Movie That Made Going to the Movies Suck No. 7: “Halloween”

This review of John Carpenter’s horror classic “Halloween” is one in a list of 27 Great Movies That Made Going to the Movies Suck, a concept thunk up by Mike at You Talking to Me?. Visit his blog (click the link or the header) for the complete rundown of films.

“Halloween” (1978)

The Boogeyman is a concept that transcends cultural differences. It is part of the human subconscious, this frightening being that stalks us and preys at the precise moment when we are the most vulnerable, when we least expect attack. There are thousands, probably millions, of conceptions of this evil and mysterious creature, but in 1978 a then-small potatoes director named John Carpenter bested even our worst nightmares with Michael Myers. With gray coveralls and a $2 rubber mask, Carpenter created a killer who was everywhere and nowhere at once — and left an indelible mark on the horror genre.

Key to the success — “Halloween” became one of the highest-grossing independent films ever — of Carpenter’s cheaply made masterpiece of scare is the harmonious convergence of elements: a formidable murderer; a spine-tingling score; undeniably human characters; and a focus on psychological terror. The character of Myers (Tony Moran) delivers the goods because he is single-minded in his vision: he wants only to kill. His mask renders his face expressionless, his mouth immobile. He never speaks, and this makes him purely terrifying. Carpenter smartly underscores Myers’ appearances on screen with a spare musical score, written by Carpenter, that relies on just a few quavering notes to play our fear like guitar strings. None of the other characters — including Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Michael’s baby sister and intended victim, and Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) — get such distinctive treatment. They are Anypeople, and they remind us that evil does not distinguish. Michael Myers breaks them down by playing with their minds, existing at the edges of their vision — note the masterful hedge scene and his appearance outside Laurie’s classroom — popping up and vanishing as if at will. Here Carpenter lets our imaginations do the heavy lifting. There is little blood, and almost no gore, because Carpenter understood what his copycats did not: the real psychological damage is something viewers must do to themselves.

“Halloween,” like many a successful film, inspired innumerable sequels and prequels (thanks to tireless producer Mustapha Akkad), each more disappointing than the last. “Halloween” and “Halloween II,” gore aficionado Rob Zombie’s latest entries in the canon, miss the mark entirely by wallowing in entrails and unnecessarily convoluted plotlines. (“Halloween II” actually included supernatural visions in which Myers’ mother “spoke to him.”) Carpenter’s masterpiece also sparked the 1980s horror craze, populated by such inspired but less effective characters as the hockey mask-wearing Jason Voorhees of the campy “Friday the 13th” series, a mute fellow with mommy issues, and Freddy Kreuger of “Nightmare on Elm Street,” a child killer with knife-capped fingers who made the dreams of teens his hunting grounds. Both franchises devolved into camp (mostly self-referential when the sequels reached double digits) and lacked the bare-bones approach that made the 1978 “Halloween” such a marvel.

Still other horror directors misinterpreted Carpenter’s aims and turned them into a new genre composed entirely of dead teen-agers (including the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” movies), though “Scream” had some luck spinning these clichés — unwittingly popularized by “Halloween” — into pop-culture humor. And still the wannabes missed the mark Carpenter hit so blatantly. They failed to see that all the viscera in the world can’t beat a man in a mask, a walking, talking embodiment of our worst fears, who is both human and immortal.

Desert Island DVDs: The Big 8

So you find yourself, in true “Lost” fashion, stranded on a desert island in the vast sea, with nothing but your wits, your wiles and your good looks to keep you company. (OK, so it sounds a little nonsensical. Life doesn’t always have to make sense, does it? Willingly suspend your disbelief, people.) Since there’s no sunscreen, the sun’s going to dispatch that lovely complexion right quickly. With no one to parlay to your thrust in verbal jousting matches, the wit will be the first to go. And since there are no objects of lustful desire, the wiles, well, they aren’t worth a fig.

But wait! Suddenly you remember that you had the forethought to pack not one, not two but eight DVDs before the terrible stranding went down! Because you, die-hard movie lover, unlike 98 percent of the world’s population, know what’s really important: not sunscreen or non-perishable canned goods or a first aid kit or even a chummy volleyball named Wilson, but films. A world without water is palatable, but a world without movies?

