listed in alphabetical order by name of film
listed in alphabetical order by name of film
Based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, which was itself loosely based on the story of Wisconsin serial killer and cannibal Ed Gein, the 1960 film Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was filmed in black & white, by a television crew, on a small budget, because Paramount had already rejected the project, claiming its subject matter was “too repulsive… and impossible” for film. Hitchcock, who had already optioned the novel, then financed the film himself. According to film critic Roger Ebert, Psycho (1960) “remains the most effective slashing in movie history, suggesting that … artistry [is] more important than graphic details.” Because Hitchcock was answerable to no one but himself, he succeeded in creating one of the greatest psychological horror films ever made. At the same time, he created an art film classic.
The story begins as if it were a crime mystery. Marion (Janet Leigh) is having an affair with Sam (John Gavin), and she is distressed that they cannot marry because of his debts. Later that afternoon, when she returns to work, Marion is asked to take a substantial cash deposit of $40K to the bank. Instead, Marion absconds with the money, hoping to use it so she and Sam run away together.
That night, in a thunderstorm, Marion stays at an isolated and mostly unoccupied motel, managed by a young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Though handsome, Norman is gawky, and he has an odd hobby: taxidermy. The room where he serves Marion dinner is filled with dead and stuffed birds of prey.
From the spooky house overlooking the motel, Norman’s mentally ill mother can be heard berating him, and this elicits Marion’s sympathy for him. It also makes her re-evaluate her own crime, which would hurt not only her employer but his client as well. Marion takes a shower, symbolically cleansing herself of her evil intentions since she has apparently decided to return the stolen cash, when…
You may or may not know about the most famous shower scene in all of cinematic history, but the rest of the story becomes an intense murder mystery as the audience’s sympathy is shifted from impulsive criminal Marion to horrified son Norman as he desperately attempts to protect his dangerous mother.
In a move that, even now, is considered outrageously audacious, Hitchcock directs the film’s viewing audience as much as he did its actors: about a third of the way into the film, he takes all the viewers’ attention away from the ostensible protagonist — played by the film’s star power, Janet Leigh — and focuses the story on the newly introduced Norman. “I was directing the viewers,” [Hitchcock] told [fellow director] Truffaut in their book-length interview. “You might say I was playing them, like an organ.”
As Norman is feverishly working to protect his violent mother from discovery, Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) is desperately worried about Marion, who has disappeared. While asking Marion’s lover Sam about her whereabouts, the pair is approached by a detective (Martin Balsam), who has been hired to retrieve the stolen money. Sam and Lila encourage the detective to search for Marion, confident that some mistake has been made concerning the missing funds, which they assume Marion will be able to explain.
When the detective fails to contact them as arranged, Sam and Lila decide that they must investigate the mysterious happenings surrounding the isolated motel themselves…
Even if that means they must break into the spooky old house where Norman’s mother is obviously keeping watch over everything that happens down at the motel.
Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh, and Best Director for Hitchcock, Psycho is considered one of Hitchcock’s best films. Marred only by the final scene with the psychiatrist — which appears before the classic finale with Norman and his mother — Psycho is a classic thriller, with enough realistic spookiness to keep you up at night.
Okay, so the lit-tra-chure purists complain that this film, which some say was inspired by Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw, isn’t really like the book. In The Turn of the Screw, a governess at an isolated estate with two young children in her care claims that she sees ghosts. Further, the governess becomes convinced that the children already know about the ghosts even if they never admit to actually seeing them. Because the governess is completely psychologically unreliable, and because viewers’ perspective is limited to that of the emotionally vulnerable woman, we never know if there are actually any ghosts roaming about the old mansion or whether the governess is losing her mind.
Some film buffs prefer the 1956 Deborah Kerr version of The Innocents to Alejandro Amenábar film The Others because they say the former is closer to James’ book, and The Innocents is a fantastic suspense film. But for a suspense film that I want to watch over and over, give me Nicole Kidman and the stunning child actors in The Others (2001), written and directed by Amenábar, which is a combination ghost story and psychological suspense thriller. Like the governess in Turn of the Screw and The Innocents, Kidman’s character is alone in an isolated mansion with two young children, and strange things begin to happen. Strange things that make her character wonder if she’s losing her mind. But unlike either the novella or the earlier film, what’s really happening in The Others is even more horrifying than anything the isolated woman might imagine. You’ll have to watch the film several times to see all the clues you missed the first time, but you won’t mind because The Others is one of the best suspense films ever made.
In a secluded island mansion during World War II, a sad, lonely, and devoutly religious wife, Grace (Nicole Kidman), patiently cares for her home and two children, Anne (Alakina Mann)
and Nicholas (James Bentley),
while waiting for her husband (Christopher Eccelston) to return from the War.
