So it’s the scary time of year. And no, I’m not talking about the election. All Hallow’s Eve is upon us and everyone out there is looking for a good spine-chilling spook. So I decided to list five movies that have given me the biggest frights over the years.
Let’s do this.
When I think about scary films, I usually don’t think of horror films per se. Since most of them are schlock (hey – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure), I don’t find that they scare me much or stay with me after watching them. Adrian Lyne‘s Jacob’s Ladder is a film that scared me badly AND stuck with me – a rare combination. While the film bounces between three narrative threads, the scenes of the decayed, crumbling New York are those that still hold the most scare value. Vietnam vet Jacob (Tim Robbins) starts seeing demons and faceless creatures inexplicably hunting him. When it comes to his attention that all of his squad from the war are suffering the same problems, things get really bizarre. This film is able to maintain the creep factor throughout without overdoing it, punctuated so wonderfully by Jacob’s trip through the hospital/insane asylum/war zone to the surgical room. This is a scene where it is nearly impossible to shake the images for days afterward. I dare you to go to sleep right after watching this. TRIPLE DOG DARE YOU. So, if you’re up for a good, non-horror scare, this is the film for you. Perhaps the finest of its kind this side of the early David Cronenberg films. Fantastic performance as well from Elizabeth Peña.
Here is the trailer:
“We’ve met before haven’t we? At your house, don’t you remember?” I’m not sure creepier words have ever been spoke in a film. That they are said by a Marcel Marceau version of a wide-eyed, lipsticked crazy-ass Robert Blake makes them all the more so. Lost Highway hits this for many reasons, mostly for the above listed. What starts with a very familiar film noir trope (headlights on an open road) quickly devolves into a David Lynch directed nightmare, and one that took me days to shake after seeing it. The first time I saw Lost Highway, I supervised an overnight work crew at a Borders (R.I.P.) bookstore. We popped it in at about 2:30 in the morning. After it ended, I tried to stay close to my coworkers lest a ghostlike Robert Blake hand me his phone and ask me to call home. Lynch does many things well in his films, but I believe he is an architect supreme when it comes to sound design and the music he uses in his films. Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson along with long-time collaborator Angelo Badalamenti‘s score paint such a scary scene, one that not only mirrors the horror (well, my version of it) onscreen, but enhances it.
Lynch is one of the most bizarre filmmakers out there. His films confound and confuse at every turn and literally scare the hell out of you in doing so. Anyone ever seen Twin Peaks: Firewalk with Me? What. The. Hell? The scene behind Winkie’s in Mullholland Drive? Holy cow.
Here is the trailer for Lost Highway:
I hope I never receive this phone call: “…I just wanted to jump on and tell you I’m really glad you’re doing okay.” If that happens, I’m off to Ecuador.
I think this one speaks for itself. If you are a horror fan, you likely have seen William Friedkin‘s The Exorcist. From Mike Oldfield‘s iconic “Tubular Bells” theme song to the head-twisting scene, The Exorcist delivers scare after scare. When Warner Bros. re-released the film in theaters in 2000 with an uncut version, it featured arguably the freakiest scene of the entire film (which says a lot) – Regan’s (Linda Blair) backward crabwalk down the stairs. Holy shit. I tripped out just watching the trailer. Seeing it in the theater blew me away. And there is also the inexplicable demon flash during Father Karras’ (Jason Miller) dream about his mother adding another WTF? moment to this film. That an out-and-out horror film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture (up against American Graffiti, Cries & Whispers, The Sting, and A Touch of Class) is crazy to me. If you haven’t seen this one, get there. NOW.
Even the trailer scares the life out of me:
While this movie is cheesy as hell in some parts, it has, without a doubt, two of the scariest parts of any film I’ve ever seen. The picture above is the first example – Barlow the Vampire (Reggie Nalder). When watching this for the first time as a kid circa 1979 or 1980, the mere sight of this monster had me in shivers, something the wussified sparkling vampires of today have no chance of doing. He was an unconventional-looking vampire, obviously. That his two front teeth were the neck-openers was just too much. Coupled with his blue-tinted skin, the sight of him quickly caused me to jump under the bed. Nosferatu on steroids. The second scary-ass scene is probably the most famous from the film: when the dead brother returns as the vampire, scratching at the second floor window so he can be let in. Two words for that: NO FUCKINGWAY. Sorry bro, you can’t come in. Enjoy the hell out of the fog outside. Here’s the clip:
Despite being directed by Tobe Hooper, the director of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, this entire movie (which was made for TV) ultimately doesn’t stand the test of time. I will stand by its moments of scare-itude, though. They still haunt me to this day. I will now have trouble sleeping tonight.
Here is the trailer:
The Blair Witch Project
Without a doubt, The Blair Witch Project had the best marketing campaign of any film in my lifetime, or at least that I can remember. The first film to really capitalize on the internet, filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez used a faux search campaign for the three people depicted in the film (Heather, Josh and Mike) as if they were real people who had gone missing. The website for the film laid out the story of the Blair Witch, Rustin Parr and all of the other legends surrounding the story. They put up posters in big cities asking for information about the whereabouts of the three people, which really got people talking about the film. It was superb. There were plenty of people who went to see this film who thought it was real, that what took place was non-fiction, of course overlooking the large holes in the narrative. At the time, the found footage aspect was brand new and fresh unlike all of the nonsense Paranormal Activity and Chronicle-type films coming out now. It was scary then, now it’s played out. Please stop.
Anyway, without giving away the film, I will say that the final shot and end of the film are as creepy as they come. Not sure I’ve ever felt like I did after watching it for the first time. The scene when the three are in the tent in the woods will make anyone think twice about camping in the middle of nowhere. Seriously tense. A breath of fresh air in the genre, The Blair Witch Project remains one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen.
Here are the first two trailers released for the film:
So, there are plenty more that could be added to this list. Top Gun might be my #6 scariest movie of all-time. All that Goose and Maverick stuff just gives me the shivers. Couple that with the Kenny Loggins soundtrack and Tom Cruise‘s stupid face, you have a recipe for a different kind of horror. Nonetheless, I hope each of you are safe this evening, score lots of candy and rest easy.
If you had a list, what would your five scariest be?