Tag Archives: horror films

Horror and Suspense Films

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listed in alphabetical order by name of film

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

To Make Cynics of Us All:
Devil, The Horror Film

The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
The Devil’s Backbone: The Film

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

Setting the World on Fire:
The Girl with All The Gifts, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

When Children Scare You To Death:
Orphan, the Film

Not For Children:
The Horror Film The Orphanage

The World of the Living and The World of The Dead:
The Others, the Film

Slasher-Horror as Art Film:
Psycho, The Classic

Suspense via Edgar Allan Poe:
The Raven, the 2012 Film

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

You Are Now Entering the Cruel World:
Texas Killing Fields, the Film

Hansel and Gretel with a Video Camera:
The Visit, the 2015 Film

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The World of the Dead and the World of the Living: The Others, the Film

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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.

Nicole Kidman as Grace, The Others © Lionsgate

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)

Alikina Mann as Anne, The Others © Lionsgate

and Nicholas (James Bentley),

Nicole Kidman as Grace, and James Bentley as Nicholas, The Others © Lionsgate

while waiting for her husband (Christopher Eccelston) to return from the War.

Christopher Eccelston as Charles, The Others © Lionsgate

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.

Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs. Mills, The Others © Lionsgate

Mrs. Mills will be the housekeeper and cook, the mute Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) will clean,

Elaine Cassidy as Lydia, The Others © Lionsgate

and Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes) will take care of the grounds.

Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs Mills, Elaine Cassidy as Lydia, Eric Sykes as Mr Tuttle, The Others © Lionsgate

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.

The Others © Lionsgate

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.

Alakina Mann as Anne, James Bentley as Nicholas, and Nicole Kidman as Grace, The Others © Lionsgate

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.

Nicole Kidman, Alakina Mann, and James Bentley, The Others © Lionsgate

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.

Nicole Kidman as Grace, and Christopher Eccelston as Charles, The Others © Lionsgate

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.

Eric Sykes as Mr Tuttle, The Others © Lionsgate

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.

Nicole Kidman as Grace, The Others © Lionsgate

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.

The Others is available for rent ($2.99/3.99 SD/HD) or purchase ($6.99) on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

Related Posts

#NoSpoilers

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

Not For Children: The Horror Film The Orphanage

The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
The Devil’s Backbone: The Film

To Make Cynics of Us All:
Devil, The Horror Film

When Children Scare You To Death:
Orphan, the Film

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When Children Scare You to Death: Orphan, the Film

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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.

Vera Farmiga as Kate, and Peter Sarsgaard as John, in Orphan © Warner Brothers

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.

Vera Farmiga as Kate, and Peter Sarsgaard as John, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Their two children already seem like quite a handful for parents to handle:

Jimmy Bennett as Daniel, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) tends to do some unpleasant things with homemade weapons,

Aryanna Engineer as Max, Orphan © Warner Brothers

and Max (Aryana Engineer) cannot speak so must communicate with sign language.

CCH Pounder as Sister Abigail, Orphan © Warner Brothers

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.

Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, Orphan © Warner Brothers

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.

Isabelle Furhman as Esther, Orphan © Warner Brothers

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.

Isabelle Furhman as Esther, Orphan © Warner Brothers

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.

On Cinemax this month, Orphan is also available for rent ($2.99-3.99) on Amazon (free with a 7-day Cinemax trial), YouTube, Vudu, GooglePlay, and iTunes.

Related Posts

#NoSpoilers

7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

Not For Children: The Horror Film The Orphanage

The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
The Devil’s Backbone: The Film

To Make Cynics of Us All:
Devil, The Horror Film

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Seven Scary-Intense Suspense Films

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When I was younger, October was the magical month for horror films. All month long, on any channel, you could revel in spooky stories, filled with ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and other creepy monsters. I miss those days. Even with all the wonders of cable and premium movie channels, it is incredibly difficult to find really spooky movies now. If the film isn’t populated by silly teens running barefoot (guys) or in high-heels (gals) through the woods, away from any populated areas, screaming their heads off, then there’s usually so many special effects that any real sense of foreboding or terror is lost beneath the computer graphics. This month, I went on a quest to find some really scary movies for Halloween. I came up with seven of the best suspense & mystery films I could find. Some have a supernatural element, but many do not. They were worth every penny of the $2.99 (average) I paid to rent them. They’re not in any particular order, because they’re all excellent but in completely different ways.

