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Theres The Rub
The horror

By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:36:00 10/30/2008

Filed Under: Cinema

Moviefone lists its 31 scariest (Hollywood) horror movies, and I?ve seen a good deal of them. Like most of my generation, I?m a fan of horror movies, though not so of slasher and zombie ones. The list includes, in order of increasing horrific-ness: ?The Ring? (Hollywood version), ?Hellraiser,? ?Nosferatu,? ?The Descent,? ?The Omen,? ?The Fly,? ?The Wicker Man? (the original version), ?Carnival of Souls,? ?The Eye,? ?Scream,? ?Friday the 13th,? ?Dracula? (the Bela Lugosi version), ?Evil Dead 2,? ?Carrie,? ?Invasion of the Body Snatchers? (1978), ?Night of the Living Dead,? ?The Blair Witch Project,? ?Bride of Frankenstein,? ?A Nightmare on Elm Street,? ?Rosemarie?s Baby,? ?Frailty,? ?28 Days Later,? ?The Haunting,? ?Dawn of the Dead,? ?The Thing,? ?The Sixth Sense,? ?The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,? ?The Shining,? ?Psycho,? ?The Exorcist,? and ?Halloween.?

?The Ring? is okay with good atmosphere, but nothing extraordinary. ?The Omen? of course made ?666? the universally recognized mark of Satan. It was scary for its time, even for secular audiences or those who didn?t believe in the devil. It also spawned a wave of movies that ended badly for heaven?s cause: The devil always seemed to win in the end. Come to think of it, a prescient reflection of life.

I saw both versions of ?The Fly,? the Vincent Price and Jeff Goldblum ones, and I can?t say which is better. I do know the short story by George Langalaan is best. The premise of a scientist who accidentally rematerializes from one teleport station to another along with a fly, their atoms mixing together, is original?and frightening.

I haven?t seen the original ?Dracula,? though I?ve seen its subsequent reincarnations and consider ?The Horror of Dracula,? starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, the best. It scared the bejesus out of me when I was kid. I can only imagine how ?Dracula? and ?Nosferatu? hit movie audiences during their time. Those movies, based on Bram Stoker?s now famous fictional resident of Transylvania, have spawned an entire industry about vampires. How?s that for bloodsucking.

The other horror story is how Lugosi turned out: a down-and-out actor who went on to do movies with Ed Wood, the worst director of all time immortalized by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton?s brilliant ?Ed Wood.?

I?ve seen all the versions of ?Invasion of the Body Snatchers?: the 1956 original, the 1978 version, the 1993 ?Body Snatchers,? and the more recent ?invasion.? The 1978 version, starring Donald Sutherland, is fine, creepy and claustrophobic, but I still think the original is best. It was meant to be a metaphor for the McCarthyist witch-hunts, and pitched the idea well without getting in the way of a good yarn. ?Invasion? tells the tale of aliens who snatch bodies from humans and take their place. Talk of identity theft.

My problem with ?Blair Witch? was that I saw it after hearing all the hype and ended up just getting vertiginous from the jerky camera work. ?A Nightmare on Elm Street? was a pleasant surprise, truly the stuff of nightmares. The real nightmare though was that it spawned a ?Nightmare, Part Nth.?

?Rosemarie?s Baby,? well, who can forget John Cassavetes? demonic visage and innocent Mia Farrow as the darker side of the Virgin Mary? ?Frailty? is a much-underrated movie. It owes its real inspiration to Henry James? ?Turn of the Screw? (while at it, why isn?t that here?). The devil is not to be found in the people exorcists try to exorcise, it?s to be found in the exorcists themselves. ?28 Days Later? made me a fan of Danny Boyle. It reinvents zombie-type movies completely. Forget the 1999 version, the original black and white ?The Haunting? is the genuine article: It?s enough to make you believe in ghosts.

?The Thing? I liked, but not all that much. ?The Sixth Sense? is memorable because of Haley Joel Osment whispering, ?I see dead people,? which is one of the scariest lines uttered in movies. ?The Shining? veered away from the book and drew equal raves and boos for Jack Nicholson. You?ve got to love him or hate him here, his acting is over the top. It also has one of the scariest lines in movies in ?Here comes Johnny!?

?Psycho,? well, it?s a tossup now which is the more famous scene, Janet Leigh getting stabbed in the bathroom or Orson Wells muttering, ?Rosebud.?

?The Exorcist? I myself wouldn?t put among the top. I liked the tone of the entire movie until the end when it got a little goofy.

As horror goes, the one that?s on the top of my list is Marlon Brando lying in a pool of his blood in ?Apocalypse Now? whispering, ?The horror, the horror?.? That?s the famous line, of course, from Joseph Conrad?s ?The Heart of Darkness,? which was Francis Ford Coppola?s inspiration for ?Apocalypse.? As in the book, Brando?s character is also named Kurtz. Coppola merely transplanted the story into the Vietnam War. In Conrad?s book, an Englishman looks for Kurtz, an ivory trader who has made a demigod of himself among the Congo tribes and engaged in unspeakable atrocities. In the movie, an American solider looks for Kurtz, a renegade general who has made a demigod of himself among the Indochinese tribes and engaged in unspeakable atrocities. As both Kurtzes breathe their last, they whisper, as though summarizing their lives and what they have seen, ?the horror, the horror?.?

The ambivalence of what the horror refers to in both stories is patent. It can mean the savagery of people beyond the pale of ?civilization? or the even greater savagery of those who set out to put them under it. One thing is clear: It presents the picture of a man driven to depths of spiritual deprivation. Or one who has lost his soul, whether you construe that religiously or otherwise.

The most horrific movies are the ones that hue closely to life. But that is quite another horror story.

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