CREW CUTS: Scary Movies

In CREW CUTS, the Rough Cut staff are given a simple question about their deepest feelings on film, life, and beyond. To celebrate Halloween, we borrowed Ghostface’s trademark, tricky-to-answer interrogation from the Scream franchise.

What’s your favourite scary movie?

Claire White

I had a fair bit of trouble with this prompt, because horror is a genre I’m only recently starting to explore. I used to never watch horror movies, I was too afraid. However, what I soon came to realise while watching Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria (2018) is that it was the anticipation of the fear that I was most scared of. For the most part, I was fine while watching the film. I feel quite liberated now, more curious, to explore the genre I had shied away from for so long. 

I still can’t really remember if any film has legitimately scared me as of late (except the experience of watching Joker [2019] and the fear that bros will herald it as a masterpiece — now that’s terrifying), but then I remembered Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), which I studied in high-school (a cinephile was born!) In particular, I remember studying the scene where Tippi Hedren, in her iconic green outfit, sits outside of the schoolhouse, blissfully unaware of the number of crows (a murder) flocking on the jungle gym behind her. The scene lingers on this build up, silent save for the repetitive song the school-children are singing in the schoolhouse. The way the anticipation builds, the innocence of the children’s voices versus the unseen, building threat is masterful — I blame The Birds for my fear of low-flying birds. Hitchcock famously once said, “there is no terror in the bang, only the anticipation of it.” Which makes me think, maybe horror movies have had their effect on me all this time.

Friend of the pod, Charlie Shackleton’s 2015 essay film Fear Itself (which you can watch here) reflects on a 100 years of horror film through the lens of a fictional narrator. Spoken in a soft, steady tone of voice, the narrator (and the film) explore how horror movies manipulate us in their construction, how they are purposeful in what they want to make us feel, to strike directly into our fear. I first watched this film alone and in the dark, and I could only make it through half-way until I started freaking out and turned it off. Watching it again now, I found its analysis thrillingly unsettling, particularly the sequence of films adapted from true stories about human monsters. I highly recommend it.  

Finally, you’ll have to forgive me, as I take a moment to talk about the film which put the question “what’s your favorite scary movie?” into popular culture. I think the Scream films are a riot. I doubt anything I could say about the films is new, but I am obsessed with the way the films reference and interact with past horror films. It’s all about the rules of the genre, and playing with them in a self-referential way. This by no means reduces the seriousness of the films as slasher flicks, but adds an intriguing tone. A moment I particularly love in the first film is when Randy (Jamie Kennedy) is explaining these rules during a screening of Halloween (1978). When he yells excitedly, “Look! Here comes the obligatory tit shot!” the film cuts to an image of the protagonist, Sidney Prescot (Neve Campbell), with her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) upstairs, taking off her shirt. The films are self-referential, they’re theatrical, they’re about the obsession with fame, what makes a psychopath, a bit of a fuck-you to the violence in the media discourse, and like many horror films, they’re also oedipal. Mwah, mwah, mwah. *chefs kiss*

Ivana Brehas

I almost never watch scary movies, but when I try and think of what viewing experiences have filled me with real terror, it’s all David Lynch stuff. BOB from Twin Peaks (1990-91) still scares me today, and so much of Fire Walk With Me (1992) is obviously horrifying; I’ve only seen Inland Empire (2006) once, but that moment with Laura Dern’s face is truly a terror zone — even looking at it now makes me uncomfortable. Lynch gets at this kind of abject horror that’s very hard to rationalise; it’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly why the thing you’re watching is causing discomfort, and that irrationality and unpredictability probably makes it scarier.

Debbie Zhou

I’ve always been a trademark scaredy cat — and so, naturally stayed clear of anything labelled with the genre ‘horror’ for basically my entire childhood and adolescence, though clearly I’ve missed out on some real gems to my own detriment. It was a defence mechanism: to save myself from the nightmares that followed me from rainy school days in classrooms where I was forced to endure villains like the Wicked Witch of the West (yes, ironic because of my later obsession with Wicked) and, the Grand High Witch from Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches (1990). I also was scarred quite severely from watching a documentary about the Salem witch trials so maybe I just had an ingrained fear of witches.

The trailer for the new Zemeckis’ adaptation had me flashing back to how much the 1990 film left me paranoid for several years after; I would play back again and again the scenes from Luke’s first interaction with a witch as she tries to lure him down from the tree; Helga’s early warning to Luke about how her friend fell victim to the Witches; of how Luke ends up somehow being surrounded by them anyway; of him turning into a mouse. So, to this day, the gaps in my horror film knowledge not only point back to my inability to stomach Angelica Huston’s clawed fingernails hidden under her gloves (and more generally the terrifying prosthetics) — but also the way that Roeg so fantastically brought Road Dahl’s wicked, wicked imagination into semi-reality; to the point that I had an acute level of fear that they could be anywhere, under disguise — with their squared feet, purple eyes, powerful sense of smell, plotting and scheming away. 

Trauma aside, I’ll be sure to be catching up on the films on this list, and many others, this spooky season — probably shaking under my blankets with regret. 

Sam Harris

Long live the new flesh: that rubbery, spliced-with-steel sheath of a human suit that falls off what’s left of Seth Brundle’s (Jeff Goldblum) newly insectoid frame in the final moments of David Cronenberg’s masterpiece of masterpieces, The Fly (1986). Realistically, the flesh doesn’t live long at all: there’s only a few minutes between Brundlefly’s final botched fusion — in which he attempts to splice former lover Veronica (Geena Davis) with his deteriorating body as a last ditch effort to reverse the cancerous man-v-fly combo — and the film’s saddest image — a hopeless SFX catastrophe of a being slowly guiding Veronica’s shotgun to his bug brain.

More existentially terrifying and straight up depressing than scary scary, I think The Fly is my #1 — bumping shoulders with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) in my upper echelon of horror favourites — and it’s this scene that really seals the deal. An absolute heart wrencher. 

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If we’re talking italicised Scary Movie scary movie, Scary Movie 3 (2003) takes the cake. It even manages to make Kevin Hart funny! 

If we’re talking recent horror watches, The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020) has absolutely wrecked me this month. For all its structural flipflopping — perhaps more interesting on paper than in execution — the spiralling thematic through lines and final payoff are absolutely stunning and, out of nowhere, just left me in a puddle. Victoria Pedretti, thank you for your service. 

Eliza Janssen

here u go !

Valerie Ng

Lake Mungo (2008): Not my favourite but definitely the most horrifying film I have seen in adult memory. It’s one of the rare few fright-fests that wedged itself firmly in my head for the months following, a certain terrible scene flitting around my head during my most anodyne late night trips to the bathroom. Despite having forgotten much of its context, and much of the plot, I can still recall the horrific paralysis that gripped me on the first viewing as the documentary spat out darker and darker secrets. I’m reluctant to spoil things (and don’t search it up if you plan to watch it!), so I’ll be vague — Lake Mungo centres around a family whose daughter drowns in the titular lake, and the potentially paranormal events that follow in their family home. The brilliance of this documentary-style film lies in its continued devotion to non-fiction tedium, its dull unravelling of a mystery so anticlimactic in its revelations, so true to the boring safety of the real world, that any sudden twists of unreality breed bright white terror.

Rough Cut