All the servants have deserted the house, without warning, so Grace and her little family are very anxious and alone. When three servants mysteriously appear, Grace somewhat reluctantly accepts their help. Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan) assures Grace that, though they did not come specifically in answer to Grace’s advertisement, the trio has not only been in service, but that they have preciously worked in this very house.
Mrs. Mills will be the housekeeper and cook, the mute Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) will clean,
and Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes) will take care of the grounds.
Besides the mysterious arrival of the servants, there are some other strange things going on in this lonely house. The children Anne and Nicholas suffer from Xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare genetic disorder in which the body’s ability to repair damage caused by ultraviolet light is deficient. To protect the children, all the curtains have to be kept closed in any room through which the children might pass.
To prevent the children from getting horrific burns caused by accidental exposure to sunlight, the doors to each room must be closed and locked before another door is opened. Mrs Mills is not the only one to think things are… well, odd in the house.
Because of the War, or the children’s “condition,” or both, Grace home-schools Anne and Nicholas, though she sometimes forces her own Catholic beliefs on them when they clearly have formed their own, contrary opinions about God, the afterlife, faith, and Bible stories.
Besides the “returning” servants, the spooky fog that always surrounds the house, and the children’s “condition” which makes almost total darkness and locked doors a necessity, there’s something else really scary and nerve-jangling going on in the old house.
Noises, knocks, bumps in the night, crying, voices, weeping… Grace thinks the children are playing pranks on her. Then she thinks the servants are just being downright unprofessional by making such a racket. But then, slowly, she begins to suspect that there is something even more frightening going on.
More frightening than the behavior of her husband Charles, whom she discovers in the woods around the house, who seems to have returned from the War in body, though not in spirit.
More frightening than Mr Tuttle’s covering all those graves with dead leaves, which Grace doesn’t even know about yet.
When her daughter Anne begins to insist that she’s heard — and seen — other people in the house — a little boy named Victor, in particular — Grace gets terrified. She’s not afraid that she’s losing her mind, however: she’s more convinced that the house has somehow become haunted, and that, furthermore, the ghosts are determined to hurt her children.
And Grace will do anything to protect her children from harm. Anything at all. Even if it means arming herself to protect her family.
Winner of 8 Goya Awards (Spanish Academy Awards), and the first English-language film to win the Goya for Best Picture without having a single word of Spanish in it, The Others has no special effects whatsoever, but it’s one of the best horror films ever made. Nicole Kidman, who “succeeds in convincing us that she is a normal person in a disturbing situation,” was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA (British Academy Awards) for Best Actress.
This story has been recycled a few times: parents who are longing for another child and also to do good in the world — no, not Angelina and Brad — adopt an older, unwanted orphan from another country — in this case, Russia — and bring her home to the good life in America. Where everything starts to go wrong. Where only one of the parents notices that the orphan is not everything s/he seems. Where the parent who attempts to warn others that something is not quite right with the new family member is dismissed as neurotic or overly stressed or… whatever… so no one believes the warnings.
Though at first glance the story in the 2009 film Orphan might seem a bit trite, the mesmerizing performance of Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan Esther overcomes any of the film’s predictable weaknesses. Not unreasonably, however, some adoptive parents and adoption agencies objected to yet another film displaying orphans, especially older ones or children from eastern European countries, as dangerous or seriously flawed. But Orphan puts a totally surprising spin on this orphan-who-goes-bad tale so that it becomes an unexpectedly shocking horror film.
Why do parents Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard), who already have two children, want yet another child after Kate has a miscarriage? The movie doesn’t make the couple’s longing for more children clear, though it does paint Kate and John with some typical clichés: Kate is a recovering alcoholic who is inexplicably devastated by the miscarriage, John is über-career-oriented and doesn’t seem to notice how unhappy Kate is, so the miscarriage has strained their marriage and they think another child will somehow heal it.
Their two children already seem like quite a handful for parents to handle:
Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) tends to do some unpleasant things with homemade weapons,
and Max (Aryana Engineer) cannot speak so must communicate with sign language.
Rather than wait till Kate is healed, physically and emotionally, from the miscarriage, Kate and John want another child right now. To fix their disintegrating marriage and expand their too-small family, Kate and John visit a local orphanage. There, under the watchful eye of Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), who warns that Esther is “very mature for her age,” Kate and John become enamored of Esther (Isabelle Furhman), who seems just too-too-good to be true.
Because, of course, Esther is too good to be true.
As soon as Kate and John get their new daughter home, there are some problems. Though Max immediately embraces her new sister, Daniel is perturbed by Esther. Whether his is already feeling neglected or he fears two sisters will be too much for any boy in any one household to handle is not clear, but Daniel is less than welcoming.
