I like scary movies. Sometimes. Some kinds of scary movies. I’ve been thinking about movies that I actually found scary, and it’s not as many as you might think.
First, here’s how I categorize scary movies:
1 – The “BOO” movie. These are the ones that count on surprising you to make you jump. You know those horrible videos that make the rounds on the internet, where you’re told to watch something harmless “VERY” closely and you’ll see some small thing, like an animal or a ghost or whatever? So you’re watching closely and suddenly some awful monster image shrieks into the screen and scares the bejeezus out of you? That’s a BOO scare.
I hate those. If I think it’s nothing but a BOO movie, I won’t watch it.
2 – The Gross-Out movie. These are the movies that count on gore, death, gory death, close-ups of mutilations and gory tortures and the like and call it scary. No. Not scary. Gross and disgusting, yes. Vomitous, yes. I’m looking at you, “Saw” and “Hostel” and all your kin. Those things aren’t horror movies, they’re just sickening.
If I think it’s a gross-out movie, I won’t watch it.
Which leaves 3 – the Scary Movie. I define scary as something that involves tension, characters I care about, an element of creepiness or the unexplainable, and something that makes me want to hide behind a pillow or watch between my fingers.
Before I move on into the movies, I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen a movie that scared me as much as two short stories have. If you want to understand what real horror is, I recommend “It’s a Good Life,” by Jerome Bixby and “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison.
The first movie I can remember being really scared by was the 1941 “Wolfman.” When I was just a little girl, it was showing on TV one day. All I remember is hiding behind my Uncle Dock on the couch and being scared.
In 1958, “The Blob” showed in one of the theaters in Amory (yes, there were more than one back then). My Mom and my Aunt Bob went to see it and they took me and my two-years-older cousin with them. I would have been about 3 at the time, and all I remember from that was being scared and hiding under my Mom’s legs. Oh, and the theater floor was really sticky. Some things never change.
The next movie I can remember really being terrified by wasn’t technically a horror movie at all. Sometime in the early ’60s I saw on TV the 1953 version of “The Great Houdini,” starring Tony Curtis. I was so totally freaked out by his magic tricks and especially the thought of being trapped underwater that I had nightmares for weeks. That was weird.
After that came a long dry spell of uber-religiousity and no movies except what made it onto TV. I learned to love Alfred Hitchcock and found “Lifeboat,” “Rear Window” and “The Birds” to be nicely chilling. The first horror movie I saw on the big screen after that was “Halloween” in 1978. Holy cow. I was scared witless! I still think the original “Halloween” is the scariest of that whole bunch and never needed to be remade. I saw “Halloween” in Cincinnati on a weekend night when flash flooding was slamming the area and my friends and I had to drive back to West Virginia in the foggy rain in the middle of the night after watching “Halloween.” Yeah, it was a seminal experience. LOL
The next year, I was so terrified by the TV ads for “Alien” that I had nightmares and was afraid to go see the movie itself. When I finally worked up the nerve, it was, in fact, scary as all get-out. I still find it scary, and I’ve probably seen it four times now. Just for the fun of it, here’s a list of movies I’ve found worthy of being called a “scary movie.”
* The Shining, until the end when it did something so different from the book that it jarred me entirely out of the mood.
* The Thing (1982), which has a wonderful tense and paranoid feeling going on until the special effects monkeys got out of the box and spoiled it with silly monsters.
* Freaks, directed by Tod Browning, 1932. “One of us, one of us…”
* Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956. I think this one is more or less a perfect horror movie. No monsters. No explosions. No gore. Just sheer nail-biting tension and queasy fear.
* Village of the Damned, 1960. Who could watch those sinister all-alike children and not be creeped out?
* The Innocents, 1961. Arguably the best ghost story movie ever made. Based on “The Turn of the Screw.”
* Carnival of Souls, 1962. I only saw this movie last year for the first time, and I have to say that it’s weird and creepy. It probably wouldn’t be scary or surprising to a contemporary movie fan, but for its time it was out there. Way out there.
* The Haunting, 1963. Based on Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Haunting of Hill House,” this movie still has power to scare the pants off the unwary. It was remade sometime in the ’90s, I think, but that version is wretched. The original still holds power to mesmerize, to draw you in and leave you as heart-thumping terrified as the unfortunate people who come to stay in a haunted house. This would still go on my list of Top Ten Scariest Movies Ever.
* Scariest movie I never saw: “Night of the Living Dead.” When it came out in 1968, I didn’t want to be anywhere near it. One of my cousins, who was just a bit older than me, went to see it and then told me the whole thing! Aaaargh! So I got the nightmares without even seeing the movie. Still haven’t seen it. Probably never will.
* The Wicker Man, 1973. The makers battled studios and everyone to get this made the way they wanted it, and it’s a creepy masterpiece. Do NOT be fooled by the remake with Nicholas Cage. *shudder* “The Wicker Man” depicts a modern man running headlong into an ancient and isolated way of life, and it remains eerie, with a surprising, maybe even shocking, ending.
* Carrie, 1976. Needless to say, this one hit a little too close to home for a chick who grew up in an uber-religious setting. Man, did I feel for Carrie. Her rage was frighteningly cathartic.
* The Omen, 1976. “All for you, Damien!” Need I say more? This one has a bit more gore than is absolutely necessary, but it’s fairly easy to see it coming and close your eyes.
* An American Werewolf in London, 1980. This one is a bit more gory than I like, but it carries it off with such wit and charm that it’s impossible not to like it. And really good music. 😀
* Poltergeist, 1982. The tree. Need I say more? Okay. The clown doll. Yeah. Go calm down. I’ll wait here for you.
* Cujo, in 1983, reminded me anew that I was terrified of big dogs. Dammit, Stephen King, that was not necessary!
* Aliens, 1986. Ripley in the orange mecha suit facing down the queen monster. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so empowered as by that scene. And I love Ripley, totally.
* Prison. A 1988 haunted prison movie that I bet you’ve never even heard of. I wouldn’t have either, except that my crazed fandom of Viggo Mortensen drove me to search it out. It’s a decent scary movie, directed by Renny Harlin.
* Jacob’s Ladder, 1990. One of the rare movies that affect me and my husband equally strongly. We couldn’t even talk after it was over, just walked out to the car in a daze and drove… somewhere… in a daze. Emotionally wrenching, the exterior horror elements of demons and whatnot never overpower the interior horror that the main cast members are going through. Another for my Top Ten list.
* The same year, “Misery.” Kathy Bates is awesomely terrifying as the “very best fan” of a stranded writer. *shudder*
* The Reflecting Skin, 1990. This post-World War II story twines the stories of a younger brother who’s become fascinated by the idea of vampires and an older brother who’s home from the Pacific following the deaths of their parents. Child abuse, vampirism, lonely love and the aftermath of bombing in the Pacific mingle to make an eerie, tragic story. Hard to find. This is another Viggo movie.
* The Kingdom. This was released as an eight-part TV series in Denmark in 1994. Directed by Lars Von Trier, it’s eccentric, haunting, funny, terrifying … everything you could want from a horror movie. If you can, watch the Danish original. There was an American remake later, with Stephen King, and while it’s okay I find it’s not nearly a effective as the original. Even with subtitles.
Ooops, out of time. Will finish this later, maybe tomorrow.