Top 3 Most Scariest Horror Movies Needs Watching + Bonus Spoilers
- R – Rated
- Playtime: 1h 43min
- Genre: Crime, Horror, Mystery
Saw is the kind of movie I would ordinarily label a burgeoning cult hit, but it’s not smart enough for that. Films that attain that status tend to be either high camp or smarter than your average bear. James Wan’s debut feature is monumentally stupid in an oblivious way, but it’s good fun anyhow, with a neat if mostly wasted gimmick and a few surprises that gave me a geeky thrill even as I scoffed at their idiocy. Saw will likely be hated by a few, liked by many, and loved by none.
Before I saw the film, someone described it to me as Se7en meets Cube. As the latter is one of my favorite films, anything “meets Cube” would undoubtedly get my attention. Rapt attention quickly turned to mild disappointment as Saw revealed itself to be little more than an overblown serial killer flick, albeit an energetic and affably grisly one. Surely, anyone hoping to see a movie that fully delivers on the chilling, potentially supernatural conceit of the first trailer (the one which asked the pointed question, “How fucked up is that?”) should be let down by the fairly pedestrian course Wan’s film winds up following.
Saw 2004 Trailer
Wan desperately wanted this to be a hip production. To facilitate this, he hired Nine Inch Nails producer Charlie Clouser to write a driving heavy metal soundtrack and spun the camera around a lot in fast-motion. This works rather well before the movie becomes ridiculous, at which point it becomes an emphatically poseur-ish effort to up the ante on other serial killer movies, most notably Se7en. It’s funny how the tricks we delightedly fall for while the movie has us in its grips are the same ones we resent when the story loses us.
And the story loses us at the very moment that we move, in flashback, from the dank underground room that holds Adam (co-writer Leigh Whanell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) prisoner, chained to pipes with only a few mysterious implements to tide them over, including a tape recorder with instructions and a saw. I am a pushover for this kind of stuff — two people wake up in a claustrophobic setting, have no idea how they got there, and Big Brother is clearly watching from behind the scenes — and I hoped against hope that the film would proceed in this vein, that the writers would find a way for the plot to develop inside that room, and for the revelations to emerge within its confines.
But no: Saw promptly engages in a mind-blowingly arbitrary bit of flashback storytelling, with the characters remembering crucial details at the precise moment most convenient for the screenwriter. There’s a cop (Danny Glover) tracking a vicious serial killer who lectures his victims before finding creative ways to dispose of them. There’s Dr. Gordon’s wife (Monica Potter), who, of course, is threatened by presumably the same person who abducted Dr. Gordon. There’s the sole survivor of the killer’s brutality who, it must be said, has a genuinely chilling story to tell.
The way this plot unravels is so contrived and, ultimately, so stupid, that the story loses its mystique, and we very nearly lose interest. Eventually, the tone of the film reaches an utterly deranged level of hysteria, culminating in what might be the most hilarious car chase I have ever seen (no, seriously, it might alone be worth the price of admission). Cary Elwes gives what I suppose is an appropriately absurd performance, crying and screaming and generally earning his paycheck in every way he knows how.
The good news is that once we finally realize that all is lost w/r/t Saw being another Cube, we can, to a degree, get back into the film. And I’d be lying if I said that the final revelation, unveiled in a typically dramatic way, didn’t make me a little giddy, though of course it’s as retarded as everything that leads up to it. Saw is laughable, but it’s worth laughing at.
- Rated: PG-13
- Timeplay: 1h 43min
- Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence, Death Sentence), who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite genre filmmakers, is a hard-core horror classicist without a sentimental bone in his body. Nothing good has ever happened to any of the characters in any of the three films he has made with his screenwriting partner Leigh Whanell. His pitch-black sensibility doesn’t, however, translate into the grimy miserabilism of, e.g., Marcus Nispel, or the smirking gorehound pandering of the Saw sequels. Instead, Wan’s post-Saw efforts are stately and handsome, infusing old-fashioned pulp with elegant stylistic flourishes (he favors elaborate tracking shots and forceful color palettes) and an abiding love of horror tropes.
I essentially knew that I would love Wan’s Insidious after the brief, jolting cold open was followed by the blaring title card, drenched in flickering blood-red light and accompanied by screaming orchestral strings. This is not a timid film. It is a ghost story in the tradition of The Haunting and (surprisingly) Poltergeist, made by people who know how to craft scares that resonate deep in your gut. Though it is rated PG-13 and lacks gory violence, nudity and cuss words, Insidious is the most intense horror film since The Descent. The Prom Night remake this ain’t.
Insidious (2010) Movie Trailer
The movie hits the gas early and barely lets up. The first notes are familiar: aspiring musician Renai (Rose Byrne), her schoolteacher husband Josh (Patrick Wilson), and their three children move into a beautiful old house. Strange things start happening – things are mysteriously moved around the house; figures seem to appear in the shadows; one of the kids, 8 year-old Dalton, has a panic attack in the attic. Then, Dalton suddenly falls into a coma and won’t come out. The strange goings-on in the house don’t abate; to the contrary, they drive Renai to despair and the family moves out – only to have the disturbances follow them.
