Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Taking The "Scar" Out Of "Scary"

Happy Halloween, my lil’ ghouls and goblins! JA from MNPP here, all awash in the Horrible Holiday’s spirit. A little too awash, actually, if you caught the zombie-licious post (warning: that link leads to all manner of gruesomeness) I did over in My…Pants today. Which got me thinking – that sort of thing is fine for my own turf, but here at The Film Experience I think Nat might appreciate it if I kept things a little less… well, entrail-y.

There are all kinds of Scary Movie lists all over this week, and to be honest, after spending all day yesterday scouring a stack of DVDs for scenes of flesh being gouged and ripped and shredded with teeth, I don’t have the strength/mind-set/sanity left to do something terribly in-depth of that sort again. But as I know y’all know, horror’s not just about splattering the screen with all manner of viscera. If you look at all these Scary Movie lists you’ll see that some – hell, a lot – of the films considered The Scariest don’t show you much, if anything, at all.

So in these films honor, and on this unholiest of days, here are my five favorite moments in a few of the horror films considered the ultimate examples of the genre that show us pretty much nothing at all but crawl under our skin something bad all the same.

Psycho (1960) – The Shower Scene
A big duh on this one, I know, but it had to be included. So much has been said for so many years about Hitch’s use of editing to imply violence here when we don’t actually ever see any, ahem, penetration, that I’ll refrain from repeating what we all already know. I know a lot of people revere the film but no longer find themselves scared by it, but I swear to Alma I expect a shadowy bewigged figure to loom upon the other side of the shower curtain almost every damned time I’m showering myself. Hitch would be so pleased.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – The Meat Hook
We all know, at this point, that this film is practically explicit-violence free, right? I think it bears repeating. We see Leatherface lift Pam in the direction of the hook. We see her dangling there. We hear the sound of the chainsaw going at her boyfriend. We see her screaming. And… that’s about it. Tobe Hooper puts the pieces into place and our brains fill in the rest.

Halloween (1978) – The Race For The Door
I’m fairly certain you don’t see a single drop of blood in all of Halloween but, even if there is a stray bead on a knife or something somewhere within the film, my favorite part of the film doesn’t even have any violence, implied or otherwise, in it. Our Final Girl Laurie Strode has escaped the house across the way, wherein Michael Myers has lovingly laid out her friend’s corpses in silly configurations just for her, and vaults herself straight into what I consider to be one of the most tense sequences ever put on film. She runs to the neighbor’s house, pounds on the door screaming for help, and they shut the lights out on her. She runs to the house in which she’s staying, and the door’s locked. She can’t find the keys. Michael Myers’ figure appears across the street now and is coming straight towards her. The kids are upstairs, sleeping. A potted plant is thrown. A groggy little boy slowly makes his way to the door. Michael Myers is still coming. Ahhhhh!!!! I’ve seen this sequence probably twenty-plus times and it gets my heart racing every single viewing.

The Blair Witch Project – The Basement
I know this is as divisive a horror film as there is out there – people seem to either worship it or absolutely loathe it. Well I’m a lover, and the final scene of this film is another instance where it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it and know the outcome; as the camera scans those kiddie-prints on the walls and Heather goes deeper and deeper into the house - and the wailing – I find myself inching away from the screen every time, as if whatever I’m not seeing just off frame is actually going to end up in the room with me in the end. I’d go so far as to say that Blair Witch is the modern equivalent to my next choice, actually, as the scariest film in which we see really and truly absolutely nothing at all.

The Haunting (1963) – Something’s At The Door
Save two quick jump-inducing shots of figures coming out of nowhere, what do we actually see to scare us so in Robert Wise’s The Haunting? We see… the inside of a door!!!! And… ceiling beams!!! The terror! Yet, aided by the greatest horror sound-design ever – runner up: poor little Regan’s voice, of course – and a camera that seems as if it’s going to crawl right inside the wood grain, this specific scene – Theo and poor little Eleanor huddled on the bed together, staring at… the door!!! – is completely horrifying.

Tell me in the comments: What’s your favorite example of a film scaring you without showing you anything at all? And how scary is it that every single one of these films have been remade except for Blair Witch; give me your guesstimates for how long until Blair Witch follows suit? It's eight years old now - basically ancient!


Michael Parsons said...

I love that you included The Haunting. I agree with every single one of those. Right after she is placed on the hook and the chainsaw is started me and the bf (first saw it 8 years ago) switched off the movie to watch it when it was daylight.
The end scene in Blair Witch still has left it's place. Me and said bf held each other during The Haunting scene so tightly I thought we would burst,
Halloween and Psycho go without saying.

I would have to add the story of the hand through the floor boards in "The Changeling" for creep factor without blood.

As for Blair Witch remake. Will never happen. Everything from the story, to the filming, to the advertising build up on the web was too clever to work like that again.

Grat list though...relived them all and now am all scared and alone!

Anonymous said...

"Blair Witch is eight years old now - basically ancient! "
After that aweful Haunting remake , I'd expect to see the Blair Witch herself in EVERY frame of the remake.
The Haunting of Hill House ,black and white movie, as well as Jackson's book will always be a favorite of mine. Amazing story telling and interpretation.

StinkyLulu said...

I just wrote about one of the best of these: Rebecca.

Lyn said...

Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock".

Those panpipes are the soundtrack to my most unsettling dreams.

Anonymous said...

I liked Scream.Even though it isn't as revered as Halloween or Psycho, it is still a pretty cool Horror/Comedy.

I also like The Exorcist & The Original Night of the Living Dead.

