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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?

No explanation needed: What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?

Mine is Threads, the 1983 British TV movie about an all-out global nuclear war. It’s so horrifyingly straightforward that it still gives me nightmares… and at the time that I saw it, in the 80s (it aired on PBS in the States), it was something I was far more likely to actually witness than a homicidal rampage by a hockey-mask-wearing maniac, the kind that dominated the popular movies of the day. (I wrote more about Threads a few years ago; it’s available in Region 2, but not in Region 1.)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)



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  • Mischief Maker

    Suspiria is an odd movie. How scary it is or isn’t depends on the context you’re watching it in. I first saw it on the Sci Fi channel during the day with commercial breaks and thought it was goofy. Years later I rented it and watched it alone at night in the dark and it scared the crap out of me. Subsequently I showed it at a Halloween party with a bunch of drunken friends and it went straight back to goofy.

  • Chuck

    “The Blob” when I was like five years old. On the other hand at that age those flying monkeys were pretty freaky too.

  • As a teenager, I’d say Halloween, or The Thing.
    As an adult the scariest movie for me it’s been Candyman, Tony Todd and his voice still give me shivers, when I come to think about it.

    But sometimes scariest it’s not the worst, when I come to think about it.
    I still remember an indie movie, with a young Viggo Mortensen, entitled The Reflecting Skin, that was deeply desturbing.

  • markyd

    Kids

    I’m serious. That movie haunted me for days. Maybe not in a horror movie kind of way, but definitely in a “is this for real?” kind of way.

    My wife and I both love horror movies, so we have seen a lot of them. A lot of obscure ones, too. Despite this, I would peg Halloween as the movie that still rattles me to this day.
    The original Freddie movies scared the crap out of me when I saw them as a youngster(I don’t recall the year or my age, hence “youngster”)

    sadly, most modern “horror” movies are distinctly lacking in said horror.

  • Eric

    ::SPOILERS AHEAD::

    The climax of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now when Donald Sutherland is killed by the dwarf is probably the one scene that creeps me out the most. It seemed to have almost come out of nowhere when I first watched it, but in retrospect, seems completely inevitable. Absolutely ruthless and devastating.

    Also, when I was a kid, each of the original Indiana Jones films had one scene that I just couldn’t watch: The melting faces of the Nazis in Raiders, the heart-ripping sequence in Temple of Doom and the guy who dissolves after drinking from the wrong grail in Last Crusade.

  • I avoid movies that seem to be gross out for the sake of grossing you out and don’t otherwise have a plot.

    So the movie that scared me the most might was Slumdog Millionaire. And maybe a few scenes from Pulp Fiction.

  • Jennie

    The Hand weirded me out so much that I couldn’t watch anything with Michael Caine in it for years. No matter what he was in, it gave me the creeps.

    I finally got over it with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels 8 years later. Good thing, too – I was missing a lot of good movies!

  • Paul

    Blair Witch. I had a friend who laughed at it, so I understand if you guys didn’t think it was scary, but afterwards I had to walk home, alone, after dark, and I was jumpy. I don’t go to “scary movies” very often, so maybe I’m vulnerable.

    I am also easily groused out since I don’t go to many slasher films. Which lead to the strange experience of being taken to John Carpenter’s Vampires by a girl who loves slasher movies, and how this girl half my size and ten years younger was calmly eating her popcorn while I was wincing, flinching, and icking, especially when the Vampire Master cut a guy in half with his bare hand.

  • The 1963 version of The Haunting (the one with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom). Some aspects of it seem a bit soap-opera-ish now, but the camera work…
    You never actually see a ghost, but you keep thinking you have. I can only watch this in the daytime…

  • Muzz

    I’d have to say the telemovie of The Woman in Black is still the high point. It was thoroughly shocking just how much dread it managed to instil. I doubt it’d cut much ice now. If you send horror nuts salivating to dig something up they’re usually going to end up disappointed.
    It was a well orchestrated showing though; televised in summer near Christmas, with little fanfare as a sort of period mystery that’s a bit spooky. It snuck up on people perfectly.

