Monthly Archives: October 2012
The Hunger (1983)
“Are you making a pass at me, Mrs. Blaylock?” Loosely based on the novel by Whitley Strieber, The Hunger is a stylish erotic thriller directed by the late Tony Scott (Unstoppable), in his feature film debut, and featuring Catherine Deneuve (Repulsion), David Bowie (The Prestige), Susan Sarandon (The Witches of Eastwick) and a very young Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire) in one of his first screen appearances. A doctor (Sarandon), who specializes in research involving the aging process, encounters a murderous vampire couple (Deneuve and Bowie) and soon falls under the seductive spell of Deneuve’s character. The Hunger is a visually stunning and atmospheric piece that is both dark and glamorous in a style reminiscent of the music videos of the 1980’s. There is a slow and smoothly seductive tone to the movie, which features one of the most erotic seduction scenes ever seen on the big screen (between Deneuve and Sarandon). The film’s other strengths include the beautiful cinematography, the atmospheric score (including the enthralling opening sequence with Bauhaus performing Bela Lugosi’s Dead) and the strong performances (in particular Susan Sarandon as Deneuve’s tormented new lover). The film was not well received by the critics when it was first released. Since then The Hunger though has become a cult classic. The movie even spawned a short-lived television series with the same name. The Hunger was nominated for two Saturn Awards for Best Costumes and Best Make-up.
Night of the Demon (1957)
” You could learn a lot from children. They believe in things in the dark…” Based on a short story by M.R. James, Night of the Demon (AKA Curse of the Demon in the United States) is a British horror movie directed by French director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People) and featuring Dana Andrews (Laura) and Peggy Cummins (Gun Crazy). The film’s plot centers on an American psychologist (Andrews), who is a well-known debunker of paranormal phenomenon, and his investigation of a satanic cult and its charismatic leader, which may be responsible for sinister happenings including murder. There were numerous problems during the film’s production due to highly publicized fights between the producer Hal E. Chester and other members of the production company, including the director, screenwriter Charles Bennett and Dana Andrews. The producer even went over the head of the director (much to the dismay of the director, writer and star) and inserted images of the monster into the film, which the others felt took away from the scariness of the movie. Chester also had the movie edited down to 83 minutes to accelerate the pace of the movie and show it as a double bill in the United States. Despite these changes, The Night of the Demon still holds up as a horror classic—an understated supernatural tale where the director subtly uses shadows and atmosphere to chilling effect to build the suspense and terror. Modern critics are unanimous in their praise for the movie. Some fun trivia: Kate Bush’s song Hounds of Love includes dialogue from the film in the introduction: “It’s in the trees, it’s coming.” Night of the Demon is also one of the B-Horror movies cited in the song Science Fiction/Double Feature in the campy musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show: “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, and passing them used lots of skills.” Martin Scorsese included the movie on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all-time.
In 2000, Ju-on was originally released as two low-budget straight-to-video Japanese television movies. Due to the surprise success of these videos, director Takashi Shimizu made a theatrical version Ju-on: The Grudge, released in 2002. The film’s story focuses on a haunted house with a horrific past, vengeful ghosts and a powerful curse. Anyone who enters the home and encounters the vengeful spirits is cursed and suffers horrible consequences. The movie’s plot is divided into six short interconnecting vignettes, which focus on characters that encounter the curse. The movie is an atmospheric and suspenseful series of ghost stories intricately woven together, which keeps the audience on their toes with each creepy ghostly encounter. The sequel entitled Ju-on 2 (Ju-on: The Grudge 2) was released in 2003. Equally scary is the American remake The Grudge released in 2004 and also directed by Takashi Shimizu. This version features Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a social worker who comes to the house to care for an elderly woman. The cast also includes Jason Behr, Clea DuVall and Bill Pullman. Though based on Ju-on: The Grudge, the American version features scenes re-enacted from the other Ju-on movies. The movie was not well received by most critics when it was released, but it did very well at the box office, grossing over 180 million worldwide and making it the second highest grossing horror remake of the past 40 years behind The Ring. The Grudge also received a number of award nominations, including a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film. Nominees that year included Dawn of the Dead and Saw with the award going to Shaun of the Dead. Don’t bother with The Grudge 2.
