Total Recall: Best Stalker Movies

With All About Steve hitting theaters, we run down some of film's most noteworthy sneaks.

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5. There's Something About Mary

As you can tell from most of the films on this list, stalking generally isn't played for laughs in Hollywood. If anyone was going to squeeze guffaws out of such a serious subject, though, it makes sense that it would turn out to be the Farrelly brothers -- and that they'd do it in There's Something About Mary, a film that reduced audiences to helpless side-clutching with its less-than-delicate handling of such topics as the mentally disabled, homosexuality, masturbation, animal abuse, and the effects of gravity on elderly sunbathers' mammary glands. Its more shocking moments got most of the attention, but at its heart, Mary is a comedy about stalking -- both benign (as practiced by Ben Stiller's painfully awkward Ted Stroehmann) and creepy (as personified by Matt Dillon's unctuous Pat Healy). At the center of it all is Mary (Cameron Diaz), the winsome surgeon whose faith in human nature is shadily abused in countless ways, none of which should really be all that funny. The unlikely fact that the movie is hilarious anyway was not lost on critics like the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris, who pronounced it "remarkable for all the sick and politically incorrect sight gags it gets away with in its rule-breaking romp through the supposedly sacred laws of what makes people laugh, and what doesn't."


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4. Chuck & Buck

Hollywood has given us loads of movies about men and women stalking each other, for all sorts of reasons, but 2000's Chuck & Buck is almost certainly the only one we're ever likely to see about a man's long-delayed (and, at the very least, sociopathic) efforts to rekindle a sexual relationship he had at the age of 11 with his male best friend -- who has since repressed his memories of said relationship so deeply that he doesn't even seem to remember it happened. Filled with coal black humor and incredibly uncomfortable moments, Chuck & Buck didn't resonate with everyone (Time's Richard Schickel wrote that "any movie that sentimentalizes stalking ought to be shunned"), and its unusual plot -- to say nothing of its frequently unsettling overtones -- helped kept it from doing huge business at the box office. Still, the vast majority of critics applauded the intelligence and originality of the script (written by Mike White, who also starred as Buck). Lisa Alspector of the Chicago Reader called it "possibly the most daring and honest drama about sexuality I've ever seen," and Goatdog's Movies' Michael W. Phillips, Jr. mused, "it was often painfully difficult to watch. It was never predictable, though, which is saying something."

Warning: NSFW -- language.


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3. Klute

Director Alan J. Pakula kicked off his "paranoia trilogy" with this 1971 thriller about a jaded call girl (Jane Fonda, who won an Oscar for her work) who works with a private investigator (Donald Sutherland) to catch a killer who's been targeting ladies of the evening. "Lots of guys swing with a call girl like Bree -- one guy just wants to kill her," cooed the poster, and that's pretty much Klute in a nutshell; there wasn't anything particularly innovative or unexpected about Andy and Dave Lewis' screenplay, and neither was Pakula's direction the film's main selling point (Roger Greenspun of the New York Times described it as "a tepid, rather tasteless mush"). Its real strength was the interplay between Sutherland and Fonda, both of whom drew raves from critics. Roger Ebert was one of the duly impressed, writing, "with Fonda and Sutherland, you have actors who understand and sympathize with their characters, and you have a vehicle worthy of that sort of intelligence. So the fact that the thriller stuff doesn't always work isn't so important."


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2. Strangers on a Train

Talk about your terrible misunderstandings: A seemingly random encounter between tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and a fellow train passenger named Bruno (Robert Walker) takes a strange turn when a conversation about Haines' public marital problems leads to Bruno offering to do away with Guy's wife in exchange for the murder of Bruno's father. Guy, somewhat understandably, doesn't take Bruno seriously; unfortunately, Bruno's offer is real, and when he holds up his end of the "bargain," Guy finds himself the subject of a police investigation -- as well as the target of Bruno's increasingly deranged wrath. Another in a string of triumphs for director Alfred Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train was adapted from Patricia Highsmith's first novel, and helped jumpstart a literary career that would later grow to include the film-friendly Ripley series. "Two men, a problem, and a crime is an old theme," wrote Filmcritic's Mark Athitakis, "but the list of works that exploit it perfectly is a short one. Strangers on a Train belongs on it."


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1. Taxi Driver

Yeah, you knew this one was going to end up here. Robert De Niro is something of an expert cinematic stalker, having explored darkly obsessive characters on a number of occasions (see: The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear remake, and The Fan), but if you have to choose just one of his stalker pictures -- and, for the purposes of this list, you do -- it has to be 1976's Taxi Driver. A lonely, depressed insomniac, Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a tight bundle of rage looking for an outlet, and he finds it in Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), a politician whose presidential campaign staff includes a volunteer (Cybill Shepherd) who spurns Bickle's affections, thus unwittingly triggering his violent rampage. Though certainly not for the squeamish, Taxi Driver combined scuzzy grit with some truly sophisticated filmmaking, and critics responded immediately to Scorsese's assured direction and Paul Schrader's lean, bleak script (to say nothing of remarkable performances from De Niro and Jodie Foster). It is, in the words of the Sunday Times' Shannon J. Harvey, "Scorsese's first masterpiece."


