As is her way, the Zen master who is my wife challenged me after writing yesterday’s post to consider what it is I want from a movie – and in particular a horror movie – when I watch one.
I had to consider. I’ve been disappointed by a lot of things I’ve seen over the last several years, and I don’t know if I ever stopped to think about what movies I liked and what it was I liked about them.
So I started taking inventory, in an attempt to identify what makes a horror movie enjoyable to me. It’s not as easy as it sounds, at least not for me.
First, when I think of horror movies, the first one that leaps into my mind is The Exorcist. That movie scared the daylights out of me. Sleep-with-the-lights-on scared me. Bad-dreams scared me. Give-up-my-sinful-ways scared me. I mean, I was nine or ten when I saw it, but it scared me into praying for a long time. The idea of an intelligent, powerful supernatural entity taking possession of someone against their will really shook me. (Never mind the theological issues with that idea; I know better now, but not so then.) I like the movie even now, and I always list it as the top of my favorite scary movies, but am even now hesitant to watch it again. It planted a deep, frightening, visceral seed of terror in my brain, and the roots of that weed still reside.
I also think of Jaws when I think of scary movies. A lot of elements came together in that one – great acting, a unique premise, the alien-yet-familiar environment of the ocean, and the ageless fear of being food for something else all converge to provide a powerful source of fear. The story of the town underlying the tension of the prowling rogue shark is only an accent to that fear. Throw in a few comic moments and it’s a great movie.
Same type of thing with An American Werewolf in London. A great movie, from the acting to the comedy to the scary elements. And it was bleeding edge for special effects at the time, which was great. Around that same time came The Howling (give or take a year or so between them, I think), and it was also a unique take on an old story. At least, it seemed to me. That franchise has been run into the ground too, regrettably, but it started well. They had good, scary things about them. I’ve long been a werewolf fan, maybe because those movies frightened me so much as a kid (until The Exorcist came along). I’m not sure, but werewolf movies now seem to really stink. I saw one a few months ago called Ginger Snaps II which made me regret the 90 lost minutes of my life and glad I hadn’t seen the original. Ugh.