Frightful movies that made you hide behind a cushion
Time Out Dubai staff
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Director: James Whale
A tremendous sequel in which Dr Frankenstein is persuaded to have another go at creating life, this time in the form of a female companion for the monster, played by Boris Karloff. What distinguishes the film is not its horror content, which is admittedly low, but the macabre humour and sense of parody. Strong on atmosphere, Gothic sets and expressionist camerawork, it is a delight from start to finish. Scariest moment: The piercing shrieks of the Bride when Frankenstein’s Monster attempts to court her. Actress Elsa Lanchester modelled her performance on the swans in London’s Regent’s Park, stating ‘they’re really very nasty creatures.’
Psycho (1960) Director: Alfred Hitchcock
A Freudian nightmare about a platinum-blonde embezzler, Janet Leigh, who neglected to consult her Time Out guidebook before selecting her motel. Groundbreaking, in that it dared to suggest that your star didn’t need to surface from an ordeal smelling of roses (or, indeed, at all). As well as containing Bernard Herrmann’s greatest score and taking more than 70 edits to finish, it was also the first movie to show a toilet flushing, so we might also credit it with spawning the entire gross-out genre. Psycho: we salute you. Scariest moment: The scene involving a shower, a knife, a scream and some chocolate sauce. Janet Leigh was so freaked out she shunned showers and only took baths for the rest of her life.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Director: Roman Polanski
A creepy tale about a woman who believes she has been impregnated by the devil. Rosemary’s Baby’s main strength is that we are never quite sure whether Mia Farrow’s paranoia about a witches’ coven is grounded in reality or just a figment of her imagination. Although the film manages to be truly frightening, there is little gore or explicit violence; instead, what disturbs is the blurring of reality and nightmare, and the way Farrow’s character is slowly transformed from a healthy, happily married wife to a haunted, desperately confused shadow of her former self. Scariest moment: The scene where Rosemary has been poisoned, and in a state of disorientation suddenly comes face to face with the devil himself.
The Exorcist (1973) Director: William Friedkin
Friedkin’s film about the possession of a 12-year-old girl works as a study in suspension of disbelief and on the level of titillatory exploitation. Although supremely harrowing, its effects depend entirely on technical manipulation, and, sure enough, during the act of exorcism the girl obliges with a spectacular levitation. The Exorcist takes its audience for a ride, spewing it out the other end, shaken up and vowing never to go near another Ouija board. Scariest moment: The 360-degree rotation of the head, followed by a projectile of pea green vomit will put you right off your Pringles.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Director: Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper, who is currently working on his very own UAE-based screamathon, Djinn, directs this tale about a band of hapless youngsters who ignore all the warnings and stumble across a psychopathic hick family in remote farmland in the Deep South. This abattoir of a movie boasts sledgehammers, meathooks and chainsaws, and the result, though not especially visceral, is noisy, relentless, and about as subtle as having your leg sawed off without anaesthetic. Scariest moment: The scene where Leatherface suddenly emerges from a doorway to hammer one of the teenager’s heads in. That’s what happens when you badmouth Nascar in front of rednecks.
Halloween (1978) Director: John Carpenter
A superb, suspenseful, Hitchcock-esque slasher flick that outclasses its ’80s horror movie rivals with dazzling skills and mocking wit. Rarely have the more remote corners of the screen been used to such good effect, as shifting volumes of darkness and light reveal the presence of a sinister something. We know, and Carpenter knows we know, that it’s all a game, as his psycho starts decimating teenagers; and he delights in being one step ahead of expectation, revealing nothing when there should be something, and something long after there should be nothing. Scariest moment: Thank heavens our heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis, has finally killed the psychopathic Michael Myers. We can all go home now. Hang on, what’s that moving behind her? Oh, right, he’s not dead. And where did I put my clean underwear?
