For our Halloween episode at Film Jive, Zach, Andy and I decided to choose three of our favorite scary movies to discuss in addition to a film voted by viewers. Dating back to black and white in 1932 to 1982 80s slasher sleaze, our four films are all unique to the horror genre and offer their own levels of creepiness.
Directed by Tod Browning
Synopsis: A circus’ beautiful trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of side-show performers, but his deformed friends discover she is only marrying him for his inheritance. Physical beauty with a dark soul proves who the real freak is at the circus.
Scare Factor: There isn’t a significant scare factor to Freaks as their is an accurate glimpse into the forgotten Vaudeville era. The film is directed and produced by Tod Browning who was part of a traveling circus at a young age. Browning brings an authenticity rarely seen in this genre–crafting costumes and makeup designs inspired by his own experiences as a child while casting non-actors with physical deformities as the sideshow “freaks”. While there are no scare gimmicks, Browning’s sideshow performers create a sense of unease with disabilities uncommon today.
See it for: The glimpse behind the curtain of sideshow performers was initially met with outrage by audiences, banning the film for decades and cutting graphic footage out that remains lost. Critics felt uncomfortable with the unflinching portrayal of disability amongst these people; a lot of the controversy surrounding the film had to do with the exploitation of these people for entertainment value. I disagree as the film positively displays their daily living exploring that the real “freaks” were those with no physical deformities. Aside from the controversy, the film unveils an aesthetic preserved so well that it’s unparalleled to anything you’ll find today.
Fact: Beginning in the early 1960s, Freaks was rediscovered as a counterculture cult film, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the film was regularly shown at midnight movie screenings at several movie theaters in the United States. In 1994, Freaks was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. It was ranked 15th on Bravo TV’s list of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
Synopsis: Oshare (Gorgeous) is excited about spending summer vacation with her father, until she finds out that his beautiful girlfriend Ryouko is going as well. Oshare decides she will be going to her aunt’s house in the country instead bringing her friends from school. When they arrive at the house, bizarre events unfold, and the girls disappear one by one slowly discovering the secret behind the madness.
Scare Factor: There’s a level of unease and creepiness that overrules the scare factor with this film. Let’s be honest, the
Japanese know how to churn out some twisted cinema. But as irrationally bizarre as House may be, the inspiration behind the film presents the story on a new Richter scale of fright. In the DVD commentary, Obayashi discusses that he drew inspiration for the film from his pre-teen daughter. Nobuhiko sought her ideas, believing that adults “only think about things they understand…everything stays on that boring human level” while “children can come up with things that can’t be explained”. Ideas included a reflection in a mirror attacking the girls, a watermelon being pulled out of a well appearing as a human head and a house that eats the girls alive. These childhood fears prove creepier than what a viewer would expect.
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón
Synopsis: Young co-eds are being cut up by a chainsaw killer on a college campus. The killer is attempting to put together a human jigsaw puzzle made from body parts.
Scare Factor: The scare factor behind Pieces is no mystery–it’s a typical slasher film that knows what’s it’s doing. With a tagline like “it’s exactly what you think it is”, it’s hard not to be a little curious. The film relies on the “more is more” theory when it comes to violence, blood and obscenity. While it does offer a handful of laugh factors, you’ll find yourself a little unsettled after the credits roll…and that’s the point!
See it for: It’s a Grindhouse cult classic. Although I’d never heard of it prior to last week, it’s cult appeal is overwhelmingly apparent and easy to understand. The film never takes itself too seriously with laughable dialogue like “The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed.” The ultimate sleaze and over-the-top gratuitous violence doesn’t topple over into disaster-zone like many wannabes today; it knows exactly what it’s doing and does it frighteningly well.
Directed by Richard Donner
Synopsis: An American ambassador learns to his horror that his son is actually the Antichrist.
Scare Factor: The Omen represents the third chapter in the unofficial demonic trilogy of it’s era following Rosemary’s Baby (1969) and The Exorcist (1973). Previously depicted as jolly, peacekeepers of Christ, priests got dirty in the 70s fighting off Satan and questioning the strength of our morality. The film leans heavily on the psychological scare factor over a paranormal thriller. With The Omen less is more with it’s scares; you won’t find any pop-out gimmicks like horror films today, but rather a buildup of suspense that creates enough tension and discomfort that will make you think twice about having children.
See it for: Despite what my colleagues at Film Jive argue, I have no problem with the acting of Gregory Peck nor Lee Remick. However, the strongest actors are in the supporting cast–David Warner, Billie Whitelaw and Patrick Troughton produce a genuine amount of fear and terror solely with their eyes that few actors are capable of achieving today.
Question: What was the greatest hurdle director Richard Donner faced creating The Omen?
“It was convincing Gregory Peck and Lee Remick that what they were doing was a horrible moment/circumstance in their lives – nothing more or nothing less – that drives them both to the point of insanity. He’s driven to the point where he could have killed a child. Once I had them convinced of that – I had to come back every time they questioned it – but from there on in, I had to accomplish the feat of fear and – I don’t want to say horror – but to do that and make it look like it could be the devil, or it could be nothing more than a frightening moment of circumstance that took somebody’s life. Everything from the priest getting killed by a bolt of lightening that hits the church, to a plate a glass coming off and decapitating somebody, to the nanny coming into the room at night – you never see Lee get pushed out… she could have stumbled in a moment of panic. I did everything so it could have been circumstantial. That was the most difficult part.” via IGN