So, having seen as many horror films as I have and proudly proclaiming to all that will listen that I am a huge horror buff, a question I get asked a lot is pretty obvious - "What is your favorite horror film?"
For a while, I honestly didn't know. My mind would go blank at hearing this question and I'm sure my credibility as a true horror fan seriously came into question. If you love something so much, how could you not have a favorite?
Other favorites are easy - favorite color: green, favorite time of the year: autumn - but this one required a little bit more thinking. The horror genre itself is actually pretty complex, with lots of subgenres from which to choose. If there isn't a definitive list of subgenres out there, here's some that I can think of off the top of my head:
Slashers (Halloween, Friday the 13th)
Creature features (Tremors, Ghoulies)
Man vs. Beast (Anaconda, Deep Blue Sea, Primeval)
Anthologies (Creepshow, Trick 'R' Treat)
Serial killer (different from slasher)
So then I had to break this list down into the stuff that I like. I freaking love zombie movies, and they're my favorite out of the classic triumvirate (Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies - most people would say Frankenstein here but there aren't enough Frankenstein monster movies out there for me to include it in my triumvirate), but sometimes you want to see more than just slow-walking dead guys eating somebody's intestines. Creature features and killer animals are okay, but usually high on the hokey meter. Slashers and serial killers usually contain the most cliches and are hardly ever that original. Again, there aren't enough anthologies out there really to have a favorite, although Trick 'R' Treat was freaking sweet.
That leaves supernatural. And I thought, yes! I see it now, because that is totally my favorite genre. Stories of hauntings and stuff has always interested me, and ghost movies are the ones that ALWAYS make me squirm in my seat like a little girl when I watch them, if they're effective.
So once I decided that I loved supernatural horror, my favorite became easy. It's an absolute classic haunted house film from 1982 that I believe still holds up well against any modern horror film. What is it? Have you guessed?
This movie just kicks ass. No doubt about it. You wanna talk haunted house? Here you've got poltergeists, which I like to think of as the "really pissed off ghosts." They're the ones that like to move stuff around and really cause a disturbance, which there are plenty of in this film.
But this movie is also very different from other haunted house movies. It doesn't take place in a dark and creepy castle or mansion, and it's not about finding out how someone died or something, it's just that there are evil spirits in the house and we gotta get rid of them. Plus this movie can be funny as hell at parts, which I think is so clever. Tobe Hooper (director) manages to mix in some very subtle funny moments with some not-so-subtle creepy moments.
The film starts out rather oddly for a horror film, with "The Star Spangled Banner" playing loudly over the credits. We soon find out it is coming from the TV (stations used to play the song when they signed off), which has been left on while everyone in the house is asleep. Little Carol Anne wakes up and discovers "the TV people," which she can hear coming from the static. This is a creepy little scene itself, with Carol Anne smiling while she talks to the TV people. I think it's because of her Village of the Damned reminiscent hair and creepy little girl's voice. But, later scenes show us that this is your typical happy suburban family with three cute kids and two loving parents. How could anything bad happen to them?
When Carol Anne utters the famous line "They're here!", that's when the crazy shit happens, starting the next morning at breakfast, which is my favorite scene of the whole movie. The bottom of Robbie's milk glass explodes and his utensils go all bendy, but the best part is when the mother, JoBeth Williams, pushes in all the dining room chairs, walks into the kitchen with the table out of frame, and the next second she turns around, all the chairs are stacked up on the table. See now, this is what makes for some scary and unexpected stuff. Why? Because it's happening during the day. They're not hearing voices or banging noises or footsteps on a dark and stormy night, which is when you expect that stuff to happen. Ghost movies are all about expecting the unexpected, and Poltergeist takes the unexpected to a whole new level.
Human-eating trees, little girls that disappear into closets, and gross hallucinations of people tearing the flesh off their face (probably my second favorite scene, with the meat sliding across the counter - yeesh!) all make for a movie that starts off creepy and never lets up, often escalating to strange new levels at points. When the ghost hunters show up to help the family rescue Carol Anne, the movie lightens up a bit again like in the beginning - I love the part where they're all talking at the table. Dr. Lesh says that determining that their house is actually haunted is not very easy - just as the coffee pot slides across the table on its own.
Another great thing about this movie? When Dr. Lesh brings some help in the form of Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina. Nuff said. Oh wait, except for, "This house is clean!" Haha.
I really think this movie has it all, almost. It's scary, it's a mystery, it's got great actors, it's funny at times, it's even a little gory at times. This is no slow to action haunted house movie like The Haunting or The Others, but it's still creepy and probably ten times more entertaining. The special FX are not as primitive as you might think, and I believe they still are effective after all these years. The greatest special FX is of course at the end.
Carol Anne is rescued from TVPeopleLand and little Tangina says all is well again.
The TV people are still around and now they're uber-pissed! But first, they're going to scare the shit out of you via your already scary toy - the clown doll. Now, we saw this eerie little bastard at the beginning of the film when Robbie got scared and threw a jacket over him. Nothing happened there, and the audience thought they were safe. Oh no. First, nothing's really supposed to happen because the disturbances are over. Then there's a faint noise, and when Robbie looks at the chair where the clown was sitting, it has disappeared. Crap. Then the kid actually has the cajones to look under the bed! I would've been screaming for mama at this point. So of course the clown attacks, giving us yet another reason we didn't need to think that clowns are scary.
Then all hell breaks loose and the mother confronts this thing:
I mean, what the hell is that? And it growls at her like a lion, too. Anyway, the closet tries to swallow the kids again, coffins and skeletons come out of the ground, and the family finally gets the f*%$ out of the house before it implodes on itself. And when they go to the hotel the dad pushes the TV out of the room. Awesome ending to an awesome movie. I never get tired of it and I hope I never will. It's the subtleties of classic haunted house films mixed in with the amped-up manifestations of the poltergeists (with great 80s FX) that makes this movie a special classic.
The film is also fairly accurate according to paranormal experts. Carol Anne communicating through the TV static is the now more well known phenomenon of EVP. The word poltergeist comes from the German for "noisy ghost," so that covers the ghosts stacking the chairs and throwing all the stuff around in the kids' room. They also might physically assault people in the house and cause electrical disturbances, all present in the film. So yeah, all the crazy stuff that happens toward the end is not exactly well documented in the real world, but the basic things that usually identify a poltergeist as opposed to a regular haunting are all there.
So there you have it: my favorite horror film of all time, Poltergeist! And it only made No. 80 on Bravo's list of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments. I call bullshit. Here's a YouTube video of it: 100 Scariest Movie Moments - 80 - Poltergeist.
And yes, I know a remake is possibly in the works. I don't want to talk about it.