The Halloween season is here and in the run up to the big day I decided to examine what is considered “scary” in the world of horror movies.

Going with Rotten Tomatoes list of the 31 scariest movies, I decided to compare each film with another horror film from the same year to determine which one I found more scary.

For day 4, the two films couldn’t be more different in tone, plot and style with The Silence of the Lambs taking on The People Under the Stairs.

The Silence of the Lambs

Jodie Foster stars as Clarice Starling, a top student at the FBI’s training academy. Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) wants Clarice to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.

Ted Demme’s Oscar winning psychological horror film had some great, visceral and terrifying moments throughout, but there is one thing that truly brought the film together and took it over the top; Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins performance is a standout and his quiet, unblinking menace is inescapable and disturbing, but draws you in.

Pros

Demme utilizes Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography brilliantly. There is an intimacy to every scene and you feel like you’re in the room for every interaction.

Each part of the story is well crafted on its own. The hunt for Buffalo Bill is compelling. Starling’s struggles and personal demons are interesting and the Lecter/Starling storyline is fantastic on its own.

The implied horror is more effective because it allows the viewer to craft it in their heads. The best example being the description of what Lecter does to his nurse while Starling simply looks at a photo we can’t see.

Ted Levine is amazing as Buffalo Bill. His unpredictability makes him terrifying, especially in the scene with Catherine in the well.

Anthony Hopkins is terrifying. With just his voice and still, unblinking face, he is able to send a chill down the spine whenever he’s on screen.

Howard Shore’s musical score is pitch perfect. It’s quiet when it needs to be and punctuates the terror filled moments.

Cons

Not scary in the traditional sense. There is only one truly horrific moment in the film that comes towards the end.

The People Under the Stairs

When young Fool (Brandon Adams) breaks into the home of his family’s greedy and uncaring landlords, he discovers a disturbing scenario where incestuous adult siblings have mutilated a number of boys and kept them imprisoned under stairs in their large, creepy house. As Fool attempts to flee before the psychopaths can catch him, he meets their daughter, Alice (A.J. Langer), who has been spared any extreme discipline by her deranged parents. Can Fool and Alice escape before it’s too late?

The People Under the Stairs isn’t a horror movie in the traditional sense. There are monsters, but they are of the human variety and Wes Craven does a brilliant job of subverting your expectations about the mutants living within the walls of the house. He further subverts horror movie tropes by making the hero of the film a young black male who ends up saving the white girl at the end. There are also more humorous elements throughout the film than horror, which makes it something special within the genre.

Pros

Craven introduces themes of racism and exploitation in a horror film that haven’t been done before.

Everett McGill and Wendy Robie are pitch perfect as the antagonists the Robeson’s. They are menacing and delightfully unhinged throughout.

“Fool” is a great protagonist who is never the victim regardless of his age. He has a lot of agency and is smarter than the other characters give him credit for.

The people under the stairs are visually disturbing and the twist of who they are and why they’re down there is fantastic in its execution and explanation.

A brilliant and satisfying third act brings the story to a great conclusion.

Cons

“Fool’s” agency throughout the film is hampered by Alice’s lack thereof. She is the quintessential victim and it’s hard to care about her beyond being someone to rescue.

The story is riddled with stereotypes and they get tiring quickly.

I really wanted to get more into the backstory of the Robeson’s and their pathology.

There are a lot of implausible scenarios in that house both with hiding within it and escaping from it.

While both films are entertaining, there is one that edges out the competition with its riveting story, brilliant characters and a thorougholy unforgettable character and that is…..

The Silence of the Lambs

Let me know your thoughts on The Silence of the Lambs or The People Under the Stairs. Which of these non-traditional horror films is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.

1 Comment

  • nscovell

    October 4, 2020 - 8:21 pm

    As a horror fanatic, I go with The People Under The Stairs. There’s a certain campiness to it and the Robesons are a perfect sinister duo. However Silence of The Lambs is one of the best movies ever made and Anthony Hopkins is insanely brilliant.

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