Late last Sunday night, while attempting to pick a film to cap off the weekend, I proposed an idea to my girlfriend: (at least) one horror movie a night (that she hasn’t seen) until Halloween. She was amused and enthusiastic. Sucker.
Basically, I have free reign to spend the next week scaring the living shit out of my girlfriend. And really, what can be better than that?
Scary movies don’t scare me. I’m far more likely to be forever freaked by movies that chronicle plausible situations. Deliverance ruined camping for me, The Vanishing ruined any sort of trust in strangers for me, Blood of the Beasts ruined meat for me, and so on.
Despite my indifference to horror film frights, there are, of course, a few notable exceptions. Occasionally you get a genuinely scary horror film that is also quite well made. Those are the ones I’m choosing to watch this week.
In addition to being indisputably scary, the original Halloween is a very good movie. Sure, some of the acting is conveniently stereotyped, and the production quality is heavily dated (which, to me, lends itself well to the film’s terror), but Michael Myers’ night of horror over Haddonfield, Illinois remains as scary as the first time I saw it.
As the final cords to John Carpenter’s iconic musical score came to a silence after my recent viewing, I dived into a heated rant about how good the original Halloween is, but how the fear it projects has become somewhat diluted. Not diluted with time, mind you, but rather with mindless sequels and remakes. Imagine how scary it would be to not know why Michael Myers was so hell bent on killing Little Miss Innocent Jamie Lee Curtis.
You can make this argument for nearly all great horror films, but honestly, wouldn’t be nice to not see them muddled down by sequels, prequels, parodies and remakes?
Body Count: 5 (including a truck driver off screen)
Scariest Scene: The closet scene, easily. To me, this scene captures the entire essence of the film. You have Jamie Lee Curtis terrified in a claustrophobic corner (who can ever forget her shrieking?), with a confused Michael Myers swinging aimlessly at empty coat hangers before one is directly plunged into his eye. It’s a terrifying, iconic scene. One that lives up well to its reputation.
(the referenced scene begins at 0:50)
What I virtually had no recollection of was how effective the film’s music is to its overall creepiness. Stanley Kubrick’s use of stock music, as was the case with all his films, lends itself perfectly to the material. The music, which sounds oddly similar to bits used in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, rarely ceases. The score, like the film itself, relentlessly builds to shocking climax after shocking climax, right up to the garden maze finale.
In addition to its score, The Shining – again, like all of Mr. Kubrick’s films – has a way of covertly sneaking up on you, to the point that you may not be aware that you’re in the midst of greatness until days later. When I, and several notable critics, first saw The Shining, I was unimpressed with its story. Now, I consider it a terrifying masterpiece.
Most of the freaky shit in this film takes place in the middle of the day, or at least in very well-lit rooms. Seriously, who else but Kubrick could pull something like that off?
Body Count: 2
Scariest Scene: There are more obvious choices to be had here, but for me, it’s Jack Nicholson’s cold, dead eyes staring mercilessly at his playful wife and innocent son frolicking in the snow. Kubrick was, among other things, the master of the jump cut, a technique used no better than in this scene.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Like Halloween, the rawness of Tobe Hooper’s horror masterpiece suits it faultlessly. And this is where the Michael Bay-produced remakes (in part) got it wrong: the material demands to be seen as raw and unhinged, not as flashy and gory. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is 83 minutes long, and every one of them is rooted in fear. The fact that it starts off moderately slow (you know, minus the deranged hitchhiker with a penchant for straight razors), is ingenious. “Maybe,” new viewers may think, “this won’t be so bad.”
Little do they know. Honestly, has anyone ever watched this movie and NOT asked, verbally or otherwise, what the fuck is wrong with this family? What motivates them? What happens to them. Who knows. Exactly.
Body Count: 5
Scariest Scene: You know why The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the most disturbing horror film I’ve ever seen? Because of its final two shots, which I risk giving away to otherwise unknown viewers. Let me just say: you’ve never seen a laugh quite like this.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in which I’ll dissect the horrors of Rosemary’s Baby, Friday the 13th and High Tension.