While there are more than enough horror and genre films that do the trick of scaring the living crap out of us, sometimes films outside of that box do it just as effectively. A couple of us Icons of Fright staffers decided to share with you fright fiends, some movies that aren’t horror films, but are quite intense all the same. Read on!
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)
There’s something about PT Anderson’s very loose adaption of Upton Sinclair’s OIL! that freaks me the hell out. Does it have a masked killer walking around, slaughtering nubile teens?, nope. It is also without about 90% of other elements that typically give me an upset feeling after watching it. Instead it relies on a combination of one of the best performances of all time (yeah, I said that) and a VERY unsettling score masterfully done by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, both elements equally as strong as the other.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD tells the tale of “oil man” Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), who has one thing on his mind the entire film: getting rich. He’s a cut-throat business man that doesn’t let anything or anyone stand in his way, no matter the cost. When the property of a local family stands in Plainview’s way of drilling for oil, a feud begins, between him and the family’s son, Eli, an aspiring minister. A battle of the wits between Plainview and Eli lasts pretty much the whole film, and when Daniel needs one last property, the owner makes him attend Eli’s church, in which Eli publicly shames and embarrasses Plainview, sparking the anger between them to grow even more.
What is quite unsettling to me, is that from the beginning, we as viewers see that Plainview will stop at nothing to get what he wants. When a fellow oil worker dies at the beginning of the film, Daniel raises the kid as his own, but not for fatherly purposes, but to appeal to those with land that he wants. He uses his son as a way into their hearts, and afterwards, does nothing but continue his reign of drilling and gaining money. He murders a drifter that claims to be his brother, after finding out it was a lie. When his son grows up and wants to get married and start his own drilling company, Plainview makes fun of his son’s disability, and then calls him a “bastard from a basket”.
The film consistently stays intense throughout the whole film, as the score quietly, then loudly creates an atmospheric mood around the dry, wide cinematography. Where it ends though, is surprising and equally intense, as a grown Eli visits the elderly Plainview, asking for money. Instead of helping him, or telling him no, Plainview repays the embarrassment that Eli brought on him, with forcing Eli to say “I am a false prophet; God is a superstition,” then insulting him with the now classic “I drink YOUR milkshake”, before proceeding to bash Eli’s head in with a bowling pin, and telling his butler “I’m finished.” It’s a scene that will go down as one of the greats, and though it is definitely not a horror film per se’, it makes a good addition to this list.
As a little girl growing up, I idolized my mother. The way she managed to take care of two little girls, taught me how to do my makeup without a mirror in a moving vehicle, could make a meal out of anything thrown at her, and always had the best taste for my pageant gowns were just a few traits I dearly admired. My mother was (and still is) my biggest cheerleader, the strongest rock I have, my confidante, and my greatest hero. To quote SILENT HILL, “Mother is God in the eyes of a child.”
When I was about 9 years old, I fell in love with old movies. Hepburn, Colbert, Kelly, Hayworth, Garbo, and Crawford were among my favorites. I could watch these women for hours and their elegance and quick-witted comments inspired me to be who I am today. Joan Crawford’s performance in PARIS took my breath away, and I knew she was a woman after my own heart in THE UNKNOWN. I loved the woman, and I thought she was one of the most incredible actresses the world would ever know.
A year or so later, after begging my babysitter to watch OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS just one more time, she asked me if I wanted to see “the real” Joan Crawford. Shocked there was a movie I hadn’t gotten my grubby little paws on at the local Ma & Pa video store struggling to stay afloat down the road, I agreed. That was when she popped in the film MOMMIE DEAREST. I immediately realized that this wasn’t Joan Crawford but Bonnie Parker herself, Faye Dunaway, doing a monstrous impression of one of my idols. I use the word monstrous not because she was doing a poor job, but because she transformed one of the most iconic women in the world into a creature straight out of my nightmares. I watched in horror as Crawford violently scrubbed her body with boiling water and alcohol, screamed at her child, became enraged at any sort of defiance by anyone, and tried her best to manipulate everyone who came in contact with her. I couldn’t believe it. Joan Crawford, one of my cinematic idols, was a maniac with penciled brows.
And then…the wire hangers came out. I sobbed, loudly. This poor girl was being beaten with wire hangers with the fury that can only be compared to Schwartz’ mother over the phone in A CHRISTMAS STORY. I could barely watch the screen after seeing this girl whipped with these thin medal rods. How could she do this? She was the poor girl’s mother!
After watching the film, I was completely traumatized. I began to fear my mother thinking that if Joan Crawford could snap, so could my own mother. I was ridiculously obedient and tried my best to never cross her. It wasn’t until I convinced myself to watch WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (PS; I watched it because I was a total GYPSY fangirl, not because of Crawford or Davis) that my image of Crawford was somewhat saved. Crawford may have been a terrifying mother, but she was no Bette Davis’ Baby Jane. MOMMIE DEAREST showed me that mothers are not always these Christlike figures that we imagine, and that even the women who bring us life have the power to destroy us just the same. Of course, my mother never beat me with wire hangers, but MOMMIE DEAREST scared me, because it showed me that no human is immune to insanity. The glorious Joan Crawford…or a mother…can inspire fear just as easily as any masked murderer.