Boo 2: More Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teens

In honor of Halloween, here is my second list of horror movies you can watch with your teenagers – a countdown of creepy culminating in a classic everyone (I think) should watch.

Note: Unlike my first list, this one contains mostly R-rated films. I have indicated the reason for each rating and would note for, what it’s worth, that these are all films I would show our own children (who are 14 and 16) if I can just get them to humor me.

5. Pitch Black (2000) R for language and sci-fi violence and gore– This one reminds me, initially at least, of The Flight of the Phoenix, a 1965 Jimmy Stewart film about a group of travelers struggling to survive in the middle of the Sahara Desert after their plane was forced down by a sandstorm. Interesting film. The personalities of the survivors clash as they face almost certain death and then come together when hope presents itself. Good movie (unlike its 2004 remake).  Pitch Black begins very similarly – a spaceship passes through the debris of a comet trail causing it to crash-land on a nearby planet. The passengers find themselves marooned in a desert on what looks like a lifeless planet. As in Phoenix, the disparate characters interact and clash, but then this movie goes in another direction entirely. Happily so, because that’s what makes it a horror movie. Vin Diesel plays Riddick, an ultra-tough antihero, the one the others turn to when they discover they’re not alone on the planet after all.

4. The Host (2006) R for creature violence and language; subtitled – An awesomely-ugly mutant monster is spawned by pollution in the Han River. When the monster emerges from the river one day, killing many and snatching a young girl, her comically dysfunctional family pull together to try to rescue the girl. It was a blockbuster in South Korean and got great reviews when it opened in the US. It’s scary, funny, and has very cool monster-chasing-fleeing-people sequences.

3. Blair Witch Project (1999) R for language – Have you ever been camping in the woods? Not at some friendly campground with bear-proof dumpsters and bathrooms with running water and other campers within shouting distance – but in the woods, alone, well out of shouting range, before cell phones, where nobody would notice right away if you disappeared or be able to find you easily if they came looking. I have and it’s truly scary. The night is very big and dark and potentially full of bears and maniacs and all manner of evil creepies. Once, while camping with a friend, I was scared almost senseless by something creeping up on us through the brush behind our tent in the dead of night. When my friend and I finally worked up the nerve to investigate, we nailed a pair of very startled opossums with the beam of the flashlight.

 In this movie, there’s something much creepier than opossums out there in the dark. When it was first released, it was marketed as “found footage” – film discovered with video equipment in the woods of Maryland a year after three college students disappeared there while filming a documentary about a local legend, the Blair Witch. This one got mixed reviews but I thought it was very convincing and authentically scary.

2. Alien (1979) R  for sci fi violence/gore and language – I’m still a little upset with my mom that she didn’t take me to see this when I was thirteen. Consequently, I read about this movie longingly in Starlog magazine long before I actually got to see it. And when I finally did get to experience the scariest movie ever set in space, I was not disappointed. Made at a time when so many science fiction movies were either idealized, happy futures (ala Star Trek) or fairy tale space operas (ala Star Wars), the Nostromo and her crew was a gritty and convincing vision of the future. Wonderfully suspenseful with one of the toughest female leads to date, this is the movie to convince you that yes, monsters are real and they live in space where no one can hear you scream.

1The Birds (1963) – At about 3:00 in the morning on August 18, 1961, a massive flock of sooty shearwaters began to crash into homes and buildings along the northern edge of Monterey Bay in California. Residents of Pleasure Point and Capitola woke up that morning to find the ground littered with the dead and dying sea birds. At the time, it was postulated that the birds became lost in the fog and were drawn by the city lights. Thirty years later, it happened again, except this time the birds involved were brown pelicans and scientists were able to isolate a cause. The pelicans had eaten poisoned fish. The culprit was domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by a diatom that was found in the stomachs of fish in the area. Scientists found evidence that the same neurotoxin was also the culprit the summer of 1961 when those sooty shearwaters were found flying into buildings, dying on the streets and regurgitating anchovies.

The story of those poor poisoned shearwaters inspired movie history by capturing the attention of one particular summer resident – Alfred Hitchcock. A month later, he had secured the rights to a novella by Daphne Du Maurier and 2 years later he released The Birds. In his awesomely chilling story, the birds are not dying – they’re attacking the residents of Bodega Bay, a quaint California coastal town. Hitchcock managed to make the sunny, cheerful town appear properly eerie and did what no other director had done before in portraying large groups of animals acting intelligently together with purpose, creating his first, and only horror/fantasy film. And one that became an icon in horror film history. A great pick, I think, to watch with your teenager who was weened on (and saturated in) 21st century video magic if only to show them what amazing (and horrifying) films could be made long before CGI.

