It's probably not entirely accurate to say Audition is one of my favorite scary movies, in fact, I've only seen it once (and would argue that once is about as many times as a sane person needs to see it). I'm including Audition to this list for one reason: it's the only torture porn style film I've ever seen that actually scared me based on its content, not the content's societal implications, and, for all its sadistic aspects, is simply one damn good, high tension piece of filmmaking. Audition does more with a bowl of vomit, a rubber apron and a wire saw than six Murder Saw Hostel 3's could do with 50 gallons of blood and equal disembowlments and limb cuttings. A large part of Audition's success in true scary where other, similar films fail is the Japanese film's willingness to build fear with insinuation, along with the chilling and unflinching focus on the villain, Asami's, unfettered enjoyment of torture, making its moments of visible violence truly shocking. Saw, Hostel and other, like films show so much gore and violence they fall into the realm unintentional self-parody. Also in the favor of Audition is the use of an unexpected antagonist; the villain of audition is not the weirdo or monster but rather the seeming innocent. It's a simple idea, but I defy you to watch Asami's coy petting of her tongueless man-friend without longing to take a sleeping pill and a shower. Truly twisted, scary stuff.
Event Horizon is probably (okay, maybe definitely) not, objectively, a very good movie. Event Horizon is also pretty much everything you could possibly ask for in a single film. There is madness. There is Latin. There is interesting production design. There are terms such as "Neptune orbit" and "dimensional gateway" and jokes about coffee said by black men such as "Would you like something hot and black in you?" Event Horizon stars the world's greatest actor, Sam Neil, going completely batshit. Scary videos are discovered! Blood is found in unexpected places! Black men make jokes comparing their members to Folgers! There is the vast emptiness of space! There is merciless terror! Event Horizon is a film of space terror! Hell dimensions! Prepare yourself for a bit of cheese, but also a surprising number of genuine scares/creepy moments. Watch this movie in the dark late at night. Maybe high. Not too high, though. Event Horizon.
To be fair, a great deal of my fondness for The Ring is sentimental; The Ring is the one of the first movies I can remember, despite the fact I'd been watching horror movies since my young childhood, truly scaring me. Like, locking-the-car-doors-on-the-way-home-peek-under-the-bed-and-turn-on-your-nightlight scared. But, while I can recognize The Ring will always hold a special place in my heart due to its initial ability to leave me near pants-shittingly frightened, it's also, objectively, just a good, scary movie. Having seen Ringu, the Japanese film The Ring was based on, I think I can fairly say that The Ring was and is possibly the only film (or T.V. show, for that matter) in history whose American remake was far better (and scarier) than the original. Actually, had I seen Ringu, with its muddled narrative and seemingly illogical editing, before The Ring I doubt I would have bothered with Gore Verbinski's version. Good thing I did, though, because this is easily one of the best scary movies of this millennium. I've always been a visual person, and some of the images that have long freaked me out and fascinated me the most are those which are dream-like, seemingly discordant. This means the supremely creepy, video at the center of The Ring made, and still makes, my mouth drop in terror in the way no amount of gore could. Add to that the fact that The Ring succeeds in an area where many other ghost-y films fail: it keeps things mysterious. If you are planning to make a ghost movie, know this: we do not need to know every detail of the haunting's backstory. We do not need to see detailed facial close-ups of your ghost. You do not need to spend hours weathering a wedding dress and shredding fabric and preparing explanations, you just need to provide enough logic to pull your audience through and leave the rest to the imagination, since the imagination is scarier than any special effect. The Ring knows this.
I say The Ring was not the first movie I can remember really scaring me because Cube got there earlier. I was only a kid the first time I saw Cube, and I can't remember under what circumstances I watched it. I would say I saw it with my older brother, but I have a sense that I was alone, terrified, and in the living room, so maybe on T.V.? In any case, Cube deeply disturbed me and haunted my nightmares for the next fifteen years or so, and all this having only seen it once. By the time I watched Cube again, about six months ago, I had forgotten all but its title and a few, disjointed images from its plot: some people, stuck somewhere not knowing why they were there nor how they'd arrived. This is, really, Cube's essence: five people stuck in, well, a cube, in matching underwear with, it seems, nothing in common other than being trapped in this odd purgatory. The cubists (ha!) have to work together (and fall apart) in their attempt to solve the math-y puzzles required in order to exit their cube-atory, all with the looming threat of some seriously freaky booby traps should their calculations go wrong. Cube was made on a shoestring budget, but it was obviously made with a lot of love. While there is some, minimal, blood in Cube, the real scares come from the film's sense of near-overwhelming, claustrophobic dread, as well as its complete refusal to explain what, precisely, the fuck is going on. Cube feels like a really good, movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, which makes sense, as it was apparently inspired by one. If you want simple screams and good fun, go see any of the many throwaway slashers or ghost movies out every year. If you want lingering creep factor and a major sense of unease, see Cube.
Oh my God, The Fly is so awesome. Number one: brilliant casting. Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum should be in many more films. More films with these two, please. Two lanky, smart, sort of weird-sexy people being lanky and smart and weird-sexy: this is just damn fine filmmaking. Oh, but what's that, you say? There's also a lesson about man's hubris via science and an ape turned into an inside-out goo pile? Who could cram this many dreams into one movie?! David Cronenberg, of course. And, while The Fly has as many gross-out practical effects as a human dare dream of, it also has a great deal of empathy for its characters. Yes, Jeff Goldblum gets turned into a hideous bug-man, but what's really scary about The Fly is how damn tragic the whole thing is. Boy loves science. Boy meets girl. Boy loses humanity through his ceaseless yearning to be more than just a mortal man (via science), and, boy, does he get his wish. Plus that ending. Yeesh! I also really liked this movie as a kid. I should have been started in therapy really young.
