There's something inherently fun about being a little frightened when you know that it's all made up and you're perfectly safe (or is it, and are you?). As Halloween approaches, below is a short list of some scary and not-so-scary things that either freak me out or delight me, not only at Halloween time, but all year ‘round.
If there’s one movie that scared the daylights out of me when I was younger and still causes me to sleep with a couple of lights on when I’ve seen it as an adult, it’s The Exorcist. I don’t think that I could ever pinpoint one particular thing that freaks me out the most about this film; there are way too many unsettling moments. Maybe it’s the “based on a true story” claim that messes with my head, or the creepy sound effects in the scene where demonic noises are captured in a recording being played back. Then there’s the always disturbing crucifix scene, and the horrible grin on the possessed girl’s face (Regan, played by Linda Blair) whenever the demon is tormenting the adults trying to cast it out.
Years ago, I saw an ad for an extended version of the movie, showing possessed Regan grotesquely crab-walking up the stairs. I had a fleeting moment of thinking, “Whoa. Maybe I should check the new version out…” That, however, was quickly followed by the thought, “Right. And then lie awake for the next three weeks, jumping at every noise that you hear in the dark.” I decided to skip it.
One side note: as a fan of the TV show Supernatural, it was a fun surprise to see Linda Blair show up in a 2006 episode titled "The Usual Suspects". At the end of the episode, a snarky reference is made to Blair in The Exorcist when Jensen Ackles’ character, Dean, asks Jared Padalecki’s character, Sam, if Blair looked familiar to him. “Not really; why?”, Sam says. “I don’t know…for some reason, I could really go for some pea soup”, Dean quips.
Tim Curry’s (Lord of) Darkness in Legend
I imagine that a reference to the Devil conjures up some kind of mental image in most people’s head. The character design/F/X team for the 1985 movie Legend must’ve tapped into my psyche somehow, because if I had to give a description of what I think a devil might look like, Tim Curry’s (Lord of) Darkness is pretty much it. Bravo to them for their excellent work in making Darkness such a striking and detailed character, physically. Cloven hooves, huge horns, vampire-like incisors, serpentine eyes, claw-like black fingernails…Darkness is an imposing figure every time that he shows up onscreen. It’s no wonder that Mia Sara’s Lili faints the first time that she gets up close and personal with him. And kudos to Curry’s acting versatility; going from corset-wearing Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to a menacing agent of evil in Legend couldn’t have been an easy feat.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
This film falls squarely in the “awe” category that I reference in my title. I could go on for hours with all of the things that I love about this movie. I’ll spare you that though. A stop motion animation wonder that took about three years to create, it’s full of quirkiness and heart, boasts a fantastic soundtrack, and has a huge cast of imaginative creatures. I love main characters Jack Skellington, Sally, Zero, and so on, but it’s some of the lesser known and sometimes fleetingly seen residents of Halloween Town that are among my favorites too. Danny Elfman worked his magic with the music for the film, composing instant classics (the simple question “What’s this?” will forever cue up the movie’s song of the same name in my mind).
In my household, it’s just not the Halloween season without watching The Nightmare Before Christmas (for probably the seven thousandth time). And sometimes we watch it again around Christmas time too, for good measure.
El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
My friend and 2FL co-founder, Jav Rivera, was the one who first recommended El Orfanato (The Orphanage) to me, and all of the compliments that he paid it were completely spot on. A supernatural thriller full of atmospheric intensity, this movie made me jump and kept me on edge. More importantly though, it made me get emotionally invested in the film, so that when several key pieces of information were revealed towards the end, it was an “aha moment” and a quick punch in the gut, all at the same time.
I’ll admit that I didn’t like how the movie ended, but that hasn’t kept me from recommending it to other people and keeping it at the top of my list of films that are just great pieces of cinema. (I featured El Orfanato in one of my previous articles. To read it, go to 2FL: The Orphanage.
I know that clowns are supposed to bring joy and laughter to those around them, but try telling that to anyone who’s not a big fan. No offense to anyone reading, but I’ve always been a little creeped out by them, ever since I was a little girl. Pennywise, a product of Stephen King’s imagination, instantly cemented that for me when I saw the mini-series version of King’s novel, It. A demon appearing as a clown (again with the demons!), Pennywise guaranteed my apprehension of clowns forever. As my even-more-freaked-out-by-clowns friend, Peg, has said, “Clowns will eat you.” In this case, yes--yes they will.
(Fun bit of trivia: above-mentioned actor Tim Curry played the part of Pennywise in the TV mini-series.)
I'll freely admit that I can be a big old chicken sometimes, so whether or not the horrors on my list will seem spooky to you too, I'm not sure. But they're all worth checking out. Happy Halloween season!