That’s just crazy talk, is what that is.

Here’s my humble list of eight movie-films — divided into what I deem to be eight “essential” categories or groups — I’d require to keep me entertained on this neverending island venture:

 

Action

Why: Despite the a-changin’ times Bob Dylan crooned about, strong female action heroes remain in short supply in the world of film. And so James Cameron’s tense-as-hell, gripping, action-dense thriller stands apart because of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), a fierce heroine who throws punches with the best of them yet retains that elusive quality — empathy — so little seen in action heroes. With Weaver’s iconic, brilliant performance, every viewing of “Aliens” feels like the first time.

 

Comedy

Why come I picked this: You were expecting something a little “Holy Grail”-ier, perhaps? No offense to the Greatest Movie Ever Made, but there are times when British tomfoolery hits the spot and times when a desert island dweller wants to see that the world-at-large — poor people, with their dwindling IQs and those climbing Costco Law School prices — is far, far worse off than she is. Plus, there’s nothing like 10 seconds of “Ow, My Balls!” to clear those island doldrums riiiiight up.

 

Drama

Why: Back in his younger days, Marlon Brando wasn’t just a contender, he was THE contender — for coolest cat in any room, best method actor alive, name the category and he’d be fighting for a top spot in it. Though his career is studded with amazing and accomplished performances, his turn in “On the Waterfront” as one-time boxer Terry Malloy shows the actor in total command of his gifts. Pair that with a stellar ensemble cast (including heavyweights Lee J. Cobb and Karl Malden) and it’s a knockout. Every time.

 

Foreign

Why: Some people like their thrillers fast-n-furious, with lots of explosions and a juggernaut soundtrack that drowns out any hope of character interaction. Me, I like a slower burn that takes longer to take effect but packs a whallop when it does. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s beautiful film about 1984 Socialist East Germany, living under the thumb of the Stasi secret police, fits that bill and contains a stunning performance by the late Ulrich Mühe. This is a movie that will change your life.

 

Horror

Why: Cast aside all thoughts of the 85 remakes that followed John Carpenter’s low-budget 1978 classic that frightened viewers everywhere way, way down in their primal scare spots — they matter not. The original “Halloween” has no equal, for no other horror film has managed to create a character 1/16 as terrifying as Michael Myers, a masked force of evil that cannot be stopped. Carpenter outdid our imaginations in ways that still make us cry “uncle,” and that’s one hell of an achievement.

 

Independent

Why: Sometimes stories are compelling because the characters are extraordinary, or their deeds are, or their circumstances baffle or astound us. This is not the case with “The Station Agent,” an unassuming but enormously touching independent film about three wildly different people who, through nothing more than proximity and chance, stumble into one another’s company and discover they share one thing: loneliness. Never underestimate the power of simple human connection to touch the soul.

 

Romantic Comedy

Why: Love stories that don’t follow a traditional arch, that take bold risks and play about with our sense of time and space and memory, are rare, so when you find a good one the tendency is to hold on tight. Few romantic comedies manage to be as poignant, achingly bittersweet and unexpectedly funny as Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” an unconventional tale of two lovers that suggests, gently but clearly, that sometimes love does not conquer all or end in smiles and rainbows.

 

War

Why: Quentin Tarantino is a director who delights in messing with our heads, taking what we know of linear storytelling and throwing it in a Cuisinart; for him, originality is king. In that respect, “Inglourious Basterds” may well be his one true masterpiece, at once a tongue-in-cheek rewrite of World War II’s ending, a war film, an ensemble drama, a madcap comedy, a wild adventure. And now that I’ve seen it once, I can’t spend another second of my life without Christoph Waltz in it.