The Bad Seed
(1956)

When the film based on the stage play of the same name hit theaters, The Bad Seed was deemed pretty scary. So scary, in fact, that the actors all “take a bow” at the end of the film, to remind the viewers that it’s a piece of fiction. Don’t let that keep you from watching this classic “horror” film. Psychologically realistic and terrifying in the extreme, The Bad Seed contains not a single paranormal character or hint, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary.

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The film stars Nancy Kelly (above R) as Christine Penmark, who begins to feel uneasy around her 8-year-old daughter Rhoda (Patty McCormack, above, center) after a little boy who’s her school rival dies in an accident. As Christine begins to re-evaluate things about Rhoda’s character that make her uneasy, she is faced with opposition from neighbors and family, all of whom insist Christine herself is imagining things about her angelic little girl.

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Though the film is a little heavy-handed on the heredity vs. environment discussions, it’s worth watching. The supporting cast, including Eileen Heckart as the mother of the dead boy, Paul Fix as the doting crime-writer Grand-dad, and Henry Jones as LeRoy the suspicious handyman, are all superb. McCormack and Kelly received Oscar nominations for their performances.  60 years later, the film and its exploration of evil remain pertinent.

The film’s content is so scary — and so very possible — that even the original trailer had to “remind” viewers that they were watching an advertisement for a film based on a play based on a novel, just so, you know, people didn’t get too creeped out. If you’re like me, however, you want to be creeped out and spooked at this time of year.  The Bad Seed is available to rent for a couple bucks on Amazon, on YouTube, and on Vudu.

The Innocents
(1956, 1961)

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It was a little confusing to find the correct date for The Innocents,  a British film based on Henry James’ classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw. Whatever version you find, make sure you have the black & white film, not the colorized one: the stark cinematography helps create the scares in this completely non-CGI horror classic. With a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, the acting is fantastic and the performances are plenty scary without any special effects.

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Deborah Kerr stars as the Governess, Miss Giddens, who comes to an isolated estate to care for two orphans, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens), who are just too beautiful and too-too perfect to be believed.

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Still, Miss Giddens is happy enough with her lovely charges and with the gorgeous house, despite all its creaks and closed-off rooms, and with the beautiful gardens and the lake and… oh, all of it. She’s happy with the children most of all. Until she begins to be unhappy with them. Why? Maybe they’re too perfect. Maybe they’re too mature. Maybe…

Well, it’s bad enough that Miss Giddens thinks the two siblings are keeping secrets and going off on the grounds by themselves without her permission or knowledge. When Miss Giddens begins to see ghosts, she thinks the children know all about the ghosts and may, in fact, be possessed by the ghosts’ evil spirits.

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The film stays close to the source material in never revealing whether or not the children can also see the ghosts, leading us to question the Governess’ sanity as she attempts to free her charges of the evil that she believes possesses them. Are the ghosts merely a figment of her imagination? Are the children possessed?   Is Miss Giddens dangerously crazy? You’ll have to decide those things for yourself in this scary classic.

If you’ve read the Henry James novella, you’ll really appreciate the film’s subtlety. If you’ve seen the later remake of the same work, The Others, there’s no comparison: both films are great. In fact, The Others is one of my top 7 Wonders of the Horror World. The Innocents is available for rent or purchase from Amazon.

Devil
(2010)

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After a jumper plunges to his death from an office building, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) comes to investigate, only to be plunged into another mystery when an elevator stops, trapping 5 people inside. When the occupants begin to die, police and others begin to suspect a murderer is trapped in the elevator, targeting the other passengers.

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While one of the buildings security guards is filling Detective Bowden’s ear with ghost stories that his family told him, based on the guard’s belief that he saw something in the elevator on the surveillance video,

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Bowden (with microphone, below) is desperately trying to determine why someone might want to kill the others in the elevator.

