The best adaptation of a Stephen King thriller to date, it stars Shelley Duvall as a wife and mother, emotionally abused and threatened, who is trapped when her husband Jack Nicholson becomes unhinged by his own personal demons.
King has had innumerable novels and short stories adapted to the screen, most notably as Carrie, Salem’s Lot and the non-horror Shawshank Redemption. He had publicly disowned Kubrick’s version (which, for example, replaced the author’s living topiary creatures with a hedge maze), but we beg to differ, especially given the beauty of the camerawork — elevators disgorging gallons of blood never looked prettier.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a classic tale of paranoia released in an era pummeled by McCarthyism and the Cold War, stars Kevin McCarthy as a doctor who slowly realizes that the residents of his small California town are being converted into emotionless, zombie-like drones who seek to absorb humans into their clan. Its downbeat attack on conformity made some people perhaps too uncomfortable; director Don Siegel was forced to shoot an uplifting ending, in which the government is alerted to the danger and sets out to contain it.
In Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake set in San Francisco, no such calvary rides to the rescue. And in an amusing cameo, McCarthy himself appears — still being chased, still shouting out his rueful cry: “You’re next!”
And while George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is held up at a paragon of low budget horror filmmaking, its predecessor, Carnival of Souls, is more unsettling and dreamlike. After a young woman’s car crashes into a river, she emerges in a bizarre land of specters. Yes, you can guess where she is (can you say “Twilight Zone”?), but it’s a haunting ride nonetheless.
For guilty pleasure, I’d nominate Richard Blackburn’s Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, a dirt-cheap (and hard-to-find) tale of a sweet innocent lured into a female vampire’s coven.
And for sheer shock and blood-and-guts, Dario Argento’s Suspiria will convince the most jaded filmgoer of one thing: When chased by a maniac, be careful you do not fall into a room filled with razor wire.
Did You Hear That?
Forgive my prejudice, but the best horror is usually that which is implied, and not clearly seen. The zenith of this style was the body of work of producer Val Lewton. The titles of Lewton’s horror films made for RKO — I Walked With a Zombie, Isle of the Dead, The Body Snatcher — were always less subtle than the films themselves, in which events typically unspooled in a swooning, dreamlike daze.
Arguably the best of these, Cat People told the tale of an artist convinced she was descended from a race of feline-women who turn into panthers if sexually aroused. Most memorable scene: the shadows surrounding a swimming pool that cloak … something.
Less blatant than one probably remembers, given its shock effects, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is less a tale of grotesque horror than it is a story of lost faith and redemption. Based on William Peter Blatty’s bestseller, which was inspired by a real exorcism performed on a young boy, the 1973 film builds slowly and effectively from the first rumblings of sinister portent.