Thursday, October 18, 2018

scary, not scary

I reposted a list of the supposed top 100 scariest films recently, and while I would have put the Shining at the top all around, it got me thinking about scariness and the movies that have actually scared the bejeezus out of me (only a couple of which made my favorites list--which have more to do with enjoyability than truly being scary.)

I was introduced to horror films right around the time that the brain begins forming anything like tangible memories, so they have always been with me. We saw things like Carrie, The Shining,  and The Omenat the drive-in, and while I'm pretty sure I fell asleep a lot during the second feature ones, I remember the main Shining scenes staying with me--not in a scary way, but a  wow!  that's cool!  way--the twins, creepy as hell, the woman in the bathtub, the elevator of blood.  I don't think these traumatised me, nor did the late 70's/early 80's slashers--Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night. I think the only trauma-indcuing film was Ghost Story, and only because I'd probably sat down and thought it was a movie about old men and suddenly there was a rotting corpse lady and look, there she was again.  This persisted until I watched it in high school--a certain anxiety about the film (which upon adult viewing, is scary in all sorts of other, non-supernatural, #metoo ways.)

The Exorcist was disturbing of course, and many of those scenes also stuck with me--a certain unease, which had everything to do with the scene where her head spins around and all that pea-soup vomit. As I got older, I craved horror, and while my mother always avoided horror, my dad obliged endlessly in weekly trips to the video store to get things to watch on Friday nights, when they would go bowling and I would stay home to watch my sister from about age 10 on up.  It was here we discovered Sleepaway Camp, which if you'd asked me at 10, was my favorite movie--the most traumatising thing not the ending or the murders, but that boat accident at the beginning. It was followed by an obsession with Nightmare on Elm Street. 

This obsession leaked into my reading materials--the year when I read every existing Stephen King novel cover to cover.  John Saul.  Dean Koontz.  Christopher Pike.  (I'd also drop VC Andrews in here but for different reasons.)  My aunt would bring me brown grocery sacks full of her latest horror acquisitions (at first she was technically bringing them to my Dad, but I read them all vorciously before he did.)

There was a weird lull in horror my high school years ..I remember going to see Silence of the Lambs underage at the $1 theatre where they didn't card.  Seeing Candy Man at the mall over a college break home from North Carolina.  I closely followed Full moon Productions, who was releasing a whole bunch of interesting straight to video horror like Dolls and Puppetmaster.  But not much stands out unto the mid-90's self-aware Scream-induced renaissance but some other good things followed.

As someone who watched horror on the regular, it was hard to actually scare me.  I started to appreciate a more measured, psychological response to horror--those sorts of movies with interesting and artful camerawork, psychological terror,  general creeping doom. Horror as art more than horror to scare.  Which isn't to say some things were not good in a scare-factor way--The Ring and Insidious are a couple good examples.

I also have some films that I consider guilty pleasure horror--the Final Destination films for example, some of the Paranormal Activity ones.  Not scary, not artful, but enjoyable.

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