    For a different sort of scare I’m still impressed how unpleasant I find several scenes in Night of The Living Dead, even now. Particularly a certain scene with a little girl with a trowel, or Ben with the gun, or the ending of course. Still shocking even today.

  • Muzz

    Oh, doubling up. Sorry. But I agree on Threads completely. That last episode so brilliantly just beats the audience. That endless slog with barely a word spoken, and that wind.

  • JT

    Korean flick named A Tale of Two Sisters. There were a couple of scenes that scared the bejeezus out of me.

  • Patrick

    American Werewolf in London. Because as a child, I lived near the dollar movies, second run place, and every weekend for, months, I tried to watch that whole thing, I’d always make it to the part where he’s running through the forest and comes upon himself on the bed, then he sits up and bares his fangs. Scared me to death. :D

  • Tony

    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

    Has anyone seen Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left?
    I haven’t had the guts to watch it yet. A movie critic once called it one of the scariest movies ever made.

  • Nathan

    Patch Adams

    seriously though, the original Amityville Horror did a number on me when i was a kid. the only thing recent that’s given me the creeps was The Ring.

    Tony, Last House on the Left isn’t what i’d call scary — it’s mostly people being extremely brutal to each other. if it were made today (yes, i know a remake is on the way) it would most likely pale in comparison to the films of the recent torture-porn wave. Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is a better movie as far as scares go…

    i agree with the poster above about Don’t Look Now and would also suggest Eyes Without a Face, a French film from the early 60s with a great, creepy atmosphere.

  • Althea

    Still working on this, but my unofficial candidate is “The Exorcist”. I also agree with “The Haunting”, already mentioned. Indelible scene and line: terror in the night, when the lights come on, the two women see that their beds are now across the room, and one of them says, “…[name]…! WHOSE HAND WAS I HOLDING?!”

  • HDJ

    Probably “Exorcist” my all time scary , and this is a bit of cliche but “Jaws” , I meen can you think of any other movie that kept you away from event the swimming pool? Then “Creepshow” was scary with the raft scene, were they couldn’t leave it or else the smog thing would swallow them. I remember being sick with the heaves watching “Poltergeist” , PG or not, it was scary. Then ” Amityville horror” that kept me away from window shelfs. ” It ” was scary the first half till the end when we find out its :::::SPOILERS , a giant freaking spider. and ” The Shining” no doubt, 1. Exorcist 2. The Shining

  • Anne-Kari

    So happy to see others mentioning the ’63 movie “The Haunting” which scared the hell out of me as an adult, and I’ve seen a whole lot of horror movies that were way bloodier.

    But the flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz” left an earlier, indelible mark on me.

  • blake

    Audition

    The Innocents.

  • We Were Soldiers. The only reason I watched it was for Mel and I’ve regretted it ever since.

    Saving Private Ryan would probably be scarier and more horrifying which is why I’ve avoided seeing it and will continue to do so.

    The Diary of Anne Frank.

    Would love to see A History of Violence because of Viggo but have shied away because I heard it was so brutal and violent.

    Supernatural stuff? Vampires? Zombies? Give me a break. War and human brutality are the scariest things around.

  • Ryan

    Honestly, Jaws.

    Many movies have scared me, temporarily…but only one movie stopped me from going swimming in the ocean for seven years.

  • HDJ

    The Idea around zombies is highly inspired by War. George Romero had just got out of Vietnam when he directed “Night of the Living dead”, Not sure the message was but the shock of the war had given him the idea for the movie.

  • But the flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz” left an earlier, indelible mark on me.

    I suspect everyone who saw that movie as a little child knows of at least one element in that movie that freaked them out. For me, it was those weird talking trees. Sure, they don’t seem so scary now that I’m an adult but when I was a kid…

    The last horror movie that really moved me was either The Ring or The Others.

    Of course, I have a tendency to get freaked out by things that don’t seem to affect other people. I still remember watching Godzilla as a child and being more freaked out by the machine they used to kill the monster than the monster himself. Just the thought of that machine down there on the ocean floor…removing all the oxygen from the water and killing all the fish…and never being shut off because its inventor killed himself…Don’t ask me why that disturbed me more than a giant fire-breathing lizard but it did.

