Thursday, November 08, 2007

Scariest Film Scenes, Part 2

The second half of the list of film scenes which have made me want to sleep with the lights on will commence shortly. But first, an important piece of recently-discovered kickasserly: John "K" Kricfalusi, the genius behind Ren and Stimpy, has a blog. Entitled All Kinds of Stuff, it's a treasure trove of artistic and technical advice for aspiring animators, character sketches, personal rememberences of sources of inspiration, and many other goodies.

Alright, on to the rest of the list

1. Carrie (1976) - Carrie Comes Home
For those of us, like me, who saw this Brian De Palma classic decades after its release, the fact that Carrie uses telekenisis to anihillate everyone at her senior prom was considered common knowledge, like truth about Norman Bates' mother. But no-one ever told us about what happens after the fateful celebration, and what Carrie's mother does when she comes home. As one of the most chillingly insane female characters since Norma Desmond, Piper Laurie's Margaret White is the embodiment of religious fanaticism run amuck. Laurie reportedly thought her character was so over-the-top that the film had to be a comedy... that is, until she saw the final product.

2. Suspiria (1977) - Death By Seeing Eye Dog
Although much (justified) hoopla is made about the spectacular double-whammy death in this film's beginning, the one that sticks out to me as most memorable is the death of the blind piano teacher. Walking across a village square at night, he hears strange sounds around him, stops, and cries out "who's there?" Just as whe are expecting something to run up from out of the distance and get him, he is jumped by his German shepherd, who rips his throat out. I've had two shepherds in my life, and they were both wonderful creatures, neither of whom would've hurt a fly. So the numerous scenes in Italian horror films (there's a similar one in Fulci's The Beyond) where these animals, become posessed by some kind of evil spirit that turns them from amiable Rin Tin Tins into ravenous killing machines deeply freak me out on a personal level.

3. Alien (1979) - John Hurt Feels Unwell
It's been referenced to death, and parodied ad nauseum (most memorably as a Michigan J. Frog impersonator in Spaceballs), and yet the famed chest-burster scene in Ridley Scott's masterpiece has lost none of its power to make you want to hide behind the couch. The whole concept is a perfect metaphor for both women and men's subconscious fear of rape and impregnation by a malicious outsider. Hurt conveys this perfectly, as do the rest of the cast. During the filming, none of them knew that this was about to happen, so their reactions are completely genuine.

4. The Shining (1980) - Dog Suit Fellatio
I haven't read the Stephen King novel that this film was based on, so I don't know if the mysterious man in the dog suit (speaking of Spaceballs, he looks a little bit like Barf), and the tuxedo-wearing elderly gent he is is briefly seen blowing, have any kind of backstory or thematic significance in the book. But if you ask me, it doesn't matter. As a film, The Shining is one of the most horrifying examples of pure, snowballing terror ever created, which makes it hard to single out any one scene for this list - except for this one, one of the all-time great "WTF" moments in cinema. Poor Shelley Duvall's Wendy runs frantically around the Overlook Hotel on the brink of insanity, namely because her husband has tried to kill her with an ax, her son has retreated inside himself and will only allow her to speak to his imaginary friend "Tony," and they can't escape due to being snowed in. The last thing she needed on a day like that was to see the apparition of a man in a dog suit giving someone a blowjob. And yet, there it was.

5. American Werewolf in London (1981) - Demon Nazi Nightmare
Throughout most of John Landis's beloved werewolf film, the horrific events are infused with black comedy, making them simultenously scary and funny. All except this scene, a vivid nightmare that David Naughton experiences while in hospital. While enjoying a quiet evening back home, watching "The Muppets" with his family, his dad goes to answer the door, and his home is violently ransacked by demonic, pointy-toothed, humanoid monsters in SS uniforms. The sequence is so jarringly disturbing and we're so glad when it's over, and David wakes up, at which point Landis ingeniously delivers another "gotcha!" scare to freak the shit out of us.

