The Top 5 Horror Films That Have a Nasty Case of the Creeps
By Todd Secord
There’s no doubt, there does appear to be a glut of truly horrific horror films out there. Personally, I don’t think horror films are really horrific anyway. Their subject matter can be very disturbing and every now and then the imagery they invoke can be very compelling however, is one truly scared by watching SAW? Or do they just feel squeamish, the same way it’s tough to watch a linebacker’s leg go the other way when it shatters from an awkward tackle, or the results of a very nasty trampoline accident?
Of course there is plenty to be scared about. What is truly scary though, is a very subjective thing, personal to every individual and in the context of their experiences. I still don’t get the “clown” thing, but if a clown came after me with a knife, that I would classify as a scary event. I’m totally frightened of flesh eating creatures roaming around the ocean – unlike my girlfriend who’ll jump at a picture of a spider – I always look forward to watching Shark Week. “Know thy enemy, destroy thy enemy” and Shark Week is a festival of information to arm myself with should I indeed end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Still, in the case of dealing with a homicidal maniac, it’s a tough call, but to guarantee success it’s probably best not to have sex in a cemetery during the 13th anniversary of his very public execution for which it took several throws of the switch just as his mother suddenly stands up and frantically admits that it was really his illegitimate step bother that did all the torture killings. Or, just don’t have sex in a cemetery because it’s super creepy…I imagine.
It’s the creepy part that usually impresses me with horror films; more psychological than hell bent. And this list reflects all the times that I sorta stopped myself and realized that it was suddenly way more comfortable to have the lights on than off, and it was best to make sure that there was nothing menacingly swimming around in the toilet before I sat on it.
I would also like to say that there are several films that I purposely left off this list, like the Exorcist (the Star Wars of horror films in my opinion), because if you haven’t seen those movies yet, chances are you wouldn’t be interested in this bunch…
5. Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages
Way back in my past, when I was 21ish, my buddy James and I worked in something called a “video store”. And this particular video store, as we look back on our extensive knowledge of movies now, was no ordinary video store. Sure, we had Dirty Dancing but even against the standards of the day, we also had a treasure trove of unique and special titles, including the likes of Fritz the Cat, Le Denier Combat, Duel and Eraserhead just to name a few. Trust me, this place had everything, and floating in and amongst all the other B-movie and cult hits sitting on the shelves was this strange little foreign film called Witchcraft through the Ages. In those days, our massively awesome video store liked to put its horror films in a separate “room” that was specifically decorated to get you in the “mood”. Every time I had to put the videos back on the shelves, I would always glance down at the box and notice that it would never get rented. That wasn’t surprising, because it was so fringe that not even the staff bothered to watch it, which of course, just heightened the intrigue in my eyes. Little did I know that the circumstances surrounding James and I finally watching the thing eerily resembled the plot to The Ring, but thankfully I’m still typing this, so God Bless. At any rate, I would watch any documentary I could on the history of vampires, witches, or the occult, or whatever else was scary to know the history of up to, but not including, Rosanne Barr. Usually, these documentaries included black and white stock footage of demons and devils running around the woods, leaping from behind some villager’s bed as the narration voiced over its super historical fact checking on how vampires came to be known as iconic pop culture. Suddenly, while viewing yet another documentary on werewolves, I realized that all this really cool imagery they were using was likely coming from Witchcraft through the Ages! It made total sense! A phone call later, and James and I decided that it would be completely acceptable to watch it in his basement, late at night, in total darkness. Well, I don’t know what it was in the summer air that night, but this movie fucked me up. By the time we had enough, our brains were so overloaded with satanic imagery, in glorious black and white no less, that I found it hard enough to get into my car without checking the back seat let alone getting my brain to shut everything down so I could sleep.
Ironically, it’s a documentary, shot in silent 1922 about witchcraft, except the make-up effects are impressive, and the design even more so. Subject matter wise, it is what it is, but with respect to classic interpretations of evil stuff, it’s right up there with Heironeous Bosch, Nosferatu or the Illustrated Children’s version of the Necronomicon.
4. The Night of the Hunter
I don’t care what anyone says, this movie is a horror film. Somehow, through people’s need to categorize things to micro-specificity, they would likely argue that because it’s devoid of such things like ghosts, ghouls and a possessed chick named Regan, that it is classified as a thriller. Well, to that I would say is Alien science fiction or horror? Is Silence of the Lambs not a horror in a lot of ways, like SAW, or the original Friday the 13th, or other intense movies with numbers in their titles, like “7”? No ghosts in those bad boys but horrific none the less? And thus, could bleed into the horror genre? As usual, pun fully intended.
