Unpopular Opinions: Scary Movies

The films that haunt the dreams of the Arts Desk.

Kaylee DeFreitas, Ethan Zack, Fareid El Gafy, Claire Fishman and Julie Goldberg, Arts Desk

“Where The Wild Things Are”

When I was younger I adored Maurice Sendak’s book “Where The Wild Things Are,” so when I heard that a movie adaptation was coming out in 2009, I was thrilled. Little did 11-year-old me know that this movie would absolutely terrify me and send me down a spiral of existential anxiety. 

In the film, one of the wild things tells Max how their island will one day all become dust and nothingness. Then Max tells the wild thing how the sun is going to die. Honestly, who brings this stuff up in a children’s movie? In one of the more physically scary scenes, one of the wild things literally rips off a wing of one of the others. Sand immediately pours out of the hole where the wing used to be. The wild thing then chases Max saying he will eat him up. 

The “Where the Wild Things Are” film scared the heck out of me as a kid. I went to the movie on my birthday expecting fantasy and fun but got existential dread instead. I ended up spending weeks thinking about when the sun was going to die, when the Earth was going to become dust and how futile life is. Great things for an 11-year-old to be focused on. Thanks for ruining my innocent mind, Spike Jonze (I still love “Her,” though, so I forgive you.) Kaylee

Advertisement

“The Birds”

“The Birds” is the original angry birds. In Hitchcock’s 1963 apocalyptic horror film, birds start attacking everyone in the town of Bodega Bay, California. I have not seen this film all the way through in maybe 10 years, but I will never forget being 12 years old and seeing that gaggle of schoolchildren running for their lives as a flock of crows descends on them like a black cloud. Just the sound of the collective flapping wings gives me the heebie-jeebies. In 2019, few consider this a seriously scary movie. The yellow-screen special effects may be laughable it was the 1960s but the poor editing actually makes the film even creepier for me, as if it’s in some kind of alternate reality in which nothing is quite right. That being said, I’d love to see a contemporary remake of this film that captures all the horror of its premise with total realism. Fun fact: over $200,000 went towards the production of mechanical birds for the film. 

There is much debate over what the birds symbolize, and why they start attacking people in the first place. Is it an environmentalist critique? An allegory for a Marxist uprising? A commentary on the Cold War? A psychoanalysis of female hysteria? There is no right answer, and the cool thing is that people are still discussing it today, nearly 60 years after the film’s release. And new generations are still discovering it for themselves — in fact, “The Birds” is playing at Village East Cinema next week. Maybe I’ll go and see if I’m any less terrified than I was at age 12 (probably not). — Julie

“Zodiac”

The 2007 movie “Zodiac” may not technically be a horror movie, but you can rest assured that it will leave you just as disturbed as if it were. You know that “based on a true story” nonsense that so many horror flicks use to scare the audience? It’s almost always bogus, but it’s frighteningly true for “Zodiac” — almost everything depicted here actually happened. The crime thriller features a semi-dramatized retelling of the crimes of the notorious “Zodiac” serial killer who plagued California in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the struggle of the group of men who attempted to figure out his identity. 

The movie gets its main edge from the gruesome sequences of the killer’s encounters with his victims, which are all depicted with an extremely nonchalant, realistic tone. Each victim is given just enough screen time to develop their life and personality, cruelly forcing the audience to become attached to each of them before they meet a brutal end. The scene where the killer murders a young couple on a picnic in broad daylight still goes down 12 years later as one of the most genuinely unsettling murder sequences ever put to film.

Zodiac is a movie that will make you check if you locked your car docks after you finish it. This is due to the extremely moody atmosphere that permeates every scene, and the increasingly unreliable perspective of its protagonist (expertly played by Jake Gyllenhall), whose mission slowly consumes him. A sequence of high-tension scenes in which one senses that the killer is waiting just outside of the shot or, even worse, standing in plain sight when you don’t realize it’s him, will leave the hairs on your arm standing up. The fact that the actual case itself was never officially solved is the sadistic cherry on top. — Ethan

“The Human Centipede” 

To say that I saw “The Human Centipede” is a very loose application of the phrase, because I plugged my ears and closed my eyes for 80% of the film’s runtime. Maybe it’s only really scary if you’re pressured into watching it as a high school first-year by your friends, but I’m not going to watch it again to find out. Unlike quality horror films such as the Hammer Horror classics, this abomination is the perfect encapsulation of everything wrong with the gore flick, relying chiefly on shocking and grotesque imagery to get a reaction. I desperately wish that I could forget the image of an IV tube being ripped out of someone’s arm, which is ironically the film at its most tame. Winston Churchill allegedly said the greatest argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. The greatest argument against freedom of expression is any five minutes of “The Human Centipede.”  — Fareid

Midsommar

As a Swedish citizen, I have had the pleasure of participating in many Midsommar festivities throughout the years. Growing up, this consisted of flying from JFK Airport to Stockholm Arlanda Airport, renting a car, and going to see my extended family in the countryside north of Stockholm. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, let me fill you in.

“Midsommar” is about a group of 20-somethings in New York who all go on a trip together to a village in the Swedish countryside to see one of their friend’s family’s Midsommar celebrations. Up to that point, it’s terribly realistic. Yes, Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers terrible PTSD from the mysterious suicide-murder of her parents and sister, but although horrific, the events leading up to the celebration aren’t supernatural. Then the group arrives in Hårga.

What’s possibly the most compelling aspect of “Midsommar” is how normal it all seems. There are hardly any jump scares and the little screaming that occurs is therapeutic. And cultish ideologies aside, many of the songs and practices are based on actual Swedish tradition. On Midsommar, you do get very drunk and dance around a phallic pole, you do sing creepy little songs next to blonde people and you do generally try to conform to the group (as is Swedish custom). So, if anything, Ari Aster’s film is a bone-chilling film that employs Scandinavian magical-realism, and not really a horror movie. But it will certainly keep you up at night — especially if you’re a Swede.  — Claire 

Email the Arts Desk at [email protected]

Advertisement

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here