Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Films which spooked me the most.

(I was going to post this as a comment on Cubby's excellent 'Patently Queer' blog as an entry under his 'Hallowe'en Meme', but I found it kept growing and would have overshadowed his own original blog - so here it is separately, re-worded, with acknowledgement to Larry/Cubby for providing the idea.)

In chronological order of film release (all seen for the first time by me in a cinema, of course) :-

Even I was too young to see 'Psycho' on its first time round, but it was re-released in 1966 (in a double-bill with the 1953 'War of the Worlds'). To date I have still never seen a film which elicited so many screams from an audience. The film may appear to be old-hat now, having been dissected and analysed over and over again, and when we watch it again (it really does stand up to repeated viewing with Tony Perkins' performance surely being his best ever) it's more admiration for Hitchcock's artifice rather than for the original raw emotions, which can never be re-captured. If I watch it now, it's in an forensic way, observing how and why it was so brilliantly effective.

Seeing 'The Exorcist' in 1973 for the first time caused me more ensuing sleepless nights than any other film. It still holds up, nearly 40 years later - though it's a shame that the head-swivelling scene looks so artificial in those pre-CGI days. But that's only a few seconds out of a very disturbing and, yes, a good and extremely powerful film.

'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (original version, 1974 ) - banned from showing anywhere in Oxford (where I was living at the time) and also in many other areas of the U.K.. - and when I eventually did see it I could see why! Nightmare stuff!

John Carpenter's 1982 'The Thing' - the blood-test scene above all. Even though I know which scientist is the replicant it's still as chilling as hell!
Btw I could never understand why the same director's 'Halloween' (1978) is so highly regarded. One of the leading British film critics has called it 'the greatest horror film ever'! I agree that it's certainly a good film but I doubt if it would find a place in my 'Best 500 Films of All Time'.

I'm with Larry in nominating 'Paranormal Activities' as probably the scariest film of recent years. I'm going next week to see the sequel, but it's received poor reviews here, largely because the 'shocks' delivered are due more to sudden loud bangs on the soundtrack rather than skilful film-making. That's not clever, it's just lazy and it's cheating!

Honourable mentions:-
'Alien' - shame that after John Hurt's spectacular stomach-bursting scene, all the subsequent killings seem to be anti-climaxes.
'Poltergeist' - would have been more effective if curtailed before the final half-hour which culminates in the overblown cemetery upheaval and graves- and coffins-opening scene.
'The Amityville Horror' (1978 original) - despite less than enthusiastic reviews I thought it was probably the best among the glut of 'haunting' films made over the following decade. (My main concern was hoping that the family dog would escape unharmed.)

Looking forward to other suggestions by anyone who reads my blog. (Thanks again, Larry)



  1. I love your choices.

    When "The Exorcist" came out in 1973, I was 7 years old. I remember my parents going to see it. When they came home my poor mother was in tears and was borderline hysterical, and that was a good 45 minutes after they left the cinema! Witnessing that scared me more than any film ever could.

  2. Yes, I can believe that, Larry. Certainly at the time nothing even approaching it had been seen before. One of our most respected British film critics nominates 'Exorcist' as the 'greatest FILM ever made' (note: not just 'horror' film.). I wouldn't go anywhere near that far but I'm pretty sure it would end up in my 'Top 200' list.

  3. OMG!

    I'd be so frit to watch any of these that looked serious.

    The only way I can cope with horror is to laugh at it! Can't do with it being too realistic!

  4. Micky, I can hardly believe that you haven't seen (most of) these. I'm tempted to say "You haven't lived!" but then I've always been too scared to go on any fairground rides which turn you upside-down. But if I had someone to hold my hand....and maybe I could hold YOUR hand while watching these films? ;-)

  5. I believe that most people would agree with your choices. However, I would have a difficult time in determing the No. 1 position: 'Psycho' or 'The Exorcist' I cannot comment on'Paranormal Activities' as I haven't seen a horror film in years. The creativity of a bygone era has completely vanished in today's film making. Now, all you get is 'slasher' films. One thought came to me: Why do they make sequels to classics? They can never be improved upon and that is why they are classics. Look at the sequels to 'Psycho,' 'The Exorcist' and 'The Amityville Horror'? Ok, I'll exclude the remake of 'The Amityville Horror' because it starred Ryan Reynolds and my artistic judgement was compromised.

  6. Yes, Paul. I reckon they make sequels because they know that no matter how inferior they are they still make money out of the audience's expectations. If we mugs (yes, I include myself) didn't bother to go, then they'd stop.
    'Slasher' movies are just not skilful films at all. They seem to rely on the viewer being repulsed by the gore for its effect. Not my idea of fine entertainment.

    Btw the first two 'Alien' sequels weren't TOO bad, I thought.
    And, oh yes, I should have included 'The Blair Witch Project' in my 'Honourable Mentions' above. That moment when the trio found that they'd walked round in a circle really got to me. Whoooooooo!

  7. Just wanted to let you know Greg and I watched Paranormal Activity the other night. It was my second time. The first was a year ago. Inexplicably, it was scarier the second time around!

  8. Larry, it's a film which still 'haunts' my memory. Don't think I dare watch it again, especially here at home alone. At least you were in company!
    Was going today to see PA2 but just reading some (mainly) poor opinions and that the dog we see in the trailer is hurt, as I'd feared, I'm having second thoughts.

  9. I like your choices Ray. Glad you added Alien and The Amityville Horror as honorable mentions two of our favorites as well.

  10. Thanks Kyle. Every time I come back to this blog I keep wanting to add more films to the list. One such is 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'. Though not specifically horror, it certainly disturbed me. But more than that, I'd include it in my 'Best 50 Films of All Time' (films of any type). But I'd better move on from this subject otherwise it'll go on and on and on....