Between science and superstition ….scary lists and trailers … from Val Lewton to Jim Varney

October 29, 2010

In my OnFilm column today I supplied a list of what I considered the scariest movies ever. They are:

1. The Exorcist(1973)

2. Spoorloos (1989)

3. The Devils (1971)

4. Suspiria (1977)

5. Don’t Look Now (1973)

6. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

7. Videodrome (1983)

8. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

9. Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters) (2003)

10. Psycho (1960)
See this post below.

I’m pretty happy with that list, though my opinions always oscillate. I could revise it every few minutes. Maybe I’d rather have David Cronenberg’s Spider (2002) instead of Videodrome; maybe I’d rather have Roman Polanski’s The Tenant than Rosemary’s Baby, but this will do.

I also asked three avid moviegoing friends with strong opinions for their lists of scariest movies. My colleague Joe Riddle, the head of the Democrat-Gazette copy desk, provides this list:

1. The Exorcist
2. The Omen (1976)

3. The Haunting (1963)

4. The Innocents (1961)

5. Jaws

6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

7. Psycho (1960)
8. Cat People (1942)

9. Rosemary’s Baby
10. Poltergeist

Two more Val Lewtons:
I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

The Seventh Victim

The reason Val Lewton is on the list three times is he never shows you the monster. It is all in your head. The same for Robert Wise’s The Haunting. And Wise was a Lewton protege.

The one film that gave me nightmares for years was the now-silly Day of the Triffids (1963), a British thriller with a nonsinging Howard Keel. The trivits (the name my nephew Chris gave them) made the same sound as frogs make. And whenever I heard that sound I just knew the “trivits” were coming to eat me. Remember to carry salt water with you at all times!

Also, BDA regular contrbuter Levi Agee’s list:

1. The Thing (1982)

2. The Shining (1980)
3. The Exorcist
4. 28 Days Later

5. Alien (1979)

6. Evil Dead 2 (1987)

7. Shaun of the Dead (200)

8. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

9. Earnest Scared Stupid (1991)

10. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

And finally, Legion of Doomer Danny-Joe Crofford checks in:

1, The Exorcist
2. Halloween

3. Psycho
4. Rosemary’s Baby
5. The Omen
6. Night of the Living Dead

7. The Shining
8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

9. Nightmare on Elm Street

10. The Strangers(2008)


  • Comment by bampezzan — Oct 29,2010 at 10:26 am

    How three respected movie reviewers / enthusiasts like Philip Martin, Levi Agee and Joe Riddle could promulgate such weak and abstruse scary movie lists is suspicious (as in, case of the body snatchers).

    (Disclosure: I work in the company of Martin and Riddle and have very fond feelings for both.)

    Specifically, I don’t appreciate their omission of John Carpenter’s Halloween. For one, to my mind, it was the first major studio production that created a terrorizing and silent bogeyman. This has since become a popular sub-genre, the way Dirty Harry spawned the vigilante cop bang-up. It’s the first that used the mask to startling effect (unless you count Mr. Sardonicus, and, OK, I do, too). It’s also to my knowledge the first horror film with a frightening bit of original music (unless, you count Jaws as “horror”). The movie was the kind of critical AND commercial success that demands a spot on anyone’s Top Ten. Kudos to Danny Joe-Crofford, whose list is perhaps too predictable, but who got Halloween right.

  • Comment by levifilm — Oct 29,2010 at 12:21 pm

    I can’t believe Ebert is a Earnest Hater. That just ruined my weekend. Scary movies are never scary with a few exceptions. Modern “Halloween films” or scary movies have devolved into cliche jump out moments with manipulative sound effects and that’s fine if you want that kind of scare, but truly scary movies are harder to come by. I felt like Catfish might be one of the most frightening movie’s I’ve seen in a long time. The Vanishing was a good inclusion. I think in films what I’m most afraid of is characters that I empathize with getting what they don’t deserve. In every typical halloween movie recently, most of the teenage prey get killed due to a bizarre moral code, therefore they deserve their grizzly deaths. We also know in most cases the hero of the film or the person we root for usually makes it out alive so it’s harder to invest in the fear of fatality for any major characters. I wish more horror films would take risks with convention but within the Hollywood mainstream few directors or studios are willing to go there. I’m sure all of you can provide me with dozens of examples where the main character gets it but on average it’s easy to sit back on auto-pilot during most horror films and know your guy is going to be in the sequel.

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