Josh's Top 5 favorite Horror Movies for Halloween!!!
What is a great horror movie made of?
Is it blood and gore? Teenage girls running from chainsaw-wielding maniacs? Or perhaps, a location that becomes a character itself in the movie? Add these recognizable tropes with some amazing cinematography, great acting, and an imaginative director, and the final product can become quite memorable.
If you're like me, then you love getting these elements in the horror movies you keep coming back too every Halloween. Thinking of my top five favorite horror movies wasn't easy because I have so many that I love to talk about. But after thinking it through, I've decided to settle on these favorites.
Warning: Many spoilers alerts. You've been warned!!!!!
5. Rosemary's Baby:
Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, and Maurice Evans.
Directed by Roman Polanski and based off a novel by Ira Levin.
Set in late 1960's New York City, Rosemary's Baby centers around a young newlywed couple named Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse who have just moved into the Bramford Apartment building. Guy (played by Cassavetes) is a struggling actor who's desperate to get his big break on Broadway, while Rosemary is his loving and supportive wife. Not long after moving into the Bramford, Guy and Rosemary befriend the Castevets, an elderly couple who live next door to them. After going to dinner at the Castervets one night, Guy suddenly gets a big Broadway part he wants. A few days later, he convinces Rosemary that he's ready to start the family they've long talked about. So after a romantic meal - which includes a desert made by Millie Castervet - Rosemary passes out and has what she thinks is a bizarre night with Guy - in which he turns into a demonic monster that rapes her.
Rosemary soon discovers that she is pregnant, but she is worried that there is something wrong with her and the baby - due to frequent instances of pain and unusual cravings for raw meat. To make matters, her old friend Hutch (played by Maurice Evens) remarks about how pale and thin she looks. Curious about Rosemary's condition, Hutch - being a writer and researcher who knows a bit the Bramford building - begins to delve deeper into the residence's history. However, as he does so, he mysteriously falls into a coma.
Though our friend Hutch eventually manages to recover, he unfortunately dies. However, this is not before he sends Rosemary a book about the history of witchcraft. It is in this book that Rosemary - as well as us, the audience - discovers that Roman Castervet's father, who was a warlock and leader of a Satanic cult, used to hold black masses in the Bramford building! Rosemary now convinced that the Castervets want to use her baby in a demonic ritual, decides that its imperative to move out of the Bramford right away. Unfortunately, Guy, thinking the whole thing as nonsense, won't listen to her.
Of course the truth is soon becomes clear that the Castervets do, in fact, have designs on the baby, just not in the way that Rosemary thinks. You see, the child is not Guy's, but Satan's!
This movie is both a great psychological film as well as very creepy. Managing to have one foot in the supernatural, while also having another in the very real and frighting world, it's also a very smart horror film which comments on women face when dealing learned healthcare professionals when addressing very real concerns. There isn't a lot of scary scenes (perhaps beyond the sex scene), but there is a lot of nail-biting tension throughout (i.e. like when Rosemary tries to make her escape from the cult).
All in all, probably the best of the film comes at the end when Rosemary learns the truth. Though we never actually see the baby, this 'less is more' attitude works to the film's benefit, because the latter approach might have caused the film to take an unintentional turn into the comedic. Instead, Polanski's choice to let Farrow carry the scene with her expressions of horror is far more effective!
Starring Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Ōtaka, and Yoichi Numat. Directed by Hideo Nakata from a novel by Kôji Suzuki.
When a group of teenagers all mysteriously die within seven days of watching a video tape, renowned investigative reporter Reiko Asakawa (played by Matsushima) - who also just so happens to be aunt to one of the teens - takes it upon herself to investigate. However, after tracking down the tape and watching it herself, she then gets a phone call telling her that she has only seven days to live. In true horror trope fashion, the protagonist drags another unfortunate soul into her predicament, this time in the form of Reiko's ex-husband, a psychic researcher named Ryuji.
After himself watching the tape, Ryuji (of course) gets the same call and joins his ex-wife in tracking down whoever made the video. In time they learn that it originated with a discredited psychic researcher named Heichachiro Ikuma and his lover, a psychic named Shizuko. You see, after his lover committed suicide, Ikuma was left alone to raise their daughter, Sadako, by himself. Eventually, however, Ikuma soon discovers that Sadako has psychic powers that far exceed her mother's. Fearing that these said abilities would be a danger to humanity, Ikuma tries to kill her - managing only to leave her to die in an old well. Before this happens though, Sadako manages to imprint her essence onto a video tape which begins to circulate around Japan.
