My Scary Movie Five

It's almost Halloween, a day not just for eating candy, but most importantly when it's socially acceptable for people of all ages to wear costumes. I won't dress up for a comic book convention, where it's just me and my fellow geeks, but on Halloween I can dress up and no one can tell me from the norms. And as the day draws near and I ponder what identity I can bury my regular self behind this year, I find myself thinking about scary movies. It's easy to get desensitized, and things that were scary when we were younger don't phase us now. Sometimes special effects don't stand the test of time, or we simply see through the illusion. I remember being a toddler, cowering in the next room, peeking around a doorway, whenever the witch from The Wizard of Oz was on screen. She terrified little MCF, with that shrill voice, green complexion, and wart on her nose, and I was glad when that b*tch melted. Flash forward about 20 years when I finally see The Exorcist, and I don't see why so many people consider it one of the scariest movies of all time. I liked it and thought it was a great movie, and hearing that little girl uttering foul things in a demonic voice was definitely creepy. I think if I'd seen that when I was a kid, I might not have slept for years. But seeing it in my late 20s, after I already knew the gist of the film and had caught clips over the years, the impact was reduced.

I figure the absence of The Exorcist would be the biggest thing people questioned, and now that I've explained it I can move on and list My Fives scariest movies, in no particular order:

1) Event Horizon:
It must be really challenging for writers to think of good reasons why someone wouldn't leave a house that was clearly haunted. Eddie Murphy hit the nail on the head in Delirious. There have been increasingly clever ways of trapping people, from haunted locks to having the house on a cliff and more, and I give 30 Days of Night credit for taking the concept of being snowed in for a month of darkness in Alaska, at which time a pack of vampires would take advantage. But Event Horizon put its protagonists on a ship in deep space, with nowhere to run, which in itself wasn't an original concept. What made it super terrifying, was that they were on a ship whose power source apparently tapped into some kind of portal to hell or a hell-like dimension, and Sam Neill being haunted by a twisted shadow of his dead wife was only the first of many psychological torments that crew would endure. It didn't help that, on my first and only real camping trip with tents in the middle of the woods, my college friends and I drove in to the nearest town on a rainy night and chose to see that. The isolation and hopelessness on that ship didn't exist once we left the theater, until we realized we were driving into dark woods in Virginia with no ambient light, and a hopeless isolation that did exist. Our subsequent trips would be at campsites where we could rent trailers with electricity.

2) The Ring:
America doesn't have a great track record with adapting Japanese horror films, and I kind of hope that trend is over, because every remake since The Ring has been hugely disappointing. I liked our version of Ringu better, possibly because I saw it first, and possibly because it didn't have weird tangents like someone having psychic powers because his grandfather was exposed to radiation after the atomic bombs were dropped. In both instances, you have that freaky, surreal video with such odd, disjointed clips. The woman is brushing her hair. Did she just look at you? Is that possible? And holy crap, did she just pull a fly through the screen? That bit of foreshadowing was nothing compared the real moment of horror, when you find out just what happens 7 days after viewing the cursed tape, when I literally jumped in my seat because of an effect that's now done to death but was original at the time, and redefined the way ghosts and evil spirits were shown on screen. It was also one of the first films that made good use of a viral campaign on the internet, including the ability to chat with one of the characters and ask questions. All I had was a name, and didn't know until I saw the film who that name belonged to.

3) The Blair Witch Project:
I suspect that this film wouldn't have the same impact on a second viewing, but when I saw it in the theater, I allowed myself to be fully immersed in the experience, to accept that it was actual documentary footage of three dumb kids who got lost in the woods. And given my own experiences with camping, putting myself in their shoes wasn't hard to do. I was the kid who'd walk down an empty street, hear the change jingle in my own pocket, and scare myself because I thought it was the jingle of a dog's collar. That's the mindset of this movie, and you take from it what you bring to it. Being lost is frightening, but all the rock piles and people standing in corners won't be anything more than what it is unless you let it. And I did, had trouble sleeping that night, and was sufficiently freaked out enough to list it here.

4) Wes Craven's New Nightmare:
Of all the Nightmare on Elm Street films I have to choose from, why this one? Freddy became less and less scary with each subsequent film, less of a villain and more of an anti-hero. He cracked jokes, and you weren't rooting for the annoying teenagers, but the guy who was going to murder them in their dreams as creatively as possible. And I'm not saying that was necessarily a bad thing, but good horror makes you feel empathy for the victims, and imagine how you would feel in such a situation. With “New Nightmare”, Wes Craven brought the series back to its roots with a brilliant concept, that Freddy was “real” and trying to break out of the movies and into our world. He brought back the actors from the original film, and we got to see Robert Englund not only reprise his role as the striped-shirted slasher, but play a tortured version of himself, painting increasingly dark portraits as his nightmares took over and he became a vessel for Freddy to cross over into our world. There's always that safety zone that you're just watching a movie, so showing how the nightmare can become a reality in “our” world scores major points on the scary scale.

5) Alien:
Event Horizon isolated its crew on a ship in deep space, but Alien did it first. Event Horizon combined a ghost story with science fiction, while Alien combined a monster story with that same genre. In 1979, just because “in space no one can hear you scream,” didn't mean the victims wouldn't. Giger's creation was a masterpiece, a faceless creature with sharp edges, and a mouth within a mouth that drooled acid. But the worse part was how they reproduced, facehugging horrors bursting from pods to implant seeds to later burst out of the victims stomach as violently as possible:

That...might not be the right clip. But I think I’ll sleep easier watching that version instead.

What say you? Did I pick a truly scary selection, or is this all kid stuff compared to the movies you're afraid of?



Blogger b13 said...

I love the selection... but true horror is seen in a flick that "could be real"...

Last House on the Left (the original)

The Devil's Rejects

The Strangers

28 Days Later

Oh yes... the zombie apocalypse will one day be upon us!

10/29/2009 12:59 AM  
Anonymous MCF said...

There's definitely a difference between "best horror films" and "scariest films". I didn't mention the Saws or any Romero zombie flicks. And I liked Devil's Rejects a lot better than House of 1,000 Corpses, but in a way I consider it more of a dark Western/outlaw drama than a horror film--it's like what if Butch and Sundance were the Manson family?

I could also probably dedicate an entire 5 or more to the works of Dario Argento, some of which are very scary, others of which stand out for Hitchcockian plots and unique camera work.

10/29/2009 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Krispy said...

I'm with you on Alien and Blair Witch, and I agree with B13 on 28 Days Later. I could never put together such a list and exclude The Exorcist, easily my pick for best horror movie ever. I'd also include Alien and movies like The Sixth Sense and Stir Of Echoes and Del Toro's wonderful The Devil's Backbone as more recent favorites.

Did you know they're talking about a big budget Paranormal Activity sequel? Didn't ANYONE at Paramont learn anything from Blair Witch 2 - Book Of Shadows?

And I always thought that the second Elm Street movie was the best in that series, and almost nobody agrees with me on that.

10/29/2009 10:45 AM  
Blogger Lorna said...

I stopped watching horror movies after Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Although I would have put District 9 in that category. And Blades of Glory.

10/29/2009 12:56 PM  

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