——

Complete Catalogue of Desert Island DVD Lists

  • Tara from 101 Goals in 1001 Days
  • Shawn from 7 Dollar Popcorn
  • Andrew from Andrew at the Cinema
  • Castor from Anomalous Material
  • Dylan from Blog Cabins
  • Nick from Cinema Romantico
  • Wynter from Cinemascream
  • Aiden from Cut the Crap Movie Reviews
  • The Mad Hatter from The Dark of the Matinee
  • Lady Hatter (posted on Hatter’s blog)
  • Sebastian from Detailed Criticisms
  • Elizabeth from Elizabethan Theatre
  • Andy From Fandango Groovers Movie Blog
  • Steve from The Film Cynics
  • Alex from Film Forager
  • Ripley from Four of Them
  • Ruth from FlixChatter
  • Marc from Go,See,Talk!
  • Jason from Invasion of The B-Movies
  • Caz from Lets Go To The Movies
  • Kai from The List
  • Olive from Movie News First
  • Darren from the mOvie blog
  • Travis from The Movie Encyclopedia
  • Heather from Movie Mobsters
  • Wendy from The Movie Viewing Girl
  • Paul from Paragraph Film Reviews
  • Phil from Phil on Film
  • Faith from Ramblings of a Recessionista
  • Nick from Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob
  • Ross & Ross from Ross v Ross
  • Meaghan from Wild Celtic
  • Mike from You Talking to Me?
  • No. 27: “Halloween” (1978)

    “Death has come to your little town, sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it.” ~~Dr. Sam Loomis

    During his tender, formative years someone in a mask scared John Carpenter witless, I believe, and that experience was the seed that grew into “Halloween,” the little low-budget horror film that became a genre classic. Or maybe Carpenter knew enough about the collective unconscious to know that some disguises — the kind that make human eyes seem like gaping black voids — dig up those feelings we really meant to keep buried forever. Whatever the reason, Carpenter turned that $2 rubber mask into the living, breathing embodiment of the Boogeyman, an iconic figure that still, more than 20 years later, puts a lump in our throats.

    Of course, there’s more going on in “Halloween” than a lumbering, hulking escaped mental asylum patient Michael Myers (Tony Moran) stalking and killing teens in his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois (though that alone could be the stuff of nightmares). The terrifying beauty of “Halloween” is the way Carpenter constructs his film as a total experience where the sounds and the sights work together. Some of the film’s most effectively scary scenes are the ones where the music and the visuals blend together almost seamlessly. Michael’s escape from the asylum, for example, combines the spare, haunting “Halloween” theme-of-sorts — composed by Carpenter himself — with dark, claustrophobic, rain-drenched footage of free-roaming patients hovering around a car, slipping on and off the hood like ghosts. It’s a brief scene done very simply, but one that threatens to put down roots in our psyche.

    “Simplicity,” in fact, functions like the watchword for “Halloween,” from the effects to the props (found or adapted or made on the cheap) to the storyline and characters. The opening scene, with the camera peering out from what appears to be a Halloween mask, leads in with a vicious knife attack that leaves two teens, a boy and a girl, dead. Minutes later the killer is revealed to be Michael Myers (Will Sandin), barely six years old and still dressed in his Halloween costume. Carpenter’s first-person camera work in these crucial first moments offers up a promise of chills, and as the plot progresses “Halloween” does not disappoint. Later Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), Michael’s psychiatrist, arrives in Haddonfield with news that he’s escaped, headed no doubt back to his hometown to finish what he started. The sheriff (Charles Cyphers) doesn’t believe a 23-year-old could be worth so much trouble; Dr. Loomis knows different. He’s seen the “pure evil” behind Michael’s eyes, and he won’t soon forget it.

    Chances are Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) will have years’ worth of therapy material as well, considering her meetings with Michael — and the ones where he lurks the background, unseen — produce some of  the film’s most harrowing moments. Flash to the shot of Michael watching Laurie from a window outside her high school classroom, then another with him lurking behind a bush only to disappear when her friend (Nancy Kyes) tries to confront him. He disappears so quickly she can’t be sure he was there at all, and we start to doubt our eyes, too. There and gone — that’s the genius of these clips. Carpenter stages shot after shot this way, building toward a series of climactic scenes (all best experienced live, not killed with detail) brilliantly shot and framed with that insomnia-inducing music. The film begins and ends with this music for this reason; it’s intended to leave a lasting impression.

