Horror Films for the Cowardly Viewer
It’s no secret that I am not a fan of horror movies. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the blood and gore. Maybe it’s the unnecessary screaming. Maybe I don’t deal well with the stress of waiting to see what’s around the corner, or who is going to make it to the end of the film. I’ve always figured that there are enough frightening and scary things in the world that I will be encountering without having to go look for them in my spare time.
That having been said, I am a firm believer in storytelling and films that stay with me. And I will admit that over my years of being suckered into watching horror films, there are quite a few that should be seen, whether you like horror films or not. Trust me, I’m a huge coward when it comes to scary movies. But I consider these films to be required viewing, be it for the storytelling, the characters, or just on the strength of the film as a whole. Trust me: if I can sit through them, so can you.
The granddaddy of all horror films for a number of reasons, this film can be hit-or-miss for some people. I was telling a friend of mine about my plans to watch it a few Halloweens ago, and he gave me this piece of advice: you’ll only get as scared as what you bring with you. At first, I didn’t understand what he meant. Once I saw the film, I did. If you believe in the idea of demonic possession, or even admit to the smallest sliver of possibility, then this film will find that part inside you and chisel is wide open. It will make the film personal for you. If, however, you watch the film at arm’s length simply as a film and nothing more, then it’s just another scary horror film. Very few films have the power to do this, and it completely sucked me in. Any part of me that thought that maybe I could enjoy horror movies died with this film.
After watching The Exorcist, Poltergeist was like a walk in the park, albeit a dark and overgrown park with rusty swings and creepy children. Poltergeist is a different kind of horror film. It seems to be that the fastest way to get someone engaged in a horror film is to use an innocent, like a small child. For some reason, I found myself drawn much more to the little girl in this film than in The Exorcist, probably because she never fully loses her identity. The film also gets the whole cast involved rather than a few key people. It’s less scary and more creepy than anything, but definitely worth a look. The other plus side is that there’s very little gore, which is always good with me.
The film has stayed with me. I’ve even considered re-watching it on more than one occasion. But the film had such an impact on me that I was afraid to ruin the magic. I had never seen someone develop suspense before the way that John Carpenter does in the film. The creature can shapeshift which makes everyone and everything suspect. The film relies heavily on the strength of its cast, and they do not disappoint. They are wonderful and scared and so completely human that you can’t help but be right there with them. While there was some gore, it was the tense scenes between the survivors that made the film worth watching.
While some may not consider Psycho to be horror, I would have to disagree. Horror for me has always been something that (a) horrifies or upsets me, and (b) stays with me long after the film. Psycho fulfills this on both counts.
Psycho is an expertly filmed, well plotted and thoroughly engaging film. From the very beginning the viewer is on uneasy ground, from the characters’ introduction to the situation presented to the sudden change of direction barely halfway into the film. It is also one of the most disturbing endings I have seen in a film. It’s said that Hitchcock was so determined to keep the ending a secret that he wouldn’t allow anyone to enter the theatre late, and had posters made begging audiences not to spoil the ending for others. If you know nothing about the film and are willing to watch from beginning to end, then I suggest you do. If you have seen it but it’s been a while, give it a revisit. Turning the lights out is optional, but definitely not required. The film will get you either way.
I have no doubt that there are other horror films that could be considered required viewing, but as my horror exposure is limited, I’m relying solely on what little I know. I’d be interested to hear about any other films that people would recommend, and in the true spirit of my past article, I’ll probably even watch them.