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Barry Levinson's Horror Movies: 5 Favorites

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LOS ANGELES -- Barry Levinson, director of such modern American classics as "Diner," "The Natural" and "Rain Man," makes a surprising venture into the horror realm this week with "The Bay," an unnerving fright fest about a coastal July 4 celebration that goes horribly wrong.

Except for the fact that "The Bay" takes place in his beloved home state of Maryland, you'd never know this was a Levinson film. He has embraced the found-footage conceit that's become so popular within the genre in recent years, but he's done so more consistently and effectively than the vast majority of these films. He uses the stillness of mundane moments to build real tension, which makes the intensely graphic gore that much more startling. But it's all in the service of a substantial fundamental message: "The Bay" is a powerful indictment of bureaucratic ineptitude and corporate greed.

Since this is such a departure for Levinson, we were curious to find out what his five favorite horror movies were. He was nice enough to take the time to answer in his own words:

_ "The Exorcist" (1973): "The Exorcist" has some gutsy filmmaking. If you go back and watch it, pretty much nothing scary happens for the first 45 minutes. It s just slowly building tension. Then the daughter comes downstairs in the middle of her mother's Georgetown cocktail party and urinates on the carpet in front of all the guests. It s an incredible moment and the movie just goes from there. It s not trying to have fun with the horror like a lot of the films of today. It suggests that this very well could have happened.

_ "Frankenstein" (1931): Don't think you can overlook the original "Frankenstein." Great design for a monster. Classical form. And one of the great understated scenes of tension when the monster comes upon a very young girl. She accepts him without question. And we just wait for something terrible to happen.

_ "Diabolique" (1955): The 1950s French film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. As far as I know, no one was doing horror/thriller with as much originality as this film. The story takes place at a boarding school in the French countryside where a schoolmaster s wife and his mistress conspire to kill him. When they do, the body disappears and a series of strange and disturbing events occur. This film has some fantastic imagery and incredible psychological tension.

_ "Psycho" (1960): Again, all the great horror movies remain great because they did something outside the box. Killing a movie star as big as Janet Leigh was unheard of. Nobody did that. And to do it in the shower like that. It s now become an iconic moment (I actually made a good deal of fun of it in "High Anxiety"), but I remember my mouth kind of dropping when I saw it. I heard Hitchcock tried to grab the rights to "Diabolique" and lost out to Henri-Georges Clouzot. In turn, he made "Psycho" a few years later and used some of the great imagery "Diabolique" used with water, bathrooms, death.

_ "Let the Right One In" (2008): I don t know if I would label this one strictly horror, but it certainly is terrifying. And touching. Tomas Alfredson is one of the many talented directors coming out of Sweden right now and this one works so well because it's as interested in character as it is in horrifying moments and imagery. Shot against a cold, icy landscape, it's as much a love story between the two children as it is vampire film.


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