Last week, my girlfriend afforded me seven days to show her the best and scariest horror films I could think of. Here’s part two of our week in horror.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Despite the fact that Mia Farrow was promised an Oscar nomination by producer Robert Evans (which she didn’t get), and threatened with divorce if she stayed on the film (which Mr. Sinatra implemented), Mia Farrow’s performance in Roman Polanski’s first English film ranks among the best in a decade filled with masterful ones. And the fact that she was a relative unknown when she was cast only adds to the deft of her portrayal as the naïve, anguished Rosemary.
But the brilliance of Polanski’s film does not rest solely in its actors. Sure, John Cassavetes is perfect as a spineless, struggling actor/husband, and Ruth Gordon justly deserved the Oscar she won for her overbearing, all-too-nice Minnie. But the beauty of Rosemary’s Baby is that it continues to creep the hell out of people all these decades later.
Rosemary’s Baby instills the best kind of fear: that of which we create ourselves. There’s no overt gore, no mindless killing; it’s a slow progression of a woman’s dissent into unidentifiable madness. We get hints as to why Rosemary’s pregnancy is so nightmarish, but ultimately we’re hoping what Rosemary is hoping: that this is all some elaborate fever dream. Think again.
Body Count: Two
Scariest Scene: If you’ve seen the movie, then you’re aware of its most infamous scene. If you haven’t seen the movie, then, well… you have some viewing to attend to.
This is tricky to write about. I’m aware that there are readers out there who have never seen (or even heard of) Takashi Miike’s stealthy headtrip of a film. And out of respect for them, it’d be best not to divulge the details that make this film so memorable.
Let me say that the first time I saw Audition, I honestly had no idea what it was about. The cover looked intriguing, so I rented it. A half hour in, I was enjoying the melodramatic, slow-paced romance that the film depicted. Things, I soon learned, were not what they seemed.
Body Count: 1
Scariest Scene: One word, repeated: “Kiri kiri kiri kiri.”
High Tension (2003)
When we do finally find out why the killer is so hell bent on offing this particular family, it’s a revelation that is as artistically pleasing as it is unexpected. High Tension is full of twists, all of which are executed intelligently. It’s a rare slasher film that doesn’t treat its viewers like morons.
Body Count: 5
Scariest Scene: The first time we meet the killer, he’s receiving a blow job in the front seat of his car. Doesn’t sound so scary, right? Yeah... right.
Signs isn’t a very good movie. When I first saw it, I enjoyed it, though not as much as M. Night Shyamalan’s first two movies, but I enjoyed it all the same. Now, it’s just a precursor for the garbage of what was to come. The forced dialogue, the horrendous character names (Lionel Prichard… really?), the obvious plot devices, the unsurprising twists; it’s all just so goddamn bland.
Signs does, however, carry with it a few redeeming qualities. Showing the film to my girlfriend, who had never seen it, reminded me how freaky Signs is upon first viewing. The shrieking music, the quick shots of alien legs, the fingers under the door; it definitely gets the job done. Mel Gibson also has a few very solid scenes, most notably his condemning of God while trying to revive his son from an asthma attack. “Don’t do this to me again,” he says aloud, almost instinctively. “I hate you,” he whispers. “I hate you.” It’s a powerful moment that, in hindsight, feels out of place. Shame Signs didn’t take itself more seriously. Or, did it take itself too seriously?
Body Count: 1 (in flashback)
Scariest Scene: The Hess family, sheltered in a basement for the night as aliens tore their house apart, finally open the basement door and volunteer Merill (Joaquin Phoenix) to ascend the stairs to the living room.
Merill, ax in hand, cautiously walks up one step at a time, then, once at the top, turns left and walks off camera. Seconds later, he reappears to signify a clear coast. All is well, for the time being.
The problem with scenes like this is that they’re only good for one shot; upon repeated viewings, the tension is usually lost. When I saw Signs in a sold out movie theater, many people jumped many different times. But for me, I was never more terrified than Phoenix braving those steps into the unknown.