The films that terrified me, in the best possible ways, and how I fell in love with the genre as an escape from much more terrifying real life horror.
Living as a coward, admitting things is hard to do. Explaining to people how I became a horror fan and writer is weird and personal.
I have been an avid horror fan since I first laid eyes on the classic Spencer Tracy film, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as a four-year-old child. Yes, by today’s standards, laughable, but in the mind of a four-year-old, a magical world opened. This lead to my obsession with monsters, such as
Godzilla. I must have spent months observing the gigantic lizard stomping around on poor Japan and fighting monsters.
Wisdom comes with age, and I saw more films of status: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and my favorite, The Invisible Man. I was hooked on Universal Monsters for a few years, when I eventually became a fan of Hammer Horror films with Christopher Lee — and those Vincent Price films, which were campy and yet interesting for my fertile mind.
As my preteen years came along, I sneaked viewings of films such as Halloween, and reliable serial killer Michael Myers. These films changed how I viewed the horror genre…no more slow-moving (Michael paces at a slight haunting rate) villains. My heart beats faster, fearing for
heroes like Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode and her friends. This was not the safer monsters and creatures I had previously enjoyed. Blood and violence ruled.
I viewed Friday the 13th, and Jason’s ride through the 1980s, film after film. This period of viewing slasher horror bored me, and I looked up other sub genres. I sought more taboo subjects for my era and family (my parents were strict Catholics).There I found the ones that shocked.
Two films I rented from Hollywood Video hooked and grabbed my inner coward: The Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Romero’s classic altered my brain, and it cost me (temporary) sanity. A lifelong chicken, fearing the dark and things that go bump in the night, the thought of the living dead coming to my home appeared a certainty. Here was a film where the villain wasn’t a guy in a lizard suit or a simpleton wearing a hockey mask chasing kids in the woods. The reality of death, murder, and losing society blew my imagination away and terrified my inner core.
How did anyone sleep knowing somewhere out there lurked the hungry living dead? Didn’t my parents understand the dead would make a beeline for my bedroom window, waiting for me to sleep before using their wiles to break in and use my cranium as a dinner plate? Yes, I was terrified. I was twelve years old and mortified as the image of zombies spying my house on a 24/7 rotation, eating onion fingers, and waiting for the right moment to attack danced in my head.
I relaxed…eventually. And being the coward and a masochist, I headed back to watch Texas Chainsaw, based on a friend’s warning, a few weeks later.
Those were all the words I needed. How else could I resist? Initially, having viewed Halloween and Friday the 13th, I wondered, “What else could scare me?”
Yes, I picked a dark living room night alone as my family went out to eat dinner and I stayed home, studying. I didn’t become as traumatized watching Leatherface compared to when I watched Johnny and ghouls. However, my heart raced so fast during the infamous chase scene that I stopped to catch my breath. The ending couldn’t come soon enough as, near the end, my body was exhausted. Looking back at that film, it was tame. But the film’s intensity had scared the pants off of my soul.
The growth of the genre in the mid-80s and 90s spawned my viewing habits. Freddie, Pinhead, Candyman. All assorted beasts and bizarre films I engorged and watched. I lived in Hollywood Video and watched low-quality films on late night tv as well (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Killer
My fandom of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, completed my learning experience, in the realm of horrid movies. I wasn’t walking around in black eyeliner and black clothing, (yet) but my inner demon wasn’t satisfied with rom-com films and even sci-fi. Yes, these horror films bothered my sleep, but I wouldn’t stop.
The Wizard of Gore, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Scanners, The Stuff (an excellent, but overlooked film), and Mr. Frost (Jeff Goldblum is the devil?) were all films I watched with glee. Cronenberg was one of my favorite directors, and I watched darker themed films: I Spit On Your Grave, Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes.
The rise of the demon/ zombie revival in the late 80s/ 90s captured my eye (Chuds are my buds). The “adult” films — The Shining, Ghost Story, Serpent and the Rainbow, Jacob’s Ladder — taught me that slasher films couldn’t stand up to higher caliber films with serious plots.
My trip into the past started, and I watched the older classic films, Nosferatu, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Freaks, Phantom of the Opera and The Bride of Frankenstein.
Even though I had lost most fears from shock value through the years of being desensitized with head chopping, thorax-eating villains, these oldies taught me more about the loving of film and the art itself.
The Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project, and Scream instilled a new psychological terror in the 90s, but during this time my love for the genre fell. It happened during my college years, as studying and living impeded my watching movies.
Other than the occasional slasher or ghost film, I stopped watching.
Japanese horror films brought me back with Audition — capturing that awe, deer in the headlights feel that I had lost. Ringu and friends reinstalled the concept of fear of the world.
This was an outlet for escape, a way to cope with real-world tragedies. These films allowed me to escape from reality (and a loved one’s demise) with artificial terror. I assumed people I knew believed it was mental illness, but I continued to watch films that scared and disturbed me — so real stress didn’t feel as rotten as we all know it to be. It was easier to deal with death from a monster or psycho killer than the real incarnation of death. We all need a release.
Stephen King films, Near Dark, the Alien series. I had so much to watch…so much (The Shout, Last Man on Earth, Rosemary’s Baby, Pumpkinhead, Eraserhead, The Reflecting Skin). I couldn’t stop. The list grew and grew.
Eventually, I fell out of love again and occasionally watched a horror film during a low period. But things like health issues, family, and work took time, and life demanded I focus on my real life.
Then the film 28 Days Later, and the follow-up, came along. Then more zombie films, more disturbing Saw films, and psychological tales, like Session 9 and Let The Right One In. These films brought back that detachment, the ability to become so engrossed with film and ignore the real world. It had captured me once more.
Being selective, as I approach my middle age years, I need something new, something fresh and mind-altering. I suspect something special will come through the pipeline. I know it will change the way we view horror films; we’ll recall the film’s message, how “it altered horror films” and our tastes and likes.
Yes, I may enter another lull in my worship, but I am waiting…excited…knowing whatever is coming will be great. The past few years have renewed the horror genre and the output has been amazing.
I have begun another stage of catch up. Wish me well!