Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My favorite spooky movies of all time. So far.

Tomorrow is Halloween, which means I've been binge-watching my favorite scary movies all week.

Now, I don't get scared by a lot of movies.  Just because it's super bloody (or lately, the way that most horror movies are going - really, really gross) or because somebody is hiding and waiting to jump out at some unsuspecting schmuck doesn't guarantee that I'm going to be frightened.

What really gets me is a spooky movie.  Ghosts.  Scary, evil children.  Bible verses sung in slightly off-key Latin by a Gothic children's choir.  The people that you trust the most suddenly trying to murder you for no reason.  That stuff gives me the true heebie jeebies.

So, in honor of tomorrow, here's a list of my absolutely favorite spooky movies, in no particular order:

1.  The Lady in White
I saw this movie when I was about nine years old, and it horrified me.  I couldn't sleep for weeks.  I've since seen it many, many times and it still makes me shiver.  The story, set in the 60s, centers around a little boy (played with perfect little-kid panic by 80s wunderkind Lukas Haas) who is locked in his school's cloak room on Halloween night by some class bullies.  What he sees in there - a ghost of a little girl and her very-much-alive murderer - sets the tone for a surprisingly nostalgic and utterly creepy movie.

Scariest moment: "Have you ever seen a dream walkin'?  Well, I did..."  (Trust me.  You'll never be able to hear that song again without getting goosebumps.)

2.  Pet Sematary

Um, need I say more?  Look at that kid!  Stephen King is my favorite author (he writes some really great non-scary stuff, too), and this movie is pretty pitch-perfect with the mood the original novel evokes.  King wrote the screenplay (and even has a small cameo as the minister), so needless to say, it's so, sooo scary.  It's all about a dad who loses his 2-year-old son in a horrific accident, and out of his mind with grief, decides to bury him in the Pet Sematary near his house (which, of course, is really an Indian burial ground) because he'll come back.  And when he does come back, he's no longer his little boy.  At all. 

Scariest moment: "I played with Jud...I played with I want to play with yoooooou..."  And honestly, the ghost of Victor Pascow scared the junk out of me when I was a kid.  Even though he's supposed to be a good guy.

3.  The Changeling

George C. Scott plays a composer whose wife and daughter have been killed in a car accident and he decides to move to this huge Victorian mansion in the middle of nowhere so he can just grieve and play music.  That's all the poor guy wants.  Of course, that's not going to happen because the house just happens to be haunted by the ghost of a little boy who was murdered there by his dad about 100 years ago (who locked him in the attic in a secret room, along with his wheelchair - which is still there).  Never has a wheelchair been more sinister.

Scariest moment:  "How did you die, Joseph?  Did you die in this house?  Why do you remain?"  This is tied with the scene where the wheelchair chases Scott's girlfriend down the stairs.

4.  The Shining

My parents let me watch this movie at my 12th birthday party (although they fast-forwarded through the naked lady in the bathtub scene), and this may have been what hooked me on scary movies.  Also based on a book by King, I think what's so terrifying about this movie is the thought that your dad - your dad - could just go ape-poop crazy and decide that he just wants to kill you and your mom.  Yes, the hotel is evil (sooo evil), but really, the betrayal is the scariest thing about this story, in my opinion.

Scariest moment: 
1.  When I was 12, it was the dead sisters.  "Come play with us, Danny....forever...and ever...and ever..."
2.  As an adult, the part where Wendy finds the "book" that Jack has been working on and realizes that all he's been doing for weeks is writing the same sentence, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," and it hits her all at once that he's completely lost his mind --- aggggh!  And when he follows her up the stairs saying, "I'm not gonna hurt you, Wendy.  I'm just going to bash.  Your.  Brains in.  Wendy?  Put the bat down.  Give me the bat."

5.  The Ring

I went to see this with my friend Bridgett, and we just happened to run into my cousin Colin, who also enjoys all things scary.  We sat together, and at one point, I looked at Colin through my fingers and whispered "It's just too scary!  It's too scary!"  I actually left the theater with a headache from squinting my eyes in anticipation.  To quote Stefan from SNL - this movie has it all.  Evil dead children, creepy hair, and more creepy hair.