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Though the film does have some ostensible elements of the supernatural, they aren’t as important or scary as the psychological aspects of guilt, good, and evil, which involve everyone in the story, even the detectives who are there to save the trapped elevator occupants.

The film is better than its supernatural elements, which are so sparse, it’s almost like they were put in by accident. Devil is available for rent or purchase on Amazon, on YouTube, on iTunes, and more.

Identity
(2003)

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Identity is one of the best suspense movies I’ve ever seen, and I regularly watch it. Though one of the characters tries to explain the events at an isolated motel with a story of displaced Native Americans, there is nothing other-worldly about this film and its scares. The story begins with a chauffeur, Ed (John Cusack, below, center), getting trapped by washed-out roads at a lonely motel with his movie-star passenger, where Ed attempts to aid a traveller who was injured in an accident.

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Because of the relentless thunderstorm, other travellers are soon also stranded at the motel, including a cop (Ray Liotta, below, center) escorting a convict.

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When people begin disappearing at Larry’s (John Hawkes, above, L) motel, everybody gets more than a little anxious and paranoid. It doesn’t help when some of the stranded motorists feel they’re being targeted, or that way too many of the stranded people are proficient in the use of firearms.

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Now, just for fun, throw in a convicted serial killer (Pruitt Taylor Vince, above) who’s getting a last-minute, pre-execution hearing from the judge because the killer’s psychiatrist (Alfred Molina, below) insists that the killer isn’t mentally competent, though the good Dr admits that the killer’s “body” committed all the murders he’s been convicted of.

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What does the serial killer have to do with those stranded people at the isolated motel? Are the people at the motel part of the memories of the serial killer? Are they his victims? Is the killer truly and verily mentally incompetent? And what does that killer have to do with the people at the motel in the pouring rain? You won’t miss the absent supernatural elements in this scary thriller. By the time you get to the big Reveal, you’ll be as spooked as the people stranded at the motel.

The film has a great storyline and powerful acting by everyone involved. Identity is a psychological horror great. It’s available for rent for a few bucks, or purchase for a few dollars more, from Amazon, from YouTube, from iTunes, and more.

Open Grave
(2013)

Don’t even say the word “zombies” because this film never does. Not even once. Instead, an amnesiac guy, who later discovers his name is probably John (Sharlto Copley), awakes in an open grave. Surrounded by countless dead bodies. Yeah, how’s that for a gripping start?

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Our amnesiac manages to get out of the grave with help from a mysterious woman who doesn’t speak. He follows her to a house, where he meets other victims, all of whom have amnesia, and most of whom are really good at using the weapons stored at the place.

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Though some of the amnesiacs have this feeling that they know some of the others, they’re not sure, so nobody feels safe. When they begin to explore, they find creepy “scarecrows” tied to or hanging from trees, and, as you can imagine, that makes them more stressed.

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When they find a guy trapped in a barbed-wire fence, calling for help, things go bad quickly, and the members of the group turn on each other.

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Still, they can’t shake the feeling that some of them know each other, that there’s some “big picture” they seem to have forgotten, and that something really super-monstrously big, like  BIG, is going to happen in a couple of days, and not just because they found a calendar with the date circled, and with the other days of the calendar marked off. They need to regain their memories quick if they’re going to discover why the 18th is so important to their survival.

Are those dead bodies in the open grave the result of an attack? Of a plague? Of mass murder? Of vicious and unethical medical experimentation? I don’t know, and I’ve seen the film more than once. It’s one of the best post-apocalypse movies ever made. Open Grave is available for purchase or rent ($2.99-3.99) on Amazon, on YouTube, on iTunes, on Vudu, and more.

The Orphanage
(2007)

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Of all the films I have listed here, this is the only one that I would caution adults not to allow children to watch. If children watch it with you, by the time you discover why I think young children should not watch The Orphanage, it’ll be too late. They’ll probably be seriously upset by this film, so be warned. It’s R-rated for a reason, and there are no special effects, bad language,  or graphic violence to warrant the rating: the mature rating comes purely in the content of the story itself.

