William Friedkin on 13 Must-See Horror Movies
Here's a scary thought: The following movies give William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist (now out on Blu-ray), nightmares. ''They're usually pursuit dreams. Somebody is after me to kill me,'' explains the Oscar winner. ''I dread having these nightmares because they are so real to me that it takes me maybe hours after I wake up to convince myself that I'm not in that world,'' Friedkin says. ''These films produce that same effect every time I watch them.'' With that sobering endorsement, on to Friedkin's annotated list. Rent at your own risk.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''Psycho was the first film that really scared me, that made me think, Oh my God, this is possible. Hitchcock based it on a novel by Robert Bloch, which was based on actual murders committed by a guy living in a shack in Wisconsin named Ed Gein. I grew up and lived in Chicago, a stone's throw away.... When I made The Exorcist, I understood what Hitchcock had done with Psycho. The buildup to those horrific scenes was more terrifying than the scenes themselves, as unforgettably disturbing as they were. Any work of art that can produce an emotional response is powerful. Hitchcock is able to scare you, almost anytime he cares to.''
Directed by Ridley Scott
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''Alien was a big surprise to me. Usually a film that's set in the future doesn't contain very much horror, 'cause you know it's all fantasy. But Ridley Scott built the suspense so incredibly that when you finally got glimpses of the alien, and realized how it came to be, it was shocking. It never let up. I would say the two most frightening moments in cinema are the murder of the Janet Leigh character in Psycho, and the chest-bursting scene in Alien.''
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Directed by Roman Polanski
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''I think it's the nightmare of many women that they're gonna give birth to a child that is evil. Not only evil, but the progeny of the devil. The young husband, played by John Cassavetes, makes a pact with a group of demon worshippers to allow the devil to have sex with his wife for the purpose of bringing onto earth the child of Satan. And in what is perhaps the most terrifying sequence of all, the mother, played by Mia Farrow, sees this baby, which is clearly a demon, and like all mothers, she embraces it. Really, it's about blind ambition, and how far this young couple will go to achieve success. It deals with the demon inside all of us.''
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''This film was remade years later with Sharon Stone — forget that. The original, which is a French film, is filled with surprises. A man runs a school with his wife, and one of the teachers is his mistress. The two women decide that this man is so brutal to both of them, that they're gonna kill him. They attempt to [hide] his body, and along the way, little hints of evidence show that he is perhaps not really dead. Or that he has come back to haunt these women for what they've done. You're never quite sure. It's totally realistic, and has the biggest surprise at the end of any of these films. It's a wonderful conceit, brilliantly realized.''
Directed by Kaneto Shindô
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''It's a masterpiece of horror and suspense. It's about an old woman, who has only her daughter-in-law to care for her in a remote village. She starts to see her daughter-in-law sneak out every night, and she follows her to see where she's gone — off to have sex with a man out in the weeds. This incredibly frightening, mythological Japanese demon appears every time the daughter-in-law goes out, and the pursuit by the demon through those weeds is terrifying. It's a cautionary tale about going off and sinning and not worrying about paying the price. It can send shivers up your spine like a cold hand on the back of your neck, and there's little if any blood.''
Suspiria (1977) / Deep Red (1975)
Directed by Dario Argento
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''Suspiria (pictured, top) [set at a terrorized ballet academy] and Deep Red (pictured, bottom) [set in motion with a murdered psychic] are the most pure horror films on this list. The other films I've named have a lot to say about basic human values, and the things that bring about evil. These two films are just finely tuned machines to scare the hell out of you. And they do. They are the classic blood-spattered slasher films that have been imitated, copied, and remade without credit. They're strictly in the realm of fantasy, but Argento, being the great living master of horror, is so talented that they'll scare anyone who sees them.''
Le Boucher (The Butcher) (1970)
Directed by Claude Chabrol
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''This French film takes the longest time to get to one of the most frightening sequences in the history of motion pictures. Like all of Claude Chabrol's films, it has a lot to say about the nature of the people who live in small towns. The main character is a woman who strikes up a friendship with the local butcher. He's charitable, gentle, and completely nonthreatening...until you find out the butcher is, in fact, really a butcher. Like so many of these films, the heroine winds up alone with [the killer] in the final sequence.''
Funny Games (1997)
Directed by Michael Haneke
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''It's probably the scariest film on the list because it involves two young punks in a rural village terrorizing a family in their home. It's the kind of thing you see on the news very often today. There is the possibility of this actually happening. It's brilliantly done.''
Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''If you'll notice, most of the films on my list are from many, many years ago. For the most part, I'm not interested in horror films that I see today. But Them is an exception. It's based on a true story, and similar to Funny Games, it's about some young people who go around a small vacation town and kidnap various visitors, take them to a house, torture them, and kill them. For the entire length of the picture, you have no idea who's doing this or why, and then the final scene kind of explains it. Those sequences of hunting, capturing, and torturing are really among the most brilliant that I've ever seen.''
The Lodger (1944)
Directed by John Brahm
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''There've been many movies about Jack the Ripper, but I think this one's the best. It's not so much about the investigation as it is a possible indication of who this might have been. Laird Cregar is the Lodger, a guy who did not live in the East End of London [where the murders took place] but took rooms there. Because he bore the appearance of a gentleman, he was able to walk the streets looking for prostitutes without being questioned. He'd kill these women for no particular reason. Cregar's performance is so good that you get a sense of a warped mind that otherwise seems to function quite normally when he's not killing. It's absolutely classic.''
The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Directed by Robert Siodmak
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''Like many of these films, it's a mystery story as much as anything else. It's about a guy who kills women who have certain afflictions. You don't know until the final scene who this killer is. In that final sequence, [the lead character, a mute played by Dorothy McGuire] comes face-to-face with him. She, of course, can't tell anyone who the murderer is. It's from the 1940s, but it still holds up.''
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN SAYS: ''You're driving along on a country road, and you're kidnapped by some people and taken to a house that looks ordinary from the outside and inside the whole family are ravenous cannibals that take great pleasure in nailing people to the wall and then cutting them up with a chain saw. This represents our worst nightmare — and it too was based on a true story. It's highly brutal and violent, and way off the charts in terms of human decency. It's another finely tuned machine that gets the job done.''