Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Scariest Movie Scenes

Tina's death in A Nightmare on Elm Street
In honour of Halloween: The 13 movie scenes that, at one time or another, scared the living crap out of me.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The premise: A long-dead serial murderer haunts the dreams of the children whose parents were members of the lynch mob that hunted him down.
The scene: Rod (Jsu Garcia) witnesses his girlfriend Tina (Amanda Wyss) meet a grisly end as she's dragged across the ceiling of her bedroom by an unseen force.

Lost Highway (1997)
The premise: A saxophonist is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to prison where he transforms into a young mechanic and starts his life afresh.
The scene: The Mystery Man (Robert Blake) confronts Fred (Bill Pullman) at a party and convinces him to phone his own house. When Fred obliges he hears the voice of the Mystery Man pick up his home phone, even though he's standing right in front of him.

Nosferatu (1922)
The premise: This silent classic chronicles the strange life of the vampire Count Orlok.
The scene: In a chilling example of German Expressionism at its finest, Count Orlok makes his way slowly up the staircase -- while the audience sees only his distorted shadow on the wall.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The premise: An FBI rookie must work with the infamous Hannibal Lecter in order to catch another killer on the loose.
The scene: Clarice (Jodie Foster) confronts Jame Gumb (Ted Levine) in his basement -- only to find herself abandoned in pitch black darkness as Jame follows her around with night-vision goggles.

Scream (1996)
The premise: A group of teenagers discuss the "rules" of horror films as students at their high school are systematically killed off one-by-one by a masked killer known as Ghostface.
The scene: The chilling opening sequence where Drew Barrymore receives harassing phone calls from an unknown assailant who quizzes her about her favourite horror films -- before brutally murdering her.

Halloween (1978)
The premise: A masked psychopath breaks out of an institution and stalks a teenage girl from his small hometown.
The scene: After emerging victorious from a faceoff with Michael Myers (Tony Moran), Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) breathes a sigh of relief -- while the seemingly dead Michael slowly sits up behind Laurie's shoulder.

The Exorcist (1973)
The premise: When a twelve-year-old girl is possessed by the devil, her mother enlists the help of two priests.
The scene: After stabbing herself in the crotch with a crucifix, Regan (Linda Blair) faces the audience by enabling her head to do a 360-degree spin.
The Exorcist III
The Exorcist III (1990)
The premise: A police officer respectfully acknowledges the anniversary of a priests death while, at the same time, trying to track down a vicious serial killer.
The scene: A nurse in a hospital checks a couple of rooms during a night shift when, in a genuine jump-out-of-your-skin moment, she's followed out of a room by a white-shrouded intruder.

The Thing (1982)
The premise: Scientists in the Antarctic discover a shape-shifting alien that takes on the appearance of its victims.
The scene: The alien, in human form, fakes a heart attack and, while the scientists scramble to save who they assume is their comrade, they are confronted with "the thing" itself in a shocking, terrifying, pre-CGI sequence.

The Shining (1980)
The premise: A family agrees to watch over a hotel that is closed for the winter season when an unseen force influences the father, pushing him to the edge of insanity.
The scene: While most would cite the twins in the hallway as the scariest sequence, there's also the simplistic slow zoom-in on Jack Nicholson's face looking out the hotel window as he slowly dissolves into madness.

Psycho (1960)
The premise: A young woman on the run stays at the isolated Bates Motel and meets the mother-fearing, socially inept owner.
The scene: No, not the shower sequence although that's terrifying in its own right. Lila Crane (Vera Miles) searches the Bates house for her missing sister (Janet Leigh), only to be confronted by the corpse of Mrs. Bates -- right before Norman (Anthony Perkins) bursts in to the room wearing a woman's wig and dress.

Jurassic Park (1993)
The premise: An ambitious millionaire creates a dinosaur theme park and, during a preview tour, a massive power outtage enables the prehistoric animals to rule the island.
The scene: A thunderstorm. A glass of water, trembling with each footstep. A T-Rex bites through an electrical fence and proceeds to attack the tourist cars.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
The premise: A former child star jealously guards her more-famous older sister in a rundown mansion.
The scene: When wheelchair-bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) crawls her way to the telephone to make an emergency call, Jane (Bette Davis) discovers her calling for help and violently kicks her around the room.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Revisiting the Classics: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates
"We all go a little mad sometimes." 

On Thursday night my friend suggested we check out a screening of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 horror classic, Psycho, which was playing at a local theatre.

