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:
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.
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.
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?