Artwork by Sarah K
CAROLINE MADDEN-LAKE MUNGO (2008)
I’ve had my fair share of terrifying theatre or movie experiences, like Paranormal Activity where I couldn’t sleep for an entire night, or The Ring which gave me a fear of closets and long-haired girls climbing out of wells for longer than I’d like to admit. But re-watching those movies I got over my initial terror, and wasn’t really afraid of them anymore. But Lake Mungo will probably haunt me for life. I refuse to watch it again because I know there’s no way it will scare me any less.
I first saw it when browsing Netflix with my roommate about a year ago. The scary movies that I both love and fear the most are ghost stories. Lake Mungo is a faux-documentary about the drowning of a sixteen-year-old girl, and afterwards her parents enlisting a psychic and parapsychologist to help discover the odd supernatural occurrences going on in their home.
The mockumentary aspect of it made it feel so realistic, which of course made it all the more scary. The most frightening aspect was what the family discovers hidden in their pictures, and a cell phone video of the sixteen-year-old girl’s encounter with a ghost. Not only is the ghost terrifying to look at, it is horrifying when you find out who the ghost is. It left me with shivers down my spine. It was hard to get to sleep that night without that image in my head.
Lake Mungo is one of the best ghost story movies I’ve seen, but also probably the scariest movie I’ve seen in my life. Nothing gets me more than ghosts, the fear of the unseen and the horrors when you finally see them.
CHEROKEE SEEBALACK-INLAND EMPIRE (2006)
Inland Empire has all the traits that you would expect from a David Lynch film – a nourish vibe with drops of satire, suburban settings and strange dialogue and characters. You could probably say that there is a correlation, at least theme wise, between his second last film Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. The reality is, though, they couldn’t be any more different.
Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is an actress looking for her comeback role. Just before she auditions for the leading part to a new movie, she’s visited by a Polish woman who predicts what will happen to her. And that’s all I’m going to say. The rest is not only pretty much unexplainable, but even if I did try to tell you anymore than that, it is worth going into the film with a fresh mind, and most likely closed eyes.
Inland Empire isn’t a horror film in the blood-splattering gore kind of way or your Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity flick. David Lynch doesn’t think of himself as a horror director, either, and – how I and others watch his films – I’d tend to agree. There are horror-like elements about his work, but his aim isn’t really to get those jumping-out-of-your-seat reactions or to make you feel like you’ve watched a horror film. They’re uncomfortable or surprising moments that can leave you shaken for a bit, but it’s not what dominates the story. He changes the way of telling a narrative to something that you don’t expect, because most films follow a very linear structure.
That’s where Inland Empire is different. Almost every inch of the film is unsettling boarding-on completely terrifying without actually doing too much. It’s chopped and sliced into a film sans the same way films are usually written and made. This is one of the reasons why Lynch won’t be for everyone. He takes you out of your natural habitat, how we’ve been told films should be, and doesn’t follow the rule book. Simple as.
But, the pull to Lynch’s work isn’t the fact that he is ‘weird’. It is a key strength in nearly all of his work that is vastly overlooked – a character you care about. In Inland Empire, it’s Nikki. You want her to be okay, you don’t want anything to happen to her. She is strong, but vulnerable. Doesn’t need saving, but needs someone to help her.
It’s a 3 hour nightmare you want her to be free from by the end of the story. And that is where the fear lies – the unknowing. That feeling comes across more in Inland Empire than any of Lynch’s other films and that’s the true terrifying aspect of it. It could be the family of rabbits gathering in their living room with sitcom canned laugher playing over their actions, or it could be Nikki running down a corridor with her eyes gazing right down the lens; face covering the whole screen. The expectation of what will happen is scary enough without throwing in horror tropes or anything else that can make it more frightening.
And, I’ll tell you this – once you’ve seen it, it’ll still give you the heebie-jeebies. Argh, they’re crawling over me right now.
