The Halloween countdown has begun -- how about a double-feature of terrifying movies that don't rely on shock-gore? I love a good gory movie, but I don’t need to see the inner circle of hell to enjoy a film. I don’t want to imagine what the worst people can do to each other is, much less see those scenarios played out. It’s not that I don’t like fear, oh, I do.
I do have a soft spot for camp -- "The Ice Cream Man," "The People Under the Stairs" -- both gory but not in a realistic way at all. Even "The Walking Dead" is cheesy with their gore most of the time (the last season premiere aside, harrumph).
But rarely do I come across a movie that actually scares me; it can’t be too gory, not centered around brutalizing women, and the acting has to actually be decent. If the main characters sound like they’re doing a reading for a Doritos commercial, I just can’t. It also goes without saying that the writing should be good -- we’re talking realistic dialogue, people.
Basically, I’m VERY picky.
So here’s my Master List of six scary movies that are, you know, actually scary. No ridiculous co-eds in unseasonable short-shorts sprinting upstairs away from knife-wielding murderers (that every now and again seem to possess magical powers!), no torture, just seriously scary films that are guaranteed to scare the pants off you. Which, who cares, pants are for jerks.
From acclaimed director Sebastian Silva, this Chilean film uses the power of suggestion to create a web of confusion and panic. The whole film is sparse and dark, characterized by long, single-camera shots to add to the realism. It centers around a girl who’s visiting her cousin living in Chile; throughout the film it isn’t clear whether she’s just a fearful American away from home for the first time, or something is actually seriously wrong. This one still haunts me.
With a soundtrack entirely by '70s ambient group Goblin, this Italian film focuses on a young ballerina attending a severely weird, and of course isolated, boarding school. Starring Jessica Harper as Suzy, whom you might recognize from seriously disturbing "Phantom of the Paradise" (also a must-watch), the film has more twists and turns that the giant mansion it was filmed in. When women start getting campily murdered, Suzy finds herself in the middle of some seriously batshit ballerina hell.
Directed by Kevin Smith, this movie IS gory, but it's the realism and suspense that will have you yelling at the screen. The film is set around two teenagers’ run-in with psycho evangelicals in a small (Southern?) town; with top-notch acting (John Goodman, need I say more?), well-written characters and extremely authentic sets, this film hooked me immediately. Smith’s cinematography conveys the terror and panic of the characters perfectly. I was astounded it only earned ⅗ stars on IMDB!
This Colombian thriller touches on so many fears it's hard to know where to start; a man's girlfriend goes missing, but despite a thorough investigation, they can't determine that she ever left his flat. Because she didn’t -- she meant to test his love for her by hiding in his safe room, only realizing that it might become her tomb the moment she shut the door. While he struggles with her disappearance, she watches helplessly, waiting for an opportunity to make her presence known.
A Tale of Two Sisters
If familial terror and scary houses is your brand of nightmare, this movie will keep you terrified from beginning to end. Set around two twins, it’s a modern take on a classic Korean ghost story where two disturbed girls are sent to live in a country home with their evil stepmother. Weird shit starts happening, and it’s not apparent who is in control or at fault, but the feeling of being trapped in the house and situation is incredibly tangible.
The Haunting (1963)
The original is so much more terrifying that the remake, trust. It’s dark, cold and eerie, with few details. It’s not directly apparent whether or not the main character is indeed insane, or if she’s being gaslighted for the sake of the doctor’s experiment. Shot on location in a big, turn-of-last-century mansion, it’s beautiful and weird.
Honourable mentions include:
Of course. It’s a beautiful film, that is somehow campy and believable at the same time. But hopefully everyone has seen it -- it was recommended to me probably a dozen times before I actually gave it a chance. By the end of the movie, I completely believed trolls exist. Kind of still do -- Norway is a weird place, it seems plausible.
Let the Right One In
Remade rather poorly in the US, this film wasn’t my favourite because of its mumblecore style. The story itself is terrifying, but it’s so quiet and understated that I had to watch it twice, but it’s innocently creepy where other vampire movies seem to revolve around sex and buckets of blood.
Not really a scary movie, but if you just want to dip a toe in a little darkness, it’s perfect. A black comedy from geniuses Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro ("City of Lost Children") it’s as funny as cannibalism gets. Set in the theatrical post-apocalyptic world that Jeunet’s films often occupy, it’s funny, gross and cute all at the same time.
This film is gory beyond all belief. It’s not a guts-and black-stuff-coming-out-of-people’s-faces film at all. It’s a simple horror film that takes a dark turn and doesn’t really return. Extremely violent and unapologetic, it takes a blatant, matter-of-fact approach to murder. Shot almost entirely with a single camera in the middle of the day, it reads so real that I couldn’t watch it. I hid under a pillow and asked for updates while looking at pictures of baby ducks on my phone.
Have you seen these? What makes for a good scary movie? Of course I’ll take any and all recommendations -- but remember: “We won’t hear you, in the night. No one lives closer than town, and no one comes nearer than that. In the dark. In the night.” (The Haunting 1963)