I've had a love/hate relationship with scary movies for a very long time. It started when we were kids, and around Halloween my dad would take us to St. Laurent's Video Store to rent our traditional favourite - Disney's Halloween Treat. It was a series of snippets of Disney villains in action, a few short films of Donald Duck and Co. running into ghosts, and then the feature presentation of The Legend of Sleepy Hallow. It was a cartoon, but I never could watch the whole way through. About the time that hawkish Ichabod Crane started his venture into the woods, I would shut off the VCR, leap off the couch, and literally fly up the stairs to safety.
The trend has remained the same. To this day, I watch scary movies through the cracks between my fingers with hands over my eyes, wishing I'd never gotten into this mess, and lying in bed afterwards thinking every shadow in my room is a ghoul, monster or ghost.
In the spirit of Halloween, I'm going to count down my top ten favourite scary movies. You may start going through the list and wonder where most of the classics are, such as The Exorcist, Halloween, or Psycho. I either haven't seen them, or I saw them so long ago that I can't remember them. Most of my picks probably wouldn't earn many stars from the critics, but they are stand-outs in my mind nonetheless! So here we go...
10. Idle Hands - This may be the silliest choice on the list, so that's why I put it way back at #10. With Devon Sawa starring as the lazy stoner Anton whose hand is suddenly occupied by the Devil himself, this movie may have held more laughs than scares, but it did bring to life the saying: "Idle hands are the Devil's plaything". Scariest Scene: At the very beginning, as Anton's parents are going to bed, when his mom turns off the light and lies back on her pillow to find the words I'm under the bed glowing on the ceiling.
9. Signs - M. Night Shylaman's alien invasion story had Mel Gibson playing the role of a former minister, raising his children with the help of his brother following his wife's tragic death. Suddenly, there are crop circles appearing in their corn fields, and before long, strange creatures from outer space are moving in on the family. The movie played with the fear of being trapped, isolated in your own home with no one to help you but yourself, trying to protect yourself against an unknown evil. Plus, it is one of the big reasons why corn fields creep me out. Scariest Scene: Joaquin Phoenix's character is sitting in the closet watching the news coverage of the invasion, and they show a home video taken at a Brazilian child's birthday party. The kids are all screaming and pointing, and suddenly the alien walks across the screen. Just try not to jump. I dare you.
8. Pet Sematary - From horror master Stephen King comes the story of a young family who move in near a burial ground for the neighbourhood kids' pets killed on the highway. However, an elderly neighbour lets them in on a secret - beyond the Pet Sematary is a place where things, once buried, can return to life - except they're not quite normal. It's a deep question, one I've often pondered. If you lost someone you loved, and you knew there was a way to bring them back, would you do it even if you knew they might not return the same? Even if you knew there was a chance they could return in the form of evil itself? Scariest Scene: When baby Gage returns from the dead and is hiding in neighbour Judd's bedroom. Judd follows the sounds of Gage's sweet giggles into the room, and when he sits down on the edge of the bed, the baby's hand reaches out and slits the backs of Judd's ankles with a scalpel.
7. I Know What You Did Last Summer - With an all-star teen cast including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Ryan Phillipe, the movie told the story of a group of friends who accidentally kill a man and after disposing of the body, they make a pact to never speak of it again. That is, until the next summer when they start receiving messages that someone knows what they did. And that someone won't rest until they have paid for their crime. Scariest Scene: When Jennifer Love Hewitt is running from the killer and locks herself inside a cooler full of ice. As she slides around amongst the ice cubes, she discovers the bodies of all of her dead friends and lets out a blood-curdling scream with each discovery.
6. Carrie - Another classic from Stephen King, this film from the '70's stars Sissy Spacek as the introverted oddball Carrie, who is slowly realizing she has telekinetic abilities. Carrie's classmates plan a vicious prank on her at the prom, and when she's crowned Queen, they douse her in pig's blood, causing her horrifying powers to come full force as she destroys the entire school and burns it to the ground with all the students still inside. Scariest Scene: Obviously, the whole climatic burning-of-the-school scene was pretty traumatic, but for me the scariest scene was right at the end, when one of Carrie's only friends is visiting her gravesite. Suddenly Carrie's hand reaches up out of the ground and grabs hold of the mourner, pulling her down. Holy heebie-jeebies.
