By R. Kurt Osenlund
, film critic and correspondent
Want a real cinematic scare this Halloween? Instead of heading to the theater to take in the latest entry in the much-exhausted "Saw" franchise, get on the couch, turn out the lights, and peer through your trembling fingers at these bone-chilling horror films from the past.
ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)
Before he fled the country because of statutory rape accusations, director Roman Polanski delivered this deeply disturbing psychological thriller based on the novel by Ira Levin. It focuses on Rosemary (Mia Farrow), a lonely New York City housewife who's impregnated with the devil's offspring after a ritualistic encounter with a coven of witches who live in her building. With a harrowing performance by Farrow and a twisted, Oscar-winning supporting turn by Ruth Gordon, this enduring classic still has the ability to jolt an audience.
This British import, which was toned-down for American audiences, tells the terrifying tale of a group of female spelunkers who face-off against an army of blind monsters after being trapped deep below the Earth's surface. The creatures are undeniably gruesome, but this claustrophobic picture is noteworthy for savvy camerawork and the primal rage brought out in its characters. As the girls are picked off, the line denoting who the real enemy is becomes as indistinguishable as the path to exit the film's cavernous, labyrinthine setting. Props to UK writer/director Neil Marshall -- he knows just how to scare the hell out of you.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)
One of the few recent horror remakes that's actually well worth watching, Zack Snyder's ("300") update of George Romero's zombie cult favorite spooks and entertains in egual doses. Much of it is stylized, hip fun but the opening sequence is relentlessly creepy and has yet to meet its match. A strong cast, featuring Sarah Polley, Mekhi Pfifer, and Ving Rhames, adds to the quality of something that could have easily been a throwaway disaster, but the real standout is Snyder. He gives a highly impressive mainstream debut, one that even he hasn't been able to top. (Watch for an additional sequence that gives you a much-needed break from the ongoing horror; it uses a riff on scream band Disturbed's "Down with the Sickness" to great effect.)