10/29/09

Boo to You: Cinematic Chills for your Halloween Thrills

Halloween is nigh, as is the annual viewing of scary movies. Many of you may be fans of horror, but generally speaking, I am not. I don't traipse around town waving a bloody banner of gory lust for the macabre! No, I prefer to contain instigated fear to the month of October. There are exceptions, but my dear readers know how I feel about film in general (or if you don't, catch up quickly via this post).

As with all art (and despite being a critic of the medium of motion pictures, I do consider it art), there are gems to be found. For your enjoyment, I've compiled a list of some thrillers and horror flicks I actually recommend. (Photo courtesy Flickr)



The Usual Suspects: Classics that Will Carrie On
Here are some of the big name chillers that I can appreciate.

  1. The Shining Kubrick meets King, and splendidly so. Hallways and typewriters are suddenly intense and menacing, just as Jack Nicholson always was. 
  2. Psycho Frightening themes are explored, including retribution and the mama's boys, that you've got the crux of a good yarn before anything else comes to play. Amazingly, Hitchcock then invites familiar ambience to the party, with late night driving in the rain and a shy, quiet stranger. Throw in a surprise murder in a vulnerable position with a shocking revelation at the end, and you've got a timeless masterpiece. 
  3. The Exorcist X-rated when first released, this film still greets today's desensitized audience with disturbing concepts and graphic content. It is terrifying, simply terrifying, and I do not care to expound. 

Second Chair: No Headliner, but Still First Fiddle
These movies won't appear on everyone's Top 10 list, but are definitely worth watching.

  1. The Omen This is a perennial favorite, as it doesn't get much scarier than finding "the mark" on your boy's head. Classic scenery and an eerie score lend credibility to a bell-bottomed cast that begins to dwindle when the babe of a jackal is around. The first of this trilogy is the best, and the second is really a remarkably smooth addition to it's predecessor. The final gets a bit kooky, but still watch it for posterity's sake. 
  2. Carnival of Souls I stumbled upon this 1962 thriller watching late night television, and realized about 5 minutes in that I had found something great. I used my Blackberry to "google" the title, and discovered this was indeed a cult classic. Once I read about the circumstances surrounding production, I became even more impressed. As I have stated, I'm not a film connoisseur, so being driven to discover the origins of a movie mid-reel is highly unusual. In a nutshell, it's a haunting story told superbly by a documentary filmmaker via a largely amateur cast, on a shoestring budget in a two-week timeframe. Grease paint and superb backdrops (i.e., the Saltair Pavillion) combine with the otherworldly undertones to create something magnificent. Watch it and you'll be quoting Lewis Carroll's Alice weeks later: "Curiouser and curiouser."
  3. The Village and The Sixth Sense I see these two as quite similar, although one has had much greater success critically. Both are M. Night Shayamalan films with deeply woven stories and twists at the end. Vivid color is another benchmark, as is the concept of the "Unknown." 

Welcome to Band Camp: Low on kudos, high on hair-raising
Albeit campy, these will make your skin crawl. 

  1. It SPOILER ALERT As all-encompassing as the title may be, I can think of no better moniker. Having seen this at a young age and then revisiting it as an adult, I can vouch for the fear factor. King's Pennywise (aka, "It") is a horrific child-killing-clown that oh-by-the-way happens to actually be a gigantic spider. Certain scenes I had forgotten, such as the blood-filled teacup and the town's 'animated' history book. While many espouse "It" as more cheese than chiller, I disagree. One of the scariest elements I found in my recent viewing is the concept of unfinished business and having to deal with a past evil. When will it end? Not until It's dead.
  2. Storm of the Century Like "It," this King horror was originally made for television. Perhaps the length, longer than the Titanic, is the reason some consider this a sinker. Sure, some elements are a bit fantastical, but it's still grounded enough to make you feel like you're the one in murky waters. A storm blows in and so does a strange killer wielding a cane. What's worse, this unwelcome guest likes to torment you with regrets from your past, even airing your dirty laundry before the bewildered townsfolk. Supernatural happenings become plausible with the inclusion of accurate historical and Biblical references, making this Storm one to keep your eye on.

A Thin Line: Romance-driven suspense to love or hate
Ahhh, lovesick scenarios that will curb your libido. 

  1. Sleeping with The Enemy Want a plausible villain? Add an OCD, controlling, abusive husband. Mix with everyone's darling, Julia Roberts, as the victim and blend well. Sprinkle in "close calls," and you've got yourself a fully baked Reason to Be Single.
  2. Scream and Fear Watching these as a teenager reminded taught me that just because he says he loves you doesn't mean he won't decapitate your household pet or gut your friends. 
  3. What Lies Beneath SPOILER ALERT Finding out about your spouse's adultery should be horrific enough, but realizing he's a murderer is really more than a girl can take. Normally, one would be angry at the little tart who bedded her betrothed, but it turns out she's really spirited and can lend a helping, albeit cold, hand. 

Out of Time, But Still Prime!
If you're still reading, I applaud you, and will kindly begin to wrap up what has become one of my longer blog entries. I've got to jet out of town but can't forget to add two additional favorite films: The House on Haunted Hill and The Mothman Prophecies. An old goodie starring Vincent Price, The House on Haunted Hill offers up retro fabulousness, funny special effects and a good plot to boot. As for  Mothman, I was chilled by "chapstick," and enjoyed the historical tie-in. As you can probably tell by my selections, I'd rather have suspense over gore any day. There are instances when I've watched gore fests, such as Midnight Meat Train, and I'm always left perplexed as to why people enjoy the slashing so much. True, Vacancy made me jump, but isn't it disheartening to envision every helpful stranger as a snuff film maker? Guess I'm just old fashioned.


There are certainly movies I'm leaving out, so please add your picks in the comments. 

BONUS: Several of the flicks I mentioned are on Hulu and you can watch them free, NOW! 


7 comments:

  1. The Mothman Prophecies, The Excorcist.. both great movies. I've been told about The Shining a few times in a few days now, maybe it's worth a hire over Halloween weekend.

    But I do already plan on seeing Saw 6 this Halloween.

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  2. I absolutely agree with you about suspense over gore. The best horror films are frightening, not just gross. Mothman really truly frightened me, watching it alone in the dark of my bedroom. The silhouettes of the stranger made him far more intimidating than if they simply showed him. For me, it's zombie films that really eek me out. I'm not even sure why, but Return of the Living Dead, with all its camp still gave me a nightmare. But I watch them anyway. There was a scene in Romero's Dawn of the Dead when the guy on the roof across the street was clearly becoming a zombie - the signs he was writing were his only form of communication. We learned he had been bitten and was changing when the last sign he wrote consisted of the smearing of blood on the blank sign - he even held it up for the others to see. This scene scared the wits out of me. Even Shaun of the Dead, a fantastic comedy, gave me the willies.

    I love horror as well, as long as it's creative and truly frightening.

    The Fourth Kind is one that I would add to this list, only its attempt to make itself a documentary was far too transparent to take seriously. In its earnest attempt to be taken seriously, it sabotaged itself, even though a few scenes were genuinely terrifying in a theater.

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