10 flicks guaranteed to scare your pants off!
“Evil never dies,” as evidenced by Michael Myers, the mask-wearing serial killer from slasher fave HALLOWEEN. No matter how many times he’s shot, stabbed or blown up, nothing can stop Michael from slaying countless numbers of unsuspecting teenagers. That creepy sense of utter futility in the face of evil, coupled with the haunting theme music, plays a big role in why this film is so unnerving. The success of HALLOWEEN spawned a host of similar murderous flicks (FRIDAY THE 13TH, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and established a legacy of memorable horror movie clichés. Despite its 1978 release date, HALLOWEEN is still one of the most frightening and most influential horror films of all time.
Filmed on location at the former Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, rumored to be the birthplace of the prefrontal lobotomy, the bleakly atmospheric SESSION 9 revolves around the members of an asbestos removal crew who begin to exhibit increasingly bizarre and violent behavior after beginning work at the asylum. Featuring a cast of relative nobodies (including David Caruso), the film is gradually ratcheted up to heightened levels of spookiness by director Brad Anderson, who went on to thoroughly creep out audiences with THE MACHINIST. By utilizing an array of tension-inducing camera techniques — most notably the slow zoom — and taking advantage of the inherently eerie locale, Anderson creates an unsettling portrait of madness.
Linda Blair projectile-vomiting pea soup has become something of a cultural joke by now, but actually viewing THE EXORCIST you’ll find it surprisingly hard to maintain a detached, ironic air. Instead, watching trapped, transformed Regan MacNeil (Blair) spider-walk down the stairs or make highly-inappropriate use of a crucifix while her terrified mother (Ellen Burstyn) looks on, you won’t be laughing. You’ll be crossing yourself.
The artful Swedish original freaked out moviegoers when it creeped its way onto movie screens with its snowy set pieces and gruesome violence. A timid and introverted young boy finds out that the pale, peculiar girl living in his apartment complex is actually a bloodsucking vampire. In 2010, an American remake was released but in spite of pretty good reviews, we’ll take the original film for a proper scare.
Though it spawned several action-packed sequels, what makes the original, Ridley Scott-directed film effective is the atmosphere of claustrophobic horror. It’s true that in space, no one can hear you scream; there’s also nowhere to run. Suffocating blackness outside, a huge, acidic-blooded monster inside … these are not good odds. Watching Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley best them, even as the rest of her crew is decimated (most notably in stomach-exploding awesomeness), never ceases to thrill, terrify, and make one view the starry sky just a little more warily.
Even though he’s the Master of Horror, movies made from Stephen King’s books have been hit-or-miss when compared to their printed sources. MISERY stands out as one of the most nerve-wracking thrillers ever. Starring a grizzled James Caan as the suffering writer and a young Kathy Bates in an Oscar-winning performance as nutty nurse Annie Wilkes, who can’t believe her luck when the man she saves from an accident turns out to be her favorite author. As he recovers at her house, his self-proclaimed “number one fan” complains that she isn’t happy with his latest work, and lets him know it in a variety of painful ways. We still cringe when hearing “trust me, it’s for the best”, cause we know what comes next!
AUDITION is a Japanese-made horror/torture scare-fest that is so unsettling it linger in the viewer’s consciousness for days after the credits have rolled. Takashi Miike’s AUDITION features a notorious torture scene so disturbing that it obliterates any memory of the film’s rather slow first act. Following the story of Aoyama, a lonely, middle-aged widower who holds a mock audition for the “role” of his new wife and promptly falls for an enigmatic young contestant named Asami. Turns out that Asami has some pretty serious skeletons in her closet – the people in her past have a habit of turning up dead or horribly disfigured. Before this unlikely love story can bloom, Asami discovers evidence of Aoyami’s ex-wife and becomes psychotically jealous. We’ll spare you the graphic details of what happens next, but suffice to say that poor old Aoyami learns firsthand the painful meaning of the adage, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
“Fava beans and a nice Chianti”, sounds so non-threatening when we say it. But give the line to Sir Anthony Hopkins and one of the greatest villains in movie history was born. Sure Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter charms, terrifies and incites throughout Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning masterpiece SILENCE OF THE LAMBS but it’s the other guy – the frighteningly named Buffalo Bill (“…cause he skins his humps…”) is actually more scary than Lecter. From the well and bucket to the night-vision finale, it’s the freakiness of Bill that really made us check the dark corners after watching the SILENCE. Bill also matches Lecter with memorable scenes – so put the lotion in the basket, pop on “American Girl” by Tom Petty and starting dancing in your skin suit.
Before 28 DAYS LATER came out, the mental picture of zombies was universally that of a slow, shuffling, rotting corpse with an unquenchable hunger for “braaaaaaiiins.” But writer-director team of Alex Garland and Danny Boyle changed all that. These new rage-infected zombies terrorizing a quarantined England’s few survivors are real speed demons: charging down tunnels, smashing through glass, leaping at you out of the dark. Once scary only en masse, just a single specimen of this new breed of zombie is deadly. Twenty-eight days later, you’ll still be nervous walking down an empty street after dark.
THE OMEN gave us nightmares as teens and even almost 40 years after its release, it still has the power to disturb jaded horror fans. This is due to that truly creepy kid cast as the satanic son Damien. Oscar-winner Gregory Peck played Robert Thorn, a recent father who secretly swaps his diseased newborn for an orphaned infant in order to protect his wife’s mental well-being. Over time, Robert realizes the young boy may in fact be the Antichrist. With horror movie elements that inspired such films as ORPHAN and THE RING, THE OMEN was a major technical and even musical advancement for the genre – composer Jerry Goldsmith won an Academy Award for the score.