Hoping to break the curse, Rekio and Ryuji find Sadako's remains and lay her to rest properly. However, when Ryuji dies, the truth about the curse becomes clear: The only way to be free of it is to get someone else to watch the video and remove the curse from one's self. Thus creating a never-ending ring-cycle throughout the world.
The reason I liked this movie - back then and even to this day - was because it was something new. Around that time in the late nineties, I was burned out from watching an endless stream of Wes Craven-produced slasher movies and rehashes of Freddy Kruger-like boogeymen that kept killing the almost-identical groups of twenty-somethings pretending to be in their teens. While I will say that The Blair Witch Project was interesting to me, listening to fellow horror fans deride it while harping on how great Scream was, made me want to give up and declare that horror movies were dead to me and we would never produce anything original again. Then DVDs arrived and ancient American video stores started adding more foreign movies to their libraries, including Asian horror films.
American studios tried to replicate this trend by remaking Asian horror films (i.e. The Ring, The Grudge, etc.) with American actors, but failed to help audiences understand the underlying cultural context of the movies and the legends that they are based on.
The Ring itself is based on an old folk tale called Banchō Sarayashiki, in which a young servant girl is murdered by a nobleman - having her body thrown into a well - and afterwards continues to haunt the nobleman.
3. The Thing:
Staring Kurt Russel and Keith David.
Directed by John Carpenter, based off the novella Who Goes There, by John Campbell Jr.
While doing research in the Antarctic, a team of researchers discover an alien spaceship buried under the ice. Soon after, the team discovers that a highly adaptive life-form has been in suspended animation for thousands of years on the ship. When it's released, the life-form begins to take on the different likenesses of the research team, while also replicating itself.
This movie is so creepy on so many levels. First you have the sheer remoteness of the research station that Carpenter expresses so beautifully in his cinematography, that it overwhelms the audience and almost frightens them with it's isolation. Add to this Carpenter's original music-scoring to keeps the sense of dread that something is coming at any moment and you have quite the film.
Ultimately, Carpenter takes a 'more-is-more' mentality to this movie by showing us the creature in several forms that seem only limited by his and his monster-making team's imagination. Still, the real gem of this movie is Kurt Russel, who plays bad-ass pilot MacReady who seems perfectly ready to sacrifice himself for the rest of humanity.
Fun fact - Carpenter himself was a fan of the original film version, The Thing from Outer Space, which is the film that Jamie Lee Curtis is seen watching in Carpenter's other classic, Halloween. Remaking this movie in a post-Vietnam world gave Carpenter a chance to make a movie with a gritter group of Americans that contrasts nicely with the fifties clean-cut, can-do sprite of the original. All and all, a great movie for any Saturday night.
2. The Shinning:
Staring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, and Danny Lloyd. Directed by Stanley Kubrick , based off a novel by Stephen King.
Jack Torrence (played by Nicholson) is an aspiring writer who has just moved his family from New England to Colorado. In Colorado, Torrence takes an unusual job as the caretaker for a remote summer lodge in the Rockies called The Overlook Hotel. For Torrence, it is a chance to have a job to provide for his family while at the same time spend a few months working on a novel project. But as the film continues, we learn that Torrence is also a recovering alcoholic with a history of violent outbursts towards his family.
During his initial job interview, Torrence learns that the previous caretaker killed himself and his family the winter before. Not taking the warning seriously, Torrence (of course) blows this off saying that his wife will be fascinated by the story. Not long afterwards, we meet Torrence's wife, Wendy, and son, Danny (played by Duvall and Lloyd, respectfully). The latter - thanks to an exchange with his imaginary friend, Tony - we discover is no ordinary boy (more on that later).
Once the Torrence family arrive to begin their winter at the Overlook, Danny meets the head chef, Dick Hallorann (played by Crothers) - someone with abilities similar to Danny - who picks up on Danny's uneasy about the hotel. Assuring Danny that the Overlook "Shines, like most people do sometimes. But it's nothing to be afraid of," nothing could be further from the truth as we learn that the Overlook was built on an ancient Indian burial ground.
Danny, still unsure about the place, also inquires Dick about a room in the hotel that he keeps having visions about. However, upon mention of the room, Dick warns him to stay away from it. However, we as the audience (of course) know that this will not happen.
Anyways, in time, the Torrence family eventually settle into a routine that includes Torrence's wife, Wendy, watching out for Danny (as he plays and does home-school work), and Torrence himself trying to write. In several scenes, the camera follows Danny as he rides throughout the hotel's long hallways on his big-wheel - occasionally riding past the room from his visions and encountering the ghost of the twin daughters (of the previous caretaker who killed his family).