I’m Not Scared (2003)
Based on a successful and acclaimed novel by Niccolo Ammaniti, this Italian thriller is directed by Gabriele Salvatores (Mediterraneo) and is loosely based on a true story of a kidnapped boy from Milan during the anni di piombo (a time noted for terrorism and kidnappings in the 1970’s in Italy). The movie takes place in 1978 during an exceptionally hot summer in a small Italian seaside village. While out playing, a nine-year old boy discovers another boy, lying shackled at the bottom of a hole, and uncovers an evil ransom scheme. The movie is a chilling tale about the loss of innocence. The director delivers a stunningly detailed period piece and effectively builds the suspense throughout the film right up until the exciting climax. The movie’s other strengths include the stunning cinematography and the strong performances by the large cast, especially Giuseppe Cristiano who plays the main character and had no previous acting experience. In fact, most of the actors in the movie were locals with no film experience. The movie was very well received when it debuted at the Berlin Film Festival. Within two days after the screening, thirty-two countries had purchased the rights to the film, including Miramax, which released the film to North American audiences and over a million at the box office. I’m Not Scared was also nominated or won many prestigious international film awards.
“Television is reality, and reality is less than television.” Set in Toronto in the early 1980’s, Videodrome is a Canadian horror movie written and directed by David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone) and featuring James Woods (Vampires), Sonja Smits (Street Legal) and Deborah Harry (Hairspray). A president of a cable televisions station (Woods), having grown dissatisfied with his station’s current programming, is looking for something new and revolutionary. He, however, gets more than he bargained for when he is introduced to a broadcast signal that features a show of unknown origin specializing in torture and murder. Soon, Woods’ character is drawn into a bizarre and twisted conspiracy where the line between reality and television blurs into mind control and strange organic hallucinations. The movie is a powerful and disturbing look at the early stages of reality television and its potential dangerous consequences if taken too far. When it was first released, the movie was not well received by audiences and received mixed reviews from the major critics. Videodrome has since received mostly positive reviews from modern critics for its visionary and techno-surreal depiction of a future dystopia. Videodrome was nominated for 8 Genie Awards (including Best Screenplay; Best Achievement in Art Direction, Cinematography and Film Editing; and Best Performances by Actors and an Actress in a Supporting Roles). Cronenberg won the Genie for Best Achievement in Direction in a tie with Bob Clark for A Christmas Story. Videodrome is ranked fourth on Bravo’s 30 Even Scarier Movie Moments. The Toronto International Film Festival ranked it 89th in the most essential movies in film history.
Director David Lynch’s first feature length film, Eraserhead is a surreal, nightmarish, original horror story. Shot in black and white, the film is similar in style to the German Expressionist films of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Throughout the film, Henry Spencer (played by Jack Nance), who lives in a bleak and bizarre industrial city, experiences dream-like hallucinations while caring for a deformed child. The film was produced with the assistance of the American Film Institute where Lynch was studying. The film opened to small audiences, little attention and largely negative reviews. Eraserhead has since grown into a cult classic. Critics today view the film as a cinematic masterpiece and compare it to the work of Luis Buñuel. They praise the film for its unsettling and unnerving sound design, surreal imagery, twisted sexual undercurrents, black comedy and Spencer’s sense of fatalism in a post-apocalyptic world. The film’s influence can be seen in the work of other filmmakers, including David Fincher, the Coen Brothers, Darren Aronofsky and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. In 2004, the film was preserved in the National Film Registry, which is maintained by the United States Library of Congress.
Village of the Damned (1960)
Based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, Village of the Damned is a disturbing tale directed by Wolf Rilla and featuring George Sanders (All About Eve) in the lead. After the inhabitants of a small English village mysteriously fall unconscious, a number of women discover they are pregnant. Soon after, they all, on the same day, deliver babies that eerily resemble each other—beautiful, blonde-haired children with strange eyes. To their horror, the townspeople later discover that the children all possess dangerous psychic abilities that they use to protect themselves and get what they want. The cold and calculating depiction of the children in juxtaposition with the idyllic and quaint quality of village life makes the film even more chilling. The clever story, strong performances (in particular from George Sanders who is always great to watch in films) and the well-executed mounting suspense (right up to the film’s thrilling climax) all make the film worth watching. The film is ranked #92 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. A sequel, Children of the Damned, followed in 1963. Don’t bother with the 1995 remake with Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley.
