I'm an unapologetic sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fan, and I've been interested in same for, well, most of my life. I got interested in film at an early age and obsessed over monster movies until I was about thirty five. And while I was watching a ton of scary movies, both old and new, there were a few that stuck with me long after the initial shock, after the long night's tossing and turning, trying to get the images out of my mind. These five films, or rather, these scenes in particular, became the benchmark for what I consider to be truly effective movie horror.
A word of caution: this is my list, not your list. Be careful what movies you pooh-pooh, or can't believe I didn't include. These are part of my definable criteria, and your own mileage will definitely vary.
And I really shouldn't have to say this, but Spoilers Abound. We're talking about movies all of you should have had ample time to see. Don't blame me if you read something you'd rather not have read.
5. American Werewolf in London: the attack on the moors
This movie gets major props from other creative people, but very little slack from die-hard fans. The reason: "It was funny. Horror isn't supposed to be funny."
Well, they are all just wrong about that.
The first twenty minutes of the movie establish very quickly how much you like Jack and David, played by Griffin Dunne and David Naughton. That's what makes the attack, when it happens, so suspenseful, so creepy, and after that tension breaking laugh, so horrifyingly violent. One of the best werewolf attacks ever filmed, because it was actually filmed.
4. The Ring: the creepy dead girl crawling out of the well
Oh, those wacky Japanese. I've said it before and I'll say it again: culturally, there's something very wrong with them.
The whole idea of a videotape that kills you if you watch it is ludicrous, but leave it for the Japanese to come up with a weird and strangely effective way for it to work.
Their idea of ghosts and M. Night Shyamalan's idea of ghosts are miles apart. Japanese ghosts can, and do, hurt you. And when the come up out of wells, backwards, walking in between the ticks of time because they are not of the living, that will make you want to butt-walk right out of your chair.
3. The Thing: the blood test scene
The first time I saw this, I nearly crapped my pants.
"I thought you'd feel that way, Gary. You were the only person who could've gotten to that blood. We'll do you last." SCHREEEEEEEE!
I didn't see it coming, and neither did you. That whole movie really holds up, and in a film known more for its grotesqueries, the Thing-Blood jumping away from the needle is one of the best jump-scares of all time.
2. The Shining: the creepy twins
In a movie chock full of disturbing imagery, those two weird-looking little girls that keep messing with Danny the super psychic do it for me. First off, twin girls are always creepy, okay' And when they dress alike, and speak at the same time, and are also ghosts, then I'm covering my eyes too, until they go away. Or until the elevator dumps blood into the hall. Whichever.
Is there anyone not adversely affected by watching The Shining? I have to concentrate on Nicholson and not think about the rest of it, or I can't sleep at night. That movie makes every house a haunted one.
1. The Exorcist: the final exorcism
Holy crap. What an intense, scary, gross, freaked-out finale. That sweet little girl, covered in sores, swearing like a sailor one minute, and then sounding like the priest's dying mother the next. The baleful look in her eyes as she regards the priests. This movie bothers me because one thing I really fear is a loss of personal control.
There hasn't yet been a movie about demonic possession that could topple The Exorcist for sheer awfulness.