Yeah, He’s A Ghost

WARNING! THIS POST IS SPOILERTASTIC! I DISCUSS A NUMBER OF FILMS AND GIVE AWAY THEIR ENDINGS. STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO RISK FINDING OUT THE ENDINGs OF MOVIES WHICH YOU HAVE PROBABLY ALREADY SEEN (but should have seen because they are all pretty old and they’re all awesome so if you haven’t seen them you are missing out).

Halloween is less than a week away. The topic of horror movies has popped everywhere.
1 For some reason The Sixth Sense keeps turning up in conversations. Now let me come right out and say that I do think that this is a pretty good movie.2 It is in fact, one of the two M. Night Shymalan films which I actually enjoy.3

That being said, I knew that Bruce Willis’ character was dead about a third of the way into the film.

If you watch the film as a ghost story, it is pretty creepy. There are some wonderfully disturbing scenes.
5 Unfortunately, every discussion of The Sixth Sense ends up revolving around the shock ending, which as I said, was no shock at all.

After having this discussion a number of times in the last two weeks, I feel compelled to discuss some moves which actually do have some great twist endings. Most of these films walk the fine line between horror and other genres. Still, you might want to wait until after Halloween to watch them.

Yep, there are even more spoilers in your future.

Friday the 13th — before the almost endless series of sequels featuring everyone’s favorite hockey mask wearing, machete wielding, nearly indestructible killer, there was the original. When the killer is revealed to be Mrs. Voorhees, the audience is surprised. Even more importantly, this makes sense. All of the killings are explained as the revenge killings of a distraught mother who has gone around the bend. This is a very nice set-up for the final scene. We have already had the Victim-Is-Safe-No-She-Is-Not sequence with Pamela Voorhees so when Alice Hardy gets away to the middle of Crystal Lake, we relax and let our guard down. That makes it even more of a shock when Jason pops up out of the water to drag her under.6

Se7en — The first of two Kevin Spacey appearances on this list. John Doe’s mission to recreate the Seven Deadly Sins is horrible and gruesome. Even worse is the fact that he is four steps ahead of every other character in the movie at all times. The ending, with its masterful manipulation of Detective Mills is gut wrenching. It also earns bonus points for placing the phrase “What’s in the box!?” into the common lexicon.

Saw — Put aside everything that you have seen in the sequels. Although the first film in the franchise certainly deals with some horrific events, it is essentially a mystery, albeit a very dark one. Any film which starts with two characters chained in a filthy bathroom is going to be disturbing. The fact that there is a dead body lying between the two of them is even more disturbing. As Adam and Dr. Gordon work through Jigsaw’s puzzles, we start to feel uneasy. Gordon’s decision that the only way to escape is to saw through his own ankle is horrible. The audience gets a moment of horrible hope. Is it possible that he will get to help before he passes out from blood loss? Then Tobin Bell stands up and all hope disappears. I saw this movie in the theater during its original release. I went to a matinee where there were only two other attendees. When the supposedly dead body stands and starts speaking I jumped to my feet and shouted “No fucking way!” The others had similar reactions. The gentleman standing near the front of the theater (we were all on our feet) looked back at me and said “I know! What the fuck?” That is the reaction of an audience to a true twist ending.

The Usual Suspects — As soon as you read that Spacey would be making another appearance on the list, you thought “Verbal Kent.” You did, didn’t you? The Usual Suspects is a great movie which maintains the suspense throughout the entire running time. This is especially amazing when you consider that the story is being told as a flashback and the audience is aware of it.7 Despite Dean Keaton’s insistence that “There is no Keyser Soze,” we learn at the end he is not the mythical boogeyman of thieves and murderers, but is alive and walking among us. The scene where Spacey walks away from the police station and sheds his limp and twisted features is amazing. It is the only thing which could overshadow the dumbstruck realization on Kujan’s face when he realizes he’s been had.

Psycho — Perhaps the best twist ending ever. After sitting through a film which already had one massive shocker moment, Janet Leigh’s death early in the movie, the big punch comes at the end. The swinging light, the decayed skeleton, and the realization that the person in the dress, the actual murderer, is Norman Bates himself is one of if not the best twists to ever appear on celluloid. The only down side is that most people who have not seen the film know the ending before they see it. Still, the scenes are shot extremely well.

We also end up with a nice bit of symmetry since this list started with “surprise it was mom” and ended with “surprise mom is actually the son.”

Honorable Mentions:

Fight Club — I am certain that lots of people were shocked by the reveal at the end of this movie as well. Unfortunately I can’t include it because I read the novel first so I had no chance of being surprised. That is the only reason that Brad Pitt doesn’t have two films on the list (he would if I expanded this to 10).

Night of the Living Dead — I’ll be honest, I would not have thought to include this if I hadn’t just been in the theater with people who had obviously not seen the movie. There were gasps from a number of positions in the audience from the people who thought “At least Ben made it” and were shocked by the final riffle shot.

1 Even

Despite the accusations of plagiarism. If you are not familiar with this, take a moment to Google the novel Manhattan Ghost Story by T. M. Wright. The plot twist is the same. The spec script for Manhattan Ghost Story was circulating for a year before The Sixth Sense’s script made the rounds.

3 The other is
Unbreakable. I can’t stand the basic premise of Signs, that beings capable of interplanetary, possibly interstellar, travel don’t have the intelligence or common sense to not land on a planet where 70% of the place is covered by something toxic to them. I had The Village figured out about 15 minutes in. After that I gave up on Shymalan and his “twist endings.”

4 What? I told you that there were going to be spoilers. Besides, you knew that already.

5 Like when the kid is under the blanket fort.

6 Even if it is revealed to be a dream in the sequel.

7 It might be a little less amazing when you consider the cast. Along with Spacey we are treated to bravura performances by Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benico Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, and Chazz Palminteri. Now that is a cast.