Thursday, October 29, 2009

Screen Screams

Getting ready to hunker down with all that leftover Halloween candy and crawl into your cave for a long weekend of home movies? I've scared up a small sampling of seasonal favorites.

I should say, I'm more partial to psychological thrills than bloody chills, so you won't find too many slasher flicks on my list.

When it comes to the cleverly crafted psychologically twisted tales of the macabre you simply can't beat Hitchcock. Some days I say Shadow of a Doubt (which was, btw, Hitch's personal fav), is my favorite. But I love Notorious, too. And Suspicion, Spellbound and Frenzy ( so much for avoiding gore). But if I'm truly honest, I'd have to concede that Psycho(1960) is my ultimate favorite of the master's masterpieces. And certainly the best for Halloween. Anthony Perkins' innocent-creepy performance is so spot-on it hampered the odd, talented actor's career, kept him virtually tied to the role of Norman Bates for the rest of his life. The cinematography, the setting, Hitchcock's choice of black and white film, the music, all the supporting players, everything down to the wry dialogue places Psycho in the annals of classic thrillers.

If I was pressed into picking a flick based on horror novel king Stephen King, I'd probably choose Stanley Kubrick's The Shining ( 1980). Though King reportedly hated it,and it does seem to go on forver, the film really does wear well. Jack Nicholson delivers an intense and scary performance as the unhinged caretaker of a sprawling and spooky off-season resort. And Kubrick's artistry creates a truly eerie setting. Shelly Duvall is at her best as the put-upon wife. Danny Lloyd is great as Nicholson's psychic son. Beware of all the redrum!

But I also love Dolores Claiborne, Taylor Hackford's 1995 adaptation of King's novel about a Maine woman, played with powerful pathos by Kathy Bates(though she won her Oscar for her role in the screen version of King's Misery, she outshines herself here) who is accused of killing her long-time employer. The charge brings back her estranged daughter ( Jennifer Jason Leigh in another captivating, nuanced performance). With deft flashbacks, the conflicts between the women--and murder of Dolores' lout of a husband years earlier-- emerge in intriguing and cryptic fashion. This is more of a psychological thriller, but very affecting.

Other favs:The Exorcist(1973) William Friedkin's intense take of William Peter Blatty's controversial best-seller. Creepy, gory, utterly captivating. I saw it for the first time at the local itch... sticky floors, stale popcorn... perfect. Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair and Jason Miller deliver pitch-perfect performances.

Village of the Damned( 1960); George Sanders copes with a crop of blue eyed zombies that could give The Children of the Corn a run for their money. Adapted from John Wyndham's novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

The Haunting
(1963) Robert Wise's adaptation of Shirley Jackson's story "The Haunting of Hill House," is an old-fashioned haunted house chiller. Julie Harris, Claire Bloom , Richard Johnson & Russ Tamblyn all do their bit as members of a select group couped up in old New England mansion. This one could curl the stray hairs on a bald man's neck.

Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) Bette Davis stars in this Gothic tale of skeletons rattling in a Southern family's closet. Campy, sometimes convoluted, but truly a pleasure to watch Davis as a an aging belle gone mad by lies and trickery cooked up by cousin Olivia de havilland (in a role Joan Crawford literally "backed out of" with a fake back ache). Joseph Cotton and Agnes Moorehead co-star.Directed by Robert Aldrich.

Harold and Maude(1972) Hal Asby's quirky black comedy isn't a typical Halloween pick, but it's a delightful, and surprisingly life-affirming movie. Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort star as the geriatric lover of life who helps the death obsessed 20 year old learn to live. Great soundtrack by Cat Stevens, too.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think Reese's Pieces.



Anonymous said...

Ah yes, you bring back memories, but what about Boris Karloff in "The Body Snatcher" and Bela Lugosi - all the old time Spookys. Don't forget those - and Have a Happy Scary Halloween! Wanda the Witch

Amy Beth Arkawy said...

You're right, Wanda... there are sooooo many screen spookies, it's hard to scare up enough time to salute them all. Great tunes, too.... like "The Monster Mash," "Purple People Eater," & "The Witch Doctor." Love tp play them all on the radio every year!

Stay spoooky!