Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Scenes to Make Spines Tingle (WARNING - SPOILERS)

So it's Halloween soon (three days in fact). The kids will be off their faces on sugar wearing rubbish costumes, drunk people my age will be wearing similar costumes (but in a strictly ironic way of course) and the crowd left at home will presumably be stranded with a raft of classic movies (to be honest, that option sounds alright).

We've all seen those endless 'Best Of' scary moments lists so I thought I'd add a new slant on it by compiling a list of my favourite chilling moments away from, and including, horror. What we have here then isn't a strictly a best of but instead film clips that put the goosebumps on my arms...Happy Halloween!

10) Eyes Wide Shut - The Masked Ball

I'm something of a newcomer to Stanley Kubrick's final masterpiece and a masterpiece it certainly is, rendering night-time NY a desolate and eerie fairy tale land for Tom Cruise's doctor after his wife (Nicole Kidman) expresses her sexual frustrations. The centre-piece is a typically bold and frightening sequence, a masked orgy in a country house which Cruise invades, only to be exposed in front of its members...Kubrickian through and through in its lavish colour palette, stately camera work and menacing music (composer Jocelyn Pook adapting a Hindi text), it builds unbearable tension.

9) Young Sherlock Holmes - The Knight

Barry Levinson's 1985 speculation about how the famed sleuth and Dr Watson met is an enjoyable guilty pleasure, showing strong loyalty to Arthur Conan Doyle's characters and milieu while successfully branching out into Spielbergian adventure-horror. It's most iconic sequence involves none of the central characters but does feature another who has entered into the history books: the stained glass knight who has the honour of being the first fully functioning CGI character in a movie. What's remarkable is how good the effects are after all these years, the knight manifesting itself to a hallucinating priest in the classic Gothic environs of his church.

8) Jurassic Park - Raptors in the Kitchen

Sealing their reputation as some of the finest non-human villains of the 90s, this classic scene quickly became infamous for scaring kids and adults alike out of their wits. Of course it's a Stephen Spielberg movie so we know the children being pursued through the kitchen will get away but the sense of danger and menace is incredibly palpable, the effects magnificent and John Williams' score (away from its more famous main themes) brilliantly creepy.

7) Below - Deep Fried Sailor

This hugely underrated chiller from Pitch Black director David Twohy is a ghost story set on a submarine during WWII. Deriving all its power from implicit, rather than explicit, terror (although there are some unpleasant moments), the nastiest bit comes when a segment of the crew barricaded in their quarters learn the mistake of lighting a match when hydrogen levels are dangerously high...The almost slow-mo unveiling of the incineration by the rest of the sub's members is haunting horror cinema at its best.

6) Unforgiven - William Munny, Killer of Women and Children

Clint Eastwood's hailed revisionist western redefined the ethos of the genre, taking as its template brooding, austere tragedy rather than the vibrant Ennio Morricone-scored-stylistics of the 60s. Clint uses the film to brilliantly subvert his own myth, making the final unveiling of the killer lurking within his William Munny chilling and terrifying, rather than exciting. When he takes down a tavern full of guys at the climax, including Gene Hackman's sadistic Sheriff Little Bill, it isn't a mere case of good versus evil but what is implied in humane terms that strikes the deepest chord.

5) Enduring Love - The Balloon

It's a metafictional nightmare for Daniel Craig in Roger Michell's superior adaptation of Enduring Love. Cutting the extraneous crap that bogged down Ian McEwan's source novel, Michell's film casts a wonderfully intense Craig as Joe, a man suspended in limbo as a result of the film's opening salvo: a balloon accident that results in the death of an innocent man. Oh and he shares a kiss with Rhys Ifans' deranged stalker. Rumour has it Ifans sent Craig love letters in preparation for the big scene...

4) Who Framed Roger Rabbit - Judge Doom is a Toon!

Lively and jaunty for much of its running time, Robert Zemeckis' classic children's film (a groundbreaking mix of cartoons and real people, lest we forget) suddenly shifts into high gear in the final act, when Christopher Lloyd's already creepy villain Judge Doom reveals that his evil plans don't exactly stem from a human persona...It adds personal, noir-esque overtones to the comedy capers as Bob Hoskins' Eddie Valiant realises this is the monster who killed his brother many years before. Listen to that voice and say it isn't scary...

3) Battleship Potemkin - The Odessa Steps

A film buff-ery inclusion perhaps but Sergei Eisenstein's landmark propaganda piece/thriller retains all of its visceral power, 84 years after its release. That's what makes it a remarkable piece of filmmaking: away from the stacks of books written on montage, editing and the like, the core still remains: a deeply impassioned director in close communication with his audience. Naturally, we feel this most in the classic Odessa Steps sequence as protesting civilians are gunned down in cold blood by the army, a pram bounding its way down amid the chaos. Madness, it seems, will always resonate...

2) The Haunting - Breathing Door

I suppose I had to have one classic horror in here (it is the season to be scary after all) and you can't go wrong with Robert Wise's superb chiller from 1963 (not the shite Jan De Bont remake). Forgoing any explicit terror whatsoever and staying faithful to Shirley Jackson's story, this is the moment where lead character Eleanor's (Julie Harris) fear is made apparent to the others staying in Hill House for a psychological experiment, and the living room door starts to achieve a life of its own...Don't expect any outright explanation though - the film's too clever for that. And don't forget: 'Whatever walked there...walked alone'.

1) The Shining - Here's Johnny!

Ok ok, so I've caved and gone for the predictable approach by including Stanley Kubrick's horror opus as the finale to this little article. I see it though as more of a measure of The Shining's influence on generations of moviegoers since its release in 1980. Never has an adlib seemed more frightening as when a deranged Jack Nicholson takes a fireaxe to a toilet door and utters the immortal words...Well I'm not going to repeat them again.

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