Many moons ago, when Final Girl was but a sweet young thing struggling to figure out her place in this blogosphere, I took Kim Morgan to task over a list she published of her picks for the Ten Best Slasher Movies. Well, I didn't take her to task so much as I took her inclusion of Cabin Fever to task. Soon afterward, she got in touch via email to
Her writing is always a lesson in cinema: the woman loves loves LOVES movies and you know what? Rabid passion such as hers is both infectious and inspiring. She knows her shit like nobody's business, but she's never pedantic. She’s seen it all, but she's never jaded. Whether or not I agree with her assessments, I’m always learning something new or simply marveling at the depth of her knowledge- knowledge that never gets in the way of her readability. She’s got a bitchin car, she wields a sly sense of humor, she’s always making lists, and she loves horror movies almost as much as I do. What more do you need to know? I completely, unabashedly adore Kim Morgan, and you should, too.And it's all still true! Reading her writing makes me want to watch movies, plain and simple. Follow her at Sunset Gun, MSN's Hitlist Movies Blog, The Huffington Post, or, come January 2011, on the relaunch of At the Movies (you know, produced by that Roger Ebert guy). It's appropriate, somehow, that she's closing out SHOCKtober's list madness.
The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise)
Remember when Jan de Bont thought it'd be a groovy idea to remake one of the greatest haunted-house movies ever made? No? Well, good -- maybe some unseen force cleansed the memory right out of your brain. Or maybe the original film, Robert Wise's classic The Haunting (adapted from Shirley Jackson's enduring novel The Haunting of Hill House) worked some mojo, ensuring the redo would stink to holy high heaven. Whatever the reason, the original Haunting is powerful stuff. With its tale of three very different people staying in a haunted New England mansion under an observant parapsychologist, the film gives us the requisite bumps in the night (loud pounding noises, cold spots, dead people pulling dwellers into their thrall) but amps up the terror with intriguing, complex characters. Led by a wonderfully poignant Julie Harris (the house wants to keep her -- very scary), the film is not only tense and psychologically interesting, but also gorgeously shot, showing, once again, Wise's previous schooling under the great Val Lewton. The Haunting is still terrifying.
I Walked with a Zombie (1943, Jacques Tourneur)
This may be the only zombie movie inspired by Jane Eyre, and perhaps, the only zombie movie that is about well, real zombies. As in, voodoo. It's ambiguous and therefore more mysterious, scary, gorgeous, intelligent, sensitive -- all those things producer Val Lewton excelled at. Directed by Jacques Tourneur after he made the masterful Cat People, the picture, while dealing with voodoo and devil worship, is elegant, poetic, expressionistic and still inventive in use of shadows, light, dark, daylight, and wind. The quintessence of haunting.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper)
This vicious bit of brilliance is as scary as it is strangely beautiful. Spawning sequels and even a stupid remake, it's the arfully rendered low-budget horror of Tobe Hooper's original that sticks in your nightmares. You can choose what scene scares you most, but for me, the most iconic is Marilyn Burns being chased by Leatherface -- seemingly forever. The length of the chase (over two minutes), along with the screaming and running and screaming and running through the brambles while a beastly freak donning a human face for a mask and wielding a chainsaw is hot on her tail, just gets me where I live -- or die.
Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski)
Through the beautiful visage of ice goddess Catherine Deneuve, Repulsion remains one of the most frightening studies of psychosis ever filmed. It's also one of the most sexually mysterious. Deneuve plays Carol, a nervous young manicurist who goes about her days in the salon, quietly tending to bossy old ladies' fleshy cuticles; but eventually finds herself languishing about her apartment, where, her pathological shyness, sexual repression and repulsions spiral into madness. Perplexing hallucinations haunt Carol as she's holed up in her pad: sexual acts with a greasy man whom she simultaneously loathes and lusts; greedy hands poking through the hallways and kneading her soft flesh; and the moving and cracking of walls. Left alone, she is able to act out what she is so afraid of: the dark sludge of desire. The obscure, slippery and decayed complexities of such desire are conveyed brilliantly and the diseased atmosphere of Carol's apartment/womb is meticulously created through Polanski's inventive camera angles, sound effects and images of clutter.
