The Guy From Harlem (1977): Bad Movie Royalty, Ya Racist

•December 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Well, bad movie fans, I feel as though we’ve been cheated. Until yesterday, if you had asked me about the worst movie of all time, I’d probably recite back to you the basics: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), The Room (2003), Troll 2 (1990), Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)… maybe throw in a little Gone with the Pope (2010) to appear extra pretentious in my adoration of horrible cinema. What do all of these films have in common? They’re made by white directors about white people. Who could have suspected racism permeates our society to such an extent that what is easily a candidate for worst movie ever is completely unknown to lovers of bad movies? That’s the only possible explanation for why we have overlooked this horrendous gem of inept filmmaking. So stop being racist and watch this movie already.

Synopsis: Al Connors works as a private detective in Florida, wowing the underground world with his ways from Harlem, and maybe rescuing a babe or two in the process.

Finally, a hero that understands the importance of cleanliess!

Finally, a hero who understands the importance of cleanliness!

Let’s begin by noticing that the filmmakers here are not out to impress you. Sure, The Man from Harlem may have sounded more imposing or professional, but that’s not what we’re going for here. People even refer to him as “the guy from Harlem” IN THE MOVIE… in case you were confused as to who the title referenced. “Wait a minute, you mean the main character we’ve been following for 20 minutes is the guy from Harlem?! What a twist!” They probably needed to make it more clear, since Loye Hawkins (the man behind The Guy) closely resembles Will Ferrell with a tan and could easily be mistaken for The Guy From Florida Who Kinda Looks Black. Even writing that, I feel mean, since I’m sure poor Hawkins was one of those kids who was too white for the black kids and too black for the white kids, but it really came off that the producers didn’t want anyone too “urban” for the role. Which is crazy! It’s Blaxploitation! Maybe they were hoping this would be the crossover hit that finally got White America to understand the black man.

We're going streaking!

We’re going streaking!

And why not? Of course, only if you think getting America to believe that the average black man’s major concerns are pussy and kung fu slapping is a step in the right direction. At any rate, this was not the film to bridge that gap, for many gloriously horrible reasons.

Both the hostage and I are gigantic fans of Black Dynamite (2009); watching The Guy From Harlem felt like watching the exact movie Black Dynamite was tenderly mocking, although it’s much more likely that the problems prevalent in The Guy From Harlem were ubiquitous in Blaxploitation films of the time. A bright orange shag rug makes it obvious that the hotel room, Al’s office, a downtown apartment, etc., are all the same location with different sheets of wallpaper hung over the walls (this is made even more blatant by the fact that the set designers only sometimes felt the need to tack the wallpaper down at the bottom, so it occasionally curls up in the background of a scene). While no character out-and-out reads the stage directions, multiple line flubs are left in. When the princess or queen or wife of chief (it varies) of “an African nation” (we never were able to get more specific than that) says that she spent “6 month” in Harlem, there is the barest pause and hesitation before the actors are apparently given the cure to continue. I could not count on both hands how often an actor stepped on another’s line, or began incorrectly to have to restart. I imagined Ed Wood (as played by Johnny Depp), enthusiastically waving them through all the errors, trumpeting, “filmmaking is not about the tiny details, it’s about the big picture!”

But don’t be fooled into thinking the film is only ridiculous in set design, acting, and directing. The writing is equally absurd. Any man out there looking to impress his next lady-friend take note: order strip steak well done and J & B Scotch (or as the Rifftrax crew points out: “I hope you like really tough, burned meat and shitty scotch!”). The plot of this film is more like two episodes of Magnum P.I. back to back than one narrative line. Although Connors could teach Magnum a thing or two about fighting – have you ever seen a deadlier beast with his bare hands?

fightOr feet, perhaps? The fight scenes looked as though two ten-year-olds with no training were told to act out their most impressive karate moves. Hands down, my favourite Al Connors take-down maneuver is when he lies on his back and kicks out with his legs – his foes, fortunately no more skilled in combat that he, then run into his outstretched legs and are rendered inert by the sheer stunning blow! Fight choreography has never before looked this hilariously amateurish.

We watched the Rifftrax recording of this movie, and as much a fan I am of bad film, that is definitely the way to go with this movie. Much like Birdemic, the editors on The Guy From Harlem have never heard of elliptical editing. That scene in which Connors enters his office, gets his messages, goes to his desk, roots through his papers, looks up a number to call, picks up the phone, dials the number, waits for an answer… you see it all unfold as you would if you were in his office – all the mind-numbingly dull moments in life that most movie editors assume will be inferred by the audience… not so with this flick. Because of this, there is A LOT of dialogue-free filler, which leaves abundant space for funny people to rip it apart. If you just want to witness the astounding lack of talent on display, watch the film; if you want to enjoy it, watch the Rifftrax.

Hostage Pick Part Ones:13 Assassins; Awesomely Grasping at Shakespeare

•May 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment


     Good day all,

          Hello again from the bunker of broken dreams. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to speak to y’all; the power struggle that led to the creation of the Top 50 put us into a bit of a social pinwheel. As soon as she had to respect my opinions on the list it made her start to see me as a person, and that threw our whole relationship dynamic into a tailspin that pushed her to up and leave. Longtime friends of the site will know that, from time to time, the Iron Lady that controls my fate gets fed up and takes off for a bit, mercilessly darting your gentle narrator and leaving just enough food to make sure I’m still here to be tortured when she gets back. The point is I’m free! Free as a poor, sad fuck darted in a bunker can hope to be. Regardless, I have a theme for the viewing in Cruella’s absence; wait for it, drooling with anticipation aren’t you, movies that aren’t as good as most folks seem to think they are. This one is tame, because the action is pretty sweet when it gets going. But the second episode, much like The Godfather or The Naked Gun, is darker and more angry (it’s almost like the Zuckers knew that O.J. would someday kill his ex and fed that rage into the tone of the second film, Godfather Part 2 was pretty good too). The crosshairs of my scorn will fall on Super 8 in the next one, a film with a disturbing 82% RT rating, that I need to watch again to see if I’m missing something before telling y’all about what a horrendous piece of shit it is. I digress, 13 Assassins.

     Before I jump in to this lovely distraction I must provide a disclaimer: I love kung-fu, samurai and ninja movies like the desert loves the rain. I have watched the shittiest movies, with the shittiest stories, with the shittiest dubbing, just to see a mofo get his head crushed (looking at you Ricky-Ho). I get that these flicks are not supposed to be great cinema, but it bothers me when they lose the essence of the genre. The best example I can give is The Curse of the Golden Flower, in that it is one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever seen that tried so hard to be high drama that it forgot to be a fung-fu flick (compare Jet-Li’s Hero, a film both visually stunning and true to the genre). The key point is that I do not think this is a bad movie, I just think it’s trying way to hard to be Throne of Blood (I seen me some Kurosawa bitches). RT has this film at a 95 and Metacritic at 87, I’m simply suggesting somewhere around an 80; great, but not cock-pucnhing you blue with awesomeness.

     I guess the point I have to start at is that I love a slow build. I think it was Truffaut that once said “yes, yes. I like how the young man’s chest catches the light.” That has nothing to do with slow builds, and Truffaut never said what I quoted him as saying but, admit it, it makes whatever I say next sound more impressive. What I’m trying to get at is that the director does a great job of setting up the politics behind the impending clash, but the build is a little too slow. The violence is sparse in the early bits, but done very well. Swords actually cut, one dude can’t kill sixty enemies and surviving a battle is complex; but I can’t get past the tone of the movie and whether it’s trying to be a period piece or a Samurai flick. It just feels like a mash-up of existing films.

     The group of “heroes” emerge and we get the quest. We witness the foibles of overcoming their internal dynamics and then they’re faced with defending the keep against insurmountable odds (p.s. how awesome to consider a world where 200 troops is a huge force). The superiority of the heroes is clearly established as they pin their enemy down and then . . . . they jump down and finish the job with swords instead of killing everyone with arrows (they actually toss down their bows to make a point). If it’s a period drama this no maka da sense, and if it’s a samurai flick it’s awesome; I suppose the word I’m looking for is uneven. The pendulum swings between “this is how it was” and “wouldn’t it be awesome if it was like this” a little too freely. The reality they set up early is sacrificed for drama later.

