Thursday 9 February 2012

Things That Go Bump In The Night

That silly Potter boy is going to be in the new film adaptation of Susan Hill's wonderful novella The Woman In Black soon. It's going to be crap (the 1989 BBC TV adaptation is amazing if you can get it instead) but I have very much enjoyed all the ghost story stuff that's been in the press lately as a result of it coming out.
image from the original BBC version....eeek


Not just scary films actually - also books, plays and especially that super-weird brand of British TV drama that was kicking around in the 70s and 80s. This is not about gore or horror, I'm talking about the stuff that turns your stomach purely by being weird and unsettling. The sequences that slink around your subconscious, taunting you and making you scared to turn out the light. Movie guru and my personal hero Mark Kermode blogged about this sort of thing this week, and I have had great fun reading the comments and remembering some old favourites.

Here are my big hitters:

Whistle & I'll Come To You

This old M. R James story was adapted the Christmas before last by the Beeb, and tried way too hard to copy the over-the-top aesthetic of Japanese horror films from the '00s. A shame, because the original 1968 version starring Michael Hordern is absolutely nightmarish in its subtlety.  I am completely fascinated as to why we get so terrified of certain things, and when I was reading up about it (yes, I am a nerd, what of it) I learned that setting out the normal and mundane in the first half of a ghost story is critical, so that when it is up-ended, it feels all the more weird and unnatural. This is a great example of the theory in practice.

David Lynch

Lynch has this ability to jangle on your nerve endings with the most bizarre sequences. More or less every film he makes gives me the willies in one way or another. The worst/best one for me was during his three hour opus Inland Empire - there were several moments where Laura Dern was moving and looking very unnatural indeed, and at one point (I will own up to this) I was so terrified I actually started crying. In the cinema. Because I was really, really scared.

The Water Babies

I guess it will always be the stuff that stays with us from childhood that chills us the most - one person in the Kermode comments recalled the opening scene to Octopussy with the clown running through the woods, which I remember scared me half to death as a kid too. The biggest one for me was the Water Babies though - and funnily enough, it's a woman in black again. She sat on the riverbank and was glimpsed every time the boy changes into a water baby (I think, although I was too scared to watch it more than twice - the second time being enforced at a friend's house and I hid every time she came on screen). I found out recently that the creepy woman was played by Billie Whitelaw, who is obviously also utterly, horribly terrifying in the Omen.

Other honourable mentions go to both Ring films and the Blair Witch Project (both seen early enough during cinema release to ensure the substantial hype didn't wither my heebie-jeebies), Don't Look Now, The Wicker Man (scary masks! naked Britt Ekland shaking her bum!) and Rosemary's Baby.

What are your creepiest films? Has Laura Dern ever made you cry in public with her funny face?


  1. The scariest thing I've ever seen was ghost watch with Sarah green. I screamed for about half an hour after watching that!!!

  2. The Water Babies is one of my childhood favourites - but the reason it's so weird is that Tom becoming a water baby when he jumps off the cliff is him dying. According to the book, at least? So what the hell is going on when he returns to the house at the end is anyone's guess, as he's dead. So weird.

    Also, have you ever seen Bakshi's 1978 version of the Lord of the Rings? It's rotoscoped, which is an odd effect. I was left alone in a room with it aged about 6, watching Gollum be creepy, and I still have bad dreams about goblin creatures. It even extends to Iron Maiden's Eddie.

    And Wolf Creek is the single most horrible film I've ever seen. It's the only thing that has made me feel physically shaken - I've seen enough torture porn but this was quite different (even though it's graphic in some places) because it seemed so real. It's loosely based on the Backpacker Murders in Australia. I'm glad I've seen it but I'd never watch it again!

  3. I think I did see that LOTR when I was quite small, although I can't remember anything about it. Probably down to my short attention span (I never finished the books either)!

    I have heard so much about Wolf Creek, there's a UK film called Eden Lake which is supposedly similar and I found it devastating! I have avoided Saw, Hostel etc for similar reasons, and found Audition unbearable too. I'm too sensitive for even implied violence! I turned off Reservoir Dogs halfway through the ear scene and I still haven't watched it all! Lame.