5. An American Haunting - The most recent scary flick I've seen, it recounts the tale of the only case in American history where a spirit was blamed for the death of a man. Based on the Bell Witch legend, a family from the late 1800's is bombarded by a spirit in their home, believed to have been sent to torment them by a neighbouring witch who had a dispute with John Bell over land. It's one of the most powerful ghost stories I've ever heard of, and knowing there were hundreds of eye-witnesses who actually documented the poltergeist's shenanigans makes it all the more creepy. Scariest Scene: When young Betsy Bell awakens to see her quilt being inexplicably pulled off her by an unseen being, then an impression of the edge of the bed indicates that the ghost has sat down beside her. The ghost then grabs her by the hair, yanking it and then dragging her by her hair across the room before suspending her in mid-air and slapping her face repeatedly.
4. Frailty - A low-budget film starring Bill Paxton and Matthew McConaughey that tells the story of a single father raising his two boys in a quiet suburban setting. One night, the father is visited by an angel of God, and he believes the angel told him to carry out God's will by killing all the people who have sinned. When he starts bringing his boys along for the gruesome chores, it becomes increasingly disturbing. Ending with an unexpected twist that will leave your mouth hanging open, it definitely reaches it's viewers on a psychological level and leaves you with a great many questions to think about. Scariest Scene: When Bill Paxton's character drags his two boys into the dungeon he has created to carry out his disgusting deeds, and then attempts to force the eldest boy to kill a man with an axe. When he chickens out, he grabs the axe from him and murders the man with the two boys watching in horror only a few feet away.
3. Halloween:H20 - This movie takes place 20 years after the original, but if you've never seen the first Halloween, you don't have to - the opening credits fill us in with the entire back-story. Laurie Strode faked her own death to escape her terrifying past of battling her murderous younger brother, Michael Myers, now an inmate at an institution for the mentally insane. Starting out fresh, she is now the headmistress of a private school where she has managed to keep the secret of her deadly brother from her son, John (played by Josh Hartnett - major bonus!) But now it's Halloween, and Michael has escaped, and guess where he heads first?? Scariest Scene: John and his girlfriend, played by Michelle Williams, are running from the knife-wielding Michael, and he suddenly lunges out of the bushes and grabs John's girlfriend by her pretty blonde hair.
2. Scream - It took the slasher genre to new levels and introduced a whole generation to horror. A town is hit with a string of murders, and the white-masked cuprit seems determined to claim it's next victim in a teenage girl named Sydney. The movie was a smash success that spawned two more installments to Sydney's story, but none of them matched the whodunnit suspense of the original. Plus, it inspired me to write the jingle "Was it Stewey? Was it Dewey? Oh, I just don't know who-ey killed the whole cast of crew-ey of Screaaaaaaam! AH!" right on the spot while watching it for the first time. Genious, I tell you. Simply genious. Scariest Scene: When Sydney is in the school bathroom, and she gets the feeling the killer is in there with her. And then in the mirror she sees a pair of black boots slowly step down off the toilet seat to be seen below one of the stall doors.
1. The Sixth Sense - Bruce Willis stars as Malcolm Crowe in M. Night Shylaman's break-out sleeper hit, playing a psychiatrist who is trying to help a troubled young boy. Finally, Malcolm is able to get Cole to let him in on his secret: The kid sees dead people. They're everywhere. Oh yeah, now that's what you call chilling! The movie had one of the most dramatic, unexpected twist endings in cinematic history. I remember leaving the theatre thinking, "Dude, I gotta see that again." It's already gone down in history as one of the greatest ghost stories ever. Scariest Scene: Cole awakens at night and senses that he's not alone. He jumps into the tent he has constructed as his safe haven in his room, only to find the ghost of a little girl waiting there for him. Everyone in the theatre screamed. I still scream when I watch it.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Final Destination, Urban Legend, Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, The Hills Have Eyes, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Blair Witch Project, Stir of Echoes
So on All Hallow's Eve, if you get the urge to scare yourself silly, just watch one of these flicks, and I guarantee you'll have trouble sleeping that night.