Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan’s column on movies runs every two weeks. Mary Burgan is a retired professor of English and association executive. Her previous reviews are listed at the end of this post.
I can’t stand scary movies, especially the ones that are full of slash and gore. And even when there’s not much slash and gore, I become nauseated when there is long drawn-out suspense — like when the babysitter goes down to the cellar to see what’s going on there.
When I saw the first Halloween in the late ’70s, I wanted to scream out to Jamie Lee Curtis, “Get outta there, Stupid! Call the police!”
I’m such a coward that I can’t provide a list of scary movies that includes classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), even though my teenage son assured me that it was so phony that you could just enjoy the effects as effects. I wanted to watch TCM as a duty to this blog, but Netflix doesn’t offer it as a download. I was relieved.
Lists of great horror films are available on line, but what I can give you is a list of those movies that scared the daylights out of me when I first saw them. I invite you to expand it by adding your own favorites at the end of this review. Please, help me here!elp me!helph
My first memory of being scared at the movies involves a film about a black panther and a woman who falls in love with it under the influence of moonlight. I remember crunching down in my seat as the monster/cat made its way into the moonlit bedroom of the beautiful young woman, who had screamed and then fainted, before she was carried across a landscape of wild grass and hanging moss. I was both entranced and scared.
The next scary movie of my childhood was The Picture of Dorian Grey (1945). I was too young to appreciate the black-and-white filming in the movie, or the star turn by a young Angela Lansbury as Sybil Vane. What I do remember is the portrait itself, which appeared in two startling Technicolor insets painted by Ivan Albright. The first shows a beautiful Dorian, but the second shows his corruption in gruesome detail. I remember fleeing the theater to hide from the final view of the painting, having seen several earlier ones in black and white. But I couldn’t resist taking a peak through a crack in the door for the final revelation.
The French film Diabolique (1955), featuring Simone Signoret, was the next scary movie I remember. I must have seen it at some kind of film festival in an old theater that ran foreign films and classic American re-runs. The French movie ran rather sedately as a psychological thriller until the end, and then it produced shrieks from the audience. We left the theater feeling happily stunned.
Psycho came out five years later, and I went to it with dread because a friend had warned me that it was really, really scary. She was absolutely right. Though film histories have said that Hitchcock missed getting rights to the superior Diabolique by only a few hours or days, I think Psycho was supreme after all. Knocking off Janet Leigh in the shower at the start, it violated all our expectations.
And afterwards, it displayed the fabulously crazy acting of Anthony Perkins as the proprietor of the Bates Motel, at once the epitome of innocence and the repository of dementia. By the time Fatal Attraction came along with its scary bathtub episode in 1987, I had become an old hand at such shocks and took Glen Close’s return from the dead with equanimity.
I don’t like eruptions of madness; I am more scared by sustained suspense than violent surprises. Among more contemporary films, The Others (2001) hit the right note for me. It starred Nicole Kidman as a young mother trying to keep her children from hysteria in a haunted British house during World War II. Quiet as it was, this one could scare your socks off, without making you sick.
Finally, when I think of all the times I have been gripped by suspense and impending horror in a movie, I have to go back to Ingmar Bergman. Bergman offers studies of psychological angst and physical suffering that make their points through depicting small acts of unimaginable vengeance or self-mutilation. I’ll choose Persona (1966) as a case in point. It turns out that leaving broken glass on a path for a young woman to cut her foot on can be more brutal than taking a chainsaw to a group of kids out on a lark.
Other Reviews by The Borderstan Movie Fan
- Will You Friend Me? “The Social Network”
- “Wall Street II” Lacks Moral Clarity of 1987 Film
- Tilda Swinton in Love
- Breaking Away: Going-to-College Movies
- “Inception” Doesn’t Measure Up to “The Matrix”
- Books to Movies: Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy”
- A Bastille Day Salute: 10 French Films to See
- Mary Reviews Movies About Fathers
- Borderstan Movie Fan Explains Indie Flicks
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Favorites from Argentina, Brazil
- Borderstan Movie Fan: “Alice” and “The Secret of Kells”
- Mary’s Favorite (and Not So Favorite) Violent Movies
- Gentrification: “Clybourne Park” Plot Speaks to Borderstan
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Black History Month and the Media
- Catching Up: The Movie Fan is Back with New Reviews
- Opera Lite: Opera at the Movies
- Borderstan Movie Fan: “Avatar” and Films for the Big Screen
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Movies for Christmas
- “Precious” and “The Blind Side” Tell Some Hard Truths
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Children’s Movies for Grandparents, Part 2/Older Kids
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Children’s Movies for Grandparents (Part 1)
- High School Musicals
- Movies for Foodies
- Health Care Options at the Movies
- My Favorite Sexy Movies
- Borderstan Movie Fan” Tells You What to Rent