“Cat People” (1942)
From the infamous Val Lewton wheel house at RKO came this monster hit, which, as did many of its contemporaries, inspired a sequel and remake. But in recent years, it’s become little more than a cult product. Irena fears all forms of intimacy because she believes it will turn her into an actual wild animal. The really scary thing is the total lack of budget and director Jacques Tourneur’s ability to frighten us with the dark. “Cat People” proves just how terrifying a panther’s growl can be in a pandemonium shadow show.
If you thought two years after bearing it all in “The Full Monty” a grizzled Robert Carlyle would be chowing down on fellow western pioneers in “Ravenous,” you must be pretty sick. So is this movie. Quirky, dark and disturbing comedy bookends this tale of cannibalism in an isolated Manifest Destiny fort. Possibly Guy Pearce’s (“Factory Girl”) most underrated and under-publicized role despite his convincing and infectious fright.
“The Last Winter” (2007)
Remember when those self-conscious critics called “An Inconvenient Truth” the scariest movie of last year? They obviously hadn’t gotten wind of “The Last Winter.” From director Larry Fessenden (“Wendigo”), the movie depicts a thinly populated Alaskan drilling post whose members lose their minds as the long-frozen tundra begins to melt because of climate change. What’s under the ice? The wild, it seems, wants its revenge. (The movie is still in theaters, but it’s available on Comcast OnDemand.)
“Motel Hell” (1980)
Just because “Grindhouse” went nowhere last April doesn’t mean crappy exploitation flicks don’t work. With the slogan “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters,” the word “butcher” takes on new meaning as people discover Vincent’s secret ingredient: us. Horror-comedy got its foot in the drive-in with this sleeper. A remake is in the works, so better to see it now before everyone wants to rent it. Razor-sharp laughs – ha! – alongside violent bravura make this a nasty treat.
“The Brood” (1979)
This is a weird one. David Cronenberg made arguably one of his scariest and most bizarre horror films with “The Brood,” a sort of horror version of “Kramer vs. Kramer.” The already-troubled relationship between a man (Art Hindle, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) and his lunatic ex-wife becomes even more complicated when everyone around him starts getting killed by a bunch of deranged mutant dwarves. Truly unsettling social panic.
“One Hour Photo” (2002)
When you think of someone who would play a pathological stalker, you probably don’t think of Robin Williams. Proving his best work is in drama rather than comedy, Williams’s discount warehouse voyeur lives a fantasy life. He gets to know a family through the pictures it develops at his booth, and when pictures aren’t enough, his delusions escalate into a finale involving a hunting knife and a sort of sex tape. Not what you’d expect from Patch Adams.
“The Fly” (1986)
In David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of “The Fly,” Jeff Goldblum portrays an eccentric scientist who begins to change into a fly after one of his experiments goes awry – actually, it’s more of a gruesome morphing that takes place. As scary as it is to see body parts melting off, the real terror lies in the story of a man slowly losing his mind and his body.
“PEEPING TOM” (1960)
Featuring a serial killer who films his murders and then watches footage of the crimes, this psychological thriller provides more than the modern flick’s quota of gore and extreme violence. In a similar yet twisted vein of Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Rear Window,” which turned the audience into the protagonist’s willing accomplice, “Peeping Tom” forces the viewer to become the murderer. In the film, the method of killing is as secretive as the origins of the man’s emotional pain.
Philip K. Dick’s work produced “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall.” But in 1995, his short story “Second Variety” was the source material for what would become one of the dumbest-sounding – though scary in its own right – movies of the ’90s: “Screamers.” A blend of sci-fi and horror, the movie is the story of an American military crew on an abandoned planet threatened by man-made machines that have evolved beyond the control of their creators. You’ll scream . ers.
NOAH DEAN STAHL
A friend told me that every time he watches a film by Michael Haneke, everything starts to go wrong. I don’t doubt it. The French auteur of “Benny’s Video” (which opens with a video of a pig being slaughtered) and “Funny Games” (just look it up) has a way of making you feel like you’re the last person on Earth, and “Caché” does no less. A Parisian couple begins to receive unexplained packages with videos of them shot by an apparent voyeur, and the mysteries they suggest cut into France’s colonialist past.
“The Witches” (1990)
After watching Miss Eva Ernst (a badass Anjelica Huston) pulling off her wig and shoes to reveal the nastiness that is the Grand High Witch in the film adaptation of “The Witches,” kindly older women will never look the same. And a plot to transform kids into mice via chocolate with a devious-potion-filled center? Nothing scares kids more this time of year than someone messing with their candy.
“Battle Royale” (2000)
There’s something exceedingly disturbing about watching a class of Japanese eighth graders set upon each other. And this isn’t a schoolyard scuffle. The kids are dropped on an island, given weapons like hatchets and hand grenades and told the last kid left alive will be allowed to leave. And people say “Kid Nation” is bad. Please.
“Who Can Kill a Child?” (1976)
Batshit children have long been a touchstone of horror, but not quite like this. A University professor of all people introduced me to this one, in which a British couple vacations on an island where the kids kill all the adults. Dark Sky Films released the Spanish nightmare in a new DVD last summer, and there’s nothing like a nice transfer to enhance a climactic sequence unkind to the little ones.
Mark Wahlberg. Reese Witherspoon. 1996. Is there anything else? Nicole Walker (Witherspoon) lives in one of those isolated castle homes with a private security system, yet somehow David McCall (Wahlberg) manages to sneak his way through . to her panties. If you’re looking for a rom-com-turned-horror this weekend, this drama/horror/thriller/whatever is the movie for you.
David Cronenberg described “Shivers” as “a Canadian sex zombie movie.” That pretty much sums it up: An isolated highrise is invaded by parasites that turn their carriers into sex-starved zombies. Though it’s way too creepy and weird to be sexy, there is plenty of zombie action, with the sort of gruesome F/X and bizarre obsession over the human anatomy that became Cronenberg’s hallmarks.
“High Tension” (2003)
After arriving at her friend’s country house, Alexa settles in to a relaxing vacation with a friend’s family. They’re in the middle of nowhere. Shortly after everyone goes to sleep, the doorbell rings. A man answers the door only to be maimed. A mysterious and perverted man begins to lay waste to the rest of the family. A pursuit begins. It’s all here: adolescent anxiety, isolation and good old-fashioned insanity for insanity’s sake. A psychotic killer in the shadows with an undisclosed background and an inexplicable motive: That’s scary.