29 October 2016

Things That Go Bump in the Night

by John M. Floyd

Even though it's not yet October 31, I'm told that some folks will be celebrating Halloween tonight instead (since it's Saturday, I guess). To me, that's goofy reasoning, but if trick-or-treaters can bend the rules, why can't I? I am hereby posting a Halloween-related column two days early.

I got the idea last week, when I was in Walmart looking for a roll of packing tape and happened to wander through the electronics section of the store. (I always wander through the electronics section of the store, but that's another matter.) Gravitating as usual to the DVD shelves, I noticed a huge display of Halloween movies--or at least scary movies. Or at least what the Walmart geniuses (genii?) think are scary movies. The point is, it got me to thinking about my favorite horror films.

Strangely enough, I don't consider zombie movies and teenage-summer-camp-slasher movies scary. They're just too unbelievable. What creeps me out the most are the two extremes: (1) insane people who seem all too real, and (2) otherworldly horror involving science fiction and/or fantasy elements. (I know, I know: that second item isn't believable either--but I love it.) Anyhow, that's just me. To each his own source of goosebumps.

Having said that, I offer the following list of my ten picks for scariest feature films:

1. Psycho. We'd probably agree that this is more mystery/suspense than horror, but tell me your sphincter didn't do some serious tightening when Norman popped into the root cellar wearing Mom's dress and a gray wig. I mean, what's scarier than a crazy guy with a butcher knife? (Honorable mentions, in the needs-to-be-fitted-for-a-straitjacket category: Misery, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Shining.)

2. Alien. I thought its sequel, Aliens, was a far better film, but it was better because of the action, not the creepiness. In the first movie, the steady buildup of suspense to the final standoff with the monster was wonderful.

3. Poltergeist. I first saw this in a theater in Dallas in the early 80s, and I loved it. I fact I love most Spielberg movies, whether they involve evil trucks or the Holocaust or a parkful of dinosaurs--but I thought he outdid himself, here.

4. Halloween. Many of the chills in this film came from John Carpenter's soundtrack. If you don't believe me, listen to it again sometime.

5. The Sixth Sense. I think TSS is at its spookiest when the kid is seeing the dead people and nobody else can. I also had to include this one to prove I didn't choose only movies with one-word titles.

6. Candyman. This weird film, based on a Clive Barker short story called "The Forbidden," is a little different in that I didn't particularly enjoy it. But boy is it scary.

7. The Others. Okay, here I go with two-word titles. I promise, there is a moment in this movie--I won't tell you which one--that's absolutely leap-out-of-your-seat terrifying. Don't watch it alone.

8. Cat People. I admit, I mostly liked Nastassja Kinski (is she really Klaus's daughter??), but I think this is a truly spooky film, beginning with a spinetingling opening-credits scene.

9. The Exorcist. I saw this in L.A. in 1974 with a bunch of fellow IBM trainees, and found myself thinking about it nonstop for weeks afterward. The final scenes between Father Merrin and the demon are especially nightmarish.

10. The Thing. John Carpenter again. In this one, like Alien (which wasn't Carpenter), the buildup is as good as the payoff. Everyone always talks about the original (The Thing From Another World, with James Arness as the creature), but I consider this a better film.

I'm thinking I'd better stop right here, and publish this before my list changes. (It's already changed a dozen times--at various points I included Silver BulletThe OmenTrollhunterThe MistThe Blair Witch Project, The Village, The Mothman Prophecies, Cloverfield, and many others.) As always, please chime in with your own personal favorites. My Netflix queue awaits your recommendations.

And on whatever night you choose to trick-or-treat this year . . . don't stop at the house on the hill above the Bates Motel. Nobody's home anyway.

BREAKING NEWS -- Tune in next week in this time slot for a great guest post by my friend Michael Bracken. (Unless you're watching one of the ten movies I suggested. Michael will understand.)


  1. Great list here! I've seen most of these—but only the original Cat People, not the remake you ranked here. Need to remedy that!

