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.
The Innocents (C)
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.
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.
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 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.
Okay, so I was gonna go all classical on you by proving that I could name the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, but I couldn’t find any pictures of them because they’ve all been destroyed. Except for the Great Pyramids at Giza. So then I thought I’d do the 7 Wonders of the Modern World, but there are so many disagreements, it’d be like going to a family reunion and listening to great-aunts and uncles argue about what happened to you when you were three: You did not cross the Golden Gate Bridge; you went up the Empire State Building. I wanted to take you to see the Giant Statue of Jesus in Brazil, but your mother wanted you to see the Great Wall of China, while your father — God love him — wanted you to see the Panama Canal. (And, yes, those are some of the items actually considered to be Wonders of the Modern world.) Instead, I decided to do something I found a lot more interesting: the 7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World.
Hammer Horror Film Stars, L to R: Christopher Lee, John Carradine, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price
I have always loved scary movies, I grew up on all the Hammer Studio classics with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, I loved anything with Vincent Price because it was usually based on something by Edgar Allan Poe, and I didn’t even care about the special effects. Who cared if you could see the shadow of the fishing pole holding the “bat” that was flying around the room, terrorizing the beautifully made-up and costumed tourists (all with really big hair!). I was in a darkened theatre with my siblings and lots of other kids whose parents had dropped them off to get them out of the house for a while, being scared out of our wits, and I loved it.
Of course, I laugh at most of those movies now, though I appreciate what they were doing at the time. Now my horror movies have to have something different to scare me, something that could really happen, or some new twist on the paranormal. And I have to want to watch it over and over, even though I already know the story. That’s one of the reasons I love October so much: watching all the horror movies while waiting for Halloween. But I’ll watch a good horror movie any day.
And by “good,” I don’t mean a bunch of stupid teens in some isolated area screaming while running in high heels (girls) or bare feet (boys) while a killer with a dangerous implement (fill in the blank) chases them down till he finally catches them and hacks them into pieces.
Here then, from #7 to #1, are my picks for the Top 7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World.
And I’m talking Hitchcock’s original here, which was ground-breaking even if it was only because he killed off his leading lady, who happened to be a big Hollywood star, less than halfway through the film. Then again, maybe it was that atmospheric music, if you could call it “music.” It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that my little sister and I watched it on the sofa-couch when we were 6 & 7, respectively, while “babysitting” our baby brother.
Yeah, we were scared. Long before we ever found out about Norman Bates’ mother, too. I still find it fantastically creepy. And that Shower Scene. Janet Leigh claims she could never take a shower afterward and feel quite safe enough. I hear you, Janet.
To tell you the truth, I don’t even know what “the shining” in the movie (or the novel of the same name) is. And I know fans complain that the Kubrick version is nothing like the Stephen King novel on which it was based. But there’s something terrifying about the entire concept: being stuck, without rescue, in an isolated place, with a husband who’s slowly and obviously going violently insane. Now that’s horror for me, if only because it could really happen.
And I love Jack Nicholson, even before he gets to the iconic — and ad-libbed — “Here’s Johnny” scene. The typewriter tantrum is just a taste of the scary to come.
#5 Sleepy Hollow
Tim Burton makes some weird movies, I admit, but he also makes some fine ones. This is one of my favorites. It has big stars — Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Christina Ricci, Johnny Depp, and Christopher Walken. It has atmosphere. It has good special effects, especially since Burton doesn’t overdo it on the gadgetry stuff he likes. Depp’s performance as the fainting-under-stress detective Ichabod Crane investigating the murders in upstate New York is a funny but seriously interesting take on the original Washington Irving story. But Walken as the Headless Horseman can not be beat. Even when he has no head.
In interviews, Walken claimed the director instructed propmen to hold lights under his chin, shining them upward, to “make him look scarier.” Walken told him, “Get those d***d lights out of my face. I can make myself look scary without any help from them.” And he proved true to his word. He’s at some of his scariest in the Death of the Hessian scene.
We found this film totally by accident one night, and within a few minutes we were hooked. I could only find the trailer since the film is only a few years old, but I doubt I could show you any scenes that wouldn’t give away the frightening premise and revelation at the finale. You know the main idea: parents 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, of course, things start to go wrong. But not in any way you’d ever guess.
