Cinema Scare-ité

Recommendations for Halloween viewing:

10. The Grudge
Not only does this surprisingly bizarre thriller feature Sarah Michelle Gellar in her first post-Buffy/non-Daphne role, director Takashi Shimizu's bleak nightmare shuffles its narrative to keep you guessing until the end. Sad, strange, and uncomfortable, The Grudge is a sadly overlooked example of the horror genre in capable hands.

9. Scream
Wes Craven's reinvention of the slasher genre revitalized all horror filmmaking in the mid-90s, creating a renaissance of films whose quantities had gone unmatched since the 70s. Neve Cambell's lips part speechlessly with such aplomb that her trademark expression nearly parodies itself. Oh, and Rose McGowan plays a whore—go figure. Also a favorite as I used it as my Senior Project in college, demonstrating horror films are still, at heart, anti-queer.

8. Signs
M. Night Shyamalan's second feature film followed the cardinal rule of horror films: giving your audience a good look at the monster/killer/etc ruins the effect. And so, in the most Spielberg fashion, he reserves it for the end, peppering the rest of the film with masterful Hitchcockian touches of suspense and thrills. This is the film that clearly identifies Shyamalan as heir to Hitchcock's big, big throne.

7. The Addiction
Although it can be tiring to confront yet another "vampirism as _____" metaphor, Abel Ferrara's gem features Lili Taylor as an ambitious philosophy graduate student in New York who stumbles headfirst into...a new addiction. Starkly filmed in high contrast black and white, it features a stunning sequence that just might change the way you think of the word "buffet."

6. From Hell
The Hughes Brothers' adapted this notable graphic novel theorizing the identity of Jack the Ripper in Victorian London. Johnny Depp investigates the gruesome crimes on behalf of Scotland Yard, while whore-in-peril Heather Graham defiantly works the streets for answers. As far as period horror goes, it doesn't get any better than this.

5. Poltergeist
Americans love two things about supernatural films: pissed-off spirits and freaky kids. This film, arriving on the tail end of the 70s horror fantasia, continues to creep out everyone digging their own swimming pool, defrosting steak in their kitchen, or burying their loved ones parakeets in the backyard. Props to a young, sexy Craig T. Nelson for keeping JoBeth Williams glowing.

4. 28 Days Later
What if you woke up from a coma and found London inexplicably abandoned? Although your first thought might be looting at Harrod's or sorting through Gwyneth Paltrow's underwear drawer, director Danny Boyle wants to caution you by considering a nation under the effects of zombification. This artfully shot thriller doesn't disappoint in terms of scares, and newcomer Cillian Murphy looks great with a shaved head and scraggly facial scruff.

3. Final Destination
One of the most inventively plotted horror films of the past five years, Final Destination features the most elaborate, most gut-wrenching, and most horrific character deaths since Hitchcock's Torn Curtain. Cutie McCutestein Devon Sawa gets Ali Larter under his skin as he tries to protect survivors of a horrific plane crash from certain death. Don't be fooled by its teen cast: this is a wonderful horror film.

2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
This film is so scary I haven't been able to watch it a second time. Notable for igniting my love for Jessica Biehl (Stealth notwithstanding), TCM truly benefitted from its production value makeover. Smartly set at the time of its original filming, the film is, again, beautifull filmed and expertly edited for maximum suspense. Although gruesome at times, the emphasis here is on anxiety, not fright.

1. Nightmare on Elm Street
Poor Nancy can't get enough sleep because she's being stalked by a vicious, hideous killer in her dreams. Johnny Depp makes his second appearance on this list in his first film role (and, thankfully, a half-shirt: thank you, 80s). Wes Craven's slasher masterpiece is smart, Freudian, and convincing. If you die in your dream, do you die for real? The only people who can tell us aren't talking (they're dead, duh), but in the meantime, bone up on your B-movie acting with Heather Lagenkamp's campy portrayal of good-girl-gone-vigilante Nancy. Sequels in quality order: 3, New Nightmare, 4, 6, 2, 5.

HONORABLE MENTION: House of Wax. Elisha Cuthbert in a wife beater, Chad Michael Murray in full-on pout mode, and Paris Hilton dies. Enough said.


  1. Oh you forgot CopyCat...scary as hell.

  2. Good picks, Charlie! I'm glad you included "Poltergeist." (I was just wondering the other night whatever happened to JoBeth Williams.)

    Might I add "The Seventh Sign," in which Demi Moore is surprisingly effective?

  3. I missed Scream in the theatre and was so excited the day it came out for rental that I totaled my first car right in front of Hollywood Video. Then I rented Scream and walked home and watched it.

    I admit it did not seem worth it.

    Thanks for the list. I now badly want to see 28 Days Later, but I will order it over the internet instead of driving anywhere.

    Poltergeist was my first horror movie; I saw it when I was 8. Every once in a while I or my sister still yell "The swimming pool! The swimming pool!" at family gatherings.

  4. I first saw "The Addiction" at the Sundance Film Festival. Half-way through the film, after the philosophy department party scene, I became so ill I had to leave the auditorium and go out and lay down. This ended up being a very fortunate move. Lili Taylor walked out of the projection room and I was able to say "hello." A very fine film, including a great performance from Christopher Walken.
    I also am glad to see the films "28 Days Later," "Signs," "From Hell," and "Poltergeist."
    You've convinced me to see Final Destination.

  5. Charlie,

    I think "Signs" is Shyamalan's third feathre. Didn't "Unbreakable" come before?

    (p.s. This is Tony, posting from my gf's account)

  6. Tony's correct about Signs.

    I'm not big on horror movies (and I really don't like M. Night Shyamalan's movies), but here are the ones I'd add:

    Alien (SF as horror or horror as SF, whatever)
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the Donald Sutherland version scared me to death when I was a kid)
    The Shining

    And I think the Blair Witch Project was terrible.