     I guess what I’m getting at is that this is a great movie, I just don’t know if it lives up to the hype as the second coming.I see a lot of movies that I love nodded to without a clear voice of it’s own. Parts Seven Samurai, Kill Bill Vol. 1 andCrouching Tiger meshed together that never really starts it’s own path. Worth a watch none-the-less, and at least trying to switch up the genre.

     I’ll leave it there, but pass on fair warning; the theme will not be as kind for another flick with a solid rep., namely Super 8. Talk about a mash-up of better flicks. We’ll wait for that bridge to come along before we jump off of it, but until then ponder this: is it better to be what you are, or to be a pale shadow of what you hope to be?

        With fondest regards,

             the hostage


The Cabin in the Woods (2012): Horror Fans, Just Go See It

•April 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Over the weekend, I untied the hostage, doped him up a suitable amount, and took him out to see The Cabin in the Woods (2012). Good decision, and totally worth the extra Ativan.


Like most reviewers, I’m not going to tell you anything about the movie, because this film is best approached knowing as little as possible. That’s not to say it’s one of those idiotic films where every 10 minutes, there’s a twist that invalidates everything that came before (The Recruit, I’m looking at you); it’s just an unexpected story that proceeds in unexpected ways. And I LOVE unexpected. The Cabin in the Woods is an exceedingly clever, funny, and sometimes very scary criticism of modern horror films (particularly modern American horror). And beyond making a point, it’s just dang entertaining. The more familiar one is with horror movie tropes, the more one will get from it. Basically, this is a film every fan of horror needs to check out. Goddard and Whedon hit one out of the park here. I haven’t seen a film so knowledgeable about horror since… Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, but no one saw that brilliant movie either.

Seriously horror fans – what are you watching? I blame everyone but me for Saws 3 through 18. You know, if we go support movies like The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale, maybe studios will start making more smart horror – and that’s not an oxymoron, despite what the people at Platinum Dunes want you to believe.

Go see this movie. That’s an order. From someone with no authority (le sigh). Until next time,


50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 5 (Top 10!)

•April 11, 2012 • 5 Comments

Ding dong, the list is dead!

Walking dead, that is. Which leads us to the first of our top 10 scariest horror movies ever:

10. Night of the Living Dead

The hostage: The classic! This is a movie that pulls scary at two levels like a pro; the social commentary on race is almost scarier that the dead pricks trying to eat ya. I imagine a world where the over-armed rednecks in this movie are the only survivors and finally have the chance to live out their Libertarian dreams; I’d rather side with the zombies (what’s with the semi-colons?). The gore is top-notch and the twist at the end is a punch in the dinkbone. The only grudge I have is a personal one, in that the woman in this movie is as useless as boobies on something that don’t need no boobies. Shit, pick up a rock or hand the guy a weapon but don’t just stand there and scream like an idiot. I’m sure this uselessness is essential to the message Romero (George, not Ricky) is going for, but the lady just pisses me off. Cruella is cruel, but she’d brain a zombie while I held it off. The photos during the credits make what’s left of my soul cringe.

The cinephile: I’m surprised that the original that started it all is still the scariest for me, but here it stands. There is something about Night of the Living Dead that feels more raw, more intimate, than the others. Perhaps it is the claustrophobic atmosphere of the single, besieged farmhouse that gives it that power. Or maybe it’s the style of film. I always thought Romero filmed the movie in black and white because of budget issues. However, we learned in IFC’s The American Nightmare that Romero chose black and white film because it reflected how news was aired at the time, and he was hoping the style would give it that extra feeling of verité. I do believe he’s right. And agreed 100% with the hostage – the final scene is tragic on a number of levels.

9. Carrie

The hostage: Fuck mean girls. Not the movie, it’s kind of fun, but the actual mean girls that inspired Tina Fey to start writing. Here you have a girl, naturally shy, tormented by an abusive, zealot mother, and then some rotten bitches show up and start some shit. This movie reminds me of Firestarter in only one way, you have this helpless child with an incredible power that can go “kablooie” at any moment. I guess the difference is that Carrie isn’t a piece of shit. The scariest thing, to me, is that Carrie’s life is a steady pipeline of fear from every direction. When she finally does start to get some traction and make some friends it all turns out to be shit. Sad, and really, really scary.

The cinephile: I refuse to spoil why this film is so high on the list, because for the most part, it’s a rather sad story about a lonely, abused girl who discovers she can defend herself (and has the thirst to), but not an overly frightening film. (Although now that I think about it, some of the stuff with her mother is exceedingly creepy.) Instead, I will tell you the story my father told me, which made me NEED to see the movie. He went to a movie and was passing another theatre when he heard a unanimous scream come from within. He asked an usher the name of the film, and the usher replied, “Carrie.” Pappy said he went back the next night, and though he wouldn’t tell me any of the horrifying details, he did tell me that it didn’t disappoint. I’ll say the same thing. I don’t care how much time has passed, I don’t care how many flicks have stolen this bit and so made it clichéd; it does not disappoint.

The hostage: Yeah, the first view of this is something special.

8. Halloween

The hostage: “The evil is gone!” I love this movie, and one of the major reasons is that Donald Pleasence is luxuriously coated in the Oil of Olivier (big ups to Wizard People). The opening sequence is one of the all-time greats, and when the frame shifts to see Michael, it blew my 14-year-old mindgristle. The most amazing thing is how little blood there is. If you’ve seen this movie, think back and really try to remember the gore; that’s what makes it stand out from all of the pretenders, in that a shoulder is more scary than anything Jason ever did. The pacing is quick, and the whole time you’re hit with these images of a perfect, American town with just a subtle smudge of evil in the corner. I remember Shirley Jackson and Roald Dahl from high school, and they both wrote dark-ass stories about the grubby business just under the perfect surface. Also, did John Carpenter have a top-secret stroke in 1988 (during the filming of They Live perhaps) and forget what an awesome director he was? Please discuss.

The cinephile: I don’t understand it when people say this film is boring. What?! There is so much about this film that is scary, I don’t even know where to start… maybe with the opening scene, the piano twinkle as young Michael Myers looks up at his sister’s window. It isn’t what is seen in the first murder, it’s the idea that this young child has brutally slaughtered his sister for no reason. That’s what Zombie didn’t get. An abused, sad, angry young boy who loses it on his tormentors, and then turns it on innocents? Yeah… that’s the life story of every serial killer ever. It’s explainable, which is infinitely less scary than the ominous, unkillable Bogeyman. Carpenter is brilliant with the camera. When he pulls back slightly from the girls to reveal Myer’s shoulder in the edge of the frame, we understand that we aren’t watching these kids, he is. And he has bad, bad plans.

7. Nightmare on Elm Street

The hostage: Some folks may be scoffing right now, but you need to forget what this franchise turned into. The first kill is still one of the most effectively scary kill scenes I’ve ever watched, and the school hallway follow-up in the next scene is just as creepy. To me, just the idea of not being able to sleep is what feeds the terror. You can sleep and die, or you can not sleep, slowly go insane, and then die. One thing that always threw me off about this flick is how hard Craven works to make Nancy look like a sexless blob. Johnny Depp is a pretty good-looking kid, so do you think he’d be into a woman wearing her grandmother’s belly-wasted pants and some dingy sweatshirt? I’m sure it’s an important symbol of how the crisis has made her become a woman, but she looks like Dumpy’s younger sister Dumpier. Scary on a few levels, but mostly for the raw concept.

