Casting the Votes: Are These the 100 Scariest Movies of All Time?

Well, there’s no accounting for poor taste. That did not stop the Chicago Film Critics Association, apparently as desperate for attention as myself, from issuing a list of the one hundred “scariest movies.” Let’s have a look at the association’s choices, as they were published today, just in time to cash in on the Halloween business. Only in recent years, Halloween has become big business here in the UK and in my native country, Germany. Considering that the tradition is so ancient, it is surprising how slow marketers were to catch on.

I remember watching Spielberg’s E.T. upon its first release, being baffled by the costumes with which the children paraded on the streets. Dressing up, in my youth, was reserved for Carnival (or Mardi Gras). Nowadays, the pagan festival of Halloween is upstaging Christmas, probably because it does not pressure folks to spend on others the money whose power to shock and awe they’d rather display on themselves.

Even the small town of Aberystwyth, in mid-Wales, is having its own Halloween film festival, slyly called Abertoir, which screens classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Roger Corman’s The Raven, as well as recent camp like Poultrygeist (by director Lloyd Kaufman, who is a special guest of the events).

Now, I appreciate the diversity of the Chicago Film Critics Association’s list of scary movies, which, topped by Psycho, includes must-sees like Nosferatu, Frankenstein (1931), and I Walked With a Zombie; and even though I doubt that anyone is likely to be terrified watching Creature from the Black Lagoon, it qualifies as a beloved late-night drive-in staple. Then there are beauts like Eyes without a Face, which I haven’t seen in ages, and Carnival of Souls (presumably the original). Also getting a nod from the CFCA are genuinely disturbing films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Blue Velvet, and Fritz Lang’s M. An eclectic list, in short.

Inexplicably, though, my personal favorite did not make the bloody cut. It is Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957), based on “Casting the Runes,” a short story by the aforementioned ghost storyteller M. R. James. On US radio the story was dramatized under its original title on the literary thriller series Escape. When it was shown on BBC 2 TV here in Britain a few nights ago, I seized the opportunity to go once more into that not so gentle Night. Much to my relief, I had not yet become immune to its powers.

Once again, I was startled by that hand on the banister; once again, my skin showed pimply evidence of the film’s workings upon my imagination. After the screening, my unimpressed partner, an incorrigible prankster who knows how to make me jump (which is not all that difficult), caught me unawares (which is easier still) and passed me a slip of paper with a runic-looking message. Upon closer inspection, though, it bore an inscription of three little words far more reassuring. Though constantly under attack, my heart is still beating for him.

In its two versions, Night (or Demon) is central to the debate about horror and terror—the former trying to shock by showing, the latter causing unease by the subtler force of suggestion. A curse on the CFCA for not casting their votes for it! Anyone got runes?

5 Replies to “Casting the Votes: Are These the 100 Scariest Movies of All Time?”

  1. It looks like a sound list to me – though they left off the years on many of the titles! Many of these I\’ve seen. I tried to think up titles they might have missed, but only found a few:\”Afterhours\” (1985), a study in subtle, paranoid terror. This film is a very well kept secret. \”Blood Simple\” (1985), the Coen Brother\’s first movie, which lampooned the shock/horror style of the day.\”It\’s Alive\” (1974) – after seeing this I was afraid of the dark for weeks (at 15 or so).One of the scariest movies of my childhood did however happen to be \”The Creature of the Black Lagoon\”. Back then (age 7-9) I religiously watched \”Dark Shadows\” – the gothic horror soap opera, which holds up very well today. There were two films made, as well, but they did not succeed as well as the tv program.Interesting synchronicity going around, too. I was just gowing through my otr collection to find all the programs featuring scripts by Lucille Fletcher. I actually stopped by to see if you mention any titles I might have missed.

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  2. I haven\’t mentioned Fletcher in a while. Which is your favorite among her plays? I got a copy of an article she wrote on sound effects; perhaps, Halloween is just the occasion to share it. Now that’s an idea: a week of radio thrillers here on broadcastellan.After Hours is a great comedy; but does it qualify as a scary movie? Not that comedy and terror are mutually exclusive. As a child, I could get scared watching The Avengers or those German Edgar Wallace movies of the 1960s. Silent movies frightened me as well, whether they were comedies or melodramas. It was the make-up, the jerky movements, the lighting—and the silence. Black-and-white is scarier than color; but sounds and silences, to me, are more terrifying than any sights.

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  3. Guess my favorites are:Fugue in C MinorThe Search for Henri LeFevreThe Diary of Sophronia WintersThe HitchhikerSorry Wrong NumberIt\’s hard to make a single selection. There\’s a disturbing mood and blank terror in all of these.

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  4. Fletcher did create some memorably unhinged or suspicious characters, even though her studies in terror were often marred by the surprise ending, the twist that was essential to the Suspense formula in those early years. To me, that \”disturbing mood\” would have been enough to sustain the thrill.

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  5. You are right – well, what I remember most of her stories are not the endings, but the feeling along the way.I guess scariest radio of all would have to be Quiet Please, with endings that always splash a big stone into the pool of imagination.

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