It’s Halloween time, need I say any more? This is one holiday that is all about atmosphere, and I am a big fan of setting the proper mood, so please follow this recipe before making the jump and reading the rest of this post:
** Put on your favorite copy of Mussorgsky’s Night On Bald Mountain. Don’t have one? Pop Fantasia into your DVD player and forward to the Night On Bald Mountain section (it’s the final animation, with the giant demon). Play this very loud!
**Turn the lights very, very low… lower…lower…
**Make yourself a nice, warm glass of apple cider.
**Scan the room… Is anyone there? Hello? Sorry, I thought I heard something…
Everything set? Ok, there are a few films that I really think deserve mention around Halloween, films that deal with fear, fright, and scare the pants off of me. Try one of these for the long, scary nights of the Halloween season. You’ve probably seen them before, but hey, they’re still scary good!
The Shining by Stanley Kubrick
This is the scariest movie of all time. Period. End of discussion. I think of The Shining as one of those fortunate, perfect moments when an artist’s technique and his chosen subject matter converge into perfect harmony; this story was seemingly written specifically for Kubrick’s camera. Of course, it wasn’t (Stephen King reportedly dislikes Kubrick’s version), but this is one film where the camera, slowly prowling around the Overlook, is the most frightening character in the film; it’s as if Kubrick himself is the evil soul of the hotel, showing us precisely what we fear. I will never forget the first time I saw this movie. I can describe the sofa I was sitting on when those elevator doors spilled blood, the color of the blanket I used to hide my eyes when the dead woman sat up in the bath tub, and the feeling of sitting bolt upright for the film’s final 30 minutes. On a primal level, who can’t imagine someone in his family snapping and trying to take everyone out? This is the definition of cinematic horror.
Meet Jack Torrence!: Stanley Kubirck's The Shining
Dead Ringers by David Cronenberg
This one is for the ladies. I have no idea what drugs David Cronenberg takes for recreational purposes, but oh, what I would give to have been a fly on the wall when he pitched Dead Ringers to Twentieth Century Fox…
“Ok, here’s the idea: Twin gynecologists, one dominant and one submissive, trade lovers. Slowly, they develop a co-dependent drug habit which coincides with their development of extreme gynecological tools and botched procedures…”
It Hurts Just To Look: Elliot Mantle's tool set from David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers
Cronenberg loves the concepts of penetration and body modification, but nothing he has made is scarier than his use of this theme in medical, and reproductive, circumstances in Dead Ringers. Few movies in history have dangled impending horror more deftly than the moment when Elliot Mantle (one of two roles played by Jeremy Irons) goes to pick up the gynecological tools he has had made. If you can watch the revelation of those tools and not be filled with dread for the film’s remaining run time, well, you’re made of stronger stuff than I.
Alien: The Director’s Cut by Ridley Scott
Scariest Movie Poster, Ever!: Ridley Scott's Alien
Ridley Scott’s career is, for me, divided into two sections; Alien and Blade Runner (yay!) and everything else (ick!). People often forget about Alien when thinking about horror films, probably because the film is set in outer space and therefore has been (mis)classified as sci-fi. Also, the franchising of the film’s titular monster has only detracted from the reputation of the original film. Let me tell you, when the digitally-projected Director’s Cut of Alien played at the Union Sq. theater a few years back, it scared me shitless all over again. This is one instance where the ‘Director’s Cut’ has resulted in a superior film; the pace is slower, which allows the tension to build and the audience to explore the insanely creepy sets. Makes you wonder how this man could possibly be the same guy who made Hannibal.
American Psycho by Mary Harron
That’s right, American Psycho. Wanna know why? Because if you want to see the model upon which the current President’s administration was built, there is no finer cinematic example. This movie is a hilarious and dignified transcendence of its source material (the novel, not the Regan administration), and it also is very, very frightening. Frightening because it is a perfect excoriation of greed, selfishness, and ego run amok; it shows the invisible, moneyed yuppie class for what it truly is. Highlights abound, but Christian Bale’s delivery of nonchalant insanity like “Sorry, I have to go meet Cliff Huxtable at the Four Seasons” and his menacing monologues describing the glories of Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, and Huey Lewis and the News are terrific fun. Crazy world, crazy times. Of course, you could just watch C-Span and get the same level of insanity, but why not at least have some fun?
It's Hip To Be Square: Christian Bale and Jared Leto in Mary Harron's American Psycho
Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Philip Kaufman
This one is more a recollection from my childhood, but no movie (save maybe Poltergeist) scared me more as a kid. This movie is a seminal horror film for people of my generation and I can prove it: Walk up to anyone over thirty years old, point a finger at them, open your mouth, and screech. EVERYONE remembers the moment when Donald Sutherland calls out Veronica Cartwright! Invasion of the Body Snatchers was scary because it is predicated on the need to sleep, and how one’s own body could betray you. Extra bonus creepy? Leonard Nimoy as the ice-cold Dr. David Kibner, the man with the syringe of doom. In every way superior to the original cold war cautionary tale, this film delivers the shivers.
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens by F.W. Murnau and Nosferatu by Werner Herzog
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner>: Max Schreck as Count Orlock in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu
The scariest vampire movie of all time, Murnau’s Nosferatu is a lesson for a new generation of film fans as to the absolute fear to be generated from silence. The first time I saw Max Schreck’s Count Orlock slowly rising from his grave was in the Bowie/Queen video for Under Pressure; it scared me then, but that was only a small sampling of the horror that awaited when watching the film itself. This is one of the best horror movies of all time, period. As an added bonus, give a look at Werner Herzog’s remake and marvel at Klaus Kinsky’s performance in the role Schreck made famous. Kinsky is so committed to the part, it seems as if he is about to eat everything on screen (including the scenery). Herzog’s remake doesn’t attempt to tonally match Murnau’s film, but then again, how could it? Instead, the film has an oppressively formal feeling that delivers a tension all its own.
Have a Happy, Scary Halloween!
This Film Is The BRM's Choice For Scariest Of All Time. Click below to read The Back Row Manifesto’s Top Halloween Films! Enter at Your Own Risk!!! Muuuuhahaaaahaaaaaaaaaaaa……