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.
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.
Stephen King is one of the most prolific horror writers of our times. In the hands of different filmmakers, his work has been turned into some brilliant work. Other times, it has been downright dreadful.
In order, here are my favourite movies and television programs based on the work of Stephen King:
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- The Green Mile (1999)
- Stand by Me (1986)
- Carrie (1976)
- The Shining (1980)
- Misery (1990)
- The Dead Zone (1983)
- Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
- Salem’s Lot (1979) – TV movie
- The Stand (1994) – TV mini-series
- Dolores Claiborne (1995)
- Storm of the Century (1999) – TV mini-series
- The Mist (2007)
- Haven (2010-2011) – TV series
- Apt Pupil (1998)
- 1408 (2007)
- Secret Window (2004)
- It (1990) – TV movie
- Silver Bullet (1985)
- Needful Things (1993)
- Sometimes They Come Back (1991) – TV movie
- Cujo (1983)
- The Dark Half (1993)
- Christine (1983)
- Firestarter (1984)
- Rose Red (2002) – TV mini-series
- The Shining (1997) – TV mini-series
- Dreamcatcher (2003)
- Pet Sematary (1989)
- Kingdom Hospital (2004) – TV series
- Riding the Bullet (2004)
- The Langoliers (1995) – TV movie
- It’s better to be good than evil, but one achieves goodness at a terrific cost.
- People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy… and I keep it in a jar on my desk.
- The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings – words shrink things that seem timeless when they are in your head to no more than living size when they are brought out.
- We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.
- You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.