Good And Scary.

Source: Wikipedia

A few years ago I wrote about how the trailer for the film Suspiria gave me nightmares for a good chunk of my childhood, how it didn’t just give me nightmares but gave shape to something I was convinced lived in the attic behind my closet. I’m revisiting it because I finally watched Suspiria. Earlier I said that I’d seen some other Dario Argento films and, while he’s a renowned horror director, I’ve seen episodes of Spongebob Squarepants that were scarier. Not that I want to put down Argento’s work. He’s an excellent director and very good at creating a mood and, interestingly, children seem to be a running theme in his work. The women in Suspiria are all adults but he originally wanted to cast girls between the ages of eleven and fourteen. The film’s violence and subject matter prevented this, but the handles on all the doors in the film are deliberately raised so the young women have to reach up, like children.

Still at the end of Suspiria I had a little feeling of “Is that it?” It’s not the film’s fault. The nightmares I had as a child were so terrifying I had just built Suspiria up in my mind into something it could never be. And that got me thinking about my love-hate relationship with horror films. Before and during the Suspiria period, which, I think, lasted from around the ages of six to eleven, I did my best to stay away from anything remotely scary. A commercial for the original Psycho being shown on the UHF station would send me running from the room. Sure, it was the shrieking violins more than Norman Bates, but still I loved Godzilla and Gamera and other Japanese monster movies, and Star Trek and other science fiction, as long as it wasn’t billed as horror, and I loved The Twilight Zone. I also had a fascination with ghost stories. It’s kind of a weird mix. Or is it? Giant reptiles, aliens, and eeriness I could handle. Murderers and a lot of blood being spilled, even in black and white—that was something that could keep me up at night.

Suspiria’s spell started to break when we got cable TV and, funny enough, Nickelodeon, which used to run short films between shows. An animated version of The Tell-Tale Heart, narrated by James Mason, fascinated me. It still gives me chills, but the fact that it was a scary cartoon gave me the idea that horror could also be fun. Around the same time I agreed to watch Poltergeist with a friend in my neighborhood. It was a scary movie but one I could walk away from. I never thought our house was in any danger of being possessed. Then one evening I watched The Raven, on the UHF station in the time slot for horror films, but the scariest thing about it was how much fun Vincent Price and Peter Lorre obviously had. That was it. I still stayed away from Halloween and Friday The 13th, but I was hooked on classic horror films. This may also have had something to do with my family history and Roger Corman’s A Bucket Of Blood, but that’s another story. I watched every old horror film I could find, from the original Dracula up to Night Of The Living Dead. In high school I even directed a short film about two kids being chased by zombies.

I learned that being scared could be fun, although I still had limits. One night sitting up alone I decided to watch Angel Heart. And then stayed awake until noon.

I’ve come to appreciate horror as a genre, especially when it’s mixed with horror. Evil Dead 2 and Shaun Of The Dead are among my favorite movies. Is Shaun Of The Dead horror or comedy? Well if you’ve ever watched Black Books seeing Dylan Moran get torn to shreds is pretty funny. And sometimes I’ll take my horror straight. John Carpenter’s The Thing unnerves me but I still love it.

And I still have limits. Last October I decided to watch the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In his memoir Nerd Do Well Simon Pegg talks about how he almost got pressured into watching it as a teen but he pretended he had to go home to get out of it. I did the same thing. He adds that as an adult he still has trouble watching it. As for me, well, I almost didn’t make it past the DVD main menu. And then, about twenty minutes in, before anything really violent had happened, I stopped. I had a pretty good idea there was going to be a massacre and that chainsaws would be involved and I’m still not sure I want to go along with that.

We all have limits. We all draw the line somewhere. We all have things that attract us but also repel us. What scares you?

12 Comments

  1. mydangblog

    That’s a great catalogue of scary stuff. I’ve seen many of those films–I found Angelheart particularly creepy. The movie that really scared me as an adult was actually Paranormal Activity. I’m not sure why–maybe because I watched it by myself–but I definitely had trouble sleeping that night!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I can see why you had trouble sleeping after watching Paranormal Activity alone. I saw that one in the theater which I think made it a little easier to take. I think I respond better to horror films when I see them in the theater where I can leave them, and whatever wild imaginings they’ve conjured, behind.

      Reply
  2. BarbaraM

    The Exorcist gave me nightmares for years. And it’s only been the last few years that I watched the Blade movies. I think that the difference is between the reality of possibility and the fantasy of it. I can watch WWII and Korea movies, but I can’t watch Viet Nam or any current war shows.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The difference between reality and fantasy does seem to be a big part of it for me too. That’s one reason I don’t think I could finish The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I knew it was fiction but it still seemed so realistic I just didn’t think I could take what I knew was coming.
      Funnily enough though I think that’s why The Exorcist didn’t affect me as badly as it does some people. Supernatural horror just doesn’t seem plausible, although usually anything with small children creeps me out.

      Reply
  3. Chuck Baudelaire

    Not a weird mix at all. Pretty much tracks my own favorites. So if you’re weird, I’m weird, too. Honestly, even if you’re not weird, I still am.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You don’t seem all that weird to me which means we both must be weird, and being from Texas, or at least a long-time resident of Texas, you must be a pretty good judge of weird. After all you know the saying: when the going gets weird the weird turn professional. That’s attributed to Hunter S. Thompson but I like to think it was said by Texas’s own Kinky Friedman. And even if it wasn’t I like saying Kinky Friedman.
      I’m weird like that.

      Reply
  4. Arionis

    The original Amityville Horror book and movie is what got me as a kid. I woke up at 3:15 AM for months after seeing the movie. Saw the remake they did and that one didn’t bother me at all, but even as an adult I still get creeped out by the original if I happen to come across it on the tube.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That one scared me too. To this day I’ve only seen parts of the original movie–the eyes in the window still creep me out, and my parents had the book and just seeing it used to scare me. Then after a few years and a few movies I said to myself, hey, they’ve shot half a dozen or so films there, how haunted could that house really be?

      Reply
  5. Allison

    I’m scared of possums. They un-nerve me the way spiders and snakes do some people.

    As for movies, I loved Silence of the Lambs, I thought Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a lot of fun. Seven was truly disturbing. And… Eraserhead – I found it to be gross and a little otherworldly. I had to stop watching.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Possums are creepy creatures. Spiders and snakes want to get away from you, but possums will stand up and attack.
      And thank you for the reminder about Eraserhead. It’s one I keep meaning to get around to, although I have a hard time making it through most David Lynch movies. Seriously, if I hadn’t seen Dune in the theater I doubt I would have finished watching it.

      Reply
  6. Ann Koplow

    I’m scared of scary movies. I also love movies and went to film school in the 1980s, so I’m fascinated by what makes movies scary. I’ve avoided scary movies ever since I watched “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Sixth Sense” during one weekend and had trouble sleeping for months afterwards. What scares me now is real, live scary people and it’s scary how many of those are around.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Real, live people can be quite scary, which I sometimes think is the appeal of scary movies: they provide a much-needed catharsis, or perhaps are a way of preparing ourselves for real life, but that doesn’t always work when real life is scarier than anything on screen. And I’m fascinated that you went to film school and yet still find some movies scary.

      Reply

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