What Scares You?

Happy Ides of March, denizens! Watch your back and don’t trust your BFF Brutus today. Actually, don’t ever trust someone named Brutus. It’s a weird name and sounds too much like Bluto. Don’t trust people named Bluto either. Only trust Loba.

So I’ve been having a bit of a resurgence of horror love as of late, thanks in part to my DVDregs project as well as the discovery of a new podcast (let’s see how well my denizens pay attention to their surroundings; this new podcast recently made the list under “Sounds Sweet” to the right).

I love horror movies. I love the coronary jolt, the acrid tang of fear and adrenaline. I’ve been a horror fan since I was a wee pup. Back in the day, it was all about gore for me. I was mad into slasher flicks. Freddy Krueger was my all-time favorite at the time, simply because he was all about the gore and camp, two things that when combined provide an unstoppable tsunami of entertainment for those so inclined to enjoy such a combination.

Actually, Freddy is still pretty high on my list of favorites, but I think I’m far more apt to choose the original movie over any of the sequels. That first appearance of Freddy was so very dark and grotesque and disturbing. The guy was a child killer when he was alive, which is one of the darkest of all the criminal acts one can choose for their villain…something that I think is completely glossed over in sequels, which trade in the disturbing truth of this burned boogie man for the camp of one-liners like “Welcome to prime time, bitch!” or “Better not dream and drive!”

As much as I enjoyed watching Robert Englund chew the scenery like a pit bull on steroids in all the sequels (and, really, there is no other reason to watch most of the sequels than Englund’s performances as Krueger), it’s that first appearance of Krueger that keeps pulling me back. That’s the defining Freddy movie, the one that most deserves its place in the horror pantheon.

[I’m still flipping a razor-sharp middle finger to the remake, though. I’d rather be forced to watch one of those craptacular sparkly vampire movies than have to endure watching Hollywood botch up another of my favorite horror movies a la Zombie’s Hallowhathafu.]

So what scares me now? Atmosphere. I think I pretty much pushed this idea home significantly in my Halloween posting from last year. Almost every single movie on that list was frightening because of story rather than how much red dye and corn syrup they used in the making of the film. Even the gorier picks from this list depend more heavily on clever writing than on the gore factor (okay, so Billy from Black Christmas isn’t the most eloquent obscene phone caller…I’ll give you that).

It’s atmosphere. I remember my first realization of this truth came when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I was well entrenched in my horror phase by this point thanks in part to cable television and the local Nightmare Theater movie presentation every Saturday (followed, of course, by Freddy’s Nightmares and Friday the 13th: The Series). That Halloween, the community newspaper ran a contest in which they asked their younger readers to submit a scary story that would be judged for inclusion in their special Halloween section. Prizes were involved as well, but I don’t really remember what they were.

I also don’t remember what exactly I wrote for my submission. However, it was something horribly slasherific, something trite and predictable. Something that to me, at that point in my life, possessed all the trademarks of great horror. Needless to say, I didn’t win. But to this day, I still remember the story that did win that year. It was about a harlequin mask. No blood. No gore. No death. And it was scary as hell. Why?

All together now: Atmosphere. Something like that crawls under your skin and sleeps there, not jolting you immediately, but slowly releasing its venom through your blood, where it seeps and trickles until it’s permeated through to your very core. That’s the kind of horror I find myself loving most now. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like cheap scares as well…but the cheap scares are transitory. It’s the deeper scares that stay with you, make you squirm over and over.

Know what one of my favorite examples of this type of horror in recent years is? 2008’s The Brøken. It’s all the things that instantaneous shock seekers abhor: slow, brooding, surreal, and stylish. Would I recommend this movie to most horror fans? No, not really. It’s a bit too avant-garde for a lot of people’s tastes, and there are admittedly several WTF moments in which it seems as though something integral was cut too close for editorial comfort. However, I still very much enjoyed this film.

Same with 2005’s The Skeleton Key. Again, not a movie designed to slam you with constant jumps and starts. But I found that it crawled into my brain and hung around for quite a while, bothering me with its simple premise and simply creepy ending.

I guess what I’m saying is that I very much enjoy scary films that tamper with my senses and my sensibilities. Cheap thrills are just fine, but give me a movie that’s going to leave me afraid to open a closet (stupid Ring) or make the natural settling noises of a building set my teeth on edge, and I’m one happy wolf.

That’s all I really wanted to write about. Sorry if you were expecting something a bit deeper. How about this? I promise a book review soon and possibly even another DVDregs review. Ooh, ‘citin’!