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I think we're all getting a bit tired of the same old "Top 10 scary movie" pieces rolled out by lazy newspapers around Halloween. We find it a lot more interesting to find the scariness in films that aren't supposed to be scary. These moments from DVDs released in the past 12 months scare us for entirely unintended reasons. Behold, a Halloween fright list like no other.
10) JCVD — A millionaire's tragic life
Jean-Claude Van Damme's deconstructive monologue in the middle of the strange, self-reflexive movie is a kind of Shakespearean soliloquy, if Shakespeare ever wrote for a sad, middling, sexist kickboxer. JCVD is a film no better than any number of Van Damme straight-to-videoers, despite its pretenses of art-film grammar, and I'm not sure what's scarier: that Van Damme took himself so seriously this time around or that so many gullible critics fell for it.
9) Milk— Milking it for all it's worth
If Sean Penn's defeat of Mickey Rourke at last year's Oscars goes down in the history books as one of those indefensible, Dances with Wolves-beats-GoodFellas snubs, it'll be a shame. Even if politics had something to do with Penn's supposed upset, he deserved every centimeter of that gold statue for his complete method immersion into Harvey Milk, from voice to gesture to makeup. We're all used to Penn chewing scenery like beef jerky, but in his best performance yet, his obnoxious personality is completely invisible.
8) Leonard Cohen: Live in London
Seventy-five is the new 40! Leonard Cohen's 2008 appearance in London, presented in all its 159 minutes of incantatory glory as Leonard Cohen: Live in London, is scarily good. Performing one classic after another with the passion and spryness of someone half his age, the then 74-year-old legend kicked off what he's called the third act of his life, one that continues through North America as we speak.
7 Bill O'Reilly — movie star
A case study of why right-wingers should never try to be funny (for another, see entry number six on this list), David Zucker's pathetic An American Carol limply takes on Michael Moore and Rosie O'Donnell in a conservative re-envisionment of A Christmas Carol. But it's the horror of seeing Bill O'Reilly on the big screen — as if his facial splotches weren't accentuated enough nightly on HD televisions — that makes for the movie's most repulsive scare tactic. With his fingers perpetually poised to jab at far-left elements, just thank the Dickens this wasn't in 3D.
6) Dennis Miller's right turn
It's frightening to witness, in this year's complete DVD retrospective of Dennis Miller's HBO Comedy Specials, a once-funny comedian devolving from an all-purpose political and social satirist to a full-on right-wing tool. Both a reminder of how hilarious he used to be and a sad affirmation of his current status as O'Reilly's flaccid comic relief, some of the these specials are dreams come true to finally have on DVD, but the last two are laugh-free nightmares from a reactionary has-been.
5) Benjamin Button — wrinkles in time
That this leaden fantasy got as many Oscar nominations as it did is a travesty in itself, but to win the award for Achievement in Makeup? It was an insult to the other two nominees. Hell, it was even an insult to Norbit, which fought hard for this hallowed honor the previous year. It's hard to appreciate the poignancy in David Fincher's "vision" when you can't stop staring at Brad Pitt's over-the-top makeup, which no parodist could better mock.
4) The Proposal — sexuality in all the wrong places
The tactless old woman saying sexually inappropriate remarks was funny, um … never. Watching Betty White partake in this unpleasant lowbrow chestnut in The Proposal is more than a little embarrassing. Sandra Bullock's nude collision with Ryan Reynolds is no more appetizing (She could totally be his mother!). But it's Office co-star Oscar Nunez's turn as a dentally challenged exotic dancer gyrating his package to Frankie Goes to Hollywood that will haunt you the most.
3) Mike Tyson — Tyson multiplied
What's scarier than a close-up of Mike Tyson offering such verbal gems as calling Desiree Washington a "wretched swine" and Don King a "wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker" who would "kill his mother for a dollar?" That's right, two or three or four Mike Tysons sharing the frame together. James Toback is a brave man.
2) Andy Griffith's orgasm face in Play the Game
The main difference between Matlock and Andy Griffith's latest project — the hacky indie comedy Play the Game — is that in Matlock, he never got a blow job from Liz Sheridan, aka Seinfeld's mommy. Writer-director Marc Feinberg has enough good taste to only show this sordid deed from Griffith's chest up, but the implication under the covers is enough to make you want to upchuck your Metamucil.
1) Thandie Newton's Condoleezza Rice Halloween costume in W.
While Richard Dreyfus, Jeffrey Wright and Toby Jones all resembled exaggerated caricatures of their Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Karl Rove roles, Newton's Condi is something else entirely, the result of a beautiful woman whose abortion of a makeup job more resembles one of Tod Browning's Freaks than the secretary of state. Ultimately, it's not Dreyfuss' menacing snarl that leaves the scariest impact in W.: It's Newton's hideous horror-film concoction.
John Thomason's eyes are red. Send comments to email@example.com.