29 October 2016
Things That Go Bump in the Night
by John Floyd
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.
. 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 Bullet, The Omen, Trollhunter, The Mist, The 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.)