Spirit of the season: Berkshire film buffs pick favorite scary flicks


Chills and thrills at the movies today are more robust than they were in, say, 1895. Back then, a group of theater patrons in Paris ran for cover because they thought the train in the short film "The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station" was actually coming right for them.

The horrors in today's movies are just as visceral and psychological for audiences as they were more than 200 years ago. Horrors today include ghosts, demons, knife-wielding serial killers, and deranged mountain men.

In the spirit of the Halloween season, we asked a few local film gurus for their favorite scary flicks - the horror movies they feel are best viewed through the cracks between your fingers:

Kelley Vickery: Founder and director of Berkshire International Film Festival

Vickery may shy away from scary movies now, but back in the day, she "loved" them. The founder and director of the Berkshire International Film Festival remembers the ones that stood out most for her.

  • "The Amityville Horror": Allegedly inspired by a haunted house in New York, the film adaptation was "terrifying" for Vickery. "Having a house being haunted and living in it is so scary," she said.
  • "When a Stranger Calls": The original 1979 movie about a baby-sitter terrorized by a psychopath hit home for Vickery, who baby-sat at the time. Eventually, it's revealed in the movie that the call is coming from inside the house. "I'll never forget the line, 'Have you checked the children?'," she said.
  • "The Shining": Jack Nicholson takes retreat with his family in an isolated hotel in the winter before going crazy. "I'm just realizing they all have to do with houses," Vickery said.

  • "Jaws": Ironically, Vickery loves vacationing on the ocean, she said, but the 1980 movie "Jaws" is always in the back of her mind. "[It] has forever terrified me," Vickery said. "I'm still terrified of sharks because of that movie."
  • "Halloween": Masked maniacs picking off unsuspecting teenagers may be the norm now, but the 1978 movie "Halloween" was one of the first - and one of the scariest - Vickery has seen. "Jamie Lee Curtis was amazing," Vickery said.
  • "Deliverance": The list only required five, but Vickery had to throw in "Deliverance" for consideration as one of the scariest movies for her. The 1972 drama about backwoods "creepy" mountain men terrorizing a group of campers is one Vickery will never forget. "It made me never want to veer off the road," she said.

John Valente: Beacon Cinema, general manager

Though horror movies may not be the most profitable film genre in Pittsfield, Beacon Cinema general manager Valente said he knows which ones still give him the creeps. Valente chose his list not because of their individual merits, but because they all have a similar theme, supported by "a good story and characters," he said. "The scary part comes out of that," Valente said. "They're all plausibly true, and because it's rooted in a kind of reality, they're things you could believe would happen to you."

  • "Psycho":The famous fruit cellar scene from the original Hitchcock film made Valente extra cautious where he tread in his own home. "I was afraid to go into our fruit cellar after I saw 'Psycho.'"
  • "The Exorcist": Valente spent eight years in Jesuit education, he said, so a movie about demonic possession "hit close to home."
  • "Silence of the Lambs": In a list made up of movies that were a more believable horror, "Silence of the Lambs" was "the most believable of all, Valente said. "Anthony Hopkins made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end."
  • "The Shining": The movie is arguably Jack Nicholson's, who plays a writer descending into madness. "His maniacal face, unaided by special effects makeup is an acting lesson in itself," Valente said.
  • "Misery": The Stephen King starring James Caan as a famous novelist and his crazed fan that saves him after a car accident is a cautionary tale about fame that "remains timely," according to Valente.

Eugene Mamut and Irina Borisova: Animagic, a special effects, animation and art museum in Lee.

Eugene Mamut, a special effects artist, knows movies. After all, he created the camouflage effect in the original 1987 "Predator." Artist Irina Borisova's cuddly, smirking cats from her illustrated book "Cats Who Quilt" are less menacing then the ruthless predators.

Both work at Animagic and have worked in the film and television business. Mamut even won a Scientific and Engineering Award at the 1987 Academy Awards for "Predator." With their expertise in the film business, Borisova and Mamut together came up with five of the scariest films they've ever seen.

Mamut picked:

  • "Jaws": The infamous "du-dun" sound grows louder and faster as the shark closes in on its meal, and Mamut freaks out, he said. "I couldn't sit still when the shark came," he said. "I was sliding back and forth in my seat."
  • "Friday the 13th"/Jason Vorhees character: Contrary to popular belief, the hockey mask-wearing Jason Vorhees doesn't appear in the original 1980 "Friday the 13th." It was his mother, Mrs. Vorhees, who killed a bunch of hormone-driven campers at Camp Crystal Lake in the original film. Still, Jason Vorhees has left an imprint on Mamut's mind. "The image of that character is so scary," he said.
  • "Predator": Nobody knows that "Predator" is fictional better than Mamut since he helped do the special effects on the film. But he still listed it as one of his scariest movies. The camouflage effect that he helped create made the characters extra spine-tingling. "They were hunting something that basically didn't exist," he said.

