Part 2

Thriller - Suspense Films
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Examples

Influenced by Hitchcock:

To Hitchcock's tribute, there are a number of Hitchcock-like thrillers from other notable directors. All of these films serve up thrilling tales of terror, intrigue, menace, revenge, obsession, and insanity:

  • Niagara - 1953the film-noirish and intriguing Niagara (1953) by Henry Hathaway, with Marilyn Monroe as the voluptuous and trashy femme fatale who schemes to kill her unstable husband (Joseph Cotten)
  • director Robert Aldrich's violent and fast-paced film noirish thriller Kiss Me Deadly (1955) featured Ralph Meeker as a hard-nosed detective amidst fears of nuclear apocalypse
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955), director Charles Laughton's sole film, brilliantly-played with Robert Mitchum as a Bible-thumping, homicidal preacher victimizing two young children with a secret about the location of stolen money
  • director Orson Welles' unique crime thriller, Touch Of Evil (1958), with a pre-Psycho Janet Leigh as a terrorized wife, Charlton Heston as a Mexican-American narcotics agent, and the director himself as an evil border-town cop
  • director Michael Powell's perverse, tense and reviled Peeping Tom (1960), with Carl Boehm as a psychopathic, reclusive cameraman - the film was released prior to Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), and helped pave its way
  • J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear (1962) with Robert Mitchum as an angry, menacing ex-con seeking revenge at an attorney (Gregory Peck) and his family; much superior to the 1991 remake by Martin Scorsese with Robert DeNiro and Nick Nolte
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley - 1999director Stanley Donen's stylish, romantic thriller Charade (1963) with numerous plot twists, identity-changes, and a search for hidden loot, and starring the charming pair of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn on location in Paris
  • Roman Polanski's first film in English, the frighteningly-surrealistic Repulsion (1965) - with Catherine Deneuve as a young woman who goes increasingly mad
  • Wait Until Dark (1967) by director Terence Young (known for Dr. No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963)), with Audrey Hepburn as a victimized blind woman in her Manhattan apartment and Alan Arkin as the evil and sadistic con man searching for drugs (hidden in a doll) - with a tremendous, lights-out finale
  • Steven Spielberg's low-budget early TV movie Duel (1971), about road rage between a hapless traveling salesman (Dennis Weaver) and the unseen, relentless driver of a truck
  • Clint Eastwood's directorial debut film, Play Misty for Me (1971), about a California disc jockey pursued by a disturbed female listener (Jessica Walter)
  • director Nicolas Roeg's edgy, puzzling and macabre Don't Look Now (1973), a tale of despair in Venice, with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a couple grieving the drowning death of their daughter
  • Irvin Kershner's The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), with Faye Dunaway as the title character - a stalked photographer
  • Single White Female - 1992Phillip Noyce's Dead Calm (1989), with a riveting Nicole Kidman who must fight for her life on a yacht against a crazed castaway (Billy Zane)
  • director Rob Reiner's excruciatingly frightening Misery (1990), based on the best-seller by horror writer Stephen King, with Kathy Bates as an unbalanced fan named Annie who terrorizes, in her care, an incapacitated author named Paul (James Caan) of romance novels; in one horrifying scene, she 'hobbles' his ankles so that he can't escape
  • Curtis Hanson's The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), with Rebecca De Mornay as a nanny intent on seeking revenge against her dead obstetrician husband's patient (Annabella Sciorra)
  • Barbet Schroeder's suspenseful Single White Female (1992), with Bridget Fonda and her obsessed roommate-from-hell Jennifer Jason Leigh
  • The Fugitive (1993), with Harrison Ford as the wrongfully-accused physician who is pursued by US Marshal Tommy Lee Jones - adapted from the popular 60's TV series
  • Sydney Pollack's The Firm (1993) with Tom Cruise, based on John Grisham's best-selling novel about a corrupt, crime-ridden law-firm
  • Harold Becker's Malice (1993), with Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman
  • and writer/director Anthony Minghella's psychological thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Brian De Palma:

Director Brian De Palma's earliest, heavily-stylistic films (often with reconstructed scenes from other films) are particularly reminiscent of Hitchcock's tense horror thrillers, with themes of guilt, voyeurism, paranoia and obsession. Similar plot elements include killing off a main character early on, switching points of view, and dream-like sequences, in the following:

  • Sisters - 1973the innovative, visually-striking psycho-thriller Sisters (1973) - a tale of murderous Siamese twins, with music from Hitchcock's frequent and favorite collaborator, composer Bernard Herrmann
  • the horrific telekinetic classic Carrie (1976), an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, about a tormented high-schooler (Sissy Spacek) who ultimately found revenge after being humiliated at a school prom
  • the under-rated Obsession (1976), somewhat inspired by Vertigo, with another Herrmann score
  • Dressed to Kill (1980), inspired by Psycho and Vertigo, with Angie Dickinson as a frustrated patient who shared her sexual fantasies with a therapist (Michael Caine) before being brutally murdered by a blonde razor-slasher
  • the assassination thriller Blow Out (1981), similar to Coppola's The Conversation (1974) and Antonioni's Blow-up (1966), told about a sound-effects man who witnessed the 'accidental' killing of the governor - a promising presidential candidate, and found evidence of a conspiracy
  • the daringly-erotic Body Double (1984) was about a struggling B-movie actor who became involved in a tale of intrigue and mystery involving his erotic next-door 'body double' neighbor

