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Halloween: the one night of the year when the young or old can pretend to be someone (or something) else. But after all that exhausting trick-or-treating and immature partying, it can be nice to relax in front of your favorite Halloween flick. Here at Player Affinity in honor of ol’ Hallows Eve, we (Dinah and Simon) are discussing our favorite fright films in some classic categories to enjoy on October 31. Beware.
Psycho & Child’s Play
Simon Picks: Though at first thought, you would likely not place this Hitchcock classic in the slasher genre (especially as it stands today filled with torture porn and stock scares), but Psycho fits snugly into this bloody category: featuring a deranged serial killer in the now iconic Norman Bates, pretty ladies and a stack of bodies. Dated in only the sense of years, not in potency, Psycho is hypnotic and unbelievably tense. In one classic scene, Bates attempts to sink a corpse-filled car in a bog. Slowing descending, it stops, before finally settling to the bottom. And exhale. Any film that can make us tensely think “sink, sink, sink!” even though it means rooting for the killer has something going for it. Like its future emulators, Psycho spawned a number of sequels and a remake, but the original was pioneering for so many reasons and even more than that, retains every iota of its effectiveness even after more than 50 years.
Dinah Thinks: I hate to say it, and I really do mean that, but Psycho is a bloodless bore. It’s one of those movies where I liked the trailer more than the full length feature. Norman Bates is creepy but I just can’t get into something this sanitized. The knife never goes in. The woman doesn’t even fight back! This sort of thing makes me want to chuck my television out of the second story window. I’m not discounting Hitchcock, but this classic is for the birds.
Dinah Picks: Just as Jaws gave people a reason to fear the ocean, Child’s Play made even adults give their kids' glassy-eyed dolls a second glance. The slasher film plays on our most ridiculous fears by combining the evil clown with a malicious child. The result of such a hybrid is Chucky, a grinning cherubic doll possessed with the soul of a no-good-creep. Of all the cut-em-up movies of the '80s, Child’s Play is perhaps one of the most underrated. Freddy, Jason, and Michael quickly come to mind but this evil red-headed scamp is easily overlooked. And what a fatal mistake for his victims, those who never suspect the killer in their house is an inanimate toy. Chucky takes complete and utter joy in his bad deeds, a definite void in the typical mute menaces of his time. Something about the pitter patter of those two tiny deadly feet make this dish a delightful Halloween treat.
Simon Thinks: Calling Child’s Play one of the '80s most underrated slasher flicks is a most apt statement to be sure, but the reason it is overlooked is because it is far from the best. Animated dolls creep me out to no end (2007’s Dead Silence gave me some of my most bizarre dreams in recent memory) yet there is an inherent goofiness in having a doll as the object of fear. The number of times the little terror is able to topple a human and slice them to death by lying stupidly on the floor begins to get frustrating. The “nobody suspects the doll” angle can only work for so long.
The Sixth Sense & The Exorcist
Simon Picks: Even though there are some classic supernatural horror films that come close to the top spot (The Shining leaps to mind) The Sixth Sense did so much for the genre and popular culture at large. The Sixth Sense reinvigorated the ghost story, catapulted director M. Night Shyamalan to the upper tier of promising prospects, nabbed a Best Picture Oscar nod and became one of the year's largest surprise blockbusters. This twisty, moody thriller features little gore, few cheap scares and instead uses tension and haunting performances to leave its mark. Though for the most part I am inclined not to tilt towards modern horror, The Sixth Sense is as entertaining as it is memorable and as chilling as it is invigorating.
Dinah Thinks: The Sixth Sense was good, albeit no trendsetter. Haley Joel Osment was masterful as the kid who sees dead people and Shyamalan so crafty in his narration that no one saw the twist coming (though they might have tried to play it off later). But as far as horror goes this simply does not make the cut. The Sixth Sense is a thriller all the way with not a deliberate fright throughout. It is tense yes and even heart-wrenching, but this movie never induces fear.
Dinah Picks: Ghosts, spirits and demons are overdone to death in cinema, especially in October when the dead and undead alike are celebrated. People swear there is no God but remain obsessed with God's malevolent nemesis, the devil. The Exorcist is at the top of the horror heap; a film that has out-grossed every other horror film (adjusted for inflation) with exception of creature-feature Jaws. Linda Blair was never known for anything but this. She played the part of the innocent child whose soul is cohabited with Beelzebub. Good versus evil never looked as sweet as Blair’s heart shaped face becomes almost reptilian as she spews vomit and spins her head around. The spooky set was full of accidents including a fire that killed nine people. The Exorcist is a true classic. Forget Paranormal Activity, this is the scariest film of all time.
