I envy moviegoers in 1979. They experienced moments that had never been seen before. “Alien” had the facehugger jump scare, the shocking chestburster scene, and the reveal of H.R. Geiger’s creature. The best surprise, though, is Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) survival among a ship of grizzled veterans (on screen and off). The actors, effects, and set draw us into their world. You feel the anxiety of being trapped and hunted in space, even watching at home today.
If “When a Stranger Calls” ended after 23 minutes, it would be a classic. The line “We’ve traced the call -– it’s coming from inside the house” has been sterilized by overuse. Even Lisa Simpson made fun of it. The line, however, works in the framing of this movie. Director Fred Walton builds to the moment, creating a weighty level of tension. You hear the line and your heart just might stop, except that the series of shots that follow drum it into overdrive. It’s a fantastic sequence.
“Phantasm” takes you inside a creepy morgue with an even creepier caretaker, which doesn’t exactly prepare you to be transported to another dimension. The movie can be hokey at times but never stale. “The Brood” shows us raging, murderous children. The two-part TV movie “Salem’s Lot” has a window scratch etched into our consciousness. “Zombi 2” has a zombie fighting a shark. I haven’t even mentioned “The Amityville Horror,” which became one of the top-grossing horror movies of all time. Its brilliantly composed score is worth a watch (or listen) by itself.