Other Great Thrillers:

The acclaimed police thriller The French Connection (1971) was based on the true story of two New York City narcotics officers (Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle, and Roy Scheider as Buddy) who pursue the largest heroin smuggling group in history. The film that brought Steven Spielberg to prominence was his terrifying summer blockbuster hit Jaws (1975), a frighteningly tense and shocking thriller inspired by real life East Coast shark attacks in 1916. John Boorman's Deliverance (1972) followed the perilous fate of four Southern businessmen during a weekend's shoot-the-rapids trip. Two nail-biting films, both adult shockers, Play Misty for Me (1971) and Fatal Attraction (1987), involved the nightmarish, dangerous consequences of a philandering one-night stand - one with a psychotic girlfriend, the other a spurned lover. In Francis Ford Coppola's tense character study/thriller The Conversation (1974), a bugging-device expert (Gene Hackman) systematically uncovered a covert murder while he himself was being spied upon. A battered wife who left her sadistic husband to find a better life was vengefully pursued in Sleeping with the Enemy (1991).

Jonathan Demme's highly-acclaimed Best Picture-winning horror/thriller Silence of the Lambs (1991) pitted young FBI agent/trainee Jodie Foster in psychological warfare against a cannibalistic psychiatrist named Dr. Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), while tracking down transgender serial killer Buffalo Bill. And Jan De Bont's combination action/thriller Speed (1994) perfectly captured the heart-stopping suspense aboard a Los Angeles city bus threatened by a mad bomber (Dennis Hopper). In Michael Mann's and DreamWorks' gritty Collateral (2004), Tom Cruise plays a taxi-riding hit man and Jamie Foxx as the cabbie.

Costa-Gavras' Z (1969) told of the assassination of a Greek, left-wing nationalist in the 1960s. Joseph Sargent's Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) was a cautionary thriller about technology running amok, while Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes (1971) was a crime-caper thriller. Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain (1971), adapted from Michael Crichton's best-seller, was about the threat of an alien virus. Alan Pakula's All the President's Men (1976), starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as two Washington Post reporters investigating the Watergate scandal which ultimately led to President Nixon's resignation. John Schlesinger's spy-thriller Marathon Man (1976) contained a memorable torture scene performed by Laurence Olivier (as a former concentration camp dentist) upon hapless college student-victim Dustin Hoffman. Both Richard Fleischer's Soylent Green (1973) and Michael Anderson's Logan's Run (1976) told about futuristic societies where secrets were withheld from the victimized populace: euthanasia at age 30, and the production of 'soylent green' food from the people.

John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday (1977) was an unbelievable film (at the time) about terrorists plotting to use a Goodyear blimp to crash into the Super Bowl. James Bridges' The China Syndrome (1979) was a thrilling drama about a possible nuclear accident and cover-up near Los Angeles, with Jane Fonda as a television news reporter and Jack Lemmon as the nuclear power plant's whistle-blower, after discovering that the X-rays used to check key welds at the plant have been falsified. The film's title referred to the idea that a massive nuclear accident would cause enough thermonuclear heat to conceivably melt down into the ground under the plant and all the way to China. The film's popularity was considerably enhanced when a 'real' nuclear power plant accident occurred at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania about two weeks after the film's release. The film was also noted for not having a traditional music soundtrack, except for the song "Somewhere In Between" played during the opening credits.

Thrillers With Convoluted Plot Twists:

See this site's extensive description of Films with Plot Twists, Surprise Endings

The Usual Suspects - 1995Recently, various thrillers have used twisting plots and surprise endings to capture audiences, notably:

  • Bryan Singer's clever and hip The Usual Suspects (1995), with Kevin Spacey as a club-footed con man and a central mystery surrounding the character of Hungarian mobster Keyser Soze
  • director David Fincher's compelling crime thriller Se7en (1995), about the search for a serial killer who re-enacts the seven deadly sins
  • M. Night Shyamalan's effective The Sixth Sense (1999), about a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who sees "dead people" - this was Shyamalan's signature film with clever clues sprinkled throughout the film; also Shyamalan's spooky Signs (2002), about a disillusioned minister (Mel Gibson) who encounters gigantic, eerie crop circles on his farm
  • writer/director Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000), a tale told backwards, with Guy Pearce as a tattooed man without short-term memory, who hunts down the alleged rapist-killer of his wife

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