It’s the spooky season for those of a witchy persuasion, and the perfect time to settle down to a good scary movie, writes Joe Gill.
While I love to be terrified in the comfort of my front room with a bag of chips and a hot drink, some find it all too much. The key to enjoying horror is to remember that it is basically entertainment – yes, horrible things happen, but it’s – you know – not real. Amid the bumps and screams, a good chiller often has plenty to say about life and society.
Of course, there is a subgenre of horror that is so gruesome it can give you nightmares. For this reason, the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Saw are not on the list. Personally, good storytelling, atmosphere and genuine shocks all make for a great chiller. If you’re into torture, I suggest you see a shrink.
The Exorcist (1973)
I have to admit that when I first saw this cult story of satanic possession aged 20, I was terrified. Written by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the novel, it centres on Linda Blair’s 14-year-old Regan, whose family run out of ideas on how to deal with her bizarre and frightening behaviour, until a Catholic priest suspects she has been possessed by the Devil. The special effects were incredible for the time, and it inspired countless similar movies, but none had its remarkable power.
This truly creepy Japanese psychological horror combines traditional folk legends with modern anxiety around technology. A cursed video is doing the rounds, which, if watched, is followed by a phone call giving the viewer seven days to live. The ending is probably the scariest of any film I’ve seen. It broke all box office records for a horror film in Japan.
A young family living in a new housing estate in Middle America are visited in an unexpected way by forces of the supernatural. Ingeniously, the nightmare begins when their youngest daughter disappears through the television. Steven Spielberg produced this terrifically entertaining horror classic.
The Shining (1980)
Jack Nicholson’s line ‘Here’s Johnny!’ as he puts his demented face through an axe-splintered door is one of the many unforgettable moments in Stanley Kubrick’s icy and disturbing psychological horror. A winter with wife Shelley Duvall and psychic son Danny in a deserted hotel gradually unravels into madness. Truly chilling.
John Carpenter broke the mould of gore flicks in the mid-70s by almost single-handedly inventing the slasher movie. Set in suburbia on the night of Halloween, it follows the escape of a mental patient in a white Captain Kirk mask who hunts Jamie Lee Curtis and friends through those all-American streets of neat lawns and white picket fences. The pulse-like score, also by the director, still strikes fear after so many years.
A tongue-in-cheek wink at the slasher movies of the Halloween to Friday the 13th era, in which knowledge of the genre’s cliches become critical to the survival of the teenage victims of a masked killer. It’s a sharp,
funny parody that also delivers plenty of genuinely chilling moments.
The shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s proto-slasher is possibly the most famous in film history, but there is more to this suspense classic than the grisly end of its lead actress. At the time it was the most shocking thing audiences had ever seen. The director’s cool control of the audience’s fears has never been bettered. Forever will the name Norman Bates send a tingle of terror through us as we recall Janet Leigh’s fateful arrival at the Bates Motel.
The Omen (1976)
Children are not always cute – and the boy Damien is positively diabolical. Rather than a shocker, the film builds a sense of impending dread as the boy’s father, US ambassador Gregory Peck and his wife Lee Remick, begin to unravel a terrible Biblical prophecy that consumes the people around it. Tension is heightened with a terrific score from Jerry Goldsmith.
Fright Night (1985)
A favourite suburban vampire movie in which an adolescent B-movie addict becomes convinced his new neighbour is a bloodsucker. He enlists the help of a washed up actor – superbly played by Roddy McDowall – to help flush out the smoothly unpleasant fanged one next door. Excellent blend of comedy and horror.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Wes Craven gave the slasher flick an imaginative makeover and created the unforgettable teen boogieman of the Eighties, Freddy Krueger. He is a child molester who was burnt to death by parents, only to return to exact revenge in their children’s nightmares. A rollercoaster of terror.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
A wonderfully creepy nightmare set in a New York apartment block where young couple Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes move in, but their neighbours appear overly interested in Farrow’s pregnancy. Excellent performances and Roman Polanski’s mastery of mood build to a tremendous climax.