Simon Thinks: Along with The Sixth Sense and The Shining, The Exorcist easily cracks my top three for this sub-genre and is one of the best films of the 1970s. There are so many iconic scenes and lines, I think a good number of people wouldn’t even be aware they all stem from this supernatural thriller. For the most part, William Friedkin’s tale of demonic possession has aged rather well, and should incite at least a little fright into even the most jaded of the Hostel generation. But like any film 40-years matured, certain scenes incite laughs as much as others do jolts. While The Exorcist remains a classic in every sense, it does not quite receive the “scariest of all time” accolade in my book.
Shaun of the Dead & Arachnophobia
Simon Picks: What does an ounce of British humour, a drop of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, a drizzle of Edgar Write and a dribble of the zombie genre equal? About the amount of laughter-induced tears shed by watching this horror spoof. Well, that and Shaun of the Dead itself. The first installment of Wright’s “Blood and Ice-cream” trilogy, (followed by Hot Fuzz and the upcoming The World’s End) the director treaded the incredibly difficult line between spoofing a genre, while not succumbing to its conventions. Few, I suspect, would ever be scared during the course of Shaun of the Dead, yet it has more things to say in 10 minutes than hacks like Friedberg and Seltzer have to say in their entire filmography. Simon Pegg is perfect for the role of the clueless Shaun, wandering around his zombie-ridden town oblivious to the apocalypse until he finally makes a series of foolhardy decisions in an attempt to survive. For fans of zombie flicks, this is a must see, and hopefully its inherent wit could even win some converts.
Dinah Thinks: Simon Pegg I do love thee. I must agree with your humorous horror pick. This zombie satire is wall to wall with laughs. I recommend it all the time and I’ve given out Pegg’s stuff as gifts. It’s a zombie movie about zombie movies. What’s not to love?
Dinah Picks: Halloween is about the thrills and chills, but not everyone wants to have nightmares to go with their sugar-overloaded tummy aches; some people want to laugh. Animal attacks fit that so-wrong-yet-so-right combination of unintentional hilarity and gruesome violence (think Piranha 3D). Before we got that killer fish remake, Arachnophobia took the big screen. This kitschy little gem is deliberate in its mockery of itself right down to the casting of John Goodman as the exterminator sent to one family’s home to exterminate arachnids. The eight-legged stars are stealth little suckers refusing to die even when lit on fire. You know what you’re getting into as soon as the tagline is read “eight legs...two fangs…and an attitude.” Those darn spiders make for better haunting than the cats, rats, roaches, and snakes of other horror comedies.
Simon Thinks: I was approximately ten when I saw Arachnophobia for the first time and to this day it remains the film that has given me the strongest physical reaction of anything
Aliens & Jaws
Simon Picks: How can you make a critical and financial hit out of a sequel to an equally beloved sci-fi horror film? Hire James Cameron of course. In a refreshing contrast to Ridley Scott’s low-key build-up throughout Alien, the follow-up fills its runtime with 137 minutes with a relentless bombardment of extraterrestrial mayhem. The special effects and creature design remain stunning to this day and mostly the film's characters and lines have only become more iconic, mostly. Acid spewing drones and one pissed off queen do battle against the sexy, name-taking Ellen Ripley, but even they are no match. Certainly a highpoint in the series, standing as a precursor to a number of bland sequels and crossovers, if you are ever in the need for an adrenaline boost, Aliens is your syringe.
Dinah Thinks: The acidic queen of Aliens is certainly worthy of a spot on any horror list. Aliens is one of the rare sequels able to surpass its original in depth, terror, and acclaim. It manages a somber and frightening tone even while delivering one liners. It is unfortunate how the franchise reduced itself to bad special effects and throwaway spinoffs but that doesn’t negate the worth of the terror series two original entries.
Dinah Picks: There isn’t any single film so deeply responsible for inducing lasting fear than Jaws. Sure the mechanical shark seems silly looking upon viewing so many years later but the idea of something with big teeth lurking in the water is unforgettable to a whole generation tortured by this creature horror. Great white sharks developed a reputation for tormenting human beings and eating indiscriminately. The idea is certainly attributable to the death of a child outright in the film. Unlike Piranha,
Simon Thinks: Only because I do not consider Jaws to be “horror” (at least not in the traditional sense) does it not crown my top spot as well. There are no criticisms I can make about this tried and true masterpiece. Unlike The Exorcist, Jaws has (if anything) improved with age; its many production problems at the time gave it a longevity nobody saw coming. Like your pick for horror comedy, Jaws made me somewhat uneasy about venturing into the deep blue sea though thankfully I was older when I first saw Spielberg’s debut so it took me less time to calm down. A great pick and an amazing film.