Take a look through the reviews for All About Steve, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives.

Finally, we leave you with a clip from Better Off Dead, which features what is unquestionably one of the funniest stalkers in all of moviedom -- and you know exactly who we're talking about. Five words: I want my two dollars:

Comments

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

Good thought-provoking list

Well, narrowing it down to ten you get the above:
Yet there is also

Fritz Lang's "M" with Peter Lorre (whistling "Hall of the Mountain King" and killing children)

Terry o'Quinn as The Stepfather ("my stepdad's a crazy-creep")

Dressed to Kill-DePalma

Body Double-Depalma

Blow Out-DePalma

Out of Darkness (Martin Sheen Made For TV)

The Boston Strangler (Tony Curtis)

Halloween (John Carpenter 1978. . . a bona fide stalker-dude, hiding behind bushes and standing in back yards wearing a mask)

Profondo Rosso (Dario Argento [aka DEEP RED, 1976] [I don't dare say who the killer is: freaky children's music; meat cleavers; and smashing teeth against a piano. Halloween II (Universal, 1981) blatently ripped-off the "scalding-scene"]

Tenebre (Dario Argento, 1982_. . . there's and killer-stalking following around a shoplifter and some journalist-lesbian types and some nubile assistant-types

Creepers (Dario Argento Phonemena 1985--killer-monkey, killer-killer, homicidal mother, spooky house, maggots in the basement, etc.)

(last)
OPERA (Dario Argento 1990 . . . a nice slow-motion bullet-through-the-eyeball bit with Dario's ex-wife Dario Nicolodi; Sewing needles under eyelids in order to Make the Victim Watch the killer kill; and some eyeball eating crows.

and (you have to mention pieces)
Pieces (Linda Day, Christopher George, Paul Smith, and Edmund Perdom-- Almi, 1983) Chainsaw-stalking on the campus lawn; chainsaw-stalking in the elevator; chainsaw-stalking in the swimming pool--again: no saying who the killer is or who the red-herring is either.

(there are too many more to mention and way too many stalker movies to narrow to just 10)

Good thought-provoking list


The difference between a stalker film and a slasher film is that the killer kind of knows his victims a little more than a slasher film . . .
BUT
someone please ask TARANTINO what the difference between a stalker subgenre and a slasher subgenre is, thanks.

Quientin Tarantino (on Charlie Rose last week) knows just about EVERYTHING about cinema genres and subgenres)

Sep 1 - 06:40 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

See if anyone can coax Quinten Tarantino into doing a list of Cinema (Movie) Genres and subgenres for Rotten Tomatoes.

On Charlie Rose (8/25), you can CLEARLY see that Tarantino IS Cinematic-critisim incarnate

Quinten Tarantino is the Illuve Museum of film critics and film critism. Thank God for minds like Tarantino's who can reel-off anecdote after anecdote and Nuance after Nuance of cinema history and cinema comment!!!

Sep 1 - 06:48 PM

Smartest Person Here

Greg Bonnette

Death Proof sucked. That's all I have to say...

Sep 2 - 09:14 AM

Gimy

Gimy Moo

not ALL of death proof sucked, there was 4-5 minutes of decent movie-ness...but yeah, the rest was garbage.

no real comment on the list i guess, but that poster of "all about steve" on the top right of the page is niiice, sandra bullock must be related to benjamin button cuz she's never looked that hot. too bad she's a prude and won't show em...

Sep 2 - 09:33 AM

RamALamADingDong

That Guy

I'd also put down Michael Myers (original version), Annie Wilkes, and Ghostface.

Sep 2 - 09:33 AM

Jane Doe

Chad Hensdale

mark Wahlberg in Fear. Deniro in Cape fear. Fatal Attraction. Gullum.

Sep 2 - 09:48 AM

Nine Oh Two

joe schmoe

Yeah, really though, I thought Death Proof was garbage. It amazes me how people are soooo loyal to QT that they still praise it.

Sep 2 - 09:52 AM

BUCK69

JIM GRONEFELD

I'm with you on that...I love Inglorious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, even Jackie Brown, but Death Proof flat-out sucked. I've considered giving it another shot, but I can't see potting myself through that again. I don't need to get hit in the testicles to remember how much it hurts.

Jane...I was going to toss-in Cape fear [the remake] too. DeNiro is about as creepy as you can get; right up there with Travis Bickle.