  • Althea

    Weimlady, you’re right about some of the war movies. “Saving Private Ryan” contains a scene that plagues me to this day and when it pops into my mind I have to deliberately zap it out of my mind asap. Doing it now…

    But, now that somebody’s mentioned “Godzilla”, another one that scared me to death was “Rodan”, flying Japanese monster that spawned underground and had burbling larvae or something and going down there in the dark to kill them, eek! A few years after “Godzilla” and better production values made it much scarier. And it was the nasty nukes that created these things, they were insidiously scary, part of the whole package that made us all so paranoid.

  • Kate

    So glad to hear someone mention “The Reflecting Skin,” as that movie is SERIOUSLY creepy. I haven’t seen it in 20 years but I remember it haunting me for weeks….

    I also have to say that David Cronenberg’s “The Brood” does it for me every time. The effects, such as they are, and look of the thing are hopelessly dated, but the actual evildoers (don’t want to spoil it by saying what they are) are seriously frightening to me and then when you find out the big how and why it’s even creepier…just spooks me out every time. It’s really a movie about how scary the human brain is, just like all of DC’s movies.

    Just ignore the hairstyles.

    I actually think “Last House on the Left” is pretty powerful and pretty scary, it spawned a lot of weak imitators and doesn’t seem too original now, but it is still really effective to me, deeply shocking, a brutal loss of innocence.

    And, finally, “28 Days Later” is in my opinion a masterpiece. A movie that’s moving, beautiful, and deeply frightening all at the same time. The isolation, the fear of contagion, the alienation, it really captures modern fears beautifully. And they’re FAST! Ack, they’re FAST!

  • Kate

    Ooh, I forgot “Frailty.” A deeply, deeply frightening movie, a challenging movie. You see a loving, devoted father descend into madness and attempt to drag his children along with him. Or is that what the movie is saying, after all? A complex film and very, very scary.

  • Meghan

    Not a horror movie per se, but the British film “Paperhouse” scared the mess out of me when I was 13 or 14, and probably still would today (not that it’s been that long, I’m only 18.) It’s supposed to be more Freudian than anything else, I believe, about a little girl whose drawings come to life in her dreams. But the scariness, for me, was in the creepiness of having real people lope around looking like a child’s drawings.. with all the handicaps of those drawings, like not being able to walk if the little girl, Anna, hadn’t drawn legs. There’s one scene where Anna has drawn her oft-absent father with loopy-looking eyes (which makes the dream-version insane) and has later scratched the face out because he “looks mad.” In the next dream, the father roars at Anna, “I’m BLIND!” (because she scratched the eyes out) and at some point ends up chasing her with an axe, all the while loping along as if he’s been drawn by a 10 year old.

    Creepy, disturbing stuff.

  • Drew Ryce

    as an adult – Angel Heart
    as a child – the ending of X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.

  • Aaron

    I’m actually watching all the films that people consider horrifying, and I just made it through “The Woman in Black”. While it may not be as shocking as it was when it premiered, I still thought it was scary as hell…I was so focused on avoiding the film’s most famous scare scene (which I only knew involved a bed) that I was caught off guard by its completely chilling atmosphere.

    And in yet another testament to its near genius, I could even tell when the famous scare was coming, could even predict what was going to happen…and it STILL made me hit the ceiling!

    Still though, nothing can beat Bava’s “Black Sabbath” for me. Truly an underrated gem of horror.

  • Grinebiter

    Coming in late here, but I’ll add my voice to “Threads”. Saw it on broadcast TV in 1984 and it still haunts me.

  • JasonJ

    The first movie to scare me was Night of the Living Dead, all entrails and “They’re coming to get you Barbara” and all that. The next scary movie for me was Alien. John Carpenter’s The Thing is awesome and still holds up for the most part. The FX was great, and the live action FX is so much more juicy than CGI. As far as newer movies, The Ring is the only recent movie to creep me out, it was very original.

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