“Be afraid. Be very afraid.” Directed and co-written by David Cronenberg, The Fly is a remake of the 1958 film of the same name and features Jeff Goldblum (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Geena Davis (Thelma and Louise). When a teleportation experiment goes wrong, a scientist discovers he has accidentally combined his genetic material with that of a housefly and is becoming a hideous monster. The remake works on a number of levels. Not only is The Fly a superbly told and frightening suspense thriller, but it is also a tragic love story. Both Goldblum and Davis turn in powerful and heart wrenching performances and the movie delivers a highly charged emotional punch. The reviews for the film are highly positive and the movie was a hit at the box office, bringing in over 60 million. Some critics even saw the film as being a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s. The Fly won an Academy Award for Best Makeup. The film was nominated for six Saturn Awards, including Best Actress (Davis), Best Director and Best Music. It won for Best Horror Movie, Best Actor (Goldblum) and Best Makeup. In 2005, Tim Magazine included The Fly in their All-Time 100 Greatest Movies list and later the magazine named it one of the 25 best horror films. The film is also ranked #33 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. The Chicago Film Critics Association named the movie 32nd scariest film ever made. Based on the short story by George Langelaan, the original 1958 version was directed by Kurt Neumann, featured David Hedison and Vincent Price and included the iconic line: “Help me! Help me!”. Both fun and frightening, the 1958 movie version was also well received by critics and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. There were two sequels: Return of the Fly and Curse of the Fly.
The Mummy (1932)
The original film The Mummy is one of the great horror classics from the 1930’s. The movie is directed by Karl Freund and features horror screen legend Boris Karloff. Karloff plays an Egyptian priest who is brought back from the dead after a member of an archaeological expedition reads from an ancient scroll. Under the guise of a modern day Egyptian, the “mummy” sets out on a quest to find the reincarnation of his lover—a former Egyptian Princess. The film may appear dated from today’s standards; however, Karl Freund, who was the cinematographer on 1931’s Dracula, has created an eerie, atmospheric tale (using shadow and light in the German expressionistic style to enhance the mood) that is both campy and frightening. Karloff is brilliant, as usual. Today, the film is considered a masterpiece and Karloff’s image of the mummy, wrapped in bandages, has become iconic.
Dressed to Kill (1980)
Dressed to Kill is a suspenseful tale directed by Brian De Palma (Carrie) and featuring Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises), Angie Dickinson (Police Woman), Nancy Allen (Carrie), and Keith Gordon (Christine). A murder victim’s son (Gordon) and a call girl (Allen), who witnessed his mother’s murder, believe that one of the patients of a New York psychiatrist (Caine) may be a psychopathic killer. With a lack of support from the police, the pair must team up to prove their theory before the call girl becomes the next victim. A homage to Hitchcock (with elements from films like Psycho, Rear Window and Vertigo), Dressed to Kill is a highly stylized, sexually charged thriller. De Palma skillfully combines mystery and suspense, providing enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience on edge of their seats. There is a dream-like, nightmarish quality to the film, supported by a great score by Pino Donaggio. The film also has strong performances from the cast, in particular Angie Dickinson as the morally conflicted murder victim. The film received a great deal of controversy when it was released. Feminist groups accused De Palma of being misogynistic and the GLBT community was not happy in the way transgender people were portrayed. Cuts were made to the film to get an R rating from the American Censor Board that trimmed the film by 30 seconds to contain less frontal nudity, blood and dirty dialogue. The movie received mostly positive reviews from critics. The film was nominated for four Saturn Awards, including Best Horror Film, Best Director and Best Music. Angie Dickinson won for Best Actress. The movie also had the distinction of being nominated for three Razzie Awards that year: Worst Director, Worst Actor (Caine) and Worst Actress (Allen). Nancy Allen though was nominated for a Golden Globe as “New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture – Female” for her role in the film.
