4. Waiting for Guffman (January 31, 1997)
These days, the mockumentary style is everywhere. We don’t even need characters in Modern Family or Abbott Elementary to explain why they’re being followed by a camera crew, we just want them to mug for the camera. But that wasn’t the case in 1997, when Waiting for Guffman bewildered audiences. Directed by Christopher Guest, who had co-starred in the most famous mockumentary up to that point This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman soon became a cult hit.
Waiting for Guffman has the simplest of premises, in which outrageous theater director Corky St. Clair (Guest) comes to Blaine, Missouri to produce a show for the town’s 150th anniversary. But that hook allows a cast of improv pros to create ridiculous and hilarious characters. In addition to Guest, the movie features Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara as a pair of travel agents, Eugene Levy as mild-mannered orthodontist Dr. Allen Pearl, and Parker Posey as Dairy Queen employee Libby Mae Brown. As Corky unlocks the Broadway dreams of these assembled bumpkins, the movie becomes ridiculous and delightful, paving the way for mockumentary ubiquity.
3. Final Destination 2 (January 31, 2003)
To be sure, Final Destination earned its share of fans after its release in 2000. But it was the second entry, directed by David R. Ellis, that cemented the franchise in the horror hall of fame, thanks in large part to its glorious opening sequence. Where the first movie started with a shocking plane explosion, the sequel leans into the Rube Goldberg effect that made the series famous. Ellis takes the time to not only show us how each little accident or mistake, from a distracted driver to a loose strap, has horrific and entertaining consequences.
While it’s the opening that sticks in the minds of most, it’s just one of the fantastic kill sequences in Final Destination 2. There’s the part where the bratty teen gets squished by a giant pane of glass or when a lady gets decapitated in an elevator, and the movie does give us one of the best airbag-related kills in cinema history. When you combine the return of Ali Larter’s improbably named character from the first movie, Clear Rivers, Final Destination 2 sets the model that the sequels followed (and perfected with Final Destination 5).
2. The Stepfather (January 23, 1987)
By 1987, the slasher craze inaugurated by the runaway success of Friday the 13th had fizzled into diminishing returns. By that point, we’d seen killer dream demons, killer birthday kids, and killer rockabilly musicians. But with The Stepfather, we got the scariest slasher of all: a killer Reaganite (in other words, a regular Reaganite). Written by great hardboiled author Donald E. Westlake and starring the inimitable Terry O’Quinn, The Stepfather uncovers the horror of the conservative family values push.
O’Quinn plays Jerry Blake, a seemingly average middle-class man who marries widow Susan Maine (Shelley Hack). A likable real estate agent and suburbanite, Blake quickly earns the trust and respect of everyone around him, except stepdaughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen). As Stephanie digs into Blake’s past, she discovers that he has been married several times to single mothers before, under different names. After these families failed to meet his expectations, he murdered them, took on a new name, and gave it another shot. From this fantastic premise, The Stepfather provides both trenchant social commentary and solid horror, anchored by a haunting performance from O’Quinn.
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