10 Scariest Movies

Just four days before Halloween, to finish out the month of October and my fearful lists, here are the 10 most terrifying movies I have seen.

10.     Dracula (1931; Tod Browning)

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9.     Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931; Rouben Mamoulian)

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8.     The Phantom of the Opera (1925; Rupert Julian)

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7.     A Clockwork Orange (1971; Stanley Kubrick)

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6.     King Kong (1933; Merian C. Cooper & Ernst B. Schoedsack)

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5.     The Bad Seed (1956; Mervyn LeRoy)

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4.     Frankenstein (1931; James Whale)

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3.     M (1931; Fritz Lang)

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2.     Nosferatu (1922; F. W. Murnau)

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1.     Psycho (1960; Alfred Hitchcock)

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Frankenstein (1931)

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The 1934 Production Code was far more monstrous than anything in James Whale’s perfect recreation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The film had already been around for three years, yet in order to re-release it, the two most important scenes were cut and banned for decades leaving a confused mess, and one of those scenes was lost. Thankfully, the British Film Archives rediscovered that scene and began a restoration of the film. The other objectionable element was a quote that was easily put back into the film, so that by the 1980s Frankenstein could be seen once again as James Whale intended.

The quote cut for so many years was originally attached to the most known line of the Shelley novel: “It’s alive! It’s alive! In the name of God! I know what it feels like to be God!” A few states apparently thought this line needed to be removed because it is blasphemous, and the Production Code agreed. Of course it’s blasphemous. The whole point of the story is a man’s attempt to be God, to know what it feels like to be God. That is the nature of blasphemy; blasphemy is the point of Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein is a blasphemous character. To remove the line from the movie is to take away responsibility from Victor, even excusing him for his blasphemy, so the ridiculous censorship couldn’t have been more counterproductive. Victor needs to know what it feels like to be God in order to have any inclination that his pursuit of that feeling was arrogant, blasphemous, and evil.

The full scene that was removed in 1934 was the scene with “Little Maria.” Certainly, it is one of the most disturbing scenes of all time. The monster sees the little girl plucking flowers and throwing them into the lake. He joins her and expresses a child-like curiosity. With complete ignorance as to the matters of life and death, when the two run out of flowers, he picks up the little girl, throws her into the lake, and accidentally drowns her. He clearly doesn’t know any better. It’s not his fault. It’s not his responsibility. It is entirely the fault of Victor Frankenstein for his arrogant desire to gain power over life and death. He is Maria’s murderer, not the monster. But without this scene, the monster can be understood as nothing but a monster. Again, it removes any responsibility for Victor for the violence involved in his arrogance.

Shortly before the creature is re-animated, Victor says repeatedly “with my hands…” He makes it clear that he is not looking for a way to overcome death for the good of anybody but himself. He is seeking the glory that comes from a great scientific pursuit that gives him authority over life and death, that gives him divinity. Every violent action of his monster demonstrates Victor’s consumption by this lust for glory and power. Victor is the villain, not the monster.

The biggest problem with the Production Code’s censorship of Frankenstein is its pretension to uphold Christian values without recognizing how this movie already does that. It is a reflection of a major theme found throughout the Bible from its beginning to end. The fall of man occurs because the man eats from the forbidden tree in order to become like God. The “mark of the beast” of Revelation is based on Jewish numerology where 3 is the number of God, and 6 is the number of man. 666 is a reflection of man trying to be God. Instead of accepting the gift of being created in the image of God, fallen man rebels instead trying to live as his own creator, his own god. The results are always monstrous. Mary Shelley’s story shows this reality profoundly, and James Whale brought it film beautifully. Frankenstein is one the scariest films ever made, but not because it has a monster who kills people. It is one of the scariest films ever made because it depicts a very dark reality common within humanity.

List: Scariest Movie Quotes

Continuing the month of frightening movie lists, here are the scariest lines of film history. The quotes are presented in chronological order of the film’s release date.

