once again, boils and ghouls. It's been a jam-packed couple of weeks
here in Electric Theatre-land.
Unfortunately for you, it's been jam-packed full of real world
business, leaving yours truly precious little time to waste going to
the picture show. I did see one movie, Domino,
but quite honestly it's so bad, it's not even worth talking about.
But I don't want to leave y'all high and dry for another two weeks,
so I thought I'd do something a bit different this time. As you may
have noticed, Halloween is coming up on Monday. It's my favorite
holiday and not just because that's the day my good-lady wife Tisha
and I became joined in unholy matrimony. It's a day when imagination
takes hold, giving everyone a chance to lose themselves in the
impossible. And one of our favorite ways to do that is by watching
The only trouble is that most horror movies just aren't scary. There
are dozens of flicks in the horror genre that I enjoy very much but
that I find about as frightening as a melted ice cube. So for those
of you who might actually want to be shook up this Halloween, I
thought I'd put together thirteen genuinely scary movies. And
nothing against movies like The Exorcist
or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
but you won't find them here. The truly great horror movies, the
ones that really do scare us, are all pretty familiar by now. I love
those movies and the best of them do creep you out even after you've
seen them time and time again. But nothing's as scary as the
unknown, so hopefully this list will go a little deeper than the
tried and true.
Before we start, let me save you some time. The nitpickers and
hair-splitters among you will complain that some of the movies I've
chosen are more disturbing than scary. Yeah, well, whatever. If you
want to analyze the subtle emotional changes between being scared,
freaked out, creeped out, and unsettled, that's your business. For
my purposes, anything that makes you feel like the real world has
taken a seismic shift to the left and danger is lurking just around
the corner qualifies. Let's begin and remember... to avoid fainting,
keep repeating: it's only a movie... only a movie...
Everybody has at least one movie that they saw as a very young
child that traumatized them, despite the fact that it isn't a horror
movie at all. You know what I'm talking about, movies like The
Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and
the Chocolate Factory, and Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs. (For me, it was probably The
Sunshine Boys. Damn you, Neil Simon!) Jan Svankmajer's
1988 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland
is probably about as close as you'll get to recapturing that
childhood feeling as an adult. Filled to bursting with delirious,
surreal images, this live-action/animation hybrid manages to give
you that queasy feeling that the world just isn't right. Lewis
Carroll's books are horrific and off-kilter. Svankmajer captures
that essence better than just about anyone.
This one isn't exactly a buried treasure anymore but its reputation
is well earned and the film's power hasn't been diminished by
overexposure. If you haven't seen Takashi Miike's 1999 movie yet,
you're in for an unforgettable experience. Part of what makes Audition
so frightening is that for about the first 45 minutes or so, it's
easy to forget you're even watching a horror movie. Miike tricks
you, staging scenes that could easily fit into a romantic comedy,
before pulling the rug out and hauling out the big guns... or more
accurately, the big needles. The best way to see Audition
is cold, knowing as little as possible about it beforehand. See this
movie before some blabbermouth like me ruins it for you.
Brimstone & Treacle
Dennis Potter's work is often disturbing but rarely has he gone
this far into semi-traditional horror territory. Sting is unbearably
creepy as Martin, a charming drifter who enters the household of
Denholm Elliott and Joan Plowright. He pretends to be the
ex-boyfriend of their near-catatonic daughter (Suzana Hamilton),
caring for her by day and raping the bedridden girl at night.
Richard Loncraine's 1982 movie doesn't offer many answers. Martin
could be the Devil, he could be a figment of their collective
imagination, or he could just be a nutjob con man. Potter himself
apparently didn't care much for this movie but in this instance, I
think he was off the mark. Brimstone &
Treacle is deeply strange, darkly humorous, and above
all, very, very unsettling.
Spaghetti horror can be loads of fun but it isn't often all that
scary. Ruggero Deodato's notorious 1981 shocker is something of an
exception. A film crew disappears in the jungles of South America.
Their footage is discovered, revealing that the crew participated in
some particularly nasty ritual killings and pissed off the natives
by bringing along some atrocities of their own. Cannibal
Holocaust is not for the squeamish. Animals are
slaughtered for real, making the fake stuff look all that much more
convincing. I can't really defend this movie. It's exploitative and
hypocritical but it's undeniably effective. It's one of the few
movies I've seen where just the act of watching it feels
transgressive. Have a shower handy after you watch it.
On a much, much classier note, George C. Scott stars in this
extremely underrated 1979 creepout. Scott plays a widower who moves
into a new house and begins to hear from the ghost of a dead child
murdered there decades earlier. Director Peter Medak understands
that ghost stories work best when you get just hints of the
supernatural. Restrained and spooky, The
Changeling is one of the few ghost stories that succeeds
at provoking a real chill.
