With Halloween starting to approach, a reader asked an hour ago about my running a list of favorite horror films. Instant stopper. The term “horror film” has, of course, become a euphemism for slash-chop-gore, and most people need to be in a state of acute hormonal tumescence to be a fan of this. My idea of a cool high-end-end horror film is Juan Antonio Bayona‘s The Orphanage — a movie that mainlines fear into your spinal cord. (Especially that hide-and-advance scene when the kids make their appearance.)

Pumpkin display at the West Hollywood Pavillions on Santa Monica and Robertson Blvds.

Most of today’s horror-film fans, providers of testimony to our social and aesthetic devolution, will probably consider The Orphanage too restrained for their tastes. Their loss, cinema’s lament. The scariest things are the hints and omens and realizations that drop into your brain like water and spread like dye. They don’t seem like very much at first, but they sound a chord that quietly vibrates and then seeps right into the marrow.

Great horror moments, therefore, are worth savoring. For me, the word “horror” doesn’t seem to apply as much as “deep creep-out.” Four classics in my book…

(1) That four-second-long insert shot in Rosemary’s Baby of a diary or notepad written by a former tenant at the “Branford” — a very old woman — who’s recently passed away. As Mia Farrow looks down and reads we are shown an incomplete sentence — “I can no longer tolerate…” And right away the hook goes in. You know without being told that the thing she could no longer tolerate is probably the thing that snuffed out her life.

(2) That two-second moment when skeleton teeth and eyes are super-imposed upon Tony Perkins‘ face in the second to lastl shot in Psycho (the final shot being the one of the car being pulled out of the swamp).

(3) That entire prelude at the beginning of The Exorcist, and particularly(a) the face of that woman riding in the speeding horse-drawn carriage that almost runs down Max Von Sydow, and (b) those two dogs savagely growling and snapping at each other near the archeological dig.

(4) That moment in The Birds when the drunk at the bar says, “It’s the end of the world!” If Rod Taylor or Jessica Tandy or Tippi Hedren or even Veronica Cartwright had suggested such a thing, the audience would laugh (or perhaps even be offended by such twaddle). But because a pathetic drunk blurts it out, it sinks in.