Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: What really frightens you?

I’ve touched on something like this before here (“A Bathful of Blood and a Bucket of Giblets or Modern Screen Horror”), but the topic of “what frightens you” (vice presidential candidates to one side) and “have you really ever been scared by a movie” came up in conversation last week and I decided to explore it a bit, and at the same time put out a call to readers to offer their own answers. In my explorations, I uncovered a few points of interest—and I also had a few sleeping memories awakened.

Since I knew—or thought I knew—the answers to these questions in my own case, I opted to try the questions on a few other people and see what they had to say on the topic.

Owing to his proximity, the first on my list was co-critic Justin Souther, who turns out to be something of a hard-sell in the horror department. He freely admits to having been terrified by the “dog” in Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters (1984) when he was a mere boy and a beardless youth. I took a look at it myself yesterday for the first time in years and was mostly amazed by how young everyone was, and thankful that they identified that reptilian creature as a dog. (Hardcore horror buffs may note that the whole thing bears a striking resemblance to the statue of the giant lizard that comes to life in Fritz Leiber’s 1943 novel Conjure Wife.) I can’t say it scared me, but then Justin admits it no longer has any impact on him in that department.

It turns out that apart from this little foray into the supernatural, Mr. Souther seems to have spent his formative years deliberately avoiding fright films (though I could swear he’s waxed nostalgic over a tape of the 1933 King Kong that some thoughtless relative recorded over). By the time he reached adulthood and started dipping into the genre, its ability to actually scare him had become minimal. “There are things that I find creepy—or recognize as being creepy—but I’m always aware that I’m watching a movie,” he confesses, and I understand where he’s coming from, though I’m not quite as tough a sell when it comes to being actually creeped out.

The most notable exception for him is his recent exposure to Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) with its scene of Mabuse’s (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) spirit entering Dr. Baum’s (Oscar Beregi, Sr.) body. “I think what works about that,” he says, “is the crudeness of the effects work. It’s so matter of fact that it’s actually unsettling.” A little poking around his psyche only unearthed one other title that he finds truly creep-inducing—Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976), especially the business with the tooth in the wall and that alarming scene where we see someone (possibly the previous tenant) unwrapping her bandages like a mummy unravelling through a bathroom window across the apartment building courtyard. I certainly won’t argue the point, though I’d ammend it to say that the scenes are both creepy and singularly unwholesome.

Casting my net a little—well, a lot—further, I decided to put the question to filmmaker Ken Russell and his wife, Lisi. I already knew that Ken had been terrified—to the point of running from the theater—in 1934 (he’d have been six or seven at the time) by the sight of the Loch Ness Monster in a British cheapie called Secret of the Loch. His later impression was that the monster—which appears from behind a flowerpot at the “bottom” of Loch Ness—was a live plucked chicken. Ghastly (and cruel) as that sounds, research reveals that the monster was actually played by an iguana, who didn’t require plucking. But let’s face it, iguanas were hardly common at the time—probably somewhat less so in Southampton, England. It had only been seven years since Tod Browning used one in The Show, where he depicted the creature as sporting deadly venom and capable of leaping great distances to latch onto a victim’s throat. It was a simpler time.

As an adult, the one thing that stands out in Russell’s mind is Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955), a film which certainly ranks high in creepiness and contains one scene of unalloyed classic horror. Personally, it’s never quite produced the frisson for me that I realize it ought to do. This, I think, is simply because I saw it too late. I saw after I’d seen William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (1959) and his The Tingler (1959), both of which…appropriate effects from it. I’d also seen Robert Aldrich’s Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), which uses a variant on the big scene from Diabolique, and I’d seen Curtis Harrington’s hommage to it (he even used its star, Simone Signoret) from 1967, Games. By the time I caught up with the original, it was easy to guess what the outcome would be. As a frightening work in its own right, it’s certainly in the bee’s knees class.

Lisi Russell admits that as a child “nothing scared me as much as King Kong, I’d say, and that cheesy Roman number, The Colossus of Rhodes. I was afraid of giants, especially giant statues whose giant legs straddled the harbor. Go figure.” It seems to me that I recall a previous conversation where Lisi and I discovered we shared a childhood terror of William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders from Mars (1953), which probably has more to do with the film’s overall tone and its forced-perspective sets that kept everything in a child’s point of view than its endless footage of two (count ‘em) dubious Martians with very visible zippers up their backs. At least I hope so.

Now, as an adult, Lisi has what I can only call a strange choice, Donald Cammell’s Demon Seed (1977). This is a very odd movie—based on a Dean Koontz novel—about a computer that rapes (the depiction is very abstract) Jule Christie and forces her to bear its child. It’s kind of like a high-tech Rosemary’s Baby. Lisi says, “I was terrified for some reason by Demon Seed. I stayed awake all night.  Giving birth to that golden baby computer with the deep voice did a number on my mind.  I wasn’t expecting it. I can’t think of anything that scared me as much.  If I saw it again, I’d probably just laugh.” I haven’t seen it in years, but I tend to agree with her suspicions on the results of a renewed acquaintance. Still, there’s probably nothing—not even comedy—that’s as personal as what frightens you.

Closer to home, I decided to ask Marc McCloud of Orbit DVD what scared him. I figured (rightly as it turned out) that Marc was apt to have some unusual choices. “Getting scared.That’s a complex question,” he admits. “Even though my parents let me stay up and watch the late night horror hosts sometimes, those old Universal movies never really did the trick, as much as I loved them.  I guess my top 3 as a kid were: 1.Fantasia (“Night on Bald Mountain”),  2. Pinocchio, 3. The Wizard of Oz”.

I suspect I’d have been scared by the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence from Fantasia (1940) if I’d seen it before I was in my 20s. I’m less certain about Pinocchio (1940), though I’ll freely admit that I always found the part-boy-part-donkey business creepy, if not frightening. It’s interesting, though, that Marc cites two movies from Mr. Family Entertainment Disney. Personally, I’d add Sleeping Beauty (1959), which, as I’ve confessed before, I viewed from beneath a theater seat in Kannapolis, NC when it first came out. As for Oz—well, who among us hasn’t been disturbed by winged monkeys and green-faced Margaret Hamilton?