The Sixth Sense
I had the shocking twist ending of The Sixth Sense ruined for me in middle school. God, I hated middle school. It was just the worst. I remember there was this girl I used to sit with at lunch sometimes. Cute girl; curly hair, freckles. All-american sort of a look. This girl was way more popular than I was. I was not popular. Not. That not was in italics just to emphas ize how unpopular I was. So I sat at this girl's table and probably her and all the other girls sort of felt sorry for me because I was a weirdo but also made fun of me when I left because I was a weirdo. This chick was the first person I knew to give a blow job. A blow job. You should be whispering that in shock. We were twelve, maybe thirteen and she came to lunch and was like “blahblahblah blow job” and she was pretending to be happy but she looked so sad. Oh my god, she just seemed so sad. Middle school was miserable, wasn't it? Then a few months later she went and blabbed the ending to The Sixth Sense and I would have been mad at anyone else but then I thought about her sad blow job and how sad I was and how it was sad I would never be allowed the shock of a true The Sixth Sense ending and by eighth grade I just started sitting alone at lunch because anything else was way too much work even though a teacher asked me “Why are you sitting alone?” I just said “There's no one I want to sit with” and stared wistfully out the window. And that's what The Sixth Sense is all about! Isolation, feelings of freakdom, children in oversized glasses from their dead father. I don't really consider The Sixth Sense a horror movie so much as a sad movie, or, if anything, a horror movie about the horrible horror of growing up different. And dead people! This was a really pretty good film. M. Night Shyamalan is capable of making good films! And hey, I actually really liked Unbreakable. But The Happening, oh man. That was almost shocking in its humorless awfulness. If I were friends with M. Night Shyamalan, after seeing The Happening I would have taken him aside and said “Are you okay, M. Night? I mean, really? Because this is, it's just, well, I'm concerned” and then maybe I would give him a hug because, really, no one wants to be alone at the lunch table.
I made the mistake, in my arrogant assumption of my un-scare-ability, of watching Rec for the first time alone, in my old apartment, in the dark. This was a dire miscalculation on my part. Rec is straight up, fast paced, merciless, poop-your-pants style zombie horror. This is about the only film I can think of, post-The Blair Witch Project, where the use of shaky-cam is actually scary, and adds to the movie rather than just induces mild nausea. A reporter, her cameraman and the firefighters they're following, trapped in an apartment building where all hell breaks loose: freaky. It was also refreshing to see a zombie movie that puts the supernatural back into the ghouls, rather than using the explanation for zombification that's grown all too common in the past ten years or so: that there's some sort of virus on the loose. If you saw the American remake, Quarantine, but haven't seen the Spanish original, then I'm sorry, but don't bother. Quarantine really accomplished a small miracle with its ability to take a truly scary movie, remake it, soullessly, shot for shot, and completely fall flat, to the point where I'd say the shock of Rec will be ruined if you haven't watched it first. Thanks a lot, America.
Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report
Mr. Arkadin (or Confidential Report, as it was called outside of America) is not, strictly speaking, really a horror film. There are no ghosts or creative killers, but there are plenty unsettling images and disorienting scenes. Mr. Arkadin is filled, like most of Orson Welles movies, with a sense of creeping unease; it's a film about duplicity and deception, and there's enough of Welles' looking forbidding in a fake beard to qualify this film, in my opinion, as "vaguely and lingeringly disturbing" if not outright "scary." Bizarre characters, the imagery of a fever dream, and its history of conflicting edits make Mr. Arkadin one of my favorite Orson Welles films, and a good movie to spend Halloween with.
I think I'd be remiss if I didn't include at least one Alfred Hitchcock film in this list, and, while Psycho is probably Hitchcock's scariest movie, Rear Window is one of my favorites. The simple setup, the feeling of dread from Jimmy Stewart's lack of mobility, the creepy feeling of being a voyeur unto the actions of a voyeur all make Rear Window a supremely tense, enjoyable movie. Plus, I just love the set.
The Shining is easily my favorite horror film from all the annals of history. The Shining is one of my favorite films, period. Pack up the creepy psychic kid and his creepy psycho dad and let's spend the winter snowed into an evil hotel in the mountains of Colorado! What could possibly go wrong? I'll tell you what: redrum. The Shining has all the disturbing atmospherics you'd expect of Stanley Kubrick, allowing a viewer to notice new fucked up and weird shit with every viewing. There's much to be scared by, but the scariest thing in this movie is, by far JACK NICHOLSON'S FACE!!!!! While the Stephen King book The Shining was based on says definitively that the Overlook Hotel was haunted, the film leaves open the possibility that all the scary things going on could very well just be reflective (or the result) of Jack Torrance's descent into TOTAL FUCKING MADNESS. Actually, Stephen King was really disappointed in this movie as an adaptation of his novel, but, while The Shining is an enjoyable enough book about ghosts and alcoholism and the alcohol of ghosts, it's no The Shining, if you know what I mean. I've watched a lot of documentaries about Stanley Kubrick, and while they all seem to emphasize that he was nice to his kids and loved animals, I still can't help but think this was one brilliantly disturbed brohan (see: behind the scenes footage of Kubrick emotionally torturing Shelley Duvall to get the perfect, scared performance out of her). If you haven't seen The Shining, I pity you. Watch The Shining!