AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) Directed by John Landis
Poor David Naughton. He seems to be starring in a madcap romantic comedy as an American backpacker who woos lovely British nurse Jenny Agutter. But then his zombie pal Griffin Dunne keeps reappearing, each time in a state of further decomposition, warning David that he must commit suicide before he becomes a werewolf at the next full moon. What a buzz kill. The movie’s blend of comedy and horror isn’t always successful, and its ending seems abrupt, but its scary parts are certainly scream-worthy. The werewolf attacks, shot from the predator’s point of view, are chillers, but best is Naughton’s excruciating, horrifyingly realistic transformation scene, maybe the best in any werewolf movie. (Credit goes to makeup ace Rick Baker, who reteamed with director John Landis to effect similarly scary changes on Michael Jackson’s face in the ”Thriller” video.) If little else in the film keeps you awake nights, that scene certainly will.
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1990) Directed by John McNaughton
One of those horror movies where the low budget actually helps — lending a rough, documentary look to the proceedings — Henry follows the titular character and his hee-haw partner in homicide, Otis, on a spree that includes one nightmarish scene in which the two murder a helpless family, then sit back to watch a videotape of the crime. ”Once I was late for a screening and bumped into a lady running away from the movie,” says Michael Rooker (Henry), ”and she ran smack into me and just screamed and screamed!” Little-known fact: McNaughton based Henry (in part) on both real-life killer Henry Lee Lucas and Thomas Harris’ fictional Francis Dolarhyde from Red Dragon.
THE HITCHER (1986) Directed by Robert Harmon
”My mother told me never to do this,” says the young driver (C. Thomas Howell), stopping to pick up a handsome hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer). Once again, Mother knows best: Hauer’s seductive psychopath spends the next 90 minutes terrorizing the boy and his sidekick, played by the deliciously blond Jennifer Jason Leigh. ”People [say] it’s a violent movie, but I don’t know what they mean,” says Hauer, apparently forgetting his finely delivered line ”Wanna know what happens to an eyeball when it gets punctured?” The Hitcher will make you rethink those vacation plans to travel across country.
LOST HIGHWAY (1997) Directed by David Lynch
Can we hear a shout-out for a Lost Highway rerelease? A living-room viewing doesn’t do justice to the terrifying Angelo Badalamenti-Trent Reznor soundtrack in Lynch’s noirish head trip about a hip L.A. couple (Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette) who discover that someone is videotaping them as they sleep. In the film’s creepiest scene, a man with no eyebrows, hauntingly played by Robert Blake (!), introduces himself to Pullman at a party and announces that he’s also standing miles away in Pullman’s house at that very moment. When our disbelieving hero places a phone call and realizes the guy’s not kidding, you’ve got to chuckle to keep from losing your mind.
(Written by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Steve Daly, Daniel Fierman, Dave Karger, Chris Nashawaty, and Gary Susman)