Saturday, October 31, 2009

Scariest Movies of All Time

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) Directed by Tobe Hooper 
Whether you contribute it to the Poltergeist controversy, the oft-putting repute surrounding Chainsaw or the fact that his pictures are many times misunderstood, Hooper has sadly not shared the same success of his counterparts. He is however an accomplished movie-maker and his ability to manipulate film grammar is nearly unparalleled. His first weapon in Chainsaw is wielded during the picture’s opening tile craw as a foreboding John Larroquette sets up the forthcoming events as true. This gives way to a chaotic soundtrack comprised of grinding metal, crunching dirt and animal moans; and the first image of the movie: that of a rotting corpse posed atop a headstone in such a way as to suggest our world is one of madness and the source of that madness has an unusual eye for art. He spends the next eighty-plus minutes tampering with audience sentimentality (i.e. during a scene that sees the disabled Franklin hurled down a hill while attempting to urinate) en route to creating a terrifying experience that exemplifies the savage cinema period.

THE EXORCIST (1973) Directed by William Friedkin
An easy choice and one that will appear on most scariest movies lists. As a child who spent many Sunday mornings in church, I found the existence of heaven and hell motif extremely unnerving. The thought that Satan would assail from a mundane American household and utilize a twelve-year-old girl as artillery was wholly terrifying. The bilious images of Linda Blair spewing green-pea soup and karo syrup didn’t hurt either. I later came to appreciate Friedkin’s use of symbolism and imagery to build the good vs. evil theme.

THE EVIL DEAD (1982) Directed by Sam Raimi
Before he was a Hollywood superstar, Sam Raimi was producing cult horror pics recognized for their gore elements and vigorous techniques. Though among my favorite films of all time, it took me two sittings to get through this crude and violent masterpiece the first time around. Raimi’s wickedly inventive camera work continues to inspire me to this day.

POLTERGEIST (1982) Directed by Tobe Hooper
The most popular of Hooper’s film endeavors Poltergeist is also the film that provided him the most heartache as suggestions of Spielberg’s involvement resulted in his own abilities being called into question. On the surface the movie is a classic urban haunted-house story but on a deeper level it is an indictment of our reliance on television as a society. Poltergeist taps into every childhood phobia imaginable (fear of the dark, clowns, closets, shadows, storms, etc.) and forces younger viewers to consider the existence of a supernatural dimension.

HALLOWEEN (1978) Directed by John Carpenter
I was born January 9, 1980. So, minus eight days and some odd minutes, I lived every moment of that cheerful decade. Though I didn’t understand the socio-political goings ons that inspired it, the slasher genre was my introduction to horror. Halloween remains the preeminent boogeyman flick. I recall the first time I saw the movie. It was Halloween night. My sister was curled up around her candy-filled pillowcase on the living room floor, my mother was uttering words of protest from the other room (“You better not be watching something that will give you nightmares”) and I was entranced by the images on the TV. The thought that monsters were not just created by mad scientists or nuclear fallout and could be living next door was truly frightening. The ambiguous final moments of the picture are underrated and leave the viewer with the feeling that evil is out there...somewhere.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) Directed by Wes Craven
Wes Craven redefined the slasher genre on two occasions. The first came in 1984 when he substituted the then familiar faceless, voiceless stalker on a mission with a sardonic, supernatural bad guy. His weapon of choice was truly disturbing and his victim-pool could seemingly include anybody as he preyed on those who fall asleep. The bloody special effects and spooky atmosphere made this adolescent nightmare all too real.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) Directed by George A. Romero
A masterpiece in every sense of the word, Night of the Living Dead relies on stark black-and-white photography and documentary techniques to create the appearance of truth. Though its sequels exploit sanguinary displays to create humor, there is little to laugh about in this primitive yet unrelenting parable regarding the skepticism of mankind.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
I wholeheartedly bought into the Blair Witch phenomenon. A pseudo-documentary chronicling the adventures of three filmmakers who disappear into the woods of Maryland while researching the existence of an evil witch, the movie relies on the power of the unseen to create a series of genuinely gut-wrenching events. The picture’s scariest moments are devoid of a picture altogether, relying solely on sound and the imagination of the viewer to create dread within a darkened frame.

THE DESCENT (2005) Directed by Neil Marshall
A group of adventure-seeking women who take to investigating unexplored cave systems for pleasure have their latest excursion interrupted by a pack of monstrous cavern-dwellers in The Descent. Though the ravenous creatures are among the more frightening in recent memory and have influenced the design of those that amble through most creature-features released in The Descent’s wake, the scenes of the female leads squeezing through small portals in the rock wall create a harrowing sense of claustrophobia unmatched in cinema history.

