It’s Halloween weekend, and that means the search for the ultimate gross-out, gory, skeletal and spooky flick around — something as integral to Halloween as bunny ears or candy corn. The Halloween movie is a state-of-mind. It is a willingness to be terrified, which is the perfect attitude to have on this scariest of all holidays.
Personally, I have always found psychological thrillers to be scarier than, say, monster movies. There is something indescribably unnerving about the extent of human monstrosity — liars, murderers, psychopaths, or (bonus!) murderous lying psychopaths… Ultimately, I find human beings capable of enough terror to make actual monsters (of the furry variety) seem redundant and unnecessary.
A really scary movie for me is one that remains on the level of the plausible — a movie that does not rely on creepy-crawlers to tackle large questions about violence, destruction, or fear.
The master of this kind of movie is undoubtedly Alfred Hitchcock— an auteur who needs no introduction. A director worthy of his reputation, Hitchcock’s films are scary in the cleverest way possible. His stories are suspenseful, psychological thrillers that reveal the depths and derangements of the human mind.
Take, for example, Vertigo, my favorite Hitchcock film. On one level Vertigo is a plot-based film with heroes and villains. There is a murder: those who try to conceal it, and those who it takes victim. But examining the movie and its characters more closely, it becomes clear that nothing is so black-and-white. Each character is complex, emotionally damaged and psychologically unstable. It is difficult to completely condemn or redeem any one of them, and the line between hero and villain blurs. We are all, it seems, susceptible to bad behavior – whether we do it willingly, or let ourselves be tricked and deceived into it.
The feelings Hitchcock’s movies leave us with are ones of deep paranoia, self-doubt, and a vaguely existential angst. Why would you willingly subject yourself to this, you might ask?
Well, if we are to take a lesson from Hitchcock, it might be because we are all just a little messed-up, maybe even a little masochistic…
But this isn’t the place to debate the human psyche, or our motivations for wanting to terrify and shock ourselves. Suffice it to say that his body of work achieves these Halloween-y effects and does so with style.
Hitchcock’s movies are, it is universally acknowledged, visual masterpieces — infused with stylistic elements that enhance the atmosphere of suspense and fear. Fans of “the gaze”, for example — a favorite film go-to — will be thrilled.For this weekend, though, I’m recommending not a Hitchcock movie, but a series: Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This show began in 1955 and had ten seasons.
Each episode is a short, twenty-odd minute thriller. In the forth episode of the first season he describes his stories as “fairy stor[ies] for grown-up children.”
Each episode functions as a story in and of itself. The episodes are titled, with different actors and actresses and have different plots. The common theme, though, inspiring uneasiness.
Like his movies, the short stories are beautifully and carefully shot, and have the same iconic style of his features. They also star many of the same actors and actresses who act in his features. It seems that every major star of the 1950s and 1960s made an appearance on the show.
Alfred Hitchcock himself opens each episode by explaining the story, and then at the end of the episode returns with a final closing remark. Hitchcock’s opening and closing remarks give a nice comic relief to the scary stories. Whether he intended to be funny is unclear, but I for one get a kick out of his glib commentary.
The series is perfect for this weekend because you can choose your level and amount of fright. Want a quick shock before heading out to Pixel? Watch one episode and get ready to be extra-suspicious of the other students jostling in the line outside. Or, alternatively, you could make a marathon out of it. With over three hundred total episodes you won’t run out.