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
The Legend of Hell House is a British film directed by John Hough (The Watcher in the Woods) and written by Richard Matheson, based on his novel. The movie features a talented cast including Pamela Franklin (The Innocents), Roddy McDowall (Fright Night), Clive Revill (Bunny Lake is Missing) and Gayle Hunnicutt (Eye of the Cat). A team of paranormal investigators is hired by a dying millionaire to investigate the notorious Belasco House and gather evidence of the existence of life after death. The house is reported to be one of the most haunted places on earth—a place where people experience violent deaths or are driven mad. This paranormal investigation takes on chilling consequences for the team, as the supernatural events escalate in intensity and their lives become at risk from the demonic forces. The filmmaker creates a suitably eerie and foreboding atmosphere while weaving a suspenseful tale that is highlighted by strong performances from the actors. The Legend of Hell House was nominated for a Golden Scroll Award for best horror film of 1973 along side other great scary movies (Don’t Look Now, Sisters, Theatre of Blood) with the award going to The Exorcist that year.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Based on the bestselling novel by Jay Anson, The Amityville Horror is an American film directed by Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke) and featuring James Brolin (Capricorn One), Margot Kidder (Superman) and Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night). The book and movie claim to be based on the real life experiences of the Lutz family who experienced frightening, paranormal events after moving into an older house with a violent history on Long Island, New York. In the film version, the father seems to fall under the control of the malevolent spirits in the house. The movie is a well-executed supernatural thriller, as the director effectively builds the suspense and terror. The paranormal happenings are largely creepy and threatening, and the cast delivers convincing performances. The Amityville Horror received largely negative reviews from the critics when it was first released, but was a big success at the box office, bringing in more that 86 million. The movie’s score was nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe. The Amityville Horror was also nominated for Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film and Best Actress (Kidder). Don’t bother with the 2005 remake featuring Ryan Reynolds.
Altered States (1980)
Based on the novel and adapted for the screen by renowned screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky (Network), Altered States is directed by Ken Russell (The Devils). The movie was notable as it marks the film debuts of both William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and a young Drew Barrymore (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial). A scientist experiments on himself with mind altering drugs and sensory deprivation while in an isolation tank. As a result, he begins to experience disturbing physical and mental changes, as his body undergoes an evolutionary regression to a primitive-like monster. Ken Russell has created a flamboyantly, extravagant fright-fest with stellar performances from his cast. It is a film that is both weird and wonderful in typical Ken Russell fashion. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards—for Best Sound and Best Original Score. Altered States was also nominated for three Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Director and Best Writing.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera is a silent film classic directed by Rupert Julian (The Cat Creeps) and featuring silent horror film legend Lon Chaney (The Hunchback of Notre Dame). A hideously deformed former composer lurks in the shadows of the Paris Opera House committing many atrocities including murder in an attempt to win the love of a young songstress and make her his star. An impressive melodramatic tale of terror, The Phantom of the Opera is considered a work of art today due to its highly stylized film imagery and Chaney’s fine performance. Lon Chaney worked laboriously on his own make-up for the role, which was kept a secret by the studio until the film’s opening. Universal released remakes of The Phantom of the Opera in 1943 and 1962. The musical version based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage hit was released in 2004. The Phantom of the Opera is rated #52 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
The Dead Zone (1983)
Directed by Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg, The Dead Zone is thriller based on novel by Stephen King and featuring a strong cast including, Christopher Walken (The Prophecy), Martin Sheen (The Believers), Tom Skerritt (Alien) and Brooke Adams (Invasion of the Body Snatchers). After being injured in a car accident, a local schoolteacher ends up in hospital in a coma. Five years later, he awakens from the coma and tries to resume his life only to discover he has acquired psychic abilities. Walken’s character now has visions of past and future events triggered by touching items or people. The film is a subtle and effectively unsettling supernatural thriller featuring interesting characters and strong performances, in particular from Christopher Walken. The film received favorable reviews and won the Saturn award for best horror film of 1983. The Dead Zone was also adapted into a critically acclaimed television series featuring Anthony Michael Hall that ran for six seasons on the USA network.
The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
The best scary movie to come out of 2012, The Cabin in the Woods is a film directed and co-written by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and co-written by Joss Whedon (The Avengers). Not since Scream has a movie so successfully and originally deconstructed the slasher film genre. The film tells the story of five college students who spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods only to be stalked by deranged killers. The twist to the story is that a secret, covert group is watching their every move via hidden cameras. The movie is clever and funny and yet, at the same time, extremely scary and exciting to watch. It is on one level a parody and commentary on the stupidity and violence in scary movies today. On another level, it is a thrilling story that takes many twists and turns before reaching its exciting climax. There is even a surprise appearance from a movie legend. Goddard and Whedon (who had worked together previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) wrote the script in just three days. The movie was released to highly positive reviews and went on to gross over 65 million worldwide.