Hellraiser (1987) Director: Clive Barker
In the bedroom of a London house, bored sensualist Frank Cotton solves the mystery of a Chinese puzzle-box and enters a world of exquisite cruelty presided over by the Cenobites, evil beings with a penchant for ripped flesh and flayed muscle. Later, restored to life by his brother Larry’s blood, Frank arises half-formed from a pool of slime. When Larry’s wife Julia agrees to provide the human meat he needs to put flesh on his bones, the three become involved in an infernal triangle. A serious, intelligent and disturbing horror film. Scariest moment: The moment where hooks explode out the wall and rip one of the characters to pieces. We cancelled our weekly acupuncture sessions after watching this.
Friday the 13th (1980) Director: Sean S Cunningham
This classic can be credited with making a day that was commonly associated with bad luck into one synonymous with horror, as well as spawning 11 (count ’em) sequels. The franchise concerns Jason Voorhees, an ice hockey-masked nutter, who apparently drowned as a youngster at a holiday camp due to the negligence of staff, and enacts revenge from the afterlife by hacking to death a motley crew of hysterical teenagers. It’s a massive serving of schlock horror, complete with ketchup-smeared murders and obvious plot twists, but is still good fun. Scariest moment: Just when sole surviving camp counsellor Alice Hardy thinks she’s killed vindictive mother Mrs Voorhees, and is canoeing off into the sunset, who should emerge from the water and attack her? Why it’s the decomposed, rotten corpse of Jason, seeking revenge for his mother’s murderer of course. He may be a homicidal, barbaric maniac, but he loves his mum, which is very admirable.
Poltergeist (1982) Director: Tobe Hopper
A barnstorming ghost story, set in a small suburban house, where the family canary is called Tweety, and the kids read Captain America comics and eat at Pizza Hut. Gradually, this incredibly safe world is invaded by something inside the family television, and the plot takes off into a delirious fight with demonic forces suggestive of nothing so much as a Walt Disney horror movie. Scariest moment: The horrible clown doll that suddenly tries to strangle the children, thus proving to everyone that there’s nothing more evil than a clown.
The Shining (1980) Director: Stanley Kubrick
From a certain perspective, all of Kubrick’s movies are horror films: 2001’s terrifying cosmic loneliness, Dr Strangelove’s cheery annihilation, the death duels from Barry Lyndon. Which is all a way of saying that when he finally got around to making a proper horror, he paradoxically produced the ultimate comic satire on the American family. With blood in elevators. Essential. Scariest moment: Though many would pick Jack Nicholson’s iconic axe-versus-door episode, we say Danny’s encounters with the previous caretaker’s butchered twin daughters are more chilling by far.
The Ring (2002) Director: Gore Verbinski
Though the Japanese original is arguably more sinister, Gore Verbinski’s version of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 film about a cursed video tape packs in a higher concentration of terrifying moments. Thanks to the originality of the plot (seven days after watching said tape, viewers mysteriously die) few modern horrors have captured cinemagoers’ imaginations quite so ruthlessly since. Scariest moment: Just after the faux-happy ending, when the girl in the video climbs out through the TV. If that didn’t make you spill your popcorn, we very much doubt anything ever will.
Blair Witch Project (1999) Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
Initially shrugged off by many as lazy, novelty nonsense, this maiden voyage into horror mocumentary-making became one of the most iconic movies of the ’90s. It was also one of the first films to capitalise on online marketing, with fake websites set up prior to the release, supposedly written by characters in the film and fellow Blair Witch-hunters. Scariest moment: Heather’s terrified, sobbing, torch-lit monologue to camera after finding scraps of her fellow-camper’s blood-soaked clothing outside her tent. And not just because you could see up her nose.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Director: Wes Craven
Forget about the three hundred-or-so sequels – this ground-breaking slasher is still Wes Craven’s finest, grisliest hour. Robert Englund spawned one of the most enduring movie villains of all time in gnarly-faced mega-zombie and stripey-jumper fanatic Freddie Krueger, while the repeated demise of happy-go-lucky teens brought the horror genre to a dark new level. Scariest moment: Freddie’s first appearance, in which he stalks heroine Tina through her front garden and cracks that trademark evil grin. Although the choice of midriff-revealing attire worn by an extremely fresh-faced Johnny Depp prior to being minced comes a close second.