The cinephile: The one that started it all. Nightmare was the first horror movie I ever watched. I was six (or seven? WAY too young, at any rate). I was at a friend’s house. She had an older sister. I thought I was cool and brave and not at all scared by this movie (sniff). Then I got home and had to turn off my lights for bed… not so brave now, are you, little idiot? For months, I had to read to the point of exhaustion every night in order to be able to sleep. So I can confess that this high-ranking is likely a reflection of that early life experience. But I agree with the hostage on two points: 1) The first kill is downright horrifying, and even with extra money and better effects, the remake couldn’t make it half as terrifying; and 2) the idea is what is really scary about this film. A bit of info that makes the idea extra frightening? Wes Craven got the idea from a true story: a boy in Asia (I want to say the Philippines?) refused to sleep. He pleaded with his parents and stashed a coffee maker in his closet to keep himself awake, insisting that he would die if he slept. Finally his parents drugged him to put him out, and while he was asleep, he fucking died. I’m just going to pretend this viable explanation doesn’t exist (you ruin everything, Science!).

6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The hostage: All right, I’m using this opportunity to voice a grudge. One of the great successes of this movie is toeing the line between shock for shock value and having a sense of humor about itself. The twists and turns are so absurd at times that it’s almost comical, and then you’re hit with a shocking image or moment of perfect suspense and you feel like the biggest douche in the universe for having laughed. Hooper does a great job of distracting you from what you’ve just seen before hitting you with the next dose of gore. My grudge is against every other director inspired by this gem to create the new wave of torture porn (I’m looking at you Eli, I don’t care if you and Quentin are friends). Grandpa struggling to find his past glory with the hammer is terrifying because it is so bizarre and out of nowhere, you forget the screaming girl he’s about to use the hammer on; it’s not scary just because you don’t cut away when the hammer hits home. Love this flick, hate the pretenders that missed the great filmmaking mixed in with the shocking gore (Aja! excuse me).

The cinephile: I don’t think Hooper was going for a story here (if he was, he dropped the ball. A murderous hillbilly family?). I think he was going for pure experience; he wanted the audience to feel the terror, removed from rationality, as though the safety of the screen were not between them and the action on-screen. The reason this film is ranked so high is that we think it worked. When I watch the original Chainsaw, my heart races, I clench my hands and my jaw – all unconsciously. My body reacts as though the danger was real, even though on the surface, my brain understands that it isn’t. Hooper 1, Harker 0.

5. The Ring

The hostage: A number of folks out there might not think this is a great movie, and I understand that, but I hope we can all agree that it’s scary as balls (like frumpy, oddly shaped balls). I hate the switch in the last five minutes and it’d be better to turn the movie off when Rachel’s in the well, but the images in this flick are terrifying. The opening scene starts out like a hundred slasher movies with the two friends alone in the house, you even get an unsettling phone call, and then the tone takes a dark shift that let’s you know this ain’t no typical slasher. The images on “the tape” are the most disturbing images since Cartman tried to channel Helen Keller, but the true creepy is how the images are re-introduced (especially the horse on the ferry). Effectively creepy throughout, if ten minutes too long.

The cinephile: I’ll give it to people, the television scene is pretty dang scary, largely because of our intimate relationship with the television (teacher, mother, secret lover). But for me, the most terrifying moment is the closet scene. I think it works so well because at this point, the movie has lulled you into a false sense of security. Something creepy and strange has happened yes, but it’s over now and this is just a wake. Then you hear, “I saw her face,” and then YOU see her face and OH MY GOD, what the hell was that?! And then it’s gone. It’s very rare that what is shown on-screen is scarier than what I could imagine, but this is one of those cases. I still sometimes hesitate before opening my closet.

And let’s face it, the video is what Dali’s nightmares must look like.

4. The Exorcist

The hostage: I have to admit that the lady wanted this one lower on the list, but I held firm. I think the problem is that she is biased against possession movies because she doesn’t believe in the devil. That would make the image of a tween masturbating with a crucifix less disturbing, granted, but I think this is an objectively scary film (like Orlando Bloom is objectively good-looking). The perfect family with the perfect daughter is derailed by a force they don’t believe in, you get the mystery twist with the priest squad figuring out what’s up, and some iconic moments. I don’t really believe in the devil myself, but the idea of any supernatural force taking over my body (looking at you Professor X) scares the hell out of me. One of the few films that I find better with a director’s cut (the original effects didn’t age real well).

The cinephile: The hostage made a lot of concessions in developing this list (Paranormal Activity and The Grudge being good examples); this is one of my compromises. Because to be honest, The Exorcist wouldn’t crack my top 20 scariest movies ever. I think this is because I don’t believe in demon possession. And when I say I don’t believe, I don’t mean the way I don’t believe in ghosts… until I’m alone and it’s 3 am and what was that sound?! I sincerely mean I think the whole thing is a giant load of hooey. So while I can acknowledge the quality of the film, it’s always been much more shocking to me than scary. Seeing Linda Blair stab her genitals with a crucifix while spewing filthy language sure is shocking, but there’s nothing frightening about it unless you fear the possibility of it happening to a loved one, or yourself. Even her head spinning around – it looks so fake, it was never that effective for me (whereas her head turning around 180 degrees was an especially creepy moment – perhaps because of the prolonged awkwardness?). Still, it’s a film that most people would argue is the scariest ever, and I can respect that.

3. Rosemary’s Baby

The hostage: I love this movie! It is so patient with the reveal and the suspense is paced perfectly; as the evidence starts to mount that she has been “offered,” every single, good aspect of her life is peeled away to reveal the lie of it all. The comfort that she lives in, the achievement of any young couple’s dream, is based on the selfishness of her husband. It also has the courage that The Ring lacks, in that there is not happy, scrappy resolution; there is the most sinister look of love you will ever see, followed by a dirty feeling that won’t wash off your soul. There aren’t any stand-out, iconic scares like many of the films on this list, but the small details and ominous tone add up to an unsettling experience. Mia Farrow also deserves props for nailing the psychologically fraying young wife. Brilliant!

The cinephile: I don’t believe in the devil, so given my previous reasoning, I shouldn’t find this movie scary. This is not the case in Rosemary’s Baby because for me, the devil is the least terrifying part of this film. I know a governmental or corporate conspiracy is scary enough to most people, but there’s something in me that doesn’t trust those organizations anyway. The conspiracy against Rosemary is particularly horrifying because the people involved are the people we are supposed to be able to trust: the sweet old lady down the hall, your neighbours, your doctor. Ralph Bellamy, who plays the doctor, was so despicable and disturbing in this film that women refused to sit next to him at dinner parties. And most of all, Rosemary’s husband, selling her for a better career. These are the people in which we completely rely – to not be able to trust them, is to not be able to trust anyone. In this case, she can’t even trust herself, after she gets a look at that horrific face (one imagines) only a mother could love.

Speaking of not being able to trust anyone…

2. The Thing

The hostage: I just watched the reboot of the franchise, and it needed a reboot about as much as Psycho did. That flick missed the entire point; in fact, it was if the Scott Pilgrim chick had seen the original before shipping out (I mean, she figures everything out pretty quick). There is a crushing sense of isolation in this film, and the steady build of the pacing allows us to figure it out just before they do. I think the terror of this movie is really based in our naturally evolved fear of disease and parasitism, in that being trapped in this situation is much like an outbreak of the plague. That person you’ve been friends with for years looks healthy now, but who’s to say he isn’t a carrier and brings death with his very presence. The paranoia runs wild and the players start to eat one another, just as you or I would in their place, and we’re left with this unsettling feeling that it’s still out there, waiting in the snow for another bunch of “dumb Swedes” to unleash it.  Top notch acting and spectacular effects (puppetry and robotics are always better than CGI). The cinephile: Could not agree more. Fuck CGI.

The cinephile: The absolute best of all the “one-of-us” flicks out there, in my opinion. It starts slow, and builds tension so steadily that by the end you’re ready to explode. The setting is almost a character itself – the hard, unforgiving, and completely isolated research centre, about to be plunged into snow storms for months on end, leaving those within with no hope of contacting the outside world, no hope of help. We spend 15-20 minutes trying to figure out what happened to make the Norwegians lose their shit over a dog, and the questions just get more disturbing as the crew discovers new information, especially the scene of the Norwegian camp (the one and only thing the prequel did well was to explain the horrific set-up MacReady and co. stumble upon at the camp). It is revealed that the alien can perfectly mimic any life form, and the fish in the barrel all turn on each other in perfect paranoid fashion. There are some brilliant scares, most notably for me the scene in which MacReady is testing each of their blood. The misdirect of MacReady’s focus on Garry is incredibly effective at making the audience forget any of them could be one of the aliens, leading to a great jump scare (a trick I hate when unearned). Ultimately, what is so pervasively terrifying about The Thing is the knowledge we are left with at the end: MacReady and Childs, staring at each other across the fire as they wait to die, both wondering if the other is infected but also aware that as soon as the flames die down, the creature will simply freeze and wait to be reawakened. No matter what, it will survive.

