29 October 2016
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.)
31 October 2015
by John Floyd
by John M. Floyd
Just as I was about to sit down and type my column for this week, which would've dealt with a totally different subject (something dutiful, involving writing and mystery fiction), it occurred to me that the piece was scheduled to run on October 31. I slapped my forehead, ditched my notes, and changed course. No one can resist writing about scary things on Halloween.
And some of the scariest things I've seen in my life--my life has, I confess, been pretty uneventful in the excitement department--have happened in movies.
Anyhow, without further ado, here are my top ten scary (not necessarily horror) movies, rated according to how high I jumped out of my recliner or my theater seat when I first saw them.
1. Psycho -- I believe the most frightening moment in movie history occurred when Norman Bates's mother swung around in that chair in the root cellar, 55 years ago. Bernard Herrmann's music helped.
2. The Exorcist -- The scariest scene in this one, for me, was when Father Merrin appeared at Regan's home in Georgetown, introduced himself to her mother and Father Karras, and then climbed the staircase to confront the devil. The whole time this was happening, if I remember correctly, we could hear the demon upstairs, roaring and lowing and calling the priest's name. Whoa, Nellie.
3. Halloween -- This movie probably isn't on anybody's "best" list, but it was seriously creepy, in part because of John Carpenter's outstanding soundtrack. It still gives me goosebumps when I hear it.
4. Alien -- I saw this in an Atlanta mall, on an IBM trip, and the guy who was with me almost passed out when Alien Junior popped out of John Hurt's tummy. The sequel, Aliens, was a better movie, but what made Alien so terrifying was the steady buildup of tension and dread, and the fact that the audience never even saw the creature until near the end of the story.
5. Wait Until Dark -- I saw W.U.D. in college, and I remember the entire theater screaming at one point, when Alan Arkin leaped out of the shadows to attack a blind Audrey Hepburn. In my writing courses I often refer to this movie as an example of the use of foreshadowing and suspense.
6. The Others -- Not many folks seem to know about The Others (not to be confused with The Other). I watched it via Netflix, with one of our sons, and it scared the hell out of both of us. It contains one particularly bloodchilling scene.
7. Poltergeist -- Another film that I saw on a work trip, this one to Dallas. This is Spielberg at his best, and it's hard to get better than that.
8. The Howling -- Unlike Poltergeist, this was not a great movie (few werewolf movies are), but it was truly scary. I was dumb enough to watch it at home alone on TV at about two a.m. on a summer night, which meant the back windows onto our patio were open and I could hear the night sounds outside. I didn't do that again.
9. Cat People -- The 1982 version of Cat People is a guilty pleasure, and I love it. If the opening credits don't give you the willies, you're braver than I am. Wonderful soundtrack, and the city of New Orleans (which can be spooky anyhow) has never been spookier.
10. The Omen -- I've never been fond of kids-in-peril stories, but here the kid's the villain. Sort of. The most disturbing scene in this film involves an actress named Holly Palance (Jack's daughter, if you're a movie buff).
That's the top of my creepy/crawly list. Any agreements? Disagreements? And more importantly, do you have any recommendations? I included only those movies I myself have seen; several that I've not yet watched but are on my soon-to-be-viewed list are The Babadook, The Cabin in the Woods, and 28 Days Later. Give me more.
I'll close with a goofy poem I wrote twenty years ago--it was published in a 1995 issue of Mystery Time magazine, and is titled "Stress Management":
I have a long history of reading a mystery
Each night before going to bed;
They're scary and tense, but I have enough sense
Not to let such things mess up my head.
At least I thought so, till one night a psycho
Leaped into my room, eyes ablaze;
It was just my dog Lad. but by then I had had
An accident in my PJ's.
Now should that deter a booklover? No sir!
I still read a lot, if the tone
Is funny and light, if it's not late at night,
And if I'm not home all alone.
The same holds true for movies.
Have a great Halloween.