My list of scary movies concludes with a chiller that is not gothic but rather psychological horror. It pits an innocent, naïve young, female FBI agent-in-training against monumental evil. Directed by Jonathan Demme, for me, The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is as scary as it gets—right up there with The Shining.
Brilliant, Oscar-winning performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins may be the ultimate pairing of cinematic innocence and corruption. Hannibal (“the cannibal”) Lector is right up there with the all-time scariest characters on film. In her ultimate confrontation with the serial killer that Lector has agreed to help her find, Clarice (Foster) looks lost and helpless—a sacrificial lamb about to be slaughtered. Right up until she hears a telltale click, spins and puts a bullet through the bastard’s chest.
Okay, there you have the 7 scariest moves that I ever saw. They were meant to scare us, and they succeeded brilliantly. But there is one other movie I have not mentioned. It was not a horror movie, or a thriller, or sc-fi or, God help us, a slasher film. It is a Disney work—one of the early, wonderful, fully painted animateds. No, I’m not talking about Bambi, which surprised a lot of mothers around the country when their kids went to Saturday matinees and came home hysterical, totally traumatized by the scene in which Bambi’s mother dies in the forest fire. That was terrible, but I saw Bambi with my mother, so the fear of losing her was not scary to me. I mean, there she was, sitting right next to me, holding my hand.
No, the Disney movie that scared the bejeezus out of me was Pinocchio. At that time, Disney would periodically bring back their animated feature films for kiddie matinees, smart enough to realize there was a new audience for them every few years. I was seven when I went to see Pinocchio with my sister on a Saturday afternoon. She was bored. I was horrified.
There is this little boy, with no friends, cast into the world as an innocent. He is tricked and kidnapped; forced to work for a cruel master; abandoned, captured and even eaten by a whale. When he runs away from Stromboli, the puppet master, he is caught up with a couple of other “lost boys” and they are all promptly stolen away to Pleasure Island. Where those little boys who act like jackasses . . . turn into real jackasses. First, they grow ears, then a tail, and the next thing you know a little boy has been horribly transformed into a braying beast of burden.
Later, after the movie when I got back home, Mom asked how I liked it. I liked it a lot, I told her, except for what happened to poor Pinocchio and his friends on Pleasure Island. And she said something like, “Well, that’s what’ll happen to you if you’re not a good little boy.”
Nightmares? You bet. For years and years. Scariest movie I ever saw.