Posted by tomleveen at 12:45 pm
“Happy Halloween, ladies…”
(That’s a quote from Highlander, as you know.) In the spirit of the holiday, here’s my list of films and etc. that have absolutely scared the s**t out of me.
This is either A) Stephen King’s favorite movie, or B) the movie that most terrified Stephen King. Either way, I didn’t even know King existed until about 8 years after I rented this seemingly B film after we got our first VCR, one of those monsters that is about the size of a modern day microwave. Why on earth my parents never, once, previewed a rental I made, I’ll never know. Here is where my terror of all things animated began. Not cartoons; oh no, we’re talking about ventriliquist dummies, manniquins, stuffed animals…anything that should not be walking and talking yet is somehow Undead. I still have trouble watching this one. (Of course I own it; I bought the DVD about two years before I owned a DVD player.) These days, though, Chuck Conners (!) is more scary than the living manniquins of the movie. He pastes up a supple young lady’s face with plaster, while narrating her own death to her: “And now the eyes…you’ll never see the sun again…it’s getting hard to breathe…you’ll die of fright long before you run out of air…”
Did I mention I was like, six? Yeah.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW
This is still an awesome movie, so says me and my dad. This one was made for TV; no gore, not that much violence really, but the ending…I remember watching this with a then-girlfriend one night, and she didn’t make a sound until the second-to-last cutaway, when she leaped into the air screaming, “NO F****** WAY!!!” I spent about $80 on a hard-to-find copy of this gem for my dad. Haven’t seen it in awhile; it’d probably still scare me too much at the end. Gave me nightmares for, oh, a year? Two? But again, anything even remotely bespeaking of an animated scarecrow does me in. (See also “Friday the 13th: The Series” pilot with the china doll and R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps book and TV show, “The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight.”)
TRIOLOGY OF TERROR
The Zuni fetish doll has become a cult favorite, and for good reason. The first two stories are yawners, largely, but the — wait for it — tiny animated doll that comes to life and terrorizes a lady with a knife…yep, there they are, goosebumps even as I write this. Part of it was the shrieking sound effects the little doll made when he chased her around the apartment. Beautiful.
No, seriously: I have goosebumps, right this second.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Honorable mention)
If you know me even a little, you know I have a preoccupation with zombies. In fact, I don’t even watch that many zombie movies because they freak me out. NotLD deserves a special mention not because the movie itself freaked me out — it didn’t, but it’s a great f’ing movie — but because I used to sleep with the TV on in my room, and one night, I woke up just at the time the newscasters in the movie are talking about the living dead, and steps people should take to remain safe. I was turned away from the TV and only heard the voice. And, honest to heck, I didn’t even move. I just lay there staring at the wall, literally thinking — I am not making this up — I knew it! Dammit! I told you people, I KNEW this was gonna happen! Okay…gotta board up the windows. Or get to the Suburban and get out of town…
Took about five minutes to realize it was NotLD. Thanks, George. That was kinda cool. (And they are coming, some day, just you wait.)
THE EXORCIST (Honorable Mention)
Now, this movie was on TV (!) once when I was little, and I watched it, and it gave me exactly one nightmare, but I was like, 5. Didn’t think much about it until I was in my 20’s, when I realized I didn’t know what all the hubbub was about, so I rented it. Watched it in my room. Watched the special features first (which I do as a way to nullify any potentially scary effects in the movie; now I’ve seen how it was done, so it chills me out).
Then I started the movie. About ten minutes in, if that, I felt really weird. Sorta nauseous. So I shut off the movie and stood up to choose a different movie, assuming I was getting worked up from the anxiety/panic disorder I had at the time. My head swam, and I heard a thunk, and I woke up on my floor.
Passed. The hell. Out.
It’s the only time in my life that’s ever happened, and it is not fun. I have no idea if it was the movie or something else, but I will never try to watch that film again. So I couldn’t tell you if it scared me or not.
WATCHERS by Dean R. Koontz
I read a lot of Koontz’s early work, and liked it well enough, but Watchers is something special. The characterization was great, and his tension building up to the first time we see the creature is first rate. I need to read this one again soon.
(And what’s up with the dropped “R”, Dean? You will always have an R to me, my friend.)
ZOMBIE: A NOVEL by Joyce Carol Oates
Not a novel about an actual undead zombie, but rather about a serial killer…from his point of view. Not scary, per se, but POV is everything when you read a seemingly insignificant line like, “I bought an icepick today.” (Think about it.) Oates is far too prolific for me to have read all her works, but I’ve never been disappointed when I do read her.
THE HAUNTED HOUSE AT TOWER PLAZA, 1988
Freshman year. All I really remember is that the Thomas Mall haunted house attraction was lame, and everyone knew it, but the Tower Plaza one was supposed to be WAY scary. I remember screaming a lot and trying to joke my through the whole event, to mixed results. But I got a girlfriend out of it, so. And the one at Thomas Mall really was lame.
On the way to a weekend camp to volunteer as a dishwasher, circa 1991
Everything was fine that night till we hit the deserted dirt road winding through the evergreen trees up north, the darkness pierced only by our headlights. That’s when my “Good Buddy Joel” started whispering behind me: Che-che-che…ah-ah-ah, that notorious old Friday the 13th chanted bastardization of “Jason-kill” that we all know and love. I coulda effing killed him myself for that one. Jerk.
Conclusion: Confessions of a reformed horror buff.
I really did grow up on this stuff. All the worst B-movies (Demons; Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-a-rama; the entire Friday the 13th ouvre until about chapter 7; etc.) And I still enjoy my R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books. Raised myself on Stephen King through grade, junior, and high school. So horror and I are well acquainted.
Well, we were.
These days, I just can’t stomach it anymore. You couldn’t pay me to watch Hostel or Saw…12? 13? Whatever. I couldn’t handle Devil’s Rejects even a little, though I tried. Maybe it’s a natural function of growing the hell up. Next week I’m watching B movies with some of my best friends and giving them our usual MST3K-ing. That’s still fun.
But I don’t have a taste for the horrific that I used to.
Maybe it’s just that real life got in the way, and I prefer my escapes to be a little more tame now. Maybe after watching real-life footage of an explosion in Iraq that damn near killed one of my best friends, blowing stuff up and fighting monsters doesn’t have the same appeal.
But these old films, the old books and TV shows (World Beyond; Twilight Zone; Alfred Hitchcock Presents; old time radio dramas like Escape, X Minus One, Suspense, all those) I still love. I can handle them. The trend toward torture porn just makes me queasy. If that’s your cup o’ blood, more power to ya, but I have to say, once you see those images, you can’t get rid of them. They are in there for life. How they could possibly be beneficial to you later on in life is beyond me. That’s all I’m sayin’.
But when the zombies come, bet your chainsaw I’ll be ready. That’s probably why I’m currently revising a novel about them. (Sidebar: I did like Zombieland a lot, though. Probably because it was about the people, not the zombies.)
Have a safe and happy Halloween, and if you’re in town, come see Halloween LIT at Changing Hands!