    The characters also leave an impression, though not because they’re well-rounded or carefully developed; the exact opposite is true. Everyone — even Dr. Loomis and Laurie, the only people we get to know — falls neatly into a type: the promiscuous teen-ager, the good girl, the clueless adult. This lack of definition makes “Halloween” that much more elementally scary because individuality doesn’t matter; Michael Myers, pure evil itself, doesn’t happen to certain people or types but to everyone. In Carpenter’s small, $320,000 film, the Boogeyman is inescapable, and he puts a fear of Michael Myers in us that extends far, far outside the reaches of the screen.

    Cinema of Scare: (My) Big 10

    Happy Halloween, everyone! If you’re wondering why I’m saying this today, it’s because every day is Halloween. Or should be. Just think about it: the potential for the world to become a neverending buffet of candy corn, dollar-store cobwebs and glow-in-the-dark skeleton earrings.

    Of course, this would increase the possibility that more people would show up to work in clown costumes on idle Tuesday mornings. Hmm. Better give this some more thought.

    No more talk of clowns, though. Let’s talk about Bill over at Bill’s Movie Emporium. Connoisseur of scare that he is, he dreamed up something called the Splatter Time Fun Fest Awards (love the title, Bill), and that got me inspired. Well, maybe that’s overstating things a bit, since I’m not sure creating a list of great Halloween movies the day before Halloween is inspired. But I’ve been known to make some noise about being a fan of the cliche, so I will press on with my own collection of movies that ruined me for entering darkened houses, babysitting a child sporting a blonde braids-n-bangs combo, or going camping:

    1. “Halloween”

    youngmichael

    A miniscule budget, no-name actors, almost no blood or gore and a killer who never utters so much as one syllable? Only a genius frightmaster like John Carpenter could take all the reasons why a horror movie should not work and transform them into clear-cut advantages. He mines the bleakest parts of our collective consciousness to bring humanity’s biggest fear — that evil is everywhere, and it’s unstoppable — to heart-stopping life. Brilliant. 

     

    2. “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”

    henry1

    Henry (Michael Rooker, who’s blank-eyed perfection) has a pretty practical theory about killing. “It’s always the same and it’s always different,” he tells his buddy Otis. And here he reveals the dark, twisted purpose of John McNaughton’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”: to remind us that pure, inexplicable evil wears a human face, and one we never seem to notice until it’s too late to scream for help.

     

    3. “M”

    M_poster

    When horror movie chatter turns to accomplished serial killer films (see above), Fritz Lang’s distressing “M” is nowhere to be found. Pity that, because it’s a grim, dank, chilly and thoroughly unnerving exploration of a killer stalking Berlin’s children. Peter Lorre makes Hans Beckert (who closely resembles German serial murderer/pedophile Peter Kürten) the kind of soulless villain who’d haunt Hannibal Lecter’s dreams.

     

    4. “Nosferatu”

    nosferatu

    With vampire books and movies and TV shows overwhelming our senses, it’s all too easy to forget about F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” the film that turned these blood-lapping mythological creatures into pop-culture staples. Without benefit of technicolor, special effects or even sound, Max Schreck’s otherworldly Count Dracula creeps into our dreams and stays there, waiting for the chance to lunge. 

     

    5. “The Evil Dead”

    evildead

    Before the ultra-campy “Army of Darkness,” with Bruce Campbell cloning himself and playing, well, Bruce Campbell, there was “The Evil Dead,” headed for cult classic status with its no-budget effects. But the original rates highly as a horror staple because of its opening credits — the finest and creepiest ever filmed — and the no-holds-barred performance of Campbell, who makes his terror palpable. And don’t forget that tarty tree branch.

     

    6. “Carrie”

    laughatyou

    “Carrie,” based on Stephen King’s first published novel, is at its heart a pre-“Surviving Ophelia” look at the crushing effects of bullying and how, in the right setting, constant torment can produce murderous rage in the meekest people. Herein lie the chills in “Carrie”: There’s violence aplenty, all of it rained down on fairly deserving and cruel parties, but we’d never see it coming from a girl like Carrie (Sissy Spacek). How profoundly disturbing.

