In honor of Halloween, the Maine Crime Writers offer two group posts to talk about our favorite scary movies and our favorite scary books. We hope you’ll leave a comment to share some of the titles that have sent you running for cover, or hiding under them.
Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: Discounting The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958)—I was looking over my shoulder for the cyclops for weeks after seeing that one, but it isn’t generally regarded as a horror film—my vote goes to 1963’s black and white classic, The Haunting, starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn, not to be confused with the remake with Catherine Zita-Jones taking the role Claire Bloom played. That one certainly had more blood and gore, but wasn’t anywhere near as frightening. What makes the original, based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, so scary is what we don’t see. It’s what we imagine that terrifies us. The moment that gives me chills just thinking about it? Claire Bloom and Julie Harris are in together in a pitch-black room and Julie Harris says, “If you’re over there, who’s holding my hand?”
Susan Vaughan: I remember well the above movie, and that same movie line chilled me just as it did Kaitlyn/Kathy. I’d read the book and had felt the same shock when I read that line, but hearing it in Julie Harris’s trembling voice was equally terrifying. My scariest and favorite scary film is apparently a favorite of many because it’s the seventh highest grossing (not gross) film in North America. Of course, it’s Jaws, starting Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, and Murray Hamilton. We all remember the classic line, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” The iconic theme music evokes dread every time it’s played, even in jest. The giant shark itself was a mechanical device that was pieced together and nearly fell apart during filming. But it did its job making everyone in theaters jump and shriek when it rose out of the water.
Kate Flora: I was a timid ten years old, and the nearest movie theater was sixteen miles away in Rockland, when, as I remember it, Brother John hatched the idea of going to the Strand and seeing The House on Haunted Hill, the 1959 version. Somehow, he convinced us that Vincent Price was a comic actor and the movie would be funny. We had no money, and had to search old purses, pockets, and even vacuum the registers to find enough to pay for tickets. And then, as five strangers are locked in a haunted house with an acid vat in the cellar, offered $10,000 if they can survive the night, I sat in my chair and was scared to death. There were locked rooms, and skeletons, and a mysterious hanging and disappearances. I was so scared that I don’t think I’ve seen a scary movie since.
Maureen Milliken I’m not scared by movies where guys weilding chain saws pop out from behind trees — there’s a difference between being startled and being soul-shredding scared. I wish Hollywood would get that. So my hands down for scariest movie is The Exorcist (1973). There’s little that’s as frightening as what goes on in the human mind under cover of gentility, and also what the reactions to that may be. Aside from the head-spinning and green vomit, the movie had a realism that a lot of “scary” movies don’t have, one of the things that makes it so scary. The promotional photo of the man with a fedora and briefcase in the shadows still gives me chills. Maybe it’s my Catholic school background, but that movie scared the hell out of me.
And, of course, An Inconvenient Truth. But that’s a discussion for a different day.
Charlene D’Avanzo picks Rosemary’s Baby.
Darcy Scott’s vote goes to Aliens.
John Clark:I saw Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte when I was in high school and every time I think back, I feel a chill.
Sandra Neily: I’m with Darcy on the scary moment when In Aliens the ribs crack open and….well, folks will have to watch it. But really, ladies? You can take a shower alone in a motel or hotel room and not pile furniture against the door? Just in case?
To this day, even if I don’t do that, I am tempted to do that. Or not shower. Psycho.
Jen Blood: When The Blair Witch Project came out, I drove to Portland to see it with a friend, then returned home to the cabin in the woods where I was housesitting. Alone. That night, I woke to a noise outside the cabin in the middle of the night, then tried to turn on the lights…except the power was out. Heart pounding, I grabbed my dog Moonshadow and hightailed it to my pickup truck. I put my contacts in while locked in the cab of the truck, then drove promptly to my mom’s house in the next town. It was about midnight by then, and there was a blackout in the area – I remember driving along completely darkened streets to my completely darkened childhood home and, while mostly aware that I was being ridiculous, also being about sixty-percent certain that the Blair witch had wiped out my entire neighborhood. Thankfully, my mom was awake reading by candlelight when I got there, though she was understandably a little freaked out when I showed up. She did, however, let Moonshadow and me sleep with her that night.
I don’t go to the movies anymore, mostly because of gratuitous everything, so my movie-watching scares are from long ago. Wait Until Dark gets my vote. My mom and I saw this at home and we both shrieked when, well if you’ve seen it, you know when! I asked my dad, who was working in the basement, why he didn’t come running and he nonchalantly said if we were being murdered he didn’t want to make a third.
I’ll give you the three scariest movies ever made, in no particular order: Reanimator, Candyman, From Beyond. Note that two of the three are based on works by H.P Lovecraft.
The 1950’s movie The Bad Seed. The 1960’s The Haunting of Hill House. The Exorcist. I didn’t sleep for two days and sat with the lights on and the curtains pulled until sunrise.