REASON NUMBER THREE: SCARY MOVIES I am a pop culture junkie which is fairly apparent, but geeks are in, so yeah. I love films. Movies kept me sane and before I went into my current field I was once a manager of the now defunct Suncoast which was awesome because I got to talk about movies every day. Now my collection of movies has declined over recent years due to not working in retail, but the one I have currently is fairly extensive. What can I say I am an addict and one of my favorite genres tends to be Horror/Suspense. Now one of the best parts about Halloween are the scary movies. Not that you cannot watch horror films any day of the year, but I especially want to watch them when it starts to get darker, cooler and when I want to scare myself absolutely silly. Because I do enjoy scaring myself. It’s why I like haunted houses and ghost stories. There is something about snuggling up with the lights down low and waiting for that inevitable adrenaline rush.
Now most horror movies do not scare me at all. I love B-movie horror schlock like Friday the 13th (though I will never understand how Jason drowned as a little boy but came back as a hulking menace) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These days horror movies are so involved with gore that they forget about having a decent plot or any real scare factors. But there are some movies out there that genuinely give the creep factor. Here are some of my favorites. Most of them may be movies you have not seen as they are not your typical flicks, but if you are looking for a fun evening, I would suggest all of these.
Plot : Jessica Harper stars as Suzy Banyon, a young American
ballet dancer who arrives at a prestigious European dance academy run by the mysterious Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett of DARK SHADOWS) and Miss Tanner. But when a series of bizarre incidents and horrific crimes (including what Entertainment Weekly calls "the most vicious murder scene ever filmed") turn the school into a waking nightmare of the damned, Suzy must escape the academy's unspeakable secret of supernatural evil.
Why It’s Good : Thanks to my best friend Paul, I learned the joys of Dario Argento. This stylishly beautiful film has the creeps and scares you would expect in a horror film. It has one of the best opening scenes I have ever seen and the bizarre color palette, haunting music, and menacing atmosphere doesn’t stop until the very end. While the plot may be a little convoluted, it doesn’t matter. Any film where a man’s Seeing Eye dog attacks him is certainly worth watching, don’t you think? And Ugh maggots in your hair and hairbrush, it’s enough to make this girly girl cringe every time, but that is why I love it.
Plot : May never really fit in and growing up with a pirate's patch to cover her lazy eye did not make things easier. Even as an adult her best friend and sole companion is a doll given to her by her mother... until she sees Adam. In awe of his beauty especially his hands she pursues a relationship for the first time in her life. But she soon finds out that people are not 100% perfect... only certain parts of them are.
Why It’s Good : I love this film. May is a mousy, socially awkward girl whom you cannot help but love. Angela Bettis plays her with a fragile beauty and her attempts at romance and friendship are ones you can relate on some level to. She spends her evenings confiding in a doll her mother would never let her take out of its glass casing and wishing she had someone to call her own. When she finally feels comfortable enough to venture out and away from her isolation things don’t go the way she had planned. The film is part black humor horror film, part bizarre romance and part tragedy. It’s a great film (I even went as May one Halloween dressed as her Halloween costume) that most people overlooked. They shouldn’t have.
Session 9 (2001)
Plot : A hazardous-materials-cleanup company has been hired to eliminate asbestos tiles and other toxic material from a gigantic mental hospital that had been shut down in the 1980s. But as one member of the team starts to nose into old files in the office, he uncovers a series of tape recordings of psychiatric sessions--nine of them--related to a notorious sexual abuse case. Soon, toxic materials and dark spirits start to merge.
Why It’s Good : For me some of the best horror films are those that rely more on taut plots and build on creepy atmospheres than on flimsy plots and heavy doses of CGI. Session 9 belongs in the creepy atmospheric category. It is a horror film, a thriller, and a psychological character study all in one intensified by creepy shots, spooky sounds and chilling voices that whisper in the dark. I’m not a big David Caruso fan and the fact that I love this film despite him is a testament to how great this film is. One of my favorite scenes involves one of the characters finding some coins stuck in a wall and discovering a treasure, but it isn’t what it appears to be. Excellent film.
Exorcist 3 (1990)
Plot : After the death of Father Karras in the original film, his good friend, Lt. William Kinderman is sent on a mysterious murder investigation. Victim after victim starts appearing, with the blames being placed on an old frail woman. Could these murders relate to demons and possession? And how does the patient, who claims to be the Gemini Killer fit into all this?
Why It’s Good : Of course the original Exorcist is a horror movie staple as it should be. Now most of us forget that Exorcist 2 ever happened and walk on over to the real sequel. I think it is as creepy as the original (hallway scene anyone) and relies more on unsettling you than assaulting you with an overabundance of gore or green bile. Some may find it slow, but it is one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. There are some great moments of dialogue. George C Scott gives a great performance as does Brad Dourif who will always be his character from this film despite my love for the LotR trilogy. A creepy little film that scares you just when you have your guard down and has those iconic memorable scenes.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Plot : During the Spanish Civil War, young Carlos is abandoned at a completely isolated orphanage. The tensions therein have been building for years, exacerbated by the unexploded bomb resting menacingly in the courtyard. Bullies scheme, tempers flare, and a ghost that visits Carlos's bed seems to be the key to it all.
