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Horror movies: Loving big-screen scares from 'The Exorcist' to 'It'

"It."

WARNER BROS.

By CLINT O’CONNOR | Akron Beacon Journal | Published: October 30, 2017

A woman once complained to Alfred Hitchcock that she had not been able to take a shower ever since being horrified by “Psycho.” The director responded that, in that case, he was glad he had not staged the murder on a toilet.

Even Janet Leigh, who played the unfortunate Marion Crane, the woman stabbed to death in the world’s most famous bathroom scene, said she was not able to take a shower for years after making the film. Only baths. With the shower curtain wide open.

Upholding the family tradition, 18 years after “Psycho,” Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, was hack-attacked by Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” (We thought the crazed babysitter-killer was dead. But he really wasn’t! Then he was! But he wasn’t!)

What is it about being scared senseless that keeps us coming back to theaters year after year? The horror genre shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s thriving.

The No. 1 film in America is “Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween.” And it’s sharing space at the multiplex with “Happy Death Day,” “Jigsaw” and “It.” “Boo 2” is a comedy-horror flick from Perry’s mega-success factory. “Happy Death Day” finds a girl reliving her murder. “Jigsaw” is the latest in the Saw series.

The record-setting “It” is the latest adaptation of the Stephen King novel. It stars Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, the toothy, dancing clown who terrorizes a group of children in the late 1980s. It is the top-grossing horror movie of all time, hauling in more than $320 million at last count.

It’s also the biggest money-maker ever for a King adaptation. And that’s saying something, considering that more than 60 films and TV shows have been derived from King’s novels and short stories. It all started with “Carrie” in 1976.

It has burrowed into the pop culture zeitgeist as well, most joltingly on “Saturday Night Live” when Kate McKinnon, channeling Kellyanne Conway as Pennywise, tried to lure an unsuspecting Anderson Cooper (Alex Moffat) into the sewer. In the darkly comic sketch, called Kellywise, McKinnon later morphed into Hillary Clinton plugging her new book.

I suppose I could insert some broad statement here about how the divisive, rattled state of America has been pushing audiences to demand more scares and gore, with movie screens somehow reflecting the dark nature of the country’s mood.

The problem with that is: The popularity of horror films is not unique to 2017. Scary movies have been part of the film industry since motion pictures were invented. Two of the most revered horror films of all time, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and “Nosferatu,” were released in 1920 and 1922, respectively. Before sound.

The “Halloween” series launched in 1978; “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1984; “Saw” started in 2004.

Horror hits

There are so many horror films released each year, that the movie tracking site boxofficemojo.com, has to break the genre into nine separate categories. It leads two of them. Here are the top-grossing films in each horror category:

- R-Rated: “It” (2017)

- Period Piece: “The Conjuring” (2013)

- Slasher: “Scream” (1996)

- Supernatural: “It” (2017)

- Terror in the Water: “Jaws” (1975)

- Torture: “Saw II” (2005)

- Anthology: “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983)

- Comedy: “Ghostbusters” (1984)

- Remake: “The Ring” (2002)

For my money, I still have to rate William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” as the freakiest film I have ever seen.

Maybe it’s because I was so young when I saw it, or maybe it’s because I’m such a weenie, but when those two priests were fighting to exorcise the soul of the head-spinning, green-goo-spewing Linda Blair, it shook me to my marrow. Shout out to writer William Peter Blatty (who passed away this year at age 89), for his novel and screenplay.

If you are looking for other twisted titles to rent or stream in honor of Halloween, I would also recommend “Poltergeist,” which brilliantly brought the paranormal to an average family’s living room. It was directed by Tobe Hooper, who also gave the world “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Hooper, who passed away in August, was assisted on “Poltergeist” by Steven Spielberg, who also co-wrote the script.

Another perennial pleaser is Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (Stephen King again!), which lends itself to repeated viewings as Jack Nicholson goes progressively bonkers in a massive, snowed-in lodge.

For those who want to take a total deep dive into “The Shining,” there is also Rodney Ascher’s documentary “Room 237,” which points to all manner of weird conspiracies and hidden messages in the film. (I don’t buy any of it, but “Room 237” is a hoot.)

In the spirit of horror sequels, prequels and reboots, I would be remiss if I did not share a “save the date” notice, albeit a year in advance.

The aforementioned Jamie Lee Curtis will come full circle and return as Laurie Strode in an “all-new” version of “Halloween.” Yep. The 10th sequel.

Original director (and composer) John Carpenter is a producer/adviser. David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) will direct.

“Same porch. Same clothes. Same issues. 40 years later,” Curtis tweeted with a photo when the film was announced. “Headed back to Haddonfield one last time for Halloween.”

When it comes to sequels, “one last time” is really not an operative phrase.

It is slated to hit theaters 40 years after the original, on Oct. 19, 2018.

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© 2017 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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