A Heart for Horror — Horror Movies
Horror movies. No other genre can garner such fervent reactions from people. Emotions ranging from disgust, shock and revulsion, to amusement, joy and laughter. I've personally experienced the gambit of feelings over the 26 years that I've been watching horror movies, but no nightmare or terror or abhorrence can keep me from them. I've often wondered why people, and more to the point why I, love horror movies the way we do. I don't think anyone can challenge the protests of people who can't stomach them. But what is it that keeps horror audiences coming back for more? One theory is that people who watch horror movies are sensation seekers. They crave adventure, danger, a taste for something unusual, perverse and exhilarating. But given that most of us are normal people with average jobs and loving families, our real lives don't come anywhere close to being that thrilling. So we experience those emotions in the safety of our homes, vicariously, through the intensity of the horror movie. Another theory is that it shows us how we take lives for granted, and reminds us just how easy things can fall apart and how much we would fight for our own survival. They're life affirming, if you will.
It's hard to be objective when you've been watching horror movies for as long as I have. To me, horror movies are more about atmosphere, tone and experience, than they are pulse pounding methods of excitement. It's always a welcome surprise when I get scared from a horror movie but rarely does that happen anymore. Alas, I am desensitized. I can watch damn near anything now and, while sometimes still shocking or gross, I can stomach it all. From the head bashing and rape scenes in 2002's French thriller Irreversible, to the triple human abomination of 2009's Dutch horror The Human Centipede, to the full body skinning in 2008's French horror Martyrs.
I have mentioned before that from an extremely young age I got a small taste of fear, and liked it. I've been on a path of seeking enjoyment from the macabre ever since. In 1985 I was 7 years old and while spending the night at my best friend's house down the street from my own, I watched my very first horror movie. The movie was 1980's, Prom Night, starring Miss Scream Queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis. My best friend, Starr, and I lay on the floor in front of the television eating popcorn and candy with the lights off. Starr's mother worked nights and her sisters were older and more interested in boys and friends than they were in caring about what we were doing. We lay there, wide eyed and scared, as one by one beautiful teenagers were picked off and slaughtered on the day of their prom. I was hooked. We both were. And from there we continued to watch horror movies when we would have sleepovers, any way we could. By the time I was 14 years old I had seen Carrie, The Omen, Halloween I and II, most Friday the 13th movies, Sleepaway Camp I and II, most Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Children of the Corn, Return of the Living Dead, April Fool's Day, Witchboard, Dolls, Prom Night 2, The Gate, Lost Boys, Gremlins, Prince of Darkness, Return to Horror High, Child's Play, The Lady in White and Pet Sematary.
How did such a young girl get her hands on so many horror movies? In the fourth grade we moved out of town and into a big house on a hill that was situated in the middle of nowheresville. About a ten minute bike ride away was a four way stop, on one corner was a gas station, and on another corner was a tiny movie rental place about the size of a bedroom. There was an old guy who worked the counter and one day I tested the waters and tried to check out a horror movie. The man didn't even blink an eye, I handed over my $1.25 and took my VHS copy of whatever it was, home. It used to be that I would wait until my parents went to bed, sneak out into the living room and lay as close as I could to the TV with the sound down almost all the way and watch my horror movies that way. But as the years passed my parents grew privy to my taste for those unsavory movies and while my mother protested my father used the argument, "She's either going to watch them at home or at a friend's house, I'd rather she watch them here so we know what they are." After that it was open season on horror movies. I remember having slumber parties at my house and making all my little girlfriends watch these movies that would make them scream and cover their faces with their pillows.
Not many people share my passion for horror and over the years I've become accustomed to watching the majority of them alone. It's only in the last few years that I've met two women who enjoy horror movies (almost) as much as I do. And in fact, my best friend Natalya and I have a semi-regular horror movie night once a week. I show up at her place with two flicks and a bottle of wine, she prepares the hookah and the popcorn, and the festivities begin. They are some of my favorite nights.
But for the most part, aside from the occasional horror movie party that I throw or my annual Halloween Horror Movie Madness party, I still watch many of the horror movies by myself. I turn off the lights, light candles, pour myself a glass of wine, make popcorn and settle in with Tsunami to watch teenagers run for their lives, stealthy creatures decimate populations, or unknown viruses turn good folk into crazed killers.
My love for horror goes beyond the small screen and resides also in the printed word. Of course I read King but I also read the grisly murder mysteries of Patricia Cornwell, the spooky atmospheric ghost stories of James P. Blaylock and Susan Hill, the teen screams of Christopher Pike, the strange and unusual of Dan Simmons, and my very favorite author, the intense and horrifying, poetic and heartbreaking styles of Robert McCammon. And I even penned a few of my very own scary stories, one called Sluggernut, about a boy and his brother and a terrible discovery that they make. And one called Edna's Quiet Night, about an old woman on Halloween night who just wants some peace and quiet.
