April 22, 2024
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What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen? 

An informal Facebook poll revealed that movies seen in childhood stick with adults for many years and remain scary even for folks in their Golden Years. 

“The Wizard of Oz,” released in 1939, was first shown on television on Nov. 3, 1956. A tornado, rude apple trees, lions and tigers and bears all pale in comparison with Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West. Generations of children remember cowering behind living room couches during the movie, peeking out only when Hamilton disappears in a cloud of sulfur. 

Hamilton was so convincing in the role that she is frequently cited as one of the top 10 or 25 or 100 movie villains of all time. Frequently, she is the only woman to appear on the list. 

“House on Haunted Hill” from 1959 stars the suavely creepy Vincent Price and reminds us of another Facebook question: Would you stay overnight in a haunted house for X amount of money?  The people in the film would, leaving the audience guessing which guest the resident spirits will eliminate next. 

Alfred Hitchcock upped the horror ante in 1961 with “Psycho” starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. The shower scene with musical accompaniment will get you every time. Leigh won a Golden Globe for her performance – even though her stay at the Bates Motel was short and uncomfortable. 

Another Hitchcock offering in 1963 affected many people with a lifelong fear of being dive-bombed by crows. That, of course, is “The Birds” starring Tippi Hedron. It’s said to have been inspired by a real-life event – now there’s a creepy thought. 

Speaking of birds, some were scared as children by a 1963 comedy starring, once again, Vincent Price. “The Raven” is very loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe’s poem of the same name. There are scenes involving coffins and skeletons, but other than that, the laughs outweigh the scares – though not overwhelmingly. 

Mostly, “The Raven” is an opportunity to see old horror film stars such as Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff as well as – guess who? A young Jack Nicholson. 

My personal scariest is a 1976 film starring Albert Finney, Karen Black and the great Bette Davis. “Burnt Offerings” is a perfect example why people should, in the words of Eddy Murphy, “Get out!” (Also the title of a 2017 scary movie by Jordan Peele.) 

A couple with a young son rent an old house for the summer at a very low price with the stipulation that they provide meals for the old lady in the attic. As you might expect, this doesn’t end well, particularly not for Albert Finney. 

Facebook readers say when it comes to scary, it’s hard to beat “The Shining,” a 1980 Stanley Kubrick film written by the master of horror Steven King. People who’ve read the novel tend to think that Shelley Duvall’s character was much weaker than she was in the book. Nevertheless, she’s pretty good when she comes up to bat. 

King is also the author of the numeric thriller “1408.” Directed by Mikael Håfström and released in 2007, the film stars John Cusack as a cynical writer who defies triskaidekaphobia by spending the night in a haunted hotel room. 

I have not personally seen “1408,” but I plan to. Let’s see whether the lead character can get out any faster than the guests of “House on Haunted Hill.” 

GAIL M. WILLIAMS

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