by Lorie Lewis Ham
Halloween season is here and for many people part of Halloween is enjoying their favorite scary movie! So this year we asked some local actors, who we have missed seeing on the stage this year due to the pandemic, to share what their favorite scary movie is.
Chris Mangels – The Babadook
Selecting my favorite horror movie is about as challenging as selecting my favorite play. I adore horror films and love so many different ones for so many different reasons. That said, I would have to say that The Babadook, an Australian horror film that marked the debut of director Jennifer Kent, ranks as not only One of the scariest films I have ever seen, but also one of my very favorite movies. Utilizing a menacing slow burn and incredible sound design, it explores a situation which, even without the supernatural overtones, can be completely overwhelming. The story focuses on a widow who is trying to raise her young son alone after losing her husband. She is forced to confront her own state of mind, she and her son’s collective sense of grief, and a very real fear about what that loss might’ve done to her son’s development. The Babadook, as a character, becomes not only an iconic figure in horror, but serves as a startling metaphor for the trauma that is haunting her home.
While many of my college age students have spoken highly of the film as a drama, several of them did not find it very frightening. Considering that I almost turned the movie off several times because of the overwhelming sense of dread and tension, I attribute my very visceral response to the universal concern parents share for the safety and welfare of their child, as well as the sense of extreme sense of responsibility we feel for the actions and behavior of that child. It is an incredibly powerful film, so much so that I now show it in my international cinema class at COS. Check it out!
Ian Jones – The Evil Dead
I can’t pick a singular favorite horror movie, so I’m going to cheat a little bit and say The Evil Dead trilogy. While I am a huge fan of horror, I’m also a huge fan of comedy, and I don’t think there’s another series that blends it together quite as well as The Evil Dead. These movies are scary, funny, enjoyable to watch, and most importantly, some of the campiest things you’ll ever see. Only in this series are they able to begin the story with a bunch of college students going to an abandoned cabin in the woods and end it with the main character in the Middle Ages and do it so you never really question how you got there. Lastly, for all the musical people out there, there is a musical based on all three movies that is definitely worth checking out!
Sean Hopper – Idiocracy
My favorite scary movie happens not to be a horror film, but a comedy. It has nothing really “scary” about it besides the general context of the future it portrays. It starts with a lazy, average joe who is volunteered by his bosses to be one of two subjects chosen for an experiment: to be put in a stasis pod for a year. It is the military’s attempt at keeping good soldiers for possible future wars. The day after our main character is placed in his pod, the government shuts down the project and clears out the warehouse where the experiment is taking place, forgetting to release the subjects from their pods. Our main character is accidentally released 500 YEARS LATER. With time, over-saturation of jargon, intelligent people holding off on having kids until it’s too late, and less intelligent people over-populating with abandon, the world has devolved into a chaotic, idiotic, mess. Hilarity ensues when “average joe” realizes he, with his limited education, is now the smartest person on the planet. The costumes would be simple being that they are just colorful, baggy, “futuristic” styles, the food could just be giant buckets of chicken and big gulps, and the aesthetic could just be piles of garbage everywhere (though I wouldn’t recommend actual garbage). Plus, it could be fun to use personalized jargon with your friends the whole evening. I find this comedy “frightening” because every day I see how possible this future could become a reality, and though it’s funny to watch, I wouldn’t actually want to live in that kind of world.
Kelly Ventura – Nosferatu
Since I was about 10, I’ve enjoyed scary movies. My wife still remembers one of our first dates watching the original version of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary together. It’s a wonder she still married me. Needless to say, my tastes have not changed much over the years. Rounding out my predisposition to the macabre is the fact that I am a huge fan of old time radio shows like The Shadow (only the Orson Welles episodes, please), Lights Out, Suspense, Inner Sanctum, and The Mysterious Traveler.
However, several years ago my wife and daughter joined me at the Fox Theatre in downtown Visalia for (in my estimation) the ultimate Vampire horror film Nosferatu. This silent film from 1922 starring Max Schreck as Count Orlock still receives high marks on the “creepy scale” in my opinion. At the Fox Theatre, in addition to a costume contest, the audience was treated to live organ music accompanying the movie.
Some may be reading this rolling their eyes, but yes…live organ music checks the box for me. I love silent movies and their accompanying “sound tracks”. Douglas Fairbanks’ The Mark of Zorro is one of my all time favorites. His later movie Don Q: The Son of Zorro is just as good. Both are available via streaming services with original organ music as it would have been played live. But back to the creepy stuff.
