Written by: Wayne C. Rogers
In making this list of the 5 scariest movies to watch on Halloween, I found it to be rather quick to do because I simply put down the five films I continue to watch every October, especially at the end of the month. Since I’ll be 64 at the end of October, my list starts out with the blockbuster hit of the Seventies that was also one of the most controversial movies of the decade and the scariest.
- The Exorcist—Directed by the great William Friedkin, this movie (based somewhat on a true incident) tells the story of a young girl who becomes possessed by a demonic spirit while living in Georgetown with her mom. The transformation from the innocent, sweet-looking girl to a hideous monster is a slow burn, but extremely realistic and horrific to watch. Even more, I think this film is a very dark journey into the constant battle between good and evil that humanity faces. The middle-aged Jesuit priest in the story, Father Karras, who is in the process of questioning his own faith and has reached a point where he no longer feels able to help those who need his services the most, has to make the decision about whether or not to help the girl, or to fight non-stop for her life and soul. After forty years, The Exorcist is still a profound film that depicts the innate struggle that so many good people face on a day-to-day basis. Evil, even if it is manmade, is out there, waiting to lure us into its sweet, vise-like embrace when least expected. This movie won several Oscars, too.
- The Thing—This version of John W. Campbell’s short story was directed by John Carpenter and stars Kurt Russell in one of his best performances to date. I remember when it first came out at the theater and how it blew me away with its special effects and the sheer scare factor of so many of its scenes. For those of you who have never seen this movie, it’s about a group of American scientists and their helicopter pilot (Kurt Russell), who find themselves stranded in an Antarctic research station during a snow blizzard. What creates the tension and fear, however, is a very hostile alien that’s a shape-changer. The alien can turn into an animal or a human being. None of the stranded people know whom to trust as they’re picked off one-by-one. Even today, the special effects of the creature changing into something else will have you jumping in your seat, or throwing the bowl of popcorn onto your better half, and then watching her become an angry alien.
- The Descent—I didn’t expect much from this Neil Marshall movie when I first went to see it at the theater. I mean it’s about a bunch of female rock climbers who find themselves trapped in an underground cave. How scary could it be? Well, it had me jumping like a Jack-in-a-box, throwing my popcorn at the people sitting behind me. It still scares the bejesus out of me whenever I watch the movie. Okay, here’s the storyline. A group of six tough, outdoorsy women decide to explore an underground cavern in the mountains of North Carolina. They eventually get trapped down there and attempt to find a way out. That, unfortunately, is not to be. Soon, they’re being chased by the hungry Crawlers, which are creatures roaming around in the corners of your worst nightmares. The Crawlers (I think I screamed when these creatures were first introduced as did the female characters in the story) begin to pick off the ladies one by one. The two toughest of the team kill as many of the Crawlers as they can while working their way through the cavern to what they hope will be a way out. This movie changed my attitude about cave exploring just like Jaws did for swimming at the beach.
- 30 Days of Night—Directed by David Slade, this is another movie that surprised me in a big way. When I went to see it at the theater, I expected a low-budget, run-of-the-mill horror film. Instead, I discovered a true master piece in the horror genre of films. For me, the movie delivered on its promise to scare the daylights out of you for a few bucks. The story takes place in Barrow, Alaska (a real town), which is in the northern part of the state and once a year experiences thirty long days of night. Most of the town’s people head south for the month, but there are enough humans left to entice a group of roving vampires to spend some quality vacation time there. It all begins when a stranger arrives (played wonderfully by Ben Foster) during the last day of light and cuts the telephone lines and kills the sled dogs so the remaining town’s people will be snowed in and unable to escape. The vampires then waste little time in attacking the town and killing every human being they can get their teeth on. It’s the town’s sheriff (played by Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife (played by Melissa George) who manage to gather the surviving citizens and find a place where they can hide from their hungry predators. The problem, of course, is finding a way to stay alive until the sun once again appears. That’s going to be the challenge and few are going to make it.
- 1408—Starring the underrated John Cusack, this film is based on a Stephen King story and is one of the better adaptations that’s been done from his work. Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a man who travels around the country, debunking the myth of haunted houses and rooms, publishing the results in his “occult travel guides.” He simply doesn’t believe in the afterlife or the supernatural, or anything for that matter, especially since the death of his daughter from a long illness. Everything changes, however, when he visits the Dolphin Hotel in New York City and stays in the infamous Room 1408. Though the manager of the hotel (played by Samuel L. Jackson) warns him about the dangers of the room and the large number of people who have died there, Enslin thinks it’s all a bunch of hot air, designed to attract people to the hotel and increase its yearly revenue. Once the travel writer gets settled into the room, things start happening to change his mind and by the last quarter of the film, he’s struggling just to stay alive. That’s when he decides to fight back and to figure out a way to destroy the room and its evil residue. For me, this was one of John Cusack’s better roles. He carried the film on his shoulders and did so brilliantly.
Watching any of these films on Halloween night will promise you an evening of bad dreams and unexpected sounds in the darkness of your bedroom. These five movies are a glimpse into what Hollywood does best when it sets its mind to the subject by hiring an excellent cast and crew to create something that will scare the willies out of you.