I just finished reading Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel to The Shining. Doctor Sleep is an excellent read: not exactly a ghost story; not exactly a horror story; but enough of both to keep you away from small New England towns forever. I kept picturing the eventual movie as I read it. This led me to think about “The Scariest Movies I Have Ever Seen.”
I wrote down a list of seven films. What startled me is that I wrote them down in chronological order, without even thinking about when I had seen them. So, each has made a lasting impression, beginning with the 1951 classic, The Thing (From Outer Space).
This is classic gothic horror, but with a sci-fi twist. It isolates a group of people in a place from which they cannot escape, who discover there is a monster in their midst. First, of course, it kills the only supposedly rational team member—the scientist, who tries to befriend it. If it were true gothic horror, it would then have begun to pick off the rest of the trapped humans, one at a time. Instead, it attempts to kill the rest of the group en masse. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven the first time I saw it, and it scared the piss out of me.
In 1953, director William Cameron Menzies brought us the original Invaders from Mars. I first saw this one when I was about eight, and it gave me nightmares for years. A young boy, whose father is a scientist and who likes to stargaze, one night, from his bedroom window, sees a flying saucer land in a marshy area behind his house, not too far away. He wakes up his father, who grudgingly goes to investigate. Bad move.
Part of Menzies’ genius was to tell the story from the point of view of the little boy, played by Jimmy Hunt, who later discovers to his horror that his parents have been taken over by the aliens. Then he discovers that most of the other adults in his life have also been turned into emotionless zombie tools of the Martians.
At the end of the film, he and the last remaining adult he can trust manage to rescue his parents and destroy the aliens’ ship. A happy ending! But wait: He wakes up in the middle of the night, back in bed, and realizes it was all just a horrible dream. Whew! What a relief . . . until, at the very end of the film, he looks out the window again just to reassure himself that the world is back to normal, and sees the saucer once again landing in the marsh. Only this time it’s not a dream, ‘cause he’s just woken up!
I saw it with my older sister soon after it came out, which was just before that ending was cropped off because kids all over the country were having nightmares, just like me.
Okay, five more scary movies to talk about, including one adaptation from the works of Stephen King. Next time.