Peeping Tom (1960)
Coming out the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Peeping Tom is a British made film directed by Michael Powell (Black Narcissus). Powell was a renowned British filmmaker who in partnership with Emeric Pressburger worked under the name “The Archers” to create a number of classic films in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Peeping Tom is the story of a serial killer who films his murders using a movie camera, which also doubles as his murder weapon. The film is a well-crafted, psychological thriller—a chilling look at society’s voyeuristic interest in murder through the medium and safety of film. Upon its initial release, the film was so shocking and controversial in its subject matter and depiction of murder that the movie received a large amount of negative criticism and press. As a result, Powell had difficulty finding substantive film work after the project. Years later, the movie went on to attract a cult following and is considered today to be a masterpiece by many modern film critics.
Evil Dead II is considered by many critics to be the best in the Evil Dead series of horror movies. Directed by Sam Raimi (Drag Me to Hell) and starring his high school buddy Bruce Campbell, the movie was promoted as being a sequel to the original 1981 The Evil Dead movie—though it really is a separate story with a similar theme and characters. Ash (Campbell) and his girlfriend visit a cabin in the woods only to be possessed by demons after playing a recorded reading from an ancient text. Later, four others join Ash at the cabin only to be caught up in the demonic antics. The movie is, at times, extremely funny and clever, as well as being scary and horrific. Evil Dead II received mostly positive reviews from the critics and was a moderate success at the box office. Entertainment Weekly ranked the movie #19 on their list of “The Top 50 Cult Films.” Equally good is the original The Evil Dead movie which was also directed by Sam Raimi (Spiderman) and also featured Bruce Campbell as Ash. A group of five college students travel to a cabin in the woods only to be possessed and killed by demons. The original is scarier and not as comedic as Evil Dead II. The Evil Dead also received mostly positive reviews, but was only a modest success at the box office. Both films have gone on to become cult classics. The third film in the series is Army of Darkness.
The Uninvited (1944)
The Uninvited is one of the first Hollywood films to take a serious look at haunted houses—most earlier Hollywood films depicted ghosts solely for comedic purposes. This supernatural tale directed by Lewis Allen (in his directorial debut) features Ray Milland (Dial M For Murder) and Ruth Hussey (The Philadelphia Story) as a brother and sister who purchase a seaside estate in England only to discover the house is haunted. Together, they must unravel the dark mystery of the house before it can claim another victim. The film is both charmingly delightful and frightening with an intriguing murder mystery story and complex characters hiding dark secrets. The score and the cinematography (nominated for an Academy Award) are both hauntingly beautiful. The Uninvited was well received upon its initial release and is today considered to be a classic.
The Changeling (1980)
The Changeling is a Canadian haunted house movie directed by Peter Medak (The Krays) and featuring George C. Scott (The Exorcist III) and his real life wife Trish Van Devere (The Hearse). Following the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter in a car accident, a composer (Scott) moves across country and into a spooky old mansion. Here, Scott’s character needs to uncover the mystery behind the hauntings and bring peace to the restless spirits. A well-crafted and skillfully directed film, The Changeling’s many strengths include its compelling murder mystery storyline, strong performances and hauntingly effective art direction, cinematography and score. The Changeling was the winner of 8 Genie awards in 1980, including best Canadian film. The film is #54 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
Directed by Brian De Palma (Carrie), Sisters is a twisted suspense thriller featuring Margot Kidder (Black Christmas) and Jennifer Salt (Soap). The film is set in New York and is about a newspaper reporter (Salt) who witnesses, through her apartment window, a violent murder in the apartment across the way. Kidder plays a French Canadian model/actress who may or may not be involved with murder. Years earlier, she had been surgically separated from her Siamese twin. De Palma is a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock and this movie is a homage to the Master of Suspense. The film is a well-crafted, dark thriller with great performances from Salt and Kidder. The 2006 remake with Chloe Sevigny ran into trouble from the beginning and became a straight to DVD release.
