Halloween film picks '07, Pt. 1: Are you ready for some scary movies?
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 - 10:32pm
THE WHOLE CONCEPT of "scary" movies is bizarre. We take so many precautions in life to avoid the unsettling sensations that horror films provide. What makes us crave that occasional jolt to the system? Do we in the 21st century still have natural urges to touch upon our survival instincts?
It certainly feels like a matter of life-and-death when you’re watching Jamie Lee Curtis on the run from a guy in a William Shatner mask. Don’t we all feel that shot of human empathy that made Marlon Wayans proclaim, “Run, b****, run! He gon’ kiiiiiiill you!” in “Scary Movie”?
In any case, most of us watch scary movies, and there’s no time of the year better to do so than Halloween. A concentration of horror films is released in theaters around this time every year, and for every person who goes out to see the new slasher on Halloween weekend, there’s someone who rents classics like “Halloween” and “The Shining” each year and watches it with all the lights off.
And for that ever-raging battle between the primal and the intellectual, here are the first five of my top 10 picks for films that will make you both think and stay up nights peering fearfully into the darkness.
10. "The Exorcist" (dir. William Friedkin, 1973)
And we kick off with a certified classic. Fresh from reinventing the action thriller with “The French Connection,” William Friedkin adapted Willam Peter Blatty’s horror novel "The Exorcist" into one of the most universally regarded frightfests in film history. Blending religious allegory with grotesque visuals and an outstanding feel for suspense, “The Exorcist” is the gloomily woven tale of a young girl possessed by the very manifestation of evil itself and the priest called upon to exorcise this demon. In the early '70s, Friedkin made the most of his knack for creating powerful, tangible atmosphere, and it shows remarkably here in a work that both art- and entertainment-minded viewers can appreciate. And, if you’re worried that the genre’s spoofs have spoiled the scares, knowing the infamous head-turning scene is coming doesn’t make it any less shocking.
9. "The Eye" (dir. Pang Brothers, 2002)
The Japanese have made their horror films into subgenre all their own. Their pervasively psychological approach, characterized by the agonizing effectiveness of gems like “Ringu” and “Ju-On,” has been mimicked by an inept American mainstream scene (in remakes “The Ring” and “The Grudge”, respectively). But the true crowning achievement of Japanese horror came courtesy of Danny and Oxide Pang (yes, his name really is Oxide) — the brothers’ ghost story “The Eye” is at once a work of hair-raising suspense and visual beauty, an ideal representative for a subgenre that exemplifies both the technical proficiency and the artistic flair of the Japanese. Look into the bluish-white faces of the Pang brothers’ terrifying specters and you might just see your own scars and insecurities — this is simple horror filmmaking that can’t help but bleed meaning. Naturally, the American remake will be released in early 2008.
8. "The Blair Witch Project" (dir. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez, 1999)
Fear. Heart-stopping, it-could-happen-to-me fear. This is what you will feel for days after seeing this little indie-that-could from 1999. Made with a budget of $35,000, “The Blair Witch Project” grossed more than $140 million in the U.S. alone, making it by far the most profitable film of all time — and it’s not hard to see why. Truly, this is possibly the most paranoia-inducing, adrenaline-pumpingly scary movie I have ever seen. “Blair Witch” is presented as the compiled video evidence of the last days of three amateur documentary filmmakers who set out into Maryland’s Black Hills in search of a mythical witch — and never returned. Their video camera, footage intact, was found a year later. Originally envisioned as a traditional fake documentary on their disappearance, the raw footage from the video camera is so brilliantly done that it would lessen the realism and primal terror of the film to frame it. “Blair Witch” is a paranoid, claustrophobic, and disturbingly perfect ultra-minimalist assertion that less is more, and what we don’t see is often the scariest thing of all.
7. "Halloween" (dir. John Carpenter, 1978)
I believe this inclusion justifies itself. I shouldn’t even have to say anything here, but I’ll willingly extol the virtues of what is probably the classic least disputed in any aficionado’s rankings. John Carpenter legitimized the slasher genre when he made “Halloween,” and in doing so crafted a revolutionary filmmaking triumph that is generally impressive to this day. The premise became the blueprint for every slasher movie you’ve ever seen: On Halloween night 1978, Laurie Strode (a debutant Jamie Lee Curtis) and her unfortunate friends are pursued by a silent maniac in a William Shatner mask. The mythology of the series to come sounds far more impressive than the actual films that make up the “Halloween” franchise, but Carpenter’s original is a masterpiece of innovative technique and bone-chilling terror. The film’s simple, minimalist style, and the merciless filmmakers’ ability to draw out and heighten suspense with recognizably influential camerawork and Carpenter’s own hair-raising score, are a potent combination that make the original slasher film truly a cut above.
6. "The Descent" (dir. Neil Marshall, 2005)
“The Descent” is the most recent inclusion on this list, and as such, provides a unique glimpse into the future of quality horror films. Neil Marshall’s sickly clever allegory about six spelunking girlfriends pitted against naturally evolved underground humanoids in an undiscovered cave system isn’t the scariest or even bloodiest film in the top 10, but it’s certainly the most pervasively cynical. The very definition of a multi-layered film, underneath this nerve-wrackingly claustrophobic gorefest lies an intensely provocative mindf*** with staunchly feminist undertones and unabashedly soul-crushing pessimism. The original British theatrical cut’s extended ending adds yet another layer of depth that was apparently deemed too complex for American moviegoers. This version is harder to find, but worth every bit of trouble if you can stomach the blood-soaked philosophy.