Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Five Films for Halloween

looking for a scary movie to watch on Halloween? Here are my suggestions. Many will disagree with this list and have a list of their own but that is okay. Everyone has their favorites. I like these because they are not just scary, they are incredibly well-made films.

Fascination with this film continues, as the upcoming “Hitchcock”, about the making of “Psycho”, attests.

Hitchcock’s films of the Fifties, “North by Northwest” or “The Man Who Knew Too Much” or “Rear Window”, even “Vertigo” were in color, featured name stars and were very slick. Psycho was completely different: it was in black and white, had only one real name star, Janet Leigh, and was truly ‘jump-out-of-your-seat’ frightening. The ‘shower scene’ of course was frightening but subsequent scenes were equally so. When the chair turns around with Norman’s ‘mother’ in it, I jumped.

The film works because everything about it works: the pacing, editing, mood and of course the performances: Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam and of course Anthony Perkins. Without Perkins’ Norman, “Psycho’ wouldn’t be “Psycho”.

“The Shining”
Jack Nicholson – “Here’s Johnny”- what else needs to be said? Well, maybe a little. Stanley Kubrick was a masterful filmmaker and he knew how to take Steven King’s novel and make it truly frightening. By eliminating the supernatural elements that King included in the novel, and focusing on Nicholson’s character’s insanity it becomes even scarier.

“The Exorcist”
William Friedkin did include the supernatural and this truly is a horror film, not just a scary one: it shocks, scares and horrifies. While the special effects make the film visibly frightening, it is the sexual undertone to the film that disturbs us and makes those visual effects so powerful; that the sexual suggestion is so potent and Reagan (Linda Blair) is a prepubescent girl. Is there a more upsetting scene than the Crucifix scene?

“Rosemary’s Baby”
There is not just sexual undertone in “Rosemary’s Baby”; it is blatant including the midnight rape of Rosemary (Mia Farrow) by a being that just might be Satan. Roman Polanski is a master at creating tension by giving us the feeling that there is always something abnormal beneath the guise of normality. What is unsettling is that we are constantly guessing: is Rosemary crazy or is there something going on? What is just around the corner, what is in the next room, when will the shoe drop?
I saw Polanski’s first film “Knife in the Water” recently. The elements that he would use over and over in his later films, including “Rosemary’s Baby” are all there: the appearance of ordinariness, but with a knowing suspicion that something is not right; that something is about to happen but you are not sure what.

When I saw the film in 1968 my little folk-music trio, “The Happy Folk” was in California in search of fame and fortune (that didn’t work out, maybe it was the dumb name of the group). One day we had gone out on the Santa Monica Pier and for laughs stopped in a fortune teller’s booth to have our fortunes told. As we were leaving the booth the woman asked if we had seen “Rosemary’s Baby” and we said no but that we planned to. To which she replied that it is an evil movie. I remember she kept saying it over and over, it is an evil movie. That was creepy particularly to our female singer whose name was also Rosemary.

This film created the summer blockbuster and still has some of the scariest scenes in movies. What makes the film work are the spaces between the fright scenes that are quite ordinary. That ordinariness lulls you so that when the shark attacks the boat, for instance, you are not prepared and have one of those jump-in-your-seat moments.

That’s it, five of my picks for a scary movie to watch on Halloween.

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