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Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Lucky 13: Week Ten: Ghosts, Haunted Houses and Psychic Phenomena

Folks, I can't say I know this to be actual fact, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say that the paranormal--i.e. ghosts--probably makes up the oldest of all horror sub-genres, going all the way back to horror's origins in literature and folklore. Fear is based primarily on what we don't understand and don't know, and so that one great unknowable, death and what comes after, has provided us with some of the most primal sources of pure terror.

The paranormal has been fodder for so many classics. Who doesn't love a good ghost story, after all? There's something about them that feels like the very essence of what horror is all about at its core. And so it's with great pride that both Brutal as Hell and The Vault of Horror bring you our favorite films tackling this otherwordly subject matter...

B-Sol on The Shining

Stanley Kubrick's cinematic jewel is a work of absolute genius from top to bottom. This is a film so rich in texture and flawless in execution that I find it a rewarding experience to watch every single time. More than a horror movie, this film is a work of art.

It's brilliantly shot, thanks in part to cinematographer John Alcott, who had previously worked with Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon (and, incidentally, shot Terror Train right after this). With a sense of light and color that achieves a level of perfection few films ever do. The scene with Jack and Grady in the men's room is a thing of beauty, that can be watched with the sound off and you still wouldn't be able to take your eyes off it. Its a classic example of the Kubrick style.

The imagery is pure Kubrick, presenting the viewer with visuals that stay in the brain long after the movie is over. The barely glimpsed shot of the hacked-up Grady twins; the old lady in the bathtub; that creepy dude in the bear suit--this is surreal, nightmarish horror at its very best.

Cinema Suicide's Bryan White on The Sentinel

Haunted house movies aren't what they used to be. Pardon me while I play the grumpy old man here, but Hollywood and the contemporary audience don't seem to have the time anymore for a deliberately paced ghost story anymore. Everyone wants to see the apparitions right off the bat. They want special effects and lots of them. These days you couldn't possibly get away with making a movie like The Sentinel. It's a movie that takes too long to get to the stuff that people identify as scary, and that's too bad because The Sentinel is freakin' terrifying!

Christina Raines plays a fashion model on the edge who takes up residence in a Brooklyn townhouse. If she wasn't already on the edge of collapse from a crazy work schedule, her neighbors are a bunch of weirdos and when she mentions them to the real estate agent who hooked her up with the place, the woman insists that the only other occupant of the building is an ancient priest who spends his days and nights sitting in the window at the top of the building. I'm tempted to spoil the whole plot here but therein lies the fun. The revelation as to why it's called The Sentinel is fantastic, and what an ending!

The Sentinel, for some reason, is a horror movie that lives below the boards. The '70s was full of horror that capitalized on the Catholic fear generated by The Exorcist. For some reason, everyone in America seemed spooked by the threat of evil spirits and it took Hollywood no time to capitalize on this trend. For this reason, a lot of the movies to follow in the wake of The Exorcist seem like exploitation movies, and The Sentinel was victim to this generalization. It has an absolutely killer cast, with Burgess Meredith playing the ring leader of a band of completely deranged New Yorkers. You also get a quick dose of Christopher Walken in an early role, if he's your bag.

The Sentinel zeroes in on the sort of abstract horror that tends to get under my skin. People behave strangely, as if it's the most normal thing in the world and that I'm the weird one for being the outsider to their strange games. There are also a couple of great jump scares, which no haunted house movie should be without. It owes a lot to H.P. Lovecraft's short story, The Music of Erich Zann, which is a favorite of mine. Haunted house movies aren't supposed to be the sort of thing that repels you with explicit imagery, it's all about implication and only the best haunted house horrors do this right. Chief among them is The Sentinel.

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Only three weeks to go in The Lucky 13! I'd like to thank my contributors, who have thus far helped make this little endeavor what it is--your efforts are greatly appreciated. Now head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the future, just give Marc or myself a holler.

Week 1: Grindhouse & Exploitation
Week 2: Creature Features & Monster Movies
Week 3: Demons, Witches & The Devil
Week 4: Gore!
Week 5: Horror Comedies
Week 6: Vampires
Week 7: Psychological Horror
Week 8: Werewolves
Week 9: Serial Killers

Join us next week, when we finally hit upon that one sub-genre so many of you have been waiting for. That's right, it's zombie time!


le0pard13 said...

THE SENTINEL is one of the most fiendishly underrated horror films of the past 30 years, IMO. Perhaps, a revival theatre in my neighborhood will host a double-feature with it and THE EXORCIST. Now that would be scarring ;-). Thanks, B-Sol.

B-Sol said...

You're welcome, Leaopard! Just three weeks left to go!

Missy Y. said...

Only two entries this week? Bummer.

I have to get in line for The Sentinel. That movie is so much better than people say. It's downright creepy and totally awesome. I am especially in awe of the one moment of gore (nose-chopping, anyone?) as it is so shocking in context. Ah, I effing love this movie.

And to The Shining--duh.

B-Sol said...

Yeah, I know, a pretty anemic selection. But I'm working on stepping things up for next Saturday's zombie post, don't you worry!

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