There’s nothing better than having a lady (or man for that matter, let’s not be sexist) clinging on to you for dear life during a great fright flick! A pitch black screening room full of shrieks and screams is always great for generating a chilling atmosphere. It’s even more improved when such a genre fave boasts a shocking twist that keeps it memorable and continues to be revisited even after you’ve left the theatre.
Screen Relish has assembled some of our most shocking suspense-driven features that took us in a direction that few saw coming. So be aware ***SPOILERS AHEAD***
In no particular order, we begin with…
THE TALL MAN (2011)
Pascal Laugier followed up his 2008 infamous, unflinching and brutal French hit MARTYRS with his first English-language effort. THE TALL MAN was sold as a typical supernatural killer-on-the-loose flick. Children mysteriously taken in the night by a hooded figure, which it is… sort of. The film deserved better than its straight-to-DVD with its original, yet uncomfortable twist coming at the halfway point where we learn Jessica Biel’s devoted mother, seemingly desperate to retrieve her son from this madman, is in fact involved and it’s not actually her child. She’s one of many ‘accomplices’ working around the country stealing children from their uncaring parents and, with the help of the boogeyman title character, whisk them to give them a better chance in life. It’s certainly more GONE BABY GONE than HALLOWEEN.
Few do horror better than Wes Craven. The man who gave us the razor-fingered dream demon Freddy Kruger, ultimately eclipsed his signature slasher by going on to give us one of the most iconic movies of the 1990s. Self-referential and satirical teen slasher SCREAM refused to play by the familiar genre rules, thanks in part to a biting and surprisingly funny screenplay by a then-unknown Kevin Williamson. Cutesy TV actress Neve Campbell was made a movie star as the unlucky victim Sidney Prescott, slowly being stalked by a devious (and mysterious) Ghostface killer. Of course, obvious perpetrators (or red-herrings) like the dopey Deputy, classmates and even her father, were all crossed off the list until it was discovered it was indeed her boyfriend, with his demented pal, doing the stabbing. Two killers tag-teaming!
DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)
After becoming a father for the first time a few years ago, the stark opening to Nicholas Roeg’s haunting classic, based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel DON’T LOOK NOW, packs an even more emotional punch for myself. While looking at a mysterious slide image and seeing it ruined, it triggers an eerie warning for Donald Sutherland as he rushes to fish his lifeless daughter’s young body from the pond near their home. The harrowing scene is only the beginning of his and wife Julie Christie’s wretched journey and going to Venice to try to come to terms with their grief may not have the best solution when they meet an elderly psychic. Could his daughter have come back when Sutherland sees visions of a red-coated child-like image weaving through the confined streets? Sadly not and when eventually catching up with the hooded figure, he becomes the latest victim of this dwarf-like psychopath holding the city in the grip of fear.
THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)
His career may now be in the shitter after a string of severe and laughable flops but lets not forget writer/director M. Night Shyamalan scored a critical and commercial hit with sleeper smash THE SIXTH SENSE. The film looked a relatively low-key supernatural thriller with Bruce Willis as a child psychologist attempting get over the attack from a former patient and their subsequent suicide. After looking to help troubled youngster Haley Joel Osment, who is claiming, “I see dead people“, the atmospheric chiller pulled a rabbit out of the hat by giving us arguably the greatest cinematic surprise of all-time. Brucey’s actually dead too! Looking back, there are countless clues – the colour pallet at certain points and the fact his wife (Olivia Williams) never speaks a work to Willis after the opening tragic sequence – to hint at these events but if anyone tells you they saw it coming a million miles away, they’re lying bastards! Nicole Kidman’s THE OTHERS also stole the same conclusion a few years later.
SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE (HAUTE/HIGH TENSION) (2005)
Arguably the most controversial twist on the list. Alexandre Aja’s fantastically gory French horror sees two female friends Marie (Cecile De France) and Alexia (Maiwenn) travelling to the remote home of one their parents for a spot of idyllic sunshine and study. A sudden late night knock at the door from a hulking madman unleashes an escalating series of violent events as he kidnaps one, throwing her in the back of his truck, while the other secretly attempts to help her escape by following. The blood-drenched conclusion will not work for all, and is often described as nonsensical or in the extreme “cheating the audience”. Me? I lapped up the ferocious finale as Marie is living the events in her own demented mind, obsessed and in love with her friend so much, she’s the one that’s murdered her friend’s family all along.
