Ghouls Through the Ages!

A few films that scared some people at certain times. WILL YOU BE ONE OF THEM??

Listen, I’m a little embarrassed that instead of writing reviews this month,* I’m largely just watching DVDs and writing little paragraphs about them. I won’t blame it on baseball or illness. I won’t even blame it on the nauseating line up of new releases this month (pre-Oscar surge, you know). I’m just chalking it up to “October is ripe with DVD possibility.”

And also, I have a soft spot in my heart for horror movies. No, I don’t have a sick fascination with the macabre. I’m actually a very pleasant person who likes very pretty things. It’s more like, I have a sick fascination with people who have a sick fascination with horror. “Why,” I ask myself in the mirror, startling my cats, “Why do we open our wallets to see movies that aspire to make us scream in terror?” Would we pay someone $9 to tie us to a chair and threaten us with knives? Would we skip happily into a dark alley lined with rats and camel crickets? Do we WANT to be haunted by fearsome ghosts or tormented by disgusting zombies?

I fear zombies a whole lot. Zombies and rats and camel crickets and Dick Cheney. And those are just things that I joke about fearing. Many horror movies touch on scary subjects that are no joke, like…well, you know. The things that cause nightmares. It’s an interesting phenomenon and one that is the subject of much discussion among people who discuss those sorts of things. To make a long story short, though, we like horror movies because the alley with the rats and camel crickets isn’t a real alley. And even if an alley like that exists (say, outside the window of my old apartment), you’re not mucking around out there, you’re in here! Watching a movie! On your couch with popcorn! What’s less scary than popcorn?? Nothing. The scarier the rats and camel crickets are, the happier you are about your own immediate circumstances.

There are shades and colors to this, obvs, like why we are afraid of certain familiar horror plot devices, so this Halloween, why don’t we take these one at a time and follow horror throughout the ages?** The following is a hand-picked selection for your Halloween viewing this year, by no means a comprehensive list.

Nosferatu (1922) – F.W. Murnau, filmmaking trailblazer, does some neat things that won’t scare you anymore (not after The Ring, man), but visualizes the concept that vampires are sexy. Well, this one’s not much to look at, sure, but we are attracted slash repelled by them because they represent unbridled sexuality. No joke!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Might as well follow it up with this Francis Ford Coppola venture from the early ‘90s. The scariest thing is that, no matter how terrible Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder truly are, I love this movie.

Frankenstein (1931) – Oh snap! Foreign people with weird names make a cobbled-together, dangerous monster that can’t help but kill small blonde children!! Xenophobia is a for real thing, and so is fear of science and “playing God.” Dr. Frankenstein effs with us in a way that will no longer be scary, but will certainly allow you to more deeply appreciate…

Young Frankenstein! (1974) – Gene Hackman is reason enough to see this movie.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – Ok Ok, getting serious now. Let’s jump to the 1950s, during which horror temporarily became science fiction and vice versa. The Blob?? Russia! What came from outer space? RUSSIA! Who’s snatching our bodies and emptying our minds of individual personality traits? Commies, that’s who!!! It wasn’t called the Red Scare for nothing, and the movies either exploited or reflected that…you make the call. (The Donald Sutherland version from the 70s is also worth watching).

Wait Until Dark (1967) – This might be more of a “thriller,” but it is definitely one of the scariest movies of all time. What could be worse than being a tiny woman trapped by a merciless psychopath? Being a tiny woman WHO CAN’T SEE. I literally sat on the edge of my seat while rewatching this film last week. Not only because the climax serves up generous amounts of anxiety pie, but because I want my apartment to look exactly like the one in which the majority of this film’s action takes place. Except minus the thugs. And plus a Wii.

Last House on the Left (1972) – Gruesomely enjoyable, Wes Craven’s first flick is arguably his best. Gritty yet sophisticated, hokey yet disturbing, this film is sure to confuse you with psychological and physical torture that is at points somehow very amusing. What the hell is wrong with me? And you! And everyone else who loves this movie!

Evil Dead (1981) – The subject of one of the best papers I’ve ever written, which I will wait to tell you about until you are comfortably digesting a delicious dinner. The first of Sam Raimi’s cult-classic trilogy is actually the only really scary one of the three. Fans tend to forget, I think, that there’s really not a lot of humor in Evil Dead (and that’s because women are bending gender roles and penetrating men etc. etc. We’ll talk about it later.) Give ol’ Ash a second chance and rewatch his early days when he was just discovering chainsaws. If you find yourself unable to sleep, watch Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness; they’ll gradually convince you that zombies are an absolute gas!

Sure, there’s Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist and the like, but you probably watch those every year. One or two of these babies should give you a nice, unconventional, yet accessible and oddly delightful Halloween evening. Either that or you can watch Ghostbusters – that thing inside Sigourney Weaver’s fridge still kind of freaks me out. Let’s hear about the horror-type movies that you find the most valuable.***

*And I’ll promise this is it for awhile. You’re unlikely to get something next week about “Best DVDs to watch after Election Day.” (Answer: Dave and Independence Day)

** Also, my team just won the World Series!!!!!!!!!

***If I’m being honest, the movie that scared me the most was The Ring. Lame?

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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