I think it's about time to talk movies - scary movies - movies that leave us with our stomachs churning and our mouths gaping. There are, however, different levels and types of horror movie, anywhere from the cheesy to the downright weird. I prefer the weird. I also prefer to be left frozen in my seat, with a bad taste in my mouth, watching the credits scroll by in a daze. In order for a movie to do this, it has to work on a deeper level than the jump-out-at-you scares that are the mainstay of most shitty made-for-teens horror movies (see Wes Craven for an entire library of these kind of films). I like movies that are scary because they disturb; make the world seem less bright; make the things around you, however mundane, appear malevolent; make you question the solidity of things, of reality, of everything. We all know, after all, (or we should) that things are often not what they appear to be.
Ah, David Lynch; this guy (the director of Eraserhead) is a weird one. An artist-turned-film-maker, Lynch has created some of the strangest movies you can find in "mainstream" Hollywood. Eraserhead is his first full-feature film and its quite the piece. If you like structured plots and don't like to be confused, this movie is NOT for you. If, on the other hand, you're willing to open your mind to the possibilities of symbolism and imagery, this is an excellent movie. Eraserhead is not as difficult to figure out as some of Lynch's later films (check out Mulhouland Dr. - another good one), but contains some of his more disturbing scenes. Some of these scenes include when the main character's head pops off and is used as the material for the making of pencil erasers (hence the title - I could write an entire college paper on the symbolism here) and when a strange woman who won't stop smiling with puffy cheeks dances on a stage singing "In heaven, everything is fine," in the creepiest way possible while stamping on these fishy-fetus things. Lynch's genius lies in his ability to present surreal things that disturb and leave us feeling on edge. I highly recommend Eraserhead to anyone looking for a horror movie that goes beyond the tired old troupe of being-chased-by-that-thing-that-lurks-in-the-dark.
Requiem for a Dream
When I talk about movies that leave you breathless - a stunned lump on the couch watching the credits roll-on-by - I can only think of a few movies that actually physically evoke this response; Requiem for a Dream is one these movies. Darren Aronofsky raises this film from what could be a simply depressing story about an unfortunate group of Brooklyn residents that become entangled with drugs, to an exploration of human suffering and tragedy that evokes terror in us all. The final moments of this film are a nightmare cascade and the soundtrack (Clint Mansel) is eerie and perfect. People either love this film or they hate it because they come unprepared to deal with how horrific things can be in the "real world".
Tetsuo: the Iron Man
How many movies have you seen where a sensual love scene turns into a nightmare gore-fest involving the becoming of a penis into a pneumatic drill? This movie is a terrifying drug trip. It involves a man who is struck by a car and becomes terrified of the technological, first being chased by a woman who has become some sort of crazed lunatic with a whirling mechanical arm, to infusing his own body with all sorts of gear-driven devices. This one is Japanese and its subtitled, but even if you didn't read the subtitles you'd get the point. The opening scene, involving our protagonist driving a steel bar into his leg, is particularly disturbing. I believe this movie is about the fear of how technology may adversely affect our humanity and it's a nail-biter. This movie is truly scary.
Alright, so you've probably seen this one, even if you haven't seen some of the movies on this list; if you haven't, and think its too dated now to be worth your time, then you need to jump on your Netflix account immediately and put this one in your queue. The Exorcist is one of the most successful movies (commercially) of all time; it's been named the "scariest movie of all time"; this movie is great (even though I wouldn't say "scariest ever" myself). There are a lot of urban legends surrounding The Exorcist, including numerous accidents during filming and the fact that the guy who did the voice over work for the demon killed his wife, his children, and then himself in some crazy murder/suicide in 1987. Besides all the strange rumors surrounding the making of the film (I read somewhere they went to slaughter houses and recorded the screaming of pigs for some of the demon voice scenes), the movie itself is fantastically frightening. Everyone remembers the little girl puking green gunk all over the priest, but there are a lot of scenes in this movie that are equally as crazy. Check out the spider-walk scene that was cut from the original release and all those twisted facial expressions; I mean, why can't Hollywood do this kind of stuff anymore?
I'm a big fan of Roman Polanski and Repulsion is one of his best. I've never seen a better film made about the decline into insanity. Everyone who sees this movie remembers different moments, those that stuck out for him/her that made the most impact. Most remember the strange moment early in the film where Carole (our lovely protagonist) sits down at a park bench and stares a crack in the sidewalk and later the sudden cracks and in the walls of her apartment. Moments that stick out for me include the creepy man peeking and reaching around the dresser Carole has pushed up against the door to her bedroom and the hands coming out of the walls in the hallway. This movie is about Carole, who is terrified of sexual interaction and being raped (and sometimes 'dreams' of being raped), and how her fears manifest themselves and drive her into a steady decline of her sanity (Losing sanity is almost always entertaining in my opinion - Ia Ia Cthulhu Fhtagn! Sorry- nerd joke). This is simply an excellent horror movie; a horror movie of the highest class.