Since tomorrow, October 31 is an international holiday of some sort, my T13 edition will feature something that attributes to Halloween. So aside from the trick or treat fun, costume parties, haunted places, ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, I will share some scary movies befitting this ancient Celtic festival.
- THE EXORCIST (1973)
Directed by William Friedkin
A cat unexpectedly jumping from off camera is scary. But The Exorcist is so disturbing it will mess you up for months. Controversial and profane, The Exorcist remains the most viscerally harrowing movie ever made, not only because it dares to question the existence of God but because it has the cojones to put Satan in the body of a 12-year-old girl. Moviegoers literally fainted as Linda Blair vomited pea soup on a priest. And after a series of mishaps, Friedkin asked a clergyman to perform an exorcism of the set. "A lot of people definitely thought something weird was happening," says Blair, "but I was so young they tried to keep me in the dark." Consider yourself blessed, Linda.
- THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Truth is stranger than fiction...and it's a hell of a lot scarier, too. Based (like much of Psycho) on the horrific ritual murders committed by Ed Gein, Chainsaw looks, feels, and smells so much like a grainy, low-budget documentary that it borders on snuff. It opens with a sober-voiced narrator (a young John Larroquette) detailing a heinous killing spree. Then we see the split-second flashbulb pops of crime-scene carnage before finally meeting Leatherface — a homicidal lunatic wearing a butcher's apron and a mask stitched out of human skin. Hooper says that when he settled on the film's title, "I lost several friends. But I thought, they're putting so much energy into hating the title, maybe there's something there." Indeed there is; a copy of Chainsaw resides in the Museum of Modern Art.
- THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti... fpt-fpt-fpt." Released only one year into the '90s, Silence would remain the decade's scariest vision of pure sociopathic evil. As Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins is a waking nightmare of seductive depravity — the sick, twisted serial killer America hates to love. Even with Hannibal the Cannibal safely locked away in his maximum-security cell, Jodie Foster's FBI trainee Clarice Starling is as helpless as a lamb. "Great villains are subversive — audiences go and see them because they feel uncomfortably attracted to them," says Scott Glenn, who plays Starling's seen-it-all FBI mentor in Silence. "To this day I still have nightmares about it." Join the club.
- JAWS (1975)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
"Is it true that most people get attacked by sharks in about three feet of water?" When this doom-drenched gem — the highest-grossing film on our list — hit theaters, it gave new meaning to the phrase red tide. Weeks over schedule and dizzyingly over budget, Jaws caused Spielberg more than his share of headaches — especially due to his temperamental star. No, not Richard Dreyfuss, but Bruce, the 24-foot-long malfunctioning animatronic great white named after Spielberg's lawyer. "The fact that the shark didn't work was an artistic blessing in disguise," says Spielberg. "It forced me to be Hitchcockian." It's true — Jaws is terrifying not for the few times we see the shark treating Amity's vacationers like a Red Lobster smorgasbord, but for those sharkless moments of fear and trembling as we wait for Bruce to feed again.
- PSYCHO (1960)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
A charter member of the scary movie hall of fame (and don't even think of judging Psycho based on Gus Van Sant's remake). Many of its most renowned features are readily apparent: those startling cuts (more than 50 in the shower sequence alone), Anthony Perkins' neurotic mama's boy, Bernard Herrmann's shrieking-violins score. But Psycho's sneakiest tricks manifest themselves more subtlely. Take Hitchcock's decision to use a handful of different stabbers in Janet Leigh's slice-and-dice sequence: "He kept changing it so the audience wouldn't be able to get a fix on Mother," Leigh, who spent seven days in that shower, told EW in 1999. "At one point it was Tony's stand-in, at one point it was a woman. Never Tony." Bottom line: It still works.
- POLTERGEIST (1982)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Based on a story by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist was released just one week before E.T., and it seemed like the latter movie's evil twin. Both were tales of suburban California families whose lives are upended by otherworldly invaders, but while E.T. seemed a Christian parable of death and resurrection, Poltergeist had a more sinister take on the afterlife. Its haunted house was a piece of the American dream literally built on a corrupt foundation, a graveyard full of unsettled ghosts. Even the film's most benign elements — the toys in the closet, blond moppet Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke), and kindly medium Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) — seemed full of ominous dread. That three of the franchise's stars suffered untimely deaths led to talk of an off-screen curse, which surviving cast members dismiss and refuse to discuss, but which makes the film that much creepier.
- A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Directed by Wes Craven
The screen debut of the character who gave striped sweaters a bad name, Nightmare introduces a suburban monster who stalks teens while they sleep. Craven makes the most banal aspects of adolescence hellish, whether it's turning the sanctity of childhood bedrooms into murder zones or a phone into a demonic tongue. (And "One, two, Freddy's coming for you..." irrevocably changed the way we feel about playground chants.) Freddy eventually turned into an all-too-jokey shadow of himself — but there's nothing funny about him in this first installment. Bonus: A young Johnny Depp gets eaten alive by a bed.