It had been awhile since I'd last visited the Bates Motel and its man-with-severe-mother-issues owner, Norman.

I actually can't recall the last time I'd seen Psycho which makes me think it has been at least five years, if not longer. So, watching it in glorious black and white on the big screen made it feel as though I were watching it for the first time. I'd forgotten about a couple of little twists and the fact that the script (based on the novel by Robert Bloch) was chock-full of great dialogue and slow, engaging character revelations. It truly is a masterpiece of suspense and thrills. And, regardless of how many times you've seen the film, its final twist and closing shot (see photo above) is still as mesmerizing and shocking as it undoubtedly was back in 1960.

A complex psychological thriller, Psycho is celebrated in film circles as one of Hitchcock's finest -- if not his greatest -- achievements (and whether or not you think that Vertigo is technically the better film is a debate worthy of a whole separate blog post). At the age of 61, Hitchcock cobbled together his now-classic shocker on a tiny budget in a matter of weeks. With Hitchcock's knack for building tension and influential stylistic flare, Psycho is as unsettling in its premise as it is a technical marvel -- what with all those unique camera angles, intimate close-ups of his cast and that famous image of Mama Bates' skull superimposed over the crazed face of Norman as the film closes.

But one of the true revelations in Psycho is Anthony Perkins in the lead role. I'd never fully appreciated his performance until this recent viewing. He commanded the screen with a charismatically awkward performance that, on the surface, made him appear as likeable as a young boy eager to please his friends or parents. "I think I must have one of those faces you can't help believing," he tells Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) early on in the film. And you, as the audience, totally fall for it too, just like Marion. Even though you know Norman has the capability to kill, he lulls you into feeling sympathy for him -- you may even catch yourself wishing he'll get the help he so obviously needs.

The role of Norman Bates could have easily been nothing more than a stock horror character. A villain without personality. Someone lurking in the shadows who ultimately leaves no lasting impression once the credits roll. But where Perkins excels is in his ability to make you realize that Norman Bates could be anyone. Literally. He could be the man sitting next to you on the subway, or the woman walking her dog down the street. He's not some Freddy Krueger-type fantasy-villain who would stick out like a sore thumb if you saw him in a crowd of people from across the street. Perkins, with his average-joe features and shy nature, totally inhabits the character of Norman Bates.

It's an all-around fantastic performance in an already perfect psychological thriller.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie (2012)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau and Charlie Tahan

I reviewed this film for Next Projection.

Tim Burton's latest animated oddity heralds a return to form for the director. Although he distracted himself with big-budget remakes over the years -- many of which failed to resonate with viewers -- Frankenweenie is a welcome return to the Burton of old.

Expanding on a concept conceived back in 1984, Frankenweenie has gone from a 30-minute project to a feature-length film lensed in glorious black and white -- an homage to the horror influences of his childhood.

Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is devastated when his beloved dog, Sparky, is killed in a tragic road accident. However, when a grieving Victor learns about the effects of electricity while in his science class he concocts a plan to bring his dog back to life. But, in order to avoid detection, he must outsmart his parents (Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short), science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) and his nosy classmates. Although Victor's experiment initially proves to be a success, he is ultimately forced to confront the consequences of his actions when other people get their hands on the science behind bringing the dead back to life.
Influenced by the aesthetics and techniques used in the German Expressionist films that were prevalent in the 1920s, Frankenweenie also contains a memorable cast of eccentric outsiders -- all familiar features in Burton's oeuvre.

The craftsmanship is a wonder to behold. Frankenweenie is arguably Burton's most visually stunning work in years. Making the bold decision to release a family feature in black and white, the characters and their little town of New Holland are so vivid they appear to pop off the screen. To understand the painstaking process involved in creating a stop-motion feature, is to realize that Frankenweenie is a genuine labour of love for its director.

While the plot fondly borrows from films and literature of the past, it's the characters that keeps the action moving forward. The premise may not be original but the memorable cast of characters is all Burton's own creation. His signature long-legged, saucer-eyed characters tend to resemble grotesque marionettes but their personalities carry a lot of heart.

Despite all the impressively eerie visuals and classic film references, Frankenweenie is ultimately just a touching story about a young boy and his dog; the rare family feature that will appeal to both children and adults alike.

Burton's affection for his now-28-year-old story is undeniable as Frankenweenie proves to be the director's most successful outing in years.