October 26, 2010


Halloween, that great big Northern Hemisphere (particularly American) tradition is coming up again soon. It’s All Hallows Eve where the barrier between this world and the next is said to be at its weakest; a time for ghosts, ghouls and various creatures of the dark to come out of hiding. So, of course, some people celebrate by dressing up and wandering around the neighbourhood asking for candy. Others prefer to dress up and drink themselves silly. And some people prefer to turn off the lights, put on a movie and scare themselves silly.

There’s nothing quite like a truly frightening film to get you scared. The best work by not only making you jump out of your seat with fright, but by getting under your skin and having you lie awake in bed. The covers pulled up tight, you cannot help but be deadly afraid that some raving undead vampire ghost zombie lunatic demon will murder you horrifically while you sleep. You jump at every unusual sound, your adrenaline is heightened, and your fight/flight instinct is engaged. Just because you know monsters don’t exist doesn’t make them any less real.

The power of story, eh? It can be a truly dangerous, frightening thing. The right story, told well, can be more terrifying and longer lasting than a more immediate fright, like a rollercoaster ride or haunted house. I believe it has something to do with how the human brain is hardwired for Story (not just stories, but Story). Despite our best nature, despite our rational thought, we want to believe.

Horror has never been one of my favourite genres though. As a child, the closest I came was hiding behind the couch during Ghostbusters. I was always (and still am) more of a sci-fi geek. Perhaps, as a kid, I was generally pretty frightened enough just by the thought of creep, ooky monsters. I didn’t need the films; I had my brain. By the time I entered my teens in the mid-90’s, horror had entered something of a lull.

I’m interested in the history of the genre and enjoy more than a few horror films. As a genre, it gets something of a bad rap which is likely due to the massive amounts of schlocky examples there are. It all started so well in the early days of the 20th century with unqualified masterworks like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera. From these roots came the Cold War/atomic horror films and B-movies of the 50s and 60s (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Omega Man, Night of the Lepus) , the beginning of the modern age of horror in the 70s (The Shining, Carrie, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist), the horror series from the 80s (Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Child’s Play), the post-modern deconstruction and resurgence of the slasher flick in the 90s (Scream) and the torture porn and remakes of today (Saw, Hostel, Halloween). But this brief decade breakdown can barely hope to cover an entire genre, with its many branching sub-genres and practitioners. There’s also the Dead series from Romero, the low budget horror-comedy of The Evil Dead and Braindead, Hammer horror from Britain, sci-fi horror, video nasties, Roger Corman, Cronenberg’s body-horrors, Hitchcock, the arrival of J-horror, Abbot & Costello and more.

This is all a (rather long) pretext to me posing the question to you, dear reader: What’s your favourite scary movie? What film/s do you remember being frightened by the most? Are there certain films you revisit every year or so? Or do you prefer new scares?


  1. The Shining is probably my favourite scary movie. As a kid the film that frightened me the most was Terminator 2, as I was sure the liquid metal guy was going to put his pointy hand through my head (result of vivid imagination + only seeing one scene of the film!)

    Every year, however, I watch the Buffy Halloween episode!

  2. I remember watching The Omen and deciding then and there, I would never become a priest (I think I may have been about 10) and I still find Billie Whitelaw as the nanny, Mrs Baylock, seriously creepy.

    As far as best made horror film, Carrie is pretty hard to beat (although The Shining comes a close second). Brian De Palma's directorial flourishes on this are amazing, it has that brilliant tracking shot leading to the bucket of blood, Piper Laurie is a scream as the mad mother and that ending...wow!

    Finally, for all out edge of my seat scares, High Tension gave me a month of nightmares, even with that "twist" ending.