Having been brought up on horror movies and watched them for most of our lives, it’s pretty hard to scare the MovieMuse team. Even at Halloween jump in the air shocks don’t do it, you have to conjure up a thick atmosphere of dread, desperation and terror to get the pulse going, the hairs on the back of the neck raised or give us goosebumps. Here, Graeme Mason chooses ten films that did it for him… and still do!
Scary? Scary how? Lunatic asylums are scary. Abandoned lunatic asylums are very scary.
The Film: The producers of this little-known horror hit pay-dirt when they managed to secure the Danvers Mental Hospital as a location for their film – the building is as impressive as it is oppressive. Ostensibly a tale of a man breaking down, Session 9 has a slow-burn feel to it that builds to a violent climax.
Session 9 and me: I caught this movie late one night a few years ago. I had no idea it was even a horror movie until about 20 minutes in when weird shit started to happen and the creepy music began. I don’t remember sleeping much afterwards.
Scary? Scary how? Big trucks are scary. Big trucks that try to ram you off the road are very scary.
The Film: Famously Steven Spielberg’s first movie (albeit one made for TV), Duel stars Dennis Weaver as a travelling salesman who appears in the windscreen of a rather nasty truck driver. Somehow this simple concept keeps the viewer glued to the screen for its entire running time.
Duel and me: I watched Duel with my parents and sister back when I was in my early teens. I don’t think my folks quite anticipated how intense the film was going to be and it certainly perturbed me at the time. Why was the truck driver chasing Dennis Weaver? Why did we not see his face? The fact you never found out made the whole movie even more disturbing. IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!
Scary? Scary how? Bugs. Monsters. Leslie Nielsen.
The Film: I used to love these style of movies which contained several shorter stories (Portmanteau I believe they’re called) and Creepshow was the one that got me started. Containing five stories, each one had a creepy element in which to hook the viewer, whether it be a mysterious crate, a meteorite or an invasion of bugs most definitely not for the squeamish.
Creepshow and me: The crate used to be my favourite. I loved the way Hal Holbrook saw the monster as a means of disposing of his loud-mouthed missus. Now I stray towards “Something to Tide you Over” where Leslie Nielsen disposes of his wife and her lover by burying them in the sand. I wonder if King was going through a divorce when he wrote these stories?
Scary? Scary how? Hammy acting. Lots of hammy acting.
The Film: I was never into the Hammer Dracula movies, but this odd monster movie from 1973 somehow squirmed under my skin and has been there ever since. Set in the Victorian era, scientist Peter Cushing returns from Papua New Guinea with a big bag of bones and is slowly maddened by his bonkers theory that evil is a condition of the blood that can be cured. Terrified his daughter will inherit his wife’s madness (read: evil), Cushing proceeds to try and immunise her by injecting her with the skeleton’s blood. Erm, ok…
The Creeping Flesh and me: Taped off tv long ago, I watched this when I was too young to watch the modern horror movies of the 80’s. My parents obviously thought it was ok because it was made a decade earlier…
Scary? Scary how? Unseen and never seen.
The Film: Despite the fact no-one ever actually dies in the film, Poltergeist was a film that had me sleepless for many a night. An amazingly successful movie, its unseen horrors and weird-shit goings on were quite something back in 1982.
Poltergeist and me: I really don’t think I should have seen this one the age I did. Despite a lack of gore, it’s still quite harrowing in places as the malevolent ghosts strive to oust the occupiers of their land. The bit where the guys face falls off still gets me.
Scary? Scary how? Nazis are scary. Undead Nazis are very scary.
The Film: When I was in school, Death Ship was the film everyone talked about (well, one of the films…). So you had to see it. When a liner crashes, the survivors escape to find a strange abandoned vessel which was the cause of the collision. With the captain (George Kennedy) ill, they take refuge on the black ship and it isn’t long before all manner of odd stuff starts.
Death ship and me: Death Ship is a haunted house movie, simple as. It’s got a bad rap over the years, but, I dunno, maybe seeing it as a 14-year old has given me a nostalgic view. It’s low budget, for sure, but a deeply unnerving experience, especially when you discover the fate of the crew. Fortunately after an extremely long wait, it is now available on DVD.
Scary? Scary how? A killer shark. What more do you want?
The Film: That bloody Spielberg again, more sleepless nights, thanks mate. Like Duel, Jaws preyed on the unknown, the unseen, and the helplessness of floating around in the sea. Surely I don’t need to tell you anymore about this movie.
Jaws and me: Most of the shark attacks stuck with me for a long time; the boy on the lilo, the head popping out, the dismembered limbs floating downwards. It didn’t put me off going into the water but I didn’t go in that deep for a very long time.
Scary? Scary how? Weird shit cranked up to 11.
The Film: Movies where you never really quite know what’s going on can be the most disturbing, and Jacob’s Ladder certainly falls into this category. Tim Robbins plays Jacob Singer, a man plagued by memories of his dead son and a traumatic tour of duty in Vietnam where it seems he was experimented on by the government with drugs designed to enhance combat effectiveness.
Jacob’s Ladder and me: Unlike many of the other films on this list, I didn’t see Jacob’s Ladder until I was well into my 20’s but that does not diminish its effect on me one bit. The faceless demons still get me.
Scary? Scary how? A mental Jack Nicholson and a lonely, deserted, snow-bound hotel. Eek.
The Film: From the very start Jack Torrance looks and feels like a man on the edge. Taking a janitor’s job in the Overlook resort for winter, the thrill of The Shining is watching the man slowly descent into full blown manic lunacy.
The Shining and me: I’ve read the book and still love the movie. Key scenes will always stick in my mind: the cosy chats with murderer Delbert Grady and barman Lloyd; the hundreds of pages all with the same line typed out; and of course, those two little girls in red dresses.
Scary? Scary how? Because it’s so funny
The Film: Two American backpackers get lost on the moors of Yorkshire and before you know it they’re attacked by a werewolf. Well, y’know, shit happens.
An American Werewolf in London is one of the funniest horrors out there. And unlike many films on this list, it’s actually quite gory as well.
An American Werewolf in London and me: I remember reading a magazine back in the mid-eighties which had stills from American Werewolf. From that moment on I wanted to see it, and a couple of years later I duly did and it has stayed with me ever since, my faithful, bloodied companion. The gleeful mix of horror (think the transformation scene and the horrible nazi stormtroopers) and comedy (the zoo scene or the slaughtered lamb) and you have pure cinematic gold. And it has a memorable scene in a London Underground station.
And as we all know, Underground stations are fucking scary.