Responding to THR’s “Critic’s Picks: 10 Scariest Movies of All Time”
A few days ago, THR posted film critic Jordan Mintzer’s list of the Top 10 Scariest Movies of All time, with the byline: “Just in time for Halloween”! While it’s always interesting to examine and deconstruct another writer’s Top 10 list, the insinuation that many of these films make for good Halloween viewing is absolutely false. Let me explain as we go through Mintzer’s list.
10: Ringu (1998)
Official Synopsis: When her niece is found dead along with three friends after viewing a supposedly cursed videotape, reporter Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) sets out to investigate. Along with her ex-husband, Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), Reiko finds the tape, watches it — and promptly receives a phone call informing her that she’ll die in a week. Determined to get to the bottom of the curse, Reiko and Ryuji discover the video’s origin and attempt to solve an old murder that could break the spell.
Great film, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it’s one of the top 10 scariest, nor do I think Ringu is a great choice for Halloween viewing. First of all, who wants to concentrate on reading subtitles in a party situations, or with trick ‘r treaters knocking on the door every few minutes? For mood and suspense, Ringu is king, but keep this one on the shelf for Halloween.
9: Paranormal Activity (2007)
Official Synopsis: Soon after moving into a suburban tract home, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) become increasingly disturbed by what appears to be a supernatural presence. Hoping to capture evidence of it on film, they set up video cameras in the house but are not prepared for the terrifying events that follow.
The Paranormal Activity franchise may be one of the 21st Century’s most successful horror franchises, but a certifiable slow-burn hardly makes for spirited Halloween viewing. A good Halloween film doesn’t require intense concentration; a good Halloween film should also be heavy on both action and comedy to be a holiday hit.
8: Psycho (1960)
Official Synopsis: Phoenix secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), on the lam after stealing $40,000 from her employer in order to run away with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), is overcome by exhaustion during a heavy rainstorm. Traveling on the back roads to avoid the police, she stops for the night at the ramshackle Bates Motel and meets the polite but highly strung proprietor Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a young man with an interest in taxidermy and a difficult relationship with his mother.
Is it one of the best horror movies ever made and a testament to the cinematic genius of Alfred Hitchcock? Absolutely! But Psycho unfolds more like a play than a film. While the scary scenes are truly terrifying, Psycho has too much talk, melodrama, and subtext to be enjoyed on a celebratory day like Halloween.
7: Don’t Look Now (1973)
Official Synopsis: Still grieving over the accidental death of their daughter, Christine (Sharon Williams), John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) head to Venice, Italy, where John’s been commissioned to restore a church. There Laura meets two sisters (Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania) who claim to be in touch with the spirit of the Baxters’ daughter. Laura takes them seriously, but John scoffs until he himself catches a glimpse of what looks like Christine running through the streets of Venice.
Are you kidding me? Not only does Don’t Look Now have an infamous sex scene that’s more uncomfortable than titillating, a psychological horror that revolves around a couple grieving their dead daughter is a terrible choice for Halloween viewing.
6: The Shining (1980)
Official Synopsis: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As Jack’s writing goes nowhere and Danny’s visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel’s dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family.
Finally, Mintzer and I are in agreement. While I think horror-comedies are sure-fire hits for Halloween, The Shinning is so consistently scary, it’s a definite winner for Halloween! Just be warned, trick ‘r treaters knocking at your door might startle the hell out of you!
5: The Exorcist (1973)
Official Synopsis: One of the most profitable horror movies ever made, this tale of an exorcism is based loosely on actual events. When young Regan (Linda Blair) starts acting odd — levitating, speaking in tongues — her worried mother (Ellen Burstyn) seeks medical help, only to hit a dead end. A local priest (Jason Miller), however, thinks the girl may be seized by the devil. The priest makes a request to perform an exorcism, and the church sends in an expert (Max von Sydow) to help with the difficult job.
Another winner on Mintzer’s list. Again, there’s nothing intentionally funny about The Exorcist, but it has a way of instantly striking terror into the hearts of Horror Freaks of all ages. You simply can’t go wrong with this one.
4: Halloween (1978)
Official Synopsis: On a cold Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, a 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims.
While I’ve already stated my opinion that horror-comedies are the best choice for festive Halloween entertainment, John Carpenter’s seminal slasher has cast a permanent shadow over the entire holiday. Will this be the night Michael Myers comes to your home?
3: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Official Synopsis: Found video footage tells the tale of three film students (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams) who’ve traveled to a small town to collect documentary footage about the Blair Witch, a legendary local murderer. Over the course of several days, the students interview townspeople and gather clues to support the tale’s veracity. But the project takes a frightening turn when the students lose their way in the woods and begin hearing horrific noises.
No. Just, no. While many people still find this seminal found footage film terrifying, jumpy camera action, bad acting, and no real gore or FX makes The Blair Witch project a dud for Halloween viewing.
2: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Official Synopsis: When Sally (Marilyn Burns) hears that her grandfather’s grave may have been vandalized, she and her paraplegic brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), set out with their friends to investigate. After a detour to their family’s old farmhouse, they discover a group of crazed, murderous outcasts living next door. As the group is attacked one by one by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), who wears a mask of human skin, the survivors must do everything they can to escape.
While it wasn’t written as a comedy, there’s plenty of gallows humor in Tobe Hooper’s classic, and plenty of jumps and screams to boot. While most of the films on this list miss the mark in terms of fitting in with the festive atmosphere of Halloween, this one fits the night to a tee! Welcome Leatherface into your home!
1: Funny Games (1997)
Official Synopsis: An idyllic lakeside vacation home is terrorized by Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), a pair of deeply disturbed young men. When the fearful Anna (Susanne Lothar) is home alone, the two men drop by for a visit that quickly turns violent and terrifying. Husband Georg (Ulrich Mühe) comes to her rescue, but Paul and Peter take the family hostage and subject them to nightmarish abuse and humiliation. From time to time, Paul talks to the film’s audience, making it complicit in the horror.
While the depth of my feelings about this complex horror movie would take pages to express, I will say this: Funny Games shouldn’t be watched by anyone who isn’t taking a film studies class—unless you want to be accused of implicitly supporting a violent society. This home invasion thriller is so bleak, so nihilistic, it’s likely to send you into a crisis of conscious—no matter when you watch it. Stay far away from this film on Halloween. It’s no Bueno.
What do you think about Mintzer’s list? What are your favorite movies to watch on Halloween? What’s important to you when making a selection? Sound off in the Comments section!