Polanski's use of ambient sounds (the ticking of a clock, the voices of nuns playing catch in the convent garden, the dripping of a faucet) is masterful,conveying Carol's unsettling fears. Polanski also dresses the film with pertinent details that further exemplify both Carol's madness and the aching passage of time: potatoes sprout in the kitchen; meat (rabbit meat, no less) rots on a plate and eventually collects flies; various debris of blood, food and liquids form naturally around Carol. The use of black-and-white film, wide-angle lenses and close-ups creates an unsparing vision of sickness, and Deneuve's performance is effectively mysterious. As Polanski cameraman Gil Taylor muttered during filming, "I hate doing this to a beautiful woman." A masterpiece of madness.
Rosemary's Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)
One of Polanski's most famous, iconic and unforgettable movies, Rosemary's Baby is just as effective as a dark comedy as it is a horror movie. It also works as a strange celebration of one woman's love for her baby, no matter what, and the institutions that attempt to control her (yes, you can read Rosemary's Baby as a feminist work). We all remember young-mother-to-be Rosemary (Mia Farrow) moving into a lovely, though creepy, apartment building and eventually finding herself impregnated by Satan himself. Her ambitious actor husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), is mostly to blame -- he strikes a deal with their eccentric, Devil-worshiping neighbors the Castevets (a wonderfully spellbinding Sidney Blackmer and a charmingly though frighteningly coarse Ruth Gordon) -- and poor Rosemary is the vessel, enduring he Castevets' pregnancy tips, and even agreeing to see the famed Dr. Sapirstein (played by a condescendingly evil Ralph Bellamy in a switch from his usual nice guy roles of yore). A powerfully desperate and touching performance by Farrow carries the picture, but Polanski's colorful, tense and at times, surreal direction (the dream sequence/Satanic seduction is a particular standout) and attention to detail is superb. And again, it's at times, hilarious. "What about Dr. Sapirstein? What about ME!"
The Tenant (1976, Roman Polanski)
Though Rosemary's Baby remains Roman Polanski's classic horror film, for psychological terror, hysterical paranoia, existential break-down and a man in a dress, The Tenant supersedes Rosemary in genuine horror. Polanski cast himself as Trelkovsky, a beleaguered, nervous Polish file clerk who takes an apartment after the previous tenant commits suicide. His neighbors are all kinds of creepy (gotta love a thoroughly disagreeable Shelley Winters), he's seeing strange things in the bathroom across the courtyard and, in one of the picture's more memorable moments, he's found a tooth in the wall. Yes, a tooth. And it's scary. And funny. And scary. Worse, for reasons we can only surmise as ghostly and psychotic, he begins dressing in the prior tenant's clothes, including a dress, wig and a thick smear of lipstick. When he jumps out of the window, not once, but twice in this get-up we are both horrified and humored - a tough combination to successfully convey, but Polanski, master of the dark humor, does so effortlessly. For instance, watch Polanski smack a kid in the park, or observe an especially frightening and imaginative moment when Polanski's head is bouncing like a basketball, and feel confused by your horrified bemusement. Try not to laugh. And then cringe. A Dostoyevskian inspired tale, The Tenant is supremely creepy, philosophically fascinating, funny and daring.
The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin)
William Friedkin's still-shocking movie about a girl possessed by a demon deservedly ranks as one of the scariest of all time. Though some watch the film with a bit of camp these days (the head turning just isn't as horrifying as when you were 12 years old), it's understandable why so many viewers fainted or ran back to the confessional after watching cute little Linda Blair push a priest out of a window. And though there are many, many scenes in this movie that'll stop the heart, we're going for Father Karras' dream of his dead mother, as it's easily one the creepiest dream sequences put to celluloid. Envisioning his mother walking up the stairs from a subway, Karras is seen across the street flagging her down. Sounds perfectly normal except that Friedkin fills the entire exchange with an anxiety that makes the viewer so uncomfortable that we literally gasp when the "subliminal" -- a painted white demon face with red-rimmed eyes -- flashes on the screen. What in God's name was that? Evangelist Billy Graham wanted to know, branding the film as a subliminal incendiary work of the devil with "evil embodied on the very celluloid." Well if that doesn't make you want to see a horror movie, I don't know what does.
