Thursday, October 29, 2009
PegStaff’s Halloween horror movie favorites, part deux — and film guy’s new gourmet picks
Two years after our first dreadful drill-down, a few frightful films refuse to leave the list.
lt just goes to show that a good scare is hard to shake. How else can you explain the fact that two years down the road from our first staffer survey of all-time favorite Halloween horror movies, several of the same titles remain on the list?
A total of 10 fearful souls here in the office (along with two guest pickers ... um ... from beyond) participated in this year's survey, with the results demonstrating a spooky trend: M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense shapes up as a burgeoning classic. No fewer than three respondents chose it as one of their favorite creepshows, while not a single person selected it in 2007.
Repeating as favored fright flicks were Poltergeist (which made it onto two individual's "best" lists), Critters, The Exorcist, E.T., and The Shining.
In addition to The Sixth Sense and Poltergeist, two other films made it onto the lists of multiple individuals in this year's survey: John Carpenter's The Thing and George A. Romero's original Night of the Living Dead, the grandpappy of all zombie movies.
I'm going to start the ball rolling by offering up a few films of very recent vintage that I think ought to be on everybody's "must scream" list.
John "Malediction" Meyer:
2009 has been a good year for darkside tales, starting with one of the animated variety in the guise of Coraline. Henry Selick's deliciously skewed vision of a disheartened girl's alternate-reality home life contains chills aplenty for adults, and charms galore for the kids. Good show!
About a month later, Sam Raimi returned to his horror roots with the shockingly scary Drag Me to Hell, which proves once and for all that some film titles ought to contain spoiler alerts.
I also dredged the ol' memory banks (I mean, the wet ones) to come up with a few favorites from the distant past. I think John Carpenter's The Thing makes the best use of creature effects ever (thanks in large part to monster-meister Rob Bottin), while its isolated Antarctic setting serves up a mind-numbing dose of claustrophobic terror that's hard to thaw out from.
Forbidden Planet may be seen as an odd choice, but this one scared the pee out of me as a youngster when I saw it (on TV) because of the amorphous nature of its monster, combined with the suggestive manner in which we glimpse it as it strains against the electric ray field set up by the space travelers to keep it out of camp.
My most enthusiastic recommendation goes out to a seldom-discussed, offbeat masterpiece of horror called Jacob's Ladder. This one from director Adrian Lyne finds its main character -- a mailman played by Tim Robbins -- experiencing waking visions of demons as he goes about his daily ... um ... life, I guess you'd have to say. In terms of unease and a steadily mounting sense of being out of synch with reality, nothing put on film does it any better. If this movie doesn't scare you silly, you're probably already dead.
NOTE that the comments attached to the films below are those of the respondents.
Mike "Simply 'Orrid" Orren:
Clockwork Orange: First half feels like trick-or-treat gone awry, and ever since Bart dressed as a droog in a Treehouse of Terror episode, I think of this film every Halloween.
Old Dracula (AKA Vampira): A recent discovery. David Niven is an aging vampire who is trying to bring his bride back-- and accidentally turns her black. It's tasteless blaxploitation/horror/comedy.
Village of the Damned: Those kids are freaky.
Killer Kevin Whitaker:
Alien: pure classic, used-future, sci-fi, spine-tingling horror.
Event Horizon: This movie scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid. Now, I watch it for the sentimental scare factor.
Rosemary's Baby: Just plain wrong, wrong, wrong.
Unsavory Shannon Sutlief:
Poltergeist: I contend that this, not It, is the reason kids of my generation fear clowns.
The Company of Wolves: Angela Lansbury advises a wariness of heavily eyebrowed men, but her lessons are hard to follow nowadays thanks to the popularity of "manscaping."
The Blood on Satan's Claw: Thanks to Elvira, I saw this British flick at a far-too-young and impressionable age.
Laura "Lobotomizer" Evans:
Shaun of the Dead: The most awesomest movie ever and it's exactly what I would do in that situation.
Bug, with Ashely Judd: It's from my list two years ago and is still great.
Critters: Gives me the heebeegeebees!
