Truth: most of us love to be scared, freaked out or shocked. If not, then this post is not for you! Some hide and then peek through their hands, some clutch onto the person beside them (c’mon guys, we know why you take dates to the scary flicks) and some just stare in pure stark terror. Me – I love scary movies. I like good ones and I like really bad, campy ones, as in there are times when good is great, but bad can be pretty darn good too.What scares you?
Special note: I have avoided any of the really obvious campy ones here, like Snakes on A Plane or Sean of the Dead (both good) and listing only the movies that are indeed truly scary with high terror or freak factors. Superslasher or super gore films, like the Saw, Halloween or Hostel series are not included, since these are scary based more on in-your-face blood ‘n guts shock value than real mind-fear inducing. This list looks for scary movies that make you think a bit and imagine a lot, with just enough of the gory stuff to colour the pictures that your imagination comes up with. Here is my list – would love to know what you think and what scares you…
Honorable mention – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)
One of the first psychological thrillers made, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a look into the mind of a disturbed and dark personality. Driven by jealousy and sibling rivalry to the extreme, the movie tells the story of two sisters, one who experienced childhood stardom and the other who is destined to care for her once the star has faded. The twisting plot involves the rage and hatred of the “caregiver” sister revealed through on-going abuse and animosity, while the audience is continually drawn into an empathetic relationship with the hobbled, kindly former star. Bette Davis plays the role of the demonic sibling to perfection against Joan Crawford’s character. As characterizes all good horror stories, the storyline develops equally well between plot and characterization, and ending is not predictable. It leaves you hanging and scares simply through the horror family mistreatment and of what sisters can do to each other.
10. Ghost Story (1981)
This is one scary well done movie that stands up to the test of time. Ghost Story centers around four old men (John Houseman, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks and Melvyn Douglas-all great actors) calling themselves The Chowder Society, who gather in each others’ drawing rooms each winter to sip cognac and share elaborate ghost stories. However, in addition to their ghost stories, the four men also share a dark secret far more unsettling than fiction, a secret which has literally come back to haunt them, as well as their own adult offspring. Each man is visited by a hideous specter bearing the likeness of a young woman they accidentally killed 50 years ago when spurning her mischievous sexual advances. And they must figure out how to save themselves and their families before she destroys them all. Sounds hokey, but presents very scary.
9. The Exorcist (1973)
Classic, creepy and timelessly bloody scary! Without a doubt Linda Blair’s defining moment (did she ever do anything of any note other than this series?), she played the perfect possessed little girl, and even today, with all the CGI effects at the disposal of filmmakers, this movie stands up as better in the original than the remake. The notion of demonic possession is as old as the concept of good and evil itself, and has been mythologized in some fashion into most cultures over history. Because the concept is one that we are familiar with and because the visuals are so realistic, The Exorcist does create a fantasy world as much as it brings the world of our darkest dreams to life. This is the movie that will scare you while you watch it and will stay with you for days after until your nerves settle down: the perfect combination for a thriller.
8. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
This movie was most terrifying because it involved real people, almost no special effects and a plot that is not beyond imagination. Satanic cults and rituals are well known to exist in modern society, and typically involve individuals who believe that they have done no wrong because they are simply following their own true beliefs. The really scary element in this movie is the mind-set in the way that Satanism produces a psychological effect on its true believers. They can do nothing that we would consider against social standards because to them it simply is not wrong. They feel that they act from righteous and noble motives, and like the theory of the sociopath, groups such as this act without remorse. The naive innocence of Mia Farrow, cultivated through her character, plays percetly against the dark backdrop of the cast that develops around her, climaxing in an ending that haunts you for some time after the credits roll.
7. 28 Days Later (2002)
One of two zombie movies on this list, 28 Days Later stands out int he category of far-too many zombie flicks, some great and too-many trashy. Danny Boyle did an outstanding job directing this movie in that the effects, though gory and garish in spots, are truly blended into non-stop action and movement that never fails to keep you on the edge of your seat. Whether peering through your fingers or clutching your blankie, you cant stop watching while at the same time you want desperately to turn away. Turn not because of blood and guts, of which there is plenty, but because it is just absolutely terrifying. This is a movie that plays on all of our fears of being attacked by very bad monsters and does so really, really well in both paying homage to Romero the King and adding his innovative touch so that this is not just another zombie flick.
6. The Omen (1976)
The entire Omen series was great but none of them truly scared like the first. The story of a US Ambassador whose son turns out to be the spawn of Satan is done with grace, class and pure terror. This movie has become so ingrained in popular culture that the “Damien” and the numbers “666″ are commonly used to refer to the devil. Gregory Peck plays the role of the father come to realize that his son is cursed very convincingly. There are enough religious and Catholic references used to add credibility to the case made for the devil’s appearance on earth, while the cinematography and tone of the movie further add to its ability to completely draw you into the story. It is indeed a masterfully told story of a very scary topic.
