Sunday, October 28, 2007

day 1: four days with three scary movies each

Certainly lists of the "top" movies of whatever genre are already everywhere and already somewhat exhaustive that any such list I would make would only serve my purposes to be applicable to my own likes and desires.

So.... I present you with a countdown of sorts to Halloween with twelve movies (three movies each for the four days leading up to All Hallow's Eve) of twelve movies (in no particular order) that spook the crap out of me. And, more importantly, particular elements of these films that do the trick. These are not all the movies I've seen that do so, of course, but they are all well-liked by me, and on the whole are pretty undebatably terrifying in parts. Besides, I think it's about time I pay my respects to the cinema of the scary.... it's an art form that I think that has been degraded too much by dimensionless and storyless torture-porn in the tradition of the endless Saw movie franchise and other horror schlock of the desensitized era.

....*drum roll*....

Lost Highway (1997)

I suppose it's no secret I'm a little bit of a fan of David Lynch. That said, I bet you were thinking that Eraserhead is the more appropriate of the Lynch canon to be considered a "horror" movie on the whole. To be honest, all of Lynch's films have elements that creep me the hell out (yes, the G-rated Walt-Disney-presents The Straight Story counts). But the creepiest on the whole for me is easily Lost Highway, perhaps one of the richest-filmed but most unevenly plotted of Lynch's movies. The movie suffers on the whole from really not knowing what story it's trying to tell, but there's lots of meaty Lynch-isms everywhere and can be at times quite intriguing. The majority of the creep factor comes from the performance of now-acquitted once-accused murderer Robert Blake who plays, for all intents and purposes, the Devil. Blake's sheer calm creates such an indelible menace that's hard to deny.... the scene, in fact, where Robert Loggia's mob boss character passes the phone to Blake, who has been standing just off screen for minutes without us being aware still gives me the shivers. The 2005 French film Cache is in many ways an ugly rip-off of this film (the inital premise, folks, is identical), but likely succeeds in logical ways that this does not. Unfortunately, thanks to Blake's recent trial-debacle, Lost Highway may not see the light of legitimate DVD release for some time. Because, after all, Blake does play the Devil. But he does it so well.

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Barbara Stanwyck, perhaps the screen siren of film noir, stars in a tweaked variation on a haunted house movie in Sorry, Wrong Number, a movie that slowly and painlessly digs its talons into you until you try to pull away. She also picked up her fourth (and last) Oscar nomination for the role. Bottom line: rich/bored/lonely woman picks up the phone to make a call one night and, thanks to a crossed line, overhears a plot to murder. (If this were to be remade, it wouldn't be so much a crossed line as a garbled reception error on a cell phone.) The genius of the movie comes as Stanwyck starts to get more harried as time passes, letting her mind take her in all kinds of directions about how to stop this plan.... her calls to the police and the phone company make her seem like she's raving mad. The greatest revelation though...? Wouldn't you know it, the victim in question of the overheard murder plan happens to be herself. Looking for a good suspense movie in a world that is quickly ignoring the genre? Fire up your netflix for this.

The Birds (1963)

I saw this movie at a young age and it did a good amount of damage. Who would think birds to be a device for one of the greatest horror movies of all time? The movie, Alfred Hitchcock's first to hit the screen after his magnum opus Psycho, is pretty widely known, and that's likely thanks to the fact that it gets under our skin so easily. Basic premise: birds of all kinds (birds of a feather? heh.... eh) swoop down in droves to terrorize a Northern California coastal hamlet. People are pecked to death. People have eyes gouged out by beaks. That's terrifying enough for me still, no less at the tender age of eight or however old I was when I first saw it. Perhaps the most unsettling point of the movie is that the droves of bird attacks aren't explained.... Tippi Hedren, plucky and young and ultra-mod and as damsel-y as they come, decides to buy two love birds on a whim to deliver to some guy she falls for on the spot in a pet shop (as Hitchcock nonchalantly strolls by on screen with two schnauzers). Perhaps she's the cause of the bird attack? Is it the love birds? Who knows. I'm still spooked the hell out to see a bird perched on a jungle gym.

....and three more tomorrow....


Dale said...

I enjoyed Lost Highway and Mr. Blake would have creeped me out no matter who he was playing. Lynch's films are always unsettling in some way aren't they?

Sorry Wrong Number is a classic as well and as Barbara's fear increases, so does your heartrate.

The Birds is one of those much loved things that I sort of scratch my head at. While a little creepy, I never felt worried, now if they were flying sharks! Tonight I'll probably have a nightmare about birds. I'll blame you in advance.

J.J. said...

I have not seen any of these. Am curious to know what others movies you plan to note.

(Also, I just saw your post on Saw IV. Am making similar questionings on my blog today.)

is that so wrong? said...

Dale: I could probably go on for days about creepy elements in Lynch's films. One of the best though? Check out Laura Palmer's doppelganger bathed in a spotlight while screaming and writhing on a couch in the (Lynch-directed) series finale of "Twin Peaks".... that will make you not sleep.

JJ: Bravo for your Saw post. While watching "30 Even Scarier Movie Moments" on Bravo the other night, I was grossly disappointed that the entire countdown was populated with Saw sequels and similar uninteresting torture-porn like Wolf Creek. It was also strange to notice that a lot of the writers and directors of these kinds of movies happen to be Australian....