Friday, March 4, 2011

Truly scary movies

There aren't many truly scary movies. This is my list of the scariest:

Dumplings. This Asian horror flick by director Fruit Chan is so creepy you won't believe it. I don't know if it's "scary" exactly but it's definitely one of the freakiest movies I've ever seen (and it makes you want to hold a pillow in front of your face). If you haven't seen it, toss this one in your queue -- but only if you have great intestinal fortitude. And then you too can wonder, "What's in Aunt Mei's secret dumplings?" Lotsa fun (and okay, it's disgusting too).

Carnival of Souls. This low-budget, black-and-white Swedish thriller from 1962 is excellent. It doesn't look fabulous, which is not a surprise given the almost nonexistent budget, and there are a lot of overexposed versions of it out there, but the movie is definitely scary. They took what little they had and ran with it to a very frightening place. To tell you what it's about would ruin the experience for you. If you haven't seen Carnival of Souls, do so. That is an order.

The Exorcist. This movie is so familiar to us that it's lost its horror luster. But it was certainly horrifying in 1974 when it first slammed the US population. This movie was an event, people. If you weren't there at the time, you can't imagine the aura that surrounded its release. I think I waited six or eight hours on line to see it. We hardly knew anything about special effects then, which was the key to our terror. Now, of course, people's heads spin around all the time. I just saw a woman's head do this at the Quickie Mart last Thursday. Still, it's a nice film, a well-made movie. All the actors are excellent, terrific music, great visuals -- you couldn't ask for more.

American Werewolf in London. This 1981 movie made its way onto two of my lists: weird movies and scary movies. Thing is, it's also a funny movie! This is the only movie I've ever seen that was both funny and scary. John Landis performed a miracle. But again, the movie was more startling when it came out because we'd never seen a guy turn into a werewolf right in front of our eyes before. (The Howling notwithstanding; that was just blowing up balloons, next to these transformations.) However, the movie's impact doesn't rely only on special effects. There are some genuinely scary moments here, like the little Mickey Mouse hello from Jack (for those who've seen it). Downright creepy -- and you get to watch Jack decompose as the movie proceeds. This is a special added bonus. Plus, the movie's hysterically funny. I don't know how Landis did it.

Dead of Night. This 1946 black-and-white movie is a treasure. It must have knocked audiences out, back in the day. It's one of those old movies that has several stories within it. At the time of its release, each of the tales contained in the movie would have been startlingly new to the audience. Many of its novel ideas have been copied since the film's release -- over and over and over, in fact -- making the plots in the various stories all too familiar to today's viewers. But the movie was wonderfully creepy and innovative in a time when audiences were more naive. The look, sound and feel are charming. It's like visiting long-gone days. (This one came out before even I was born. It's old.)

The Mephisto Waltz. Okay, so maybe this movie from 1971 isn't that scary. But it's so stylish that I want it on my list. It's a sophisticated, appealing tale of Satanism in Manhattan. What more could you ask? I don't want to reveal the story idea, in case you haven't seen it. A lovely movie, worthy of repeated viewings (and despite the inclusion of Jacqueline Bisset in the cast; they didn't know she was white trash yet).

Alien. This has to be on any scary-movie list. Alien broke new ground and though it's been copied to death, we need to recognize the incredible innovation that went into this movie. Not only does it have the best monster even seen on film, it's also got that great, organic-looking alien spacecraft. And the view inside certainly wasn't a letdown. What a scene! And the scale of the aliens in that huge chamber! Though we only saw them in death, their innate alienness was terrifying. A giant race of space-faring aliens -- and this was just the sideshow before our main alien decimates the crew. Amazing. Everything about this movie is a 10. I know we've seen it a million times but you have to admit it's the king of the scary movie pile.

(Of course, when making up this list I peeked at internet lists of the mostest-scariest movies, and boy, was that a joke! People listed garbage like "Children of the Corn"! On a "scariest movies" list! You know how frightening corn is. And "Stephen King's It"! One of the stupidest movies ever made. And let us note that both of these wildly bad movies are from the mind of Stephen King. As I said in another post, the man used to have talent. Anyway, people today are idiots. Just read lists to confirm this.)

Additions? Subtractions? I'm sure there are other scary movies out there. Enlighten me.