Movies that scare the people who scare us
"The Descent" (2005) follows a group of women on a caving expedition that (surprise!) goes horribly awry.
October 28th, 2011
10:21 AM ET

Movies that scare the people who scare us

A chill is in the air, dread spirits are walking the earth and, as Halloween approaches, everyone from the most diehard horror geek to the casual fright fan is filling their queue with horror films to celebrate the season.

To be sure, there are plenty of of options.

But while the masses may have flocked to see "Paranormal Activity 3" last weekend (its $54 million made it the strongest September/October film opening ever) genre fans were no doubt dwelling in the gooey viscera of more underground fare.

To help you out of a potential celluloid jam, we talked with some of our fan-culture favorites, asking them for their recommendations on potentially obscure (and sometimes absurd) horror flicks you should check out this Halloween.

Bruce Campbell (Actor, "Evil Dead," "Burn Notice")

'The Tenant' by Roman Polanski because it only uses your head. There’s no special effects, there’s no monsters, there’s no digital. It’s awesome. It’s scary as hell. It’s creepy - the anti-monster movie. There’s no giant creature that’s been bit by a radioactive spider, nothing stupid like that. It messes with your perception of reality, and to me, that’s way scarier than a creature ... .

Or I would go with something like ‘Frankenstein 1970’ just to see how horribly outdated the movie was.  It was made in 1958. What, did they think 1970 would never come? ‘Frankenstein 1970’ is a pretty bad one if you just want to see a kitschy, bad horror movie.

Joe Hill (Author, "Horns," "Locke & Key")

I think you have to look abroad, for starters. You have to get over that hump where you say, ‘foreign films are hard work, foreign films can’t be fun.’ I just saw one that’s out of Ireland called 'Isolation' that has to be one of the most absolutely revolting specimens of horror cinema ever put to screen, and I mean that in a very affectionate way. There is more cow afterbirth in this movie than there is in all the horror films made in the last decade ... .

It is about genetically modified cows creating these kind of cow-cockroach spawn that spin out of control in this mucky, muddy, nasty-looking Irish farm. It sounds like a joke. Just talking about it I can feel the urge to start spitting out cow puns – it was udder-ly disgusting – but it’s actually played very seriously. It is real dark, and real grim, and very affective. And very, very nasty. It’s not for the squeamish ... . You’re just kind of like, ‘Did someone slip me something before I sat down to watch this film, which is like the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen.’ But it’s great.

Max Brooks (Author, "World War Z," "The Zombie Survival Guide")

I don’t know if it’s scary, it depends on your tastes, but it is a cultural imperative. It is called ‘Wild Zero.’ It is Japanese and it is the story of aliens trying to take over the planet by raising the dead. So there’s an alien-engineered zombie plague, and the only people that can stop it are a young Japanese man, his transsexual girlfriend and a Japanese rockabilly band called Guitar Wolf. That is a real movie. I have no idea what the intention was. I look at this movie and think everybody has to see this movie.

I don’t know what to make of it to this day. I love it. I just keep watching it … . I showed it at a screening in London in 2006 as I was hosting a zombie film festival there, and the kids just went crazy for it. There’s incredible violence, there’s gore, there’s weapons. And the band Guitar Wolf? It’s a real band.

Danielle Harris (actress "Hatchet II," "Halloween" franchise. Director, "Among Friends")

The first time I saw ‘The Descent’ [about a group of women who spelunk into a cave of hungry humanoid bat creatures], it wasn’t a big movie in the theater. I just got it from someone on DVD. It didn’t have a whole big to-do about it, but that was something I thought, ‘this is really rad, I love this kind of stuff’ …  I tend to gravitate toward the female-driven, kind of sick, twisted ones.

There’s not enough female serial killers in films so movies like ‘The Descent’ are the closest thing to the f-ed-up chicks who are manipulative but are still in the horror world. They’re a little bit more realistic but are kind of like crazy women ... . The movies I’m writing and making, I’ve got those elements. I want to have the underground, very cultish movies that are chick flicks for messed up girls.

