Halloween is coming soon, and in honor of the holiday I'92ll be suggesting a horror movie to make you wet yourself in terror for each day of October. Enjoy these first few suggestions, and keep visiting the blog for more.
Oct. 1: The Haunting (1963)
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Director Robert Wise'92s film The Haunting is perhaps the best haunted house film ever made. Based on Shirley Jackson'92s landmark novel The Haunting of Hill House, the movie is a prime example of how horror films don'92t need blood and guts to create scares that still work decades later.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Hill House was '93born bad.'94 It'92s a 90-year-old Gothic monstrosity, silent and vigilant, that seems ready to pounce. As the movie says, '93whatever walks there walks alone.'94 Mysterious '93accidents'94 have been occurring there since the house was built, and this intrigues Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), an anthropologist with an interest in the paranormal.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Markway organizes an expedition to the house to look for proof of the supernatural, and the house is more than happy to oblige. Joining Markway in this experiment is an intrepid gang of ghostbusters chosen for their past experiences with the paranormal. Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) is a timid woman who spent her entire adult life caring for her invalid mother. Theodora (Claire Bloom) is a somewhat predatory, occasionally abrasive lesbian (this is only hinted at in the movie, as opposed to the book). Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), nephew of the house'92s owner, is a wisecracking slacker who doesn'92t believe in ghosts and only wants to look after his family'92s property.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Soon after the group arrives, odd occurrences begin: weird feelings, cold spots, doors which don'92t lead where they should. Then the noises start. Soon, the group finds '93help Eleanor come home'94 written in chalk on the wall, and realizes the house is targeting her specifically.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Wise, director of The Sound of Music and West Side Story, may not seem like the best choice to direct a horror film, but he started out under producer Val Lewton, who made a series of very scary films in the 1940s and '9250s, such as Cat People, that scared audiences with shadows and the unknown.
Wise took these lessons to heart. The movie has few jolts, but admirably builds an atmosphere of dread throughout. The film'92s main scare sequences rely mainly on sounds. Wise also creates the movie'92s creepy atmosphere with dynamic camerawork, a masterful control of tone and simple tricks like shooting the exteriors of the house on infrared film. The Haunting'92s only special effect, a door bulging under the pressure of some ghastly force, was created by pressing a wooden board against a flexible door.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 'a0The Haunting is a terrifying story of psychological horror, and of a girl who, unfortunately, gets her wish for '93something to finally happen to me.'94 It will haunt you as well.
If you liked this, then check out:
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Legend of Hell House (1973): Based on a Richard Matheson novel, this flick is a variation on the old trope of a group of people trying to spend a night in a haunted house, and wishing they hadn'92t. But this one has Roddy McDowall!
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Old Dark House (1932): A young couple'92s car breaks down on a dark and stormy night, and they seek refuge in a spooky old house that is owned by a creepy old couple with a dark secret. James Whale, director of the original Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, made this film, which was a sort of template for a lot of subsequent fright films, and features Boris Karloff as a mute butler.
Oct. 2: The Thing (1982)
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 One of the rare occasions when a remake is as good as the original, John Carpenter'92s The Thing is a masterpiece of isolation and paranoia.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Hewing much more closely to the source novella than the original The Thing from Another World, Carpenter'92s film gives us a group of researchers in the Antarctic that comes across a shape-shifting alien that can imitate any life form. After the Thing starts picking people off, and a storm cuts the group off from the outside world, the atmosphere of dread and mistrust grows thick. Nobody can be sure who is a Thing and who isn'92t, and the film ratchets up the tension and paranoia to almost unbearable levels.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 But in addition to the ever-increasing tension, the movie also has some excellent jump scares, often courtesy of Rob Bottin'92s special effects, which are perhaps the best practical gore effects ever made. Watching some of the Thing'92s transformations will seriously make you gasp.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 And I haven'92t even mentioned the terrific, low-key score from Ennio Morricone, doing his best impression of Carpenter'92s scores for his other films, or the way Carpenter'92s widescreen photography seems to capture the characters in wide expanses of nothing.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 As helicopter pilot MacReady, Kurt Russell heads the cast, which also includes a bunch of terrific character actors such as Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffatt and Keith David. These guys play smart, well-developed characters who do everything right, but are simply overmatched.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Boasting one of the finest, most chilling endings of any film ever, John Carpenter'92s The Thing will have you wondering if anyone around you is really who they say they are.
If you liked this, then check out:
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Thing from Another World (1951): Also excellent, the original version of the story follows a group of scientists and soldiers in the Arctic that digs up a flying saucer and has to fend off its inhabitant, a giant carrot man played by Gunsmoke'92s James Arness. The film is credited to director Christian Nyby, but producer Howard Hawks is long rumored to have helmed the film himself.
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Fog (1981): Just before The Thing, John Carpenter made this creepy tale about a coastal California town besieged by a spectral fog '97 that kills! You'92ll never look at leper ghost pirates the same way.
Oct. 3: Suspiria (1977)
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 The films of Italian horror master Dario Argento are best experienced as a sort of dream in which anything can happen, and usually does. At their best, his films can put you into a sort of blissful cinematic nirvana. In Suspiria, which is perhaps Argento'92s masterpiece, Argento'92s dream atmosphere is created almost immediately. Jessica Harper plays Suzy, an American teenager just starting school at a ballet academy in the Black Forest. Almost immediately after Suzy gets off the plane, she finds herself trapped in a waking nightmare of torrential rain, bright colors and loud music.
Argento and the band Goblin did the film'92s incredible score, which is as important to the movie as any other element. It'92s an assault of synthesizers and guitars that gives the film a truly operatic feel.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Suzy has trouble fitting in at the school. She meets the stern headmistress (Joan Bennett), various bitchy students, a blind piano player and others. None of the students seems to like her, and the parade of weird occurrences (rain of maggots from the ceiling, anyone?) makes it kind of hard for Suzy to settle in.
Before long, Suzy becomes convinced that her school is home to a sinister coven of witches, but whenever she tries to convince someone of this they always seem to have a tragic accident.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 The whole movie is impressive, but Argento often tends to build his films around certain sequences, and the first murder here is definitely one of them. A girl is attacked by a mysterious monster. We only see glowing eyes and gnarled hands. She is thrown through a stained-glass skylight, and the falling glass impales a friend of hers. Other sequences and images are so powerful I'92ll refrain from spoiling them.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Argento knows how to pour on the atmosphere, whether through shadows or oddly incongruous neon lighting, and just make everything feel slightly wrong. The film has a plot, of course, but most of its power comes from Argento'92s layering on of odd, unsettling images that will make your skin crawl. Argento is writing a symphony here, and we'92re just lucky to hear it.
If you liked this, then check out:
'97'a0'a0'a0 Inferno (1980): Suspiria was the first in Argento'92s '93Three Mothers'94 trilogy, which follows three witches and three gateways to hell. Inferno, the second in the series, is set in an apartment building in New York. It makes even less sense than Suspiria, but it boasts some of the most beautiful filmmaking of Argento'92s career. 'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0
'97'a0'a0'a0 Mother of Tears (2007): I haven'92t seen this, the long-awaited final chapter of the '93Three Mothers'94 trilogy, but it'92s available on DVD and, given Argento'92s track record, I certainly plan to give it a try.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Phenomena (1985): Argento gives us another teenaged girl in supernatural trouble. This time it'92s Jennifer Connelly as a girl who can communicate telepathically with insects who tries to use that skill to solve a string of murders at her spooky Swiss boarding school. And there'92s a cool soundtrack with songs from Iron Maiden and Motorhead.