If you’d like to read more about the making of The Birds, see some cool stills from the movie or read the original article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel about the tragic bird event of 1961, see:

http://www.hitchcockwiki.com/files/articles/TheMakingOfTheBirds/

http://www.filminamerica.com/Movies/TheBirds/

http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/articles/183/

If you’d like to see my first list of teenager-family-friendly horror movies check out Boo! Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teenager

Out There in the Cold: First Lines from Short Stories Fit for October

It’s here. Fall. Time to open the windows and let the wind in, to dig out sweatshirts pushed to the back of the closet. Afternoons are quiet now that cicadas are finally gone. Trees are turning. Geese are migrating. Pumpkins litter gardens and porches. Time to take the kids camping or apple-picking or to wander through a corn maze. And it’s the time for telling stories. That’s what our ancestors did once the harvest was in and the days grew short.

So to honor the tradition and the spookiest time of the year, I’ve made a new first-line list. These are short stories that not only have intriguing first lines but that I think are ripe for October picking – haunting tales for a haunted month. And many of them are available on the internet. So go get yourself a cup of hot chocolate, get a blanket for your feet, curl up in your favorite chair, and enjoy.

 “Out there in the cold water, far from land, we waited every night for the coming of the fog, and it came, and we oiled the brass machinery and lit the fog light up in the stone tower.”

“The Foghorn” by Ray Bradbury, published first in his collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun, in 1953.
Once a year, something answers the call of the lighthouse’s foghorn.
 
“There aren’t many hitchhikers on the road to Hell.”
“Dead Run” by Greg Bear, published first in OMNI magazine in 1985 and reprinted in his collection Tangents in 1989.
A truck driver ferries souls to Hell.
 
 
“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within the view of the melancholy House of Usher.”
“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, published first in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in 1839 and reprinted for the collection, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, in 1840.
A tale of madness from America’s first master of the macabre.
 
  
“Mrs. Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat.”
“Chivalry” by Neil Gaimen, published in his short story collection, Smoke and Mirrors, in 1998.
Something to lighten the list. An elderly widow finds the Holy Grail at a thrift shop.
 

Cthulu via lovecraft.wikia.com

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”

“The Call of Cthulu” by H.P. Lovecraft first published in Weird Tales in 1928.
A found manuscript tells how its writer discovered evidence of an ancient cult.
 
 
 
“On the way out to Tempe, I saw a dead jackal on the road.”
“The Last of the Winnebagos” by Connie Willis, published first in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in 1988 and reprinted in her collection, Impossible Things, in 1994. Won the Nebula for best novella in 1988 and the Hugo for best novella in 1989. Despite its length I chose to include it as a short story because I can and I really like this one.
A vision of a dystopian future in which a pandemic has wiped out man’s best friend.
 
“So I’m filling the catsup bottles at the end of the night, and I’m listening to the radio Charlie has stuck up on top of a movable panel in the ceiling, when the door opens and one of them walks in.”
“Out of All Them Bright Stars” by Nancy Kress, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1985. Won a Nebula for best short story in 1986.
A waitress at a truck stop finds herself serving an alien.
 
“Fires.”
“Cassandra” by C.J. Cherryh, published first in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978 and later reprinted in her collection, Visible Light, in1986. Won a Hugo for best short story in 1979.
Cassandra is cursed with precognition and lives with a horrifying vision of the future.
 
“It was forty miles from Horlicks University in Pittsburgh to Cascade Lake, and although dark comes early to that part of the world in October and although they didn’t get going until six o’clock, there was still a little light in the sky when they got there.”
“The Raft” by Stephen King, published first in Gallery magazine in 1982 and reprinted in his collection, Skeleton Crew, in 1985.
The modern master of horror doesn’t disappoint in this dark little tale.
 
“Brother Jimmy-Joe Billy-Bob brought the Word to the New Yorkers on the eve of Christmas Eve, paddling his long dugout canoe east up the Forty-second Street Conflu-ence and then north, against the tide, up Fifth Avenue, past the point where the roof of the Public Library glowed greenly under the surface of the darkening waters.”
“Vexed to Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle” by Dan Simmons published in Mile High Futures in 1985 and reprinted in his collection Prayers to Broken Stones in 1990.
Not your average post-apocalyptic story. The darkest tale on the list and artfully told.

Boo! Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teenager

Boo.

It might strike you as odd, but picking scary movies that will thrill the kids (but not appall my partner and me with a high gore factor or adult themes) is high on the list of things we are doing to prepare for the start of the new school year. School starts again in 6 days, and our youngest son is starting high school. A challenging transition for any kid but our boy has some additional challenges. One of the many strategies he has chosen to employ is a reward system for getting through each week. This will include making our occasional family movie nights a regular event. These will occur on Friday nights through the fall semester and feature, you guessed it, horror films.

