Good God how I love Halloween. Beyond wonderful childhood memories of costumes and candy, it heralds the Fall and in a small way acknowledges the darkness that lies inside us all. Sure, for most it’s just an excuse to debauch and dress like a slutty nurse, but at a deeper level it reminds us that locks on doors are good things.
I also love movies, and since the internet is packed with “top 10” lists of horror movies, I thought I’d take another tack and talk about movies that just creep me out (not terrify or horrify). Being disturbed by a film, for me, tends to be about some unpleasant truth as opposed to a freaky surprise. I’m particularly susceptible to off-balance emotional states (desiring things too much, obsessive love) or “good” people being being overtaken by things out of their control. So, what follows is a loose grouping of films that in one way or another creeped me out, and I hope get the chance to creep you out too.
The Dead Zone (1983)
I could do a whole list on David Cronenberg, starting with “Videodrome”, he’s the go-to guy for weird human drives resulting in terrible things – “The Fly”,” Dead Ringers”, “Crash”, “eXistenZ”, “A History of Violence”, and recently “Maps to the Stars” – all of them give me the willies in one way or another.
I’m choosing “The Dead Zone” because it’s an under-seen and under-appreciated gem, the rare Stephen King adaptation that goes beyond the text to get at something deeper. Christopher Walken gets into a car wreck, wakes from a coma years later to not only find he has precognitive abilities (if he touches you he can see your future), but that his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) is with another man. Cronenberg ramps up the pathos, and Walken playing a good guy is disturbing all by itself. If you go into this thing with no preconceptions and just let it happen to you, you’re in for an experience. Not a horror movie in the classic sense, but plenty of horrible things happen.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
I thought I was being creative with this choice, but I was beat to the punch by these guys over at Vulture. Whatever, Lynch is obviously another guy who deserves a list all to himself – “Eraserhead”, “Blue Velvet”, “Wild at Heart”, “Twin Peaks”, “Fire Walk With Me”, “Lost Highway” – all bone-deep disturbing in their own rights.
I choose Mulholland Dr. because under all it’s meditations on identity and seeking fame, it’s Naomi Watts’ (Betty) ability to make you feel her hurt (emotional pain that is) that stuck with me. Ostensibly it’s the story of a woman (Laura Elena Harring) made amnesiac by a car crash, eventually hooking up with Betty to solve the riddle of her identity. But since this is Lynch, the story is nothing but scaffolding to explore some deeply scarred psyches, and the desperation to be wanted and needed. The first time I saw this I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, really freaked me out.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
“The Talented Mr. Ripley” is just a great movie beyond it’s ability to freak me out, Anthony Minghella’s direction is gorgeous, Italy is shown at it’s sun-drenched best, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow embody youthful beauty like gods and the story is propulsive.
But it’s Matt Damon’s ability to communicate Ripley’s hunger for acceptance, for love…well frankly, for EVERYTHING he doesn’t have that gave me world class willies. If you’ve ever had somebody who liked you a whole lot more then you liked them (or vice versa)- it’s that feeling on steroids. It’s the story of somebody pretending to be something they’re not, and doing whatever it takes to keep from being discovered. I’ve never read the Patricia Highsmith novels this is based on, so maybe she’s to credit for this dark psyche goes to her, but Damon takes it to the next level.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Yes, this is a “children’s movie” made by Disney (based on Ray Bradbury’s novel) but I’m here to tell you this thing will get under your skin! A creepy carnival comes to town, led by a creepy guy Mr. Dark (an awesome Jonathan Pryce) who will grant your fondest wish, with a catch – monkey’s paw style. It’s told from the kid’s point of view, which for me really put me into my kid mind, sort of the way “To Kill a Mockingbird” does.
This is above all, an autumn movie, both literally and metaphorically. Two themes really unnerved me in this – mortality as an old guy and abandonment as a kid. Jason Robards is perfect as an older father, and plays all the fears and regrets that come with that archetype. The two boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, are unsentimental and feel like real kids (with all the joy and carelessness that implies). Oh, and this has the best spider scene EVER.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
Dude. This is a vision of our future, seriously, with all the death cults we’ve got running around looking to nuke-up, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” feels like a documentary. It suffers from a too “on-the-nose” nod to the antiwar protests and youth counterculture of the time, but outside of that this thing rules.
The first “Apes” (admittedly a better movie) was sort of a bummer, given that we find that humans “blew it up” paving the way for the Ape evolution – but the whole vibe of the ape world seemed pretty mellow. But here comes “Beneath”, we find not all humans have become mute animals, no, there’s an enclave of mutant survivors with translucent skin who worship a doomsday bomb. Every time I see this thing it reminds me that the end of the cold war didn’t magically wink all the nukes out of existence, we just don’t talk about it…and as long as they’re floating around someday it might blow up real good while telekinetic freaks fight intelligent apes for dominance. Just sayin’.
If any of these are new to you…
…I hope you take the chance to check them out this Halloween season, with some apple cider and a dead pumpkin nearby. And if you’ve got some non-traditional creepy movies that scare you, share ’em in the comments below!