A dozen films for the Halloween couch potato
Not participating in handing out treats to visiting neighborhood kids Friday? Not attending a crowded party with a cumbersome costume? If this is the case, the following is an assortment of recommended, appropriate, and personally favorite frightening movies to help keep you ‘spookified’ on the last evening of October...
One of the few sequels to surpass the original, officer Ripley travels back to the alien-infested planet with a squadron of tough, yet outnumbered, marines to investigate possible "xenomorphs" that wiped out a settlement of colonists. Dark and quiet at times, fast-paced action at other times. Filmed in the 80s, the movie has aged very well and would fit nicely in the local Cineplex today.
The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan's first film offers slow-building spookiness with little or no special effects, focusing on a boy who sees dead people and a troubled doctor trying to help him. Slow and deliberate, it features more psychological scares than anything else. And Shyamalan created one of the best shocker endings of the decade.
This excellent film was hampered by the fact that it followed closely behind the Sixth Sense, and offered a similar twist of an ending. Nicole Kidman plays the mother of her two children and employer of three servants while her husband is gone fighting in World War II. The house they occupy is a massive secluded mansion filled with dark rooms (the kids are allergic to bright light) and things that go bump in the night.
Possibly the scariest movie of all time featured a girl possessed by a demonic force, with the beds rattling, voices changing octaves, and the now-infamous "pea soup" hurtling about. Many scenes are truly disturbing, and thus, brilliant. If Hollywood could go back to basics, this would be a good place to start.
There must be something about little kids in films that add heightened spookiness to the overall motif of a movie. Not too dissimilar to the Exorcist, a family discovers their son is basically the Devil’s Own when strange things begin to happen amidst his presence.
Blair Witch Project
Love it or hate it, this film was unique in its production. The hand-held first-person viewpoint that carried the entire movie meshes well with the 'Reality TV' audience, and needless to say added an additional element of panic to the scenes. Still not sure what the very end was all about. But three kids getting lost in a forest, hearing strange cracks and crunches in the night, nearly going hysterical, and finding witchcraft artifacts around their tents in the morning is well worth the price of admission.
Combine the 1980s show Family Ties with the X-Files, and you have this rollercoaster of a ride through a suburban family’s ordeal with ghostly kidnappers. Not really blood-curdling fright, but the storyline and atmospheric scenes are still appealing 20 years later. Ignore the sequels. The real-life "curse" often mentioned surrounding the set of Poltergeist has added to the attention.
28 Days Later
The most recent film on this list does not feature aliens or ghosts, but infected zombies. A man wakes in London to find the whole city has disappeared, save for a few lucky survivors. A plague has wiped everyone out, but those who were infected with the virus turn into raging shells of their former selves. The small band of survivors seeks out a military base, but the uninfected ragtag soldiers there aren't exactly offering a safe haven either.
The Amityville Horror
This 1970s classic film is of a Long Island home terrorized by all sorts of unexplained phenomena. Personally, I would've left after one night (it’s not like I would’ve had to stick around and save a family member from inside the TV), but then that would’ve made too much sense.
This film features a bunch of medical students experimenting with NDEs (Near Death Experiences). One at a time, they take turns 'killing' themselves to get a glimpse of the afterlife, then return to talk about it. However, they bring back more than just memories. A good film, although, ironically, I would've preferred it without the all-star cast.
Another M. Night Shyamalan film that focuses on a small farm featuring an ex-reverend still grieving over his wife's death, his younger brother, and two children. Crop circles begin showing up in their corn field, as well as other visitors in the shadows. Some didn’t like this movie because of the many lulls, scientific lapses, and a groaner of a climactic scene. But with Signs, it was more about the psychological tension within the family than blowing stuff up anyway.
Out in the middle of nowhere, a stranded and injured author caught in a blizzard is rescued by an obsessive fan of his work. As the man remains bedridden, he notes Kathy Bates getting creepier and creepier, and figures out that being buried in a snowy mountainside may have been a more pleasurable experience. The mallet-to-the-ankle scene is a memorable one.
There are many more that I'm sure I’m forgetting at the moment. But this batch is a good start. Not included on the list are many X-Files episodes which produced as many spooky vibes as any high-budget film, but I decided not to mix television with movies.
The two elements you will notice missing from my list are gore and excessive CGI. Spookiness, melodrama, psychology, and things "you can’t see" often tweak my senses more than the Jason/Freddy/Chucky contingent. While I may enjoy the occasional slasher flick, at the end of the day they just don't appeal to me as well as the less-bloody freak shows. Additionally, overuse of CGI kills any chance at significantly jogging the scary senses. The Haunting was more of an unintended comedy than a frightening ghost flick. And while I enjoyed Independence Day for what it was (an action-adventure with a smattering of comedy), it certainly doesn’t belong on any Horror or Thriller shelves.