beauty (Janet Munro) and other hotel guests manage to make it to a well-fortified observatory. There, using Molotov cocktails, axes and other means, they struggle to survive until help arrives.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) — In this comedy-horror classic, Simon Pegg stars as Shaun, a downtrodden London electronics  salesman who becomes an unlikely hero in  the midst of the zombie apocalypse. Rising to the occasion and armed with a cricket bat, Shaun leads a band of survivors including pudgy pal Ed (Nick Frost), his mom, and grumpy stepfather (Bill Nighy). Shaun and his party make their way to the Winchester, a local pub where they make a last stand against the walking dead. Bit of a sticky wicket, you might say.

YOU’RE NEXT (2011) — In this slasher flick, estranged relatives at a family reunion are besieged by a group of bizarrely  masked homicidal maniacs.  Aubrey and Paul Davison (Barbara Crampton and Rob Moran) invite their adult children and their partners to their vacation home, hoping bury a few hatchets. Sharp instruments do indeed enter the picture as the nuts armed with crossbows and machetes encircle the isolated home, forcing the dysfunctional family to fight for their lives.

THE EVIL DEAD (1981)Directed by Sam Raimi in his trademark unhinged, over-the-top style, the story begins when five Michigan State college students vacation at an old cabin in a remote wooded area. Venturing into the basement, the youths stumble across The Naturom Demonto,  an ancient Sumerian book similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional Necronomicon, along with a tape recorder into which a researcher has read passages. Foolishly, they play the tape and the incantation summons a legion of demons. The group battles to keep the malignant entities out, a task that becomes more challenging as members are possessed one by one. The square-jawed hero Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) faces an onslaught of increasingly gory mayhem as he fights to hold onto his sanity and soul. I prefer the better plotted and acted sequel/remake Evil Dead 2 (1987). But nothing in it matches the unnerving elements of the original–most shockingly, a scene where Ash’s girlfriend is raped by demonically possessed trees.

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) is also based on a Stephen King story, Trucks. After the Earth crosses the tail of a comet, all machines including cars, trucks and even vending machines, suddenly become sentient and embark on a world-wide killing spree. Homicidal trucks are the chief adversary of a group of people stranded at the Dixie Boy Truck Stop outside Wilmington, North Carolina. The film stars Emilio Estevez as Bill Robinson, Pat Hingle as Bubba Hendershot as well as Yeardly Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson). The film is King’s first and only directorial effort and boasts a hard rock soundtrack by the author’s favorite band AC/DC.  I don’t recall the movie being all that bad, but it garnered nominations for two Golden Raspberry Awards, Worst Director and worst actor for Estevez. King himself takes a dim view of the film in retrospect, admitting that is a “moron movie,” and vowing never to direct again.

HONERABLE MENTION:

ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13 (1976)  — Although it is an action thriller, not a horror movie, this film directed, scored, and edited by John Carpenter of Halloween fame has the feel of a fright flick. A small group of police officers must defend a defunct precinct against a relentless street gang bent avenging the deaths of six of its members. Set in South Central L.A., the movie stars Austin Stoker and Laurie Zimmer as the cops. Darwin Joston plays Napoleon Wilson, a jailed murderer en route to Death Row, who redeems himself by helping the officers survive the night.

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I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, please take a moment to check out my latest project…

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Posted June 5, 2022 by C. Michael Forsyth in Uncategorized

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