LOST HIGHWAY (1997) Directed by David Lynch
Surreal nightmare from avant-garde director David Lynch. Though light on logic, the macabre atmosphere created via the picture’s unsettling visuals, stark color scheme and ominous score seize your attention throughout. The concept of someone breaking into your home and watching you while you sleep is still one of the most frightening ideas put to celluloid. A scene that witnesses a ghost-faced Robert Blake informing Bill Pullman that he is relaxing in his home while positioned at his side on the beach chills me to this day.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Top 10 Movies of 2008

Previously posted on myspace - back when people were reading myspace.

1. PARANOID PARK: The films of Gus Van Sant should be included on any high school film curriculum. Now well into his fifties, the American film director manages to capture the malaise and anxiety of adolescence more truthfully than filmmakers less separated from that stage of life. His Paranoid Park tells the tale of a teenage skateboarder’s involvement in an accidental homicide in a manner that is both lyrical and restrained and is simply put, the best movie of 2008.

2. GRAN TORINO: On the surface, Gran Torino is a classic Clint Eastwood picture along the same vein as Dirty Harry. However, while hard edged, the irritated war vet he plays here (Walt Kowalski) has more in common with the many-sided Will Munny brought to life in Unforgiven. While the supporting players prove to be little fore than cannon fodder for Walt’s racist jabs, Eastwood’s delivery is nothing short of brilliant.

3. MARTYRS: A revenge tale of sorts that keeps you guessing to the bitter, bloody end. A French production, Martyrs did not receive US distribution till early '09. Still, I thought it one of the best horror pics of the decade and felt it deserved inclusion on this list.

4. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN: While audiences flocked to Twilight to the tune of $190 million, this Swedish vampire love story was thrust aside by distributors eager to Americanize it in the form of a 2010 remake. The simple story witnesses a browbeaten boy (Oskar) finding companionship in the town newbie (Eli), a girl who quickly proves to be a lot different than the other 11-year-olds in his school. Beautifully photographed and skillfully acted, LTROI is one of the more poignant horror movies in recent history.

5. THE WRESTLER: The Wrestler illustrates the emotional boundaries of humanity and resurrects the career of Mickey Rourke all while compelling remembrances of wrestling’s heyday. Its success can be attributed to Rourke’s heroic performance, Bruce Springsteen’s melancholy song and the ability of director Darren Aronofsky to remain reserved with a story that could have slid into the absurd. A prime example is in a scene utilized by the film’s trailer – as The Ram rehearses using tin trays as potential weapons on a convenience store clerk, the movie quickly transitions to more somber material.

6. WENDY AND LUCY: Director Kelly Reichardt retreats to the oft-used city of Portland to film Wendy and Lucy, a thin story in which Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a down-on-her-luck woman en route to Alaska to find work. Along the way, her car breaks down and she loses her only companion, a golden-haired mutt named Lucy. Magnificent in its meekness and inherent beauty, the elliptical story is undeniably intriguing. Williams's ability to sell despondency surpasses in splendor any performance by a female actor this year.

7. BAGHEAD: Four struggling actors retreat to a cabin in the woods where they set out to write the movie that will mark their big break. Their farcical story of a killer whose calling sign is wearing a bag over his head becomes all-too-real when a man wearing a bag over his head appears outside their window. A funny, sometimes scary send-up of independent filmmaking, the picture utilizes a free-moving camera and improvisational dialogue to fashion an experience that is both gritty and innocent.

8. MAN ON WIRE: This year’s Oscar winner for best documentary, Man on Wire examines tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s daring high wire routine carried out between the newly built twin towers. Its mere 90 minute running time flies by and the fact that there is no existing footage of the crime doesn’t detract at all from Petit’s remarkable feat. A more amazing documentary you aren’t likely to find.

9. AMERICAN TEEN: Dubbed the real life Breakfast Club, American teen chronicles the adventures of five Indiana youths throughout their senior year of high school. Despite the picture being a documentary, I found myself repeatedly praising the accuracy of the movie’s protagonists. Both mesmerizing and distressing, the movie should be witnessed by anybody working with adolescents.

10. PINAPPLE EXPRESS: In a year that saw a surplus of quality comedies, this classic stoner funny from team Apatow stands above all others. Seth Rogen stars as a pothead entangled in a murder mystery in a story that gets funnier with each viewing. Best exchange:
Red: Look at this. [He shows Denton his shaved armpits]
Red: You see this? You see that? There's no hair under here, bro.
Denton: What's the significance of that?
Red: It makes me aerodynamic when I fight. I can take danger.