As someone who tries to resist nostalgia’s tempting grip, television countdowns give me a nostalgia bug in a way few things can. From VH1’s The Greatest series to E!’s exploitative lists of real-life mass murderers, these types of lists (especially ones that aired when I was a child) hold a place in my heart, even at their sloppiest and most pointless – and they are often sloppy and pointless.
Of these sorts of specials, the Bravo channel’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments still strikes me as the best example of the form. First airing in 2004 right around Halloween, it played a major role in my development as an 11-year-old film buff. I recorded it onto a tape and would watch it many times throughout the year. To this day, it remains a Halloween staple for me, though I’ve gone from a VHS recording to relying on the YouTube and Dailymotion users who have graciously uploaded it.
Without the special, I may not have been exposed to classics like Don’t Look Now, The Vanishing, and Blue Velvet at such an early age. The list is solid, with about a 50-50 mix of obvious and obscure. Some of the picks are fairly audacious, such as putting Takashi Miike’s Audition at number eleven, a bold decision for Bravo in 2004. It’s not limited to films that are explicitly horror either, featuring unexpected choices like The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and The Terminator. The top ten, beyond including the unexpected Wait Until Dark, is predictable in the best way, a collection of classic horror flicks that’s about as essential as a top ten can get (even if its order feels slightly random).
But the list itself is only a small part of what makes 100 Scariest Movie Moments so watchable. The interview choices, for example, keep the four hours (five with commercials) moving along smoothly. These sorts of clip shows often get the same sorts of interviewees, be they musicians, comedians, etc. Bravo mixed it up, though, combing horror creators, film critics, and comedians from Upright Citizens Brigade. Some are familiar faces while others are clearly of their time, and yet that kind of variety really makes it stand out, dated in the best way. Moments where analysis from Mark Kermode or Maitland McDonagh is mixed in with schtick from the Broken Lizard guys and gushing from Eli Roth are fascinating, and they keep the special from going too much in a single direction. There are many ways to appreciate horror – humour, critical dissection, or just pure joy and love – and Bravo respects it all.
Gilbert Gottfried, on the other hand, keeps things bizarrely serious. Horror is apparently the one thing he won’t joke about.
A special claiming to represent the scariest movie moments will inevitably be filled with hyperbole, and there is a lot of it. Bruce Campbell’s unnerved reaction to The Tenant, Eli Roth’s comments on Phantasm, and Leonard Maltin’s assertion that 28 Days Later… “seems possible,” all paint the picture of people far more easily disturbed by horror than you’d expect professional creators and reviewers of movies to be. Danielle Nicolet, meanwhile, is either incredibly hyperbolic or so easily frightened that you have to wonder why she watches scary movies at all.
Bravo tried doing similar lists later. In 2006, they did 30 Scarier Movie Moments, followed by 13 Scarier Movie Moments in 2009, as misleading as titles can be. Really, these lists are comprised of new releases and honorable mentions, unless you honestly believe that Slither and Cloverfield are scarier than Night of the Living Dead. The interviews are also a major step down, with even returning folks like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie seeming less jazzed to be there than they did in the original. Bravo also did a 100 Funniest Movies special around 2006 that seems lost to time, not that anyone’s missing anything. Where the scariest list contains picks from the silent era up until 2002, their list of comedies only goes back as far as Dr. Strangelove and mostly stays around the ‘80s, ‘90s, and aughts, and the talking heads are mainly just famous comedians and filmmakers quoting their favorite lines like an obnoxious co-worker doing a Borat impression. (Worthy of note: the top three are Animal House, Caddyshack, and… Shrek.)
That these later specials fail and 100 Scariest Movie Moments succeeds proves that clip shows don’t inherently lack artistic merit. The editing on 100 Scariest Movie Moments is, in fact, a large part of what makes it such a strong viewing experience. Its structure, the use of graphics and music, and the overall tone gives it the feel of a haunted house; spooky yet inviting, something comforting that you want to return to. I suppose that’s why I keep coming back to it fifteen years later. It’s cheesy and something of a relic, but for as scary as the movies featured are, this collection feels like home.
by Melody Danielle Rice
Melody Danielle Rice is a transgender woman from Michigan with a passion for movies, pop music, and leopard print. A fan of avant-garde cinema and horror in equal measure, her favorite films include Jeanne Dielman, Daisies, and The Curse of the Cat People. Her writing can be found at The Young Folks, Film Inquiry, and on her Letterboxd.
Categories: Anything and Everything