CRISTINA VAZQUEZ DE MERCADO– THE STRANGERS (2008)
I’ve been a horror film fan since I was about 8 years-old when I came across Child’s Play one day on my TV. Yes, my TV. I don’t know why my parents thought it would be a good idea to put a TV in my room, and even more specifically, a TV with cable–but that’s besides the point. My point is, I have grown desensitized to most types of horror films (it took me a while to rid my fear of dolls though, admittedly.) One film that I still can’t quite shake off ‘til this day is The Strangers directed by Bryan Bertino. Give me gore, ghosts, demons, what have you..but serial killers with MASKS?! Oh hell no. I think I am now able to rationalize with what can and can’t happen in real life when it comes to watching horror films. However, if a film states that it’s based on a true story..that’s when I brace myself.
The Strangers is about two characters named Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) who stupidly decide to stay at a cabin in the middle of the woods. It’s quite an awkward plot from the beginning since just before they arrive, Kristen rejects James’ marriage proposal. Although I have no idea why anyone would agree to put themselves in that situation, I do think the discomfort helps to put the audience in a vulnerable state from the beginning. This film is filled with several annoying, horror film cliches (tripping whilst trying to get away, NOT following the buddy system, being overall stupid) BUT it redeems itself with its intense creepiness. The film is based on the ‘Manson Family Murders,’ which, simply put, occurred when murderers knocked on innocent people’s doors and killed them if they were home. Hence why in the film and in the trailer, Kristen asks why the masked creepers are tormenting them, one of the women says, “Because you were home.” CHILLS. CHILLS EVERYWHERE. I’m going to get into some spoiler alerts now, so please stop reading if I have been able to convince you to watch this film that unfairly received a 6.2 on IMDB.
One of the absolute scariest scenes I have ever experienced in a horror film is so subtle, but I think that’s why it worked so well on me. There’s a point where the record player in James’ childhood cabin gets stuck, so it repeats the same four notes. It gets caught right when the song goes minor, so the scene automatically becomes ten times more ominous. If I hum or even think of the four notes, I get anxiety. The record player is used again when James and Kristen’s friend (Glenn Howerton from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!!!) comes over to check up on them. The music covers up the fact that a man with a sack on his head holding a hatchet IS RIGHT BEHIND HIM. This film does a great job with using what should be “romantic, sensual” music to contrast the suspense of the unknown, as well as using absolute silence. Speaking of the unknown, the masked killers never reveal their faces to the audience, only to the victims, making it all the more terrifying (which is why I later looked up the actors’ faces, oops). So please, just do yourself a favour and watch this film so you’ll never be able to stay home alone ever again.
CHLOE LEESON-THE RING/MARBLE HORNETS
The Ring wasn’t the first horror film I ever saw, that title went to Jeepers Creepers. But The Ring (2002) was the first one that ever scared the living shit out of me. As with most horrors I watched between the ages of 8-12 they were incredibly hyped up, whispers passed along the playground about ‘the scariest thing you’ll ever see’ so obviously I was curious. I watched it around aged 9 with a friend whose parents were very restrictive about what she watched; they had their reservations and vowed to stay up till we’d finished the film in case we couldn’t hack it. A parent restricting viewing?! I knew this was going to be good.
A remake of 1998 film Ringu, the 2002 version was the first one I seen and I love it’s gorgeous and creepy blue grey colouring. The premise of the film is a journalist investigating a mysterious tape that has had a lot of death surrounding it and is supposedly cursed. She watches the tape and follows the clues left in the tape to discover the true meaning behind it, and the girl at the bottom of the well.
I think the thing that sold me on the entire film was the video. The contents of the tape. Watch it and you die in 7 days. It’s composed of grainy footage of various oddities and little nasty’s, such as a fingernail ripping off underneath a nail, flies and a woman falling off a cliff. The frequent playing of the video throughout the film freaked the living daylights out of me.
The film has managed to stay with me to this day, straight after my first viewing, I needed the toilet, upon approaching the door I saw the shower curtain pulled across my friends bath. My hand was literally shaking with fear and I could not pull that curtain back in some weird fear that Samara would be behind or someone who had watched the tape, their face completely deformed. Eventually, her dad had to do it for me and I still cannot go into a bathroom with a shower curtain pulled across. it’s been nearly 10 years since I seen that film and my hand still shakes.
So after watching the tape, was I going to die in 7 days? Who knew. I didn’t care. The Ring has secured a place in my heart permanently.