Simon Picks: Certainly when looking over the oodles of horror franchises that have slowly built up over the decades, there are installments of many that are better than any number of the Saw films. But what it lacks in scattered potency, it makes up for in grisly consistency. With the exception of the fifth instalment, I have enjoyed all of the films in this anthology. Simply put, if you are a Saw fan, you are a Saw fan. Franchises such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, are about as inconsistent as can be possible, featuring odd entries that are devoid of their central antagonist, crossovers and utterly mind-boggling chapters such as Jason Takes Manhattan. The Saw series on the other hand continues to build upon itself, and usually new instalments manage to enrich its predecessors. Tobin Bell as Jigsaw is already an icon, and while you could pick apart each movie with some ease I’d imagine, I prefer to think of the seven-film franchise as one big tale of twisted revenge.
Dinah Thinks: Great minds think alike some of the time. You’re right in exposing Jigsaw’s true intent, though he purports to offer people life he is quite selective and even a bit harsh in the taking of it. It all relates back to his personal failures and pain. But somehow Saw fans just keep pulling for him, wanting the worthy icon to entrap and endless number of bad people deserving a bit of torture. Saw succeeds in tying its crowd intently to its long-running characters and builds anticipation through an elaborate puzzle of plot twists and turns.
Dinah Picks: The joy of every Saw film is in its plot twists. The series is startling in its intricacy and continuity between entries. No piece of the puzzle is unplanned nor any hole unfilled. The makers plan the films out in advance, creating the kind of consistency that lacks in sequels as a whole, horror and otherwise. In that way Saw and its sequels are not some silly cash grab from studios as they are often maligned. These are deliberately created fan pictures which satisfy with a type of glee movie after movie (sans the fifth) as unexpected plot twist is revealed. And let us not forget the glorious bloodletting which is expected yet never stale. A reverse bear trap is simply genius.
Simon Thinks: Usually, in order to refresh my memory for the perennial return of Jigsaw and friends, I re-watch the previous installments. Obviously over the years this has become a lengthy endeavour. I don’t even want to think about how many times I’ve seen some of the earlier films. There isn’t much more to say besides that I can’t wait for the 3-D finale.
Rosemary's Baby & Halloween
Simon Picks: Before Roman Polanski was synonymous with controversy, the Polish director had made an early impact in the psychological thriller genre with his first English-language film, Repulsion. His acclaimed follow-up Rosemary’s Baby would become the benchmark for twisting tales of insanity that is still being mimicked today. Mia Farrow is devastating as a pregnant mother who is convinced she (and her child) are somehow being influenced by a cult living nearby, while her husband and friends insist it is all in her head. While like a great number of horror films, Rosemary’s Baby is not quite as intense upon repeat viewings, the flair and fine acting is easily enough to keep things interesting. If you are a fan of slow-burn cerebral horror then you can do no better than the eeriness of Rosemary’s Baby.
Dinah Thinks: I may be alone in this but I did not like this movie. Unlike Psycho higher on your list, this film didn’t bore me to distraction, it bored me to anger. After hearing all the hype over the baby and Mia Farrow’s doggone hair I was incredibly let down by the product. Blame it on my generation, society, or poor taste but a bunch of old folks babysitting a hairy baby does not make a horror classic. When it comes to devil-possessed children I’d rather rehash The Omen.
Dinah Picks: You can’t celebrate Halloween without Halloween. Michael Myers' debut contains all the typical failsafes such as naughty teenagers, big knives, and that slow deliberate walking that allows a killer to catch up to a frantically sprinting victim. Although it is not quite as memorable as Jason Voorhees' hockey mask, Michael’s graying “face” with deep hollow eyes and shaggy hair shooting wildly from the back looks all kinds of crazy. Michael has the edge on terror due to his onset into mayhem at a tender age beginning his hack job with his closest family members. The cult-like status he receives, and the examination of his evil and its origins, builds the simple killing machine into something darker and more sinister. Also of note, Mike Myers has the best theme of all the slashers.
Simon Thinks: Though I thoroughly enjoy watching John Carpenter’s game-changer (usually on an annual basis as its title would suggest) I find it to be one of the more overrated slasher films, but not due to its age or slow build-up -- on the contrary in fact. I simply think it is a bloody, above average dice-em-up that suffers from an inflated ego due to its impact on the genre. You also talk about the score which in my opinion is one of the best of all time for any genre; but, a masterful theme does not a masterpiece make. A great pick however and still one of my perennial favorites, and a perfect choice to conclude our discussion.
Thanks for reading and happy Halloween!