In any event, Esther immediately shows some signs of being… well, more than “very mature.” She shows signs of being… strange. Like wanting to wear clothes to school that are entirely inappropriate for her age and way inappropriate for grammar school, or wanting to wear makeup that would make the average street-walking prostitute look au naturel. Esther gets really very perturbed when things don’t go her way, relly upset when other children don’t immediately accept her, or really angry and violent when… well, I’m sure you already know all this part of the story.
By the time things start to go really wrong with Esther and Mother Kate gets concerned, no one else wants to listen to her. After all, she’s a recovering alcoholic and a grieving mother and…
And that’s about where the clichés in the film end.
Because once things start to really go wrong, once Esther begins to get really scary, Orphan becomes an unexpected horror film with a unique twist. No matter what you imagine is the reason behind Esther’s unpleasant and increasingly atrocious behavior, I doubt you will figure out the real reason this orphan is very angry and wicked. And I doubt you will figure out what she really wants from her adopted family.
Though the reviews are mixed, Orphan was a prize-winner in several Independent Film Festivals, and Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan Esther was virtually universally acclaimed. Some critics compared Fuhrman’s performance as Esther to that of Linda Blair in The Exorcist and Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed, both of which are horror classics.
What is a ghost?
A tragedy doomed to repeat itself time and time again?
An instant of pain, perhaps.
Something dead which still seems to be alive.
An emotion, suspended in time.
Like a blurred photograph.
Like an insect trapped in amber.
— Narrator, The Devil’s Backbone
Whether as writer, director, or producer, Guillermo del Toro is known for films which mesh fairy tales and horror, among them Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage, and Julia’s Eyes. Many of his films are classified as “dark Spanish fantasy” or “gothic horror,” and his films are, indeed, full of horror. Del Toro has called The Devil’s Backbone (2001) his “most personal film.” Like many of his others, this film features ghosts, orphans, and abandoned children, all tangled together, trying desperately to survive and to figure out what has happened to their previously happy lives. Ghosts and murder, betrayal and tragedy, pain and destiny and loneliness: these are the themes of The Devil’s Backbone, where evil is not so much supernatural as it is a daily human reality. In The Devil’s Backbone, the most terrifying evil is not external but, instead, within the humans themselves.
At an isolated orphanage in 1939, during the Spanish Civil War, Headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes), who is an amputee, secretly supports partisans, and has a stash of gold intended to aid their cause.
The co-director of the orphanage is Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi), who has long been in love with Carmen, and who is helping her hide gold for the Resistance.
A young boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve), is left at the Home by his tutor, who neglects to tell the boy that his father is dead, killed in the War. Before Carlos even realizes that he will be permanently staying at the orphanage, he sees the ghost of a boy his own age.
Though the other orphans speak in whispers in the dark of night of “the one who sighs,” the adults do not even discuss the War with the children, though it has affected all the boys’ lives, let alone talk about a ghost or anything else supernatural with them. The orphans make up their own stories about the ghost and why it may be haunting the orphanage. The orphans do not know the ghost’s “secret,” so they make up reasons for its haunting the Home.
The adults don’t seem to know about the ghost, but all the adults at the Home have secrets, none more so than the violent and angry caretaker Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega). He was once an orphan at the Home himself and has returned only to get at the hidden stash of partisan-gold.
Jacinto terrorizes and abuses the orphan boys. He steals keys at night to secretly search for the hidden gold. He ruthlessly manipulates the women at the school by having sexual relations with several of them, pretending to be emotionally attached to each of them, including Headmistress Carmen and young Conchita (Irene Visedo, below L), who is herself in love with Jacinto.
And this is the place where young Carlos is now trapped, like the ghost that he keeps seeing. Unfortunately for Carlos, Jacinto is not the only person at the Home who bullies the boys. One of the orphans, Jaime (Íñigo Garcés, below L), is just as ferocious and tyrannical as Jacinto.
Jaime, who is in love with the pretty Conchita, takes out his frustrated, unrequited love on the younger boys, especially on the ten-year-old, fellow orphan Carlos.
To deal with his own emotional pain, abandonment, and loss, Carlos decides to overcome his terror of the ghost. He begins to investigate the boy-ghost, hoping to discover the ghost’s secret. How did a mere boy, after all, become a ghost trapped for eternity at the Home? Did the boy die in the War, or did he die in the orphanage itself? If the boy did, in fact, die at the Home — which would explain why the ghost is still there, haunting the other orphans — how did the young boy die? Was he a victim of illness, accident, or murder?
Carlos is desperate to discover the ghost’s secret before he himself is killed — by Jacinto, by Jaime, or by another wayward bomb like the unexploded one in the Home’s courtyard — and becomes a ghost forever trapped in the place Carlos hates most in all the world.
In Spanish with subtitles, The Devil’s Backbone is as much about the perils of war as about ghosts, and as much about man’s cruelty to each other as it is about the things that haunt us, whether they be the pain of abandonment, ghosts that roam the corridors at night, or our own secret pasts.