Anonymous said...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original) is probably the most viscerally frightening movie ever. At least I think so.

Anonymous said...

In terms of a scene that scared the hell out of me (without “showing anything”), I’d have to say one from ALIEN. No, not the chest-burster scene- that was more shocking than scary. What scared me most was when Ripley realizes she is the only (human) left alive on that giant spaceship and decides to put it into self-destruct mode.

The combination of dark hallways, penetrated only by the light of screeching alarms going off, with “mother” warning Ripley over the intercom that the ship will detonate in less than 5 minutes, and all the while knowing this terrifying alien could be lurking around any corner…. was just unbearably intense.


And since we’re on the subject, here’s by “rough” Top 10 List of the films I find to be the SCARIEST OF ALL TIME:

01. Halloween
02. Scream
03. The Exorcist
04. The Shining
05. Alien
06. Jaws
07. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
08. Poltergeist
09. The Silence of the Lambs
10. Psycho

Anonymous said...

- One more thing…

- JA- Love your list- P-E-R-F-E-C-T title for the HALLOWEEN scene: "race for the door."

- Looking back, that is defiantly one of the scariest moments I’ve experienced in a film.

Anonymous said...

Se7en. "Sloth" scene. Me in fight or flight mode. I may not love the film, but fucking hell did that terrify me.

Anonymous said...

Misery & Seven were pretty cool too.

Jason Adams said...

All the deaths in Seven are gret and totally implied - they all are shown after the fact and are only put together by camera-work and what pieces Fincher gives us. Really well done, and yeah, when the dude starts twitching on the bed it's a nightmare come to life.

ryan, Alien is def. horrifying in those final minutes - it's the best example ever of The Countdown being effective. So many movies use it as a device to build tension but none, in my opinion, have ever done it as well.

Honestly, I cannot stress this enough - the Halloween scene I described is the most visceral, terrifying feeling a film has ever induced in me on a repeated basis ever. It works every damned time. Something about that angle of the camera of Michael Myers coming closer, and Billy, the little boy, YAWNING as he slowly comes to the other side of the door... AHHH!

Max said...

I'm so glad someone else feels the same way about The Blair Witch Project. I saw it when it originally came out in the theater and I was freaked out, didn't sleep for a while. I tried to overcome my fear of it in college and still couldn't do it, because of that last scene.

Glenn Dunks said...

I've noticed actually that after the initial period of everyone loving The Blair Witch and after the looong period of everyone "hating" The Blair Witch that it's now acceptable to like it again. I never stopped thinking it was the scariest movie I've ever seen very closely followed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I'd throw a vote towards The Others, especially the scene in the top room with all the furniture. And it's in daylight too!

But the ultimate for me is Cat People. The scene where Jane Randolph is walking besides the zoo at night (and, in actual fact, the exact same stretch of wall over and over again) thinking that Simone Simon is following her is truly on the scariest scenes ever. There are other scary bits too, but that bit is the tops.

And also, another Jacques Tourneur film, I Walked With a Zombie features many scary scenes too.

Glenn Dunks said...

Oh, and I second Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Catherine said...

I just saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre last night. It was different to what I was expecting, but probably creepier than I'd expected too. The scene where Sally is strapped to the chair at the dinner table, with the family sitting down for a nice meal is just horrific. I'm strongly considering going veggie, now.

A good example of terror-without-gore would be The Spiral Staircase. I actually can't recall it very well, but I remember being freaked out when I was a kid.

is that so wrong? said...

I too fell prey to the "scary movies" list phenomena over at my blog.... but in terms of creep factor without seeing anything gory? A good old ghost story (Blair Witch is a great example) does the trick every time.... and for me, The Innocents (starring the recently departed Deborah Kerr)scares the bejesus out of me each time you see a figure appear in the distance and know that it shouldn't be there.

Anonymous said...

The Changeling is insanely scary, props to everyone who mentioned it. The mood is carefully constructed, so that when the big scares come, they really leave a mark.

One scene involving a floor in a quiet, dark house is almost sadistically freaky. It's one of those moments where you really really really wish you wouldn't have to see the unknown scary thing you know you're about to see.

Anonymous said...

Kamikaze, I heart your mention of the Others. When I first watched it (rented it at home - I never saw it at the theaters) it was 11pm, my significant other was asleep in the next bedroom, it was raining - and I really wanted to watch the movie without waking her. So I had it turned waaaayyyy down - and couldn't hear the voices that Grace (Kidman) hears when she enters the room with the covered furniture. It didn't matter anyway, because the hairs were prickling on my neck when she turned her head to face the camera - I had never been so scared by an onscreen character's expression of fear.

I would also have to add The Sixth Sense - I spent the entire movie waiting for something gory or awful to happen, because so often that's what movies today do, and I hate that sort of stuff. So when you're waiting for something awful to happen and you're on edge - when I first screened it, there was a shriek - I still have no idea if it was onscreen or from somewhere in the audience, and the entire audience, myself included, literally JUMPED out of our skins.

And that scene where the little boy has to go to the bathroom? Gets me everytime, in part because the performance is so real - you really believe he HAS to go to the bathroom, and that peeing is the only thing that can make him overcome - reluctantly - his fear of leaving the safety of his bedroom.


Anonymous said...

Do none of you like The Ring? (hollywood version)

The tension is built for the entire movie and when the footage of a well randomly flickers onto a televsion, and a figure slowly emerges out of it, I think I lost a year of my life due to the furious beating of my heart.

Never seen the Jap version (too scared to watch it) but from what I've been told, even less is shown and yet the scares are more psychological.