The Honor Roll: Best Scary Movies (Part One)

Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team.  This month Jim and Chris make their top five picks for the best Halloween movies of all time!  A total of ten movies you should consider watching after all the candy has been given out and the cold chill of darkness has settled in.  Chris’ picks are up first and we will have Jim’s picks out to you tomorrow morning.



Session Nine

“Fear is a place.”



Man, they got that tag line right.  The Danvers State Mental Hospital served as the Massachusetts locale for filming this absolute gem of a horror movie from Brad Anderson.  Peter Mullan plays the struggling owner of Hazmat removal company bidding on the job to clean up the old abandoned hospital which contains some horrifying secrets.  Also part of the team are David Caruso, Josh Lucas, Stephen Gevedon, and Brendan Sexton III.  As the team draws closer to their deadline for finishing the job, things begin to unravel for the team.  David Caruso gets hacked on quite a bit for his work, but he is perfectly cast in this role.  Alongside Peter Mullan, both turn in a great performances playing off each other as they struggle for control of the group.  This is one of the Josh Lucas’ earlier roles before he gained a measure of stardom, and his philosophical and morally conflicted role as Hank is dead on as well.  There are plenty of unsavory undercurrents and sub-plots between the characters to add some context to the unfolding events that transpire.  Director Brad Anderson really nails the atmosphere and tension, and his sets and location almost serve as another actor in the film itself.  Lots of tension and skin-crawling moments in this one.  Check it out!

Jim’s Comments:
Chilling movie, kind of reminded me of Kubrick’s The Shining in the way that it was filmed and scored. Don’t see this one when you’re home alone like I did.



“The night he came home.”



In 1978, John Carpenter gave my generation the boogeyman.  Babysitting on Halloween has not been the same since.  We were introduced to Jamie Lee Curtis and the presence of Donald Pleasance lent a credibility to the cast of relative unknowns.  No doubt about it, Halloween (with an assist from Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre) gave birth to the slew of slasher films that invaded theaters and late night television for the next decade, but what Carpenter managed to do was create an effective film without gratuitous gore and left much to the viewer’s horrified imaginations.  This film had audiences quaking with a building tension and dread, leaving us all to wonder what lurked within every shadow.  A classic that remains the standard bearer of the genre!

Jim’s Comments:
The most successful independent film ever made. I’m not convinced that this is the “classic” that many regard it to be, but there’s no denying it’s effectiveness. It could be held up as a model for low-budget filmmaking technique. My favorite part was when we see the station wagon that Myers is in drive past the girls, stop, then start off again as if he is biding his time.


The Thing

“What you fear most is among you.”




After Halloween, John Carpenter moved on to do an Elvis TV biopic, The Fog, and Escape from New York before releasing The Thing to an unwary public.  Kurt Russell headed a great cast for Carpenter, who went away from his usual style by letting the special effects crew go wild.  Some of the most grotesquely horrific sequences in the history of movie cinema are captured in this film.  Combine that with the moodiness, isolation, and paranoia that this film delivers the stuff of nightmares.  My parents actually claimed that I woke up with nightmares for about two weeks following a viewing of this movie as a child.  Yes, it is that scary.

Jim’s Comment:
A critical and box office flop when it was released in the summer of 1982, this has gone on to become one of the most popular horror films of all time. Rob Bottin fills the screen with one eye-popping makeup effect after another (the “spiderhead” sequence still makes my jaw drop) and John Carpenter fills the running time with a sense of menace. Unlike the 1951 original (another great movie), these research scientists clearly don’t like each other.



“Some rooms are locked for a reason”




John Cusack delivers a fine performance as the somewhat notable author of books such as “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Castles” and “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses”.  His works seem to be a fruitless search for hope in an afterlife, following the tragic passing of his daughter to sickness, which has destroyed his marriage and left his own heart and soul barren.   His next work’s material leads him to the Dolphin Hotel in New York City and the events that transpire are far beyond anything he would ever expect.  This was John Cusack’s show the whole way, as for much of the movie, he is the lone character.  Samuel Jackson provides some support as the hotel’s manager very effectively.  But clearly this is Cusack v one incredibly evil room.  The director (Mikel Halfstrom) amps up the tension, and the repeated soundtrack use of the Carpenter’s song, “We’ve Only Just Begun” is brought towards a terrifyingly maddening effect.  Pull your loved ones close when watching this one!

Jim’s Comments:
Saw this one a few years ago. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember liking it.



The Fourth Kind
“There are four kinds of alien encounters.  The fourth is abduction.”




Generally not a fan of viral campaigns and found footage movies, this one happens to be a very big exception.  Milla Jovovich stars as psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler.  The setting is Nome, Alaska where a series of disappearances have afflicted the frontier community.  As Dr. Tyler begins to see some similarities in her patients experiences during hypnotherapy sessions, she digs deeper to find the ultimate truth of some very sinister happenings in their quiet community.  Parts of the movie juxtapose “actual” footage with re-enactments from the actors in an attempt to help the viewer believe all that they are seeing.  And what we do see is a very convincing and disturbing display of otherworldly phenomena.  White knuckle syndrome is sure to hit you at points of this movie.  I am a sucker for a good alien abduction story (loved Fire in the Sky too…check that one out as well), but I also have to say that this is the best acting we have seen yet from Milla.  On top of that, Will Patton appears as Sheriff August and Elias Koteas as Dr. Tyler’s colleague, Dr. Abel Campos.  A superb cast, and a thrill of a movie for sure, in spite of the panning it received from critics.

Jim’s Comments:
Well-acted and intense. I wasn’t a big fan of the “faked” footage vs. the “ real”—both cross-cutting and split screen. Such a presentation can’t help but call attention to itself, with the effect of it taking me out of the movie. I’m also not infatuated with the harsh, fast editing of many horror films today. But you can do far worse than this film for a nerve-wracking 90 minutes. There are some extremely intense sequences (my phone rang during one of them and made me jump) and a somber and eerie mood is kept throughout.



Check back tomorrow for Jim’s Top Five!

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