Nothing is more fun for me around Halloween than watching scary movies, old and new. Granted, a lot of the movies that scared me in my younger days don’t even register on my fear meter now. But there is a degree of nostalgia in watching them and recalling my initial reactions. You may laugh at some of my selections; that’s okay. Hopefully you have your own list. I’d love to see your choices so feel free to share with me. I might find something new to watch. After all, you can never have enough scary movies!
- Psycho 1960 For me this is the quintessential horror film. By now most people know the story, based on the novel by Robert Bloch, directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, and starring the creepy Anthony Perkins is actually based on the true life killer Ed Gein. (Gein was guilty of murder, grave robbing, and fashioning a “woman suit” from the flesh of corpses. He was found mentally incompetent to stand trial and was confined to a mental institution for the remainder of his life.) There are parts of this film I still find disturbing. Certainly the notorious shower scene (which caused me to shower with a locked bathroom door for YEARS), and the discovery of Mother Bates in the “fruit cellar” are frightening. But even more terrifying for me was the dark back sitting room where Norman entertains Marion amidst stuffed birds and detective Arbogast falling backwards down the stairs in the Bates home. The conversation between Norman and Marion is filled with unsettling comments that still make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The remake falls so far short of the original I refuse to even discuss it.
- The Birds 1963 Another Hitchcock thriller. I confess I am a BIG Hitchcock fan. He was able to use subtlety to create terrifying films. I first saw this movie when I was about ten years old. In those days you could sit in the theater and watch movies multiple times. My friend Mary and I went to see this and loaded down with butter popcorn, sugar filled soda, and candy, we settled in for a good scare. She was ready to leave after the first time we watched the movie. On the other hand I HAD to see it again. After a run to the concession stand for a refill on treats (I bribed her to stay with candy) we hurried back to our seats. I was obsessed with the shots of the lovebirds traveling in Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) car as they leaned from side to side on winding roads, the strange attack on the children at the birthday party, the mother in the diner who Melanie slaps, but, most of all, the pecked out eyes of the neighbor, sprawled on the floor in his pajamas. It was this last shot that captured and held my fascination and still does to this day. Based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier (whose writing I loved at the time) this is a must see.
- Halloween 1978 John Carpenter stole my heart with this film. The character Michael Myers scares the hell out of me. Silent, unstoppable, physically strong, and merciless he pursues and kills his victims in gruesome fashion. Something of a cautionary tale (casual teenage sex is BAD and will get you killed); Michael is judge, jury, and executioner. While some of the sequels had scary moments none compare to that initial introduction to Michael Myers.
Dressed to Kill 1980 Brian De Palma has gotten a lot of flak for supposedly imitating Hitchcock. Granted he uses many of the same camera shots Sir Alfred was known for, but I don’t see that as a fault. He does it well and it is a tribute to a great director. This movie is possibly one of De Palma’s lesser known films. With an interesting cast (Michael Caine, Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz, and Keith Gordon) and a great opening, the suspense is built effectively throughout. I loved the score, the characters, and was completely freaked out by De Palma’s traditional jump out of my seat finale.
5.)Silence of the Lambs 1991 I love Hannibal Lecter. I love him so much I named my long haired rescued Chihuahua after him. He is my hero/anti-hero. The acting in this film is so spot on, the story so brilliantly constructed, the pacing so perfect it is one of my favorite films overall. Sir Anthony Hopkins channels Dr. Lecter with an incomparable skill, Jodie Foster lovingly underplays Clarice Starling, and Anthony Heald as Dr. Chilton is priceless. But Ted Levine as Jame Gumb with his creepy voice (“Put the lotion in the baaassket”), his unique make-up application and dance moves to “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus, and his loving relationship with his death’s-head hawkmoth (Acherontia atropos) captures the spirit of the film. Jame Gumb is a troubled young man who wants to be a woman (or thinks he does). Fortunately he’s an excellent seamstress. Hannibal is a delight, cool, calm, collected and quite efficient. He is definitely a waste not, want not type of guy. And he has an interesting idea of justice. I owe him a great debt since he introduced me to the beauty of the Duomo in Florence. So thanks Dr. Lecter for the fine education in art. Oh and thanks for keeping me frightfully entertained.
The Haunting 1963 I add this separately because it is much more than just another scary movie. Based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, this is an intensely psychological examination of loneliness and isolation. Julie Harris is brilliant as the disturbed and overlooked Eleanor Lance. Hungry to find “her place” she struggles with her inability to fit comfortably into the group that is investigating the purported haunting of hill house. Her madness seems to infect the other members of the group even as paranormal occurrences begin to increase in frequency and intensity. One scene in particular leaves me breathless and terrified. Locked in one of the rooms the group watches in horror as the door appears to be pressed from the outside, straining into the room as though something outside demands entrance. I always thought it looked like something huge was breathing as it leaned against the locked door. This is a film that demands to be viewed objectively. It says a lot about the social interactions of people in stressful situations. One piece of advice; don’t watch it alone.