I almost forgot it was October and that I should have been watching scary movies for 14 days already.
So, to get myself in the mood, I made this list of films that I find actually scary. And then I will make a list of films to watch during the second half of October. Call it the “Lazy Gal’s 31 Days of Horror”. Because it’s only 15 days.
And btw, when I say “actually scary”, I don’t mean “I am so tough, and nothing really scares me”. I am actually pretty easily scared, and very wimpy when it comes to horror films. But there’s a difference between the anxiety I feel in the moment while watching any old scary movie, vs. the deep terror that gnaws at me for months or sometimes years after I see a film. These films populate my personal nightmare chamber forever. In alphabetical order, as always.
Audition (1999, dir. Takashi Miike) – When the tonal shift happened in this film, I felt a knot develop in my stomach that maybe still hasn’t gone away. The last 10 minutes made me dry heave on my couch. Nuff said.
The Descent (2005, dir. Neil Marshall) – It’s not a spoiler to say that this is a film about a group of women who go cave exploring and get trapped in the caves. The moment they entered the first tight passage and experienced the first tiny cave-in, I started to hyperventilate. I was watching it with a group of friends in my living room, and I had to excuse myself and sit in the other room for most of the film while they continued to watch it. I came back in for the last 15 minutes, and haven’t stopped shivering since. Basically, I haven’t seen 85% of this movie, and it STILL gives me panic attacks to think about.
The Eye (2002, dirs. Oxide + Danny Pang) – I saw this one at a Rue Morgue screening way back in the day with my friend Eddy. It was one of the first Asian horror films I’d ever seen. I know, The Ring preceded it, and Ju-on was around the same time, but honestly I wasn’t that into horror films in the early ’00s, so this was all new to me. I don’t have a big eye-trauma phobia or anything, but I spent every second of the screening in a terrified cringe.
À L’Intérieur / Inside (2007, dirs. Alexandre Bustillo + Julien Maury) – Some jerks (my dear friends) convinced me to go with them to see this one at TIFF. This was before I started dating Colin so (secret’s out!) I never really went to the Midnight Madness screenings. It’s probably difficult for any human – let alone a female human – to spend 90 minutes watching a nine-months-pregnant lady be terrorized by a psycho killer in her own home. But for a scaredycat like me who was only used to watching horror films in my living room? Gah. I spent the entire screening scrunched up in the fetal position wincing. The worst (best?) part is that the sound design on that movie is so intense that closing your eyes does not help alleviate the roiling sense of dread AT ALL.
The Neverending Story (1984, dir. Wolfgang Petersen) – I know, but hear me out. I’m pretty sure this is the first film that ever made me feel frightened right down to my bone marrow. I saw it when I was eight years old or so, and the idea of an all consuming nothingness that could swallow up the whole world is a pretty freaky concept for a kid to wrestle with. Plus, there’s Gmork, the snarling wolf that’s constantly stalking our hero Atreyu. And there’s the swamps of sadness, which swallow up his horse (*SOB*), Artax. And let’s not forget the assortment of weird and scary creatures besides all that. I’m pretty sure this film was responsible for my aversion to scary movies for the next 15 years or so. And yet, it’s one of my favourite films of all time. Humans are complicated.
The People Under the Stairs (1991, dir. Wes Craven) – This classic about an insane couple who keep their mutant brood locked up under the stairs where they can terrorize unsuspecting visitors is actually pretty fun – and funny. But the first time I saw it was on TV in a motel room during a family trip somewhere when I was a teenager, way back before I actually started enjoying scary movies. I don’t know why I started watching it, but once it was on, I felt paralyzed with fear, couldn’t change the channel, but couldn’t stop feeling panicky. Although I have to say that when I saw the insane couple (Everett McGill and Wendy Robie) as Ed and Nadine Hurley in Twin Peaks like a year later, I was pretty delighted.
Prince of Darkness (1987, dir. John Carpenter) – The first time I saw this gem about a research team investigating a swirling cylinder of pure evil (maybe?) in the basement of a church, it was at 2pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon. In spite of the cheery atmosphere and timing, I was freaked out for days. It remains my favourite Carpenter, and in fact my favourite horror film overall (if we haaaaave to pick favourites). The score is impeccable.
[REC] (2007, dirs. Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza) – I jumped in my seat A LOT during the screening of [REC] that I attended. It freaked me out (as a mild hypochondriac, anything to do with contagion tends to) and it’s one of those rare films that I actually found both scary and fun while I was watching. It remains perhaps the only film that uses the POV / mock doc conceit without being endlessly infuriating to me.
The Shining (1980, dir. Stanley Kubrick) – Somehow, I managed to not watch The Shining until I was over 30 years old AND not have it spoiled for me by anyone. Almost a miracle, I know! A few years back, my friend Sean (who had also not seen it, and is not wild about the super scary movies) and I sat down in his living room and watched it together. Even though I was, by this point in time, a fan of horror, it still made me feel really, really, really uneasy. Spooky, kinda-supernatural stuff has a much longer lasting effect on me than slasher-type gore.
Now, you might be sitting there wondering why this or that very scary film is not on my list. Let me assure you it’s not because I am too tough to be scared by it. It’s almost certainly because I haven’t seen it yet. I only started loving horror films when I was in my late 20s and I have a lot of catching up to do. I might publish a “horror list of shame” later in the month but I don’t want everyone being like “WHAT, YOU HAVEN’T SEEN EVIL DEAD?” all the time.