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“Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

“I’ll get you my pretty, and you’re little dog too.” The Wizard of Oz (1939)

“If you lose a son, you can always get another. But there is only one Maltese Falcon.” The Maltese Falcon (1941)

“Alright, Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for close-up.” Sunset Blvd. (1950)

“And now you shall deal with me o Prince, and all the powers of hell.” Sleeping Beauty (1959)

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.” Psycho (1960)

“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I have ever known.” The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

“I can’t do that Dave.” 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

“I do wish we could stay and chat, but I’m having an old friend for dinner.” The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

“Au revoir, Shoshana!” Inglourious Basterds (2009)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is quite possibly the most spiritually significant film ever made. Roger Ebert said that Kubrick uses images in a way like “those before him used words, music, or prayer.” He recognizes that it is not a movie about a future in space or about an evolutionary process as depicted through the opening “dawn of man” segment. Instead it is a movie about mankind’s place in the world. It is about the universal realities of violence and hope that transcend time and space.

The HAL 9000, a computer system, is the most developed character in the movie. The humans are there only for us to see their place in the world. We don’t really get to know what makes them individuals; we see them only in relation to the much bigger world around them and the technology through which they are able to do what they do.

The HAL 9000 is always thought of as a villain, and he certainly is. He’s one of the greatest movie villains. But ironically, he not only represents the universal reality of violence but also of hope. Fire is discovered in the “dawn of man” sequence which is used for both good and evil. This is the message about technology that Kubrick hammers home throughout the movie. As far as we can tell, the HAL 9000 was created for good purposes, and he was invented to have the appearance of real emotion so that those manning the spacecraft will feel comfortable with him as a fellow traveler rather than as merely a piece of machinery. He was made so well, though, that even those manning the spacecraft say that they don’t know for sure if he has real feelings and a will of his own, or if he is only behaving as he was made to behave.

Certainly we in the audience don’t know better than these brilliant scientists. So we don’t know if his villainy is evil within the operating itself, something that HAL himself has chosen, something that his inventor included in him with secret maleficent intents, or an unintentional defect within machinery otherwise supposed to be good. It could be any of them and really doesn’t matter which. What matters is that the people involved are in great danger and that their danger reflects a reality about technology that is true within all cultures and in all time periods. It is only as good as it is invented to be, and it is only as good as it is used to be. Conversely, it can also be as evil as it is invented to be and as evil as it is used to be.

Technology can be a source of violence. Technology can be a source of progress. 2001: A Space Odyssey brings us face-to-face with a conflict over this tension between violence and hope, two forces equally at play within every aspect of human progress. The ending of the film is the height of its transcendence. While it never intended to solve the tension we see throughout, it does show a higher force at work than human progress, technology, and the perversions of good intentions seen through violence. This force is at work through love in the world and through hope for a future that is bigger than any human capabilities or failure. While Kubrick intentionally left this force wide open to interpretation, there is certainly nothing against the director’s intention to say that this is a reflection of God’s very presence in the world, revealing himself through anything that is good in the world and as having power over all that is evil and dark, willing and able even to eventually defeat all that is contrary to his own goodness.

Watch 2001: A Space Odyssey: The film is currently available for free with an AmazonPrime account.

List: Scariest Movie Characters

Last week, we looked at some of the scariest scenes in movie history. This week, it’s scary characters. Like last week’s list, these aren’t necessarily from horror movies, but they are all terrifying. These ten scariest characters are presented in chronological order of each film’s release date.

 

Franz Becker, M (1931; Peter Lorre)

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The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz (1939; Margaret Hamilton)

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Charles Oakley, Shadow of a Doubt (1943; Joseph Cotten)

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Rev. Harry Powell, The Night of the Hunter (1955; Robert Mitchum)

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Rhoda Penmark, The Bad Seed (1956; Patty McCormick)

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Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty (1959; Eleanor Audley)

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Norman Bates, Psycho (1960; Anthony Perkins)

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Mrs. John Iselin, The Manchurian Candidate (1962; Angela Lansbury)

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The HAL 9000 Operating System, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968; Douglas Raines)

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Jadis the White Witch, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005; Tilda Swinton)

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Rebecca (1940)

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“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” So begins Alfred Hitchcock’s first masterpiece. Manderley is a place of memories, memories that haunt and threaten to take over the present and future of the story’s character. To go to Manderley for the narrator (who is also the main character of the story but is never named) is to be confronted with someone else’s past and possibly even to lose her own identity, perhaps the precise reason author Daphne du Maurier never gave her main character a name.

