Halloween is soon upon us, and four years ago I wrote a blog entry on my previous web site where I listed the scenes that scared the shit out of me as a teenager. Revisiting the list has been fun – and the time has come to updating it. First of all, we have a few high-quality classics.
The Shining (1980) – Kids are creepy in horror movies. When their innocence turns to evil, they can be very effective. In The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s only horror movie, twin girls terrorize young Danny (Danny Lloyd) by inviting him to play with them (forever and ever) – and then showing him images of themselves hacked to death.
The Omen (1976) – There are many scary scenes in Richard Donner’s classic horror movie about the spawn of Satan. One of the best shows Damien’s nanny sacrificing herself for him… but the most intimidating and provocative part of the film is Jerry Goldsmith’s score. After buying a copy of it when I was a teenager I felt very uncomfortable listening to it for a good while; this clip plays “Ave Satani”, Goldsmith’s creepy salute to Satan.
Poltergeist (1982) – This clip shows the scene from Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist where Robbie (Oliver Robins) is afraid of his clown doll (who wouldn’t be?)… but tries to fall asleep. After a while, he looks at the chair where the doll is supposed to be sitting – and discovers that it is not there anymore. A great scene in one of the most elaborate and scary horror movies ever made. Unfortunately, the sound isn’t right in the clip.
Sometimes there are films that disappoint on the whole, but have isolated moments of brilliance.
The Exorcist III (1990) – Not a very good film, but this scene should be taught in film school. It builds very slowly – but ends with a figure dressed in white attacking a nurse. It happens very fast and director William Peter Blatty instantly cuts to a headless statue. Very simply staged, but quite a shock the first time you see it.
It (1990) – I saw this TV adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a year after its premiere and found Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown completely terrifying. He still has an influence on my perception of clowns; I regard them as creepy rather than funny. This clip shows his evil appearance in suburbia, hidden in white sheets. Of course, the miniseries owes a lot to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
Four years after writing the original blog entry, I’m reminded of other movie experiences that left me genuinely disturbed. I remember watching The Blair Witch Project in a theater in 1999 and walking back home, fearing every shadow; another found-footage horror movie that did creep me out as an adult was Paranormal Activity (2009). Insidious (2011) also got under my skin, especially those last scenes where Lin Shaye takes Patrick Wilson’s picture… And then there’s John Carpenter himself. The man who created Halloween (1978). He’s disappointed us a lot ever since, but the clip above, from In the Mouth of Madness (1995), is so ingeniously scary and weird that I never want to drive a car late at night again.