1. The Shining

The hostage: Not only the scariest, but, in my humble opinion, the best horror film of all time (feel free to argue amongst yourselves). The direction in this film is perfect, and every image is filled with doom trying to poke through the rosy surface. Any film depicting a descent into to madness is a challenge and few that try do it well (Black Swan, Full Metal Jacket, and Trainspotting are the first that come to mind), but this flick has three different characters all going mad in different ways layered perfectly together. While Danny and his sweet Da are being pummeled by the supernatural forces, mom is frayed to breaking by the psychological abuse and fall-out (played to disturbing perfection by Shelly Duvall). You are not overwhelmed with gore, but it’s effective when they go for it (see little girls and detached feet), and the real scares come from the master Kubrick showing us exactly what he wants us to see exactly when he wants us to see it. Ominous from the opening credits to the closing moment, but patient in building to an appropriate crescendo.

The cinephile: I have absolutely no reservations about listing this film as number one. I’ve seen it 83 times, and it still scares me. I’m going to give 30% of the scariness of this movie to Jack, 30% to Kubrick, 5% to the story (pretty basic haunted tale), and 35% to the music. I sincerely believe that the music in this film is vital to its success in making you want to wet your pants like a child. Just think about the opening credits – how a sprawling shot of a car driving along a mountain takes on a sinister feel with the atonal music. Or remember how it made Jack bouncing a ball against the wall unnerving. It’s so discordant, that the audience enters a scene feeling rattled before any action has taken place. There’s one scene in which Jack is reassuring Danny that he loves him and would never hurt him; the dialogue in the scene is almost sweet and tender, but between the menacing music and Jack’s wonderful mad performance, it becomes incredibly threatening. I could write on and on about Kubrick’s patient and deliberate direction, the horrifying isolated setting (sensing a theme with us?), how tense I feel anytime Danny rides that big-wheel through the hallways of the hotel, how the sister ghosts make me hold my breath, how effective I think the bloody elevator ride is (although it could have become campy or cheesy with age, it hasn’t)… I think this is a brilliant horror film. And more than that, it’s just freaking scary.

So that’s it. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Thanks for joining us; this list was fun to think up. Leave us a comment with your scariest flick, if you’d like. We’re always looking to expand our horror horizons.

See also:

A Prelude to the List: On the Subjectivity of “Scary”

Scariest Horror Movies: Part 1

Scariest Horror Movies: Part 2

Scariest Horror Movies: Part 3

Scariest Horror Movies: Part 4

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 4

•March 30, 2012 • 6 Comments

I know, we’ve been AWOL for a long time. And obviously, it’s because my bunker was discovered and raided by prairie pirates who held us both hostage (the irony!) and forced us to perform French farce for weeks on end. Mon dieu!

It most certainly is NOT because we discovered A Song of Ice and Fire and Skyrim simultaneously. The nerdiness of that possibility is too overwhelming to consider.

Anyway, the pirates eventually tired of my Jerry Lewis and moved on, leaving us to continue our countdown of the scariest movies of all time. We’re so close now… we may even finish before next Halloween.

20. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The hostage: For pure scary, the remake takes the cake. The little girl crouching animal-style and running toward Sarah Polley punched me in the brainbone the first time I saw it; I realized immediately that these zombies were bad-ass, and social commentary was taking a backseat to “holy shit, I can’t outrun this zombie!!!!” I love the original and concede it is a better film. The remake suffers from a few shaky performances and the commentary it makes is a tad unsteady, but the overall tone of the flick, especially if you stick around after the credits, takes bleak’s baby sister and smilingly chokes it in front of their mom. And how messed up is it that the unrepentant douchebag is Phil Dunphy? (My head assplode.) The gore rivals the original and fast zombies freak me out more than shamblers.

The cinephile: I understand that there could be outrage over this being rated as higher on the list that the Romero version – I think an argument could be made for either. But for me, Zack Snyder’s remake ekes out a win for that opening sequence. From the moment Sarah Polley’s bedroom door creaks open until she crashes into the tree, I am on the edge of my seat. Snyder ably captures the chaos and confusion such a scenario would incite, as panicked and desperate people put self-survival above all else. Even after Polley escapes the horror of watching her husband die (only to have him revive and viciously attack her), she is faced with a frenzied and terrifying world in which the entire social order has broken down overnight. Yeah, the fast zombies help rev up some tension, but for me, the picture above illustrates perfectly why zombies are horrifying – slow or fast: they get you in the end because there are just too many of them.

19. Poltergeist (1982)

The hostage: There was discussion on this one, but I think it earns this rank because it’s scary in a couple of ways: there is a supernatural force completely messing up your life, and the strain of it on your family is starting to do as much damage as the supernatural threat. The Shining is a film that plays this card even better, in that the dirt beneath the surface was there before the ghosts even came into the picture. We see the perfect family, the American Dream, unravel to an extent that the players start to eat each other. That’s creepy, and the T.V. tried to eat their kid. I must say, however, that any native ghosts that Whitey builds a house on top of have every right to be pissed off.

The cinephile: There’s a doll… that’s also a clown… and it’s UNDER THE BED. ‘Nuff said.

The hostage: Agreed! Fuck clowns and especially that clown!

18. Shutter (2004)

The hostage: Let’s clear this up, Pacey is not in this movie. Pacey is in the piece of shit remake of the same name (though Pacey was decent in said piece of shit). It’s really too bad that the female “spirit” with stringy black hair has become copied to the point of being cliché, because the first run of those movies are incredibly scary. The rip-offs sometimes lead us to forget that. The slow and ominous build in this flick is so patient, but not boring like in The Grudge. The build up to the reveal is perfectly paced and the closing image is terrifying – AND the asshole deserves it (which makes it awesome).

The cinephile: This is not just a scary movie, it’s a great horror movie. It is filled with surprising moments of terror, often involving photographs and photography, very much a theme of the film. Much like mirrors, photographs have great potential to terrify; I think it’s related to our expectation of how a photo behaves. We expect a photo to be stationary (much like we expect a mirror to accurately reflect what we see), so the unnatural action of a person or object in a picture moving is scary in and of itself. If you add frightening images to the mix, then you’re cooking with gas. Shutter, while driven by an interesting and tight narrative, is most successful in creating dreadful imagery – particularly the final shot. *shudder* (word play!)

17. Event Horizon (1997)

The hostage: AHHHHHH! I need to let you all in on my psyche a little, in that I have always had a thing for redheads. Then I saw this flick at 19 and the eyeless redhead was seared into the frontal goop of my brainbone (both clinical terms). The next time I saw Angie Everhart, SHE DIDN’T HAVE EYES! It was only for a second, but it was real and the first of many psychotic breaks. This movie is not good, in fact it’s pretty terrible, but the ghosts and scenes of “hell” are terrifying. Wrecked me.

The cinephile: This, on the other hand and as pointed out by the hostage, is NOT a great movie. I’m not even sure I’d call it a good movie. However, there is something inherently scary about one’s worst nightmares playing out in reality – which ties in to our fear of madness, in which we have no control over our own minds. In addition, these nightmares are particularly effective on-screen. Sam Neill’s not losing sleep over the thought of losing his house and possessions in a gambling spree. No, his nightmare has to involve the gouging out of eyes. Blech. I wrote earlier on how creepy eyes are… empty eye sockets trump eyes every time.

16. The Grudge (2004)

The hostage: This was another film that needed discussion between Cruella and I, but I can agree with the points she makes. My knock is that it plays a trick Paranormal Activitys live on: you walk in knowing ghosts are coming, the pacing slows down to a crawl and you became frightened of the horrible thing that is about to happen. Having said that, it’s effectively creepy in this movie. It just makes the thing a bit of a slug to sit through. The scary stuff is really scary, but the rest is just kind of boring.

