Friday, July 16, 2010

My Five Most Chilling Film Moments

Two fun blogs (The Vault of Horror, and The Horror Digest)  have recently devoted time to discussing a potential list of the most chilling moments in horror film, or as they've put it: The Top Ten Willy Inducing Moments. As a lover of horror, I have to take myown turn at a similar list. I'll give you only five though.

1. "The Bag Scene" in Audition. Unfortunately, I can't describe the scene in this outstanding Asian horror film because it is a major spoiler. Let me assure you though, you could take seven or eight scenes from this work and put them on the list, Audition is that disturbing. You don't even want to know what is going on the picture on the left. For those who have Netflix, I do believe it is available on instant viewing.

2. The appearance of the ghost of Miss Jessell in The Innocents. An understated moment, and all the more chilling for its subtlety, the scene is filmed in daylight, and firmly establishes the link between the children and evil spirits haunting the estate, as well as developing the theme of the corruption of the innocent. This 1961 black and white film starring Deborah Kerr, based on Henry James' Turn of the Screw, is amazing for its unsettling atmosphere and sustained tension.

3.Some horror films take time to set the table, not revealing the horror until the tension has been firmly established. Night of the Living Dead establishes its eerie feeling over the opening credits, with cinematography looking as though the camera was first covered with burlap before shooting. Within minutes of the famous line: "They're coming to get you Barbara," the dead are on the move and the relentless pace continues until its depressing ending. Below, if you wish to peek, is an excerpt.

4.Interesting how so many of my favorite horror films are black and white. I suppose there is something about the ability of monochromatic cinematography to create an eerie sense of reality and fantasy. Hitchcock's Psycho has to make my list. Before the blood spattered cinema of today, Hitchcock worked to scare rather than shock an audience. Psycho's Norman Bates is creepy and threatening even by today's standards. My moment from this film? The shower scene. And by the way, let's stop and give a passing nod to the brilliant score by Bernard Herrmann.

5. I would have embedded this, but embedding was disabled by Warner Brothers. Here, instead, is the link, if you wish, to Merrin's arrival in The Exorcist. It's a short scene, but beautifully filmed and thick with tension when viewed within the context of the motion picture. Essentially, the scene involves a cab pulling up in front of the house at night. The Georgetown neighborhood's streets are damp and the air is dense with fog. This moment is moment of quiet, a brief respite from the horror that has come before it, but it is also a caution to the audience that something even more horrible is about to occur. The image was so powerful, it was used in many of the posters when the film was first released.


Barbara Martin said...

Excellent selection of creepy movies. I have seen Psycho and The Exorcist numerous times. The shower scene still makes a chill run up my spine. There isn't any need for gore, as a psychological fear is more palpable. I don't remember seeing The Innocents, but as I like Deborah Kerr, I'll have to see if I can find a copy.

Charles Gramlich said...

Your number one is also my number one. The others I might argue about.

Simcha said...

I am definitely not a fan of horror movies or books. I watched The Watcher in the Woods when I was 12 and that movie still haunts me. I'm not sure how you are able to watch these movies and still manage to sleep at night :)

Anne Spollen said...

That foggy cab scene in the Exorcist -- I saw it when I was much younger (like about 14) and it was the one of the most terrifyingly memorable scenes I've ever watched. And it was at that exact moment when my 15 year old pulled the blanket up on the couch next to me and announced loudly, "This isn't at all scary."

Nice post.

Joe Ponepinto said...

I'm still a big fan of Psycho and The Exorcist, maybe because they have strong links to certain aspects of reality that make their plots more plausible for some of us. The connection The Exorcist makes on someone who was raised Catholic is profound—this is the stuff they pound into you when you're a child, and it's always there, no matter how sophisticated you think you've become.

I haven't seen The Innocents either, but it looks like it would have the same effect.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Barbara, have you seen the remake of Psycho? At first I didn't like it, even though the director redid it shot for shot. However, it grew on me.

Charles, that's the beauty of horror. Fans will argue and argue and argue.

Simcha,not a fan or horror? Wow. And yet you're here in horror central. Maybe I'll make a convert of you.

Anne, I think there are generational trends in horror. It's hard to be a fan of stuff from the thirties and forties, and still find something within to scare without.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Joe, I am a Jewish kid, and yet, when I saw The Exorcist for the first time, and I was on a date, I told her I didn't want to see any more and made her leave the theater with me. I am not sure what sort of psyche it taps into, but it does so expertly. Maybe it was part of the hype that got me. I remember there were protest lines we had to cross to enter the theater.

Steve Buchheit said...

I think we enjoy the BW movies better because the focus of the storytelling was on the story and the visuals were made to match the story. Nowadays the storytelling is focused on the visual and the story is made to match what can be shown (which degrades the art, IMHO).

The captcha is "gabitual" which I think is an excellent word I need to use at some point. Like the ritual of gabbing.

Simcha said...

Really,this is a horror site? I didn't know that. In that case- I'm out'a here- it's been nice knowing you ;)

Sarah said...

I found the Exorcist very scary, genuinly effected me.

Glynis said...

Brr, chilled me to the bone. The Exorcist and Psycho I remember seeing many years ago.