Dissecting iTunes’ Top 10 Sales Lists: Horror

Nick Nunziata

We live in interesting times. Information is so easy to get and long gone are the golden days of hunting down movies in physical media and grabbing certain editions before they went out of print. It wasn’t too long ago when collectors bought new releases on VHS for $79.99 brand new rather than waiting for them to endure the rental cycle and be sold for under $20.00. One of the primary ways audiences digest media now is digital and iTunes ranks very high in that world, especially for those who want to own a copy of the movie and don’t do the awful and job-killing illegal downloading of films. Since buying habits are so intriguing and since the world is so list-driven, I’ve taken it upon myself to look at iTunes all-time bestsellers in five categories and look deeper. And to suggest titles that aren’t listed here that would be better choices in an ideal world.

Yesterday: Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Today: Horror

#1 – I Am Legend

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Any horror movie that uses Faith No More and Mr. Bungle frontman Mike Patton to supply the voices for the monsters can’t be all bad. I Am Legend is better than not all bad. It’s quite good, though it never manages to top the isolation and world-building of the first half. The effects are spotty at times and then there’s the ending that they couldn’t decide on. It’s funny that Richard Matheson’s terrific book has been given three film adaptations yet none of them have done it justice. This film had perfect timing. The then-biggest movie star in the world, a rise in mainstream horror appreciation, and a great marketing campaign. It’s surprising to see this film at #1 but I get it. It is, however, the ultimate gateway horror movie. Dozens of movies have been influenced by Matheson’s book and this movie just scratches the surface of what it could have been.

Alternate Deeper Cuts: The Omega Man, Near Dark, Lifeforce

#2 – The Cabin in the Woods

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This is how you do it. Though the Jason Blum style of making and releasing horror movies defines this era, The Cabin in the Woods is the best single best example from this generation that evokes the movies that made the 80’s the golden era of horror. It has all of those charms plus the cynical and jaded modern horror fan’s needs and wants factored in. It’s funny, smart, gory, and bold. Seeing it this high warms the heart.

Alternate Deeper Cuts: The Evil Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead

#3 – The Conjuring

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This movie is a big shocker. It had no right being as terrific and classy as it is. Everything about it felt like manipulative jump scare nonsense but James Wan’s movie is absolutely worthy of being mentioned among classic horror movies. It works for any age group, is timeless, and has a lot of truly iconic moments. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not number one on this list. The Conjuring deserves it, and that’s coming from someone who loathed every movie in its subgenre that preceded it. It’s a classic.

Alternative Deeper Cuts: The Changeling, The Exorcist, Poltergeist

#4 – Insidious

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As much as The Conjuring deserves its place on this list and in genre history, Insidious doesn’t. It has some moments and smart casting, but all of the potential it builds up to is squandered in the last act. I get why it’s here. It’s spawned a lucrative franchise. I just don’t see the connection between the actual material and the success. Great marketing.

Alternate Deeper Cuts: The Omen, Orphan, The Brood

#5 – Paranormal Activity

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Here’s another from the current wave of media-driven horror films. The modern equivalent of The Blair Witch Project. These are ingeniously designed ideas, cheap to produce, easy to identify with, and loaded with little moments that are deeply creepy. The thing that surprises me about Paranormal Activity being on this list is the fact people buy it. It doesn’t seem to lend itself to repeat viewings. Then again, with a new installment seemingly every year it gets bumped up to the top again. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

Alternate Deeper Cuts: Cache, The Ring, I Saw the Devil

#6 – Dracula Untold

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This is one of two entries on this list that baffle me to no end. There are more Dracula movies in existence than films with dinosaurs yet somehow this one rose above awful reviews, a lame marketing campaign, and an overload of CGI to persevere long after interest should have waned. It’s sort of a little miracle to know that this film has this many fans. Luke Evans is an interesting enough actor but this one is supremely puzzling. I suppose there’s a segment of the population that wanted a Van Helsing for their generation.

Alternate Deeper Cuts: Daybreakers, Fright Night, Thirst

#7 – The Shining

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As bitter a pill as it was seeing Dracula Untold on this list, justice and logic returns to iTunes with the inclusion of The Shining on their best-sellers list. A controversial film for many reasons, its legacy is one that lends to repeat viewings and deep research. People that don’t even like the film buy it and ingest it. Such is the case with many of Stanley Kubrick’s works. They’re almost bigger than being just movies but rather historical documents from a master who is light years beyond us in understanding of the form. And then there are people who just want to see Jack Nicholson lose it. Both approaches are noble pursuits.

Alternate Deeper Cuts: Dead Ringers, The Fly, Jacob’s Ladder

#8 – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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It was difficult to put a picture of Alan Rickman in this article. It’s still too soon. But he’s one of the reasons to see this film post haste because it’s one of the sad few Tim Burton movies in recent years that match his phenomenal rise in Hollywood. It’s a romp that transcends many genres but it’s a faithful adaptation of the stage musical and it’s loaded with delightfully decadent bits of madness. It’s also a horror film for people who don’t normally appreciate horror films, which certainly explains its place on this list.

Alternate Deeper Cuts: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Beetlejuice, The Talented Mr. Ripley

#9 – 28 Weeks Later

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It’s interesting to see 28 Weeks Later on the list. It’s a brutal, fast-paced shocker to be sure. But it’s not 28 Days Later, which is a film that turned out to be quite an inspiration for its genre. Still, this sequel is more attuned to the needs of horror fans and it has a lot to offer fans. It’s a bit surprising to see it here but that may indicate that there’s still a market for more in the series.

Alternate Deeper Cuts: 28 Days Later, Day of the Dead, Night of the Comet

#10 – Priest

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If iTunes’ top ten bestselling horror movies list was a joke Priest would be the punchline. The proud owner of a 15% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes has somehow managed to encourage more clicks of the “purchase” button than The Exorcist, Halloween, The Thing, The Fly, and any other classic horror movies you can imagine aside from the nine preceding it on this list. That doesn’t mean the apocalypse is upon us but it means that Apple may want to invest in a new algorithm for it’s “genius recommends” component. I’m not saying that Priest is a bad movie. I’m just saying it’s absolutely a bad movie.

Alternate Deeper Cuts: Drag Me to Hell, John Carpenter’s Vampires, Blade

Tomorrow: Comedy

Nick Nunziata
Nick Nunziata created CHUD.com.