Marc brings up a very interesting—and I think very telling point—in his observation that “trailers growing up were much more effective, especially for a kid, and provided bad dreams for months to come. The scariest of the bunch were Fantastic Planet, It’s Alive and Magic (I still will not watch this film due to the trailer).” I can’t say those did it for me, but I was as grown up as I was likely to get by the time they appeared. Still, I won’t watch Magic (1978) either—the movie where Richard Attenborough earned the sobriquet “Attenboring” from me. The prospect of trying to stay awake through it a second time scares me.

At the same time, I know my childhood is littered with trailers that were far more terrifying than the films (seen much later) ever managed to be. I’ve mentioned Terence Fisher’s Curse of the Werewolf (1961), but Marc’s comment triggered memories of nights spent in dread of sleeping alone thanks to the trailers for The Blob (1958), The Head (1959) and 13 Ghosts (1960). Come to think of it, I never have seen The Head, which may be just as well.

Marc’s adult choices are interesting. “I prefer films that disturb me to the point of being scared like Session 9, Begotten (only film in 30 years to give me nightmares), Close Your Eyes and this year the excellent Ils (Them).” What interests me—apart from my own reaction to Session 9 as a movie that disturbed my by sheer tedium—is that I’ve never seen three of these titles. Now I feel like I need to. (Just what I need—more things to watch.)

At the same time, we’re in complete agreement on this—“As an adult, the only film that I’ve ever been scared at the theater was The Exorcist III.  That one scene is still burned into my brain.” Anyone who has ever seen William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III (1990)—especially, if they saw it in a theater—will not need to ask what that “one scene” is. I won’t attempt to describe it, since it would harm its impact if you’ve yet to see it. I will say this much—it’s the most brilliant use of false scares to lure the viewer into the belief that nothing is going to happen, followed by a something happening that invariably has an entire audience levitating over their seats. There’s a lot more to the film than that—including a chilling performance by Brad Dourif—but that scene is one for the history books where fright is concerned.

Certain things occurred to me while talking about this subject and reflecting on it. I had, for example, completely forgotten about my youthful horror over Invaders from Mars until the memory of it was pricked. And I do wonder how much impact living in Florida as a kid added to the film with its scenes of hapless victims being sucked into the sand. That in itself brings forth the question of how situational our fears of movies might be—that and how much we work ourselves (especially as children) into a state of fear. I know, for example, that there was an occasion when I managed to be absolutely terrified late one night after watching The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) that if I opened the curtains of my grandmother’s living room, Lon Chaney, Jr. in all his bandaged glory would be staring (through his one eye) right back at me. I was maybe 10, but it wasn’t even the first time I’d seen the damned movie. I’ve no clue what made it different that night. (And, no, I didn’t open the curtains.)

We’re definitely an easier target for being scared by movies when we’re younger. (Does that make us a little masochistic for subjecting ourselves to it?) Far and away the biggest fright the movies ever gave me as a child was the Drop of Water sequence in Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1964). The rest of the movie—apart from Boris Karloff’s hammy introductions—didn’t do much for me, though I wonder if that may, in part, be because American International Pictures recut it for the U.S. release, putting “A Drop of Water” at the beginning of the film rather than the end where it was in the original Italian version. I guess they wanted the film to build up to the Karloff vampire story, but the problem is that nothing could live up to the scenes in The Drop of Water where the dead woman (who now appears to me to be wholly animatronic and I suspect reminded me of the witch outside the spook house at the Myrtle Beach Pavillion in those years) comes back to life to reclaim her property. It still packs a high creep-out value today.

Seeing Karloff introduce the episodes in Black Sabbath prompted another memory—Karloff’s TV series Thriller (1960-62) and John Newland’s episode Pigeons from Hell (1961). I give this the place of honor as the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. An adaptation of the Robert E. Howard short story of the same name, it deals with two brothers (Brandon De Wilde, David Whorf), whose car gets stuck in the swamp country of the American south and who find both the unholy pigeons of the title and far worse in a crumbling plantation house. I can’t recall the circumstances that led to me being allowed at the age of six to stay up to see this, but I know that I got as far as the image of David Whorf with blood streaming down his face, mindlessly lurching toward Brandon De Wilde with a hatchet before I high-tailed it to bed. It would be 13 years before I saw the rest of the film.

When I finally got the chance to face up to this youthful nightmare, I was 20, living on my own and, in my own mind, quite fearless. I was quite prepared to be utterly baffled by what had so terrfied me and settled in—in an appropriately darkened room—to watch Pigeons from Hell on a 13 inch TV set. OK, I conceded, the set-up was pretty creepy, and even Karloff’s campy intro (“And our young friend was alarmed by a flock of pigeons! Harmless, you say? Well, you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm—for those were no ordinary pigeons, they were the pigeons from hell!”) wasn’t without its shudder factor. Yeah, and the crumbling house was definitely unsettling and the sense of dread and darkness hanging over the whole thing was almost tangible. Before I knew it, I found I was nearly as terrified—or more properly, utterly creeped out—by the film as I had been years earlier.

It would be another 15 years before I caught up with Pigeons from Hell again (this was pre-VCR era), and I was more than a little surprised to find when I did that it still scared the hell out of me. By that point I was able to record the show, so I’ve had it ever since (though some Thriller episodes were released on VHS and laser, Pigeons was not among them). I can look at it now and understand why and how it works—it’s all about the atmosphere and what you don’t see (there’s really only one close-up of the horror in the house)—but know that has never managed to entirely dispell the fear it generated in me 47 years ago.

While nothing quite tops Pigeons from Hell on the list of what scares me, I’ll certainly own up to finding F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) a singularly chilling work—and the only film in living memory to induce a nightmare in my adult life. And there are pieces of a lot of movies that are not without their effect in this realm. There are, for instance, moments in T. Hayes Hunter’s The Ghoul (1933) that still strike me as extremely disturbing—perhaps this is a case of not getting to see an old horror picture until late in the day. I’d never been actually scared by the classic horrors on TV when I was a kid, but when I finally saw James Whale’s long-lost The Old Dark House (1932), it was on the big screen and damned if it didn’t make me jump more than once. The Ghoul may be a similar case. Size and the atmosphere of a dark theater do matter.