6. The Evil Dead (1981) - Raped by a Tree
For horror movie fans, the First Kill (capital F, capital K) in a film is the one we relish like the first bite of a $15 steak. In the first of three brilliant films, Sam Rami seems to want to punish us for this bloodthirsty urge by subjecting his First Kill subject to one of the most just-plain-wrong sequences in horror film history. He sets up the character of Cheryl as doing all the wrong things. Upon hearing noises in her room, she does not rush back into the living room to join the others, but runs way out into the forest where they couldn't hear her if she screamed for help, demanding that whatever is tormenting her show itself. We can't wait to see what fate awaits her silly ass - until, that is, until she is forcably raped by none other than a tree. If she'd simply been impaled or decapitated, naturally, we would feel that she was justly punished for her bubbly stupidity. But tree-rape really seems like too much... and it brilliantly causes us to question whether we want to see these college kids gorily bumped off, or to triumph and survive their ordeal.

7. Poltergeist (1982) - Can't Sleep, Clowns Will Strangle Me
I hate dolls. And I hate clowns. So naturally, the clown doll that attacks the little boy in Poltergeist makes me want to run screaming from the room. It's just kind of a no-brainer.... if you want to make me cry with fear, have a kid get attacked by a clown doll. If only there'd been a chicken in a birdcage in this scene, Poltergeist would have been the scariest movie ever made. There are numerous disputes about who "really" directed this film - but if you ask me, it's the marriage of artistic sensibilities that makes it great. The supernatural events taking place in suburbia feels very Spielbergian, similar to Close Encounters and E.T. But scenes like this, and numerous others, are pure, visceral, horrific Hooper.

8. The Fly (1986) - Congratulations, It's a Maggot
Along with Alien, here's another great scene involving being impregnated by a sci-fi mutant (and subtextually, of course, it could be someone with an STD, an unwanted sexual assaultist, or any other number of things), although this time, in Cronenberg's hands, it's made a hell of a lot more overt. This film would probably make my top 20 list of films about relationships for the nuanced and realistic way it handles the interactions of a couple, one of whom is slowly transforming into a giant bug. Naturally, after finding out that she is pregnant with his baby, Veronica (Geena Davis) has one hell of a disturbing nightmare where she gives birth to a maggot the size of a baguette. The chaos that ensues, both biological (as Seth Brundle continues to transform) and psychological, only gets more devastating from there.

9. Exorcist III (1990) - Off With Her Head
Author William Peter Blatty took to the director's chair for the third entry of the famous devil posession saga, in what was originally planned to be an adaptation of his novel Legion, but, with the usual studio interference, a lot of footage cut out and a little bit more reshot, it became Exorcist III. It's a bit of a mess, but still a very good and underrated horror film, boasting a fine performance by George C. Scott and at least one scene that is more terrifying than anything in William Friedkin's 1973 original. A nurse is doing her rounds in a creepy mental institution. After being falsely boo-scared once, there is a lingering static shot during which she proceeds to go about her business, tidying up, fiddling with objects on her desk, then going to check on a patient. After a couple of seconds, she emerges from the room as if nothing happened, then, with a frantic "BWAAAAA" violin chord on the soundtrack, a white-robed figure runs up behind her with a gigantic pear of shears aimed at her neck, then the film cuts to a headless statue of the Virgin Mary. It's a beautifully orchestrated fright moment, that, if you ask me, should be studied extensively in film classes.

10. Mulholland Drive (2001) - The Man Behind the Winkie's
With the exception of The Silence of the Lambs, was hard pressed to think of many films from the 90's or the 2000's that truly terrified me - the previous decades have presented us with many great "deconstructions" of genres (Ginger Snaps, From Dusk 'Til Dawn, Shaun of the Dead), films that deliver gore without a real sense of suspense (the Saw series) and overrated twaddle that I really couldn't see the appeal of (The Ring, The Descent), but not many films that actually made me afraid. Then a friend reminded me about a brilliant scene early on in Mulholland Drive, where a gawky man calls his friend to a Winkie's restaurant to describe a nightmare to him: he is sitting in the diner when he realizes he is being watched by a face he hopes he "never [sees] outside of a dream." The two men then proceed to go take a look behind the restaurant dumpster, where they do indeed see the man in question: a dredlocked, deteriorating zombie of a man with eyes like Darth Maul. What's brilliant is how everything happens just as Dan describes it in his dream - you'd think that put a damper on the suspense, but it actually enhances it all the more. The makeup job on the mystery man's face doesn't disappoint either. In fact, it's so frightening when he finally appears, the audience hopes they never see his face again outside of a David Lynch movie.