I grew up on horror films. I saw The Poltergeist late at night babysitting when I was 11 and was hooked. A year later, Disney’s The Watcher in the Woods struck me as light fare, even though many girls were in tears after viewing it at Kassie’s slumber party. During my high school years, my friend Blaire and I were always on the hunt for the scariest film. After our three year search, we decided The Shining took the title. And in the years that followed, The Thing, Evil Dead, Scream, The Cave, Cabin in the Woods and Jaws were new and old favorites. These films didn’t phase me one bit. I never had nightmares.
I’ve watched so much gore that modern horror films look farcical. I’m no longer a fan of the teenage slasher. It’s not scary anymore. It’s just messy and tedious. More recently, I’ve begun to uncover elements of horror in everyday life. The spider nesting under the sink. The metronome click of the vent in the corner. The old man in his chair next door, who is always asking for change. In the same way, some horror films aren’t horror films at all. But they evoke a particular kind of consternation that settles under your skin like a virus. You can feel the palpitations of your heart in your ears. Here is a list of a few my favorites:
1- Eraserhead–It’s an art film, horror film, student film, philosophy film, whatever you call it. I like to think of it as the only horror film that doubles as a form of birth control.
2- Hell House–a clear, concise, empathetic documentary of an evangelical church’s tireless undertaking in making a theatrical Haunted House—in which different rooms act as stage sets where church members play out life or death scenarios meant to scare unsuspecting viewers into repentance. It’s not exactly a horror film, of course. But it’s horrifying in that other kind of way, in which ordinary people begin to behave in extraordinary ways so that all logic is turned on its head and you begin to worry that we are very near the end of civilization.
3-The Silence of the Lambs–Dr. Hannibal Lecter is more frightening when read (he creeps into the subconscious and stays an unwanted guest, night after night), the film is still a treat. Remember Hopkin’s tongue? His tongue and Miley Cyrus’ tongue will forever haunt the masses.
4- An Inconvenient Truth–another documentary that left me sleepless for days. Melting ice caps, receding glaciers, New York City submerged in water, Al Gore and his gruesome pie charts. He’s like Darth Vader armed with a Power Point presentation. Yikes.
5- Rosemary’s Baby–I recently watched this right before Sunday school (no joke). Although the film is about being raped by Satan, I found the myriad of other more realistic demons to be the most frightening: uncaring doctors, intrusive neighbors, and a monstrously self-centered husband.
6-Take Shelter–bad dreams, hallucinations, anxiety, fear of the future, and the apocalypse. This movie takes biblical proportioned events and makes them personal in the most terrifying way possible.