Laura (Belén Rueda) spent many of her formative years in an orphanage, where she loved the other children and where she remembers being happy.

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In an attempt to “pay back” to society, she purchases the old home in order to take in special needs children. With Laura are her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), who’s an MD, and their son Simón (Roger Princep), who doesn’t know that he’s adopted nor that he’s ill.

Simón already has a couple of imaginary friends, but he makes a few new imaginary friends at the orphanage-now-home. This starts to disturb his parents, who aren’t sure that he’s not just trying to get more attention at a time when their focus is going to be divided among the new resident children.

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When Mama Laura sees a strange, hooded figure, whom she thinks is Simón, on the day of the party to welcome the special needs children, and the strange figure then attacks her, Laura is frightened, not only for herself, but for Simón, who goes missing on the same day.

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And Laura’s life deteriorates from there. Though others attempt to convince Laura that Simón is dead, rather than merely missing, she refuses to give up hope. When her husband wants to begin to “live again,” away from the orphanage, Laura feels betrayed. She insists on staying, if only because it was the last place where anyone saw her son. She will even ask for help from the “ghosts” if they can tell her where Simón is.

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Some reviewers of the film complained that the ghosts were a minor part of the story, and I have to admit that they are, but I found that a strength in the film rather than a weakness. The story is about loss and grieving, about guilt and hope. It’s about parents and children, husbands and wives. It’s about how tragedy can forever change everything in our lives, and how some people simply cannot live with the pain of loss.

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It is not a film for young children: you will just have to trust me on this.

In Spanish with English subtitles, The Orphanage is an intense and excrutiating psychological drama, masking itself as a ghost story. Yes, there are some ghosts, but that is not why this is a powerful and memorable film. Available for rent for $2.99 from Amazon, from iTunes, and from Vudu.

The Devil’s Backbone
(2001)

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Another film by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (along with The Orphanage) which is classified as “dark Spanish fantasy,” The Devil’s Backbone also features a ghost in its story of orphans. Set during the Spanish Civil War, the Headmistress (Marisa Paredes) of the orphan home secretly supports partisans and hides gold for the Resistance.

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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 staying at the orphanage, he sees the ghost of a boy his own age.

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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 anything supernatural with the boys. All the adults in the school have secrets, but none has more than the violent and angry caretaker Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), who was once an orphan there himself and who returned only to get at the hidden stash of gold.

Jacinto terrorizes the boys and manipulates all the women at the school. He steals keys to secretly search for the gold, and has sexual relations with more than one of the female teachers.

Ten-year-old Carlos is forced to come to terms with his own abandonment. While attempting to navigate the hierarchy of orphan boys, led by the tyrannical  Jaime (Íñigo Garcés),  Carlos determines to overcome his own terror of the ghost and discover its secret.

In Spanish with subtitles, The Devil’s Backbone is as much about the perils of war and about man’s cruelty to each other as it is about the things that haunt us, whether they be ghosts or our own pasts. Available for about $2.99 for rent from Amazon, from YouTube, and from iTunes.

Looking for scary, spooky, spectacular films this Halloween, my Lovelies?

I think you’ll like these.

And if you know of others that you’d think I’d like, please let me know. There are still 10 days left in October, and I need some more films to spook me or otherwise keep me awake at night.

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Seven Wonders of the Horror Movie World

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7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World

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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.

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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.

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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.

#7
Psycho

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.

For my in-depth #NoSpoilers review, with links to viewing, see Slasher-Horror as Art Film: Psycho, the Classic

#6
The Shining

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.

#4
Orphan

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.

For my in-depth #NoSpoilers review and links to viewing, see When Children Scare You to Death: Orphan, the Film

#3
Let Me In

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.

For my in-depth #NoSpoilers review and links to viewing, see Coming-of-Age with a Vampire, Let Me In, the Film

#2
The Others

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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).

For my in-depth #NoSpoilers review and links to viewing, see The World of the Living and The World of the Dead: The Others, the Film

#1
Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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.

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