The cinephile: If you’re wondering, yes, I do have the good grace to feel shame for how much this film terrifies me. Because let’s face it, The Grudge is not a good movie. Characters are paper-thin, there’s barely a plot of which to speak, and the pacing is terrible. Take out the moments for which my heart is in my throat (basically, any time that horrifying woman is on-screen), and this movie is just boring. But the visual image of the murdered woman just makes my skin crawl. It’s everything about her – the broken crawl, the rattling gasp, the fact that SHE’S IN MY FREAKIN’ BED! I honestly couldn’t sleep the night I saw The Grudge; I kept imagining her crawling up my sheets. Even looking for an image to attach above gave me the willies, and I have to scroll up or down so that the picture isn’t lingering on my computer screen.

15. 28 Days/Weeks Later (2002/2007)

The hostage: The first seven or eight minutes of Weeks: the shot of this endless wave of fast zombies chasing a terrified Robert Carlyle is haunting, and the choice he has to make in the moment? It’s unfortunate because both of these movies are terrifying in the world they create, but both movies are flawed in such simple ways that I remember them as worse than they are (I’m looking at you, “I’ll just back this car over the pile of wrecked cars” in Days). Regardless, they are scary as hell and share a bleakness with the Dawn of the Dead remake that is gut-wrenching. We had to make a deal that there would be no hard feelings if we had to make that choice, but I’m trapped in a bunker so that might be trading up (sigh).

The cinephile: Hmmm, this is a total cheat. These films are quite different and should be considered separately, but luckily this is our site and you can eat it. (I’m drunk with power.) 28 Days Later is better at creating the feeling of complete isolation – of literally being the last man on earth. It also looks into the human monster; the terrifying notion that not only must we be on guard for zombies, but that we cannot trust other people as society disintegrates. However, 28 Weeks Later has several sequences that stop my heart completely. I can think of few scenes in modern horror with the urgency of that opening number. As Robert Carlyle runs for the boat, and streams of zombies appear over the hillside, I felt completely hopeless – as though there was no point for him to keep running, because how could he possibly escape that horde? The second film is great at forcing you to face ugly questions about survival as well. Would you shut the door on your spouse if a zombie ran directly at you, likely killing him/her but protecting yourself? Could you shoot innocent civilians if it was the only way to ensure all the zombies were dead? I’m just glad I don’t have to make those decisions. And hopefully never will.

14. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The hostage: See my earlier comment about The Grudge, because this movie is one of the pioneers. The thing is they did such a good job of keeping it quiet until just before the flick came out and really used the internet well in selling the con (remember when the internet was relatively new, and how hard it was to get quality pornography?). Again, the trick doesn’t make the movie less scary, it just allows me to feel superior while it scares the hell out of me. The acting is just bad enough to believe it’s real and what happens when you’ve been following the creek for three days and still haven’t found civilization? I’d be pretty scared. Pretty soon we’re dreading the dusk as much as the characters, which just feeds into the next day’s bickering and then one dude suddenly disappears; gone, without blood, or screams, or a corpse, or a big killer with a mask that you can actually fight (as long as you didn’t smoke weed, drink, or have sex). That’s fucking scary yo.

The cinephile: I began this list with a preamble, explaining that the hostage and I will always find what you don’t see scarier than what you do. The Blair Witch Project is the ultimate example of that form of horror. You don’t actually see anything in the film. You hear spooky stories and legends, some rustling in the woods, and people reacting as though they’ve seen something scary, but the viewer sees nothing. By relying on the realism of the found-footage style and the terror of the people involved, Myrick and Sanchez are able to build a feeling of dread without overtly showing anything on-screen. And let’s face it – whatever the witch did while she made the children stand in the corner, what you imagine is most likely worse than what the writers could come up with.

The hostage: Fuck Cloverfield.

13. Candyman (1992)

The hostage: I love this movie! Quick, think of a movie with solid acting, great pacing, a twist on a classic ghost story while making an effective social comment on racism and the fresh scars of slavery; it’s a pretty short list isn’t it? There are some concerns with the writing and some of the CGI is rough, but I think this is a good movie. You may not agree with that statement, but I hope you can agree that this movie is scary. A supernatural killer with a justified grudge and a fucking hook for a hand that you can never really get away from is creepy, and the gore is top-notch.

The cinephile: This high-ranking is no doubt affected by the zeitgeist of my childhood. I grew up in the age of Bloody Mary, and my friends and I concocted all sorts of tales of what she would do to you if you had the seeds to perform the most terrifying of tasks: say her name in a darkened bathroom three times. The horror! I still would have trouble if you asked me to do it today. And man, Bloody Mary has nothing on Candyman. His brutal legend, his bloody hook, the damage that hook does… all effectively creepy. Funnily enough though, as a budding teen, it wasn’t the legend of Candyman that scared me the most – it was the reality of life in Cabrini Greens. I became obsessed with the idea that a homicidal madman could crawl through the back of my medicine cabinet and slaughter my family (nevermind the fact that we lived in a house, and the back of our medicine cabinet faced our hallway. Kids). As scary as the nightmare was, it just can’t compete with what some people live with on a daily basis.

12. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

The hostage: I feel like Philip K. Dick should have written this movie, because only he writes a mind-fuck this good. The line between what is real and what is not is played so well that the rest of the movie can’t live up to it. There have been a number of flicks that have played with it: A Scanner Darkly has a drug that once ingested hooks you forever and you can’t believe anything you see or hear again; a neat Canadian flick called Pontypool tried language as the means of passing a psychosis inducing virus; and the Matheson novel I Am Legend (I hate Will Smith) played with vampires as the next evolution and that the last man “surviving” is a serial killer of the new majority (and who’s right?). This movie has a book that drives you mad, and the images of madness and slipping reality are so effective it’s a shame the rest of the thing is kind of a mess.

The cinephile: As I mentioned before, madness is terrifying. In the Mouth of Madness delves into freaky questions about what it means to be sane… and could you suddenly become insane if that definition were to change? If all of a sudden, the masses were to start hearing voices, would those who can’t be ruled as crazy? Ultimately though (and as is the case in many horror films), it comes down to one horrifying scene for me: the man on the bike, who gives my willies the willies. What is it about him? The weird time/direction blur? The effective (yet obviously fake) make-up? The idea of youth trapped inside a shriveled frame? The assertion “he won’t let me out”? No, I think for me, it’s the look he gives Styles before gliding away on his bike; that empty, dead, hollow look. Gives me chills… and not in a good way.

11. Paranormal Activity 1/2/3 (2007/2010/2011)

The hostage: I’ve mentioned the trick, you know the trick, but damn if the trick doesn’t make me squirm when I sit down to watch one of these things. I swear to god the pan rack in the second film swayed the entire movie, and I’m sitting there like an idiot going “is the ghost doing that?” I don’t especially like these movies, in that the characters deserve to die for responding to a clearly real threat instead of lying to one another and sneaking in Ouija boards. You’re a skeptic, cool, but something made your wife hover over your bed for three hours and it was a little unsettling for me to watch, you should get her cat scanned or something. Having said all of that, they scare me.

The cinephile: Now this, I feel is cheating less because these films are all basically the same experience. And I know the complaints, I’ve heard them before, “the whole movie is just waiting for something to happen.” EXACTLY. So little is shown (yet so much is heard), that your brain is forced to imagine all the horrible possibilities while you wait in anticipation. But then, even though what is shown is so miniscule (the door frame moved an inch!), you still get the rush of adrenaline – the thrill of seeing something unexplainable – and that’s scary. I’d honestly give the scariest scene to the third flick: Dustin and Katie playing Bloody Mary in the bathroom. In this instance, it isn’t the anticipation, or even what you see, that is so effective. It’s in Dustin’s voice – you can hear the terror in this grown man’s voice, and it gets under your skin in a way that what is shown on-screen just can’t.

