The Horror of The Stalker: Two Film Recommendations

By: Nina Muller

I cannot be the only one who found the readings in this course that involved stalkers (or embodied certain arguable elements of stalkers, as in Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”) to be among those that have terrified me the most thus far. Without question, Penpal ranks pretty high on my list. Reading, discussing, and analyzing these particular texts as well as writing my first pass earlier in the semester got me thinking about the often overlooked yet truly horrifying aspects of the stalker. When asked what ‘monsters’ or entities scare them the most, few would think immediately of a stalker. I think this is a mistake and an oversight due to the lack of recognition within the genre of horror for such predatory people. To demonstrate, I provide film reviews and recommendations of two excellent thrillers — one new and one old (ish) — that convey just how truly terrifying a stalker can be.

  1. Cape Fear (1991):

I will start with the older of the two films and one of my all-time favorite movies across every genre: Cape Fear. Starring Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, and Robert De Niro (as the stalker) and directed by Martin Scorsese, this film is a remake of the earlier original version that was released in 1962 and directed by J. Lee Thompson. I have seen both versions, and although the original is also extremely noteworthy and worth seeing, I chose to recommend the remake because Robert De Niro’s portrayal of a deranged and maniacal ex-convict is among one of the most terrifying performances I have ever seen. The basic gist of the film (without giving anything away) is that a convicted rapist named Max Cady – De Niro – is released from prison after serving a fourteen-year sentence for his crimes, and returns to meticulously haunt the family of the lawyer who represented him during his trial many years before. With a mercilessly heavy plotline, the film grabs the audience’s attention from the very beginning and refuses to let go, rather steadily and increasingly tightening its grip upon the viewer’s emotions and well-being. It challenges every assumption we have made about human nature and capabilities to reassure ourselves of the inherent morality and humanity of mankind. It breaks down our natural trust in familial relationships and motivations by presenting a deeply flawed protagonist as well as a demonic and almost super-human antagonist with a barbaric yet intelligent and calculating predatory nature. This film will have you constantly checking over your shoulder, fearing that someone is out there seeking retribution for every decision you have ever made.

  • Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score: 76%
  • Rotten Tomatoes User Score: 77%
  • Terrified Nina’s Score: 90%

*Keep in mind that old trailers are not as good as newer ones!*

  1. The Gift (2015):

This film, which came out this summer, is written and directed by Joel Edgerton and stars Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton. I saw this movie in theaters just a couple days after it came out, and left thoroughly terrified despite a relatively slow-moving plot for much of the film. In this thriller, everything culminates in the final few scenes — and you will not be disappointed with the turn of events. In some ways, The Gift reminded me of Cape Fear, particularly in the carefully planned and meticulous methods of the stalker, Gordo (played by Joel Edgerton). Gordo’s deeply rooted motivations and painstaking patience are deeply reminiscent of De Niro’s Max Cady, and leads to a similar blurred distinction between the antagonist and protagonist as is seen in Scorsese’s work. However, the two are markedly different in many aspects as well, with The Gift utilizing an incredibly psychologically tormenting and slow-burning horror tactic with a dramatic and highly unpredictable turn of events in the end. If you are a fan of unforeseen twists and teeth-grinding suspense — or perhaps just want to see Bateman break out from his traditionally funny guy roles — then this is the film for you.

  • Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score: 93%
  • Rotten Tomatoes User Score: 77%
  • Terrified Nina Score: 85%

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2 thoughts on “The Horror of The Stalker: Two Film Recommendations

  1. I completely agree with you about the stalker section of this class, there’s something about humans pursuing and psychologically tormenting other humans that I find much more chilling than any supernatural or monster story (I still think about Penpal after all this time). Although I havent seen either Cape Fear or The Gift, both movies give the impression of that slow burning, insidious horror that builds over time. I also like the idea of stalker in The Gift as the embodiment past coming back to haunt the main character, which adds dimension and mystery to the plot

  2. I thought the stories that we analyzed about stalkers (i.e. Penpal, Slenderman, ect) were the most horrific of all of them! In fact, It Follows was one of the best horror movies that I have seen in a long time, I have recommended it to many. I’m very curious to watch these recommended movies and see how they compare. I’m sure that since they are about stalkers, they will be terrifying!

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