It's no secret that I love me some David Cronenberg, so I knew I
had to include at least one of his movies on this list. Tisha
convinced me it had to be this one with her argument that for women,
there is no scarier movie than this 1988 classic. Jeremy Irons
should have won an Oscar for his performances as Beverly and Elliot
Mantle, twin gynecologists who share everything. A somber and
stylish meditation on identity, Dead
Ringers is certainly much more than just a horror movie.
But any movie that introduces gynecological instruments for
operating on mutant women deserves to be seen at this time of year.
The Exorcist III
That's right, there is a sequel to The
Exorcist that's not only worth watching, it's actually
chilling. George C. Scott (him again) takes over the role of Lt.
Kinderman from the late Lee J. Cobb, investigating the Gemini
killer. The trail leads him to "Patient X" (Jason Miller),
who might just be the long-dead Father Karras. Warner Bros. insisted
that William Peter Blatty reshoot his original film, adding some
pointless exorcism effects that admittedly feel tacked on. But while
this would likely have been a better movie without studio
interference, what's left is still well worth watching. That
long-shot sequence in the hospital hallway is one of the best "gotcha"
scares in movies. If you've seen the movie, you already know the
scene I'm talking about. If you haven't, check it out. You may be
Alfred Hitchcock's 1972 thriller is too often overlooked but I
think it's one of his best. On some levels, this is another of
Hitchcock's classic wrong-man suspense thrillers, with Jon Finch
unjustly accused of being a notorious serial killer. But Frenzy
also contains some of Hitchcock's most shocking and brutal violence.
Suspense, black comedy and genuinely upsetting murders combine to
make Frenzy unforgettable. If
you've never seen it or it's been awhile, give it another look.
Just, Melvin: Just Evil
Because nothing Hollywood can come up with is scarier than real
life, I had to include this, one of the most unsettling
documentaries you'll ever see. Director James Ronald Whitney turns
his camera on himself and his family to explore the devastating
effects of the serial sexual abuse done by his grandfather, Melvin
Just, on many members of Whitney's family. When Whitney interviews
Melvin and confronts him with his past, Melvin shows absolutely no
remorse. It'll make your skin crawl, as will the disturbing familial
catharsis captured at Melvin's funeral. I'm certainly not trying to
make light of this movie by including it here. But if you think
nothing can scare you, nothing can shock you, check this out. Movie
evil is nothing compared with what the real world has to offer.
Yeah, I know, it's not really a horror movie. So what? If The
Silence of the Lambs can be considered a horror classic,
then so can Michael Mann's 1985 Manhunter,
the first movie to feature Hannibal Lecter. Anthony Hopkins brought
the character to near operatic levels but Brian Cox was a more
down-to-earth and believable (and therefore, more menacing) Lecter.
Serial killers are a dime a dozen in crime thrillers but rarely are
they as frightening as they are here. The final sequence with Iron
Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" is one of the scariest
you're likely to come across.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with
Just about all of David Lynch's movies with the exception of The
Straight Story have some horror elements to them. But
Twin Peaks, with its Black
Lodge, cryptic dialogue and a terrifying spirit named Bob, edged
closer to the genre than anything else. Lynch's 1992 movie prequel
to the series has been unjustly maligned and contains some of
Lynch's most intense, frightening setpieces. For a real scare, watch
it in complete darkness, the way it was meant to be seen in the
For years, George Sluizer's 1988 original has been my go-to title
whenever people say they want to see something really scary.
The premise is all-too believable. A young couple on vacation stops
at a rest area where the woman simply disappears without a trace.
For years after, the man obsessively tries to figure out what
happened to her. Eventually, he does and the knowing is much, much
worse. Avoid Sluizer's American remake like the plague and stick
with the Dutch original. It'll keep you on edge from start to finish
and linger in your mind afterward like an intense nightmare.
The Wicker Man
Another one of my favorites, this 1973 British thriller couldn't be
more unsettling if it tried. Edward Woodward plays an
ultra-conservative police inspector who travels to a remote island
to investigate the disappearance of a child. What he finds is a cult
of modern pagans led by Christopher Lee whose beliefs and practices
rock Woodward to his very soul. Bizarre, erotic and blessed with a
truly frightening finale, The Wicker Man
is one of the best cult movies (as in, a movie about a cult) that
you'll ever see. Oddly enough, both The
Wicker Man and Frenzy
were written by Anthony Shaffer.
So there you have it. Thirteen movies to help you get your freak on
this holiday season. I'm going to do my damnedest to see some movies
here in the next two weeks and return you to your regularly
scheduled Electric Theatre.
Otherwise I might have to come up with a list of movies to help you
celebrate Veterans Day.
Until then, have a very happy Halloween.
Adam "bastard son of a thousand
Dedicated to Charles Rocket
"Electric Theatre - Where You See All
the Latest Life Size Moving Pictures, Moral and Refined, Pleasing to
Ladies, Gentlemen and Children!"
- Legend on a traveling moving picture show tent, c.1900