Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Celebrating Halloween: My top 10 scariest films
In honor of Halloween, my favorite holiday of the year, I'm offering my top 10 scariest movies of all time. These aren't necessarily my favorite horror films, but are the ones that either chilled, disturbed, or downright scared the hell out of me.
1. Jaws. Still the scariest film I've ever seen, Jaws forever ruined my ability to swim in the ocean. Heck, if I make the mistake of thinking of the opening scene when swimming over my head in fresh water, I feel uneasy.
2. Alien. Despite its sci-fi trappings, Alien succeeds as a horror film because, frankly, the Nostromo is basically a big floating haunted house in space, and the alien is the ultimate stalker. Between the chest-bursting dinner scene and the guy with the spider-thing attached to his face, Alien has me convinced that I want no part of any beings from space, no matter what E.T. taught me. It's sequel, Aliens, was awesome too, though it succeeds more as an action film.
3. The Ring. I thought I was done getting scared at films as a grown man until I watched The Ring (the American version, not the Japanese original). Samara's awful disjoined movement, long, face-concealing black hair, and hate-filled eyes are terrifying, and the awful looks of her victim's faces still haunt me at night.
4. The Shining. The twin girls. The woman in room 213. Jack Nicholson's madness and axe-work. The isolation of the Overlook. Director Stanley Kubrick's studied, unflinching camera work showing it all. These elements combine to make The Shining the best haunted-house movie ever.
5. Jacob's Ladder. While it's not a pure horror film, Jacob's Ladder succeeded in disturbing me like few movies ever have. Tim Robbins' portrayal of a traumatized Vietnam veteran leaves you wondering what horrors are real, and which are imagined, the result of his damaged psyche. Demons and other horrors crop up unexpectedly and forcefully and the effect of Robbins' slow descent into madness is suffocating.
6. Dawn of the Dead (original). Before the credits were rolling, I was already making preparations for the zombie holocaust I knew was coming. Dawn of the Dead has some shocking scenes of gore and nasty, rotting zombies, but more terrifying still is the quick collapse of society and the monsters that men become when order breaks down. The 2004 (?) remake works too--while it loses some of the feeling of dread of the original, the running zombies are quite a shock.
7. Psycho. I finally got around to watching Psycho a few years ago after reading about it on so many "scariest film ever" lists, and despite its age and now-cliched elements, Psycho remains a scary movie. The shower scene still works, and Norman Bates' transformation at the end literally sent shivers down my spine.
8. The Exorcist. I don't know whether a studio could get away with making a film like The Exorcist today. The horrors inflicted on child actor Linda Blair are shocking, particularly what she does with the crucifix (that's all I'm going to say about that). In addition to the pea-soup gross out stuff, there's a whole lot of disturbing images and themes in The Exorcist that continue to haunt my dreams. That flashing pale-white demon face? Brrr.
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This film is just flat-out vile from start to finish, so naturally I like it. From the decomposing corpses in the opening credits, to the psychotic hitchhiker who cuts himself with a razor blade, to the chainsaw killings and hammer bludgeonings, to the corpse and bone-strewn house inspired by the real-life home of mass-murderer Ed Gein, this film is unrelenting grue, horror, and terror.
10. Silence of the Lambs. Another film like Jacob's Ladder that's more suspense than horror, Silence of the Lambs nevertheless is downright disturbing. As great as Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lector was and is, the dude who played Buffalo Bill ("It puts the lotion on its skin") gets major props for playing one of the sickest, most realistic murderers in movie history. Silence of the Lambs conveys horror without even showing it--just listening to Lector's horrors (biting out a nurse's tongue and noshing on her face without a change in his pulse?) is enough.