Doan Courant

The semi-whenever newsletter for one of the many Doan Families.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Some suspensful movies

(This is the fifth in series of "My Favorite Films".)

Halloween was yesterday. Around this time of year, all sorts of websites come out with their lists of "The Scariest Movies Ever." Generally speaking, I am not a fan of horror movies. I do not like nearly all vampire and zombie movies. Most monster movies are a waste of time. Anyone can make a movie with blood and guts. Anyone can make a movie with "jump scenes" in it. Rare is a film that is genuinely good and suspenseful. Following are some of my favorites.

Night of the Hunter.
A serial killer, posing as a preacher, hunts down two children. They know where some stolen money is hidden. The killer (played very chillingly by Robert Mitchum) has "Love" tatooed on one hand, and "Hate" tatooed on the other. He plods along slowly on his horse, menacingly singing hymns (Never has the hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" been so eerie). The direction of this film is highly stylized, with unusual sets and lighting. It all works very well to make a good, suspenseful film.

Unfortunately, this film has been copied and parodied so many times, its originality is loss on most people. Even today, it remains a thoroughly novel film. No other film is as effective in manipulating the audience as this one. If you have never seen the film, watch it without reading another word about it. If you have seen it before, watch it again, and notice how masterfully Hitchcock creates this masterpiece.
(Note: I could have chosen any number of Hitchcock films. He is so good at making tense films. Rear Window is another great thriller. Psycho is still my favorite.)

The Shining.
Ominous. Nearly every single frame of this movie, from the gorgeous opening shot to the ironic ending, is ambiguously ominous. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why that is so. Part of it is Nicholson's performance. He is mad throughout the movie. Part of it is the strange musical score. A big part of it is the enormous size of the hotel. The characters are surrounded by much empty space in the forboding halls and chambers of the Overlook Hotel. Whatever it is, it is very effective. This is an unnerving movie.

A French movie that came out a couple years ago, Cache' (which means "Hidden") is a subtle, somewhat disturbing film. One day, a couple receives an envelope with a video inside. The video is from outside of their house. Someone is filming them. They receive more of these tapes, some of them from different locations. Soon, a mystery about the husband's past enfolds. There are no big thrills or scares in this movie. Just a steady, unsettling reality. One scene is particularly shocking. The last scene seems to throw a completely new light on the whole picture.
(Incidentally, my wife, who says she doesn't like foreign language films, watched this one, and actually liked it.)

The Host.
This is the only monster movie on the list. I could have put Jaws or Alien, two very good films, but I thought I would suggest something more recent and unusual. The Host is a South Korean movie that came out last year. It is one of SK's most successful movie. It is about a slimly, weird looking sea creature that terrorizes a major city. The government gets involved and quarantines the area. There is some good comedy in the film, as well as some good political satire (it contains a strong but subtle anti-American note, but I am fine with that). There are homages in this movies, from films such as The Battleship Potemkin and Jaws. The characters are much stronger than most monster flicks. I actually cared about them, and believed that they would act the way they acted. With some good scares, and some good effects, this is one worth seeing.
(Note: You can watch it dubbed in English. I, a purist, prefer to watch it in Korean with subtitles. Either way, it is a fun treat.)

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