October 31, 2013

Indie Film: Best scares in movies rely on big creativity, not budgets

Favorite frightening films include some surprises.

By Dennis Perkins

Ever since I was a tiny movie geek, I’ve devoured horror movies like a George Romero zombie set loose in a Walmart. I’ve watched ’em all, from the big-budget blockbusters to the most disreputable, micro-budget sleazies (where most of the good stuff can be found), and these days it takes a lot to scare me.

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Heather Donahue in “The Blair Witch Project,” the ending of which still has the power to shock 14 years after its release.

Artisan Entertainment

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Christopher Walken, left, Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson in “The Comfort of Strangers,” which one wouldn’t necessarily think would belong on a list of scary movies, but …

Paramount Pictures

COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

FRONTIER (Brunswick) (www.explorefrontier.com)

Thursday: “Damnationland.” Head up to Brunswick if you missed last week’s premiere of this year’s all-Maine horror anthology. Frontier’s doing it up right, with a costume contest, photo booth and sponsorship from Maine’s own Baxter Brewing Co.

 

SPACE GALLERY (www.space538.org)

Saturday: “Stories from the Past/Sounds from the Future.” A unique, and uniquely Maine, movie experience, this collection of silent film curiosities from all around New England will be accompanied by original songs by musician Jeff Beam.

Following are movies that have scared me and the moments therein that give me the willies just remembering. Are they the best ever? Maybe not (some are), but these are the ones that stick. Enjoy.

(I’m going to be as circumspect as possible, but there are some SPOILERS ahead.)

“THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.” Forget the dismissive chatter – those people lack imagination. Forget that the “found footage” genre has been worn thin. Just three people lost in the woods, gathering hints that something is very, very wrong. You could have offered me a thousand bucks to walk in the woods after seeing this, and you would have kept your money.

The scene: The ending. I won’t spoil it but, while it seems inevitable, it still has the power to shock – especially when you remember one particular snatch of dialogue.

 

“JACOB’S LADDER.” Tim Robbins is a troubled Vietnam veteran who starts seeing … things … all over a creepy New York City. Sure, it’s got one of the all-time dumbest twist endings ever, but along the way, there’s some of the most frightening imagery ever.

The scene: Robbins is wheeled on a gurney into an increasingly hellish hospital. Strapped down and helpless, his journey reveals horror after horror – he, and we, are in a nightmare. And we can’t wake up.

 

“HALLOWEEN.” Again, I’m asking you to forget all the pale imitations it spawned. This is the first and still best of the slasher flicks, and Michael Myers is the most terrifying, implacable killer in screen history.

The scene: Many choices, but I’ll skip to the very end. Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis has pumped six bullets into Myers, toppling him off a balcony. All-star scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis asks, “Was it really the boogeyman?” Loomis replies, “As a matter of fact, it was.” Then he looks over the balcony – at the empty lawn below. John Carpenter’s insidious piano theme jangles to life as Loomis’ face twitches. Ever so slightly.

 

“THESIS.” Little-seen Spanish horror movie follows a courageous grad student as she uncovers a secret snuff-film ring at her university. Suspenseful as hell, especially in …

The scene: Where she and a creepy male film student find the snuff filmmakers’ secret studio in tunnels beneath the university – when the lights suddenly go out. Striking one after another of their tiny store of matches, they stumble through the silent darkness, each match carrying the possibility of something horrible in the unknown. It’s been done before, of course, but never this unnervingly.

 

“ANGEL HEART.” Mickey Rourke’s sleazy 1940s private dick is sent on an increasingly terrifying missing persons case by sinister Robert DeNiro (hamming it up deliciously). Everything he finds is queasily frightening. But there’s this one shot.

The scene: I’m not gonna spoil it, but that one shot, right at the end, has haunted me for a quarter century. (Shudders.) 

 

“THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS.” At first blush, this story of an impossibly beautiful couple (Rupert Everett, Natasha Richardson) meeting wealthy older couple Helen Mirren and Christopher Walken in Venice shouldn’t belong anywhere near this list. But …

The scene: When the long-winding snare has been sprung, and the horrible inevitability of fate dawns on the faces of two of the characters, the film becomes the most elegantly terrifying of nightmares.

 

“INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.” The remake, with Donald Sutherland.

The scene: Nope – not gonna spoil this one either. The most indelibly terrifying twist of all.

 

Happy Halloween.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.

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