Written and directed by Jaume Balaguero (Darkness) and Paco Plaza, [REC] is a Spanish horror movie about a reporter and her cameraman who are shooting a documentary piece on a local Barcelona fire station. What begins as a routine call about a woman trapped in her apartment soon leads to terror, as the rescue/camera crew discovers an outbreak in the apartment building that turns the residents into flesh-eating zombie-like creatures. To complicate matters, the building is then quarantined by local authorities, trapping everyone in the building. This effectively frightening, edge of your seat thriller was remade in 2008 as the American film Quarantine, which was a box office hit. The title of the film is short for the word ‘Record’ on video cameras.
Angel Heart (1987)
Angel Heart is a compelling, film noir style, detective story with a supernatural twist written and directed by Alan Parker (Midnight Express). The film features a strong cast including Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2), Robert De Niro (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) and Lisa Bonet (The Cosby Show). The film is set in 1955 and is about a private investigator named Harry Angel (Rourke) who is hired to find a big band singer who has disappeared. The case takes the investigator to New Orléans and the underground world of voodoo and magic. Here, Rourke’s character gets more than he bargained for as he uncovers a sinister, satanic plot. The movie received a lot of controversy when it was released due to a graphic sex scene between Rourke and Bonet (who was appearing in the clean-cut The Cosby Show at the time).
Carnival of Souls (1962)
Directed by Herk Harvey, Carnival of Souls is a low-budget, independent film that did not receive a lot of attention when it was first released. It has since gone on to become a cult classic and to influence a number of other independent filmmakers including David Lynch and George A. Romero. After surviving a car accident, a young woman is haunted by the souls of the dead, who lead her to a strange, abandoned amusement park. The film is an effectively haunting piece, notable for its creepy atmosphere and surprise ending. Carnival of Souls was Harvey’s only directorial effort. The 1998 remake has little to do with the original film and went straight to video.
Hellraiser is the best film in the Hellraiser series of nine horror movies. A low-budget, British film written and directed by Clive Barker (Lord of Illusions), the film is based on one of Barker’s novellas. A man purchases an ancient puzzle box and unlocks a portal into another realm, releasing mutated creatures that capture and torture him. Years later, his brother and family move into the same house and become involved in a dangerous life and death game with the brother and the same demented creatures. The film’s strengths are its horrific imagery, suspenseful storyline and strong performances from a largely unknown cast. It is the film that introduced the Cenobite Pinhead character, which is one of the all-time scariest villains in film. The movie received mixed reviews upon its release and was a moderate success at the box office–though it did spawn a highly successful franchise. Hellraiser is rated #19 on Bravo’s list of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film I found extremely disturbing when I first saw a re-release of the movie, due to its graphic violence and horrific themes. Directed by Tobe Hopper (Poltergeist) and starring Marilyn Burns, the film claims to be based on a true story (to add to the terror) though it is a work of fiction. A group of friends are travelling by van in the countryside to visit a family grave and old homestead when they fall victim to a family of cannibals living in a creepy, dilapidated rural home. Upon release, the movie received mixed reviews and controversy, being banned in a number of countries and theatres due to its graphic violence. Made on a budget of $300,000, the movie became a successful cult classic, grossing about 30 million worldwide, and is credited for influencing many slasher horror films that followed it. I am not a fan of the 2003 remake that grossed over 100 million worldwide.
Burnt Offerings (1976)
Filmed at the famed Dunsmuir House in California, Burnt Offerings is a haunted house story directed by Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) and featuring a strong cast including Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror), Oliver Reed (The Devils), Bette Davis (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?), Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart. A family takes over the care taking of a large mansion for an elderly brother and sister only to experience strange supernatural going-ons. The house seems to be rejuvenating itself with each injury and death that occurs. The movie features strong performances from the cast and a suitably foreboding atmosphere, as the suspense of the film builds towards its creepy climax. Though this movie received mostly negative reviews from the critics, it is worth a look for fans of scary movies. The film did go on to win three Saturn Awards in 1977: Best Horror Film, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Davis).