Back in January I decided to create a solution to an ongoing frustration that I had of not having an easy sortable database listing all of the horror movies that I have seen. I've had a Netflix account for about 9 years and in those 9 years I've carefully sorted through every single horror movie in their catalog and rated every one of them I have seen. Over the years of being a Netflix member I have always been diligent about rating every movie that I watch, whether it be a Netflix movie or a movie I rented elsewhere or one that I saw in the theater. For the most part, Netflix knows every movie that I have ever seen and last January I took advantage of that fact and sorted through my rated horror movies, copy and pasted them into an Excel file, and fleshed out the information with relevant details. The spreadsheet lists Movie Title, Year Made, Director, Origin Country, My Rating, Genre, Subgenre, Series (like HorrorFest, MOH, etc), and Date Seen (which is only current through its creation). I've also spent some time researching Made For TV and VHS horror movies that never made it to disc, compiling those that I have seen so that the list is complete. It's all in there, accessible, sortable, and growing all the time.
Recently I hit #600. That is, 600 horror movies that I have seen since that very day in 1985 when I watched Prom Night. It's a hefty number, to be sure. But considering how many more movies that I have yet to see, classics and B-movies, foreign ones and brand new ones, the number seems more like a beefy workhorse in the prime of his years, still on the fields with so much work ahead of him until he finally dies of exhaustion or old age.
And thanks to my Excel spreadsheet I can bring to you the "Fun Facts" portion of this blog post. Yay!
My favorite horror movie genre is Slasher, I have watched 195 of them.
My favorite subgenre of the Slasher genre is Teen Screams! I have watched 84 of them.
Other favorite genres are Creature Features (100 of them) and Zombie movies (50 of them)!
I have watched more movies made between 2000 and 2009 (304 of them!) than I have watched movies made from all of the other decades combined (296)!
I have only rated one horror movie one star. It was a shitty movie made in 2005 called The Butcher. It was really, really awful. Otherwise the majority of the horror movies I have rated 3 stars (264 of them!) I guess mediocrity rules.
I have watched 94 foreign horror movies. I'm a huge fan of 70's and 80's Italian movies as well as current French horror, the French are fucking brutal. However, I really dislike Asian horror movies and pretty much steer clear of them, which is probably why my foreign horror movie number is so low comparitively. The Asians rule the overseas horror market.
I drink an average of 2.3 glasses of Caberbet Sauvignon per horror movie night. Sometimes there are Red Vines.
My Top 20 Favorite Horror Movies!
And because it's extremely difficult to pick 20 favorite movies out of 600, here's some honorable mentions:
I have nightmares near constantly. I dream of zombies and Apocalypses, horrible creatures and crazed stalkers, satanic cults, epidemics, and hauntings. Just last night I dreamt that Jason Voorhees was stalking my mother and me in my childhood home. I looked out the window, it was dark, and he emerged from the woods slowly, very slowly, walking across the front yard and coming to stand under my bedroom window. He looked up at me, giant machete in hand, and just stood there, unwavering. I ducked down quickly and when I peeked out again he was gone, and then there was pounding at the front door. I woke up, heart hammering, terrified and having to pee. When I got up from bed I looked out my bedroom window, which is ground level, and was convinced Jason was going to appear. I'm not immune to getting scared or having nightmares, I just happen to like it. It's a fake, safe fear that allows your imagination to run rampant, lets your heart race and your skin crawl without actually being harmed. I know the world is filled with real violence and terror and unimaginable horrors. I grew up in Flint, MI and lived 8 years in NYC, I know real fear. Perhaps that's another reason why I like horror movies, it's an outlet to deal with the horrors without driving myself mad with the bleakness of it all. Instead I cheer for the heroine, figure out what I would do differently in her situation (yes, 90% of the time the soul survivor and ass-kicker is female - awesome!), and make fun of the idiots that go into the basement alone or go skinny dipping in the dark.
So, in the words of Ghostface, "What's your favorite scary movie?"
God, that's a terribly difficult question!! First off, you have to split the comedic gems from the rest of the pack, like Murder Party or Dead Alive. To me those are instantly favorites, but in an entirely different way than, say, your Hellraisers or your Pet Semetaries (both among my favorites). And then there's something like Martyrs, which is in a different category based on originality and brutality - you just don't see many movies like that. And then there are the ones you really enjoy and shouldn't - if asked you can't really explain why you like Silent Hill so much, you just bloody do, okay? Jeez, Mom, lay off! Or the classics that still give you the shiveries, despite being very old and cheesy - like The Pit and the Pendrulm. Sooooo many...it's really hard to narrow it down to one! But Adam's right- The Exorcist is definitely in there.
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