January 2009

The Terminator

Hmm. The Terminator eh? The Terminator shows up as number 82 on the list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies'? Much like Jurassic Park, which appeared earlier on this list, I would consider this more of a Science-Fiction Action/Thriller that, while possessing some certainly chilling moments, to call it scary would be an over exaggeration. So yeah, as much as I love the film, I'm not sure that I agree with its placement on this list but hey, I never mind having to watch The Terminator so I really shouldn't complain. It is quite sad that future moviegoers will have to deal with the poverty of experiencing movies such as this without the personal, masterful hand of Stan Winston.

The Others

I am just going to come out and say it that I enjoy The Others far more than I do The Sixth Sense. The only reason I feel the need to make this statement is because of the similarity of their shock endings (I didn't give anything away did I?) and the relative closeness of their release dates. Now, don't get me wrong, I like The Sixth Sense, I like it a lot, but The Others is by far a much deeper and thoughtful film and in my mind, a whole lot creepier. For me, it was refreshing to see a ghost story done with such complexity in the aftermath of films such as The Haunting and The House On Haunted Hill, remakes of classic, innovative films that had been watered down into special effects bonanzas without any real substance.

Blue Velvet

Could it be that Frank Booth is the most horrifying villain ever put upon the silver screen? I would say that with Dennis Hopper at the helm of this unscrupulous character, sucking on amyl nitrite, engaging in drug peddling, kidnapping, torture, rape, murder and scores of other activities of an unsavory nature, the case can indeed be made beyond a reasonable doubt. For those not up on your violent and sadistic sociopaths, Frank Booth was the antagonist who ran havoc through the seedy underbelly of North Carolina in David Lynch's 1986 Neo-Noir Thriller Blue Velvet, number 84 on the list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies'. David Lynch is an absolute master of showing the ugly flip side to reality. A big city may have its problems, but it will wear them on its sleeve but small towns, the keep their secrets hidden and dark, away from unbidden eyes. Could Frank survive in the big city? Possibly.

Blood And Black Lace

This entire film seems to be posing us a question, an ugly, disturbing question: If what you are seeing is so terrible, if it is so alarmingly unpleasant, then why do you not look away? Why do you keep watching as these abhorrent things continue to happen? The answer, as we may loathe to find, is simple: Because these things, disagreeable though they may be to our upstanding morality, are shot so beautifully, bathed in such radiant light and we cannot look away. It is all simply too gorgeous. That is how to perfectly sum up Mario Bava's creepy Slasher opus Blood and Black Lace, which shows up as number 85 on the list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies'. It is the pinnacle of the 'Giallo' genre as well as the Slasher genre.

The Wizard Of Oz

Here is yet another entry on our list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies' that makes you scratch your head a little bit. That was definitely my reaction. How could one of the most beloved and magical family films of all time, 1939's The Wizard of Oz find its way to the rank of 86 on such a list? And to have it rank higher than 28 Days Later? That was seemingly preposterous in my mind. But I was committed to this task of watching every last film on the list and I begrudgingly revisited it. Not that I dislike the film, far from it, but I entered this task to watch scary movies not sweet, magical ones; to watch fright and horror done to the best of their potential. Now, I began to realize that I had not seen this film in a very long time.

Black Christmas

At last we have come to it, the precursor to all American slasher films and number 87 on our list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies': Black Christmas. For my money, this is the film that truly defined the genre in North America, mixing together all of the key elements that once were so absorbed in such films: A holiday themed plot, numerous co-eds, an unknown, wraith-like killer with perverse motives and a strong female lead who overcomes everything to do what must be done. Black Christmas was directed by Bob Clark in 1974 and he was enamored with the concept of contrasting such a beautiful and joyous holiday with deadly horror. There are many interesting and innovative things to love about this film and Clark employed clever techniques of camera and sound to convey to us violence and horror in ways that were surprisingly restrained. Every time the killer moves, we become him, the camera swaying back and forth like a lumbering madman.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

It is funny how each individual person may perceive something; how over time, a thing may take on meanings unintended, its very definition changing shape. It is important to note this when talking about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1956 film that holds the rank of 88 on our list of the supposed '100 Greatest Scary Movies'. It has become a general consensus that the film is clearly a film about the 'Red Scare' and depending on your point of view, it could be a left-leaning indictment of McCarthyism or a scathing right-wing indictment of Communism. The film seems ripe with allegory: Are we being taken over by an alien way of thinking that is wiping out our very way of life? If so, be on the lookout, for chances are, they have infiltrated us so absolutely that they now look exactly like us, whittling us down from within. Or, is the fear of such an idea driving us into apathy and lethargy as we mindlessly accept the persecution of our fellow man?

