Then I remembered that I’m a huge wimp that doesn’t watch all that many horror movies because they make me feel funny in my tummy and I have to sleep with the lights on and my special blanket for a month. I only watched them in my youth because I was promised boobs…what I didn’t count on was the high frequency with which said boobs would be featured in tandem with arterial spray.
I’ve got issues.
3) “The Blair Witch Project” – Yes, yes; I know. I know. “It’s not scary!” “It’s stupid!” “It’s barely a movie!” I recognize all of the issues of Blair Witch; it has far more detractors at this point than it does proponents. But there is one very key element that’s easy to forget now that the “found footage” film is a genre in and of itself. Blair Witch was the first. And for an audience that was unused to the shaky-cam footage and the sheer intimacy that the medium allows, that made all the difference. Watching it that first time, it was easy to laugh off the lacking cinematography, groan at the over-the-top acting. But then something happened that I wasn’t expecting, I started to believe the narrative (because why else would we be watching such poor footage?). Once that had locked in, each subsequent twist and escalation of the scenario felt that much more visceral and the division between their reality and mine lessened. To the point where, when I was walking back to my car through a darkened back lot, I found myself nearly sprinting. Blair Witch made me suspend my disbelief in a very fundamental way and, while I recognized the trick, I was unable to steel myself against it.
2) “Halloween” gets a spot on this list for not just being one of the top horror franchises; but for creating a franchise based on a character that is practically devoid of all emotion. “Nightmare on Elm Street” has a wise-cracking demon. “Friday the 13th” has an unhinged killing machine. “Halloween” though…Michael Myers is practically pedantic in comparison. He is dogged in his goal and the killing that happens along the way doesn’t feel personal or even malicious; it’s more “they were in my way.” What cinches the entire franchise for me though is the music. Those three bars of plinky piano are enough to give me chills and make me start checking behind closet doors. I still remember the first time I watched “Halloween” at 3:00 AM, my friends passed out on the floor around me, and completely freaking out when the piano music started. Let me tell you, drunken college students don’t enjoy someone flipping on every light in the house at 3:00 AM.
1) “Alien” is by far the scariest damn movie I’ve ever laid eyes on. I came into it completely unaware – I knew that it was a sci-fi movie and I knew that there was a scary alien (it’s right there in the title!); but “Alien” is a lot more than its component parts. The establishing shots at the beginning of the movie create the illusion of a mundane space travel. This isn’t “Star Trek” where the crew is going out to find strange new worlds; these are space truckers hauling cargo from point A to point B. Then Scott starts chipping away at the world he’s established. The chestburster scene still remains one of the most iconic in horror movies today – the fact that Scott didn’t really let his actors know what was going to happen makes the reactions that much more raw. What’s great is that, even without the gory, violent deaths of the crew, “Alien” would still be terrifying. Long, lingering shots on empty corridors; increasing paranoia among the crew as Ash starts to rebel against his programming and the mostly unseen alien picks them off; quick, disorienting shots that keep the audience in the dark as much as the characters in the film; by the time it’s just Ripley and the Alien in the final scene, you are as emotionally invested in her survival as she is. “Alien” established the space horror genre and I don’t think there’s been a movie since that’s done it as well.