Something is certainly being haunted, but it’s not the house. Jump scares are routinely dismissed as cheap even by horror fans, but Insidious elevates them to high art, or at least masterly craft. The “boo” moments here are brutally effective; the film played me like a piano. What’s more, there isn’t a single false alarm – no waylaid cats or clattering silverware. This is no trifle aimed at undiscerning teenagers on a slow weekend. It is ruthlessly calculated to scare the bejeezus out of you.
Wan and Whanell pay attention to the little things. No one will accuse Insidious of being a character piece, but Josh and Renai register as a real married couple, as well as real parents of real kids. Wan amplifies his style to make the film look majestic, almost regal; there’s a recurring shot of a red-lit, smoky hallway dotted with candelabras that looks like it came from some sort of bizarro collaboration between David Lynch and Roger Corman. Individual images are so supremely creepy that Wan must have spent ages fine-tuning them. Lin Shaye deserves an Oscar nomination for her totally committed turn as a kindly, fearless medium.
The climax of Insidious suddenly veers toward fantasy in ways I won’t reveal, and will divide audiences. Admittedly, the story does eventually come to seem a bit half-baked. But like the rest of the film, the direction of the third act is wonderfully old-fashioned – something like a horror version of Labyrinth – without seeming even a little retro. I maybe could have done without the final ironic twist, but I can’t deny that this horror movie left me shaken in the best possible way, and giddy with delight and it’s in my tight list of recommendations. Insidious is a gift to horrorphiles everywhere and it’s a must watch.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
- Rated: R
- Timeplay: 1h 35min
- Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror
Let me first say that Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is for me the very definition of “formative.” The first horror movie I had ever seen at the tender young age of — 7? 8? I can’t quite remember — it sent me cowering into the sofa pillows and gave me nightmares for weeks. (My parents’ policies regarding what constituted appropriate viewing were, shall we say, laissez-faire, for which I remain grateful.) To put it mildly, Freddy scared the shit out of little me — and yet I still wanted to watch, which speaks volumes about Craven’s ability to make movies that are scary-fun rather than scary-brutal or scary-nasty.
This isn’t to say that I currently worship the original Nightmare — I haven’t seen it in some time, and only have a couple of the sequels under my belt. (The ultra-self-referential New Nightmare I thought was pretty damn great.) But I have a lot of affection for it — and especially for Robert Englund’s performance as the cruel, occasionally wisecracking, profoundly wicked child murderer bent on revenge (in dreams, with knife-hands). In the series’ better films, Freddy brilliantly toed the line between menacing and cartoonish — though a quintessential horror villain in a lot of ways he was, in that sense at least, pretty unique.
An Nightmare on Elm Street Trailer
Which brings me, reluctantly and rather angrily, to the new version, regurgitated by Michael Bay’s horror remake mill Platinum Dunes, and directed by music video vet Samuel Bayer.
I mean, start with the fact that the movie is cut together as if an actual script had never been written. Horror movie characters are rarely very eloquent and clever, but the soon-to-be-dead teenagers here often sound like they aren’t even in the same room when they’re talking to each other. “They’re just dreams, they aren’t real,” coos girl reassuringly. “These dreams, they’re real,” responds boy, undeterred. Or consider this exchange between two characters, who apparently haven’t seen each other in a while:
“It’s been a long time.”
“Especially under these circumstances.”
I don’t mean to nitpick, but the movie is careless, sloppy, and tone-deaf. It doesn’t care about these people, and doesn’t care if you care. They are cogs in a cynical machine, spitting out glossy product according to a reliable formula — and befouling classic genre films in the process. Because it’s what the machine dictates, this Elm Street is one dreary jump scare after another, without so much as a moment to breathe, show something interesting or revealing about one of its doomed teens, or deliver a single line of dialogue that isn’t dully and directly on-point.
Nor does Nightmare have anything to offer by any of the usual horror flick standards.
Though it took the R rating instead of shooting for the potentially more lucrative PG-13, it is astonishingly tame, as if the filmmakers were too lazy or afraid to go for broke. The plot is essentially identical to the original, with a scarred and melted Freddy showing up in the dreams of high-schoolers hell-bent on revenge years after their parents ran him out of town and burned him alive, but knife-fingered Freddy, played by a game Jackie Earle Haley, no longer has any sense of mischief. He’s just a baddie, showing up on cue to terrorize our anonymous heroes. The film’s most promising thread is the protagonists’ debilitating struggle to stay awake, since falling asleep means certain torment and probable death, but Bayer’s point-and-shoot direction can’t convey their desperation.
There’s one modern horror remake that’s transcended the epidemic of by-the-numbers tedium that has captured nearly all of its contemporaries: Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which had real characters, real stakes, and real scares. A Nightmare on Elm Street is kid stuff — amateur hour. The seven year-old me would probably have been duly horrified, and would have turned it off. The adult me was bored to tears.