Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let's Scare Viewers to Death

It's October! I became a horror movie convert several years ago and have never looked back. It was cathartic because as a kid I was chicken about everything. I especially hated having to sleep next to the closet, sure that there was something in there at night. I had classmates who were allowed to see R-rated movies when they weren't even in puberty and that was so weird to me. One Halloween night, I was sleeping over at a friends and "Friday the 13th" was on. I refused to be in the same room as the movie.

But now? That's all changed. So I've decided to compile a short and nowhere near exhaustive list of some great horror movies you should try and rent this season. Yes, some are very common so you wont be surprised to see them here but I've tried to include a few that not as many people know about/have seen. I haven't mentioned many horror movies from the past few years because I tend to find them, for the most part, lame and unimaginative. (Not to mention a large number being remakes anyhow...) Note that all the movies I list here are the originals. And I know I may get a lot of "I can't believe you didn't mention ..." But space is limited. :)

The "No, DUH!" List:

1. Halloween (1978) - I don't even need to explain why this is here. General rule, stay away from most of the sequels although H20 despite it's obvious "Scream"-inspired style provides good closure (which be undone a few years later) and brings back not just Jamie Lee Curtis but Nancy Stephens from parts one and two. She's the cigarette smoking nurse who Michael attacks in the car in the first film.

2. Friday the 13th (1980)- I like this movie. A lot. Yes, it's a rip off of "Halloween" but it also works on its own. I love the early sequence when the young counselor is wandering through the quiet New Jersey town and is warned about the camp. It sets up some good atmosphere. Plus, while it's not the gold standard of acting, the cast is all pretty likable (including Kevin Bacon) and you really do feel the darkness and isolation of the camp.

3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)- What's more disturbing? The flesh eating zombies or the zombie-free final few minutes where a character meets a fate far too close to what was happening in 1960s America? Great, great movie. Plus, Judith O'Dea (Barbra) wears one of the most unconvincing falls ever.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973)- The dinner table scene with the hammer is almost too much for me now, not sure what people thought in 1973 but damn. This is intense and there's a LOT of good screaming.

5. Poltergeist (1982) - Funny how I hated horror movies but did love this. Not so much pure horror to an adult as it is thrilling, for kids, this movie brings every childhood fear to life. Oh, and it was rated PG so kids streamed into the theaters in the summer of 1982 and a whole generation got messed up. Notable for the really strong performances and warmth from Craig T. Nelson, the great Beatrice Straight and the fantastic JoBeth Williams who should have been nominated for an Oscar for this.

Also: "The Exorcist" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street."

The "Be Sure and Look For This" List:

6. "Black Christmas" (1974) - Did you ever wonder what a horror movie starring Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin (SCTV and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding") and the girl who played Juliet in the "Romeo and Juliet" movie we all saw in high school where she flashed her boobs and Romeo his butt, would be like? (Her name is Olivia Hussey, by the way.) Wonder no more. This is a great, unsettling slasher/thriller set in a sorority house. The best thing about it is the air of mystery of who the obscene caller is, something the abysmal 2006 remake spells out for you. One of the scariest scenes for me is when a woman discovers something in a park and screams and screams but we are never shown what it is yet it's still horrifying. Good stuff. A perhaps apocryphal tale has it that when this was first broadcast on network TV, it was yanked at the midpoint because of viewers calling in and saying it was too scary. Another cool thing? It was directed by Bob Clark who nine years later directed the much gentler "A Christmas Story."

7. "Don't Look Now" (1973) - Ahhh, Venice. Canals, gondoliers, piazzas and murdered women. Wait, what? This is not the Venice of David Lean's "Summertime." This is Venice in the off-season. Gloomy, abandoned, eerie, dangerous. Is it haunted the by the ghost of Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland's dead daughter? Who is responsible for the murders? Who are the two weird sisters? This film is notorious less for the story than the sex scene between Christie and Sutherland that was rumored to be real. Warning: Donald Sutherland naked butt alert. But it's not as frightening as his curly wig.

8. "The Haunting" (1963) - remade as a crappy CGI fest in 1999, this is the real deal. Think you're tough? Watch this by yourself with the lights out. Go ahead, I DARE you. I saw this at the age of 24 and had trouble sleeping for the next three weeks. The scariest movie where you never see the ghosts. The music, camera angles and black and white photography are all unsettling. Plus, it has a great cast that includes Julie Harris, Russ Tamblyn and Claire Bloom wearing one great mod outfit. Again, watch it alone. Ha.

9. "The Innocents" (1961)- There have been a lot, lot, lot of versions of "The Turns of the Screw" (and why not? It's a kick ass ghost story) but this is a very faithful and very scary adaptation of the Henry James short story. Deborah Kerr is great as the nanny who's seeing evil, manipulative ghosts - or is she? Also in the cast is the creepy boy from "Village of the Damned." We do see ghosts in this movie, but there's also a lot of great psychological horror going on here as well.

10. "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" (1971)- Hey look! A movie set in rural Connecticut that was FILMED in rural Connecticut and not Ontario or Romania. Great movie about an unbalanced woman who has visions and weird experiences when she moves into an old farmhouse with her husband to "live off the land." Well, it *was* 1971. Vampires and ghosts and Jessica herself all prove pretty scary.

11. "Suspiria" (1977) - An Italian movie, set in Germany and filmed in English. A young woman goes to a dance school that turns out to be home to a coven of witches. Beautiful, rich, vibrant colors make it look like a gore soaked "Wizard of Oz." Not for the faint of heart (it's Italian horror and that's code for blood) but gorgeously filmed with a killer soundtrack.

Modern Horror List:

Since they're relatively new, I will only mention:

"Let the Right One In" (Swedish vampires!)

"The Orphanage" (Spanish ghosts!)

I don't want to say much about these two as they have plots that need to be experienced rather than described.

Not Horror but Horrific:

"They Shoot Horses Don't They?" (1969)- No, this is not a traditional horror movie but you'd be hard pressed to find a movie more unsettling and disturbing. And you thought dance marathons were only fund raisers that high school students participate in!

Happy viewing!


  1. I'm drooling... I want to see them all!! YUM YUM!

  2. Let me know what you think of them if you see any!