The Scariest Movie Ever?

With every holiday nowadays comes a list of "Top 100 Movies." At this writing, Halloween approaches, and the lists of "Top 100 Scary Movies" are appearing in newspaper entertainment sections and on news channel Web sites. We're not going to do that to you, of course, but we were batting around the topic in the Pub a few days ago -- what's the creepiest film you've ever seen, and why?

Nathan Brazil says "[T]he best horror/ dark fantasy movie I ever saw, was Night of the Demon. The way the movie was shot scared the hell out of me, along with the idea that the demon could be called down upon the victim simply because he was carrying a piece of paper inscribed with magical letters. Using something so ordinary as the bringer of supernatural demise made it seem all the more real. I was reminded of this movie many years later, when the excellent Kate Bush made reference to it on the title track to her album Hounds of Love, the line being "It's in the trees, it's coming." Hearing that brought back the chilling moment when the demon appears, chasing down it's victim, like an express train.Check your pockets, everyone, just to make sure that the calling card hasn't been slipped inside."

A 1957 British horror film, Night of the Demon is not one that I've seen, but it sounds like I need to -- older horror films are sometimes the creepiest of them all! Before the days of multimillion dollar special effects, when directors had only lighting, music, and good acting to rely on...

Craig Clarke and Denise Dutton agree on one such film, made on a lower budget in 1979 and thus not the "beneficiary" of high-tech special effects. Denise reminisces: Halloween has always scared me. This was the first horror movie I saw where the action happened in Anytown, USA. Before then I had seen Hammer horror films shot in "Transylvania" and Toho movies that had a zippered Godzilla stomping through Tokyo. Halloween showed me that the suburbs could be just as dangerous as those far away locales. Teenagers getting slaughtered by a relentless maniac while babysitting hit me where I lived. I couldn’t babysit without turning on every single light in the house for months afterward. The kids loved it, though. They could stay up as late as they wanted and I didn’t care. I needed the company."

Craig chimes in: "I don't think that Halloween's role as the progenitor of the slasher genre can be overestimated (whether director/writer/composer John Carpenter wants to claim the child or not, he is its father). Even though this seemingly gives short shrift to the earlier Black Christmas, it was Halloween (originally slated as a sequel to Christmas) that gave us what would become the hallmarks of the genre: the teenage after-sex murder, the virginal heroine, and the killer with a hidden face who just won't die...Halloween is the film I return to when I need a good, fun scare ride. (For more about Halloween, see Denise Dutton's excellent in depth review of the film.)

Craig's minimalist leanings also include The Blair Witch Project: "It did what many filmmakers have been trying to do--bring the "scare" back into the flagging genre of scary movies. And the "true story" angle feeds into it. My favorite part, though, is the intricacy of the back story. Directors Daniel Myrick and Ed Sanchez created a whole mythology of the "Blair Witch," Elly Kedward, and her effect over the centuries on the township of Blair, Maryland -- later resettled as Burkittsville. How several events -- including the disappearance of eight children (attributed to local hermit Rustin Parr, who "heard voices") -- were caused by this infamous "witch" is engrossing in itself and is reportedly the subject of the upcoming third film.

When asked about the creepiest film she'd ever seen, Grey Walker would say only "The Advocate. It was entirely believable." And Tim Hoke had to think about it for a while, but he says "the first one that comes to mind is Night Of The Hunter. Not horror, per se, but I saw it when I was a kid and it scared the hell out of me. Leave it to Robert Mitchum to make an old hymn (Leaning On The Everlasting Arms) frightening. Creepiest damn film I think I've ever seen."

Suspense and foreboding, or blood and gore? I'd like to agree with Grey and say that "believability" is the key to a good horror movie...but I'd be shading the truth. Halloween was one of the very first films to scare the living daylights out of me, and like Denise I found that it seriously affected my career as a teenaged babysitter. Was Michael Myers utterly believable? No, but he was terrifying nonetheless.

A film that was also not overly credible, but which had no problem giving me the eyes-tight-shut, white-knuckles-on-the-blankets, cold sweat super willies was George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead. Something about those shambling zombies, all humanity gone, focused on only one thing...ugh. And just when I thought I'd overcome my zombie issues, the 1990 remake appeared -- as well done as the original, in some places even better, and still able to send me into the bathroom at 3:00 a.m. to lock myself in and wait for morning.

I like vampires and werewolves -- I find them more romantic than frightening. Aliens don't scare me, and serial killers...well, let's just say that the stories of real life evil are more frightening than anything brought to the screen in recent years. The supernatural is more fascinating than scary...No, it's zombies that do me in.

If you've any thoughts on the scariest films of all time, especially if Green Man hasn't reviewed them yet, we invite you to send your thoughts to our Letters Editor and make your arguments known. The most persuasive and/or articulate just may make their way to our Letters page.


[Maria Nutick]

Visit our Horror and Dark Fantasy section for reviews of more scary films, as well as films
which tried to be scary but didn't quite make it...

For maximum Halloween terror, Craig Clarke recommends:

Black Christmas
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
The Collingswood Story
Let's Scare Jessica to Death
The Others
Rosemary's Baby
Stir of Echoes
The Tenant