5. Cujo (1983)
A list of very scary movies has to have something by Stephen King and Cujo qualifies as a movie that will not necessarily freak you out like Pete Sematary, but will scare you in the moment of what is a very realistic scenario. One rabid dog, one mom and her son trapped in a small car on a hot day, and several victims that prove just how terrifying a rabid dog is. It is the terror of the mother protecting her son that really brings home the fear factor for this movie, while the dog is more the vessel of what threatens the sympathetic characters. Many will say The Shining should be on this list rather than Cujo – it was frightening and Jack was amazing, all true. But personally, I just found Cujo to be scarier. What is your view?
OK – one more Stephen King. However, as good as the story of the over-the-top psycho fan is, it is the performances of James Caan and Katy Bates that really make this movie a contender. Kathy Bates plays the role of an obsessed fan of author Paul Sheldon (Caan), where she finds her world turned upside down after discovering him in the snow after an auto accident. And as luck would have it, she is a nurse, so she can tend to his wounds rather than take him to a hospital. She can also demand the storyline for Misery, the character in his novels, who she is so “connected” to. The ensuing kidnapping and torture of Mr Sheldon gets increasingly uncomfortable until it reaches the bounds of outright scary, and makes for one helluva roller coaster ride of a movie. Makes you wonder if Mr King has had this same nightmare himself.
3. The Night of the Living Dead (1968)
With the original classic Night of the Living Dead, George Romero created a genre – the zombie movie – that has endured for over 40 years. Sure, there were zombie movies before this, but he truly set the standard for the modern myth. He created the “zombie walk”, the hunger for brains and the mood of complete hleplessness in the face of being attacked by hordes of “reanimated” dead people. Somehow they are able to catch you, now matter how slowly they trance-walked and how fast you ran, and somehow they would always be around the next corner or at the doors and windows just when they were opened. And somehow, against all odds of complete campiness and laughability, he managed to make his movies really frightening. The plight of the living against the attack of the dead got into your head so that the scary factor was off the scale. Of the original reviews of the first screening in `1968, one critic said, “The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying“. Romero shot the movie independent from any major studios movie on a budget of $114,000. To date his film grossed over $12 million in the US and $30 million internationally. Accolades include several remakes and recognition from the US Library of Congress who in 1999 placed it on the National Film Registry as a film deemed “historically, culturally or aesthetically important”.
2. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi cut his chops in horror movies with the highly popular Evil Dead series, and made the hollywood A-list after a successful production of Spiderman. Drag Me To Hell shows that he can move in and out of the mainstream movies without losing his touch for either. This movie is based on the age-old cliche of the gypsy curse, the evil eye and the evil supernatural forces that these curses unleash towards the victim, and yet although it starts off with some scenes that make you think, “oh, here is another run of the mill scare-flick”, it moves away from that and quickly dives into very scary territory. There is no morality taught or espoused here, except maybe that it really doesn’t pay to be nice. There is some serious oral fixation going on, with many things going into and coming out of people’s mouths (you’ll know what this means if you have seen the movie), which many times on its own creates quite the creep factor. And the ending…well, you just don’t see that coming at all.
1. The Changeling (1980)
The Changeling is an old-fashioned, but hair-raising ghostly tale, very much at the level of “good old fashioned scary ghost story classics like Legend of Hell House (1973) and The Haunting (1963). This movie has everything. Dark, spooky stairways draped with dusty cobwebs, a boarded up room with a terrible secret, a shadowy seance scene, ghostly voices and frightening noises that echo through the huge house, political intrigue and a very solid looking ghost who scares the absolute hell out of anyone he shows himself to. It boasts a well thought out plot with several great twists and a very angry murder victim, who doesn’t want to be at peace – he just wants revenge, and boy does he get it. Another big reason the film is so well done is the performance by GS Scott. For a change the hero in a ghost story is not a wimp but a strong, self assured man who is going to fight to the bitter end to find the truth and get his life back. Very few actors could have pulled it off better then Scott. George C. Scott plays John, a famous pianist and composer who has lost his wife and young daughter in a freak car accident. Grief stricken and heartbroken, he moves to Washington state and rents a wonderful old Gothic mansion. Surprise surprise – it’s haunted. A great horror film can derive fear from even the simplest things. In this film a child’s ball rolling down the stairs will make your hair stand up on end. There’s also a piano striking a chord without a player, and a glass flying off a table and shattering during a Seance. This film will give you shivers. If you are a fan check it out and make sure to watch it with a loved one cuddling up against you with all the lights turned out.