M. Night Shyamalan had a surprising goal for his latest film: He says he set out to make a B-movie. But Shyamalan says he elevated his first R-rated movie, “The Happening,” from schlock status with an “A-list” crew and cast, including Mark Wahlberg. After the success of “The Sixth Sense,” critics have been tough on Shyamalan's films, and many reviews of his new movie haven't been kind. The director seems intent on keeping expectations for “The Happening” in check. “There are really important movies; we're not one of those movies,” he says.
We spoke with Shyamalan about his favorite films with a dark streak.
“The Mummy” (1932): Monster movies are risky, Shyamalan says, because “when you see the monster, you usually get disappointed.” But director Karl Freund got it right, using “quiet insinuation and a well-written screenplay” to create a classic creature feature, starring Boris Karloff as the undead Egyptian.
“Lolita” (1962): In his adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel, director Stanley Kubrick toyed with viewers' perceptions of love, lust and taboo by making them see through the eyes of the obsessed narrator, Humbert Humbert. “From the credit sequence alone you think, ‘I shouldn't be feeling this way.' The point of view is so eerie,” Shyamalan says.
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“The Exorcist” (1973): Born in 1970, Shyamalan was too young to see it on the big screen, but this movie, about a girl who gets possessed by the devil, made a lasting impact when he eventually saw it on cable TV at a friend's house. “When I see the letters ‘HBO' I still get upset because it reminds me of seeing ‘The Exorcist,'” he says.
“Being There” (1979): “It suffers from the fact that it's in no genre; there's no shelf for it,” Shyamalan says of this Peter Sellers film about a sheltered gardener who is lauded as a savant in high society. Blending satire, dark humor and a twist in perspective, the movie has a “cumulative effect, to me, that's profound.”
“28 Days Later” (2003): Director Danny Boyle's movie about an epidemic that turns people into rampaging cannibals jump-started the tired zombie genre. Though it was largely shot with digital video cameras on a shoestring budget, “the craftsmanship was spectacular,” Shyamalan says. “It should have made $100 million.” (It grossed about half that amount at the U.S. box office.)