However, on one particular occasion, when Wendy finds Danny injured, she accuses Torrence. The accusation doesn't help an irritated Torrence, whose mood has been deteriorating the whole time they have been at the Overlook. Upset, Torrence finds his way to the hotel bar, which has had it's stock removed for the winter; however, when he ominously says that he would sell his soul for a beer, Floyd the bartender shows up and begins to serve Torrence a drink.
Things really kick into gear when Torrence goes to investigate the room, alleged by his wife, Wendy, to be home to a strange woman seen by Danny. It is hear where Torrence encounter with beautiful woman develops into a horrific illusion. Though he lies to his wife about seeing anything when he returns to her, it doesn't take long for Wendy to decide that the best course of action is to leave and get Danny some help. As a result, Torrence (still deteriorating mentally) flies into a rage, accusing Wendy of holding him back now that he's on the verge of accomplishing his dream. Wendy, however, steadfast in her decision, decides that she will take Danny back to Boulder.
What follows is a frightening encounter with her husband then eventually spirals into harrowing struggle for survival as Wendy struggles to keep - herself and her son - away from the homicidal clutches of Torrence.
Torrence then chases Danny through the hotel and ultimately loses himself in the hotel's hedge maze as Danny and Wendy escape in Dick's snow-cat.
Fun fact - Stephen King never liked this adaptation of his story in which Torrence loses himself in the hotel's hedge maze (in his pursuit of Danny). Though he thought it was a scary movie, King felt it bore little resemblance to his own novel - as much of the film adaptation left major components of the novel out. For example, in the original book, the hedge maze was in fact a series of hedge animals that came to life and the hotel's manager was a much darker figure. However. time constants and budget worked against these elements like the novel. Therefore Kubrick instead focused on the isolation of the hotel - making the Overlook a character in its own right, much as Carpenter did with the Antarctic in The Thing.
But it's Nicholson's iconic performance as Torrence that really makes the movie. Though already renowned for movies like Chinatown, Nicholson became a superstar after this movie came out. No one could deny his talent and craft in this picture; particularly, in the scene where he rips open a hole in a door (to get at Wendy), sticks his head in and declares: "HERE'S JOHNNY!" (In a reference to The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.)
All and all The Shinning is the gold-standard for haunted house movies.
Number one, is a tie. Sorry, folks, but I couldn't decide here.
Staring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton.
Directed by Stephen Spielberg from a novel by Peter Benchley.
Staring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair.
Directed by William Friedkin from a novel by William Peter Blatty.
Jaws is the first great summer blockbuster. Scheider plays a local sheriff in a small New England beach town who must save it from a twenty-five foot great white shark that is stalking the ocean around the island that the town is built on.
The Exorcist is story of a little girl named Reagan, played by Linda Blair, who is possessed by a demonic entity after playing alone with a Ouija board. Her mother, played by Burstyn, turns to priest played by Jason Miller, who seems to have lost his own faith in God.
Both movies have a lot in common. The first being that they are based loosely on real events. Jaws was based on a series of shark attacks that occurred off the American Northeast coast in the early 1920's.
The Exorcist is based on the accounts of a young boy who was said to have suffered a demonic possession after discovering a Ouija board in a house his parents were renting.
Both movies had faulty mechanical props that sometimes didn't work. The Exorcist had a life-sized doll of Blair with a spinning head that caught on fire a couple of times. Jaws had a mechanical shark that broke down and caused Spielberg to depend on a large rubber fin when he needed to show the shark.
In Jaws, Spielberg had to depend on a less-is-more style, unlike Polanski who just thought that worked better in Rosemary's Baby. Spielberg had to do it because the damned shark would work, but thankfully in the cene when Scheider is scoping chum out into the water to attract the shark and Spielberg truly needed his shark to work, it worked.
Friedkin, a stickler for making his movies as real as possible, almost went nuts with the Blair robot and almost had to cut the head-spinning scene altogether. Thankfully, the tech-team got it working just twice and Friedkin was able to get the shots he needed and in the process, making for one of the most iconic scenes in movie history when the head spins around and vomits green pea soup.
Then there is the elemental side of both movies which address two of humanity's greatest fears: a fear of the unknown and a fear of the Devil. Despite humanity thinking itself master of the Earth, there is much of this world no one has seen just below our oceans and who knows what lies bellow it. A giant shark is not as unthinkable as we would like to imagine.
Next we have the Devil. In an age where it seemed as if America might not survive the Vietnam war and as killer cults like the Manson family seemed to roam our nation, the idea that the Devil might might show up in the form of a little girl wasn't that farfetched. Both films scared audiences out of the water and in some cases, back into the church in the early seventies. It's no wonder that both movies have remained classics.
Thank you for reading this. I hope you all have found some great things to watch this Halloween!