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The Honor Roll: Best Scary Movies (Part Two)

The Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team.  This month Jim and Chris make their top five picks for the best Halloween movies of all time!  A total of ten movies you should consider watching after all the candy has been given out and the cold chill of darkness has settled in.  Here is part two of the list with Jim’s picks!


Psycho

“The Essential Alfred Hitchcock”

What can you say about Psycho? This was the forerunner of all of the slasher/maniac-on the loose movies, both good and bad, that succeeded it. It’s story is, of course, old hat by now (how many headlining stars have been offed 40 minutes or less into the movie?—see Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill or Drew Barrymore in Scream), but the artistry of Alfred Hitchcock and his associates still remains. It’s there in the ghostly black and white images of Anthony Perkins watching Janet Leigh and her car sink into the swamp, and it’s there in the ragged harshness of Perkins mopping up Leigh’s blood beforehand. The loneliness of Leigh traveling on the highway (accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s famous score),  along with the famous house silhouetted against the sky set a mood that would sadly be lost amongst today’s shockers. As effective as it still is, can you imagine how it went down when it was released during the peachy- keen Eisenhower years?

Chris’ Comment:  Hitchcock was undeniably influential and I count Rear Window as one of my favorites.  Psycho no doubt shocked audiences when it was released to theaters, as it had no real cinematic equal.  A precursor to a new breed of horror that did not involve giant insects or alien invaders, it has to be considered an innovative and controversial movie exposing the dark nature of man.

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

“The seed is planted….terror grows.” 

 

 The 1956 version was certainly effective for it’s time as a well-made  low-budget shocker, but this Me Generation update expands upon the ideas of Jack Finneys’ novel. It’s one of the best black comedies ever made. Donald Sutherland is an unusual (and sometimes creepy) choice for a hero and Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy both turn in iconic performances—gotta love the eccentric Goldblum! And whatever happened to the lovely and appealing Brooke Adams?  Director Philipp Kaufmann serves up a moody succession of shadowed imagery, along with still top-notch (though not overused) special effects. And who can forget the wonderful sound effects provided by Star Wars’ Ben Burtt?  That ending—wow.

Chris’ Comment:  Donald Sutherland’s mouth agape and pointing stance still haunt my memories from childhood.  I never knew that Leonard Nimoy could perform any non-Vulcan role before seeing this movie in my teens.  I have not seen the original for a comparison, so for me this version was the genuine article.  

 

Dead of Night (1945) 

No Tagline

 

 

 

 

 

This scared me silly when I was a kid. This was one of the first horror film anthologies, beating similarly-styled British horror films from Hammer and Amicus by nearly 20 years. An excellent cast (hey, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Sally Ann Howes as a teenager!) and wonderful atmosphere set up by several directors. A great, surrealistic ending that’s not to be missed.

Chris’ Comment:  One of the two movies from Jim’s favorites that I had not previously seen, I looked forward to getting into a movie from a generation of films very under-represented from my own viewing archive.  What I found was a story that I could sincerely appreciate (think Groundhog Day meets Twilight Zone), but ended up being a very mixed bag experience.  Set up as a loosely connected group of short tales, the characters in the film share their spooky experiences before the ending that brings it all together.  A couple of the stories are truly creepy and effective including a race car driver’s near death experience and the final story about a ventriloquist who may or may not be in control of his dummy partner.  Other than that, I found the stories to be not so compelling.

 

An American Werewolf in London

“Beware the moon.”

 

 

 

The classic hipster comedy from John Landis. Funny and scary, a wonderful combination. A great soundtrack and Oscar-winning makeup effects by Rick Baker. “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”

Chris’ Comment:  One of my early favorites too, and only narrowly missed my own top five, American Werewolf contains one of the most visceral and scary werewolf transformations you are likely to see on film. And the relationship between the afflicted and his dead ghost of a friend is classic!

 

 

Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein

“More howls than you can shake a shiver at!”

 

 

 

 

 

The old-school funny and scary and still great fun. Too many great Lou Costello moments to mention. Bela Lugosi back as the Count for the second and final time! And Lenore Aubert as….SANDRA!!!  Fondly remembered as one I used to watch with my dad every time that it was on TV. And wait a minute—what’s the deal with the Count’s reflection in the mirror as he’s biting Sandra?! Didn’t they study their vampire lore?

Chris’ Comment:  The other movie from Jim’s top five I had not previously seen (at least from start to end) is truly a fun experience.  Harkening back to a more innocent time when comedic laughs did not have to be drawn from something grossly inappropriate or shocking behavior, Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein certainly will give a nice option to the feint of heart who can’t quite handle a true scare but want to relish a film in the spirit of the season.  The famous duo actually tackle Dracula and The Wolfman played by Bella Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr as well.  Have fun!

 

Honorable Mentions from both Jim & Chris include:

Slither-the most recent movie on the list, this gets kudos for keeping CGI effects to a minimum and relying on amazing, full-scale make-up effects. Boasting a great cast, it’s one of the funniest and least self-serious horror movies to come along in years.

 

 

The Raven (1963)—more scary-funny hijinks (though mostly funny). A low-budget treat with the great Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, plus Jack Nicholson as the young hero (man, would he change!). Script by the great Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man) and tongue-in-cheek direction by exploitation movie maestro Roger Corman.

 

When a Stranger Calls (1979)—“Have you checked the children?”  Forget the 2006 remake and go find a copy of the original.  And then try to steel your nerves to an unexpected phone call the next time you are all alone in the dark.

 

The Exorcist–William Peter Blatty, who fashioned himself more a writer of comedy, is best known for this terrifying novel and movie.  This one sent people streaming out of theaters in terror and shows us a true test of good vs evil in the battle for a little girl’s soul.

 

Thanks everyone for reading! And Happy Halloween!!!

 

-Chris & Jim

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