There are other notables that I should mention in passing at least—Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (1987) and Ken Russell’s Gothic (1987) both have that atmosphere of dread, for example. The scene in Russell’s Lisztomania (1975) where Wagner (Paul Nicholas) vampirizes Liszt (Roger Daltrey) has always given me a little chill—I think because it manages to be both disturbing and weirdly erotic. (I suspect the erotic aspect is what makes it disturbing.) Other movies have small moments in them that produce a shudder or two. They needn’t even be especially good movies. Radley Metzger’s version of The Cat and the Canary (1979) isn’t more than entertaining, but there’s a scene where we see surgical instruments laid out by “the Cat” for purposes of torture that bothers me somehow. There are similar moments in William Malone’s stylish, but silly FeardotCom (2002).

Who can say what will strike a chord of fear or something like it in a viewer? The movies have been working at it for years—with varying degrees of success—and there’s no sign that they’ll be stopping any time soon. In any case, there you have some of the things that have scared a few of us over the years. Anyone want to add some of their own personal horrors to the list?

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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62 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: What really frightens you?

  1. The Masked Superstar

    The Dentist scene from Marathon Man is the most horrible thing ever.

  2. I’ll take a different psychological take on this, films that fill me with terror are exploitation films of horrible events that I could imagine happening. “On The Beach” gave me nightmares for months!

    For sheer fright value, the little creature popping out of the tree in “The Dark Crystal” was well timed. Make them into a double feature!

  3. Blair Witch Project scared the bejeebus out of me when I saw it in the theater and then returned home to my secluded cabin in Jackson County. It took me two days to settle down.

  4. brebro

    Depends on whether you are talking about the shock moments that make you jump (like the head floating out of that sunken boat that Hooper is examining underwater in Jaws or the first abrupt appearance and disappearance of Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre) or the general atmospheric images and overall plot that just leave you with a creepy feeling (which, again, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre left me with, because I felt like I was actually watching a documentary, not a slick hollywood production). Same thing with the original Nosferatu, those creepy images look all the more horrifying by virtue of their being so creepy old (like that faux archival looking Cthulhu silent movie was trying to achieve). I think it’s why stuff like the Blair Witch Project also hit such a nerve with people since it was supposed to seem real and not like a movie setup we are all used to by now (if someone is sitting off-center in the frame, next to a window or mirror, you just know that something is soon going to appear there with accompanying music stings to highlight the sudden fright moment).

    I agree about your age being a determining factor too. That corpse that Shelley WInters kept upstairs in “Who Slew Autie Roo?” probably caused me irreparable harm going into grade school in the early 70s and in later years movies like The Shining and the Amityville Horror kept me feeling uneasy long after I had gone home. Not many in recent years have had that effect, but the both US and Japanese versions of the Ring did a pretty good job.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Interesting responses — nearly all of which attest to the concept that fright is very personal and impacted by age and situation. Rob’s comment about Jaws as a youthful scare, for example, indicates a later childhood than mine, which may have something to do with the fact that Jaws had around zero impact on me. (That may also have something to do with my apparent inability to relate to that particular type of horror. Somehow I can imagine all manner on dry-land fantastication happening to me, but water-based horrors are somehow remote. Maybe it’s just the knowledge of the extremely unlikely proposition of meeting up with a shark in my bedroom — more so even than the walking dead.)

    Gordon’s Blair Witch scare seems at least partly predicated on where he was living, which is situational. Then again, here’s a case where a movie didn’t work for me in part because I so disliked the characters that their demises seemed not such a bad thing.

    The distinction between the mere shock effect jump is a significant one, though it should be noted, I think, that even the most atmospheric horror films have their shock effect moments. The trick is that such an effect is nothing more than momentary unless the atmosphere has been built up. It could be argued that the scene in Exorcist III is nothing but a jump scare, but it’s so brilliantly constructed and done in such an unusual manner — with an equally unusual payoff — that it transcends such that call. There are certainly shock moments in The Shining and that’s a film that’s heavy on the atmosphere. As a result, its shocks linger in the mind.

    Interestingly, I should note that while the American version of The Ring is, I think, something of a small masterpiece, the Japanese version leaves me pretty cold. (A rare case of a remake beating the original.) I’d also throw in the photo album of dead people from The Others as a moment of extreme creepiness.

  6. In Exorcist III, Dourif is the setup. The interview sequences between him and George C Scott are unsettling, and the one big scare and the others after that are effective thanks to him.

    Those us gorehounds weren’t fooled by The Blair Witch Project. We knew that it was a ripoff of Cannibal Holocaust, which is disturbing, but not particularly scary. A funny story about the film though. When I worked for a bigger but inferior video store chain, an elderly man walking into our store, looked at the Blair Witch display and asked me if they ever found those kids. I almost laughed out loud, but once I realized that he was serious I had to spend about 30 minutes convincing him that it was fake.

    One film that I complete forgot about is REPULSION. I saw in college and that last scene, following 90 minutes of sheer uneasiness, is by far the creepiest image I’ve ever seen on film.

  7. Chip Kaufmann

    So many titles, so little space but here are a few titles that left lasting impessions.

    TOP SCARES AS A CHILD…

    1) The flesh melting off the doctor in X THE UNKNOWN (1956).
    2) The giant scorpion pulling the guy off the telephone pole and stinging him to death in THE BLACK SCORPION (1957).
    3) Nailing the Mask Of Satan to Barbara Steele’s face in BLACK SUNDAY (1960). HONORABLE MENTION: Bava’s DROP OF WATER from BLACK SABBATH which you’ve already referenced.
    4) Several episodes of THRILLER including PIGEONS FROM HELL, The zombies in THE INCREDIBLE DOKTOR MARKESAN, Henry Daniell staring into the mirror in THE CHEATERS, and the burning scarecrow head in THE HOLLOW WATCHER.
    5) Two TWILIGHT ZONE episodes: William Shatner -vs- the gremlin as well as the scarab sucking the life out of the body in THE QUEEN OF THE NILE episode.

