Friday, October 19, 2012

October Horror Part I

I love October.  I really do.  The weather starts to cool down, the trees start to change color, lots of work holidays are coming up which means more family time, and best of all, I have an excuse to watch horror movies that my wife would otherwise veto.

I've recently been out to the theater to see two, one that was very good, the other that wasn't horrible, and Paranormal Activity 4 kicks off today, so far so good.  I'll get to them in Part II, but for Part I, I wanted to show some love for my very favorite horror movies of all time.  I'll try and avoid the obvious ones (Night of the Living Dead, Psycho, Exorcist, Halloween, etc), in hopes that there might be at least one on the list you've never seen before....


In the Mouth of Madness: I'm a big fan of John Carpenter.  His recent stuff has been pretty ho-hum, but when the man was in his prime, he could crank out stories that would chill you to the bone.  I don't want this to be a post devoted entirely to John Carpenter (maybe later this month), so I picked my favorite, and that was tough.  In the Mouth of Madness, though, sits at the top of my list.  The inimitable Sam Neill in all his Sam Neill-ishness, the obvious Lovecraftian overtones, the genuinely disturbing use of special effects, but more importantly the wisdom of knowing when NOT to use them.  It's rare to encounter a movie in the modern age that has any sense of restraint - why hint at death and destruction when we can throw it in the viewers' faces?  I don't know about you, but the things I imagine typically scare me more than the best Hollywood shlock, and Carpenter gets that.

Crazy fact about the movie: the Black Church depicted in the film as the seat of all evil is a real place!

The Medusa Touch: A latter day Richard Burton glowers and growls his way through this tale of a man with a "gift for disaster", proving that misanthropy and psychic abilities are a bad combination.  There is a scene in this movie, you'll know it when you see it, that explains why this gem has never been released in the States.  There's not too much to say about this - it's got spectacular acting, a solid plot, some shocking scenes that make this a regular every Halloween.  Burton's dead-fish stare make his dialogue all the more terrifying, and there's a general air of creepy, "things are not right" that runs through the background of the entire film, which leads up to a horrific climax that makes you want to start the movie over again to catch all the things you missed the first time through.

The Sentinel:    This movie is a veritable Who's Who of actors, including some from before they were famous.  Jerry Orbach, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, Burgess Meredith, Chris Sarandon, John Carradine, Arthur Kennedy, Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, Jose Ferrer and Eli Wallach all share the stage in the 1977 film.  In it, an actress moves into a loft in NYC, at a price that seems to be too good to be true.  Of course, it is too good to be true - the building sits on a gate to hell, and the order of excommunicated priests that own it have their sights set on the heroine to become the next guardian of the portal.

The movie does an outstanding job of starting things off with an uneasy feeling, then ratcheting up the tension to a truly terrifying finale, made infamous by the fact that actual physically and mentally disabled people were hired to portray demons and damned souls.  Whether it was in good taste or not, it makes for a scene you won't forget.

Prince of Darkness: Okay, so I said I would only put one John Carpenter movie on this list, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include at least one more.  This movie often gets a bad rap, and not entirely undeservedly so.  Alice Cooper plays a hobo that stabs someone with a bicycle, and the portrayal of the villain is not what most people are expecting.  Fair enough.  But the good outweighs the bad by far.  In a recent g+ thread, Raggi asked who the audience thought should write a LotFP adventure, and I threw Carpenter's name up there with this movie in mind.  It's a classic RPG setup - a group of scientists from disparate fields are called to a church basement by an order of priests who, as it turns out, have been hiding the Anti-Christ from prying eyes for centuries.  Unfortunately for them, and the rest of the planet, it appears to be waking up.  They are trapped in the church, and the fight for survival begins.  It's a metaphysical, eschatological horror story with a foundation in Carpenter's studies of theoretical physics and atomic theory.  What's not to love??????

"I have a message for you, and you're not going to like it.  Pray for death."


Session 9: Starring David Caruso, this was Brad Anderson's first horror movie, but he did it right.  I could have sworn Chris Bauer was also in this, but IMDB says I'm wrong.  Huh.  Anyhow, this is a movie that is all about atmosphere.  An asbestos crew goes into an abandoned asylum, and things start to get weird.  Then they get weirder, and weirder still.  Nobody went to see it when it was released, which is a shame, because it's almost universally praised.  It's a movie that plays with the viewer's expectations, and pulls off an ending that would have fizzled in lesser hands.  I'd love to tell more about it, but I don't want to take away from the awesomeness that comes from seeing this cold.  Just trust me and watch it.

It's also the origin of this classic .gif file, from the ever-over-emotive David Caruso:

Jacob's Ladder: Another movie that excels at barely glancing at the more horrific aspects of its mythology rather than slapping the viewer across the face with them, freakishly tall Tim Robbins (6'5!) plays a Vietnam vet who comes home from the war after nearly losing his life to find that things are significantly stranger than he remembers them being.  Another movie that watches like an RPG, you can see the influence on 90s horror RPGs such as Kult, World of Darkness, and other games where the horror of the unknown creeps in, fraying the edges of the world a bit at a time until the protagonist can't tell where the real world ends and where the horror begins.  A movie that keeps the viewer off balance, and effectively puts the viewer in the protagonist's seat, you'll find yourself wondering along with Robbins' character, "Did I really just see that?"

more to come.....


  1. I agree with that thinking on restraint. It's really about letting the viewers scare themselves.

  2. Good picks. Carpenter is my favourite director -- despite Vampire$ -- and Halloween is my favourite of his films, but the two you picked are great. I must revisit In the Mouth of Madness one of these days. To my shame, I'd never heard of The Medusa Touch but it looks like I can stream it for free, so I may watch it tomorrow.

  3. I can't believe I've not seen Prince of Darkness. Time to hunt it down i think.


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