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In the Night. In the Dark.

November 7, 2019

 

The mums are wilted, Halloween is past and we have set back the clocks.

 

Don't even try to tell me you've already adjusted to the darkening-at-four misery that engulfs us every November. Four o'clock is tea time. You're supposed to be buttering a crumpet or ladling double cream and jam onto a scone. You are not supposed to be peering into the dusk and telling yourself that if you lived in Nova Scotia it would already be 5 pm.

 

But put the brakes on the Dewars because I have a solution. And it is: scary movies. A handful of these creepy buggers will tide you over till the sparkling lights and hustle of the December holidays begin. So settle in; here comes a scary movie fan's mini-guide.

 

The second time I saw Robert Wise's "The Haunting,"--the quintessential haunted house story--Robert Wise himself was in the small screening room. How scared could I get when the movie's director was sitting just a few chairs away?

 

Pretty---no, really--scared. The movie is that good:

 

When a doctor of paranormal studies and his three subjects arrive at Hill House--described by the main character as "vile" and "diseased," the creepiness compounds day by day. The caretaker couple live in town and Mrs, Dudley explains, "No one lives any nearer than town. No one will come any nearer than that." No one would be able to hear their screams, she says: "In the night. In the dark."

 

And "The Haunting" is off and running.

 

The 1977 Italian cult classic, "Suspiria," about a bunch of terrified dancers in a prestigious dance academy was remade in 2018 by another Italian director and stars the ever-wan Tilda Swinton. Both movies pair the rigorous discipline of dancers' lives with the timelessly unsettling theme of witchcraft.

 

And where better to have witches and dancers intermingle than in a German dancing school that was reputedly founded by a witch who won't go away? The power of the feminine abounds in the original and I can't imagine it doesn't imbue the newer film of the same name with the same quality.

 

If you like your scary mixed with a bit of sexy, you can't do better than "Don't Look Now," the moody mystery set in off-season Venice where Donald Sutherland is restoring mosaics in a church, Julie Christie is having meetings with a blind seer and the one lovemaking scene is achingly beautiful.

 

If you like your scary with a bit of tragic, "Shutter Island" is your go-to. Leonardo DiCaprio heads up a cast of stars and Martin Scorsese directs from a book by the deft and nimble writer, Dennis LeHane. But be prepared to watch "Shutter Island" with a box of Kleenex so that you can alternately cover your eyes and then wipe away your tears.

 

If you like scary with a hint of art house, go for Ingmar Bergman's "Hour of the Wolf." But prepare for nightmares.

 

Prefer claustrophobic terror? Polanski's apartment trilogy of "The Tenant," "Rosemary's Baby" and "Repulsion" offer the keys to the....apartments.

 

Prefer something vintage? Look to a trio of silents: Hitchcock's "The Lodger," Murnau's "Nosferatu" and Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." If you queue up Berlioz' "Dreams of a Witches' Sabbath" on repeat, you won't lack for spine-chilling soundtrack.

 

"Eyes Without a Face" will have you pondering the question of beauty and mortality. "The Babadook" will confront you with grief and parenting. "The Others" will confront you with guilt and parenting (it's a movie I wouldn't let my kids watch and they still tease me about that).

 

Scary movies are more than entertainment. They thrill and chill--but also work at our deeper secrets and hidden selves. Plus, a really good scary movie is more effective at raising your heart rate than a brisk walk.

 

And you don't even have to go outside. In the night. In the dark.

 

           

 

           

 

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I'm a writer, yoga teacher, Lutheran pastor, and music nerd living in New York. I find a feast in daily living - most days, anyway - and write about it here. 

Finalist for the 2017 Chautauqua Prize!
The frank and funny story of a church-geek girl who spent twenty years in the ecclesiastical trenches as a Lutheran pastor, preaching weekly words of hope she wasn’t sure she even believed.