Here are some of our favorites that we’ve already seen (and think you should too)

1. Jaws (1975) PG – Have you ever noticed that some of the scariest scenes in Jaws don’t ever show the shark? We have “Bruce,” Steven Spielberg’s animatronic shark, to thank for that.  If Bruce hadn’t malfunctioned so often, the young director might never have been inspired to just imply the shark’s presence by using the camera to give us a shark’s eye view. Coupled with John Williams’ awesomely dramatic musical theme, it was a brilliantly frightening technique. (You thinking it now aren’t you? Da-dum…da-dum…dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum dadum DADADAAAA)

Spielberg wanted Jon Voight to play Hooper, but George Lucas suggested Richard Dreyfus (who he had worked with in American Graffiti).

Everything about this movie is good – the directing, acting, writing , music – and they all come together around a great story (by Peter Benchley) to create the perfect storm of film horror. If your kids haven’t seen it yet, it’s time. They’ll scream when the head pops out of the hole in the sunken boat. They’ll laugh when Roy Scheider quips, “We going to need a bigger boat” after seeing the shark for the first time. (Did you know he ad-libbed that line?) And chills will run down their spines when they hear Quint’s monologue about the sinking of the Indianapolis.

Scariest chairs in a movie.

2. Poltergeist (1982) PG – Another Spielberg film that stands the test of time. He adds just enough humor and wonder to give an extra edge to the terrifying bits. Though Carol Ann got all the attention for disappearing into the TV, it was the character of her scrappy brother who appealed to my youngest son. The poor boy gets dragged out of the house by a monster tree and dragged out of his bed by an evil clown toy, and not only does he survive, but he kicks the clown’s butt. What a kid. One of my favorite bits though is this monologue by the medium, Tangina, played (brilliantly, I think) by Zelda Rubinstein. Watch it on You Tube here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQMYzB6gUQc

3. The Sixth Sense (1999) PG-13 – “I see dead people.” Maybe the biggest tag line from a movie since Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “I’ll be back.” This ghost story directed by M. Night Shyamalan  is one of only four horror films to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. (The other three were Jaws, The Exorcist, and The Silence of the Lambs.)  Shyamalan is one of our youngest son’s favorite directors and so there are two of his movies on this list.

 4. Signs (2002) PG-13 – This story gradually turns up the suspense until you’re white-knuckled and holding your breath for much of the last half of the film. It’s another of M. Night Shyamalan’s creations and he actually plays a significant role in the story. (He appears at least briefly in almost all of his movies.) The plot is simple – family finds a huge crop circle on their farm and more strange happenings ensue – and all the possibilities your imagination can produce to explain the events are extremely scary.

Scary eighties hair.

 5. The Lost Boys (1987) R – Don’t let the R rating spook you.If it came out today, I’m sure it would be rated PG-13. A pair of brothers and their divorced mom move to a new town and become convinced it is plagued by vampires. If you were raised in the eighties like me, you’ll probably remember Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. They were both in this movie and provide some great comic moments to lighten the scary stuff. A young Kiefer Sutherland is seriously creepy as the leader of the local pack of young, big-haired bloodsuckers.

 6. Insidious (2010) PG-13 – Very scary in a mounting-suspense, haunted-house-atmosphere kind of way. A couple’s son falls into an unexplained coma, mom starts seeing things, they seek help from a paranormal investigator, and I’m not telling what happens after that. A solidly spooky story.

 7. The Shining R (1980) – Based on Stephen King’s novel about a writer who takes a job as a caretaker at an isolated mountain hotel. Add a psychic son, an evil presence, and Scatman Crothers and you get a classic recipe for terror. Jack Nicholson’s disturbing performance as the dad gone gleefully mad apparently bridges the potential generation gap in horror film viewers quite well. This was our second son’s pick for scariest movie.

Look behind you, Buffy! Or Daphne! Or whatever your name is in this movie!

8. The Grudge PG-13 (2004) – Sarah Michelle Gellar (who our youngest son previously knew as Daphne in the Scooby Doo movies) plays an American nurse living in Japan who stumbles upon a supernatural curse in the act of playing itself out. Lots of suspense and weird, creepy effects. This was one of our youngest son’s picks for scariest movie.

9. The Ring PG-13 (2002) – Like The Grudge, this is a remake of a Japanese horror film with disturbing special effects and a creeping sense of dread. In this one, a young woman investigates a strange video tape that is said to cause the imminent death of anyone who views it. I’m not a huge fan of The Ring myself, but number one son and youngest son think it’s awesomely scary.

10. Audrey Rose (1977) PG – A mysterious stranger appears and tells a young couple that their daughter is the reincarnation of his own dead child. Long before playing Hannibal Lecter (in the scariest movie I will never let my children watch), Hopkins does a great job of playing the stranger so that you’re never quite certain if his character is sincere, a nutcase or a molester stalking the child until bizarre things begin to happen. This one spooked our oldest son (who is now 24) when he was a just tender teen.

If you’re a fan of PG (ish) horror, I hope you can find something here to watch with your children that you haven’t already seen. In the meantime, I have until Friday to come up with a new gore-free fright-flick. Suggestions are welcome!

 

If you’d like to see more suggestions, try Boo 2! More Scary Movies You Can Watch with Your Teens.