Don't Look Now (1973, Nicolas Roeg)
Don't Look Now is just flat-out one of the scariest movies ever made. It's also one of the saddest and, by film's end, astoundingly shocking. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland star as a couple staying in Venice after their young daughter dies. Commissioned to restore a church, Sutherland attempts to work while Christie befriends two strange middle-aged sisters, one of whom is psychic. The psychic tells Christie that their daughter has communicated she is happy but warns the skeptical Sutherland of danger. The story (adapted from a Daphne du Maurier tale) is fascinating enough, but director Nicolas Roeg ladles the film with stylistic flourishes (bizarre angles, nonlinear cuts, off conversations) that are anxiously bewildering. And Venice has never felt so chilling -- this is not a romantic lovers' getaway but a place of shadows and doom and a creepy creature in a red coat. A masterpiece.
Black Christmas (1974, Bob Clark)
Director Bob Clark (who would later craft that little subversive yuletide favorite A Christmas Story) made a first of its kind--a sorority house slasher flick, complete with deranged lunatic (whom you never see), extra crazy obscene phone calls and sexy girls--especially Margot Kidder and the gorgeous Olivia Hussey. Atmospheric, gorgeously shot, intriguing and filled with genuine fucking scares, Black Christmas is a masterpiece in any genre.
I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are! (1965, William Castle)
One of my favorite William Castle movies (and I love a lot of them- see: "Jacket, Straight"), this one takes the perfect concept of grounded teenage girls babysitting a little sister, their innocent, flirty prank phone calls, a murderous John Ireland, a vengeful Joan Crawford and a hilarious night time car ride to meet a sexy mysterious stranger. Well, this is before Facebook and Twitter and Instant Messaging and all that business, so the girls can only think Ireland (no slouch in the looks department, mind you, but a bit old for them) is the hottest thing since Elvis. Never mind he really thinks they "saw what you did" and "know who you are." And Joan steals the girl's parent's car insurance, which is perhaps the scariest moment of all. Being busted by Joan fucking Crawford when you're grounded? That will make any teenager wake up in a cold sweat.
Eyes Without a Face (1960, Georges Franju)
Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face still shocks me. I won't describe the scene (it involves a...face and...surgery) but the shock is furthered by how sad and creepy the picture is. A brilliant combination of French art film and shock, the picture is a fiendish study of guilt after a doctor accidentally disfigures his daughter in an auto accident. Beauty is snatched via his lovely nurse/assistant/partner in crime -- young women who will hopefully be the new face of his mask wearing daughter. To describe the beauty and horror of this movie is tough -- its cinematography, art direction, scary yet, gentle performances, fragility mangled by blunt instruments, and guilt induced evil hits you in every soft spot.
The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton)
The Innocents, a reworking of Henry James' novel The Turn of the Screw, stars Deborah Kerr as a governess hired by Michael Redgrave to care for two of the freakiest kids this side of The Brood. Are these children (played by Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens) just precocious little buggers? Or, are they under the control of the deceased evil former servants? A suitably terrified Kerr sticks around to find out, which, as it turns out, probably isn't such a good idea.
Cat People (1942, Jacques Tourneur)
Cat People is one of the most beautiful films ever made -- ever, ever, ever. With a small budget and only a title to work from, a title promising a potential cheapie, lurid movie, producer Val Lewton (a man every horror filmmaker should study), crafted a film about, not women running around in cat suits, but fear. What scares us? What we can't see. With director Jacques Tourneur (who would later direct the seminal noir Out of the Past and the great Nightfall) and beguiling star, French actress Simone Simon at the helm, the movie about a woman enduring a cat curse, manages to be about a lot more -- loneliness, sex, fear of the other, fear of oneself, fear of letting go. And it contains one of the creepiest, yet classiest scenes in a swimming pool. Beauty can be quite terrifying.
