A movie doesn't even need to scare me (as that is actually pretty hard to do after having been introduced to horror movies as a young kid)- if the mood and atmosphere is just right, you will hook me.
If the tension is real and well-earned, you'll make me sweat.
If I feel that the filmmaker is willing to break away from typical horror conventions and- say- kill off a major character or tell us a story in a new and inventive way, chances are I'll become a huge fan.
Now, Halloween is also one of my favorite times of year. It's a chance to get lost in my imagination a little. As the weather changes and a new time of year arrives, Halloween season allows me to feel like something spooky awaits my future. And to celebrate, I spend my time listening to spooky music/classic horror film soundtracks, and watching scary flicks.
To share with you some of the joy I get from this tenth month of the year, I have created a short list of what I consider to be the Best Halloween Films of All Time. I have based this list off of movies that really put me in the mood to get dressed up, to get spooked, to feel like I'm being watched and that I may be in imminent danger. Now- bear in mind- this is NOT a "Best Horror Film" of all time list but rather a list of movies that you can turn off all the lights, watch and really get excited about (or dread) the Halloween season.
So, here we go:
Ok, so that's NOT Sissy Spacek.
But I am happy to say that the only time I have voluntarily dressed like a woman in public is for this enormously successful Halloween costume of 2011.
Carrie is one of those masterpieces of cinema that was adapted from a literary masterpiece that they managed not to mess up. Not only did DePalma manage to perfectly transfer a Stephen King story to the screen (which, as we've seen many times unfortunately, is not easy), his technique and masterful creation of atmosphere made him a pioneer of a new way of scaring us on-screen.
What also makes Carrie a gem is that it not only functions as a horror movie but also a tragedy. From the very opening shot, our heart goes out to Carrie White. We feel for her. We love her. And yet, we know what's coming and we root for her to win. The moment Carrie's and Tommy Ross's names are called at The Prom and DePalma slows everything down backed by that beautiful Pino Dinaggio score, we are happy for Carrie! She finally got what she always wanted...
and yet, we know it's not going to last. And when that bucket of pig's blood comes down, our heart sinks for 2 reasons: 1) we know that that is it for Carrie's happiness. That one sad, brief moment... but then 2) we know that now they've gone too far. We know what she's capable of and that everyone surrounding Carrie in that instant is truly, unavoidably fucked.
And that's when shit gets real.
6. THE FOG
Do yourself a favor: turn out the lights, cover yourself with a blanket, cuddle up with someone and let John Carpenter, the master of creating the spookiest atmospheres in cinema history, take you on a journey to Antonio Bay- a seaside town in Northern California that has no idea what's about to hit them.
The Fog is a revenge tale. And it's not the scariest film of all time. Not even close I don't think. What it IS is a classic ghost story with a Carpenter twist. If you loved listening to ghost stories growing up, you will love this movie.
5. THE SHINING
If this picture ALONE isn't enough to make you shit your pants, then you obviously haven't seen the movie.
While Stanley Kubrick may not have had Stephen King's blessing to use King's story but not really... what Kubrick did create was a legendary film that is every bit as good as King's novel but for completely different reasons.
Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy and gifted son Danny get a bit more than they bargained for when Jack accepts the job as the off-season caretaker of the secluded Overlook Hotel. It's the perfect setup for a horror story: an isolated family with a past, danger lurking in every cranny of the hotel, a son with a gift that he doesn't know how to control and a father who just has way too many skeletons in his closet to withstand the forces that run the Overlook during the winter months.
One of the scariest scenes of all-time lies within this film- a bathroom encounter between Jack Torrance and Delbert Grady, the last doomed caretaker of the Overlook. There's really nothing to be scared of because it's just a conversation that's only really happening in Jack's head, right? RIGHT?
Well, not really.
4. THE EXORCIST
To be honest with you, the first time I saw this film and they flashed the face of Pazuzu on the screen- I literally jumped up and ran around the block. Quite possibly the scariest moment I can ever remember enduring in cinema, seeing the demon that inhabits little Reagan McNeill was very truthfully a blood-chilling moment.
Much like Carrie, The Exorcist works so well as a horror film because it's not simply a horror film. The first half of the film is so effective at making us sympathize with the McNeill family and with Reagan's inexplicable change of behavior that by the time it is explained as possession- we completely buy it. The second half of the film then proceeds to just genuinely scare the bejesus out of us.
Because director William Friedkin doesn't treat us like idiots. Everything feels real, everything feels genuine. There's no sudden swelling of music, no cheap scares, no main characters falling down while trying to escape or making bad decisions to go back in the house even though they've made it safely out. All we're left with is a small group of people who have no choice but to try and save this poor girl- even though only one of them, the old and in poor health Fr. Merrin, has enough faith to try what needs to be done.
One of the highlights of my life as an actor was the time I got to be directed by Friedkin on CSI. He was completely off-his-rocker and wacky, but his philosophy seemed to be very simple:
just tell the story.
And, boy, is The Exorcist a scary story?
Stay tuned tomorrow, kiddies, as the Hootenanny reveals its Top 3 Halloween Movies of all Time.