It's Halloween, that sinister holiday that allows adults and children alike to dress-up in costume, cut loose, have some fun, and face our deepest fears with a twinkle in our eye. Part & parcel of the Halloween funfest is, of course, a bevy of scary movies. There have been many over the years. I thought I'd go over my Top 10 Favorite ones here.
- Night of the Living Dead (1968) -- They don't come much scarier -- or low-budget -- than this. George Romero managed to pull off a spine-tingler scarefest with this spearheading tale about zombies wreaking havoc in the countryside, trapping a hodgepodge group of survivors in an isolated house, waiting for help to arrive (except be careful what you wish for). The first time I saw this movie, I was on the edge of my seat. Our doorbell rang at one point, and I literally screamed.
- Poltergeist (1982) -- There's a lot of nostalgia for me wrapped-up in this film. JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson are like my movie parents of the 1980s. Heather O'Rourke shares my same exact birthday. Several of the scenes are indelibly etched into my mind, and scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid: Carole-Anne talking to the TV, counting the time between the thunder and lightning, the toy clown, the evil tree, the backyard full of bodies, the man tearing off his face, the house imploding on itself. What a great, terrifying film.
- Aliens (1986) -- Not your traditional 'scary movie,' this film nevertheless managed to induce much heart-pounding and jumps on the sofa for me. What about the scene when the crew is huddled in the room, barricaded from the oncoming horde of aliens, and yet their scanners are showing the aliens to be in the room with them? Yes, it was deliciously parodied on SNL, but there's no denying the terror of that scene. And when little Newt is trapped, and Ripley has to go back for her? Man, this movie is a rollercoaster of thrills.
- Se7en (1995) -- Ok, so, this may not also fall into the 'traditional scary movie' category, but by golly, it certainly is horrific and creepy. I remember seeing this for the first time at the theater with my friend Jeromy. It seemed mostly boring, and I was pissed off that we got a shirtless Morgan Freeman scene, but nothing-of-the-kind with Brad Pitt. Over time, however, I've grown to appreciate this film, in all of its mesmerizingly horrific glory. From the direction, to the cinematography, to the depiction of the seven deadly sins, to Kevin Spacey's creepy turn as the killer and, finally, to the head-in-the-box ending. This movie is a definite skincrawler.
- The Omen (1976) -- I'm not a religious man. That doesn't mean, however, that I can't enjoy a good Biblical, God vs. Devil thriller. And the original Omen certainly delivers in that department. Everything comes together well in this movie, especially the efforts by stars Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, and the supporting work by those such as David Warner, Patrick Troughton, Billie Whitelaw and Leo McKern. And where would this film be without the tremendously demonic score by Jerry Goldsmith? I can tell you... I was nervous about getting photographs of myself developed after seeing this movie.
- The Shining (1980) -- Descents into madness are always unsettling. The way it is portrayed in this Stanley Kubrick/Stephen King film is downright chilling. I know that King has issues with the final product, and that's his right, but Kubrick still managed to make a scary movie that has haunted filmgoers for decades. The spooky setting, the long gaps of suspenseful waiting-for-the-shoe to drop moments, and, of course, the terrifying notion that someone you love and trust suddenly becomes unknown and -- even worse -- dangerous to you. Scary stuff, indeed.
- Eyes Without a Face (1959) -- Some of you may not be terribly familiar with this French horror film, but it's been one of the few movies that has managed to creep me out upon first viewing as an adult. It's the story of a mad doctor who kidnaps (and kills) young women so that he may attempt to graft their face onto that of his daughter's, who is disfigured and wears a mask in shame. The horror in this case isn't so much derived from gross or 'gotcha!' scenes as it is from what the characters do. Give it a look some time, if you're up for it.
- Sherlock Holmes - The Last Vampyre (1993) -- All right, so, this isn't a theatrical release. I include it because it is pretty much the only story about vampires that has managed to make my skin crawl. An adaptation of Conan-Doyle's The Sussex Vampire, this story is not so much about your typical blood-sucking vampire, as it is about a man (played by Roy Marsden) who comes to a quaint English village and seems to have the power to drain people of their life force. One look from him can (supposedly) cause fatal heart attacks. A young man becomes enraptured with him. Holmes is on the case to try and figure out what is going on. The whole production is well-done and unsettling It is, in my opinion, Marsden's best performance.
- Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) -- Yes, another TV movie. But don't pre-judge this little classic starring Larry Drake and Charles Durning. Drake plays a special needs man who befriends a little girl. One day, the townsfolk (led by Durning) believe Drake to have molested her, so they hunt him down to his mother's farm. Mom has Drake hidden in the cornfield inside the scarecrow outfit. The mob finds and kills him. And then they start to die, one-by-one. Oh, and if you weren't scared enough already, wait until you see who gives the little girl a flower at the end of the movie. F-r-e-a-k-y!
- Terror In the Wax Museum (1973) -- Pretty much what it says on the tin. There's some terror, and it's in a wax museum. True, this scared me a lot as a kid, and it's been years since I've seen it, but when you've got John Carradine, Elsa Lanchester, Ray Milland and wax figures of notorious murderers who come alive at night and chase after people, it's hard to go wrong.
And, that's it. The Top Ten movies that scare me the most. You may notice the absence of such classics as Halloween and Psycho. I have respect for both films, but they've never really scared me, per se. Nor have I included anything from the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. They were a big part of my childhood, but they were more fun than scary. The ten films on the list actually creeped me out and terrified me in some way.
So, those are mine. What are yours?