Written and directed by George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) is the second of Romero’s zombie apocalyptic movies. A worldwide pandemic, where the dead are brought back to life as flesh eating zombie creatures, has spread to a town where survivors barricade themselves in the local shopping mall to survive. The movie skillfully combines humour with the horror, as the zombies are mindlessly drawn to the mall and the terror mounts. Most reviews for the film were positive. Made for around $600,000, the movie went on to gross 55 million worldwide, making if the most success of Romero’s zombie films. Equally good is the 2004 remake directed by Zack Synder (300) and featuring Sarah Polley (Splice), Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible III) and Jake Weber (Medium). With strong performances, great characters, heart pounding action and strong reviews, the movie went on to gross over 100 million at the box office.
Black Christmas (1974)
Before Halloween, there was this low budget Canadian slasher movie directed by Bob Clark (A Christmas Story). The movie features Olivia Hussey (Death on the Nile), Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey), Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror), Andrea Martin (SCTV) and John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street). As Christmas approaches, a mostly vacated sorority house is threatened by creepy obscene phone calls culminating in the remaining young women being stalked and killed by a crazed killer. The movie is both campy and frightening, containing strong performances, in particular by Hussey (as the terrified lead) and Kidder (who is hilarious as a foul mouthed drunk). The film has since gone on to become a cult classic and the inspiration for other slasher films that followed like Halloween and Friday the 13th. In the United States, it was released as Silent Night, Evil Night. Do not bother with the awful 2006 remake.
The Stepford Wives (1975)
During the height of the feminist movement, Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby) wrote a best-selling novel which was adapted into a screenplay by William Goldman (Marathon Man) and made into this suspenseful thriller directed by Bryan Frobes and featuring Katharine Ross (The Legacy), Paul Prentiss (The Parallax View) and Tina Louise. A young mother (Ross) moves from New York with her husband and two children to a small, idyllic town where the women are all the epitome of the perfect wife, mother and homemaker. As Ross’ character slowly begins to uncover the mystery behind the town’s beautiful facade, she learns that something more sinister is at play here. The movie is effective due to the strong performances and building suspense with Ross’ character racing against time as her very existence is a stake. Though only a moderate success when it was released, the movie has gone on to become a cult classic. Note: The 2004 comedy remake directed by Frank Oz and featuring Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler and Glenn Close is terrible.
A different take on the haunted house story, this movie, directed by David Twohy (Pitch Black), takes place aboard a haunted submarine during World War II. The movie features Bruce Greenwood (The River), Scott Foley (True Blood), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) and Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense) among the ensemble cast. The crew of the submarine begin to be plagued by increasingly strange occurrences (including deaths) after they pick up the survivors of a downed British hospital ship. As the mystery behind the hauntings is slowly revealed, the film takes the audience on a suspenseful and frightening ride, leading up to an exciting conclusion. This underrated film is worth a look.
The Mist (2007)
A frightening and compelling adaptation of the Stephen King novella written and directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption). The film features a strong ensemble cast that includes Thomas Jane (Hung), Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) and Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River). After a severe storm, some of the inhabitants of a small town in Maine are gathered at the local market picking up supplies when a strange mist settles upon the town. The towns people begin to be become aware that something frightening is lurking out in the dense fog. As the tension and suspense builds, the film takes on a Lord of the Flies like feeling with the trapped townspeople coming into conflict with each other, as they strive to keep order and keep the monsters out. The director revised the ending of the film, making it much more disturbing than Stephen King’s original ending. The Mist performed well at the box office and received mostly positive reviews.
The next two films are both stylish and well-crafted monster fables. Brotherhood of the Wolf is a 2001 french thriller set in the 18th century. The film is loosely based on the legend of the Beast of Gevaudan–a creature believed to be responsible for a series of brutal killings in the french countryside. Directed by Christophe Gans (Silent Hill), the movie is a highly watchable treat with its alluring imagery and thrilling action sequences. A huge international success, the movie took in over 70 million at the box office. The Company of Wolves is directed by Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire) and is a modern re-telling of the Red Riding Hood fairy tale. The movie features Angela Lansbury (Murder She Wrote), Stephen Rea (Underworld: Awakening) and David Warner (Titanic). A visually creative film, the movie tells the story of a teenage girl who dreams she lives in a fairy tale world. Here, she becomes aware of her budding sexuality, as she encounters strange and dangerous werewolf-like creatures on her way to her grandmother’s house. The movie was not a big success when it was released, but has become a cult classic.