    CREEP FACTOR AS AN ADULT…(no particular order).

    1) The seance in THE CHANGELING and the corpses in the House Of Lords in THE RULING CLASS (Both directed by Peter Medak).
    2) The aforementioned EXORCIST 3 (the original did nothing for me).
    3) The snapshot meat cleaver murder in Laurence Harvey’s WELCOME TO ARROW BEACH.
    4) The live cremation of Jim Hutton in PSYCHIC KILLER.
    5) The living mannequins in TOURIST TRAP (aided by a very creepy score from Pino Donaggio).

    That’ll do for a start. Almost all of the above titles are from the 1970s. I guess I was more impressionable then.

  8. Ken Hanke

    In Exorcist III, Dourif is the setup. The interview sequences between him and George C Scott are unsettling, and the one big scare and the others after that are effective thanks to him.

    In part, yes, I’d agree with that, but the big scare we’re talking about is also so brilliantly constructed that it’s a marvel. But then, really, the whole film is pretty damn strong.

    Those us gorehounds weren’t fooled by The Blair Witch Project. We knew that it was a ripoff of Cannibal Holocaust, which is disturbing, but not particularly scary.

    Well, there’s that, too, but I just never “got” the whole thing. For me it was mostly some really annoying kids swearing at each other for what seemed like an eternity, some largely incomprehensible action, the incredible snot-cam “I’m so sorry” scene and then the only truly creepy thing in the film in that last scene.

    One film that I complete forgot about is REPULSION. I saw in college and that last scene, following 90 minutes of sheer uneasiness, is by far the creepiest image I’ve ever seen on film.

    Repulsion is good, but, for me, it’s not in the same league as The Tenant, which rather seems like an extension of it — or an elaboration on the theme. That may be because I saw The Tenant first and only caught up with Repulsion long afterwards when I bought a 16mm copy. I should perhaps try it again. Is Repulsion out on DVD? (Last I knew Cul-de-sac still wasn’t.)

  9. HarryLong

    Although the rest of the film no longer works as well for me as it did when I was 25, the scene in the ancient graveyard in THE OMEN still creeps me out.
    In general scenes in graveyards and anything involving living corpses can still push my buttons. The opening scene if FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN I still find very scary. The Lon Chaney mummy films utterly terrified me as a kid (I usually looked down at my lap whenever Kharis came into the action, telling whoever I was with to let me know when he was gone — why the hell did I keep going to see these films, anyway?). The first NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD completely un-nerved me when I first saw it, not long after it was released, and portions of it still have some power. As with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, mentioned above, it has the feeling of being a documentary rather than a fiction film (hey, have YOU ever seen any of these people in another movie?).
    And speaking of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, that scene where Leatherface slides shut the steel-clad door with ghastly finality is one of the great moments of unseen horror.

  10. Ken Hanke

    The Lon Chaney mummy films utterly terrified me as a kid (I usually looked down at my lap whenever Kharis came into the action

    I really can’t believe you don’t know better than to throw out a line like that in front of me…

    And speaking of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, that scene where Leatherface slides shut the steel-clad door with ghastly finality is one of the great moments of unseen horror.

    Now, there we are in complete accord.

    I’ve been thinking about that graveyard opening in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and, you know, I’ve got to conclude, after much deliberation, that I really don’t like it. I know it’s all moody, but it’s gotten to a point with me where it gives me a case of “oh, for God’s sake get on with the movie.” Of course, then they do get on with the movie and that’s not a notable improvement.

  11. Zombies Ate My Neighbors

    I never was able to watch the original classic films I hear so much about, but today’s so-called horror films are nothing more than gore, vulgarity, and even sex. There is nothing in the least bit scary in each film (though I still have a disturbing love for watching characters get tortured gruesomely like in the Saw and Hostel films).

    Movies that reached out to my nightmares as a child was the end scene of “Sleepaway Camp,” Maleficent in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” and if you can help me find and name the movie involving a group of teens on a raft getting attacked by something underwater, I would very much like to see the whole film.

  12. tatuaje

    Children of the Corn scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid…”He wants you too Malachi!”

    And the clown from Poltergeist? Holy F*&k;!

    What else? The ShiningSeven

    Well, there’s that, too, but I just never “got” the whole thing.

    In recent years, The Blair Witch wins hands down…It’s hard to scare me with a movie as an adult, but that one did…Just thought it was a great build up of tension, and therefore unique in the genre where the norm is calmcalmcalmcalmSCAREcalmcalmcalmSCAREcalmSCARE…etc.
    Not to mention how they had people believing it was real….

    I also remember being scared by Sleepaway Camp, but I haven’t seen that since I was like 8 or something….I remember the twisted ending, though…Heavy movie for a kid now that I think about it….

  13. JOHN-C

    You must give It up for Blair Witch even though It’s not classic horror

    That Sh*t scarred the yipers out of me

  14. Dionysis

    Some notable scenes for me include Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY, especially the scene where Barbara Steele’s coffin is opened revealing her punctured (from the Iron Maiden) face (as a kid seeing this, it scared the devil out of me). Another creepy film was FREAKS, especially the scene where the Human Torso is crawling through the mud with a knife in his teeth, and finally the final ten minutes or so of the BBC production THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Really creepy and starting ending.
    I was also quite disturbed after seeing Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS. I was afraid of birds for weeks afterward.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Not to mention how they had people believing it was real….

    But that has nothing to do with filmmaking and everything to do with clever internet use and the basic credulity of people. I don’t know, it may just be me, but Blair Witch is on my short list of worst movies ever.

    This is the second time recently that someone has mentioned Sleepaway Camp and I’m not even sure if I’ve seen it.

  16. tatuaje

    But that has nothing to do with filmmaking and everything to do with clever internet use and the basic credulity of people.