Scariest moment: When the chick climbs out of the TV to scare the dude to death, everyone in the movie theater started mewling and hiding their eyes.  And it just kept coming.  Did I mention there's a lot of creepy hair involved?

6.  The Devil's Backbone

This movie is in Spanish, so it's subtitled.  I thought, "Can't be that scary, then."  And I was so, so wrong.  The film was directed by Guillermo del Toro, and the ghost in this movie literally gave me nightmares.  I was 28 when I watched it in my apartment (by myself!  Stupid move, Amanda!), and I am not kidding - I slept with the light on for like three nights.

Scariest moment: When you find out what really happened to the horrifying ghost with the weird head injury.

7.  The Others
I love almost all Gothic ghost stories, and this fits the bill.  I'm not a huge Nicole Kidman fan, but she does a wonderful job of playing a harried mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and you actually sympathize with all she has to go through.  The cinematography is beautiful in this film too, and it adds to the chilling setting.  This is just a really good, old fashioned ghost story.

Scariest moment: When the little kids find the secret graveyard, and everything that follows.

8.  Let the Right One In

This Swedish movie (another subtitled gem) is the only vampire movie where I've actively rooted for the vampire. The friendship between the two main characters - a little boy who is being mercilessly bullied at school and the little girl (well, that's subjective to opinion) vampire - is actually pretty touching. The absolute starkness in the setting of the movie also makes it super unsettling.  They've since made an American reboot, which is good, but this one is the most effective.

Scariest moment: The last five minutes.  In the pool.  Enough said.

9.  Silver Bullet

Yep, yet another Stephen King offering, but this is an underrated one, in my opinion.  Corey Haim (before his sad spiral into drugs) gives a really great performance as a paralyzed child being pursued by a werewolf.  Yeah, I know.  It sounds stupid, but it's really, really creepy.  Especially since the werewolf just happens to be the town minister.  As an added bonus, Megan Follows - yes, Anne of Green Gables! - plays Haim's sister. 

Scariest moment:  When the minister corners Haim in an abandoned covered bridge and he can't get away because he's out of gas in his cool powered wheelchair (also called "The Silver Bullet") and then...the minister starts changing form...

Happy Halloween, everybody!!!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Many Faces of Amanda

I can smell a fake personality from miles away.  I've wrinkled my nose at Facebook statuses, coworkers, bosses, friends, family, even toddlers and their "I'm so sweet, but only because I want.  This.  Cookie.  Now" voices more often than I can count. 

Let's face it -- I have Fake Radar.  It's very well-honed. 

Why, you ask?  Well.  Let's be honest.  I'm so skilled at spotting the Fakes because a lot of the time...frequently, even...I am one.

I'll even go so far as to say I have several fake personalities.  Oh, yes.  I could possibly be labeled a Personality Chameleon.

Now, I'm not saying that I have crazy multiple personality disorder a la "Sybil," but I know that I can tailor who I really am to fit who I'm with.

This has always driven me nuts about other people.  We've all had that one friend who is exactly like you when you're with him/her, but if you're all in a big group, he/she tends to copy the mannerisms of the most popular person in the huddle.  I try my best to not be that person, and most of the time, I feel like I succeed.

But I know that I can be guilty of the ol' switcheroo from time to time. 

Let me introduce you to a couple of my alter-egos:

Church Amanda, or, as I like to think of it, "Sure, hon'" Amanda

Church Amanda is most likely my default setting, especially if I'm nervous.  I cultivated this girl a looooong time ago, back when I was a kid living in a motor home with my evangelist parents.  Smile, smile, smile.  Don't argue.  Everything is fine.  It's fine. Be accommodating.  Make everybody happy and by all means, be nice.

Now, there are good and bad points to this one.  People who are always grumpy are totally annoying.  But on the other hand, people who are constantly cheerful make you want to actually make them cry.  As in, "if I pinched her really hard on the elbow, would she possibly stop nodding and smiling?" 

