Sunday, October 27, 2013

Great links: Which movies gave you the biggest fright?

It's the witching hour, so let's talk scary movies for a moment.

Over at the Final Girl blog, Stacie Ponder asked last month for readers to submit their lists on the topic of "Which Ten Horror Movies Have Scared You The Most?"

The submissions were tallied, and Final Girl is presenting a countdown of the 323 scare-fests that received votes this month for Shocktober. The list just moved into the Top 50 on Sunday as it heads into the Halloween home stretch.

The point of the fun exercise wasn't to select the classic movies of the genre or the best ones or even personal favorites. The question was simply: Which movies gave you the biggest fright?

Within that context, most of my selections involve movies I first saw as an impressionable wee lad. And so most, but not all, are movies from the 1970s.

Here's a thumbnail look at my ten picks.1 Can you guess all of them without reading ahead?

Top row, from left:
  • Jack and the Beanstalk (1974) — Pictured is Madame Hecuba2, the primary villain in this freaky animated film from Japan. It's the decided creepiness of Hecuba and the soundtrack that made this an unexpected horror film masquerading as a Disneyesque fairy tale for kiddies. For further discussion, check out this Post Modern Trashaeology review.
  • The Last Man on Earth (1964) — I first saw this Vincent Price-led adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend as a kid, and it may well have been my first zombie movie.3 Now, it's just a family favorite, and was Ashar's introduction to one of his favorite actors.4 It can still creep me out, though, especially when the creatures surround Price's house, calling out "Morgan!"
  • Salem's Lot (1979) — I didn't have to rank the movies on my list for Final Girl. But, if I had, this might be #1. Most of this Stephen King adaptation is forever burned into my brain, and there are too many memorable scenes to begin recounting them all. Over the years, though, I've become more and more fond of Geoffrey Lewis' work as Mike Ryerson.5 And this movie was made for television.
  • Gargoyles (1972) — And here's another made-for-television movie. The way-above-average elements of this one, some of which still hold up, include Bernie Casey's performance (and voice) as the lead gargoyle who just wants to better his race, the slow-motion, night-time attack scenes involving the gargoyles, and the ominous soundtrack.6
  • Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972) — This extremely-low-budget zombie film was directed by Bob Clark, who somehow went on to direct both Porky's and A Christmas Story. The star is Alan Ormsby (pictured in the thumbnail), who would have to be in the running for Most Unlikable Character in a Zombie Film, if anyone did rankings for such a thing. This movie, though extremely gory, was shown often on the afternoon matinee in the late 1970s, which made it unfortunately easily to stumble across when you were just looking for a Gamera or Bela Lugosi movie.
Bottom row, from left:
  • Burnt Offerings (1976) — Really, the only reason this made my list is the damn smiling chauffeur, who is pictured in the lineup. He didn't just give Oliver Reed bad dreams. He gave ALL of us bad dreams. The chauffeur was portrayed by character actor Anthony James, who is generally under-praised for all of his villainous outings over the years. (Other than the chauffeur, by the way, this movie is a mostly underwhelming mixed bag.)
  • The Sentinel (1977) — A terrifying and unnerving horror film, even today. And it includes perhaps the creepiest birthday party for a cat in movie history. One note: The TV edit (how I originally experienced the film) is the best version of the movie, in my opinion. The theatrical cut has too much gore, too many shots of the "demons" at the end and, ummm, too much Beverly D'Angelo. The TV version leaves more to the imagination, which is the better way to go.
  • The Changeling (1980) — What a wonderful haunted-house movie. No blood, knives, clowns, fangs or demons needed to induce chills. All you need to scare the audience, in fact, is a little red ball. Also, tape-recorder scenes are always guaranteed to provide great moments in horror movies. Remind me to include a tape-recorder scene when I write my first horror screenplay.
  • Session 9 (2001) — Speaking of movies with tape recordings (Hello, Mary and Simon), this is the most recent movie on my list. Director Brad Anderson was already way ahead of the game we he secured the use of Danvers State Hospital as the setting for his horror film. But he didn't stop there, crafting a spooky and perfectly ambiguous script to go along with his crumbling psychiatric hospital. David Caruso gets a lifetime pass for his work in this movie.7
  • Halloween (1978)"I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes... the devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... evil." Also: It's amazing enough that John Carpenter made the perfect slasher film. But somehow he also made the greatest horror score of all-time. There should be some sort of Oscar for a guy like that.8

OK, so there are my midnight horror-movie ramblings. That should be sufficient to tide me over until next October.

But, Chris, there's nothing about ephemera or books in this blog post, you exclaim. We came here for bookish things, not vampires!

Fine. Here you go...

Don't forget to read
the rest of Shocktober on Final Girl

Out-of-Control Footnotes
1. My #11 movie, which was very difficult for me to keep off the list, is Poltergeist. Honestly, it is scarier than a couple of my more-obscure choices, but I wanted to stay away from having too many mainstream selections. I'm sure the clown will come get me as revenge for leaving his movie off the list.
2. Madame Hecuba, quite improbably, has her own Facebook page.
3. Without going off on a thesis-length tangent, suffice to say that the creatures in both the source novel and the 1964 movie are vampire-zombie hybrids who act much more like The Walking Dead than Dracula. And, in fact, both were major influences on the development of our modern notion of zombies. George Romero has often said that The Last Man on Earth was one of his inspirations for Night of the Living Dead.
4. Ashar and I have thoroughly enjoyed Turner Classic Movies' focus on Vincent Price this month. This past Thursday, we watched the marathon trifecta of House of Wax, The Mad Magician, and House of Usher. Great stuff. Speaking of House of Usher, I found myself wondering what ever happened to those creepy portraits of the Usher family that add so much to the movie's atmosphere. I found a partial answer on this website dedicated to the work of Burt Shonberg (scroll way down). An excerpt:
"In the movie, the paintings were destroyed by fire when the 'house' burnt down. The paintings were covered in a fire proof gel that prevented any damage to them, so they actually did not burn. ... [Director] Roger Corman gave these paintings to the cast and crew when production was finished."
5. Also, hats off to Salem's Lot for including a spot for minor horror icon Elisha Cook Jr. Also also, I love that two key actors (Ed Flanders, Bonnie Bartlett) went on to starring roles in St. Elsewhere.
6. Enjoy this Gargoyles GIF. You're welcome.
7. No spoilers from me on this one. If you haven't seen Session 9 and love horror movies, seek it out.
8. At least we have this: In 2006, Halloween was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."


  1. One of the scariest: Woman in Black (original, not the one with Harry Potter)...the ending almost gave me a heart attack.

  2. if the buffalo in my head could speak german i would not know a god damm thing. What i do know is that the language of art is out of this world. disney plus free