Scare Yourself Silly with These 13 Frightening Faculty Favorites
What movie gives a shark expert the shakes? Tingles the spine of a spider expert? Makes an anxiety researcher nervous? We asked faculty for their horror movie recommendations, and they were – bwahahaa – dying to play along. Here, in time for Halloween, 13 cinematic gems, from the classically creepy to the … best Iranian feminist vampire spaghetti Western?
The shark researcher’s bloody blockbuster
I’m a fan of Spielberg’s “Jaws,” which I saw before I’d ever seen a live white shark from a cage. The movie is much scarier than seeing the animals in the flesh; they are truly majestic. According to Rodney Fox, who helped film the movie, they originally planned to film real white sharks attacking the cage. To make the sharks look much bigger than they truly were (between 14 and 16 feet long), they made a scaled model of a cage that was only 4 feet high and were planning to put a dwarf stuntman inside. First, they tested the miniature cage by putting it in the water and attracting sharks with chum. One of the sharks got tangled in the lines, got spooked and completely demolished the cage! The stuntman had a change of heart and hid on the boat for hours. After this, most of the shots were done using the big (cheesy) fiberglass replica that is now legendary.
—Gavin Naylor, Ph.D.
Director, Florida Program for Shark Research
Professor, Florida Museum of Natural History
The bug expert’s creature feature
Even for someone like me who loves spiders, watching this film makes my skin crawl. People who are scared of spiders will be happy to know that it’s full of scientific inaccuracies, so there is little in the movie to be afraid of in real life. It makes good fodder for my Spider Biology class here at UF, where we critique and discuss all of its inaccuracies (from the tarantulas that build giant orb webs to the mobs of spider soldiers led by a “general”). I usually don’t like things that encourage negative stereotypes of spiders, but this movie is hilarious and cheesy enough that it gets away with it.
—Lisa Taylor, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Scientist, Entomology and Nematology Department
The Poe professor’s monstrous masterpiece
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
My favorite horror film is James Whales’s “The Bride of Frankenstein.” I love the scene when the solitary old man living in a cabin befriends the monster and teaches him to speak, drink wine and smoke a cigar. “Friend good. Fire bad.”
—Richard Burt, Ph.D.
Professor of Film and Media Studies, English Department
The anxiety specialist’s spine-tingler
Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Directed by Drew Goddard, “Cabin in the Woods” is one of my favorite horror films. What could go wrong when five college students vacation in a cabin in the woods? This classic horror film is as funny as it is scary and full of horror genre movie tropes. Skip the movie trailer and enjoy the show!
—Matt Daley, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Division of Psychology
Faculty, Florida Exposure and Anxiety Research (FEAR) Lab
The science fiction fan’s frightening favorite
Carnival of Souls (1962)
In a long career directing mostly industrial and educational films, Herk Harvey’s only feature film was this low budget gem. Soon after miraculously surviving a drowning accident that kills her friends, a young woman moves to Salt Lake City to start a job as a church organist. Isolated and melancholy, she is troubled by recurring dreams of ghoulish strangers dancing in an abandoned pavilion on the edge of the Lake, to which she is strangely drawn in her waking hours. A bona fide cult film, Carnival’s creepy brilliance was finally recognized in the mid-1980s, and directors as varied as David Lynch, George A. Romero and Lucrecia Martel have credited it as an influence. The 1998 direct-to-video remake is terrible; avoid it at all costs.
—Terry Harpold, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of English
Cofounder, Science Fiction Working Group
The media psychology guy’s scared-silly selection
Darkness Falls (2003)
Watching horror can be as funny as it is terrifying. “Darkness Falls” is a perfect example. This film sets up a very literal, but confusingly executed, internal logic where the villain can only harm victims in darkness. The protagonist frequently warns others to “Stay in the light!” a line that earns big laughs. My research studies how people respond to spoilers, so I’ll only say I hope you have a chuckle when you discover the antagonist’s mythical identity.
