Nightmare Scenarios

Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

For some, 2020 is scary enough, thanks. For others, watching horror movies, particularly in the days and weeks leading up to Halloween, can be a form of catharsis in the short term, and in the long term, a way of building, viewing by viewing, antibody by antibody, an immunity to fear. It’s Horrors Week at the A.V. Club, Reverse Shot is rolling out the fifteenth edition of its Halloween series, A Few Great Pumpkins, and lists, interviews, and reviews are popping up all over.

On the latest episode of his new podcast, The Last Thing I Saw, Nicolas Rapold follows his conversation with Amy Taubin about Garrett Bradley’s Time with a roundtable on the ’70s Horror program currently playing on the Criterion Channel. Among the films Rapold, Beatrice Loayza, and Christina Newland revisit are George A. Romero’s The Crazies (1973), Bob Clark’s Deathdream (1974), and Tobe Hooper’s genuinely terrifying The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). “Decades of sequels, remakes, and imitators can’t take away its scabrous power,” writes Fernando F. Croce of Hooper’s “legendary grindhouse masterpiece” at the top of Slant’s ranked and annotated list of its contributors’ ten favorite films in the program.

Slant has also posted a list of the seventy-five best horror movies of the twenty-first century, counting down to the scariest of the scary, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (2001), which Chuck Bowen calls “one of cinema’s most unnerving and suggestive ghost stories.” Reverse Shot coeditor Michael Koresky has opened this year’s round of Great Pumpkins with a few thoughts on Kurosawa’s film, in which “ghosts have begun oozing into our realm from the spirit world, using pre-cloud Internet as a conduit . . . Ultimately, this is a film about apocalypse, and Kurosawa replaces the usual auguries of panic and fear with a slow, creeping realization that the world is being emptied of human life.”

One more list from Slant, the hundred best horror movies of all time. At #18 we find James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), which tops Keith Phipps’s ranking of Universal’s classic monster movies for Vulture. “Elsa Lanchester drew on hissing geese for her depiction of the Bride, helping to turn another example of Jack Pierce’s makeup wizardry into a being of awful beauty,” writes Phipps. “Like the best monster movies, Bride proves the dead, the undead, the cursed, and the misbegotten all have something to tell us, and speak in voices that sound much like our own.”

Coming in at #12 on Slant’s list is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), which Ben Kenigsberg, writing for the New York Times, recommends as a film that is “even more confrontational in raising questions about the audience’s relationship to the screen” than Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). “Peeping Tom is like nothing else in Powell’s career—and maybe nothing else until films like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) made the serial killer’s point-of-view shot a familiar screen trope nearly two decades later.”

This is Carpenter’s season, of course, and Wael Khairy has just rewatched The Thing (1982), as he does every October. “Something about it resonated more deeply this time around,” writes Khairy at “Watching this masterpiece during the pandemic brought its themes much closer to home.” At the A.V. Club, Jesse Hassenger revisits The Fog (1980), which reunited Carpenter with Halloween’s “top-tier Final Girl,” Jamie Lee Curtis. But Carpenter also “upped his scream-queen ante: He not only minted another genre star in top-billed Adrienne Barbeau (later of Creepshow, Swamp Thing, and Carpenter’s own Escape From New York) but called back to a proto-slasher by casting Psycho star (and Curtis’s mom) Janet Leigh in a supporting role.”

Barbara Steele, now eighty-two, is far more than a scream queen, having worked with Federico Fellini on (1963), with Volker Schlöndorff on Young Törless (1966), and with Louis Malle on Pretty Baby (1978). But her first two leading roles were in Mario Bava’s 1960 gothic horror Black Sunday, in which she played both the witch, Asa, and the innocent young beauty, Katia. “Bava was like a Jesuit priest,” Steele tells David Cairns and Daniel Riccuito in the new issue of Sight & Sound. “I think he was profoundly shy.” She “adored” Riccardo Freda, the director of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962) and The Ghost (1963). “He was prone to magnificent tantrums, which I really appreciated.” Cairns and Riccuito assure us that Steele is aware that “her image as ‘dark goddess’ was not mere audience projection—‘It comes from within’—and has a vital connection to her true self: ‘I was made for horror.’”

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