OK, just for giggles, here we go.
On this Halloween, I am inspired to ask the same question that I asked last year at this time:
What have been the films that have frightened you most over the years?
Here is my personal list, in no particular order. (It is essentially the same list that I provided last year, with one exception: I bumped “Poltergeist” from the list and replaced it with “The Orphanage.”)
“The Exorcist” (1973–This film is replete with some of the most horrifying cinematic moments that I have ever experienced. Though certainly a bona fide horror film, the film’s pacing, dialogue, and acting are far more reflective of a well-crafted drama. The coldly manipulative and dreadfully eloquent phrases offered by “the devil” create a sense of palpable spiritual tension, especially since they are starkly juxtaposed with the vulnerability and brokenness of the people to whom the phrases are offered. Lastly, Linda Blair’s treatment of a crucifix makes Ned Beatty’s famous scene in “Deliverance” look romantically tender!)
“The Changeling” (1980–A memorable haunted house film starring George C. Scott. If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand when I tell you that I haven’t felt the same about wheelchairs or rubber balls since I watched it the first time.)
“Halloween” (1978–A small but effective film that wisely resists the temptation to say too much about its villain or his motives. The film simply puts him in front of us, throws an old Captain Kirk mask on him, and forces us to be terrified.)
“Psycho” (1960–I still have to keep an eye on the door when I shower!)
“Seven” (1995–Although more of a frightening crime drama than a horror film, “Seven” nevertheless provides several occasions of true cinematic horror. Personally, I find it to be a better film than “Silence of the Lambs,” to which it is often compared.)
“Alien” and “Aliens” (1979 and 1986–I place these two films together because they work in much they same way. By creating a powerful sense of claustrophobia, a dreadful network of circumstances, a number of interesting characters, and a way cool monster, the films stand as a couple of the finest “monster movies” ever made. Along with…)
“Jaws” (1975–Years ago, when we first purchased a DVD player, my wife Tara asked me if I wanted her to buy our very first DVD on her way home from work. I said yes. She asked me which one to buy. I told her to buy a gripping classic that would be both fun and compelling to watch. She came home with “Jaws,” thereby proving once again that she’s the coolest woman on the planet. Put simply, “Jaws” rocks. Speaking of which, did you about the woman from “Jaws” who had a dandruff problem?…………. They found her head and shoulders on the beach!!!!)
“The Ring” (2002–I know, I know. “It’s not as good as the original Japanese film, ‘Ringu.’” But, having seen both, I just don’t buy that. I’ll take “The Ring” over “Ringu” any day. When Samara actually crawled out of the television set, I screamed like a wild man and whispered to Tara, “That’s one of the scariest things that I have ever seen!”)
“The Shining” (1980–This, by the way, is also one of my favorite Stephen King novels. As a film–and, more specifically, as a film brought to life by a visionary director like Stanley Kubrick–it grabbed my attention and never let it go. I find it to be a brilliant story about ghosts, family dynamics, and one man’s rapid descent into madness. Plus, it is some of Scatman Crothers’ best work since Hong Kong Phooey.)
“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968–Ostensibly a story about the spawn of Satan, this film also creates a portrait of social alienation among Manhattan’s elite. Quite frankly, I’m not sure which storyline is more terrifying!)
“Fright Night” and “The Lost Boys” (1985 and 1987–To be honest, these are not stellar films. But it didn’t feel right to create a list like this without putting a couple of vampire films on it. These two films contain a wonderful combination of campy fun and genuine jolts. That’s the tooth, and nothing but the tooth.)
“American Werewolf in London” (1981–Humor and horror, in my opinion, are never far away from one another. Do you need proof? Look no further than “American Werewolf in London.” Throughout the film, I found myself simultaneously giggling and covering my eyes. Plus, this film offers the best “transformation into a werewolf” scene that you will ever see.)
“Exorcist III” (1990–Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. This clever film is a well-crafted piece of work that captures some of the depth and dread of “The Exorcist” while at the same time exploring some new territory. At times, it is genuinely terrifying.)
“The Orphanage” (2007–I saw this film for the first time just one week ago, and I am not over it yet. It is a smart and cleverly written ghost story that brilliantly juxtaposes the security of a mother’s love and the spiritual unsettledness of a memory-laden home for children.)
“The Sixth Sense” (1999–Is this film really a frightening drama or a dramatic horror film? Who cares?! All I know is that, when I saw it a second time, the scary scenes still gave me goosebumps, even though I knew they were coming. That’s the mark of a truly haunting film.)
“When a Stranger Calls” (1979–When the babysitter hears that ominous question from the mysterious caller–”Have you checked the children?”–I am always pulled into the depths of her fear and helpless vulnerability. Later, when she discovers that the calls are coming from inside the house, I normally lose control of my bodily functions.)
Thanks for taking the time to read through my list. I hope that it was a fun trip for you.
Enjoy your Halloween–and have a couple of good scares while you’re at it.