October is the perfect month to watch horror movies, for obvious reasons. Everyone likes a good scare, right? I know I do. But hold all of the blood and guts please. I’m not interested.
I never enjoyed watching a movie that felt like it had to scare you with buckets full of red stuff. Sure, blood can be used effectively in movies but overall I think it’s another cheap tactic like jump scares. A good horror movie is better than that.
So then what do you watch for Halloween? “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Child’s Play” may be horror classics but they start to wear thin after a while. “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” are iconic but they’re old and dry. Movies like “Saw” are spoiled after countless sequels, and remakes like the new “Evil Dead” are just bombastic. When I watch a horror movie, I want my thoughts to be lingering on what I just watched – almost to the point of paranoia.
Luckily for me, there are three movies in my collection that really scare me whether I watch them on Halloween or not.
Movie: “The Exorcist”
Story: A 12-year-old girl named Regan (Linda Blair) is possessed by a demon and starts to behave in erratic and disturbing ways. Regan’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) has run out of medical options and instead turns to a priest to perform an exorcism.
What Makes It Scary: A lot of moviemakers nowadays realize something: little kids are friggin’ scary! The only difference is Regan doesn’t have a choice in the matter. We never really find out why Regan is possessed, it just sort of… happens. The poor girl just falls prey to a demon and becomes a monster.
From the pea soup-colored vomit to the iconic 360-degree head spin, the visual effects are just plain disturbing. The scene that really gets me is when a possessed Regan spider crawls down the stairs as her mother helplessly watches – completely horrified.
But what really makes this movie scary to me is what Regan and her mother have to go through. Burstyn plays her part wonderfully and throughout the entire movie she’s completely powerless to what’s happening to her daughter. She takes Regan to all these different doctors and nothing helps. Hell, even the doctors recommend an exorcist. That’s when she knows it’s bad. And she even asks for an exorcism from a priest who’s lost his faith in God. As a viewer, you start to ask yourself if there ever is a solution. There’s this feeling of hopelessness that is prevalent from the movie’s opening all the way to the exhilarating conclusion.
Movie: “Rosemary’s Baby”
Story: A young couple, Rosemary and Guy (Mia Farrow and John Cassavettes), move into a new apartment surrounded by eccentric neighbors. When Rosemary becomes pregnant, she grows paranoid and suspects her husband and neighbors are planning to use her unborn child for sinister means. The safety of Rosemary’s child is her number one priority.
What Makes It Scary: The entire movie is told through Rosemary’s perspective so the audience knows just as much as she does. Are her suspicions correct? If they are, what do her neighbors want with the baby? Do they mean to harm the child? Is her husband involved? We are just left wondering until the film’s final three minutes.
The horror is much more psychological in “Rosemary’s Baby.” The thoughts and questions that the characters keep asking themselves are the same ones that the audience is asking. Rosemary is the only character that we know for sure is innocent. And when director Roman Polanksi introduces other characters that Rosemary (and the audience) can actually rely on, they are mysteriously plucked away.
Rosemary’s struggle is simple: she wants to protect her child. But how can she do that when can’t even trust the people closest to her. She believes her husband, her neighbors and her doctor are all against her. That feeling of isolation and confusion is what makes the film terrifying to watch. It’s an uphill battle from the beginning for Rosemary and she’s stuck at the bottom.
Movie: “A Clockwork Orange”
Story: Alex, a young man whose only ambitions in life are sex, classic musings by the ol’ Ludwig Van (Beethoven) and bursts of “ultra-violence,” is captured by authorities and rehabilitated through controversial psychological conditioning. Alex chronicles his life before and after the rehabilitation.
What Makes It Scary: Where do I start? Alex is an awful human being – if you can call him that. He and his three droogs engage in a night of ultra-violence with the beating of a homeless man, fighting off a rival gang, stealing a car, breaking into a writer’s home and then crippling the writer as Alex rapes his wife while singing a disturbing rendition of “Singing in the Rain.” This is all within the film’s first 20 minutes.
What’s really sick and disturbing about the whole film is that Alex is the protagonist. We, as audience members, have to like Alex – or at least feel bad for him. His droogs, who he beats and berates, eventually turn against him and Alex is arrested. He then goes through psychological conditioning, which makes him feel physically ill whenever he feels the urge to do violent things. The reaction also occurs when he listens to music by Beethoven, ultimately making him completely miserable and inept of any free will. Alex can’t even protect himself from his droogs, now cops, who decide to torture and beat him.
Now, there is violence in this movie and a tiny bit of blood but the scariest part of all is that the movie wants us to feel bad for Alex… and we kind of do. The movie also hints that the people using and promoting the controversial conditioning process are worse people than Alex. The only person to stand up for him is a priest who believes that even a bad boy like Alex should be given free will and that the doctors are taking away that right. The movie itself is brilliantly directed by Stanley Kubrick. It received a lot of flak back in the day but the horror still remains true. “A Clockwork Orange” shows the audience that there are evil people in the world. And if we cease to make them evil, does that make the world better or does that make everyone else evil?