Since I was young (and my father let me watch midnight Creature Features on TV), I’ve enjoyed a good scary movie. Whether classic or new, the best horror films are those that capture viewers’ imaginations. While also exploring our uncertainties about mortality, morality, and fears of the unknown. When done well, much of the menace from their spooky moving images comes from within the viewer, rather than from extreme gore or violence. This is especially true for those some people call “intelligent horror films.”
The reason I’m writing this is because I recently watched a movie that fits this description. It was so good that I actually watched it twice (on a weekend, of course!) Let Me In is an English language film released in 2010 that was a remake of a 2008 Swedish movie (and novel) called Let the Right One In. The Iowa City Public Library owns both versions.
In Let Me In, a bullied 12 year old boy named Oscar meets Eli, a beautiful yet strange girl he befriends when she and a man who appears to be her father move into an apartment next door. Though he sees her only at night, Oscar does not realize at first that Eli is a vampire, even though she doesn’t feel the cold and walks barefoot in the snow. When strange disappearances and murders start happening in the town, suspicions mount from her neighbors and police.
Then the man who lives with her gets caught trying to find a new victim to slake Eli’s blood thirst, and is killed. As she has for decades past, Eli must move on to stay alive plus find a new human protector. Or else stay to help save Oscar from a vicious, life-threatening attack by the bullies – the only way she knows how. This she does in a terrifying way (in the high school swimming pool.) Then together, Oscar and Eli leave town as the viewer realizes that he has become her protector and will be so for the rest of his mortal life. With eerie yet evocative cinematography and music, this movie is a gem which Stephen King claims is “the best American horror film in the last 20 years.”
Here are some other “intelligent horror films” well worth a look. Some cross over into other genres like science fiction or psychological thrillers. But, at heart, are as much about horrifying viewers as they are about astounding or mystifying them. Check them out soon and enjoy. And pass the popcorn!
The Bad Seed (1956)
Black Swan (2010)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)
Donnie Darko (2004)
The Exorcist (1973)
The Hunger (1983)
Interview With the Vampire (1994)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (both the 1956 & 1978 versions)
The Lost Boys (1987)
Mothman Prophecies (2002)
The Others (2002)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The Shining (1980)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Thing (1982)
28 Days Later (2003)