Strong word of mouth from festival screenings saw unknown Australian director James Wan and acting/writing collaborator Leigh Whannell create a horror phenomenon (and a continuing lucrative career in ‘creep’). Billboards emblazoned with the stark, short title followed by the fantastic, yet simple tag-line “Dare You See Saw” also worked a treat. SAW came out of nowhere and the ambiguity of what the hell it was only aided its success. Two strangers awake handcuffed on opposite ends of a mysterious location, separated only by the grisly corpse in the middle of the floor. Flashbacks show us just how the duo came to this gory predicament but who could be responsible? How about that dead fella on the filthy floor for the whole movie, who ingeniously awakens to show he’s been setting the rules and running the show… and there’s no escape!
The Master Of Suspense himself sought out Robert Bloch’s controversial novel based on the real-life Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein. Even Alfred Hitchcock must have been surprised at the shear amount of shrieks PYSCHO would ultimately create in its heyday to become the daddy of the slasher genre. Few locales are as unnerving as the house on the hill near Bates Motel, where meek son Norman hides his mother’s dark secret, and one that poor Marion Crane would ultimately witnesses starkers, taking a stab in the shower. Yes, mother has been rotting away in her room for years and it’s the seemingly timid Norman who’s been disguising his murderous tendencies. It was a bold move during a relative prudish period of time even in the US to showcase a demented, cross-dressing serial-killer. Then again, we all go a little mad sometimes.
THE MIST (2007)
It’s easy to see why Frank Darabont’s harsh adaptation of Stephen King’s novella THE MIST was so severely snubbed at the box-office. The supernatural sci-fi thriller features the bold and bleakest of endings very different from that of the book. As the inhabitants of a small town bare witness to an otherworldly invasion, led by underrated Thomas Jane, they’re forced to seek shelter at the local supermarket and attempt to fight off the countless hideous creations hidden within the foggy atmosphere (not forgetting the devoutly religious nut job and her followers inside). Those final few minutes as a small band of survivors make their escape, including Jane and young son. Running out of fuel and faced with the realisation they’re to be feasted on by monsters, four bullets and five individuals sees Jane having to kill his friends and son. But wait… the mist is clearing and the military have a arrived to clean up! A devastating, jaw-dropping punch to the gut.
The breakout film that saw the brilliant David Fincher finally shake off the curse of ALIEN 3, SE7EN would ultimately show us what real talent the man behind limitless take really had. Veteran Detective William Sommerset (Morgan Freeman) and new rising rookie partner David Mills (Brad Pitt) are on the hunt for ruthless serial-killer ‘John Doe’. He’s a dangerous man punishing people by using the seven deadly sins as inspiration. After carrying out a number of extreme acts, ‘Doe’ walks into a police station covered in blood offering to give himself up, claiming his murderous masterpiece is almost complete. Offering to show our lawmen his final victim in the middle of the barren wastelands, a mysterious package arrives via courier, but “What’s in the box?” How about the head of Mills’ pregnant wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) pushing the young Detective into completing the killer’s warped ‘Wrath’ and shooting him dead!
THE ORPHANAGE (EL ORPHANATO) (2007)
Directed by J.A. Bayona and executively produced by Guillermo del Toro, THE ORPHANAGE sees Laura and her family return to her childhood home to try help other children like her, only to awaken and find her son Simon befriend the long-forgotten spirit of Tomás, an disfigured orphan boy who once lived at the institution. Soon, with the disappearance of her own son, Laura is forced to confront long forgotten memories of her time there. There is so much more richness in the spooky, emotional storytelling and performances but the crux comes when we learn after punishing Simon, during her initial search for him, she inadvertently knocks over a post accessing the secret room in his closet, preventing her son from ever being found, during his attempts in signalling for help and to find another way out he’s killed. Realising her fault, Laura commits suicide to be with her son and the ghostly children forever.