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5 Movies That Changed My (Writing) Life

Andrew Pyper is the author of six novels, most recently  which Gillian Flynn calls “smart, thrilling, and utterly unnerving.” His previous novels include the international bestseller Lost Girls and The Killing Circle, which was chosen as a Notable Crime Novel of the Year by the New York Times.

 

The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s masterful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel hit so many sweet spots in my brain it’s hard to tally them. I distinctly remember the early, teaser trailer for the movie that I saw in The Vogue, the only cinema in the small town I grew up in: a long shot of a shimmering curtain with creepy, buzzing music. That’s it. No clips, no story hints, no voiceover. Yet, somehow, it promised so much it freaked me out with anticipation. The movie, when it finally arrived, didn’t disappoint. Madness. Isolation. Ghosts. The Past. More or less the palette I’ve been using ever since.

Children of Men

Criminally overlooked by the big awards (a Best Picture should-have-won that wasn’t even nominated), Alfonso Cuaron’s dystopian thriller is stunning filmmaking. But what made the biggest impression on me is how real the movie is: action sequences shot in real-time, little CGI, rooms that feel damp or cold or stuffy instead of just being set decorated to look that way. I came out of Children of Men wanting to write novels where fantastical or frightening things happen, but to keep those elements grounded and visceral at the same time. This is one of my most influential Texture Touchstones.

 Rosemary’s Baby

Roman Polanski knows paranoia. In a way, all of his movies can be viewed as a different take on neurotic suspicion. In Rosemary’s Baby, he takes the perfectly cast Mia Farrow on a walk along the borderline between sane concern and psychotic delusion as the young mother-to-be comes to suspect that everyone around her is lying to her, using her for some malevolent purpose. This is a horror movie where the audience is wholly in charge of creating their own sense of the monstrous. It’s a master class in POV that I aspire to match in my first-person narratives.

Don’t Look Now

Weirdness. Mystery. Ambiguity. Sometimes, the things that scare us don’t have to make sense in order to work—in fact, they’re scarier for being inexplicable. Freud called this type of purely imaginative association the uncanny, and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is a masterpiece of the uncanny. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie head to Venice, both grieving the recent loss of their daughter. They walk around, think they see their daughter’s ghost, generally freak themselves out. That’s it, plot wise. But the links the movie makes between the characters’ buried emotional states and the shadowy menace of the old city are terrifyingly effective. Good horror shouldn’t be logical all the time.

 Friday the 13th

This is not a good movie, I know. But a thing doesn’t have to be good to be influential—sometimes it’s more of a right-place-at-the-right-time situation. For me, this iconic slasher movie (the hockey goalie mask!) is memorable not for its silly plot or pedestrian scares, but for its setting: a wooded lakeside. The elements of Camp Crystal Lake’s environment—water, trees, dock, canoe—struck a deep note of recognition in me when I first saw the movie as a kid, because I saw it as the environment of the Canadian north that I knew so well. Part of Jason Voorhees’s mythic power as a villain is his immortality (not to mention his deft use of a machete), but it’s the way he is a campfire tale monster come to life that stays with me. The movie takes a natural, idyllic setting and summons a nightmare out of the water. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had the exact same intention when I later wrote my first novel, Lost Girls, which also has woods, a haunted lake, and what may or may not be an unkillable ghoul who lives in its depths.