To be continued (sooner, this time)…

K and the hostage

See also:

A Prelude to the List: On the Subjectivity of “Scary”

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 1

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 2

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 3

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 5 (Top Ten!)

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 3

•December 17, 2011 • 6 Comments

30. Rec (2007)/Quarantine (2008)

The hostage: Typical set-up with a nice twist on the convention. Rec is probably the better of the two, but the gore and scares are better in the American version. I have to disagree with the lady’s point about jump scares, because the fear, for me, comes from the fact that the people tasked with saving you (police, paramedics and the like) are locking you inside and solemnly watching the “exposed” expire. There’s a real social commentary in that, comparing the immediate threat of the monsters while trying to escape to the prolonged threat of the authorities already seeing you as an acceptable loss. The Crazies plays that card a little. The iconic scene, in both versions, is our heroine being dragged away in night vision by an unseen hand; effective.

The cinephile: We’re cheating! Both versions of the film ranked as one, but I think we can get away with it, because the films are far more similar than they are different. There’s nothing new in either movie. More found footage, another take on the zombie/rage virus, people trapped in a building with a threat… most of the scares come from moments of surprise, such as an elderly woman abruptly running at one of the firefighters, screaming and clawing at him. It’s unexpected, and often loud, and most of the time, out of focus as the cameraman reacts (or flees in terror). I know a lot of people are annoyed by this kind of camera work. Sometimes it annoys me too, but in Rec, I think it’s scarier, because I’m never sure exactly what’s happening. It keeps me alert and on edge.

29. Psycho (1960)

The hostage: The classic, and one that brings up an important point addressed in the lady’s preamble that tries to define “scary.” If you love the modern, torture-porn reboots plopping to the ground lately, you will watch this film and mock the scary. You are ignorant. . . whoa, don’t get defensive, I said ignorant, not stupid (though the jury’s still out). The closing scene, the all white room and the one person conversation holds such a powerful, psychological kick to the mind that it sets the bar. The scary in this film is sophisticated and polished in such a way to make gore moot, much like Peeping Tom (a film I find scarier than Miss Crabbypants 2011). Also, who among us hasn’t paused, for a moment, when you think you hear something mid-shower when home alone? You are afraid, in that moment, because of that fat, British bastard. The best film on the list. Oh, and Gus Van Sant should be waterboarded.

The cinephile: I (reluctantly) have to agree with the hostage about the shower scene. It may seem dated, but last week I was home alone, showering, when I thought I heard someone climbing the stairs. The hostage was locked up tight in the cellar with plenty of whiskey to keep him complacent, so I knew it couldn’t be him. And I had a moment of real terror. Hitchcock captured the vulnerability of the shower perfectly. I mean, what are you going to protect yourself with? Soap and a Lady Bic? Shampoo in the eyes? Not much you can do at that point. But the scariest moment of Psycho for me is the final scene – no, the final shot, as Hitchcock slowly zooms in on Bates’ eerie grin and we gain an understanding of the true extent of his madness. I think he would hurt a fly. Filthy liar.

28. Black Christmas (1974)

The hostage: This film is nowhere as good as Halloween, but there is a shit-tonne of this movie in Halloween. A classic slasher about a group of girls living together at university, tossed with a couple of problem drinkers and trimmed with an escaped killer in a pear tree. Sidebar: there was a story about a 50-year-old dude in Japan that lived in a lady’s attic for a year without her knowing; eating her food and using the bathroom when she slept or was at work and hiding when she got home. She finally bought a nanny-cam and caught him. This is like that with more killing and blood and glaven. My favourite moment is when the chick from SCTV tells Margot Kidder off for being drunk; brilliant.

The cinephile: Yeah, Bob Clark gets no respect. He’s made two of my favourite Christmas movies in Black Christmas and A Christmas Story (1983). And while we could debate the actual origin of the slasher flick for days, and I’m pretty sure the Italians were making these kinds of movies long before they migrated West, Bob Clark never even gets a mention in the discussion, despite the fact that Black Christmas predates Halloween by several years. No disrespect to Carpenter – you’ll notice Halloween gets much higher billing on this list – but I just wish Black Christmas got more recognition than it does. Because there are some seriously scary things going on in this flick. A clearly insane killer hiding in the attic, calling his victims from inside the house, babbling nonsensically in different voices about “Billy”… just try to imagine opening your roommate’s door to find her slaughtered in her bed, and turning slightly to find this staring at you through the crack of the door:

27. Jaws (1975)

The hostage: I will refer you back to my early comments on Psycho. The statistical probability of being eaten by a shark is so ridiculously small that it’s not that scary, but a great storyteller can gin up the fear in such a way that a statistically insignificant threat becomes terrifying; think international terrorism. Iconic moments abound, but I’m a “bigger boat” man myself. Again, who among us hasn’t been swimming, hell even at the pool, and thought about Jaws. It ties in to some innate terror from our aquatic ancestors and Spielberg packages it perfectly.

The cinephile: I’ve mentioned it before in my review of Razorback (1984), but I think Jaws was saved by Bruce, the dysfunctional shark robot. Spielberg had originally planned to feature the shark much more prominently in the film, but had to rethink when the robot turned out to be a malfunctioning pile o’ junk. The result is a tense and atmospheric film that relies heavily on how much you don’t see, which as I’ve mentioned, is always scarier to me than a film that throws everything in your face. Who didn’t catch their breath the first moment they saw the entire (and huge) shadow of the shark gliding under Quint’s boat? And any film that can claim credit for creating an international and pervasive phobia deserves some serious credit.

26. Ringu (1998)

The hostage: I would suggest that the Japanese original is a better film, and ghost story, than The Ring; predominantly because of the forced “twist” that the American flick had to tack on. This one is also a little more typical of the East Asian, long-haired, female ghost cliché. The scene that sticks out, for me, is crawling out of the television. It’s the one moment done scarier than in the American flick. There is a subtlety and patience to the whole notion of being “cursed” in this film that’s interesting and really works effectively. See them both and write back, telling me how full of shit I am.

The cinephile: Much like the hostage, I find Ringu to be better (but not scarier) than the American remake. The premise is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t be effective at all: a video tape that kills you? What’s next, a homicidal laundry folding machine? (This just in: I’m being told I’m behind the times on ludicrous, murderous, inanimate objects.) Maybe it’s the mundane nature of the object, or the fact that you’d probably watch the tape anyway, thinking it inconceivable that what you saw would lead to your death. Or maybe it’s based on a fear of technology; the idea that we’ve become completely reliant on items we don’t understand (unless we’re technical engineers, anyway), and what we don’t understand can hurt us. I’m not sure. But it’s spooky as hell. Really, there is something so creepy about eyeballs:

25. The Vanishing (1988)

The hostage: All right. This is a question I used to ask with friends over a pint to size them up: “What, if any, word in the English language has no negative connotation – can’t be twisted in a negative way?” You’re thinking “love” right? Some dolt always says “love” and you have to point out that obsession is, in fact, too much love. Anyone had a stalker out there? They fucking love you, and in their poor, broken brain you love them too. This is a movie about obsession and one man’s bottomless need to know what happened. The way the story is told stretches it out so well and the conclusion is, well, terrifying. This one is a Randy Savage, flying-elbow-drop to the brainbone.

The cinephile: The hostage nailed it: this is a film about obsession. A couple on vacation stop at a gas station, and the woman is kidnapped. To the man, she has just disappeared without any explanation, and that more than her disappearance eats at him. It’s not that he’s cold or unaffected by the loss, but his grief is lost in his driven need to understand what happened to her. He becomes obsessed to the point that the need to know overpowers any common sense or concern for his own safety. Forget the American remake, which cops out on the most horrifying element: the man’s final realization. That end scene is a kick to the gut in the Dutch version; in the American version, it’s a candy-cane walk off into the sunset.

24. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The hostage: Sooooooo good. I may offend a few with this, but I doubt it; Romero can be a little blunt at times, but this flick is the one time he balances the gory with the scary and the social commentary in perfect unison. I find the comments on consumerism and human nature as scary as the zombies; I mean, at least zombies are predictable. It’s another catch-22 of whether it’s better to face the instant zombie threat or fight other humans for dwindling resources; it makes me frowny-face.