The film follows the basic premise of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and proudly carries the moniker of being an “unauthorized adaptation” of the novel. To avoid copyright issues, the director F.W. Murnau changed several plot points from the novel including altering the name of Count Dracula to Count Orlok. Admittedly, Nosferatu has a few “laughable” moments compared to some of today’s horror movies. But the combination of live organ music and the memorable scene where Count Orlock climbs the staircase – his long, claw like hands reaching out in front of him – made me actually applaud. Yes, I was the only one in the audience giving the vicious vampire a round of applause, but still.
Once you see the film, you cannot easily remove the image of Count Orlock from your mind. Close your eyes at night and see the pale face, bald head, soulless black eyes, pointed bat ears (that kind of resemble Orlando Bloom’s in Lord of the Rings), and the smile revealing a crooked assortment of razor sharp teeth like a Great White shark. Who can forget the scene where the camera is looking up from below deck of the ship, with Count Orlock standing on the deck looking down at you? Part of me cringes in fear when I think of that…part of me is like “awwwwsommmeee!”
Lastly, one of the things that draws me to this film is the fact that it was never supposed to be seen by American audiences after the Bram Stoker estate sued the producers. The estate eventually won, and the court ordered that all copies of the film should be destroyed. Harsh. But like all immortal Vampires, Count Orlock has survived, much to the delight of this particular fan of the silent movie era.
Suzanne Grazyna – Audition
I love horror. I always have. And my number one go-to movie is a Japanese film called Audition. It’s a potboiler for sure, but once the action kicks into high gear, you will never think of the phrase “Deeper, deeper” the same way again.
It’s the story of a widower named Aoyama who decided he’d like to get back out into the dating pool again. Unfortunately, he goes about it in the worst way: he and his film-producer friend hold fake auditions for a “movie” but in reality these women are “auditioning” for a date. Sneaky. Through this process he meets the enigmatic Asami, and they begin a relationship. Too bad Asami has a dark history of murder and torturing men who’ve wronged her. Aoyama starts to finally get a clue that Asami might not be the quiet, docile creature he thinks she is and so he ghosts her. Again, sneaky.
It would be an understatement to say that Asami doesn’t handle this rejection well. Which leads to the very graphic, torturous climax of the film.
One of the reasons I find this movie so satisfying is the female empowerment. In your average horror movie, it’s the women who suffer the most, who are targeted, violated, and tortured. But we have the opposite happen here. And Aoyama isn’t really a bad guy; he just makes terrible decisions that deceive others. Asami isn’t your cookie cutter female villain, either. She has reasons. As she says in my favorite quote of the whole movie, “Only through pain can you know the shape of your heart.”
Casey Ballard – The Descent
The Descent directed by Neil Marshall, 2006: I’m not going to waste time with a basic review here because that’s what Google is for. What I will tell you about is why I love this terrifying film so very much. First of all, as a third-wave feminist, I love any movie that eschews traditional gender roles/expectations. It revolves around six adventure seeking women (think white-water rapids and hiking excursions) who have an enviable and long-standing friendship. Secondly, this film passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. These women are far more concerned with their spelunking issues than to waste any of their valuable breath on men (unless absolutely necessary- PLOT POINT!) Thirdly, and most importantly, it is viscerally upsetting and discomforting in a way I had not expected. It tapped into so many different types of fear- emotional, physical, and psychological. It felt like the hits would not stop coming, and each new level was a fresh level of torture. Add in some creature-feature elements and truly disgusting moments of gore (brief but powerful), and you have what I honestly consider to be the best film of the horror genre.
Terry Lewis – The Blair Witch Project
It may not be my favorite scary movie, because I’ve only been able to watch it twice, but The Blair Witch Project is probably the movie that scares me the most. This 1999 classic wonderfully reinvigorated the “found footage” horror genre, and has probably kept an entire generation of kids from camping or sleeping in the woods. It’s the story of three young people making a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch in rural Maryland. It’s all shot as if from their own cameras, which gives it a terrifying sense of reality. I won’t give any plot points away, other than to say the ending of this movie terrifies me in a way that almost nothing else ever has. The ending stays permanently burned into my mind – the final image haunted my dreams for months afterwards. This was a brilliantly done horror film with almost no budget, which makes it feel all the more real and terrifying.
Jayce Ham – Scream
My favorite scary movie is Scream. I first watched it 3 years ago and I have loved it ever since. Scream is a slasher so there is a lot of edge of your seat moments wondering which character will be killed next. I have always loved true crime podcasts and documentaries, which is why I love the slasher genre of horror movies. Scream isn’t just a terrifying ride, it’s a murder mystery, trying to figure out who the killer behind the mask really is. If you want a fun horror movie to watch that won’t leave you with too many nightmares, watch Scream.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can check the podcast out on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, Spotify and also on podbean. Ian Jones, Kelly Ventura, Casey Ballard, Sean Hopper, and Suzanne Grazyna have all read for the podcast!