October 31, 2002

Under the Radar

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This week I have a mission and a problem. It’s Halloween, and as a critic it is my duty to provide a list of 10 (arbitrary number, isn’t it?) scary movies. Which brings us to my problem: I don’t get scared at movies. Not even the fail safes work on me. The Excorsist was ruined forever when my brother misheard the line “what a lovely day for an exorcism” as “what a lovely day for a communism.” Yet my mission remains. I’ve tried to pick films that don’t jump right out at you, but depend more on your own imagination, and get under your skin, so that three days later, when you’re walking home in the cold dark you just have to look over your shoulder. Even though there’s nothing there. Enjoy.

10) Nosferatu. Before Ann Rice’s whiny bitches or Christoper Lee’s blood baths or even, god help us, Kenau Reeves truly horrific attempt at a British accent, there was Max Shreck’s Count Orlock. This silent, expressionistic meditation on disease, hunger, and death cuts straight to the heart of the vampire myth. There’s nothing pretty about the count in this movie. Orlock is the vampire: endless, insatiable loneliness, hunger, and lust. The creature is the walking personification of famine. Appreciate the director’s sick sense of humor and the revolutionary use of the camera.

9) The Devil’s Backbone. The allegory of Spanish fascism isn’t exactly hidden in this allusive Mexican ghost story, but because the subtext is just as horrific as any haunted school, it doesn’t matter. The entire movie is filled with the systematized brutalization of the weak by the strong, so that the anguish caused by the ghost seems to flow too easily into the lives of the isolated orphan protagonists. All you have to know about this movie is that this is a story about scarred children, one dead, and no one is innocent.

8) Pi. Watch a very smart mathematician make the mind into his own personal hell in Darren Arnofsky’s brilliant, hallucinatory debut. What price genius?

7) The Vanishing. Poe would really have loved this film. Unspeakable fates, equally obsessive love, and a suitably intelligent villain. A wife is kidnapped and killed, but her husband won’t stop his search for her. Eventually, he attracts her killer’s attention. Skip the American remake and go straight to the Dutch original. A word of advice. Have someone remind you to breathe during the final twenty minutes.

6) Night of the Living Dead. This one is just too much fun. Yeah, it’s so bad it’s good and sports the immortal line: “they’re dead. They’re all