The cinephile: Again, this is not a list of the best horror movies, or this film would be much, much higher. I adore this movie. It’s a witty, gory, surprising, and clever comment on materialism and consumerism. But it’s not as scary as some of the films that we list higher. Dawn of the Dead does a fantastic job of capturing my argument for why I find slow zombies scarier than the rage/fast zombies: it doesn’t matter how many you kill, it doesn’t matter how long you hold out, it doesn’t matter how well protected you are – they’ll get you in the end, because there’s too many of them. There really is no escape. And to Tom Savini’s credit, the scene in which the biker is disemboweled was seared into my mind as a kid (well, an older kid – I don’t think I saw this one too early on).

23. The Descent (2005)

The hostage: I hate this movie’s set-up, but I watch it every two or three months, like clockwork, because it’s so bloody scary. The inter-play of the relationships and interconnected pasts of the characters is really interesting, to the director, cause I don’t give a shit. And an experienced spelunkers just chose a random crack in the ground she heard about, without running it by her fellow experts, or telling anyone where they were going, or, well, you get it. Implausibility and annoying love triangles aside this is a creepy flick. Claustrophobic in mood with perfect gore to support the scares and tension. Theatrical ending if you can get it, because the others I’ve seen are just… really bad.

The cinephile: I loved this movie when it came out. I felt like I could relate to and understand the people on-screen, which is kind of an uncommon occurrence when watching a horror flick. And at last, the women in a horror movie were complicated and interesting – not perfect, by any stretch, but substantial as characters. It’s kind of just gravy to me that the movie turned out to be genuinely scary too. I mean, the premise that Juno would lead the group down to an uncharted cave without notifying anyone on the surface is just stupid. But the idea of being trapped below the earth, with no hope of or plan for escape is bad enough. Add to that scenario a pack of ravenous creatures perfectly suited for their underground environment, and our heroes become prey pretty ripe for the slaughter. There’s also the added element of the darkness – we rely so heavily on vision that the idea of losing it as a sense in such a perilous situation is über scary.

22. Session 9 (2001)

The hostage: I am sure that this film is not an accurate portrayal of Dissociative Identity Disorder, and I don’t care. The different voices creep me the hell out, the impending sense of doom chokes you, and it’s so patient in letting that ominous mood develop. There is almost no violence in this film seen directly, it’s all implied, but it lines up perfectly when things go sideways. Any story that starts with “abandoned mental institution” gets points from me, but this one has asbestos that needs to be removed on top of it (whoohooohohoooo).

The cinephile: See?!! Abandoned insane asylums are ideal settings for horror movies. Session 9 takes full advantage of the surroundings while telling a story completely different from what you would expect. As the hostage explained, this old asylum is in need of asbestos removal, and a crew is hired to come in and clear it out. One of the crew members finds a series of recordings of one of the patient’s old sessions (1-9), and becomes fascinated with the case. The recordings tie back in to the central plot beautifully, and are responsible for the scariest moments of the film as far as I’m concerned – most particularly, the voices. Simon’s collected and sinister voice stayed with me after the movie had ended. Even thinking about it now gives me the willies.

21. Hellraiser (1987)

The hostage: I’ll be right up front: this movie, in my humble opinion, is kind of a piece of shit. I like that they are exploring the whole “sin” of lust and taking it to an extreme, it’s a hard concept to do well without regressing into exploitation flick territory, but this movie doesn’t do it that well (see the Reavers from Firefly for a better example). Having said that, Pinhead and the Cenobites are terrifying. The scene that always sticks out is the hooks, and the lovely damage they wreak. It’s a funny cautionary tale to me, in that there are there demons waiting out there for anyone that gets too caught up in extreme experiences. It’s okay to dabble, but if you really give in to your urges these fuckers will show up and spank you for it. I’m sure it ties back to Reaganomics and Glenn Beck somehow.

The cinephile: This film is actually two movies. One is a crappy family relationship drama with bad acting and even worse hair. The other is a freaky story about pushing the extremes of human experience in all directions; with euphoric pleasure must come agonizing pain. The Cenobites are not only physically grotesque, but the sadistic joy they take in inflicting pain is so disturbing, even more so that their frightening appearance. Also, there’s something extra creepy about that scene right after Frank has resurrected himself (at least partially). He’s really only half-baked at that point, and scrabbles after Julia using his arms and dragging his fragmented back half behind him – ugh. *shudder*

To be continued…

See Also:

A Prelude to the List: On the Subjectivity of “Scary”

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 1

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 2

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 4

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 5 (Top Ten!)

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 2

•December 7, 2011 • 6 Comments

And the list continues…

40. The Haunting (1963)

The hostage: I don’t care what anyone says, the most effectively scary version of the Hill House story is the written version by Shirley Jackson. The second scariest is this beauty from 1963. Obsessed scientist type trying to prove the existence of ghosts in the classic, haunted house. The mood is tense from start to finish, and it takes the time and effort to let the mood develop. I always look at this one like “it’s old, it’s not scary”, and then I find myself with white knuckles at the end. It does lose points for young Luke, the annoying pussy of a skeptic. Also, if the remake starring Mrs. Michael Douglas were a two year old child I would steal its candy.

The cinephile: For me, both the novel and this film come down to one scene: Nell and Theo are asleep when the ghosts begin their nightly activity. Nell, feeling Theo climb into her bed for reassurance, grabs Theo’s hand and grips it tightly. They ride the disturbances out together, until at last the spirits leave. Nell says something, prompting Theo to flick on the light beside her bed… from across the room! Theo had never left her own bed. I read this scene late at night while in bed, and had to go watch a movie to scrub it from my mind. My bed was no longer safe. The dread is no less palpable in the film version. *shudder*

39. Peeping Tom (1960)

The hostage: I’m ready to hear a lot of folks question this film and its being here. The notion of an artist (because this guy is about the art much more than the kill) filming you reacting to him killing you is wonderfully twisted. And the quest for that perfect shot is what drives him. This flick also does a great job of getting you on Mark’s side early, leaving you in the unsettling position of defending/rooting for a murderer. Fave scene is the blind mother, but the real kicker is how much scare there is for so little gore. Bonus points for getting the directer blacklisted as too extreme and ending his career.

The cinephile: Yeah, maybe because I went into the film knowing that it destroyed Michael Powell’s career, I expected a lot more blood. Or sex. Depraved activities of some kind. Especially as it was released the same year as Psycho (1960), and deals with basically the same subject matter. But in retrospect, I understand why it horrified people so much. Psycho never asks the audience to understand the killer, or empathize with him. Peeping Tom is a thrilling and fascinating movie, but it requires the viewer to identify with an ugly perspective. Mark’s preferred method of slaughter is particularly disturbing.

38. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

The hostage: I have to admit that I don’t find the werewolf genre terribly scary, or even that interesting (sacrilege, I know). Top of your head, name five terrifying werewolf flicks. See? The only element I ever found scary was being the guy that’s bitten. Oz on Buffy did this as well as any werewolf I’ve seen, and this flick nails that terror. Knowing that you are cursed, not wanting to become the monster, and eventually destroying all you love; it’s a real kick in the balls. In this case you’ve got your decomposing friend taunting you through the whole thing. One of the great opening sequences as well; blurs in the fog.

The cinephile: When I was traveling in Europe with my sister, we had a moment that so mimicked the opening scene in An American Werewolf in London, it felt surreal. We entered a local pub in Cardiff, and every person in the bar turned to us and stared, silently. I remember having a single moment of panic – the recognition of our outsider status and realization that if trouble were to start, we wouldn’t automatically know where to go for protection. I felt a sense of helplessness. The fear of one’s body being taken over, as described by the hostage, is heightened in this film by David’s foreign surroundings, a strategy similarly employed by Argento in Suspiria (1977).

