Thursday, October 31, 2013

Five Film Favorites: Scary Movies

Audrey Hepburn as Susy Hendrix in "Wait Until Dark."

by F.T. Rea

For Halloween I thought about making a list of my favorite science fiction movies, or a list of favorite monster movies. Also gave some thought to movies about people wearing disguises. That last one might be fun. But those three angles could be exploited anytime. Instead, this week's episode of five film favorites is about scary movies.

Not gross, but scary. Not merely suspenseful. Not necessarily monsters, human or otherwise. Movies that made me jump out of my seat, or that thoroughly creeped me out. Movies that made me jittery for hours, if not days, after watching them. Movies that made going to sleep difficult.


Although surprise is an important element in scariness, to make the list this time the movie has to sustain its fright factor beyond just one or two spectacular jolts of sudden horror or mayhem. So, overall creepiness is just as important as shock. The movie has to have scared me originally, haunted me afterward, and upon subsequent viewings allowed me to still enjoy it. Generally, I won’t put a title on one of these favorites lists if I’ve only seen it once.

It might seem corny now; maybe some folks prefer the 1978 remake. For me, as a kid, the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was more scary than any movie I can remember from all the low budget '50s features I saw that were designed to frighten an audience. And, there were plenty of them.
  • “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956): B&W. 80 minutes. Directed by Don Siegel. Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones, King Donovan. Note: A small town doctor hears complaints about some of the town-folk. They seem to have changed, not in appearance but in the way they act. With the Cold War raging, this story was seen by some as warning against a communist takeover. Others connected it to McCarthyism and witch hunts.
  • “Psycho” (1960): B&W. 109 minutes. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam. Note: Marion, the secretary-turned-thief-on-the-lam, is tired. She checks into the Bates Motel. Norman manages the motel. He's painfully shy and tries to be good, but his demanding mother is awfully hard on him. Marion decides to take a relaxing shower before turning in.   
  • "Repulsion" (1965): B&W. 105 minutes. Directed by Roman Polanski. Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser. Note: A beautiful but depressed young woman wallows in paranoia and detaches from her connections in life. With a dead rabbit in her purse, she descends into madness. You won’t always know what is real in this early Polanski flick, but you won’t forget Deneuve's quite convincing dangerous crazy-girl character.
  • “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991): Color. 118 minutes. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine. Note: The success of this film launched so many forgettable movies about serial killers, there have probably been more films about serial killers than there have been real serial killers. Still, the spell this one casts over viewers is unique. Oscars? This scary movie won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay).
  • “Wait Until Dark” (1967): Color. 108 minutes. Directed by Terrence Young. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Note: This taut thriller was adapted from a play. The story pits brave and recently blinded Susy against some truly nasty criminals. The bad guys are sure she inadvertently got a valuable package meant for them. But where is it? Most of the action takes place in Susy's English basement apartment. Basements can be dark and scary places. 
Spoiler alert reminder: Don’t let any mischief-makers who like to diminish surprises for others tell you much about what happens in these films. If you don't like to be spooked by a movie, then skip watching any of the five on the list.

The last scary movie to be cut from the list was “Jaws” (1975). In my book that fish is the best movie monster ever. Next week we’ll see if we can publish a more lighthearted list of five film favorites. 

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