    I disagree….the pretty brilliant marketing plan simply reinforced the way the movie was made…The whole concept of the movie was to have documentary filmmakers disappear with only their footage left behind to tell the story and getting people to believe it’s real makes it scarier. They did that by employing the handheld shakycam, directorial strategies (During filming, the actors were given clues as to their next location through messages given in milk crates found with Global Positioning Satellite systems. They were given individual instructions that they would use to help improvise the action of the day. The directors rationed the food of the cast, causing Donahue to suffer eczema outbreaks as filming progressed), with the story, and with the marketing plan.

    Is it too similar to Cannibal Holocaust? Don’t know, never heard of it till now. And yet Blair Witch has the highest profit to cost ratio ever which tells me that a lot of people saw it and liked it (i.e. were scared).

    Blair Witch is on my short list of worst movies ever.

    Wow! And that’s saying something. I’ve seen you eviscerate several movies this summer alone that in my opinion can’t hold a candle to Blair Witch

    This is the second time recently that someone has mentioned Sleepaway Camp and I’m not even sure if I’ve seen it.

    I need to watch it again…Definitely not well known but the ending still sticks in my noggin’ after 25 odd years so they did something right….

    And really, that friggin’ clown from Poltergeist! Anyone else?

  17. bluegrassbrad

    When I was younger I watched any horror flick I could get me hands on and loved them. I was always a fan of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Being familiar with the history actual person it was loosely based on, Ed Geine from Wisconsin, helped to make it more scary. Blair Witch Project scared the hell out of me. The reason it did so; I’m an avid backpacker. The thought of being way out in the wilderness and being not only stalked, but toyed with, by some unseen being that wants to do me harm. That is what scared me the most about it. Just thinking about being in the kids place…whew! Then of course that final breepy as hell scene in the old house. I had nightmares for a week.

  18. Ken Hanke

    I disagree….the pretty brilliant marketing plan simply reinforced the way the movie was made…The whole concept of the movie was to have documentary filmmakers disappear with only their footage left behind to tell the story and getting people to believe it’s real makes it scarier.

    See, to me, that’s all a stunt. It’s not filmmaking and it’s not the film itself being scary.

    They did that by employing the handheld shakycam

    Something else to hold against it.

    And yet Blair Witch has the highest profit to cost ratio ever which tells me that a lot of people saw it and liked it (i.e. were scared).

    Well, it tells you a lot of people saw it. It really doesn’t confirm that they liked it or were scared by it. To me, it’s a flavor-of-the-month affair and all it did was annoy me. Yes, it has had its influence — the shaky-cam — but that doesn’t mean it was a positive influence.

    Wow! And that’s saying something. I’ve seen you eviscerate several movies this summer alone that in my opinion can’t hold a candle to Blair Witch

    Most of those, however, will go in one eye and out the other. Much of it I will forget I even saw before too long. (If it weren’t for the fact that Justin marked on a calendar that I will have forgotten I’d seen The Rocker by Oct. 20, I probably would have.) In that respect, Blair Witch is something of a success simply because I remember it, though what I mostly remember was a sense of “That’s it? That’s what everbody is so excited about?”

    It’s not really worth arguing about, though. As I said early on, what scares you is very subjective. Look at Marc’s inclusion of Session 9. That’s a movie that struck me as the work of some folks who had access to a really cool location and decided to make a movie around it, but the movie they made didn’t work for me in the least.

    I need to watch it again…Definitely not well known but the ending still sticks in my noggin’ after 25 odd years so they did something right….

    I may well have seen Sleepaway Camp, but so many of those slasher movies have come and gone that all but a handful have become a blur in my mind.

    And really, that friggin’ clown from Poltergeist! Anyone else?

    Someone else is gonna have to weigh in on that. I was definitely too old when that came out for it to have all that much impact on me. I spent the entire movie in a different kind of horror over Tobe Hooper being Spielbergized.

    Going back a way to George the Bastard’s On the Beach remark, that’s an interesting take on what horror is. I don’t recall seeing On the Beach when it was new, but there’s a good chance I went with my parents to it. My memory of it is from much later by which time I was distanced from it. Had I seen it during my early duck-and-cover/fall-out shelter school years, I have no doubt I’d have either been scared, or at least monumentally depressed by it.

  19. Ken Hanke

    The seance in THE CHANGELING and the corpses in the House Of Lords in THE RULING CLASS (Both directed by Peter Medak.

    It seems to me there was something creepy in Medak’s TV film The Babysitter, too. Not, however, his Cry for the Strangers — unless the prospect of Brian Keith in full Indian warpaint frightens you, and well it might.

  20. Ken Hanke

    I never was able to watch the original classic films I hear so much about

    You mean you couldn’t sit through them or you’ve never had the chance to see them?

    if you can help me find and name the movie involving a group of teens on a raft getting attacked by something underwater, I would very much like to see the whole film.

    God, that sounds familiar (unless I’m thinking of the Stephen Kind story, “The Raft”), but it’s just out of reach of my brain. Harry? Chip?

  21. JJ Funky

    So many great horror movies, it’s impossible.
    More recent ones would be High Tension, Wind Chill, The Grudge, The Ring, Dawn of the Dead(remake), Dog Soldiers, Saw, Cloverfield and Zodiac.

    Classic horror: American Werewolf in London,
    The Shining, Serpent and the Rainbow, The Believers, Poltergeist, Angel Heart, etc.

  22. Ken Hanke

    Another creepy film was FREAKS, especially the scene where the Human Torso is crawling through the mud with a knife in his teeth

    It’s an amazingly unsettling image, especially for one that falls apart the minute you think, “What exactly does he plan on doing with that knife once he gets to the victim?”

  23. brebro

    I believe they put a film version of “The Raft” into the anthology of stories in Creepshow 2. (Which reminds me that the thing in the crate in Creepshow 1 also scared the crap outta me at the time.)

  24. Kevin F.

    I think that it is interesting to make that distinction between horrific things contained in non-horror (or at least predominately non-horror) films and things within films that could undeniably be called horror. For example, THE RULING CLASS and the above-mentioned skeletons in the House of Lords, and especially the hallucinated sequence of Jack as Jack the Ripper. I think that these scenes “work” on me precisely because of the radical tonal shifts contained within the film. If they were part of something that was just unrelentingly grim and gritty (SAW), they would hardly register.