37. House of the Devil (2009)

The hostage: What’s the only thing better than an ass-kicking, heavy-metal-blasting horror flick from 1986? A 2009 movie that looks and feels exactly like an ass-kicking, heavy-metal-blasting horror flick from 1986. The first kill in this flick is the most wonderfully blunt thing I have ever seen, sideswiping you right out of the slow build. There is something about Satanic cults that just screams 80s; in fact, I remember Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest reading their songs in court to prove they weren’t brainwashing kids to worship Satan and/or commit suicide. Al Gore’s wife did that shit. Crazy. This movie catches that paranoia and then ramps it up to the worst fear those paranoids could’ve dreamed up for a conclusion. Awesome.

The cinephile: The scares in House of the Devil come almost entirely from anticipation. Much like Paranormal Activity (2007), you spend so much of the film waiting for something to happen, that it is all the more jarring when it does. The violence is unexpected, brutal, and brief. Not being religious myself, and certainly not believing in Satanic possession, does not detract from the fear that my body could be violated so intensely by those who do believe.

36. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

The hostage: I will scream this from the rooftops: “Jee-woon Kim’s balls are huge!” This guy is one of my favourite directors in the world and he can rock a ghost story. This flick is as much about the damaged family as it is about the ghost, but it still scares the hell out of me. The direction is just that; it leads you through the story with an expert hand that shows you exactly what he wants, when he wants to. It has a lot of the conventions of the Asian ghost story, but it does the conventions perfectly. You should also check out everything this guy has made.

The cinephile: I agree, if you haven’t already gotten the message from this site, please watch all of Jee-woon Kim’s movies. I will see anything the guy puts out there, and A Tale of Two Sisters is the film that started it all. My first Kim experience. Part of the reason I love this film is for how completely different it is from his other work. With expert restraint, he tells a psychologically spooky ghost story. He slowly builds tension through atmosphere, content to let the story unfold at its own pace. I love when directors aren’t worried about boring their audience. And I’m always traumatized when an ankle is grabbed from underneath a bed, or a cupboard, or a car… a hand from under anywhere is always scary. Period.

35. Alien (1979)

The hostage: I can already hear a large segment of you starting to bitch about how low on the list this is. The movie I would ask you to refer to is Pitch Black, the first and best of the Riddick movies. The fear from both movies comes predominantly from the fact that this group is marooned. The setting does most of the work and the monsters become almost secondary, which is smart writing but detracts from the scary (just one cracker’s opinion). I agree with the lady (gasp) that both have an action feel, with Ripley and Riddick stepping up as the leaders facing the supernatural threat. The only reason folks croak is because they don’t listen to the leader. Scary moments, but 35 is about right for me.

The cinephile: Growing up, I always considered Alien to be an action movie. I think it might be because Aliens (1986) is so clearly an action movie, and it was one of my favourites since I was a wee pup. I saw it before I saw the first film, so I must have gone into Alien with preconceived notions that shaped my interpretation of what I saw. Because looking back, it is obviously a classic monster movie, with a fascinating and powerful lead, a wonderfully deadly creature (acid for blood?!), and a horrifying sense of isolation and helplessness. It also boast many of the forehead-slappingly flawed trappings of the horror genre. For instance the moment Dallas swears by the need to stick together, followed immediately by him dividing everyone up. Genius.

34. When a Stranger Calls (1979)/When a Stranger Calls Back (1993 – first 30 minutes only

The hostage: It is almost criminal how completely off the rails both of these movies go. The set up is so effectively done that it makes my stomach tighten thinking about it. The pacing of the opening sequence, especially in the first movie, is perfect. It is a slow, steady build and it just keeps pulling the suspense tighter. I have never been a teenage girl babysitting, but that extra twist of being responsible for another person, but not quite being an adult yourself is creepy to me (see Laurie Strode). Incredibly free with the scary, until they start to suck completely.

The cinephile: Really, only the first 30 minutes of each film deserves mention here. I like to pretend the remainder of each doesn’t exist, much like the Star Wars prequels. I think the hostage nailed what is so scary about the babysitter killer scenario: Not only are you just capable of caring for yourself, now you’re responsible for the life of someone else. You’re alone. And now some d-bag is calling you to creepily ask if you’ve checked the children. Or some shadowed figure keeps knocking on the door asking to use the phone, and wait a minute, wasn’t that door locked the last time I checked?! Babysitters are vulnerable to begin with. In both these movies, the house – the safe place – is infiltrated. It is no longer secure – it is the source of the danger.

33. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

The hostage: Some say I have a flair for the dramatic, but I ascribe to the idea that this movie is one big eating disorder. Most of the scares end up having something to do with Christine’s mouth, which is less sexy and more disgusting than it should be. The whole confrontation leading to the curse, the drive to succeed and most of Justin Long (your 26-year-old professor) are pretty lame, but everything about the demon pursuing her is spectacular. The key lesson is that desperation renders kittens expendable, and you should just give the button to the prick at work.

The cinephile: This film is predominantly about how much of a beating (emotionally and physically) Alison Lohman can take. First of all, that gypsy hag is fierce and disgusting. How much bodily fluid can come out of one person? She always pops up just when I’ve started to let my guard down (much like the paperboy in Better Off Dead [1985] and the chihuahua in Hot Shots [1991]). I relax and BAM! She’s in Christine’s bed. And while I’m used to the idea of a ghostly presence turning on a TV and rearranging some chairs, there’s something extra scary about one that will (or more to the point, can!) beat the shit outta you and toss you around like you’re nothing.

32. Freaks (1932)

The hostage: I love this movie. It is scary both in comment and image, and the best comparison I can give is Lord of the Flies. That book essentially boils down to “are humans naturally good with moments of greed and evil, or are they naturally evil with moments of generosity?” I happen to be an optimist, but both Tod Browning and William Golding make brilliant arguments to the other side. We normal people are the monsters, we think ourselves superior and mock those weaker and different and then kablooie, you’re a chicken lady. Spectacular direction and performances, but the true brilliance is how the freaks take so much shit with good nature (meaning the norms deserve the payoff when it comes).

The cinephile: “One of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble!” Only if you’ve seen this film will you understand why that ridiculous phrase is so terrifying. Tod Browning ensured this film would be legendary and enduring with one brilliant move: he cast real circus sideshow freaks. I have to admit, with much shame (as I always try to be so PC), but people with deformities can be really eerie to me. I know it’s beyond their control, but I think it has to do with how similar they look to what I’m used to, but how drastically different at the same time. So yes, I find the freaks in the movie scary in and of themselves. I’m a bad person. But the real fear in this film stems from what we don’t understand, and how that ignorance can lead to horrifying results. In Freaks, Cleopatra and Hercules mock, ridicule, and humiliate Hans and Frieda, never imagining that they could be proud – that all the freaks could be proud – or that they would defend their pride. Moral of the story: never underestimate the little guy.

31. Dark Water (2002)

The hostage: Some statements are so consistently true that you may feel the urge to tattoo it on your forehead. This is one of them: the American remake is a piece of shit. Steaming, on a cold morning, battling the frost as the sun rises (brown with hints of green). The original Japanese, however, is more awesome than Guitar Wolf cutting a flying saucer in two with a samurai sword pulled from a guitar (yes, that awesome). Very traditional, female ghost with black hair, but consistently creepy and brilliantly paced. There is something inherently creepy about hair, like a natural repulsion when you see it in food or an unconditional cringe when a large bug lands in it (like those creepy, flying beetle things). The use of hair is so effective your skin will crawl for a week.

The cinephile: I’m not sure what happens in translation, because I know both the Japanese and American version are very similar, but the Japanese film is so much scarier to me. Is it the ending perhaps? Hollywood has this annoying tendency to need to shove in that happy ending, so we can go home and pretend that everything always works out in the end. Not scary. It’s so much more effective to have real stakes – to know things will not be sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows after the climactic battle. Let’s cover our horror bases: spooky little girl ghost? Check. Something in the elevator with you when nothing should be in the elevator with you? Check. The lingering thought that maybe you’re losing your mind after all? Check. Dark Water is a tight ghost story. With a kid actor. Who didn’t annoy me at all! That earns it a spot on my other, much shorter list: children who can act.

To be continued…

See also:

A Prelude to the List: On the Subjectivity of Scary

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 1

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 3

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 4

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 5 (Top Ten!)