Though the earnings at the box-office were mixed, Orphan was a prize-winner in several Independent Film Festivals, and Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan Esther was universally acclaimed.
A great twist on the age-old vampire story, a prize-winning entry in Independent Film Festivals, based on the Swedish version of the film and directed by the same person. I can’t even tell you anything about it without doing the Spoiler Alert thing. Suffice it to say that it starts out with two lonely and outcast kids who begin a tentative friendship while scary, gruesome murders are being committed in their neighborhood.
Some viewers like the Swedish version — Let the Right One In — better, some the American. I don’t usually like to read my films, so I’m guessing I’d prefer this one. The performances by the child-actors are great, and the ending of Let Me In is completely unexpected.
Okay, so the lit-tra-chure purists complain that this isn’t really like Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw, on which it’s based, where two young children in a governess’ care claim to see ghosts. Or the governess claims that the children told her they see ghosts and that she has to protect her wards from the supernatural beings, depending on your interpretation of the governess’ reliability. Some film buffs prefer the 1956 Deborah Kerr version of The Innocents, if only because they say it’s closer to the James’ book. For my money, give me Nicole Kidman and the stunning child actors in this version. You have to watch it a second time to see all the clues you missed the first time. And you’ll probably be willing to do it right away, it’s that good.
Set in a brooding old estate right after World War II, where wife (Nicole) and children are patiently and worriedly waiting for Daddy to come home from the War, while being looked after by a trio of servants who “come with the place.” The Others is so close to #1, I had to flip a coin (not really… well, okay, only a couple times).
There is no doubt that this is one of the greatest film versions of the classic vampire story. Surrounded by a short set-story explaining Dracula’s and Mina’s psychic and emotional “connection”, the rest of the film is pretty loyal to the novel, even showing the characters writing their letters, receiving telegrams, and typing their diaries/journals, which is how the book is presented. Great performances by all, including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Cary Elwes, etc.
But no one, and I most emphatically repeat, no one can out-do Gary Oldman’s spooky, eerie, sexy (yes!), scary, totally believable turn as Count Dracula, or as he’s known to Mina, Prince Vlad. And I ain’t talking about the special effects here because director Francis Ford Coppola went old-school and refused to use computer graphics anywhere in the film (and added the author’s name to the title of the film so it wouldn’t be confused with any other Hollywood version).
I’m not talking the brilliant costumes, hairdressing, wigs, and makeup on Oldman either. I’m not talking about his accents — he claims to have used a different accent or dialect for every film he’s made, and that none has ever been his own natural dialect — which change, consistently, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula whenever he needs them to. He even learned an old dialect of Transylvanian for the set-story which begins the film and appears before the credits.
I’m talking about Gary Oldman, in what should have been an Oscar-winning performance. He rocks as Dracula (sorry, Christoper Lee: you know I loved you when I was a kid.) Oldman is so good, that I’ll even watch this one with commercials, though of course, they leave some of the coolest stuff out.
The best horror movie of all time, and included high (usually in the top 10) in the lists of most “Best Horror Movie” compilations: Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Somebody who knows me already asked why I didn’t include The Prophecy (1, 2, and 3), with Christopher Walken as a kick-ass Archangel Gabriel come down to steal someone’s soul to help with the War in Heaven. I love that movie. Seen it dozens of times. But there’s so much humor, especially with the scenes including Amanda Plummer, Adam Goldberg, and Walken, that I don’t even know if it, technically, classifies as horror. So, I left it out.
What say you, my Lovelies? Any of your favorite horror films that should have made it on this list? Let me know, in spooky comments.
Author. Prizes and awards include New York Times Book Review "Notable Book" & Top 100 Books of the Year, University of Rochester's Kafka Award, University of Cincinnati Elliston Poetry Prize, Centennial Review Poetry Prize, UKA Press Grand Prize, Santa Fe Writer's Project Literary Awards finalist, Writer's Digest Non-Rhyming Poetry Honorable Mention. SexAbuse and CSA survivor. Writer @ The Mighty and @ Migraine Mantras.
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