- THE EVIL DEAD (1982)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Before he was the webmaster of the Spider-Man franchise, Sam Raimi was a college dropout with $385,000 and a nightmare. Plotwise, The Evil Dead is just your basic "kids at a remote cabin in the woods foolishly read forbidden book and unleash demons" movie. But the result was a template for a generation of horror filmmakers, thanks to the wry Bruce Campbell (as ''Ash'' Williams, in the performance that made him a cult horror hero), those predatory trees, and Raimi's wickedly inventive direction. The furiously racing tracking shots came from what Raimi dubbed "the Shaky-Cam," a camera mounted on a two-by-four carried by two operators who would run like hell when Raimi yelled, ''Action!'' As he told EW, "When we made Evil Dead, I wanted [viewers] to jump and scream and feel my wrath!" We're still feeling it.
- NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Directed by George A. Romero
The horror movie whose zombie escapades inspired a thousand more, Dead was filmed in black and white for about $100,000, some of which was reportedly contributed by lead actor Russell Streiner. Although the film, about radiation-poisoned corpses on the hunt for fresh meat, was made on the cheap (any flub in the sound was covered with the chirping of crickets), the total gross has been estimated to be as high as $50 million. Because of legal problems with the original distributor, the filmmakers saw only a tiny fraction of the grosses, inspiring a remake in 1990. Stick with the original — the Blair Witch Project of its day.
- THE OMEN (1976)
Directed by Richard Donner
Someday, an enterprising film student will write a master's thesis on why the Nixon-Ford era spawned the cinematic unholy trinity of Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen. Until then, let's just picture the last of those demon seeds, Damien (Harvey Stephens) — the tiny Antichrist with the 666 devil sign on his scalp — maniacally pedaling his tricycle and knocking Lee Remick over the second-floor railing to the menacing strains of "Ave Satani." "That boy was putty to direct...just a dream," says Donner, who adds, "A lot of people were afraid to see The Omen because The Exorcist scared the s--- out of them so much." It's their loss, because when we picture Damien's nanny hanging herself while screaming, "Damien, it's all for you!" we still get freaked out.
- AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
Directed by John Landis
Poor David Naughton. He seems to be starring in a madcap romantic comedy as an American backpacker who woos lovely British nurse Jenny Agutter. But then his zombie pal Griffin Dunne keeps reappearing, each time in a state of further decomposition, warning David that he must commit suicide before he becomes a werewolf at the next full moon. What a buzz kill. The movie's blend of comedy and horror isn't always successful, and its ending seems abrupt, but its scary parts are certainly scream-worthy. The werewolf attacks, shot from the predator's point of view, are chillers, but best is Naughton's excruciating, horrifyingly realistic transformation scene, maybe the best in any werewolf movie. (Credit goes to makeup ace Rick Baker, who reteamed with director John Landis to effect similarly scary changes on Michael Jackson's face in the "Thriller" video.) If little else in the film keeps you awake nights, that scene certainly will.
- HALLOWEEN (1978)
Directed by John Carpenter
Forget the string of half-baked, nonsensical sequels. Disregard the slew of cruddy, uninspired slasher imitators like Friday the 13th. The original Halloween is, was, and ever shall be the alpha and omega of bogeyman flicks. It also remains one of the most profitable indie films of all time — costing a mere $300,000 and pulling in more than $55 million. The influence of Psycho ("It's the granddaddy of all horror movies," says Carpenter) is everywhere — from the tiniest details (Donald Pleasence's Dr. Sam Loomis is named after Janet Leigh's boyfriend in Psycho) to the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis as Halloween's shrieking heroine and babysitter in peril. "It didn't hurt that Janet Leigh was her mom," says Carpenter, "because everyone's a fan of Psycho." And Halloween.
- SEVEN (1995)
Directed by David Fincher
From the jittery, scratched celluloid of its opening credits onward, Seven oozes more apocalyptic doom and deranged creativity than any Brad Pitt movie has a right to. Before this film came out, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, pride, and lust were just intangible words uttered in Sunday school. But by Seven's closing credits, the deadly sins have become the gruesome MO of a revelations-spouting serial killer so out of his gourd that he shaves off the tips of his fingers to avoid leaving prints. From its bleak, rainy setting to an unshakably grim finale, Seven is so nihilistic and disturbing it's hard to fathom how it ever got greenlit. We mean that as a compliment.
Citing source: Entertainment Weekly
PS. If you're also up to some scary reading, here's an e-book from Juno Books entitled "Five Classic Ghost Stories."
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