Alice, Sweet Alice

American films have rarely been this creepy and odd. Alice, Sweet Alice is number 89 on the list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies' and I hold the opinion that it should have been ranked much higher. Everything about it, from its ominous use of religious imagery to its strange otherworldly score, is thoroughly unsettling. It feels very much like something Mario Bava or Dario Argento would have been attached to and I do not think I am going out on a limb when I say it owes quite a bit to the Italian 'Giallo' films. Alice, Sweet Alice is all about mood and suspicion and in true 'Giallo' fashion, director Alfred Sole to a great degree utilized visual motifs to achieve this.

Night Of The Hunter

Plain and simple: Robert Mitchum plays a great villain and no other film captured it as well as Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter. He is specter and reality, dream and nightmare; a devil in God's clothing. As the homicidal preacher Harry Powell, Mitchum shows us that those who look the fairest can have the foulest of souls. Night of the Hunter was the first and last film that Laughton would attempt to direct and was panned by critics and viewers alike when it was released in the Fall of 1955. But time has a funny way of changing out perspective on things and the film is now regarded as one of the most stunning and thrilling films of the era, while Mitchum's turn as Powell is regarded as his greatest of roles. It shows up here on our list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies' with a rank of 90 and to some, the movie may seem a bit dated.

Weekly Roundup!

Bad news for fans of David Fincher's darker work: It seems his next project was going to be an adaptation of a graphic novel called "Torso," but The Hollywood Reporter reports that Paramount let the rights slip for one reason or another. "Torso" follows Eliot Ness as he tracks down a killer dubbed 'The Torso Killer.' I would have been really excited to see this. Se7en has to be one of the most masterfully artistic serial killer films of all time and I would much like to see Fincher's take on this. Supposedly, a script has been written by Ehren Kruger, but until Paramount ponies up, the project will remain in the development stages only. Now here is something interesting: Bill Hader just revealed that Comedy Guru, Judd Apatow encouraged him to write a screenplay for a 'Slasher Film.' An odd turn don't you think?

Shallow Grave

The next film that the list of '100 Greatest Scary Movies' encourages us to explore introduces us to a type of horror we have not yet seen: The horror of normal people finding out just how evil and terrible they can be. Shallow Grave is number 91 in rank and was directed by the now renowned Danny Boyle, featuring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Eccleston, both very young at the time. It presents to us the question: How far would you go if fortune fell into your lap? Shallow Grave follows the unfortunate series of events that three friends bring upon themselves after taking on a new roommate. Right off the bat, we see that these people are self-centered and without deeper empathy for their fellow man.

Village of the Damned

Perhaps it is the presumed innocence, that children should not yet be so callous, but there is something far creepier and unsettling about an evil child. It is a scary thought to think of children to cold, so calculating, and quite powerful enough to subvert to subvert out very will. Village of the Damned is an interesting film, one of the first in the 'evil child' genre and it shows up as number 92 on the list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies'. I first saw the film on television when I was a child; a local station would show scary movies from the 50's and 60's every Saturday morning right after the marathon of cartoons. Usually the fare would be monster movies, but every so often it would be something far deeper. Science-Fiction and Horror involving children has always intrigued me; terror through the eyes of a child is always both innocent and surreal and it is amazing to watch how society collapses when the livelihood of their future is corrupted so absolutely.

Child's Play

Ah, and so it is that we come to both our first 'slasher' film and our first 'iconic franchise' film and it comes in at number 93 on the rankings of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies'. I actually never saw Child's Play when I was little, though it probably would have given me dreadful nightmares. Chucky the Good Guy doll is without a doubt one of the most recognizable characters in the History of Modern Horror, hacking and slashing his way through five films and racking up a body count upwards of thirty. I wonder if Don Mancini thought when he was writing this that we would still be talking about it over 20 years later. As a whole, the series is a little off-kilter. The first entry is a strong horror movie, but the next two were abysmal to say the least. Then came Bride Of Chucky in 1998 and the series took a hard left turn from straight up horror and slash right into clever self-parody.

Pacific Heights

When I committed myself to watching all of the films on the list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies', I knew that I would inevitably come across more than a couple that I did not care for. Pacific Heights is one of those films. I never much cared for the genre that I like to call 'Yuppie Horror' and even such films that are considered great, still fall short of a high opinion by me. But I set out on this project and I couldn't stray from it this early in the game, so in went Pacific Heights, number 94 on the list. And really? 94? This movie ranks higher than 28 Days Later? That was a savage tome chronicling the end of the world, this is just a Yuppie couple that makes some stupid choices and pay for it. I'm surprised this movie is even on this list, let alone beating out 28 Days Later, but then again, isn't that what is great about art?

