What’s the Scariest Horror Movie Scene? 0 422

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The results got me thinking of what would make my personal list of scariest movie moments. For the sake of not repeating myself, I’ll exclude the aforementioned The Shining and any of the other films that made the HMV list. And for brevity I’ve only included five moments, in no particular order.

Note: once again a massive SPOILER WARNING for all of the films mentioned.

The Descent (2005) – The Crawlers Attack

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Neil Marshall’s bloody, claustrophobic and emotional 2005 cave-exploring horror is my favourite of the genre next to The Shining. Trust me, I don’t say that lightly. The genius of the film is how, despite its ultimate monsterific thrills, it’s all about setting up our caring for the six central characters – and all-female cast is extremely rare in a horror – and creating a truly palpable sense of unnerving claustrophobia. Put it straight it’s goddamn terrifying even before The Crawlers show up, not least in a sequence that sees our heroine Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) getting stuck inside a particularly small space.

But the moment when it switches things up and the disgusting, horrific Crawlers are introduced is the one that really sticks in my mind. It’s not the mere fact that the group has to deal with this new threat against their survival but the way it happens out of nowhere, showcased through night-vision while the ladies shout for help. Ghastly stuff.

Pulse (2001) – The Forbidden Room

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Pulse (Kairo)

Far less well known than the likes of Ringu and The Grudge, this masterful ghostly Japanese horror (aka J-horror) from acclaimed director Kyoshi Kurosawa centres on a group of university students investigating a series of mysterious suicides linked to a webcam website that purports to allow the viewer to communicate with ghosts. It can be viewed as an allegory for how technology rules our daily lives and a social commentary on the isolation of modern Japanese society but also enjoyed purely as a supernatural horror with some of the most unsettling sequences of the century thus far.

One sequence occurs when one of the character enters what is known as The Forbidden Room, marked with red tape around the door frame. I doubt I’ve quite gotten over the first time I saw what happens next.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – Family Dinner

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A horror film that really needs no introduction – but I’m going to gush about it anyway – Tobe Hooper’s truly terrifying, grungy 1974 horror set the benchmark for full-on horror to come, being banned on its initial release – despite it’s surprising lack of actual on-screen gore – and influencing a raft of filmmakers to come.

The entire film feels like one big nightmarish set-piece but it comes to a head when the screaming Sally (the late Marilyn Burns) is captured and sat at the head of the dinner table of Leatherface’s crazy family that have been committing some truly heinous murders in middle-of-nowhere-Texas. The scene seems to go on forever and really gets under you’re skin. Everything about it just feels wrong.

Mulholland Drive (2001) – The Man Behind Winkie’s

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You might not think of David Lynch’s 2001 film about big Hollywood dreams, lustful jealousy and fracturing identity as a horror movie but considering how nightmarish, unsettling and skin-crawling it can be, I’d say it absolutely counts.

The sequence will no doubt stand out to any viewer actually comes towards the beginning of the film, when a nameless man and his friend (therapist?) are having a meeting in the booth of a Winkie’s restaurant. He tells of a scary dream he had where it’s “kind of half night, you know?” and how he can feel the presence of a man lurking “in back of this place.”

“I can see him through the wall!” he exclaims. So the other man decides to have him confront his fear, to show him that there’s nothing to be afraid of and the two make their way there to see. As it turns out, it’s very real, at least to the man being plagued with the nightmare. Jump scare city.

Audition (1999) – Love Is Torture

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One of the hardest working directors in his native Japan or beyond – he’s made about 100 films in less than 25 years at a rate of often multiple films a year – Takashi Miike is known for his mad, often frenetic style of filmmaking across a range of genres.  One film will be a full-on crime horror like Ichi the Killer, the next a wacky children’s adventure like Ninja Kids!!!. Quick side note: I’m a such a big fan that I actually wrote my 10,000+ word dissertation on him.

But this masterful 1999 shocker-in-waiting was the film that showed a more patient side of his filmmaking, really put him on the international map and there he’s stayed ever since. The brilliance of experience is that, for a good 2/3 of its runtime it’s not really a horror movie at all but rather a subdued romantic, melancholic drama. It sets up the gentle, heartfelt story of a widower and father who finally decides to pluck up the courage to search for a new wife years after his beloved passed away. He auditions a series of women for a fake TV show in an effort to find the perfect woman – it’s less stalker-like than that makes it sound! – which leads him to the meek, unassuming Asami. The two start dating and things seem to be going well. That is until jealousy and suspicion takes hold, with Shigeharu beginning to wonder just who exactly Asami is.

The whole thing culminates with one of the most horrifying, nightmarish torture sequences I think I’ve ever seen, one involving razor wire, a big-ass syringe and acupuncture needles as Asami’s victims lays on his living room floor unable to move but able to feel everything. Shudder…

Those are, of course, just a handful of the scenes that I’d hold up in high regard in a genre that I find myself compulsively going back to time and time again.

What do you make of the results of the poll? And which scenes would make your list? Be sure to share them in the comments below!

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 355

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 383

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10