“The Horror, The Horror!“
by Scott Mantz
I did something really stupid the other day…
With Halloween right around the corner, I was in the mood to watch a scary movie. So I went to my vast DVD collection to find what I consider to be the scariest movie of all time (as for what that is, read on).
As I dashed over to my DVD player, I stared at the cover art, and I was both excited and terrified at the prospect of watching this movie on my own. Even though I had seen it many times before, the thought of watching it again filled me with dread as I pondered the prospect of having vivid nightmares.
But I thought, that’s okay. I’m a grown man. I can handle it. And after all, it’s not like I don’t know what’s coming. So I put the DVD in the machine, closed it up, turned out the lights and got comfortable. And for the next two and a half hours, I pulled the blanket up to my face and got scared to death all over again.
This is where the stupid part comes in. When the movie was over, I shut off the TV – and the room went completely dark! I totally forgot that I turned out the lights, and in my infinite wisdom, I didn’t even think about the consequences of watching a scary movie all by myself. Or maybe I did, and I just didn’t care.
So I jumped up, turned on the lights, ran into my bedroom, turned on that light, ran back to the living room, turned those lights off, went into the bedroom again, got under the covers, turned off that light and waited until sleep finally put me out of my misery.
Yes, pretty dumb – but I’d do it all over again, and in the exact same way.
And it just goes to show you, never underestimate the power of a scary movie. People love to be scared, whether they want to admit it or not. And they love to be scared even more around Halloween, which is why so many film buffs like to compile lists of what they consider to be the scariest movies of all time.
More often than not, those lists have a lot in common – and they should, since some of those movies are worthy of their classic status. But since film criticism is such a subjective medium anyway, a few surprises manage to sneak through.
That’s why I thought I’d take a crack at it. So counting down, here’s a list of what I consider to be the scariest movies of all time…
|10) Poltergeist (1982): Who can forget when innocent little Carol Anne Freeling stared into her static-filled TV screen and then cryptically announced, “They’re heeere!” That was followed by edge-of-your seat thrills that consisted of an ominous tree breaking through a window, Carol Anne’s own abduction by angry supernatural beings, and a freaked-out scientist who pulled the flesh off of his face. And just when you thought it was over, all hell breaks loose for a terrifying climax that literally brought the house down.|
|9) Jaws (1975): Movies don’t have to take place in haunted houses to be scary, as director Steven Spielberg proved in the summer of 1975. The first-ever blockbuster to gross more than $100 million kept people lined up around the corner and, appropriately, out of the water. And, amazingly, they didn’t even get a good look at the killer shark until the end of the film. That’s because the mechanical shark (nicknamed “Bruce,” after Spielberg’s attorney) didn’t work right, but not seeing the shark turned out to be the scariest thing about it.|
|8) Alien (1979): Director Ridley Scott’s breakthrough film is less of a sci-fi movie and more of a horror flick that happens to be set in outer space. Scott set up an impending sense of dread, only to have it pay off as the crew members of the Nostromo got picked off by an alien with no sympathy and no remorse. Director James Cameron picked up the reigns for the sequel, 1986’s “Aliens,” which is generally considered to be the best of the series. But in terms of genuine scares, nothing tops the sight of the newborn alien bursting through the stomach of John Hurt as his colleagues looked on in, well, horror.|
|7) Psycho (1960): The shower scene. Bernard Herrmann’s musical score. The Bates Motel. Norman. “Mother! Oh, God, mother! Blood! Blood!” Damn, it’s impressive how much this classic still holds up. They didn’t call Alfred Hitchcock the “Master of Suspense” for nothing.|
|6) An American Werewolf in London (1981): Director John Landis was on a roll after “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,“ and “An American Werewolf in London” certainly continued his flair for comic timing. But when push came to shove, it was a smart, clever and flat-out-scary contemporary update of one of the most classic of all the movie monsters. But the film is best remembered for the groundbreaking transformation from man to beast, which is still impressive by today’s standards. If you don’t believe it, go back and see for yourself. Just stay on the road, keep clear of the moors – and beware the moon.|
|5) The Silence of the Lambs (1991): No wonder director Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece swept the Academy Awards with wins for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. It’s deeply engrossing from start-to-finish, and it’s perfect to watch with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. And Anthony Hopkins’ brilliant portrayal of the cunning Dr. Hannibal Lecter was so disturbing, vivid and unforgettable, it’s hard to believe he was only on screen for less than 17 minutes.|
|4) Halloween (1978): It’s the movie that launched a thousand slasher pics and serial killers, but Jason from “Friday the 13th” and Freddy from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” owe it all to Michael Meyers, the masked killer from John Carpenter’s horror classic. Yes, it was bloody, and it led to films that, to this day, continue to push the boundaries of limitless gore. But it was still an incredibly intense film that exploited the fears instilled by “the night he came home,” and it made a scream queen out of a very young Jamie Lee Curtis.|
|3) Night of the Living Dead (1968): If George A. Romero collected royalties for all the films that were inspired by his first zombie classic, then he’d never have to work again. But despite being shot in black-and-white on an ultra-low budget, the original is still the best – and the scariest. And it wasn’t because of the flesh-eating zombies that prowled around outside the abandoned house. It was because of the people stuck inside, who turned on each other in ways that were more dangerous than the zombies who preyed on them.|
|2) The Exorcist (1973): What could possibly be scarier than the prospect of a sweet little girl named Regan possessed by the devil? Not a whole lot, judging by the horrific reaction from moviegoers who got sick while watching director William Friedkin’s classic during its original release. And who can blame them. Seeing Regan stab herself with a cross, turn her head all the way around and vomit pea soup is just as terrifying now as it was back in 1973.|
|1) The Shining (1980): Okay, so here it is – the movie that I had the gall to watch by myself of that fateful night. And I was doing just fine, until clairvoyant Danny Torrance turned the corner to find himself face-to-face with the ghosts of two dead twins. Actually, director Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is the ultimate haunted house story – a dysfunctional family trapped in a big, old creepy hotel, cut off from the rest of civilization by fierce winter storms. And as the writer who descends into insanity and puts the rest of his family at risk, Jack Nicholson’s disturbing performance is legendary. “Heeere’s Johnny,” indeed!|