Halloween's here and some of us have had our fill of knife-thrusting psychos and inarticulate zombies. (Though if you want a list of the 100 best horror movies, you're not going to do any better than this.) Here's what to stream on Netflix this All Hallow's Eve in case you're in the mood for classic suspense and haunting paranoia.
Let's get one thing straight about Halloween: It's not really about spookiness; it's about eeriness. I'd argue there's no eerier movie of the 1970s than “Chinatown,” which manages to be 100% suspenseful even though its plot is simple and its protagonist is a classically perturbed private eye. Though there are a couple of scares (namely the cameo of director Roman Polanski), you mostly find yourself awed by the lingering weirdness of the story at hand. What is going on here? What's Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) really on to? And what is the deal with the overwhelming glamor of Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), whose very demeanor is spellbinding? We will never have another actress like Faye Dunaway, and “Chinatown” reminds you that she expertly used severity and coldness to mask serious character dimension.
Norma Desmond: a legend, a star, a ghoul. Gloria Swanson's performance is so arch but so right, and the foray into her crumbling world (along with William Holden's lovely performance) is as galling now as it was in 1950. If you've never watched, you'll be shocked at the way its Hollywood characters discuss contemporary stars of the time. You'll appreciate the Tyrone Power reference.
Though “Spaceballs” comes close, “High Anxiety” is Mel Brooks' geekiest film. The comic legend's takeoff on the films of Alfred Hitchcock is only occasionally broad. There's a “Psycho” shower sequence and a bird attack, but most of the allusions to Hitchcock are for true Hitch fans, like one murderer's “fake face” that serves as a shout-out to “Foreign Correspondent” and a hotel room entrance that references “The 39 Steps.” Fortunately the performances are hilarious enough for Hitch novices: Brooks is perfect as framed man Richard Thorndyke, Madeline Kahn is just harried enough as glamorous blonde Victoria Brisbane, and Cloris Leachman is scary as hell as the robotic Nurse Diesel.
“A Clockwork Orange”
You still see a lot of Alex DeLarge costumes on Halloween, and I just want to say that's weird. Do you remember what he does in “A Clockwork Orange”? How could you not? Let's just agree there's no movie like “A Clockwork Orange” and more people should talk about the fact that Malcolm McDowell was once married to Mary Steenburgen.
Have you seen “Room” yet? Brie Larson is astounding, but it's worth noting that the movie marks the dramatic return of Joan Allen, who once dominated cinema with her towering grit and power. “The Crucible” is her finest hour: As Elizabeth Proctor in this adaptation of Arthur Miller's play (which netted him an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay), she brings the startling self-possession required to make lesser mortals believe she knows Satan.
There is no movie more “1970s prestige” than “The Conversation.” It has everything: Gene Hackman, paranoia, the grayest architecture on Earth, creeping intrigue, and a haunting clip of Cindy Williams. Like “Rosemary's Baby,” it's a movie that distracts you from its central mystery with plenty of haunting, weird sequences. Altogether, “The Conversation” is unforgettable and totally re-watchable; it's a grittier, more challenging “Vertigo.”
Get this: There was a 1940s suspense drama featuring Vincent Price and Judith Anderson where Vincent Price and Judith Anderson weren't the creepiest things about it. This detective story is peerlessly cool, with Gene Tierney providing legendary work as both the subject of a portrait and a live-action star.