    What I find is that I am increasingly disturbed or unsettled by things I see in films, and am far less scared or terrified. Of course, I have my memories of things from childhood that just about made me lose it (POLTERGEIST, which I basically laugh at today), but now it is more about being shocked by injustices and audacious statements than about being afraid.

    That said, I still find the slow, puzzling climax of DON’T LOOK NOW to be nearly perfect and extremely scary.

    SLEEPAWAY CAMP is definitely worth seeing, though I find its ending more reactionary than radical. Unless you are a real fan of the situation, avoid the sequels.

  25. Louis

    Not a connoisseur of horror–and by no means an afficianado of it—-I can’t believe no one has mentioned one that stands out in my mind:
    A severed head with the ‘nookie’ munchies trying to get ‘jiggy’?

    RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

    Probably too tongue-in-cheek in tone for those who saw it beyond a certain age. For me, dark-humored? Yes. Scary? Yes. It’s fun and fear(rarely done–and even rarer that it’s done well–in horror, especially in contemporray movies) and deserving of its B movie cult horror status 23 years later.

    Some have speculated that the bodiless cranium is none other than John Kerry. Hmmm?

    http://74.125.45.104/search?q=cache:-oHqv3vY9lEJ:www.geekwithlaptop.com/was-john-kerry-the-severed-head-in-reanimator/+re-animator+and+head&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=7&gl=us

  26. HarryLong

    >>I really can’t believe you don’t know better than to throw out a line like that in front of me… < <' And you didn't jump on it. See, I had faith in your increasing maturity & I was justified. >>Some notable scenes for me include Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY, especially the scene where Barbara Steele’s coffin is opened revealing her punctured (from the Iron Maiden) face (as a kid seeing this, it scared the devil out of me)< < Uh, you need to watch the film to refresh the details. Babs gets a spiked mask on her face in BLACK SUNDAY and locked into an Iron Maiden at the end of PIT AND THE PENDULUM... >>The seance in THE CHANGELING…< < The seance didn't affect me that much, but the ball bouncing down the stairs -- YIPE! The corpses in the House of Lords in RULING CLASS always struck me as richly (if blackly) comic, not horrifying. Now the transition into Jack the Ripper ... >>if you can help me find and name the movie involving a group of teens on a raft getting attacked by something underwater, I would very much like to see the whole film.

    God, that sounds familiar (unless I’m thinking of the Stephen Kind story, “The Raft”), but it’s just out of reach of my brain. Harry? Chip? << The only thing coming to mine is the end of SHOCK WAVES (a film that has more than its share of creepy and/or unsettling moments), but this doesn't quite sound like it.

  27. Ken Hanke

    I think that it is interesting to make that distinction between horrific things contained in non-horror (or at least predominately non-horror) films and things within films that could undeniably be called horror.

    But — and I think this is a key element, too — the examples cited, The Ruling Class and Lisztomania, are films that do not subscribe to traditional notions of genre boundaries. If you want to slap a genre on The Ruling Class, you come up with something like “Black Comedy Horror Musical Fantasy Socio-Political Critique.” And that overlooks the fact that several aspects of the film are wildly romantic, and other parts are quite religious in a positive sense. With Liszt you’ve got a “Musical Comedy Fantasy Historical Allegorical Horror Sci-Fi Biopic.” In other words, I don’t think it’s just the tonal shifts, it’s the fact that you never know what the next tonal shift might be.

  28. Ken Hanke

    Probably too tongue-in-cheek in tone for those who saw it beyond a certain age. For me, dark-humored? Yes. Scary? Yes

    Actually, this was brought up in a different context a while back. I can’t say that I’ve ever been even slightly frightened by the scene — shocked that anybody would dare to do the scene, but not scared.

  29. Ken Hanke

    The corpses in the House of Lords in RULING CLASS always struck me as richly (if blackly) comic, not horrifying.

    Oh, I think it’s utterly horrifying, but not so much in its grotesqueries as in their juxtaposition to what is being said — culminating in O’Toole’s absolutely bone-chilling line, “This is where I belong,” followed by the “Onward Christian Soldiers” business. Maybe it’s a different kind of horror, but I think it very horrific indeed (and never more so than at this point in our own political history).

  30. Tonberry

    I remember that for the most part, the movies that scared me as a child, no matter how scary, I always did make it through to the end. But there is one, one that devestated me, had me shrieking in tears to turn off halfway through it, and that was Disney’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

    I’m sure it’s tame if I were to view it now, probably laugh at myself for being so scared, yet still when I think of that movie, I can feel a part of my brain screaming, “NO! YOU DON’T WANT TO GO BACK THERE!” That’s a heck of an impression. I never have dared to watch it again. And this was about, oh, 12 years ago. I’ve never finished the movie that scared me the most as a child. I remember Jonathan Pryce’s Mr. Dark haunting my nightmares (sorta similar to the dream sequence of the Tall Man in Phantasm) and, like I’ve said it’s been 12 years, I believe there was a dead gypsy in that movie hovering around in an eerie green light. Some nights, I would think she was watching me from my doorway, ready to kill me the minute I gave into sleep.

    Another one I didn’t make it all the way through, though unlike Something Wicked, I did finish when I was older, was The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the original 1956 version. I simply refused to watch it by the time they started showing people in the pods. It freaked me out, especially the ‘don’t go to sleep or you’ll become one of them’ aspect. Also I feel like I should add the ‘face ripping’ scene in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” Another moment that gave me nightmares.

    But now that I’m older, I can’t really think of a movie that’s recent that has ‘frightened’ me. It’s still more or less the older films. I watched (finally) 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time two days ago. (Yeah I’m lame, but I’m sure everyone has a list of famous films that everyones seen but they have not) Now that film creeped me out. The hysterical, opera like voices that underscores the scenes with the monolith especially.

    Nothing though has ever topped that awful feeling of dread like “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. I might just have to face my fears one day, be a man, and watch the whole thing through.

