Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dr. Cheese's Scary Movie Guide to the Good, the Bad, and the Bloody: Plus the Bloody Bad

It's that time of year again: time for sweaters, rakes, cider, donuts, and jack-o-lanterns. Also time for movies that are scary, cheesy, gory, suspenseful, or some combination of all four.

So who better to help welcome Halloween 2007 than Dr. Cheese, that aficionado of awful, that connoisseur of crap, that maven of merde?

I asked the Good Doctor if he would like to come up with a list of recommended movies for our favorite holiday, and not only did he comply -- he threw in some nonrecommended movies as a bonus.

Take it away, O Physican of Phromage!

Part 1: The Good

These are the movies that are enjoyable to watch because they do what great horror movies do: deliver a genuine scare or sense of unease, whether from outstanding storytelling, creepy atmosphere, gut-wretching suspense, skillful direction, nauseating effects, or some witches' brew of all of the above. Here are Ten to Terrify.

The ThingThe Thing (1981). Not so much a remake of the Howard Hawks classic as a reinvention of it, this ranks as one of the most complete scary films in the genre. The great premise and setting, excellent screenwriting, and Carpenter's tight direction all rachet up the paranoia/claustrophobia level, while the innovative monster effects provide for a suitably putrid visual experience. The downbeat final scene and creepily understated Morricone score leave the viewer with a lingering taste of unease, much like the last swallow of an MD 20/20 cocktail.

Rosemary's BabyRosemary's Baby (1968). Few directors seem to be as adept as Roman Polanski at teasing out every last ounce of psychological terror inherent in a story. He had a great one here in Ira Levin's novel, and he makes the most of it with great performances from Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, and Sidney Blackmer. Lush NYC settings, Polanski's usual masterful use of silence and sound, and that creepy lullabye score round out the awesomeness.

The Exorcist The Exorcist (1973). The idea of possession taps deep into the "fear" center of the primitive lizard part of the human brain. What could be scarier or more unsettling than discovering someone you know, love, and trust has turned into a malevolent stranger? Or, say, the devil? Especially if that someone is an innocent little girl. William Peter Blatty scared the crap out of lots of kids (and not a few adults) with this satanic masterpiece.

The Ring The Ring (2002). Not since Poltergeist did a television seem so menacing. Although, strictly speaking, the plot of this movie doesn't make 100% sense, it still manages to be creepy as hell... and it accomplishes this without splattery special effects. The psychological tension gets turned to 11 and doesn't let up until the end. By the way, the supposedly even better Japanese original, Ringu, just doesn't compare.

Invasion of the Body SnatchersInvasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). You thought Leonard Nimoy was soulless as Mr. Spock, wait till you see him in this. Again the idea of possession takes a central role in the proceedings as earth is slowly conquered, one pod person at a time. Now unfortunately dated, this remake of the 1956 original is superior in many ways, most notably in its final, horrifying image.

DagonDagon (2001). H.P. Lovecraft movie adaptations are legion -- as is the number of them that suck, which is just about all of them. One wonders if part of the reason is because filmmakers tend to stray far away from Lovecraft's actual ideas, but in any case, although Dagon is again only "inspired" by a particular Lovecraft story ("The Shadow Over Innsmouth"), it succeeds quite well in creating that menacing Lovecraftian mood, and it does so even with some pretty lousy CGI.

The ShiningThe Shining (1980).Stanley Kubrick + Stephen King = awesome creepy horror fright. King movie adaptations are almost as unsuccessful as Lovecraft ones, but there are a few gems and this is certainly one of them. Of course, who isn't scared of Jack Nicholson's sinister mug to begin with? Redrum! Redrum!

28 Days Later28 Days Later (2002). Zombies, rage virus infections, what's the difference? The results are the same: bloody carnage on a mass scale. Yeah! That's what the Good Doctor wants to see, so why split hairs on the subtle flavors of Apocalypse? Danny Boyle deftly rejuvenates a tired subgenre and paves the way for the modern zombie renaissance in this taut tale of London falling down.

Session 9Session 9 (2001). Sometimes -- not often -- you want a break from the decapitations and disembowelings to instead enjoy getting quietly creeped out. If remakes of Japanese horror movies aren't your thing, but David Caruso is, then give Session 9 a try. The Good Doctor has a soft spot for this film because I, as a youth, also spent time in an insane asylum. Abandoned, yes, but still.

SuspiriaSuspiria (1977). Now, back to the decapitations and disembowelings. Dario Argento's 1970s screen gem is so visually engrossing it's easy to forget it doesn't make a damn bit of sense. A ballet school of witches? Sure, okay, whatever. Of course, logic and plot aren't essential to Italian horror films -- but guts and gore thankfully are. A chilling score by Goblin (Dawn of the Dead) helps the splatter along nicely.

Coming soon: Dr. Cheese's Guide, Part 2: The Bad.