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My Five: Spooky Gateway Horror

We continue our "My Five" series with "Spooky Gateway Horror." selections from a guest contributor, Adam Sweeney. Sweeney, an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and self-proclaimed "film nut" provided the following note about his subgenre category:

"I’ve always distinguished between “scary” and “spooky”.  “Spooky” is something you can show children.  It’ll scare them, for sure, but they’ll have fun while watching them.  “Spooky” is like threading the needle of “scary”.


House on Haunted Hill (1959), Dir: William Castle

Castle hadn’t established himself as the master of schlock by the time this was released, but he was well on his way.  Vincent Price is a staple of anything Halloween or horror.  His charisma oozes off screen. Despite his character in this being a rotten cad, you root for him.  The score (by Von Dexter) sounds like everything you’d expect from a spooky sound record you’d pick up from a drug store complete with theremin and organ.  Walking skeletons, vats of acid and several effective scares make this film endure, even 65 years later.

Carnival of Souls (1962), Dir: Herk Harvey

There are certain suspense scenes that come to mind in the pantheon of film history.  Scenes that are so drawn out that they make you practically beg to be scared.  If you’ve ever seen David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, all I have to say is “The Man Behind Winkies” to cause a chill to run down your spine.  Carnival of Souls is essentially that scene stretched to feature length.  The musical score (which is specifically solely organ) contributes to the unease.  If you’re a fan of the original The Twilight Zone, Carnival of Souls acts like a cousin of the series.  The one no one talks about because it scares them so much.

The Other (1972), Dir: Robert Mulligan

There have been creepy kid movies forever.  The Other is less overt than most in this genre.  The Bad Seed, The Good Son and even The Omen (1976) to some extent all present the kids as simply evil.  The Other takes a different approach.  The children in this are shown as being flawed and sad.  Thanks in part to Mulligan’s direction, the film has the veneer of Little House on the Prairie combined with the insidious nature of The Exorcist.  If you haven’t noticed already, I’ve been deliberately dancing around the plot because, to give any of it away, feels wrong.  Much of the joy in this film is in the discovery of plot points and twists.  Your best bet is to go in blind and take it as it comes to you.  You won’t be disappointed.

Ghostwatch (1992), Dir: Lesley Manning

It’s very easy to dismiss anything labeling itself “found footage”.  Many filmmakers don’t “commit to the bit”, so to speak.  Anachronisms and logical inconsistencies plague most entries in the genre, leading to fatigue and skepticism that any of these films actually work.  Enter Ghostwatch.  Due to spotty availability over the years, much of the film is the stuff of legend.  Details are spoken like whispers amongst the people “in the know”.  Thankfully, it’s recently been made available on some streaming services and opened itself to a new audience.  The film purports itself to be a Halloween special from a station in England.  It never winks at the audience.  It is completely committed to what it is supposed to be.  When other films in the genre are generally inconsistent (I’m looking at you Late Night with the Devil), Ghostwatch maintains the illusion so well, you may even lose sleep, hoping that what you saw wasn’t actually real.

The Innkeepers (2012), Dir: Ti West

Ti West established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre with the excellent The House of the Devil a couple of years prior.  As with many up-and-coming directors, people greatly anticipated his next feature.  Where The House of the Devil was an exercise in grindhouse style 70s style thrills, The Innkeepers took a different, subtler path.  Taking place during the last days of a soon-to-be closed hotel, two workers attempt to prove the existence of a ghost that checked in decades prior.  West’s screenplay humanizes the characters, making you care for what happens to them.  This seems like something many screenplays strive for, but this one succeeds impressively.  There is so much lived-in chemistry between the leads that it feels almost like you’ve known the two of these people.  You’ve probably even worked with these types.  Caring about these two is exactly what makes the scares that much more effective.  If you didn’t care about these two, you’d check out of the movie well before the climax.  This film gets you invested in these people just in time for you to start worrying about their individual fates.

Honorable Mention

Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985)

Seeing Garfield’s name anywhere near an article like this seems almost inappropriate until you actually watch it.  Created and broadcast during the height of the lackadaisical and sarcastic cat’s popularity, the short gives the audience about 10 minutes of what you’d expect from your normal Garfield adventure and about 10-12 minutes of something that seems like deleted scenes from John Carpenter’s The Fog.  As a child, I recorded it off of TV to a VHS.  The scene where the ghosts rise out of the water was interrupted by a severe tracking error which led me to believe the ghosts were coming for me.  As an adult, I’m not entirely convinced they’re not.

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Garfield in the Rough is scary as heck too

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