Why It’s Good : From the mind of Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy), whom I adore, comes a film that is more a drama with ghosts in it rather than just a straight horror film. It is stylish and well-paced with a great atmosphere that relies on as much foreboding as your typical horror film. In my opinion it has some of the best ‘ghost’ effects that I have seen with ‘The One Who Sighs’ from the minute little water bubbles to the blood in water effect. The orphanage holds more than the murdered boy and watching it all unfold is a delight. So worth checking out.
The Orphanage (2008)
Plot : The Orphanage pivots on a pretty woman and an unusual child. When her old orphanage goes on the market, Laura (Belén Rueda, Amenábar's The Sea Inside) and Carlos (Fernando Cayo) settle in with their son, Simón (Roger Príncep). Once acclimated to the remote seaside surroundings, they plan to re-open it as a home for special-needs children. Meanwhile, their seven-year-old doesn't know he's adopted or that he has a life-threatening illness. He does, however, have a lot of imaginary playmates. When Simón disappears without a trace, his parents contact the police, but to no avail. Because Laura has been hearing odd noises and having strange visions, they proceed to consult a medium. Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin, speaking perfect Spanish) is convinced they aren't alone. Carlos has his doubts, but Laura makes like a detective and revisits her childhood--through photographs, home movies, and exploration of the spooky stone manor--to determine who or what abducted her son.
Why It’s Good : Speaking of orphanages and horror films that aren’t really horror films, Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage is amazing. If you haven’t seen this film, you really should. Another highly atmospheric film, it does have jumps even the ones you completely see coming and jump anyway. The film is eerie, thrilling and sad. And let me say you will never *ever* see me play 1,2,3 knock on the wall. Ever. It’s a great film, one of my favorites I think because it does have the creeps and the chills, but it will also make you laugh and cry and smile at times.
The Gift (2001)
Plot : When Jessica King goes missing, all eyes turn to Annabelle Wilson. Not as a murder suspect, but as a clairvoyant. Many of the towns folk go to Annabelle for help, and Jessica's fiancée, Wayne Collins, turns to Annabelle for possible guidance. Annabelle feels that she can't help, but this doesn't stop her from constantly getting visions of Jessica's fate.
Why It’s Good : Directed by Sam Raimi, starring my big girly crush Miss Cate Blanchett, and written by Billy Bob Thorton, this is a southern fired gothic horror tale. The visuals are great (look for Danny Elfman playing a fiddle in a dream sequence) and the soundtrack haunting. Best yet you get some amazing performances by Cate, Giovanni Ribisi and Greg Kinnear. But beyond that there are some great visuals and I am all about the visuals. Some people thought this was too predictable and there are certainly a lot of red herrings, but like my other choices it is a film that relies on atmosphere.
The Strangers (2008)
Plot : Inspired by true events, this heart pounding, nail-biting frightener mercilessly explores our most universal fears, where simply opening the door to a stranger leads to a grueling night of terror one could never imagine. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman star in this relentless suspense thriller that will keep you up at night and make you never want to answer the door again!
Why It’s Good : “Because you were home.” It’s unsettling. It’s creepy and works because of how simple it is. There are no huge sets, creepy CGI effects or even haunting score (though there is one). Instead, it relies on rattling the viewer with a story that could happen. We don’t get a clever back story on the villains. They don’t need one. They are perfectly menacing just the way that they are. The sound design is amazing and a skipping record of folk country music has never been more creepy. In fact just thinking about the unease this film creates gives me the shivers, especially since I live in the middle of the country. And can never ever watch this at home by myself due to said reasons.
The Others (2001)
Plot : Nicole Kidman plays a young woman named Grace who is awaiting her husband’s return from the war with her two young children. They live an unusually isolated existence behind the locked doors and drawn curtains of a secluded island mansion. Then, after three mysterious servants arrive and it becomes chillingly clear that there is far more to his house than can be seen, Grace finds herself in a harrying fight to save her children and keep her sanity.
Why It’s Good : Scary and stylish, this film relies on its haunting atmosphere and chillingly good score to build the suspense. There are no CGI inkblots or over the top makeup, which seem to be modern day ghost story staples. Instead, you have an old fashioned ghost story that will keep you guessing. To this day, this is one of the few horror films that I have been to where the audience actually screamed. It truly is a great film and everything a ghost movie should be.
Plot : Bill Paxton plays the patriarch of the Meiks family, a family that was your average happy 2.5 children type until everything changes after he gets a “Call from God” to destroy the demons that exist on this earth in the guise of humans. He attempts to teach his children this path, but one of them merely thinks his father is crazy. Eventually the truth is discovered, or is it? Also stars Matthew McConaughey and Powers Booth.
Why It’s Good : I loathe Bill Paxton. One of those actors where I try to avoid everything he does. However, I really wanted to see this film when it came out. There was something about it. And it is an amazing film. Not only does it have its creeps and its scares, but it makes you think. Even after the credits have rolled and you have seen every scene, it provokes conversation. It makes you believe, but maybe not the way you would expect. The acting is great, including the two child actors who are in the majority of the film.
What are some of your go to scary films that you watch every Autumn or Halloween season?