     

    7. “Dawn of the Dead”

    readfile

    Horror movies that scare us are in hefty supply, but the ones that squeeze in pointed commentary about mass consumerism and America’s shopping mall mentality are not. George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” is proof positive that scares don’t have to be mindless and blood-soaked; they can spring from the realization that we’ve scaled the roof to escape our problems (or zombies), and now there’s nowhere to go but down. 

     

    8. “The Bad Seed”

    badseed

    Kids — it’s all sweetness and innocence, all fun and games until one of them sets a janitor on fire. At least, that’s the image of youth we get in “The Bad Seed,” with Patty McCormack using her blonde braids and sweet smile to disarm her prey. But she’s hiding a whole mess of devilment behind those patent-leather shoes, and the movie’s hiding an ominous warning: Don’t think you know what lurks in a person’s heart.

     

    9. “The Shining”

    johnnyboy

    That Jack Nicholson, always with the Cheshire Cat-that-gulped-the-canary grin. He plays bad better than most anyone, but he’s at his baddest (and creepiest) in “The Shining,” a ghoulish thriller that blows the “happy families stay together” concept to smithereens. Jack’s googly-eyed overacting works OK here, but what really shivers the timbers is the inspired camera work and a foreboding, oppressive score that pierces your brain. 

     

    10. “The Blair Witch Project”

    confession

    “The Blair Witch Project” is not a movie that inspires lukewarm reactions. No, this documentary-style thriller, with its queasy footage, unknown actors and largely ad-libbed script, is a love-it-or-hate it kind of movie. Still, there’s no denying this film’s directors accomplish a startling feat: They never show us the villain. And the not knowing what’s threading sticks and piling rocks out there in the dark? That’s the part that’s purely petrifying.

    Honorable mentions: “Identity,” “The Omen,” “The Stepfather” (1987 version), “Poltergeist,” “28 Days Later…”

    Five freaky horror movie scenes

    AMC Fearfest ’09, I wish I could quit you.

    See, for the past five days this wonderous channel has lured me into its lair of good, bad and wonderfully bad horror movie programming. It’s “The Shining” during lunchtime treadmill marches (does fear increase calorie loss?), “Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster” and “Puppetmaster” before breakfast (and sunrise), an all-you-can-stand pre-bedtime “Halloween” buffet. There has to be a threshold between Reality Land and Horror Movie World, and I think I’m about to cross it. Or maybe I have already. Is that what it means when you start approaching every dimly lit corner of your house with your cell phone in your pocket, a cordless phone in one hand and an (admittedly pretty dull) bread knife in the other?

    Oh, no — I can see a well-timed viewing of “13 Going on 30″ or something similarly lobotomizing in its cheery, mindless optimism might be in order if I intend to communicate effectively with human beings post-Halloween and say anything other than “Did you check the closet? Did you CHECK the CLOSET?”

    But until that time comes — and it can’t come until at least 10:30 p.m. on Halloween night, when the last showing of “Night of the Living Dead” kicks off — I’m going to enjoy this bloody, spooky mayhem, and possibly even revel shamelessly in it by recalling five of the freakiest horror movie scenes that still rattle about in my brain:

    Meditation, therapy, drugs -- you can't unthink Reagan's uberfreaky spider crawl.

    Herbs, meditation, therapy, prescription narcotics -- nothing can make you unsee Reagan's infamous spider crawl.

    1. The spider crawl in “The Exorcist” – The revolving head, the pea soup projectile shower, a bucking Bronco bed, Reagan getting a little too friendly with a crucifix — is it any wonder “The Exorcist” has retained its status as an unchallenged horror classic? Frightening scenes abound, but the worst has to be the possessed Reagan’s skin-crawlingly awful crab/spider walk down the steps (visible in the film’s restored version). There simply aren’t words to describe the way this image burns your retinas.

    2. Mike Myers’ disappearing act in “Halloween” — John Carpenter’s masterwork of scare is so jammed with shriek-inducing, nail-gnawing moments that it’s hard to proclaim one more frightening than all the others. The closet sequence? Genius. Myers’ face appearing slowly in a dark closet? I’m under the bed. But for me, the film’s best scene is the final one simply because it drives home an elemental fear: You can kill people, but you just can’t kill evil. Donald Pleasence’s grim reaction to Michael’s missing body gives me chills I can’t shake for days.