The Cell (2000)
The Cell is an exciting, edge of your seat thriller directed by Tarsem Singh (Immortals) and starring Jennifer Lopez (Anaconda), Vince Vaughn (Psycho) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Law and Order: Criminal Intent). The movie tells the story of a child psychologist who uses a device to get into the alternate reality of her autistic patients’ minds. During the movie, she is approached by the police to help save a missing woman kidnapped by a serial killer after he ends up in a coma. Entering the killer’s mind, the psychologist finds herself in a bizarre, nightmarish world where she has to outwit the killer and unravel the mystery to finding his latest intended victim before it is too late. A highlight of the film is its visually stunning and horrific imagery. The reviews for The Cell were mixed when it came out, but the film did well at the box office, grossing over 100 million.
The original Dark Water is a scary Japanese ghost story directed by Hideo Nakata (Ringu). The movie is about a woman going through a divorce and her young daughter. The film begins with them moving into a creepy apartment building. Right from the first moment they arrive, strange and frightening occurrences take place, including encounters with a strange little girl in a yellow rain coat. Under the mounting pressure of fighting her domineering husband to retain custody of their daughter, the woman also has to try to maintain her sanity, as the supernatural events escalate and the mystery of the little girl in the yellow rain coat is revealed. Equally effective and creepy is the 2005 American remake directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and featuring Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) and Tim Roth (The Incredible Hulk). The American version did well at the box office, grossing about 50 million.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Though I was not initially a big fan of this movie with its jerky handheld camera work and incredibly whiny characters, its impact on scary movies cannot be denied (i.e., Paranormal Activity). The film, shot as a pseudo-documentary, tells the story of three film students making a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch in the woods of Maryland. The film is told through the three’s discovered footage–found after they go missing. Pieced together, the footage initially tells of the making of the documentary. What follows though gets increasingly bizarre and scary, leading up to a highly creepy climax. Shot on a budget of $50,000 in just eight days, the movie went on to gross over $200 million thanks to extensive internet buzz generated by the filmmakers.
Silver Bullet (1985)
Starring the late Corey Haim and Gary Busey, the movie, based on a novella by Stephen King, tells the story of a girl (Megan Follows) and her paraplegic brother (Haim). Set in small town Maine, the town is plagued by a series of gruesome murders that Haim’s character believes is the work of a werewolf. Unfortunately, no one believes him but his sister and his alcoholic uncle (Busey) when Haim’s character discovers the true identity of the killer. A low-budget, underrated movie that garnered mixed reviews upon release, the movie is worth a look thanks to the strong performances and the suspenseful storyline narrated by Follow’s character.
The best scary movie to come out of 2011. This film directed by James Wan (Saw) tells the story of a family that moves into a large creepy house. Soon strange things begin to happen, leading to the eldest boy falling into a mysterious coma. The mother (Rose Byrne) and father (Patrick Wilson) have to come to grips with the supernatural happenings and enlist the help of a paranormal team to save their son from evil spirits holding their son prisoner in an astral realm. The movie features solid performances, a creepy Poltergeist movie-like atmosphere and some great jump in your seat moments.
An atmospheric and creepy suspense film directed by and starring Bill Paxton, as a religious fanatic father who believes he has been commanded by God to kill people who are demons. The story centres on his relationship with his two young sons, as seen in flashbacks. In the present day, Matthew McConaughey plays one of the grown sons who believes his brother has now taken on their father’s demented calling. The movie’s strengths are its depiction of the complex and twisted relationship between the father and his two sons along with the plot twists and turns, leading up to a twisted surprise ending.
The first film in the successful film franchise, this independent feature directed by James Wan(Insidious) and written by and starring Leigh Whannell is the best film in the Saw series. Also featuring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover and Monica Potter, the film focuses on two men being held prisoner in an underground bathroom, chained to pipes by a madman, known as Jigsaw Killer, who is set on playing a perverse game with them. The movie builds to a dark climax as the story moves between the two men, who must decide whether to play the game to stay alive and/or save the lives of their loved ones, and the police trying to track down the madman. This low-budget flick was shot in just 18 days, but went on to gross over 100 million at the box office. Critics were mixed in their reviews.