Scary movies: Love ’em or hate ’em, they seem to be everywhere this time of year. To many, Halloween night wouldn’t be the same without nestling up to candy wrappers and watching that creepy, serial killer doll run rampant. We’ve asked John Bruns, director of the film studies minor and professor in the English department, to send us his top five scary movies. Find out which films made the cut (no pun intended).
Halloween (dir. John Carpenter, 1978). John Carpenter’s film is still the standard for scary. I haven’t met a horror film buff who doesn’t recognize it as one of the all-time masterpieces. What’s remarkable is the film’s stripped-down style: a man in a rubber mask, some carefully staged hand-held shots, and a simple but hypnotic, repeating piano riff. So many of today’s horror films are over-stylized and stuffed with computer-generated effects. Carpenter gets to the core of horror: something is out there and it’s after you. No need for blood and gore. It’s a true classic.
Cat People (dir. Jacques Tourneur, 1942). There’s something menacing about Irena (Simone Simon), a Serbian fashion designer who bears the legacy of the “cat people,” who date back to the 16th century. Quite beyond her control, Irena has the power to transform into a monstrous black cat, who prowls at night in search of her prey. Sometimes less is more, and Jacques Tourneur’s film proves it by delivering some of the most chilling scenes in the history of monster movies without truly revealing the monster.
The Thing (dir. John Carpenter, 1983). What can I say? Carpenter is the master, so I have to include this film as well as his first great horror film, Halloween. Based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John. W. Campbell, Jr., the film is truer to its source material than the 1951 adaptation, The Thing from Another World. Carpenter’s version gets to the heart of the story: paranoia. Scientists discover an alien life form frozen in the ice near their research station in the Antarctic. They soon realize that the alien is alive and has the ability to mimic any life form it comes into contact with. The research base becomes a house of panic and distrust, as no one knows who is human and who is The Thing. Sometimes less is more? Sure, but sometimes more is awesome! The Thing delivers one of the goriest, most fantastic monster galleries ever imagined—long before CGI. This is the real goo, folks.
The Changeling (dir. Peter Medak, 1980). This is a somewhat obscure Canadian film starring George C. Scott as John Russell, a widower who has moved into a large mansion in order to recover from his tragic loss. Oh, and the mansion is haunted. Now, there are a lot of great haunted house movies, including The Haunting (dir. Robert Wise, 1963) and The Uninvited (dir. Lewis Allen, 1944). But The Changeling just creeps me out, and not just visually. Its acoustic horrors still send shivers down my spine. And the backstory—why is the house haunted?—is very strong.
Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979). Some movie critics have a simple rule: if the alien is good, then it’s science fiction (E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Day the Earth Stood Still); if the alien is bad, then it’s horror. Alien is a horror film that just happens to look like a science fiction film. It is truly one of the most beautiful horror films ever filmed. Although directed by Ridley Scott, credit goes to H.R. Giger, the Swiss-born surrealist painter, for designing the alien and much of the film’s look. But a good horror film needs more than a cool-looking monster: it needs what Carpenter’s The Thing has, which is an outstanding ensemble of actors who play characters you care about. That way their nightmares are yours. Plus, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is kick-ass.
So what do you think? Do you agree with Professor Bruns’ list? Tomorrow, we’ll be posting Colleen Glenn’s list of top horror films. Stay tuned…