Of all the horror movies I’ve ever seen, few have actually made me nervous. Even fewer than that have scared me. Thus, I thought I might create a list or two, focusing on those moments in certain films, and how and why they managed to scare me when so many others did not. This is not necessarily an exhaustive list, nor is it composed of movies based on their true quality or popularity level. Some scared me all the way through, and some, just in certain instances.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
Okay, I’ll admit it. This movie creeped me out, in a big way. In the best fucking way possible. Now, don’t get me wrong, not the whole movie. I wasn’t sitting there like some punk. But this movie is absolutely chilling. I am being 100% honest here. The feeling, the atmosphere, the story, the tapes, the possibility that it could happen, and probably has happened? Just think about it here for a minute – a serial killer, young enough to be unassuming, yet old enough to not get caught, who has no preference in his victim selection, and who rids them of all dignity, humility, and self-esteem before brutally killing them, on camera no less? Come on, now! It’s fucking amazingly twisted. Yeah, yeah, the acting on the part of the regular folks wasn’t the best, but the acting of Ben Messmer (The Water Street Butcher), and the victims, particularly sympathetic Stacy Chbosky (Cheryl Dempsey) is utterly astounding. I want to feel uncomfortable when watching a horror film, I love that feeling, I thrive on that feeling, and this movie does it for me. I definitely don’t think it gets enough credit, mainly because hardly anyone has seen it because it doesn’t exist except on the internet, and because people are leery of the “found footage” subgenre of horror. I get it, and I hear you. But, this movie is a shining example, to me, of how a horror film should be made. It is horrifying, which is the goal of a horror movie, hence the name. The entire movie you’re pretty much on pins and needles because the normal scenes are so quiet, and then when they cut to footage of the tapes, it’s very loud, and there is usually a woman screaming in terror. This makes it very unnerving, and you can never get fully comfortable in your own skin throughout. This makes it a very effective film, indeed. The most nerve-wracking and fucked up moments?
1) The Creepy All-Fours Walk
Here’s a taste of the scene that gives me chills. It still gets me no matter how many times I see it. The Butcher wears a white, emotionless mask on the back of his head, creating an illusion, when really he is walking on all-fours, and wearing a creepy Comeddia dell’arte mask on his face as he moves closer to the camera. He then kills his terrified victim, up close and personal. I literally pull my legs into my chest when I see this. I cannot explain it. But it scares the fuck out of me. I admit it without shame. If this doesn’t scare you, there might be something wrong with you.
2) Cheryl’s Mom Confronted
Soon after teen and main victim Cheryl Dempsey is abducted, The Butcher confronts her mother, telling her, “if there’s anything I can do…..”. As she realizes who he might be, he simply giggles eerily and walks away. There is something about this that absolutely kills me. Maybe it’s the gall of the killer to confront his victim’s own mother because he is confident that he will never be caught, or the trauma this further causes the mother, but something about it goes through me, and fills me with sadness.
3) Cheryl’s Depressing Interview
Towards the end, Cheryl is rescued and returned home. She seems to have aged thirty years and is depressed beyond measure. She has been conditioned by the killer to respond only to him, with whatever he wanted her to say. Thus, she keeps telling the cameramen, “I don’t know what you want me to say….” This broke my heart, because people are really that broken by experiences they’ve had, and though this movie is fake, shit like this does happen. It is also revealed that her left hand has been removed. She refers to her Master, that he will come to get her, and that he didn’t mean to leave her behind. Most chilling, she thinks he really loves her. At the end of the short interview, words appear onscreen, informing us that she killed herself two weeks ago the taping. After this, a news reporter comes on, talking about how her body was stolen from the cemetery where she was recently buried. Scary. I don’t care what anyone says, this movie GETS to me. Which is really the point, yes?
The Strangers (2008)
Well, if it hasn’t been made obvious by now, the scariest movies to me are those that could actually happen. Home invasion, serial killers, torture and torment? Yeah, right up my alley. So, of course, The Strangers will always appear positively in any list of mine. I was so pleasantly surprised by this movie, and I could hardly believe it was Bryan Bertino’s directorial debut. The fact that it is loosely based on a few real life incidents (the Manson murders, The Keddie Cabin Murders) makes it all the more horrifying. A young, innocent, likeable couple terrorized in their own home (well, vacation home), by three psychopaths throughout the course of an entire night is horrifying to think about. The whole movie is creepy, for sure, but here are my top scenes.