Miko Hughes (Actor, "Pet Sematary," "Mercury Rising")

Well there’s one that’s a cult classic that has kind of gotten more awareness in recent years. I don’t know quite how underground it’s still considered, but it’s a Japanese film called ‘Audition’ [about a scorned maniac actress]. I love that one. It doesn’t present itself as a horror movie and is only crazy in the last 10 minutes. It is really suspenseful and has a great slow build, and you kind of forget that what you’re seeing is a horrible incident because you get lost in the story.

So when events take a turn, it really takes you by surprise. It is hard to sum it up without giving away the twist but it is definitely a Japanese film; the pacing is a bit slower. It is a movie worth paying attention to, because when it does twist, it just reels you in.

Neil Gaiman (Author, "The Graveyard Book," "Neverwhere," "Sandman")

[Neil, who was shooting scenes for the DVD of the upcoming 3D animated short film "The Price," sent along three suggestions via super-assistant Cat Mihos]

1. "Wicker Man" (1973) Not so much a horror movie as a scary commentary on society.

2. "Carnival of Souls" (1962)

3. "Night of the Demon" (1957) But fast-forward the first five minutes, in which Gaiman says the studio "hands everything" to the viewer and ruins the suspense.

(And, speaking of ...)

Christopher Salmon (Director, "Neil Gaiman's 'The Price' ")

I have always maintained a great love for John Carpenter's "The Fog" (1980). Conceived as an old-fashioned ghost story, this ghastly yarn recounts how a small group of gold-bearing lepers in search of sanctuary were misled to their deaths by the greedy townspeople of Antonio Bay 100 years ago and whose vengeful spirits have now returned on the night of the town's centennial celebrations.
Mr. Carpenter's early work contains sequences of genuinely searing suspense and palpable tension, and the wonderful score (which he also created) is almost as iconic as his previous work in the original "Halloween."
soundoff (158 Responses)
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    April 14, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  3. yep

    no one has metioned it pennywise was scary as hell

    November 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  4. nobody

    I've been reading through all the comments and what sheltered lives you must have. Will you ever know true horror? Will you ever experience the debilitating terror of a reality wrought by torture and fear? Do you even know what it means?How fear and terror can drive a person insane? Silly Americans, discussing stupid horror films. May you never reap what you sow, or rather, what has been sown in your name.

    November 4, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Mick

      What are you even talking about?!

      November 5, 2011 at 3:52 am |
      • nobody

        Your bankrupt, pillaging, mass-murdering government is committing unspeakable atrocities in the name of the American nation. I’m talking about your AFRICOM troops and their cannibal mercenaries moving from the beleaguered north, through to central and west Africa, spreading to the south, supplying psychopaths with arms and drugs in America’s shameful efforts to secure natural resources and rob foreign assets. You seem so affected by fake blood and fiction and I find it offensive, considering the real blood on your hands… and my blood too because it is impossible to survive this horror.

        November 6, 2011 at 12:15 am |
      • Mick

        Well, considering the whole topic of this article is about horror films, everyone responded with comments about that topic. Your comment is way out of line and not appropriate in this forum. Maybe you should head over to the Politics or World section of the news, instead of the entertainment portion. For you to come hear and make accusations about people you don't even know....just because we all want to discuss horror beyond me.

        November 6, 2011 at 1:39 am |
      • nobody

        I searched for the Soviet film, Иди и смотри, when for some reason I ended up here. Forgive my irrationality. I am disorientated, housebound, it is not safe to travel. The signal is intermittent and every power cut lasts longer than the one before. I don’t read CNN, like most western news channels they’re pulling the wool over your eyes. And you don’t even care, and why should you, or any other dumbed down unilingual self-absorbed American, because you live in some alternative reality, inconceivably shallow and obscene to someone like me, who lost everything and is facing torture and death because of US greed. When the real horror show comes to your town, and it will, remember me, a stranger in another world who told you that none of this matters anymore but there’s nowhere else to go. I’m not saying this out of malice or anti-Americanism, but out of despair and sadness. Don’t bother to reply, goodbye Mike.

        November 7, 2011 at 2:19 am |
      • nobody


        November 7, 2011 at 2:24 am |
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