This is one of those “Oh, this movie is a 1950’s black and white film, how could it possibly be sca…is he trying to kill those kids with a switch blade?!” movies. Robert Mitchum plays a psychotic serial killing con-man who is a preacher with the words “love” and “hate” tattooed on his knuckles. Something tells me that you’ve seen this convention used in something since this movie, and you would be right, because this film has influenced enough stuff in its time. Anyway, Mitchum is evil, like, killing everything he sees in the Name of the Lord evil. Lots of ghostly or biblical metaphors, or as we say in moviephile land “expressionistic”, that will do enough to give you a sufficient amount of creep factor. The underlying tone is the use of something that is supposed to champion the virtues of love, like the Christian Religion, but instead it is being used as a cloak for something wholly evil – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At times, Night of the Hunter is just that, a grotesque fairy tale where the lesson to learn is a tough one – good will triumph, at a cost.
3. The Haunting (1963 film)
It’s popcorn time! Well, not really. The Haunting, the original anyway, is likely the most innocent on this list in its attempt to not only be scary, but entertaining as well. You see, that’s an important distinction between horror film heavy weights and those that are soon to be forgotten; the heavy weights can’t really be considered entertainment in the traditional sense. They’re more like intensely focused airstrikes on your personal moral. You don’t finish watching The Exorcist thinking “What an exhilarating thrill ride of chills and spills!” No, you think “What the fuck did I just do to myself there?” Nobody feels like baking cookies after watching The Mist the same way they might after watching, let’s say, The Avengers. Truly good horror, if it’s doing its job right has a more depressing effect, like alcohol, but instead of wanting to pass out on your buddy’s couch you want to hug your children a little bit longer that night.
The Haunting starts off as a mission movie – the characters are assembled under the pre-tense of a common goal – in this case, surviving a haunted house. It’s another black and white film, this time from the 60’s, for which I have no intentions of apologizing for. Let’s face some facts; in the way that camcorder footage is supposed to make ghosts looks way creepier in night vision mode, the same can be said about what black and white film does for horror movies. Going back to The Mist again, the black and white version is way, way cooler. Kudos to whoever made that decision. Seriously.
Although, what I think is really at the root of why The Haunting is a special little movie is that it’s ferocious with its texture. Yes, like all haunted house movies, it does a lot of the “something just moved unexpectedly out of the corner of my eye” film making; it’s also amazingly good at choosing when to totally hit you over the head. And it does it with a breathing wall scene that still holds up today. But not only that, noise, loud pounding, and an eerie soundtrack help with all the fear mongering goodness. The Haunting is a good ol’ fashioned haunted house story…
2. The Changeling (1980 Film)
…Is a good ol’ fashioned haunted house story. I have to admit, I haven’t seen it in years, but I think that’s one of the beauties of loving horror films – they’re likely way scarier in your memories. This has a great plot and a great actor in George C. Scott, and it’s full of creepy ghostly vignettes each of which could be told on its own. And believe me, that’s how the movie was initially told to me when I was 12 by my older cousin Chris. “Hey Todd, not that you would actually care to see the movie for yourself, but I saw this awesome horror movie that has this happen in it, and this happen in it, and this happen in it. Isn’t it just super clever and scary?” And my answer to all this spoiler, ages before there were such things as spoiler alerts was “Man, I need to see this movie”. Chris was always a good story teller, but when I actually did manage to see the movie, I was impressed and creep’d out in spite of the firsthand knowledge. This is a fully realized movie and likely the most complicated on the list because it sorta develops into a missing person/ murder mystery. Furthermore, it likely has one of the coolest séance sequences ever, and amazingly they aren’t trying to talk to Elvis. And like The Haunting it makes great use of sound and/or silence to help add to the spine-chilling evil.
1. Rosemary’s Baby
I ain’t gonna lie, there are stretches in Rosemary’s Baby where it appears that the most exciting thing that is going on is Mia Farrow making tea. It’s a Roman Polanski film, so the movie isn’t actually going to move at any reasonable pace anyway but c’mon, tea making? However, Rosemary’s Baby is one of the great “punch-line” movies. What’s a punch-line movie you say? When the entire plot swings full circle and everything suddenly makes sense in the very last moments of the movie. Like Psycho, or The Sixth Sense, or Being There, except with Rosemary’s Baby, it’s concievable that you may not fully understand what the hell is going on till the very, very, very last moment of the movie. However, as each minute ticks off the tension slowly builds, and the weirdness grows, and you’re pretty sure that Rosemary may be in some sort of serious shit, and then she begins to realize it herself but it becomes difficult to find someone to trust, and it’s sorta like she’s being held captive, but not, and really, is she just being paranoid? I don’t know, maybe the old lady is putting something in the tea…and that is Rosemary’s Baby, but a whole lot creepier. It’s like its one giant nightmare with no apparent way out, and even waking doesn’t seem to help. There’s way more one could say here, but because the beauty of the film hinges on you knowing nothing about it, I’ve said too much already.
Just make sure that you watch it in the basement, at night, in total darkness.