Happy Halloween. For those of you not in North America, Happy Friday.
I’m going to honour the occasion by running through some scary flicks you may not have seen. I am a serious horror movie fan and have seen more than I can remember, and thus can tell you with confidence that for every excellent scary movie there are nine more that bite weiner.
Now, I should tell you that I don’t like zombie flicks and I’m not big on this “torture porn” stuff that’s been coming out lately; I liked the first Saw, hated Hostel, really, really hated Captivity and have not seen any of their sequels, nor do I care to. So you won’t see stuff like that on my shelf. Don’t get me wrong; a horror movie can be gory. It can be bloody. Or it can just be scary, with chills hinted at via mood and sound, not graphic violence. I just don’t get this two-hours-of-people-cutting-people-up business. But I like Rob Zombie’s stuff, so hey, what do I know?
Quality horror has been lacking in recent years; The Ring (the American version) was a rare scare for me in the 21st century. Prior to that? Maybe The Blair Witch Project. I am of the opinion that you either absolutely got that film, or you absolutely didn’t, with no in-between, and I think it has something to do with the power of the viewer’s imagination.
Anyway, here are some horror movies you should see:
- Twitch of the Death Nerve: I would actually recommend you see any Lamberto and/or Mario Bava films you can, but this one is a standout. I haven’t seen it in years, come to think of it … maybe this weekend will be the time, if I can find a copy. I think it’s also the best movie title of all time. Sometimes it’s packaged under the title Bay of Blood, and somehow isn’t as good under that name. But I’m weird about things like that.
- Black Christmas: The Canadian original, which actually kicked off the “slasher” film craze and is a clear influence on the first Halloween movie. There’s an iconic image involving a clear plastic bag and a rocking chair that will haunt you.
- Lemora: I first saw this on late-night TV when I was in my early teens. Actually, I saw just one sequence, involving a girl being locked in an old shed after being attacked by creatures in the forest, but it was so frightening that it stayed with me for years. It wasn’t until last summer that I finally (a) learned what it was called and (b) found a copy. It doesn’t really hold up; it’s extremely low-budget and very, very disquieting, but there’s still something about it that works for me.
- Suspiria: My favourite horror movie, and one of my favourite films. It’s surreal, a dreamscape of horror hallucination and witchery. It makes little sense and doesn’t have to. Dario Argento initially conceived of this as a film about little girls, then cast adults as teenagers, but didn’t change the dialogue … it makes for a strange trip. It has two “sequels,” 1980′s Inferno and this year’s Mother of Tears, both inferior.
- Last House on the Left: Brutal and gripping and dark as pitch, this is the ultimate exploration of ultraviolence. It isn’t spooky; it’s a scary, realistic story of a gang of killers on the loose. Long before The Strangers or Funny Games, this was the way to scare America: Do you really know who’s knocking on your door?
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane: Jodie Foster is Bryn, a 13-year-old who lives by herself in a rambling old house in the country. Or maybe not. This is a quiet, slow movie about suspicion and fear that features a young Martin Sheen as one of cinema’s best-ever villains. It also stars a young actor named Scott Jacoby, whose face, for me, sums up the 70s.
- Bad Ronald: Scott Jacoby headlines this one, a cheapie about a teenaged boy who gets into some trouble, so his mother (played by Zira from Planet of the Apes) hides him in a secret room in their house, and then dies. When a new family with lovely daughters moves in, they have no idea a creepy kid is living inside their walls.
- Carnival of Souls: You can usually find this on those cheap DVD box sets, which are worth the price just for this movie alone. A young woman survives a deadly car crash and finds herself drawn to a strange old carnival pavilion in the middle of nowhere … again, it’s fairly low-budget but the power is in the performances and the spooky pavilion.
- Candyman: I still watch this whenever I can. And it’s still frightening. The sequels are garbage, but the original, with Virginia Madsen’s perfect performance, Tony Todd’s menace (“I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom”) and a story like nothing else before or since, is an excellent Halloween scare.
- Race With The Devil: Two couples in an RV accidentally witness a Satanic sacrifice in the middle of nowhere, and as they flee learn that pretty much every American in the southwest is a Satanist. This has Peter Fonda, Loretta Swit and some dirtbikes, and is super-cool.
- Blood on Satan’s Claw: It’s the 1600s, and a demon creature is turning a village’s children into evil little satanists. The title is dreadful, but this is a perfect example of a low-budget, mildly stupid movie achieving exactly what it set out to do, and scaring the crap out of young Weathereye, somewhere around 1980, in the process.
A lot of my other favourites are ones you would expect: Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, etc. Over the past couple of years it’s been the Vengeance Trilogy and some, but not all, Japanese stuff. Oddly, I have never been a big fan of The Exorcist, but I really like The Sentinel, which is similar. And I have a soft spot for the Flowers in the Attic movie. But don’t tell anyone about that.