Do you guys remember that TV show back in the 80s, "Small Wonder"? The one about Vicky, the little girl who is a robot?  I loved that show.  They had a neighbor, and I'm not totally sure of her name, but it seems like it was something like Mrs. Poole.  Mrs. Poole was always happy, always cheerful.  And she was always annoying her neighbors because she was so nosy.  Her catch phrase was "Sure, hon'." 

I don't think I'm that unbelievably irritating, but I sure can turn on the cheesy charm when I feel cornered or if I'm trying to project the "I'm always a good girl" persona.  Blech. 

Hipster Amanda

Oh, I wish this one was really me sometimes.  You know.  The "I only listen to The National, and wear big black framed eyeglasses and yes, I really own twelve pairs of Oxfords and I couldn't care less about what you think about anything I've ever done/said/thought/written because, man, I'm being real" girl.

I've tried to be this girl several times, especially when I'm around my hipster friends (and don't we all have at least one?). 

But about halfway through any interaction with a hipster, I begin to feel my coolness crumble and drop off of me like The Oracles from "The Neverending Story."  (See?  Right there.  A hipster would never genuinely refer to "The Neverending Story" in a non-ironic way.) 

I still like yoga pants and t-shirts.  And contacts.  And I still occasionally listen to Wilson Phillips.  And as much as I hate to admit it, I really care what people think about me.  Honestly, too much sometimes, but I think about what reaction I'm going to get before I say or do something.

I really don't think that people in their thirties can be really successful hipsters, anyway.  We're too old to be ironic.  We're always inwardly rolling our eyes when people without gluten allergies swear by a cardboard-tasting gluten-free organic blueberry muffin when there's a perfectly good Cracker Barrel next door. 

And let's be honest, those Oxfords provide absolutely no arch support.

Big Bad Wolf Amanda

Holly Jo, my sister, had an unintentionally hilarious experience at WalMart last week.  When she walked into the entrance, she found that there were no shopping carts pulled out and ready to be used.  So she reached behind the plastic curtain and took one out herself.  While she was rubbing the handle down with a sanitizing wipe, a little old lady walked right up and took it from her without a word.  So, ever friendly, Holly Jo proceeded to pull out another cart.  And it happened two more times.  That's right.  Two more people came and took a cart out of her hands.

Of course, my first question was "What were you wearing?" because I was sure they had to have mistaken her for a WalMart employee.  But no, she was wearing grey sweatpants and an Alabama sweatshirt. 

So my first comment was "Holly Jo, you're just way too nice.  I would have said, 'Excuse me! That's my cart!' or I would have just slapped them away."

Then when Holly Jo posted about it on Facebook, about a jillion people said the same thing. 

Only a few of them laughed and said, "That stinks!" or something to that effect.

The more people that prodded Holly Jo to stand up for herself, the more irritated I got.  Sure, it's ok for me to say that to my sister, but geez.  Lay off the violence advice.  Holly Jo is nice. 

But the truth is, we all do that.  We all like to think that if faced with extreme rudeness we would immediately turn into some superhero version of Tyler Perry's Madea and we're great about telling people exactly what we would do, but really?  Would we? 

Holly Jo was just shocked at the rudeness of the situation, and she probably reacted like most of us would.  With speechlessness. 

Granted, there are times when I can be a roaring warrior when it comes to self defense, but most of the time - nah.  I'll think about it later, when the immediate threat is over, and realize what I should have done, but at the moment, I can be pretty meek.  And there's nothing more annoying than a know-it-all friend telling you exactly how you should have handled a situation after it's all over.

I have to say, I think most of us are a combination of all of our fake personalities.  There's probably an element of truth in each of them, or we wouldn't be able to act them out as well as we do. 

I just wish I could manage to combine all the best of them and be the real, imperfect, sometimes overly critical, overly negative, overly cheerful, overly geeky, but - I'd like to think - lovable me.