—Benjamin Johnson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Advertising
Co-editor of “Media Psychology” journal
The English professor’s chilling cross-cultural choices
Eyes Without a Face/Les yeux sans visage (1960)
An eccentric plastic surgeon attempts to restore his daughter’s face, disfigured in an automobile accident, with grafts from the faces of young women he kidnaps and kills. Each operation fails when the graft is rejected. Atmospheric and dreamlike, with a haunting score by Maurice Jarre, it’s the very definition of the art-horror film or the horror fairy tale. Actress Édith Scob, who plays the daughter behind a featureless porcelain mask, manages to convey an awful, sympathetic beauty.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
The best Iranian feminist vampire spaghetti Western ever made. Filmed in gorgeous, expressionist black and white, the movie recounts the romance of a disaffected young man living in a bleak suburb called Bad City, with a beautiful, nearly silent vampire, the Girl of the film’s title. Wearing a flowing chador, she skateboards the town’s abandoned streets at night in search of prey. The dialogue is in Persian, the soundtrack is mostly American rockabilly. A small masterpiece, it’s the most original vampire film in decades.
—Terry Harpold, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of English
Member, Digital Humanities Working Group
The frog guy’s fantastical fish story
The Host (2006)
This South Korean movie by director Bong Joon-ho features a team of siblings that together fight a monster that has emerged from the Han River in Seoul. To the eyes of biologists studying frogs, this monster clearly looks like a giant tadpole in the midst of metamorphosis (even if it was supposedly inspired by a deformed fish). This film was made early in the era of smartphones with cameras, and one of my favorite parts is seeing people taking pictures on their camera phones when the monster first appears.
—David Blackburn, Ph.D.
Associate Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles, Florida Museum of Natural History
The infectious diseases scientist’s guilty pleasure
I Am Legend (2007)
The 2007 film adaptation (third remake) of the 1954 post-apocalyptic fiction written by Richard Matheson is “popcorn-level entertaining” if you can suspend critical-thinking for 1 hour and 44 minutes. The underlying premise of the movie leaves much to be desired, and I consider it a relevant example of how this media form can inadvertently (or purposefully) instill subconscious misinformation and fear. It is that type of premise that scientifically illiterate individuals in our society hungrily use to conjure conspiracy theories that vilify scientists and undermine the public trust in science. Unfortunately, what is lost in the context of conspiracy theories promoted by this movie is that the majority of scientists are moms, dads, husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters in our community who are sincere and committed to collectively leveraging their skills and talents for the public good, in full adherence to the highest ethical standards. In terms of horror movies, “I Am Legend” takes the top prize for infecting uninformed adults with viral misrepresentations. It is a movie to watch to check our own inner gullibility and biases in these unprecedented times.
—Rhoel Dinglasan, Ph.D.
Professor of Infectious Diseases, Emerging Pathogens Institute
The NASA collaborator’s critics’ choice
From director Duncan Jones, “Moon” tells the story of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), who works alone for three years on the moon, harvesting helium 3 for use on Earth. Sam is two weeks away from the end of his contract, after which he’ll head home to his family on Earth, when an accident occurs at one of the helium harvesters. After recovering, he returns to the broken harvester and makes an unsettling discovery that makes him question who he is and what he is really doing on the moon. Now his only goal is to get back to Earth on his own.
—Amy Williams, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Geology
Member, NASA’s MARS Curiosity rover science team
The Asian-film expert’s eerie edge-of-your-seater
“Ringu” is a Japanese supernatural horror film about a reporter who is investigating a cursed videotape that kills the viewer seven days after watching it. It remains a classic in the genre and inspired an American remake, “The Ring,” in 2002. The film relies on psychological horror and thrills, instead of physical reactions and violence, to create disturbing imagery and a lot of suspense. The metaphorical representation of vision, TV and videotapes endows the film with a distinct flavor and is reflexive of the culture and era of fin de siècle and of the horror genre itself.
—Ying Xiao, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, China Studies and Film and Media Studies
Curator, Reel China Documentary Film Festival
The vampire flick teacher’s pick
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
I have been teaching vampire cinema for almost 20 years and created a study-abroad program, UF in London: Vampire and Empire London. The films I cover are famous, but worth viewing many times. Vampires are polymorphously perverse and offer a rich vein for numerous investigations. But there is another importance of the vampire narratives and films for the topic of emerging diseases, be it social or medical. The most famous animal which is a hypostasis of the vampire is the bat, at the origin of many viral diseases. Vampire, an undead body, is like a virus, itself neither dead nor alive, living off the living. As a political metaphor it was used to anticipate and symbolize rising fascism and working though trauma left by fascism of making Germany great again. Vampire as a figure of political disease or authoritarian politics, which ends up destroyed by its own autoimmunitary forces, bringing the entire society down with it, makes up maybe the most relevant and scary aspect one can discern in these films. The frightening reality which these films reveal constitutes their undead relevance and appeal.
—Dragan Kujundzic, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Jewish Studies