Sarah "Backhoe" Blaskovich:
The Exorcist: Rumor has it that if you pause The Exorcist in exactly the right moment, the devil's face flashes across the screen. This is absolutely true; I found it at a sleepover on my 13th birthday. Terrifying.
E.T.: Do not show this to movie your children, it's just plain scary. Even the sight of E.T. -- stuffed animals or on those weird old-timey lunch boxes -- makes my heart jump into my throat.
The Shining: Jack Nicholson is spooky even when he's not playing Jack Torrance.
Sinister Sarah Crisman:
The entire Harry Potter series, in one sitting whilst gorging self on candy pumpkins.
Fido: Really obscure, incredibly hilarious zombie flick. Funniest movie I've seen in five years.
The Sixth Sense: because it's comforting to know I'm not the only one who sees them.
Gwen "Do Unto Others Before They Can Do Unto You" Du Val:
The Mole People
The Sixth Sense
Monstrous Mike Bullock:
Nothing has come close to scaring me since JAWS.
Robyn "Black Riding Hood" Darley:
My poor mom wondered why I always ended up in the horror section of the video store as a kid ...
I like watching the horror movies I grew up with around Halloween. They stir up the nostalgic scares I felt when I saw them for the first time, which was probably too young.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: My brother proudly tortured me with this movie.
Poltergeist: This movie did not make getting braces any easier.
Hellraiser: Who can resist a puzzle?
Sally "Help Me" Helppie:
Says Sally's husband and partner-in-filmmaking-crime Michael Stokes: "I asked Sally for her three and she laughed at first, then almost immediately rattled them off. All three of these gave her nightmares."
The Sixth Sense
Night of the Living Dead
Michael "Bloody Stump" Stokes:
The original Night of the Living Dead. Creepy and stark, it shattered so many taboos of the time. A black man (up until that time usually the comic relief in horror movies) was the hero. The white businessman (usually the hero) was a coward with a dysfunctional family. The young lovers (usually guaranteed to survive) ended up getting burned to death and eaten. By the end of the film, the rescuers are revealed to be as dangerous as the monsters. I think it is as politically accomplished a film as All the President's Men or Seven Days in May. And it scared the crap outta me.
John Carpenter's The Thing. Probably the best monster movie ever made. It should be required viewing (preferably in the Clockwork Orange chair) for studio execs who think CGI is the solution for everything. The film gets blasted for the lack of characterization but I don't think that's true. I think the men become more and more clearly delineated as the threat to their humanity increases.
The Fog. Not a film I fell in love with when it first came out, but over the years it has grown on me. There is something darkly lyrical about the story. The ghostly occurrences are random to the point that they approach dream logic. And what great monsters! Leper zombie ghost pirates come back from a watery grave.
[Editor's Note: We're letting "Bloody Stump" Stokes carry on rambling because he offered to give us A LOT MORE than just his favorite three films -- and because he's a deep thinker on the subject of silver screen horror. Continuing: ...]
And 'cuz I can't resist, the rest of my top ten in no particular order:
The Haunting (original)
Five Million Years to Earth
Silence of the Lambs
Stokes philosophizes on our 2007 selections:
Great horror movie list. I really like Poltergeist but it doesn't quite make the top ten. Too safe, I think. Loved The Host, though for big monsters, you can't beat the original King Kong (my all time favorite movie ever!) Ringu is good. I was working with an American producer who "discovered" it and was part of the North American remake. He slipped me a copy that I plugged in on a rainy afternoon. The scene in which the ghost crawls out of the TV creeped me out in a way that a movie hasn't in a looooong time.
Y'know, having all these discussions about The Beacon lately has made me realize that -- while I love the jump scare -- the boo! moment -- I'm really partial to the slow creeping dread some movies pull off. The ball bouncing down the stairs in The Changeling. The woman reaching into the puddle for her lost keys in Inferno. The scene in Night of the Living Dead after the truck explodes and the hero realizes how damn far away the farm house is. Almost any shot involving Michael Myers in Halloween. Probably why I'm not a fan of MTV-style cuts in horror movies. Dread is the intrusion of something alien into our normal world. How do you manufacture that if the camera is already acting intrusively?