Five freaky films for Halloween
Hey, who doesn't like scary movies when it's this time of year? I've never cared for the whole slasher-serial killer mode (no "Friday the 13th"/"Saw" for me, thank you). But a good horror movie gets the blood pumping and the fear coursing out of your system. A great one haunts you like a half-remembered nightmare. Here's what I would call my five favorite horror movies, admittedly heavily weighed to stuff from the last 25 years or so.
The Fly (1986) - This one has had a creepy fascination for me ever since it first came out. A remake of a goofy '50s flick, it takes the notion of transformation to its furthest possible extent, with a stunning performance by Jeff Goldblum as an eccentric scientist who goes way too far. David Cronenberg pushes the limits of our unease as we watch a man disintegrate, turning into something utterly alien. The ending may be as gory as you've ever seen, but the whole enterprise carries a wounded human soul that keeps it from just being a nasty piece of exploitation (unlike the utterly awful sequel starring Eric Stolz). In Goldblum's Brundlefly, we find a metaphor for anyone who's ever felt like a stranger in their own skin, from a teen with zits to a man being consumed by cancer. Best moment: Brundlefly's "insect politics" speech, a man's farewell to his own life.
Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) - OK, admittedly a man in a giant rubber suit isn't as cutting-edge today as it once was. But this one scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid, the freaky gill-man emerging from the depths to claw and destroy the human invaders. The gill-man is as iconic as all the rest of the big scary monsters that are actually a little sympathetic, from Frankenstein to King Kong. I actually did a long post on this classic flick and its sequels a few years back, so go read it here. The gill-man is one of the great, campy aspects and all, and perhaps my favorite "classic" horror film. Best moment: The gill man "swims" with the lovely Julie Adams.
The Thing (1982)- Another remake that blew wide open the ideas of the original. John Carpenter remade a '50s monster mash as a kind of existential, gore-splattered "Ten Little Indians," with a team of Antarctic researchers being whittled away by an ever-shifting menace. The special effects remain nauseatingly effective today, leaving you with the sense that flesh is just meat waiting to be reshaped. The setting may be the true star here, although Kurt Russell is at his gritty best as the leading man. Best moment: That grim ending, as stark and cold as the Antarctic ice itself, punctuated by Ennio Morricone's relentless drone of a soundtrack.
Silence of the Lambs (1993) - Hmm, is this horror, precisely, or thriller? Either way, the movie scared the heck out of me, often with nothing more than the imagery of a madman behind a glass wall, teasing his way into his interrogator's mind. As smoothly machined a piece of storytelling as you'll find, it still has a bleak, soulful unease that lifts it above the conventions of the genre – still hard to believe this won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It dives deeper into the notion of purely human horror than any movie I can think of, with Anthony Hopkins' indelible portrait of Hannibal Lecter a chiller despite being watered down in poorly imagined sequels galore. Best moment: The escape of Hannibal Lecter, and the moment when you realize how he did it.
Evil Dead II (1985). I personally like my horror to have a hint of humor in it (which is why torture-porn like "Saw" has absolutely no appeal for me). The second screen adventure of Ash is easily the best, balancing the claustrophobic freakiness of the original with the cornball humor of the third movie. Bruce Campbell's take-charge he-man is the template for a thousand adventurers, and that whole cabin-in-the-woods horror schtick has never been put to better use. As wacky as a "Three Stooges" short, but still with some genuine scares as well. Best moment: Ash's own severed hand attacks him, of course!
What's not on my list that could've been: I like "Alien," but just feel like it's a science fiction flick. "Psycho" is great as is much of Hitchcock, but not as scary now as it once was. "The Shining" by Stanley Kubrick is a gorgeous looking, hugely unsettling movie, but somehow, it's a little too over the top in its glacial chill. I have to admit I find Stephen King's original book better develops the story and characters. "The Bride of Frankenstein" was a near-miss – awesome movie, not really too scary to modern eyes though. And zombie movies – I had like a three-way tie going between "Shaun of the Dead," "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) and "Dead-Alive" (aka "Brain Dead"), but couldn't quite settle between 'em. So I gave it to "Evil Dead II" instead. And as for "Halloween" itself - I have to make a guilty confession - I've never seen it! Good lord, how dare I write about Halloween movies?