  2. The Sixth Sense and Psycho are terrific. I'd add Nosferatu and those two scifi flicks, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Day of the Triffids.

  3. Good listing. But no YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN?

  4. Art, I believe you'd like the remake of Cat People. It was 1982, I think. Not a well-known movie, but memorable (at least to me), largely because of the mood, the score, and the New Orleans setting.

    Good suggestions, Janice! I've not seen Triffids in years (I read the book in high school) but I liked it, and actually enjoyed both version of Body Snatchers. Another that hasn't been mentioned is Night of the Living Dead, which I think has always been overrated.

  5. O'Neil, it's scary how FUNNY Young Frankenstein is. I would watch (and have watched) anything Mel Brooks chooses to make.

    Igor, help me with the bags . . .

  6. You've got a number of my favorites on your list, John. In fact, my husband and I recently decided we'll watch POLTERGEIST on Halloween night. (Another contender was the Frank Langella DRACULA, with Sir Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing--my favorite version of the movie.)Your also-ran list reminded me of the first time we saw the original version of THE OMEN, decades ago. We left the theater feeling shaken, but apparently not as deeply shaken as some people. A woman ran up to us in the parking lot and said, "Quick! Where's the nearest Catholic church?" Unfortunately, we didn't know, so she ran off to ask someone else. Now, that's what you call an effective horror movie.

  7. Bonnie, I love that story!! Hopefully someone was able to steer her toward salvation that night.

    Thanks for mentioning that version of Dracula--it'll be in my Netflix queue as soon as I finish typing this comment.

    Poltergeist will always be one of my favorites, and not so much because of the scare factor--it's just a well-made movie, all the way around. I particularly love the scene just before the father goes in to rescue Carol Anne, when he and his wife embrace in front of the flickering lights and the visiting ghost-lady (Dr. Lesh?) stands there watching and no one knows what will happen next. Good movie.

  8. I wonder what the top ten funny horror movies might be. Like O'Neil, I'm a YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN fan--I even have the movie poster framed and hanging in one of my office rooms (yes, I have TWO rooms).

    I would then add THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (original version, of course).

    But then what, THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN? Something featuring Abbott and Costello? Something unintentionally funny due to bad scripting, bad acting, and rubber monster suits? Hmm, the mind boggles...

  9. Never forget "The Haunting" with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom. If that doesn't make you jump out of your skin, nothing will.

  10. Michael, that sounds like fodder for another column. ("Things That Go Squeak in the Night"?)

    Eve, The Haunting was wonderful--I forgot all about it. Wasn't that an adaptation of Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House? Good suggestion!

  11. Yes, "The Haunting" is from Jackson's novel. I love it because every thing that scares you is pretty much generated in your own mind...

  12. "The Spirit Is Willing" was a comedy (1967) but it had some spooky moments! Loved this, John!

  13. Thanks, Jeff! I love it when someone mentions a movie I've not yet seen (The Spirit Is Willing). I assure you I'll take care of that shortly.

  14. Okay. We just went over our list at Mysterious News but I can do this. This year's best is THE WITCH, psychological horror. Last year was IT FOLLOWS, unless you count MAPS TO THE STARS as horror. The Australian THE BABADOOK offers up the scariest children's pop-up book in history. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS was New Zealand fun. Older movies include SHAWN OF THE DEAD. OPEN WATER is absolutely terrifying. As is JAWS. MELANCHOLIA is wonderful if you consider the world being destroyed as horrific. BUG is pretty amazing. Time to get back to scary real life. Boo everyone.

  15. Many thanks, Bruce. I've seen only six of the ten you mentioned, and the two that I really WANT to see are It Follows and The Babadook because of what I've already heard about them. I have a feeling my list will change once I've "caught up" a bit.

    Part of the problem I ran into is the difference between "horror" and "scary." ABC Nightly News has been plenty scary, lately.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>