    Could "The Shining" be responsible for the decline of typewriters? Hmm...

    Could "The Shining" be responsible for the decline of typewriters? Hmm...

    3. “All work and no play”: “The Shining” insanity chronicle — Frame for frame, I’m not sure I can name another horror movie that packs in as many chills and screams as Stanley Kubrick’s brilliantly creepy take on a classic Stephen King novel. Every moment is about the atmosphere, about anticipation, and all that tension bubbles over when Wendy (Shelley Duvall, underrated here) discovers the true contents of her husband’s novel. That’s when we know in our bones that this family’s headed straight for hell in a big, flaming handbasket.

    4. The hedgeclipper beheading in “The Exorcist III” — Was “Exorcist III” the best of the “Exorcist” films? Hell no. Did it feature one scene so bone-chillingly frightening and unthinkable that it made me walk backwards, then forward, then backwards again in my house for weeks (OK, fine, months)? Bank on it. This little clip is unassuming at best, a throwaway in the bizarre third entry in the “Exorcist” canon. But there’s something about a man in a sheet sneaking up on you with hedge clippers that’s profoundly disturbing.

    carrie

    "For sale" signs haven't looked the same since "Carrie," have they?

    5. The hand that chokes the respectful mourner in “Carrie” — Stephen King’s gripping and original tales of fright don’t always translate to the big screen. (Don’t get me started on “Christine.”) But “Carrie” marks one of the very few times a film elevated King’s talent of turning our hearts to quivering blobs of jelly. No scene proves that better than Sue Snell’s visit to the gravesite-of-sorts of a most unusual teen who doesn’t let death stop her from holding a wicked grudge. It’s one of the few times a scene has moved me to tears, and I mean the kind you need your childhood Blankie to mop up. 

    I realize now that my horror movie tastes are unforgivably modern and mainstream, so chime in, thoughtful readers, with your suggestions: What are some must-sees in the horror genre that are guaranteed to make me shake, shiver and just generally squeam whilst hiding in my closet gripping a coathanger?

    10 horrifying characters

    When I’m not savoring this fruitful life of free blogging, I spend much of my free time looking at photos of LOLcats. Now, if you’re about to rifle through your bag-o-insults to find all the best “hey, you’re a crazy cat lady!” zingers, don’t bother. I don’t own a cat, have no desire to own a cat and don’t harbor any particular fondness for creatures that look at human beings as though they are quietly hatching a plot to wipe us off the planet. 

    This LOLcat craze, though? For some odd reason, it’s piqued my interest, and today I found a photo that got me pondering the scariest characters ever created — you know, not villains, but the faces that induce chills and (sometimes, if there’s no ominous score to warn that chesty blonde not to walk into that dark abandoned barn) necessitate a quick change of undergarments. Not that I would know what that’s like.

    But pay no attention to this digression; it is like the Man Behind the Curtain. So since the Season of Scare is upon us, let’s revisit these 10 frightening creations — classical and modern — that make us cringe, cry, squirm and cry sloppy, unrepentant “I want my mommy now, dammit!” tears:

    Take it from Mikey -- talking is overrated.

    Take it from Mikey -- talking is overrated.

    1. Michael Myers, “Halloween” — Masks do strange things to our insides. They obscure the eyes and mouth, obliterating personality and humanity in ways that make us very, very nervous. John Carpenter went wild with this notion in “Halloween” and created Michael Myers, a hulking, lumbering, knife-wielding mute killer rendered nearly immortal by his desire for victims. The mask makes him scary, but it’s his ability to feed off human terror without so much as a peep that solidifies him as the scariest of the scary.

    2. Pennywise the Clown, “It” — Clowns are curious little things, brightly dressed and made up to delight children that end up terrifying them (and plenty of adults, too) into quivering, wimpering blobs of goo. So coulraphobes everywhere quaked in their boots when Stephen King introduced Pennywise, a murderous evil spirit in clown garb. With his pointy yellow teeth and glinting eyes, he’s the stuff of hideous night terrors and a most excellent reason to stock up on nightlight bulbs.   