Borisova picked:

  • "The Shining": The humorous parodies are on the spread, but "The Shining" still remains a frightening experience for Borisova. A Stephen King adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick and a terrifying performance by Jack Nicholson put it at the top of her list. "It was psychologically very scary how [Nicholson] is losing his mind," she said.
  • "Psycho": Norman Bates of the Bates motel in "Psycho" has certainly checked himself into the psyche of many movie-goers, mainly because of the way it was handled by the movie's director, Alfred Hitchcock, Borisova said. "It was very well done, and very real," she said. "It had great cinematography."

Berkshire Eagle Facebook fans' picks

A poll on The Eagle's Facebook indicates that readers find "The Exorcist" is the best and scariest movie, beating out the rat race between the original "Psycho" and the 1974 version of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

Adam Poulisse, Eagle reporter

I've always had a flair for the film industry, and my young career has already involved interning in Hollywood and hanging out on the set of the upcoming movie about Jackie Robinson, "42," when it was filmed in Chattanooga, Tenn., earlier this year. But horror films always have been a favorite: My 10th birthday present was my grandfather taking me to see "Bride of Chucky." So when Halloween rolls around, I always get in the holiday spirit with horror movies. Some of the ones that have resonated with me are:

  • "Alien": When I watch movies at home, I like to watch them on my laptop with my earbuds in, truly immersing myself in the movie. Doing that with "Alien" when I first saw it two years ago exemplified the movie's claustrophobia. As the crew winded its way around the dark halls of the Nostromo, the feeling of helplessness mounted. The alien is a wicked creation, with its dripping mouths -- yes, mouths -- and chest-bursting.
  • "The Descent": This British import from 2006 is about a group of spelunking women that encounter horrific creatures that resemble demons, bats and humans all rolled into one. The relationships between the women, who make their descent into terror as they battle the creatures and each other, made the film so much more powerful and atmospheric than the usual horror schlock.
  • "The Exorcist": I revisited this oft-honored horror film from the 1970s for research on my article on local exorcisms, and it's still an incredibly powerful experience. There are the horrific images of a possessed young girl, but the performances and the film's increasing feeling of dread are enough to make your head spin.
  • Classic Disney movies: I've toughened up since I was a kid, but there's knowing denying there was a time in my life where all the horrors in the world were contained to the VHS copies of Disney classics like "Bambi" or "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." Anyone who sat through the mother dying in "Bambi" as a child lost a hint of their cherub-like innocence that day.
  • "Cabin in the Woods": It's not an out-and-out horror film, but this year's "Cabin in the Woods" was a ridiculously fun smack-in-the-face for the genre, making it the best satire of its kind since the original "Scream." Gory, darkly funny and absurd, director Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") lambasted the horror movie genre while setting future standards very high.

Bill Everhart: The Eagle's film critic

When he's not hard at work as the editorial voice of The Eagle, Everhart is hard at work as the newspaper's film critic. If Everhart hasn't seen the film, it's probably not worth seeing. Nevertheless, he offers his favorite horror flicks:

  • "Blue Velvet": "David Lynch's 1986 nightmare vision of brutality and insanity lying beneath the placid surface of small-town life is not a traditional horror film, but Dennis Hopper's demented Frank Booth is one of the scariest characters in film history."
  • "Alien": "I first I saw it at the late show of a now long-lost Pittsfield movie theater, and looking at the ashen faces of audience members leaving the earlier show I wondered what I was getting into. What I was getting into was a spaceship as haunted house classic, with one of the most if not the most horrific monsters ever invented for film."
  • "The Shining": "Stanley Kubrick transforms a good Stephen King novel into a great film, introducing moments of black comic hilarity, courtesy of Jack Nicholson, that heighten the horror when it finally erupts."
  • "Silence of the Lambs": "Anthony Hopkins' elegant psychopath Hannibal the Cannibal joins Frank Booth in movie history, but not enough credit for the film's brilliance has been given to Ted Levine for his performance as the demented serial killer that Jodie Foster's Agent Staling is pursuing."

  • "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956): "Its theme of Cold War paranoia no longer resonates but it frightens because the monsters are our friends, family and neighbors, linked in a silent conspiracy. 'They're here already! You're next!,' screams Kevin McCarthy's Dr. Hill as the pod people become the majority. An excellent 1978 remake dropped the Cold War analogy for New Agey psychobabble about alienation that proved to be literally true."

To reach Adam Poulisse: apoulisse@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6214. On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse.


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