Akemi has decided she wants to invite some friends over for a movie night next week and asked me to recommend a good horror film. I thought about it and realized that my favorites, the ones that left a lasting, unsettling, impression, always did two things well: they built to a horrifying climax and then punctuated it with a chilling final scene. It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. And, nowadays, most every horror movie aspires to that shocking closer, the twist or heart-stopping surprise that will have the audience jumping out of their seats. Unfortunately, modern audiences are pretty savvy. They’ve caught on to what have become the expected cliches (The killer is just playing dead! It was all a dream/NO IT WASNT! The ghost/killer/demon appears in the mirror!) so spooking them has become a lot harder. Still, occasionally, they do succeed in burning that last terrible image into your memory. What follows are a few of my personal favorites…
This Spanish entry into the found footage sub-genre delivers some great scares in the form of a television reporter investigating the mysterious outbreak at an apartment building. Our intrepid reporter ends up on the wrong side of a quarantine and, pretty soon, she becomes the story.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
A rare SF entry to this list, this film tells the tale of a near-future Earth under attack by alien life forms capable of assuming human guise. The paranoia and suspense are ratcheted up as survivors attempt to stay one step ahead of the suddenly all-too-familiar invaders.
An unsettling film on many levels, this black and white shocker is set in a circus where a scheming opportunist runs afoul of the wrong folks.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS
Many movies have since mined the same twist, but Carnival of Souls was the first one to do it – and, more importantly, the first I saw do it. A woman survives a car crash and soon after finds herself the target of bizarre forces.
I have a soft, terror-filled spot in my heart for horror movies from the 70’s, particularly this one. Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis are the unfortunate family members charged with the caretaking of a gothic estate.
A single mother discovers a water stain on the ceiling of her apartment. Her curiosity about the upstairs tenant leads her to learn of the disappearance of a little girl…
Another 70’s entry and another one involving a young woman moving into a suspect apartment. The ending kept me awake for nights – and scanning tenement windows for staring nuns.
A Japanese twist on the haunted house motif. When I first sat down to watch this movie, the person who was with me at the time was so freaked out she made me turn it off. If this movie taught me anything, it’s that in addition to checking under your bed before you go to sleep, you may also want to check under your covers.
A classic full of wonderfully chaotic/terrifying imagery: the blood, the twins, the woman in the bathtub, the guy in the pig mask and, of course, that final haunting photo…
A man, desperate to find out what became of his missing, learns too late he should’ve left well enough alone.
Another classic, and one of the first to teach us: It aint over ’til it’s over! And even then…
The remake was surprisingly good, but nothing beats the original – and the first time Sadako makes her big appearance. This movie will make you think twice the next time you consider peeking down that dark well.
DON’T LOOK NOW
A family mourning the death of their daughter visits Venice. As a serial killer stalks the city’s dark canals by night, the grieving father believes his recently deceased daughter, in her tell-tale red raincoat, is visiting him from beyond the grave.
A trio of teens get lost in the woods – and horror ensues. Groundbreaking at the time, it has been oft-copied, but none have come close to capturing the dread of that final image.
So, those were my picks. Weigh in with your thoughts and selections!