The Brood (1979, David Cronenberg)
Are these freaky things even kids? Well, yes... sorta. After watching Samantha Eggar birth them (licking the newborns and all, a scene every libidinous teen should watch to prevent pregnancy) in David Cronenberg's classic (and one of his greatest movies), they definitely come from her womb. But what are they exactly? That's what Eggar's husband (Art Hindle) wants to find out after mysterious, deformed blonde kids in ski jackets show up unannounced to kill people. Worse, they take away his daughter. And things become even more complicated when he realizes his wife's psychiatrist (a fantastic Oliver Reed) has something to do with it. So let me re-phrase this: they aren't really children but, when referring to the shrink's eccentric methods they are "shapes of rage." Shapes of rage that do your bidding. Damn. I want some. This might make me re-think my desire to never bear children.
Peeping Tom (1960, Michael Powell)
Even over 40 years later, Michael Powell's Peeping Tom still manages to make me feel dirty after watching it. In the spirit of killers we can't help but feel empathy for (say, Peter Lorre in M), Carl Boehm plays a soft-spoken, nice-looking but clearly twisted filmmaker who kills girls, filming their deaths on his snazzy 16mm camera (complete with attached knife). Even sicker, he places a mirror on his camera so he can watch their reactions while filming. When you get to know Mark, you understand how his perversion was formed (his scientist father used him as a terror guinea pig) and even hope he may improve through the kindness of a female neighbor. But could that really happen? No. A beautiful-looking picture that examined sleaze, fetishism and voyeurism (which is the film's intriguing question to viewers: Do you like to watch too?) with vivid color and simultaneous darkness, the picture remains a classic in the canon of cinematic psychos.
The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)
Is this a horror movie? It's certainly a nightmare -- a beautifully filmed elegaic nightmare. Robert Mitchum is absolute genius in James Agee's adaptation of Davis Grubb's novel, directed by actor Charles Laughton (his only directing effort). An expressionist classic, the film works as gothic horror, children's nightmare, and fairy/religious tale all in one. As the mysterious, sadistic preacher Harry Powell, Mitchum is so powerful a presence, you almost forget to be attracted to him (almost -- but not quite). Riding into town as a wolf in sheep's clothing, Mitchum's Powell pursues a widow (a fabulously pathetic Shelley Winters), whose two children know where their dead father's money is hidden. After killing the mother (he slits her throat and dumps her body in the river -- a scene where you see her hair floating in the water is one of cinema's most haunting), Powell goes after the kids in scenes shot with a beautifully nightmarish and claustrophobic quality. The ultimate evil, Powell is a man whose famously tattooed knuckles reveal the warring factions within him ("Love" and "Hate"). Love comes from Lillian Gish who never fails to turn me into a puddle of tears when she receives that apple. Or when she bravely sings her duet with Mitchum. Notice Miss Gish sings "Leaning on Jesus," while Mitchum never mentions Jesus once. Clearly, his lord is found in lower places.
The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)
Here's some serious, serious cabin fever as directed by the master, Stanley Kubrick. Residing in an isolated Colorado hotel, the unsettling (and they are, right at first glance -- just remember that long car drive) Torrance family endures forces beyond daddy (Jack Nicholson, lest you forgot) getting a little mentally ill. Nicholson's caretaker/writer not only talks with the ghosts of hotel past, he also attempts to seduce one -- the beautiful naked woman in Room 237. When she shrivels into a bony old woman, even he's freaked out. And then there's poor Danny (Danny Lloyd), imbued with the ability to "shine"; he creates a friend out of his finger (named Tony) while spying some choice images, for example, two dead girls in the hallway and an elevator gushing tidal waves of blood. And we're pretty sure you know about that whole "Red Rum" business. From opening shot to closing, freezing finale, "The Shining" is stunningly directed and stupendously upsetting. The death of Scatman Crothers remains one of the most traumatic viewing experiences of my life.
Dead of Night (1945, Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer)
Some consider this British Ealing quintet of horror tales one of cinema's most chilling -- especially the final film, "Ventriloquist's Dummy" (directed by Alberto Cavalcanti) -- the scariest of the bunch. That terrible tale concerns ventriloquist Maxwell Frere (played by a remarkable Michael Redgrave) who believes his dummy, Hugo, is out to get him -- like really, distressingly, sneaking out of the box, out to get him. Since Maxwell's act is based on disparity between him and Hugo, the realization that Hugo is running the show more than Maxwell makes their banter extra disturbing. When Maxwell suspects Hugo's ambition is not only causing him to look at other dummy masters for partnering but purposely sabotaging his shows, his fears result in one truly terrifying hotel room confrontation. The picture's structure (flashbacks and even flashbacks within a flashback) is expertly handled with Hugo's horror equaling Redgrave's potently freaky nuttiness.
