Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, Part 2

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.

Audition (1999)
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)
Senseless gore and high body counts aren’t really my thing, but damn if this vicious little French flick doesn’t blow me away.  What starts as a college-girls-go-home-for-break bore very quickly turns into a crazy-guy-killing-a-family-for-no-reason bloodbath. But this isn’t your normal home invasion thriller, there’s no mindless expository dialogue to be had or extended “okay, what do we do now?” rendezvous to be discussed.  High Tension is all about the kill.

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 (2002)
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.


  1. Great list. AUDITION is in my top three all time favourite horror movies, it really scared the fucking shit out of me!! But I have kind of an obsession with it, I just love it so much!

  2. Signs is a great horror flick because it doesn't show too much but it still scares the hell out of me and that news scene just really gave me the willies the first time I saw it. Nice post Alex!

  3. Oh God, Halloween!Since we don't really celebrate in my country, I am not a big fan of it! Plus, I hate horror movies, they scare the crap out of me!Chuckie, the killer doll, or something like that, marked me for life since I saw it at the age of...6 maybe?
    Anyway, I decided break my usual cycle and watch a horror movie this year! So, the big question is, Alex, which one of these ten do you recommend?Which one do I HAVE to see?

  4. LOVE High Tension! The actual home invasion bit is so scary but I though the twist let it down a bit!

  5. @Tyler, dude AUDITION is nuts! The first time I saw it... that fucking bag... dear God.

    @Dan O., yeah man I agree; the first time I saw that flick.. yeesh. Glad to hear that it still holds up well for you!

    @Aziza, ahhh GREAT question. I firmly believe that the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is the tell all-end all of the horror movie genre. After that, go with THE isn't gory, but it is suspenseful and ungodly terrifying.

    @pturner, I can see how some people don't fully dig that twist. But that damn head-in-the-railing scene. Holy shit!

    THANK YOU everyone for commenting!!!

  6. The only one of these I haven't seen is High Tension, and every time I see the cover of the DVD or a screenshot somewhere, I get chills. I'm game though. I'll see it someday.

    Audition is amazing! As you mentioned to Tyler...that bag. And "kiri kiri kiri". I kinda dig Signs. It was before Mr Twist Ending turned to shite haha. Look forward to Part 3!

  7. Yeah man, definitely check out High Tension. Signs is good, but the "twist" ending is ridiculous. The water... relying so much on faith... eh. Too much for me.

  8. I was wondering what happened to your part 2 and then I saw that not only had you done it, you have a part 3! Where have I been?

    I just recently saw Rosemary's Baby. Charles Grodin let me down at the end. If you can't trust Grodin, who can you trust? Any interest in seeing that weird sequel? "Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby?" Weird.

    Never seen Audition. Kind of afraid to.

    Never seen High Tension. I initially heard bad things but I might have to give it a shot.

    Signs was great the first time I watched it. That dog jump scare at the beginning scared the pee our of me. Also, the glimpse in the corn field and the birthday party home video. That last one gives me hope for that Oren Peli Area 51 found footage flick.

  9. haha it's all good man. No, I have interest in a Rosemary's Baby 2. I read the plot description and it sounded ridiculous.

    See High Tension and especially Audition!

    I can't wait for Area 51 to come out.