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Pre-Halloween movie / TV marathon
With horror movies and TV series dominating all streaming services, we might as well indulge.
Horror movies have been categorized into so many subgenres it is sometimes difficult to say which is bona fide horror, which is just a thriller and which is just a mystery. I’d rather not get lost in the attempt.
This is just a jumbled list of some of some of the horror movies that I find unforgettable for a variety of reasons. No number one, no ranking. They’re all scary. Some spoilers.
The Orphanage (2007) is the story of two mothers who lost their sons three decades apart. There’s Laura who moves in with her husband and adopted son, Simon, into the old orphanage where she was adopted thirty years earlier with the intention of converting it into a facility for disabled children. Then, there’s the social worker, Benigna, who pays the family a visit — an intrusion as far as Laura is concerned — to inquire about Simon who is HIV positive.
Simon befriends a boy, Tomas, but he’s the only one that sees him. He draws Tomas as someone wearing a sack over his head.
After Simon goes missing, a police investigtion reveals that Benigna’s visit may have been more than what she said it was.
Old house. Creepy visit from a mysterious visitor. An mostly invisible boy with a hidden face. And, finally, a boy who vanishes seemingly without a trace.
That might not sound like the correct ingredients for a horror movie but, trust me, the horror will linger in your mind long after the closing credits have concluded.
There are no cheap thrills here and it is definitly not meant for viewers with short a attention span. You have to feel the atmosphere as the story unfolds to reveal who the masked boy is, what happened to Simon and what Benigna’s true interest was in visiting the old orphanage.
If you think that meeting your girlfriend’s (boyfriend’s) parents and family for the first time is cause for trepidation, Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) says that’s a gross understatement. Be careful who you date seems to be the message. If you’re not, you just might end up in a situation where a fun social weekend turns out to be a vacation — from society and from yourself — that you’re never going to return from. No ghosts. No monsters. Just scary people and weird science.
Us (2019), also directed by Jordan Peele, is… I don’t know how to describe it. Imagine finding doppelgängers in your driveway — yours, your spouse’s and your children’s — who are intent on killing all of you. It’s weird and scary, but you don’t really know if it’s the threat of bodily harm or something you can’t quite point a finger at that’s most disconcerting. If you’re a fan of stories about secret government experiments, well, Us elevates the debate and discussion to a whole new level.
The 1944 adaptation of Dorothy Macardle’s The Uninvited was a film my mother often mentioned. After I scared myself silly reading her paperback copy of William Blatty’s The Exorcist, she said that was nothing compared to The Uninvited. I finally found a copy of Macardle’s book in the Circulation section of the U.P. Main Library and checked it out.
It is the story of a brother and sister who move to a country house called Cliff End that is haunted by an apparition, preceded by a deathly cold, that appears on top of the stairs, and a moaning, accompanied by the smell of the mimosa flower, in a room that used to be the nursery. Stella Meredith who used to live in the house talks about her mother who, she was told, fell off the cliff probably pushed by a Spanish girl, Carmel, who used to model for her artist father.
The twists and turns in the story, and the final confrontation, makes the novel a worthy thriller. But it is the description of the unearthly presence in the house that makes it a real horror story. For weeks after reading the book, I refused to go up or down the stairs of our house without turning on the lights. The horror played on my imagination so well. I saw the film years after I read the book but it wasn’t half as scary as reading Macardle’s words.
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The Innocents is a 1961 film based on Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw (there are claims that most of the film’s script was written by Truman Capote). It is a story of a governess caring for a brother and sister in a country mansion. The children are possessed by the spirits of ill-crossed lovers (a former governess and valet) but the real horror in the film was created through a combination of a good setting (a Gothic mansion in England), minimal lighting and music.
The Others, partly based on James’ novella, utilized similar techniques. A large isolated house surrounded by fog, soft underlighting and a pace that starts slow so that the horror creeps on you rather than shocks you.
The Others tells the story of a mother and her two children living a life of rigid rules. Curtains must be drawn when the children enter a room because sunlight could supposedly kill them as they suffer from some mysterious disease. The mother punishes the daughter for telling lies when she speaks of a boy that no one else sees. In the end, it turns out that the boy is a real boy, and it is the mother and her children are not what they seem to be.
The Shining which starred Jack Nicholson was based on Stephen King’s novel of the same title. I was in college when I saw the film and the experience left my knees weak. Jack is a writer and a recovering alcoholic. He takes on a job as winter caretaker of a hotel where he brings his wife and son. As the snow grows deeper, they become isolated. Meanwhile, Jack slowly spirals into insanity. The film script was not faithful to the novel where the horror goes to farther lengths. Still, the film adaptation managed to achieve such vividly horrific imagery that it was able to stand on its own.