  31. Justin Souther

    though I could swear he’s waxed nostalgic over a tape of the 1933 King Kong that some thoughtless relative recorded over

    Indeed, this is true, and the fault of my sister. Though I once threw up on her Michael Jackson notebook in the days of my beardless youth, so we’re probably even.

    I’ll third the scene where Leatherface slams the metal door in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One of many things the remakes messed up is the fact that in the new versions, Leatherface is musclebound. While that might be intimidating, it isn’t in the least frightening, especially compared to the pudgy, grungy, squealing Leatherface in Hooper’s films.

    And as for The Blair Witch Project, I was at the age when that came out that it could have creeped me out, but instead, I remember thinking, “Well, it’d be scary if it were happening to me.” But that’s true of a lot of movies, really. Actually, I think all the pre-movie hype surrounding the movie and the attempts to sell it off as “real” undermines the movie in the long run, because — beyond making it a gimmick — once you did find out it wasn’t real, it kills any suspension of disbelief. You’re completely and utterly aware that you’re watching a movie. At least that’s how it worked for me.

  32. CB.

    when i was six or seven i saw the woodchipper scene from fargo. (this should be a testament to my age.) that sock clad foot sticking out of that machine, and the use of a piece of wood to push it deeper in, never really left me. i have always experienced the heeby-jeebies concerning machine horror, or use of machines in horror. good thing that i find the saw and hostel series to be complete jokes. even watching sweeney todd made me a little nauseated. so, fargo supplied the only movie scene from my childhood that has had lasting impact on me and the arena of what honestly scares me.

    that being said, i love horror films, from over the top gore to dread-drenched supernatural flicks. the only thing that leaves me cold is the torture porn franchise which i find to be the opposite of a horror experience. recently though i did see (once again, scenes from) a film that has given me nightmares and that is eraserhead. i am a david lynch fan and eraserhead was on my list to view, but several minutes was all i could stomach. the lady in the radiator was especially potent. that being said i don’t think i can watch the film in its entirety. it is like being encapsulated in someone’s nightmare, and that is definitely credit to lynch.

  33. Ken Hanke

    I’m sure it’s tame if I were to view it now, probably laugh at myself for being so scared

    Maybe. Maybe not. Even though Something Wicked is pretty tame film in terms of what happens (I’m reasonably certain it’s rated PG), it does have a pretty good dose of creepy atmosphere.

    I’m sure everyone has a list of famous films that everyones seen but they have not

    Undeniably. I had one of those “I can’t believe you’ve never seen” encounters with someone last night.

  34. Ken Hanke

    Indeed, this is true, and the fault of my sister. Though I once threw up on her Michael Jackson notebook in the days of my beardless youth, so we’re probably even

    It kind of depends, I think, on whether or not she knew what she was doing. Your…faux pas may have been some incipient form of music or pop culture criticism, but it sound more like mere accident.

    Actually, I think all the pre-movie hype surrounding the movie and the attempts to sell it off as “real” undermines the movie in the long run, because—beyond making it a gimmick—once you did find out it wasn’t real, it kills any suspension of disbelief. You’re completely and utterly aware that you’re watching a movie. At least that’s how it worked for me.

    That’s pretty much where I am on it, but I’m a bad audience in a sense for this sort of thing anyway, because I have about zero “suspension of disbelief” and am always fairly cognizant that I’m watching a movie. At the same time, I figure if your movie can scare me, creep me out, make me cry, whatever, then you’ve really accomplished something.

    I also think I have an ingrained distaste for trying to palm something off as “true” when it isn’t. It’s a lot like a political lie — sure, it might be exposed after the fact, but does everyone who heard the lie also hear its exposure? I doubt it because I hear far too many people argue that this or that “insired by true events” movie “really happened.” After listening to a group of 20-somethings discuss the Texas Chainsaw remake in the firm belief that it “really happened” and that the fake news footage at the beginning was genuine, I figured this is an all-bets-are-off thing in the matter of credulity.

  35. Justin Souther

    but I’m a bad audience in a sense for this sort of thing anyway, because I have about zero “suspension of disbelief” and am always fairly cognizant that I’m watching a movie.

    I’m the same way, but I think if you’re spending the entire movie thinking “This is supposed to be real, that’s all I keep hearing about it, but it’s obviously not,” then it becomes a distraction.

  36. JJ Funky

    The worst horror story that I know of is the
    fact that it makes sense for Barack Obama to
    be in the presidential race. This man needs
    to be running for the president of a university,
    not the nation.

  37. Ken Hanke

    The worst horror story that I know of is the
    fact that it makes sense for Barack Obama to
    be in the presidential race.

    Mr. Funky, while I couldn’t possibly disagree with you more, this thread is hardly the place for this discussion.

  38. JJ Funky

    Ken, I can relate to your viewpoint. However,
    this, unlike Blair Witch, is a horrifying potential reality.

  39. Ken Hanke

    Ken, I can relate to your viewpoint. However,
    this, unlike Blair Witch, is a horrifying potential reality

    No, you can’t relate to my viewpoint, since the most horrifying potential reality I can imagine is Sarah Palin. But these are real life horrors, not the cinematic variety and once again do not belong here.

  40. Brian Postelle

    First viewing of the first Evil Dead at age 12 (13?). Bad film quality, bad audio made it terrifically claustrophobic and tense. Demon coming up through the flood made me crawl up the wall.

    Also, the scene at the end of Time Bandits where the villain’s head opens up and becomes a carousel of knives. Creeped me out for months after seeing it in the theater.

  41. bobaloo

    us gorehounds weren’t fooled by The Blair Witch Project. We knew that it was a ripoff of Cannibal Holocaust

    Too true, but I completely allowed myself to be taken in by the hype, with the hope that the movie wouldn’t disappoint.

    As someone who grew up in the woods and had a great fear of being lost, it certainly struck a chord.

    C’mon, the scene where they wake up in the tent to hear children laughing just outside, then the scratching all over the tent? Horrifying!