1) Kristen Terrorized
From the moment James leaves to get more cigarettes, Kristen is tormented by the strangers, slowly at first, rapping on the door every so often, pretending to still be looking for Tamara, and then loud, malicious pounding. Kristen’s cigarettes and the fireplace have caused the alarm to go off, and she removes it, leaving it on the floor as the door is hit once again. She calls James to tell him to hurry, and goes back in the living room. The smoke alarm is now sitting on the cushion of the chair she used to stand on. They’ve been in the house, and even stolen her phone and thrown it in the fireplace. Eventually, the front door opens slightly, and Kristen sees a woman in a pin-up girl mask staring back at her. We weren’t quite expecting that, which is what makes it so startling. The whole scene builds up so much that once we catch a glimpse of one of the tormentors, we practically jump out of our seats. Well, I did. Amazing.
2) Mike is Stalked
Earlier in the night, James had called his friend to come pick him up, as he and Kristen were fighting. He finally arrives, after most of the terror has taken place. He enters the house, which is eerily quiet, except for the Merle Haggard record, “Mama Tried” playing over and over. As he walks through the house, confused and nervous, the masked male stranger appears behind him, stalking him with an ax. We’re sure he is going to be hacked to death brutally, but in a fucked up turn of events, James shoots him in the head, not realizing it is his friend. This scene is where everything pretty much goes to hell. We know the victims are probably not going to survive, and even if they did, they just killed their best friend and would be messed up for life. Fear can make us do horrible, unintentional things, and this scene proves that.
3) “Because you were home”
After the night of terror is over, the sun rises, as Kristen and James are bound and tied to two chairs in the living room. The strangers stand over them, just staring. Kristen asks, “Why are you doing this to us?”, to which the blonde stranger replies, “Because you were home”. This is so beyond creepy. They were just out looking for people to terrorize, and they just happened to be home. The strangers are a trio of sociopaths, who get their kicks tormenting and torturing helpless people in their homes. They thrive on the fear it causes, and once their fun is over, they must do away with them. James is stabbed slowly several times with a butcher knife, and then the same happens to Kristen. James is dead once the two little religious boys arrive to solicit Jesus materials, but Kristen is still alive, and screams out in terror as one little boy reaches out to her. I was just so, so impressed with this film.
The Ring (2002)
The Ring is one of those films I’ll never tire of. Yeah, I know it’s ten years old now (Jesus!), but it still freaked me out when I saw it, so it is deserving of my loyalty and love. Even at 14 I was a hardcore movie freak, and cynic, but I was pleasantly surprised by this gem. I really don’t care what anyone says. Gore Verbinski did a tremendous job on this film. Not one line of dialogue, one speck of lighting, nor one aspect of storyline is out-of-place. To me, that means a hell of a lot, not to mention, it features one of the creepiest kids ever in horror.
1) The Tale of Katie and the Tape
The beginning of the film opens with two teen girls, staying in on a rainy night, talking. The subject of urban legends comes up, and Becca mentions to Katie the mysterious tape that “kills you when you watch it”, seven days after receiving the threatening post-view phone call. Katie believes she’s seen the tape, and fakes Becca out by pretending to choke. After some shenanigans, the phone rings, scaring the girls to death. It’s Katie’s mom, and they answer it downstairs. Becca departs so they can talk, but after speaking to her mom begins to experience some strange things. The television comes on The Static Channel by itself, twice, she sees a blurry movement in the screen, and the refrigerator opens by itself. Okay, not too creepy when you type it, but the film makes it pretty eery. After going upstairs, she steps in a mysterious puddle outside her door. Upon opening the door, she witnesses the t.v. on a strange blueish-grey screenshot of a well in a forest, which prompts her to scream and contort her face unattractively as the screen cuts to black. Later on, at her funeral, her mother says she saw her face, and the scene quickly cuts to Katie curled up in her closet – twisted, contorted, and discolored. Look, it’s fuckin’ creepy, okay? Just admit it! Even the guy friend I was with seeing this for the first time ten years ago practically hit the ceiling! Me? I was startled, but I held my own, unlike him.
2) The Tape Itself
Do I really have to describe this one? The tape itself isn’t really scary, but it sure is strange, and the creepiest part is before we know the whole story, we’re sitting there, thinking, “What a bunch of random fucked up shit!” And it is, it really is. And the lighting and coloring of this videotape makes it even more odd and discomforting.
3) Samara’s Return
So, if you tell me that when Samara came up out of the well, and came through the television set, you didn’t get rattled, you’re either lying, or dead. Perhaps both. Of course, it’s not too big a deal now that we’ve all seen it a thousand times, but the first few times, particularly the first, it was fucking amazing. This evil little bitch will not be stopped, and she has to go and kill sweet Noah. Typical, the good guy dies, I call BULLSHIT. But still, it proves she is unrelenting, and innately evil. Not even Rachel’s compassion and discovery of her water-logged body will faze her. I wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley, because my charming ways would apparently not work on her. This scene is a classic already, and still gets my stomach in knots when I see it. A few male friends even told me they turned their sets around when they got home from the movie when they first saw it. Bold of them to admit, but can you blame them? It was unsettling, and shows that there usually is no happy ending in horror films.
MORE TO COME!