I’ve always loved horror movies, maybe because I don’t scare easily, or maybe I don’t scare because I grew up watching horror. Movies that were still new at the time, like Halloween, Alien or Friday the 13th, had to wait some years until we got a VCR, so I was raised on less gory but no less frightening “oldies.” The Universal monsters were the first hook, and the earliest time I remember asking (and being allowed) to stay up late to watch a scary movie airing in the wee hours was Night of the Living Dead (1968). The beloved TV classic movie host in my area, Elwy Yost, introduced me to The Thing (1951) and Cat People (1942), to name just a couple vivid memories. I wish I still had the free cardboard 3D glasses that were handed out at the corner store for a special TV broadcast of House of Wax (1953). Nosferatu (1922) and Phantom of the Opera (1925) were gateways to silent film.
Art has always provided a safe and vicarious way to experience and work through things that disturb and scare us most–predators, death, war, isolation, disease, unexplained events and motives. At its best, horror is a meaningful, cathartic and artful genre that pushes ideas and big issues to extremes, and, when it succeeds in its effort to create a tense mix of the relevant and the unreal, it can be cinema at its most visually inventive, involving and memorable.
As a soft and squishy people who no longer have to flee from dinosaurs and sabretooth tigers, watching a movie monster is one of the only ways left to get our survival instincts triggered and exercised. It takes a lot of writing and filmmaking creativity to create creatures that get into your head and live there, ones that are familiar even to people who have never seen the movie they came from, monsters that embody the specific fears of their eras and adapt to scare us in new ways, whether they come from ancient tombs, a doctor’s table, outer space or right next door.
I love a good “final girl” because she’s an ordinary woman with no preparation or superpowers, who finds herself in a nightmare but overwhelms her opponents and survives thanks to bravery and resourcefulness she didn’t know she had. Chances are slim that you’ll ever be chased by a masked slasher, but life can sometimes feel that relentless and chaotic, and when it does you can draw a lot of strength from tough heroines like Susy, Sydney, Erin or Laurie.* On the final girl subject, last Halloween I wrote about one of my all-time favourite films, Scream.
A good movie scare helps you see real-life scares as smaller and more manageable. In most cases horror movies are just fun, and I get a kick out of seeing great actors bring their A game to roles where they wear strange makeup, pretend to see things that aren’t there and fight cheesy monsters. I admire that kind of commitment.
This stroll down memory lane and brief rumination on my favourite things about the genre is to introduce this: starting today, fellow horror fan and blog friend Mike’s Take on the Movies and I are celebrating Halloween by picking movies on a different theme each night through the 31st. We chose a nice mix of all time favourites, new-to-us, cheesy and/or underrated films in 9 categories that include Vincent Price, Hammer Films, and post-2000 horror. Hope you join us to see what all the themes are, and hope you have as much fun reading as we will watching! Mike shares his scary movie memories tonight at his blog..
*characters from Wait Until Dark, Scream, You’re Next and Halloween, if you’re unfamiliar
Here are the 9 themes: Vincent Price: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Kaiju: Rodan (1956), Hammer Horror: The Devil Rides Out (1968), Comedy Horror: Tremors (1990), Post-2000: Cloverfield (2008), Ghosts & Haunted Houses: The Uninvited (1944), 50s Sci Fi monsters The Monolith Monsters (1957), Unviersal: Tower of London (1939), A Personal Favourite: Fright Night (1985).