Jurassic Park

Now here is something interesting: On a list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies,' Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science-fiction blockbuster Jurassic Park shows up at number 95. No doubt it is a suspenseful movie, altogether thrilling even, but never would I go so far as to call it a 'scary movie'. But regardless, it was on the list and so I watched it for the first time in what was probably a decade. Right off the bat I would like to say that this film still looks absolutely awesome. Remember the first time you saw it? Remember how breathtakingly real it all looked? Well, it still does. The first scene in which we are introduced to the dinosaurs, that amazing shot of the Brachiosaurus feeding on the tall trees, still brought within me a swelling of emotion. My whole childhood I had dreamed of seeing a dinosaur and the first time I witnessed that moment, I almost cried with joy.

The Birds

I may be alone in this sentiment and possibly all who differ in opinion will think I am crazy, but I find Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 'revenge of nature' film The Birds to be rather dull. No, scratch that. It is a fine film for what it is and it is genuinely scary; to call it dull is to do it an injustice and the film is iconic, there is no doubt about that. Is there really anyone who is not familiar with the unsettling scene in which the birds amass on the playground? I think not. However, after Hitchcock's long streak of psychological thriller and chilling horror, I find what is essentially a monster movie to be somewhat under whelming. It is an odd thing for me to say because I normally praise the artistic branching of directors, but this film feels beneath the great Hitchcock. It shows up at the rank of 96 on the list of '100 Greatest Scary Movies' and don't get me wrong, it is a marvel of special effects and as a standalone film, it is very suspenseful.

Cat People

Showing up at the respectable rank of 97 on the list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies,' Cat People comes from a time in cinema when fear and shock were hidden in shadow. Technological and budget restraints necessitated it and what we get is a more creative scare than we get if we simply see the face of the devil. The terror is built upon a pretext of unseen danger and desires that, while never acted upon, still linger throughout the length of the film and permeate it to its deepest depths. At the center of this alarmingly risqué film is Irena Debrovna who beyond all rationale, believes herself to be the descendant of an evil tribe of devil worshipers and s a result of such, will be transformed in to a panther of extreme power and rage if she gives in to feelings of passion or jealousy. As a result, she never engages in any form of physical affection with her husband. How is has let the relationship go this far, is anybody's guess.

Zombie

Coming in at number 98 on the list of the '100 Greatest Scary Movies' is a bit of a controversial pick: Lucio Fulci's seminal gore-fest, Zombie. Released in 1979, Zombie was originally released as Zombi 2 in attempt to cash in on the phenomena of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead which was released in Europe under the title of Zombi. The film, however, had nothing to do with the mythos created by Romero for his Dead films and most recognize it now as a stand-alone film with its own merits and faults. Reaction to movie by the film community at large was largely negative, mostly because of the excessive gore and violence that permeates it, which was considerable, even for a film within the zombie film genre. It was seen as mostly a rip-off of Romero in general and for the most part cast aside.

Creepshow

Roughly around the time of 1947, a young man named William Gaines inherited EC Comics from his recently deceased father. Having previously been focused on stories of history, science and the Bible to little success under the supervision of his father, William soon began publishing tales of horror, suspense and science fiction. This new approach was one of monumental success, with sensational stories and art of the highest quality while also tackling issues of racism, sexism and the very fabric of our way of life. EC Comics brought to the world the Crypt Keeper, who introduced the Tales From The Crypt series and Mad Magazine, which ended up becoming one of the most renowned Horror publications in the country. The comics became known for their 'shock' endings, dripping with irony and poetic justice they were, often taking the reader greatly by surprise. There had never been anything quite like it and they dared to mix politics and fantasy, revulsion and poignancy in ways that most had never dared.

28 Days Later

The movie that starts off the exploration of the supposed '100 Greatest Scary Movies' is Danny Boyle's 2002 post-apocalyptic masterpiece, 28 Days Later. Right off the bat I would say that a mere rank of 100 is far too low for this film, especially in light of many of the other entries. As I've said before, the ranking system for such lists becomes rather arbitrary as they increase in girth but still, this movie was one of the scariest movies I had ever seen. 28 Days Later presents to us humanity at its most savage. It both shows us the perils of scientifically delving into matters we have little right to and presents to us the latent savagery we as humans constantly insist on indulging in. The enemy in 28 Days Later , after all, is little more than mankind itself; twisted and perverted though it may be.

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