Nosferatu (1922, F. W. Murnau)
The ugly vampire. Not one of these lovely Twilight creatures. Ugly. And sad. And scary. And weirdly beautiful. F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu is German Expressionism at its best, with a wonderfully rat-like Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok, creeping around his digs in psycho sexual torture. The film is reknown for many innovative tecqnieus, but the biggest creep out is simply watching Schreck walk, reach for things, and sleep in, of course, a coffin. This film never ages with time. Schreck is truly the symbol of nightmare -- the guy who would send you running to an insane asylum if you woke up to him sucking your neck, or finger.
Carnival of Souls (1962, Herk Harvey)
This low-budget ($30,000) cult film may well be one of the freakiest pictures you've never seen. Pre-The Sixth Sense, the story finds Candace Hilligoss "surviving" a fatal car crash after it plunges into the river. She moves on to Salt Lake City and gets one of the creepiest jobs you can acquire in a movie like this: church organist. But life is not normal. She constantly sees "The Man," a corpse-like specter who seems to follow her every move. And she's oddly pulled by a deserted pavilion that, in the film's frightful climax, will prove exceedingly horrific. The picture is filled with wonderfully eerie touches, including a bus full of ghouls, our heroine's realization that people can neither see nor hear her, and the carnival-esque dance of the dead. Once you watch Carnival of Souls, you'll have a hard time shaking some of these images out of your head, or worse, falling asleep that night.
Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)
An obvious one, but you know what? It is one of the best. And it scared the hell out of my young mother back in the day. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was so shocking in its time (remember, people had rarely seen a toilet, much less a shower drain, in a movie before, much less gorgeous Janet Leigh being knifed by a transvestite) that if you ask your parents or grandparents, they can remember the exact time and place of viewing the masterpiece. And again, they especially remember Janet Leigh's infamous wash. Not only was it taboo to watch a major star being murdered before the first half of the film was over, but to view the stabbing, screaming and dying scored to the infamous musical shrieks of Bernard Hermann was a landmark in our cinematic lives. It still is.
Don't Deliver Us from Evil (1971, Joel Seria)
Never released in the United States and "banned" for blasphemy, the masterful movie presents a wonderfully deceiving package. The story of two teenage convent girls who "dedicate ourselves to Satan" could have been some dippy horror movie--a T&A fest with demons and multiple slayings and loads of sex (I know, you've probably lost interest...just stick with me). It could have been one of those '70s horror films that make you run for the shower directly upon watching because even your soul feels soiled. Which isn't a terrible thing. But that's not what Don't Deliver Us From Evil is going for. It's really about the obsessive nature of female friendship, of living in a boring world filled with hypocrisy, of becoming fueled by literature and the forbidden and all the stuff that's so intense when you're 15. Here it's gorgeous raven-haired Anne (Jeanne Goupi) and her best friend Lore (Catherine Wagener), two beautiful but curious (yes, curious) girls marking their time at Catholic School by sneaking into bed with each other and reading erotic literature under the sheets. They're especially fascinated by evil, which, isn't that strange considering their Catholic environment. But when they renounce Jesus Christ and all his works to become baby brides of Satan, they one-up the typical Catholic schoolgirl naughtiness. They kill animals, torture men and...I don't want to spoil the, uh, fun. I love movies that are able to crawl under your skin and almost make you feel guilty--complicit even--with the character's intentions. With loads of sacrilegious imagery and the director clearly giving the Church a big, fat middle finger, the general ambiance of the movie is unsettling and cheeky, but in an intoxicating, magical way. You really fall in love with these girls. And that, quite simply (and subversively), makes you feel evil. And you'll never, ever forget their recitation of Baudelaire's "Les Morts des Amants" (Death of the Lovers). If only all poetry readings were this insanely brilliant.
Other Special Guest Top 20(ish) lists: