I probably love suspense movies the most (of course, I also like reading and writing suspense books, so I guess this isn’t much of a revelation J). I thought I would share five of my favorite suspense movies of all time: What’s interesting to note is that while some of them combine elements of the supernatural, horror and crime, sheer unpredictability lay at the center of all of them and there's nothing we, the audience, can do about it. And that’s just good suspense.
This movie gave me several heart attacks the first time I saw it way, way back in the day and today is no exception. It is the type of movie that makes you sit up and gasp (if you have any breath left, that is.)
Fragile Christina (Véra Clouzot) is the owner of and teacher at a B-list boarding school and is married to the tyrannical headmaster, Michel (Paul Meurisse). Michel also has a mistress, the smoldering Nicole (Simone Signoret), also a teacher at the school. Michel is a physically and emotionally abusive man, something that seems to bond wife and mistress.
Nicole devises a plan to murder Michel and convinces Christina to go along with it, telling her it is the only way they’ll be free of him. The murder goes off without a hitch, but the ladies are far from home-free. What happens next will keep you whittling your fingers down to nubs all the way to the end.
Moody, creepy and shocking, “Diabolique” is a classic of any genre. I had the misfortune of seeing a TV movie remake years ago and I wouldn’t touch the Sharon Stone remake with a ten, twenty or thirty foot pole. For an original and stunning thriller, you can’t go wrong with the original “Diabolique.”
4. The Others (2001)
Granted, this one probably falls more into the horror category, but the twists and turns kept me riveted nonetheless.
Grace (Nicole Kidman), lives with her two young children in an isolated house in the English countryside while waiting for her husband’s return from World War II. The children suffer from xeroderma pigmentosa, or hypersensitivity to light, necessitating rigid rules in order to shield them from sunlight.
The arrival of three mysterious servants to the estate put an already edgy Grace into a brittle, hyperactive state and it’s left to the viewer to try and untangle the presence of ghosts, portraits of the dead and detached spouses. The ultimate twist packs a wallop and you’re left more than a little haunted as the end credits roll (pun intended).
3. The Sixth Sense (1999)
This creeper made me like Bruce Willis again and like so many, I found myself watching it again to try and pick up the clues I missed along the way to that “Holy crap!” ending. Like “The Others” this one probably leans more towards horror/supernatural, but I defy anyone who watches it not to be blown away by the taut suspense and genuine chills.
Little Cole (Hayley Joel Osment) is tormented by his hallucinations of dead people and Willis’ child psychologist, Malcolm, is tapped by mom, Lynn (Toni Collette) to help her son with his anxieties (mom doesn’t know about the whole seeing dead people thing).
Well, we all know what happens next (and if you haven’t seen this movie, seriously go and find a way to get your hands on a copy).
2. Red Lights (2004, released as Feux Rouges in France)
Carole Bouquet, who I love mostly because she was the face of Chanel in the 80’s and 90’s, stars as Helene in this menacing French thriller about a married couple who take a road trip to retrieve their children from summer camp. It’s a tense journey, beset by heavy traffic and the husband, Antoine’s (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) alcoholism and increasing resentment of his more successful corporate attorney wife. Unable to take his drinking and hence dangerous driving, Helene runs off during one of their stops, leaving a note for her husband she will board a train to their final destination. Now, throw in reports of an escaped murderer.
1. Psycho (1960)
What list about the best suspense movies would be complete without an entry from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock? Everyone has their favorite Hitchcock film, of course, but mine would have to be “Psycho.”
It’s a story we all know oh-so-well by now, given its pervasiveness in pop culture: Marion (Janet Leigh) a Phoenix secretary is caught in a seedy extramarital affair and to make matters worse, she’s stolen $40,000 from her employer’s client. In a panic, she flees towards California, but has a change of heart along the way, and decides to return to Phoenix and face the music. That is, until she checks into the Bates Motel for the night and encounters the peculiar, Norman (Anthony Perkins).
It’s been said Janet Leigh never took another shower the rest of her life after meeting her demise in one during this movie and who could blame her? From the music to the cinematography to the eerie plot and characterizations, Hitchcock ratchets up the suspense with each millimeter of film. A classic that changed the game forever.
** Honorable Mention: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)What can be said about this one that hasn’t already been said? Not much, so I won’t try. I will say this though: when I first saw this in the theater, I was convinced Hannibal Lecter was on the loose and ready to have me over to dinner. I think it was a full week before I stopped looking around every corner.
*** Another Honorable Mention: The Usual Suspects (1995)
Two words: Keyser Söze. ‘Nuff said.