    Anyway, my first real horror movie was Evil Dead, thus cementing my gorehound tendencies for the rest of my days.
    The rest of my kid flicks:
    Excorcist
    Nightmare on Elm St.
    Halloween
    Amityville Horror
    Poltergeist
    and Texas Chainsaw Massacre

  42. Ken Hanke

    C’mon, the scene where they wake up in the tent to hear children laughing just outside, then the scratching all over the tent? Horrifying!

    What can I say? It’s so subjective. Now, that’s a scene where I can see Justin’s point — that it would be scary if it was happening to me, but not something that’s scary to watch happening to someone else.

  43. Ken Hanke

    like being encapsulated in someone’s nightmare

    That’s a prettty good description of a lot of Lynch, I think!

  44. Ken Hanke

    Creeped me out for months after seeing it in the theater.

    Speaking of which, is that a prairie dog festooning your name?

  45. Brian Postelle

    demon coming through the **FLOOR** not “flood”

    And it’s an otter, actually. But that’s beside the point…

  46. Justin Souther

    For a second there I had the sudden urge to watch The People Under the Stairs, but that appears to have been diverted.

    when i was six or seven i saw the woodchipper scene from fargo. (this should be a testament to my age.) that sock clad foot sticking out of that machine, and the use of a piece of wood to push it deeper in, never really left me.

    I would’ve been about thirteen when I saw that movie, and can remember cracking up at the sight of the foot sticking out. Though I’m sure that says a lot about me, I guess it just goes to show what a difference a few years can make.

    C’mon, the scene where they wake up in the tent to hear children laughing just outside, then the scratching all over the tent? Horrifying!

    I just remember imagining all the makers’ friends running around, shaking the tent. I realize that’s not what was intended, but it does sort of kill the mood.

  47. Ken Hanke

    And it’s an otter, actually. But that’s beside the point…

    I don’t know. It scared me.

  48. Ken Hanke

    I would’ve been about thirteen when I saw that movie, and can remember cracking up at the sight of the foot sticking out. Though I’m sure that says a lot about me

    Well, I’d have been about 42 and I thought it was supposed to be funny, but then we all know I’m thoroughly sunk in moral depravity.

  49. SESSION 9 is one of those films where the location is a member of the cast, ala THE HAUNTING. Yes, they might have leaned a little too heavy on it, but this film delivers chills that no other modern film has in awhile. Director Brad Anderson is definitely capable, with THE MACHINIST and the well received TRANS-SIBERIAN coming out soon.

    REPULSION is available, I’ll get a copy for sale in the stores. Polanski definitely had his moment in the world of thrillers starting with KNIFE IN THE WATER and ending with the excellent TENANT. It’s hard to think of a director that made so many great films back to back. Don’t overlook his post Manson MACBETH, one of the scariest Shakespeare adaptations put to screen.

  50. Ken Hanke

    SESSION 9 is one of those films where the location is a member of the cast, ala THE HAUNTING. Yes, they might have leaned a little too heavy on it, but this film delivers chills that no other modern film has in awhile.

    I have no problem with the location being a member of the cast (just as I have no problem with the camera being one in The Shining), what I object to is it being better than the cast. Session 9 delivers no chills to me apart from the setting and that quickly palls.

    TRANS-SIBERIAN coming out soon.

    It opened at the Hollywood last Friday. Review will be out tomorrow.

    It’s hard to think of a director that made so many great films back to back.

    I’m both with you and not on this statement, since I can think of two films in the set from Knife to The Tenant that I don’t find great (and What? isn’t one of them). At the same time, I don’t think his greatness stops with The Tenant. In fact, I can only think of one Polanski picture that’s a total washout — Frantic — though I did find Oliver Twist superfluous.

  51. bobaloo

    I can only think of one Polanski picture that’s a total washout—Frantic

    Well now, after your previous comments about Raising Arizona and now this, I think it’s safe to say we’ll never be friends. :)
    Maybe it was my youth when I saw it, but I found Frantic to be so gripping and, er, frantic.

  52. Ken Hanke

    Maybe it was my youth when I saw it, but I found Frantic to be so gripping and, er, frantic.

    But have you seen it since? And are you looking at it in the context of Polanski’s other films, or outside of that context? I suspect I’d be kinder to it if I wasn’t looking at it in context.

  53. HarryLong

    >>SESSION 9 is one of those films where the location is a member of the cast, ala THE HAUNTING.<< Good grief! How could I have forgotten Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING. Scared the crap outa me when I saw it as a kid & several scenes are still very scary.

  54. Ken Hanke

    Good grief! How could I have forgotten Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING. Scared the crap outa me when I saw it as a kid & several scenes are still very scary

    You know, I think I saw this film at exactly the wrong time in my life. I was just old enough to be cheesed that you never saw any ghosts and not old enough to appreciate the subtlety of that approach. That said, one of the ideas put forth in the film — that of houses having a “cold spot” indicative of supernatural forces — scared me then and unnerves me even now.

  55. HarryLong

    >>one of the ideas put forth in the film—that of houses having a “cold spot” indicative of supernatural forces<< Actually this is based on observed phenomena id houses that are supposedly haunted. Weirdly this film SHOULD have hit me the same way it did you. I thin I saw it the same year I saw CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF & was sunk deeply in being a monster-loving 10 year old. I think I was a bit put off that you didn't even see some wispy thing or other wafting through the hallway, but I was just as glad that I didn't have to confront whatever was battering at the bedroom door or pushing against the library doors. And intriguingly there's something so terrifyingly lonely about that chalked message to Eleanor on the wall and her realization that "It knows my name!" that chilled me then and still does. (And I think that message on the wall is also based on events in an alleged real haunting.)

  56. Ken Hanke

    Well, you scared me the minute I saw the words “Michael Bay.”

  57. Alright who brought the dog? lol.

    Ghostbusters had so many funny momements in it, I would never try to count them all. Murray and Akroyd had me rolling on the ground, to this day I still use a lot of the quotes from Ghostbusters. That all changed when I saw that dog too when I was a young kid, it scared the bejesus out of me.

    Nowadays, not much scares me. It’s going to have to be a realistic scary looking monster to get me. Something like Predator. You know the thing Arnold Schwarzenegger went head to head with, that Alien monster is just creep as hell looking after it takes it’s face shield off.

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