    3. Mombi, “Return to Oz” — The fact that this cheesy 1985 release inexcusably and shamelessly bastardized a timeless classic is beside the point. What’s squarely on top of the point is Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh), a witch with a Carrie Bradshaw-like fetish for collecting heads. That’s right. She’s got a cabinet full of heads. All kinds of heads. With eyes that look and mouths that talk. It’s enough to make your inner child cower under the bed with Blankie. And your outer adult, for that matter.

    4. Annie Wilkes, “Misery” — With her freakball set of core values and menacing politeness, Annie (Kathy Bates) belongs in a class of her own. She’s the kind of woman who got hugged too much as a child and quite possibly stalked the hell out of every sap dumb enough to wrap his arms around her. When she grins, you see the horrified faces of her victims in the shine of her dingy teeth. Yet there’s an element of childlike innocence about her that’s utterly disarming. You can’t see the menace for the sweetness. What a perfectly freaky combination. 

    Rhoda: Like Pippi Longstocking, only evil-er and with more peroxide

    Rhoda: Like Pippi Longstocking, only evil-er and with more peroxide.

    5. Rhoda Penmark, “The Bad Seed” — Of late Hollywood has become obsessed with making villains out of pasty, dark-haired children with eyes that all but flash “666.” But back in the 20th century (1956) blonde hair shivered our timbers, with evil taking human form in one Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack). You don’t see Rhoda’s devilment coming, and nothing’s as scary as evil that sneaks up on you (see above).

    6. Nosferatu — Vampires are enjoying quite a renaissance these days, though the “True Blood”-styled plasma poachers are more interested in having sex than biting necks. Let us not forget, however, the one who started it all, the Godfather of Vampirism: Nosferatu, star of the so-named 1922 silent film that still chills our bones. Max Schreck’s eerie, goosebumpy performance reminds, and not gently, that simplicity can unnerve in ways that CGI can’t touch. 

    7. The horny tree, “The Evil Dead” — With this, the first installment of the “Evil Dead” trilogy, Sam Raimi unleashed a Hoover Dam’s worth of blood and gore and gave us some seriously strange costumed undeaders. None of those things can eclipse the sheer, unbridled craziness of that oversexed forest tree, with its naughty branch becoming a catalyst for the most bizarrely unnerving rape scene ever filmed. It’s like “The Happening” … on angel dust.

    Overalls and horizontal stripes never looked so creepy

    Overalls and horizontal stripes never looked so creepy.

    8.  Chucky — Pediophobia doesn’t seem quite so strange when you stop to consider Chucky, that demonic doll who vaguely resembles My Friend Buddy minus the unflattering bowl cut. Yes, this possessed toy, with his shiny butcher knife, chipmunk cheeks and milky marble eyes is about 472 kinds of terrifying, partly because Chucky taps into that ancient human fear that inanimate objects aren’t all that lifeless. With the advent of Furbies, I ask you: Is that fear really so unfounded?

    9. Freddy Krueger, “Nightmare on Elm Street” — Forget that machete-toting lunkhead Jason Voorhees; he’s got nothin’ on the Krueg, Wes Craven’s knife-fingered psychotic burn victim who delights in using the dreams of children and adolescents to snuff them out like Glade candles. Robert Englund makes this guy — and the singsong rhyme that immortalizes him — a character infinitely scarier than his tight striped sweater.

    10. The Blair Witch — Everyone has that “things that go bump in the night” concept stashed securely in a safe somewhere way deep down in the dank basements of our psyches. Then movies like the spare but monumentally disquieting “Blair Witch Project” come along and up comes the ageless fear of the dark and what might be lurking in it. We never see the Blair Witch — from a logistics standpoint, we cannot even prove she exists — but the suggestion, the faint whiff of evil, is enough to remind us that what we don’t see is far more terrifying than what we do.

    Honorable mentions: Leatherface; Norman Bates; Damien Thorn (“The Omen”); Cruella DeVille.

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