Saturday, October 14, 2006

Freaky movies for a freaky day

Here's the blog I wrote for The Midnight Hour site. It got pubbed yesterday, so the date references will be off. But there are sure to be scary movie marathons for the rest of the weekend somewhere, right? Also, you can find longer reviews for most of these flicks in the Crystal Says... archives. Enjoy!

Happy Friday the 13th! Or… Hey, is this supposed to be a day where I’m using exclamation points or not?

For me, any holiday that has something to do with being scared or thrown off balance is something to appreciate, no matter the origins. Halloween, Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day—give all of them to super-shallow me. I am a writer and reader of the morbid, as evidenced by the Vampire Babylon series I’m writing for Ace/Berkley, as well as the thriller I have on the shelves this month (BAITED, plug, plug). I love stirring up nightmares in my head, until it’s actually time to have them, of course. And I love a cold, shivery night when rain pelts against the window while I’m safe inside with a scary blood-pumper of a book. I love being frightened.

So give me the macabre celebrations, the reasons to gather with friends while dressed in costume…the freaky movie marathons that keep me in front of the TV for hours!

Since it’s Friday the 13th and many a marathon will no doubt be gracing your tube, too, I thought I’d toss out six of my favorite creeper flicks. I’m choosing six because I’m on deadline and that’s all I can think of at the moment. Besides, this blog can’t be WAR AND PEACE (though it’s close). And even though this is a paranormal site, not all of these films fit this exact category. But if you love things that go bump in the night as much as I do, I think there’ll nevertheless be some entries here that you’ll enjoy.

And now…counting down from what I perceive to be the least paranormal movie to the most, here are the six flicks that freak me out like no others.

Nowadays, some don’t consider this movie to be all that terrifying, but this was the film that put me on the path to writing about murder and mayhem. I was in sixth grade when I visited Universal Studios and witnessed that house. My mind took over from there and, ever since seeing the film, I’ve never been able to get over Norman Bates’ Mother voice or Mother smile. (Do you remember that image near the end when Mother’s skull is superimposed over Norman’s face??? You know what? I just gave myself the willies.) Oh, and this is the movie that made me frightened of men in wigs. That is totally going to be in one of my books someday.

Sense a connection between this and PSYCHO? Yes, men in wigs. Men who kill while wearing wigs. While director Brian De Palma might pay great homage to Hitchcock in this bloody, wild flick, he sure knows how to wield his own vision during the big pay off revelation-of-the-killer scene.

I cannot believe I’m telling you that this is one of the six movies that gets to me the most. If you’re a horror fan, you know about SC: it has a cult following, and its fans will swear until their dying days that it’s not just a FRIDAY the 13th rip off. Yes, it takes place at summer camp, but the little monsters running around are quite human: they’re actual teens. They’re ferocious creatures, wounding each other with words and mean practical jokes. It’s probably a lot like your own junior-high days. And when it comes to the slash-by-number murders? Creative, and quite, quite sick. But the reason SC is on my list is because of the surreal, shocking ending. The image of the revealed killer haunts my mind some nights.

4. FRIDAY the 13th
How could I not go here today? Oddly enough, this is the first entry that actually has a touch of the paranormal, at least as far as the series goes. How else does the murderer Jason Voorhees manage to come back to life so many times? But I’m talking about the first F13 here—not any of the sequels (even though number two is always good for lots of tension). Start with a murderous prologue where two counselors get it while they’re fooling around, add a stretch of eerie build-up so we’re actually wondering whodunit, and end with chilling action, and you’ve got a solid murder mystery that stands above most slasher flicks.

I’m pretty sure a lot of you have never heard of this gem—you can rent it on DVD, and I highly recommend it if you love creepy psychological thrillers. It does utilize the “slow build” model of storytelling, but the spooky atmosphere is stiflingly effective. In this flick, a team has been hired to replace asbestos in an abandoned mental hospital and, during their stay, a malevolent force permeates their ranks. Is it a supernatural presence or something more human? The ending packs a huge emotional punch, elevating SESSION 9 to the stuff of Greek tragedy. Also, the final sounds still freak me out if I let myself remember them.

And, finally…

This is another slow-build psychological mind game, and it’s known to be a slightly “arty” horror movie. When a man and his wife lose their daughter, they attempt to rebuild their marriage in Venice, where he has taken a job. While there, the husband becomes aware of a serial killer stalking the canals. DLN has the ending: I first saw it one late night, and I got so mentally assaulted that I couldn’t sleep for at least a week afterward. The imagery is what got to me, as well as the ironic tragedy. I’ve found that there are two types of polarizing reactions to this movie: those who find DLN boring and dopey and, those like me, who feel something primal invading them at the movie’s end. Whatever you’re feeling, you’ll probably find Venice scarier than all get out, with every wind-blown curtain hiding another horror story behind its cover.

Runners up? NOSFERATU, BLACK CHRISTMAS, HALLOWEEN, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Hey, I actually could’ve had a top ten. And I’ll probably think of a million things I should’ve written about tomorrow.

But I’ll catch those movies at Halloween.

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