Sep 2 - 10:01 AM

Ronman189

Ron Johnson

I absolutely agree with you. The movie was littered with horrible acting and the transformation Russel made from macho man to sniveling coward was difficult to swallow. Terrible waste of time.

Sep 4 - 08:36 AM

BUCK69

JIM GRONEFELD

I'm with you on that...I love Inglorious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, even Jackie Brown, but Death Proof flat-out sucked. I've considered giving it another shot, but I can't see potting myself through that again. I don't need to get hit in the testicles to remember how much it hurts.

Jane...I was going to toss-in Cape fear [the remake] too. DeNiro is about as creepy as you can get; right up there with Travis Bickle.

Sep 2 - 10:01 AM

crystalwhiteeyes

Tommy Savor

Alicia Silverstone in "The Crush" should be on this list.

Sep 2 - 10:03 AM

Kevin E.

Kevin Eurich

Yes, that came to mind when I saw this. Also Fear with Mark Wahlberg.

Sep 2 - 02:24 PM

Zippedychick

Amanda Willis

Yes! This is my ultimate stalker movie.

Sep 3 - 04:27 PM

Loserman

Fred Doberson

Jim Carrey in "Cable Guy".

Sep 2 - 10:21 AM

JUDGE DREDD

idle one kenobi

CABLEGUY should be at number 1. Awesome underrated film thats both hillarious and creepy too.
Jim Carrey should have got an oscar for that film.

Probably my favorite of his films, followed by Man on the Moon, Irene, Dumber and Ace. Hell, just realized, I love ALL his films, even Majestic. oh well.

Sep 2 - 12:05 PM

leaf71

Garnet Whyte

I liked the two movies that were Death Proof. Just saw Basterds last night. Still haven't see Taxi Driver (I know, I know).

Loserman is so correct about Cable Guy. Highly underrated film. Reminds me, the cable guy is coming on Friday between 12 and 2.

Sep 2 - 10:56 AM

Funkmaster Flex

Phillip Martin

BTW, where the heck was RT on DVD this week?

Sep 2 - 11:06 AM

King Kubrick

Travis Earl

Why isn't taxi driver at 100%?! It's one of the most expertly constructed films of all times. The only qualms I have with it is its fascist overtones(a minor quibble). Other than that it's a one of the best. Did Armond white do a scorese retrospective so he could botch it's perfect score?

Sep 2 - 11:26 AM

catinthebrain

Kirk Scroggs

How about The King of Comedy?

Sep 2 - 11:52 AM

Launy The Schwartz

Launy Schwartz

QFT...very memorable, yet often forgotten

Sep 3 - 02:39 PM

JUDGE DREDD

idle one kenobi

CABLEGUY should be at number 1. Awesome underrated film thats both hillarious and creepy too.
Jim Carrey should have got an oscar for that film.

Probably my favorite of his films, followed by Man on the Moon, Irene, Dumber and Ace. Hell, just realized, I love ALL his films, even Majestic. oh well.

Sep 2 - 12:05 PM

Don't Tase Me Bro

Don't Tase Me Bro

Excellent list...and kudos for B.O.D. (I would have also been happy with SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER as well...)

But 'where' would HARD CANDY fit in here where almost every frame of the film depicts stalking? That seems like a major omission.

And agree CATINTHEBRAIN about King of Comedy...

Sep 2 - 12:28 PM

Premo Beat

John Noto

Hard Candy sucked way worse than Death Proof.

Sep 2 - 08:30 PM

Don't Tase Me Bro

Don't Tase Me Bro

Well...no one sucks soft candy for too long...

(Yuk, yuk, yuk...I know...'lame')

I'm confused...if it's "incredibly well done"...how is it "way worse" than Death Proof?

Naw...I have the BEST (and also arguably one of the first ever made in the 'genre')...stalker movie of all time:

MGM's first feature-film, GREED (1924) where the original director's cut clocked in at 9 hours...with the final stalking scene being filmed in Death Valley...(film based off of Frank Norris's under-appreciated but excellently-written novels 'McTeague'...). The Death Valley shoot alone nearly killed the lead actor...

Sep 3 - 02:19 AM

ciaran m.

ciaran martin

How about The Night of the Hunter? Don't think Mitchum was ever better...

Sep 2 - 12:57 PM

dangerous beans

Hien Dang

Shouldn't Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Single White Female" be on here?

Sep 2 - 01:03 PM

bondfreak

Jay Rog

robin williams is absoutely haunting in one hour photo and its one of my favourite performances of his. its kind of like psycho for showers, one hour photo for photo places

Sep 2 - 02:18 PM

Kevin E.

Kevin Eurich

Yes, that came to mind when I saw this. Also Fear with Mark Wahlberg.

Sep 2 - 02:24 PM

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