Movies about sadistic psychopaths seem to outnumber the number of hairs on a mad scientist’s head. But the diabolically addicting Saw shows that, as the old saying goes, there’s always room for one more.
“It’s a new and improved slasher flick! Now with dreams!” The way some people laud the jejune gorefest A Nightmare on Elm Street, they might as well be admen enthusing about the new features on their company’s latest stove model.
Were The Shining not helmed by one of the most critically acclaimed directors of the past 100 years, people would probably remember it as a creditable B-horror-movie effort. Steven Spielberg or Sam Raimi would be proud to be responsible for such gorgeously filmed nonsense. But Stanley Kubrick—the genre-defining director of such classics as 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Dr. Strangelove—should not have been.
“It’s an evil fucking room.” Samuel L, Jackson, as Dolphin Hotel manager Gerald Olin, sums up the nature of the evil in 1408 with his usual pithy bluntness. In this intense horror flick based on a Stephen King short story and directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström, there are no visible ghosts (well, maybe a few short-lived ones), headless phantoms, or flesh-eating zombies. And thank God, because it’s generally so much scarier without them. The baddies in this film are forces unseen, demons who possess a room rather than haunt it. Part nightmare, part acid trip, part psychological thriller, 1408 is one of the more successful King adaptations, combining the cerebral with the visceral in a way that may even outstrip Kubrick’s The Shining (which, for the record, has never been one of my favorite Kubrick films)..
I’m normally not much of a John Carpenter fan, finding Halloween an overtouted mediocrity of a film even by B-movie standards. Yet I think The Fog illustrates where its captain-obvious teen-slasher predecessor went wrong. For in this later film—whose lukewarm critical reception puzzles me—Carpenter recognizes that evil is most terrifying when its source is supernatural and uncertain. Establishing the atmosphere of foreboding are two lines from an Edgar Allan Poe poem with which the film begins: “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” As we watch, our fear grows in proportion to the mist that closes in upon the coastal Californian town of Antonio Bay. A vague, indeterminate anxiety increasingly suffocates each breath we exhale, not knowing when or what creatures will emerge from the green glow that emanates from within this brumous blanket.
It’s alive! An elegant declaration of mad-scientific achievement, that. Dr. Frankenstein’s (Colin Clive) terse interjection means more to horror-movie lore than all the chainsaw gorefests and Michael Myers clones that the slick John Carpenters in the “sequel industry” ever reinvented. Still, the original Frankenstein is a bit stiff and blockheaded at times and should probably best be known as the prequel to the magnificent Bride of Frankenstein, which is doubtless among the greatest horror movies ever made.