The main character (played by Joan Fontaine) is a “paid companion” for an obnoxious and nosy old woman who is more interested in controlling the main character than having the companion she paid for. When the main character meets Max de Winter (played by Lawrence Olivier), he is on vacation intentionally staying away from his home, Manderley. The two become ways of escape for each other. Max provides a way for the main character to escape from her present, controlled by her employer. The main character, although she is unaware of it for quite some time, helps Max escape from his past, especially from the haunting past involving his late wife Rebecca at Manderley, but only as long as they are not at Manderley, which isn’t very long.

Perhaps, I was wrong to say that the unnamed narrator and Max’s eventual second wife, is the main character of the story. Rebecca’s death occurred before the story begins, yet in many ways she is the main character. Just as the narrator’s “companion” controlled her at the beginning, after marrying Max and going to Manderley, the memories and perceptions of who Rebecca was control her and threaten to destroy their marriage and even her own identity.

Everybody at Manderley processes their memories of Rebecca differently. Some place her on the pedestal of exactly what a lady of the time was supposed to be. Others suspect she was unfaithful to Max, and questions abound to the characters and to the audience regarding who Rebecca really was. They abound, that is, to everyone except for Max’s second wife. From her “companion” to the people of Manderley, all she hears about is Rebecca’s perfection and Max’s devastation over her death. Because Max remains silent to her on the topic, she is left to believe the stories she hears.

These stories are always mixed with contempt against Max’s second wife. She is made to feel like she can never measure up to Rebecca, especially to her husband, even though he has never given her any indication that this is true, but obviously would be a natural thought to anyone marrying a widowed person. While Max may not be upfront about his relationship with Rebecca, he does give his second wife everything possible to indicate that he loves her and that he does not expect or want her to attempt to be like Rebecca. But the other voices are simply too loud for her to hear and believe the truth that her husband speaks about his feelings for her and the security of their marriage that doesn’t depend on the superficial things that most of the people at Manderley are concerned with.

Perhaps, I need to retract once again. Maybe Rebecca isn’t even the main character of Rebecca, despite having both the novel and this movie version named after her. Perhaps it is the house itself. Rebecca is in no way a ghost story, yet Manderley is haunted and possessed by the memory of the title character and the mysteries surrounding her life. The de Winters went from their honeymoon straight to Manderley without any warning of what that meant regarding all the baggage they brought into their marriage that poses great threat to their marriage as long as they stay in Manderley.

Rebecca is a profound story dealing with our perceptions of the past, of other people’s thoughts and beliefs that often are not as they appear, of ourselves, our capabilities, and our identities. Everybody has a Manderley; it may not be a house or a physical place, but it is a state where we are tempted to listen to false perceptions and conclusions about the world around us even when the truth is available. These states threaten to let those lies overtake and control our lives.  Just as the de Winters cannot achieve any health in their marriage as long as they stay in Manderley, so we all need to escape the lies and confusion that prevent us from seeing life around us as it really is.

Watch RebeccaThe movie is currently available on Youtube in its entirety. Watch it here.

Other Alfred Hitchcock I’ve reviewed:                                                                                 Psycho (1960)                                                                                                                           Saboteur (1942)                                                                                                                            Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

List: Scariest Movie Scenes

I haven’t published my weekly Thursday list for several weeks now. Now that I’m back it, October will be a month full of scary lists, for obvious reasons. First, a list of the scariest scenes. This post will include the list, and click here for a YouTube playlist to watch these scary scenes. The list is in chronological order of each movie’s release.

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“Behind the Door” Nosferatu (1922)

“Maria” Frankenstein (1931)

“Hall of the Mountain King” M (1931)

“Mirror Mirror on the Wall” Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” The Night of the Hunter (1955)

“Rhoda vs. Leroy” The Bad Seed (1956)

“Mother Takes Over” Psycho (1960)

“Phone Booth” The Birds (1963)

“Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL” 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

“The Plot to Kill Mozart” Amadeus (1984)