This October, you have a solemn duty to watch as many horror films as possible. Hundreds of thousands of people worked months and years of their lives for the sole purpose of creeping you out; all you have to do is watch their movies, which is – let's face it – the easy part. We'll even do the heavy lifting of recommending which movies you should watch. Each week in October, we'll be presenting a new Buzzlist of horror films based on a particular theme. Could it be any simpler? Well, yes, if you woke up strapped to a gurney in a dank basement and were forced to watch horrific images by a deranged scientist – that would be simpler. But this is both simple and fun.
There are few things more frightening than losing your sense of self or your sense of reality. It may be the most profound fear a human being can experience. That's why so many horror films have revolved around the concept of mental illness: being plagued by ghosts or demons is bad enough, but what if they're coming from inside your head? What if there's no such thing as a normal world, and you can never be certain of anything? Life would become an endless nightmare alternating between the dread of things to come and the terror of the present moment. In the spirit of questioning your own perceptions until the world is nothing but a deranged hall of mirrors, we present our Crazed Characters Buzzlist:
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) – This is the kind of film you may only be able to watch once. Based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, it gives you a far-too-real idea of what it would be like to suffer from schizophrenia. The wonderful Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) is at her tormented best as a woman who believes herself to be under siege by demonic forces. Because she believes them to be real, they are real – and what's worse, there's an entire institutionalized system of faith and superstition ready to tell her she's right. Even more frightening than The Exorcist (due to the added element of uncertainty), the film permanently blurs the line between religion and insanity. It shows us that madness runs deep in the human psyche, and that it may come for any one of us without notice.
Session 9 (2001) – Session 9 is pure nightmare. The plot doesn't make a great deal of logical sense, but it shines a sick light into undreamt-of depths of savagery and despair. The film's setting – an abandoned mental asylum – is both a character in itself and a stand-in for the fears of the men who find themselves forced to enter it. A crew of asbestos removers that includes Phil (David Caruso) and Gordon (Peter Mullan) must spend their days in the asylum's dim corridors trying to ignore the flitting shadows that surround them. There's someone else there, too: his name is Simon, and he's the most unwanted of interlopers. Those who've seen the film will shiver at the mention of his name, and with good reason. He lives somewhere that's both beyond our reach and closer than we could know.
Dead Ringers (1988) – David Cronenberg's adaptation of Bari Wood's novel Twins is the ultimate exploration of the fragile nature of identity. Jeremy Irons is frankly incredible as twin brothers Elliot and Beverly Mantle – two men who find fame and financial success as partners in a gynecology practice, but whose grasp on their own humanity is feeble at best. Irons is so good that he can show you which twin is which with a simple change of posture or facial expression. As the brothers lose themselves in the excesses of the 1980s, they drift further from reality and closer to a shared personality that should never have been allowed to exist. Add to this situation Cronenberg's trademark body horror, and you've got one of the most disturbing tales ever to hit the screen.
Lost Highway (1997) – David Lynch's Mulholland Drive tells essentially the same story and is a superior work, but Lost Highway is much more a horror film in tone and theme. It's the story of a man (Bill Pullman) and his wife (Patricia Arquette) who discover that someone has been breaking into their home and videotaping them as they sleep. From there, the narrative goes places not even the most genre-savvy viewer could predict. The film details one version of what it might be like to enter a trauma-induced fugue state, but – like Mulholland Drive – it also implies that our actions may create entirely new objective realities in which the events and people that could have been are given temporary life. Don't let anyone tell you that either film is nonsensical: they may each employ a surreal, Cubist style of storytelling, but they're actually surprisingly straightforward.
Donnie Darko (2001) – Richard Kelly's (unintentional?) masterpiece has more layers of horror than ten Saw sequels put together. Yes, there are varying interpretations available, but the one with the richest implications suggests that Donnie is imagining most of what happens to him. What's deeply troubling about this reading of the film is the fundamental truth it shows us: in a mad world, a madman will never have any satisfactory way to evaluate or repair his own sanity. In terms of practical effect on your emotional life, there's very little difference between Ronald Reagan telling you that it's Morning in America and Frank the bunny telling you that you have twenty-eight days to live. Pick your nightmare and hold on tight.
Check out Buzzine's Top 5 Crazed Characters on our Amazon Listmania!