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In all my travels to horror events and goings-on, I get
asked one question more than any other: “What is the scariest movie you’ve ever
seen?” One would think that if this is such a common question, I should have
some brilliant answer ready…some perfect title I can whip out and have the
whole room agree, “Yes, this film is in fact scary as hell.”
Instead, I tend to rattle off a number of movies that
frightened me upon first viewing, and go off on a tangent about how “scary” is
personalized to each viewer. It is not until hours later, when I’m sitting in
traffic or in some idle grocery store buying blueberry yogurt, that I think, “I
should have said this title!” or “Hey, that particular movie scared the hell
out of me.”
The list below is composed of the flicks that frequently
cross my cranium, usually hours after those “scariest film ever” discussions.
But there is an important key element here that we must all remember (my
aforementioned tangent): The idea of being “scared” can largely depend on the
setting and age when the movie or TV show is watched, as well as our own
personal fears. At a young age, ALF used to scare the hell out of me. Somewhere
in my child-brain, Alf’s elongated snout and visible teeth looked wolf-like. To
my 5-year-old self, ALF was not some alien with snappy comebacks, but rather a
monstrous creature ready to eat my cat. Don’t worry, I did not put ALF on this
list, but I think the point is still important. I do cite one of my childhood
horrors here because it still spooks the bejeezus out of me today.
I also have to add a very brief analysis of the word
“scary,” as my internalization of this term has changed over time as well. For
example, when I was a kid, scary things would make me cry or bury my face in a
pillow, often even leading to subsequent nightmares. But as I grew older,
“scary” took on a different meaning. Instead of crying out or suffering from
nightmares, I find myself judging “scary” by how much the film sticks with me.
How much do I think about it after the fact? Or how much does it make me
question the possibility of those same horrors occurring in my own life?
There is also a strong difference between “scary” and
“disturbing.” Movies like FAT GIRL and A SERBIAN FILM disturb me, but don’t
scare me. There is a weird variance between the two that can be boiled down to
finding an act or image revolting vs. actually being frightened that this
situation could affix itself in your real life.
There—got that bloody tangent out of the way. Let’s move
onto to the scares!
AUDITION (1999; pictured above): Some horror films are
scarier if you know nothing about them. That is how I approached AUDITION. When
I first saw it, I was teaching film school in Washington, DC. One of my
students, knowing what a horror geek I was, brought me a copy. I viewed it with
no prior knowledge about the plot or twists. Wow! This one scared me to no end,
and still enters my brain anytime I see an acupuncture needle.
DEAD END (2003): This is a quiet little indie film that went
straight to video, about a family on a holiday trip who are stuck on an endless
wooded road, being stalked by a mysterious black car. Like AUDITION, I watched
it with no prior knowledge, except for a vague plot summary. Very chilling.
ILS (THEM; 2006): A French film about a schoolteacher and
her husband who are being tormented by unseen assailants inside their rural
country home. I think about this film every time I hear weird noises in my
house at night.
JACOB’S LADDER (1990): Though arguably not a true horror
film, this suspenseful thriller plays with the viewer’s mind and sense of
reality. Plus, there are ample freaky images to stick to your bones…the eyeless
[REC] (2007): A found-footage film done right! Instead of
using the first-person perspective as a variant means of storytelling, this
film employs that perspective to drive the terror. The zombies aren’t just
attacking some secondary character; they’re attacking the screen, and by default
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983): This is the
inclusion from my childhood that still gives me goosebumps today. Based on the
Ray Bradbury novel of the same name, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES frightened
an entire generation of kids. I still have nightmares occasionally about
tarantulas in my bed.
EVENT HORIZON (1997): It has been touted as HELLRAISER set
in space, and that is not a far-off summation. But EVENT HORIZON packs a
startling punch of fear, one that is both shocking and gory.
LOST HIGHWAY (1997): I’m still confused as to exactly what
this film is about, but it scares the hell out of me. With a typical David
Lynch dose of midgets, strange videotapes and complex language issues, LOST
HIGHWAY is a cryptic noir journey down a very confusing and frightening road.
THE SHINING (1980): This one is pretty standard on “scariest
film” lists. Between bleeding elevators and creepy twins, Stanley Kubrick’s
interpretation of Stephen King’s novel has embedded itself into many of our
psyches. I will always picture a red ball rolling toward me anytime I’m walking
down a long hallway. “Come play with us, Bekah!”
THE BABY’S ROOM (2006): This short feature is part of the
Spanish 6 FILMS TO KEEP YOU AWAKE series, and seemed to get lost in the mix,
not garnering much exposure. That’s a shame, because THE BABY’S ROOM is
wonderfully frightening. Directed and written by Alex de la Iglesia, the genius
behind other genre greats ranging from THE DAY OF THE BEAST to THE LAST CIRCUS,
THE BABY’S ROOM focuses on a new dad who can see ghosts in his child’s room via
a video baby monitor. The fun part is that the ghosts can see him as well…
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