I used to get in trouble for staying up late watching scary movies, and Seymour was an early crush. I got to meet him at a car show once (swoon). I often ended up watching B movies rather than the classic Universal monsters, and after the first few gorefests, I eschewed anything but comic gore. I’m sure this list is endless, but these are the movies that first rise to my consciousness. These films affected me. These movies are why I’m afraid of hillbillies and spiral staircases.
Age 5: Picture Mommy Dead
A young girl returns from a stay with the nuns in white habits to her childhood home. The home if filled with memories of her dead mother and the grounds are filled with unsavory characters, including the suspicious-acting new wife. But things are never what they seem. I saw the coming attractions for this as a child, where a hand scratching a painting causes it to actually bleed, and Zsa Zsa Gabor is on fire. I didn’t even have to watch the movie to have nightmares.
Age 6: Billy Jack
My brother was only allowed to take the van on dates if he brought me along, so my mom got a babysitter and a chaperone. This is not a traditional scary movie, more of an action film. But there is a scene with a funeral pyre, and I thought they were burning the Indian alive. Somehow the rape scene completely blew past me. Either my brother sent me to the snack bar or I’ll recover it in therapy.
Age 8: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Jessica is staying in an old house in the countryside she finds charming, but the house holds secrets. A mysterious visitor, or entity, keeps Jessica on edge. I was not supposed to stay up this late watching horror movies, and this kind of thing is why. It made me afraid of cemetaries and lakes. But I watched it again years later and it was a little slow.
Age 10: Shadow of the Hawk
You can only find this film on YouTube. It’s a film that seems silly now, full of pseudo-Indian mumbo jumbo. But at the time the carved witch face scared the hell out of me. A young man is recruited by his grandfather to help him wage war with the witch Dsonqua who was executed and now wants revenge. This movie made me afraid of swimming pools.
Age 11: The Man Who Fell to Earth
My brother probably thought he was doing me a favor because I already loved David Bowie. Bowie was from outer space and he had to wear contacts to look like a human, When he took them out with giant tweezers, I thought he was mutilating his eyes.
Age 11: Eraserhead
A double feature with The Man Who Fell to Earth. Do I even have to say anything? The baby, the worms, the radiator? Quelle horreur!
Age 13: Amityville Horror
Believed at the time to be based on a true story. Glowing piggie eyes in the dark, swarming flies, bleeding walls, and even the house itself seemed to be staring at you. This movie made me afraid of pigs.
Age 14: The Shining
This one is so obvious, but it scared the holy crap out of me. I’ve probably seen it 8 times and it still scares the crap out of me. Caretaker and his family move into an isolated hotel with no escape, a creepy maze and lots on ghostly inhabitants. Fear is in the details, and carewas taken to even make it suspenseful to have Danny ride his Big Wheel around…carpet…wood…carpet…wood…carpet wood. This movie made me afraid of bathtubs, elevators and twins.
Age 16: Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The story of five teens who are victimized by a family of sadistic freaks. Oh, and did I mention they are cannibals? (The freaks, not the kids.). A classic in its genre. When the hitch-hiker they pick up slices his own hand open it’s terrifying, because if he would do that to himself, what would he do to me? Way worse, as it turns out. Way worse.
Age 18: The Haunting
There is a moment just before fear takes over when you freeze, when the body pauses to assess the danger. What was that noise? Was it just the wind? Could something be out there? The Haunting mirrors that experience of hearing a bump in the night. The film uses a vague sense of uneasiness to allow the tension to slowly build, without ever giving us the release of screaming. Camera angles are used to make the creepy old house itself incite fear – a long hallway that disappears into darkness, a statue that seems to be staring, a door that is inexplicably shut. Add in creepy sound effects and the terrified reactions of an expert cast, and this film scares the hell out of you without you actually seeing anything happen. In fact, it’s never quite clear whether or not all of this is simply occuring in everyone’s overactive imaginations, or perhaps only in the main character, Eleanor’s, own troubled mind.
Age 19. 2,000 Maniacs
The one Herschell Gordon Lewis movie that isn’t just campy fun. 2,000 rebel ghosts hellbent on revenge make these Northerners sorry they ever strayed south of the Dixie line. And they will make you afraid to take a roadtrip to the South for the rest of your life. The gut-wrenching tension as they make their victim cry out, “The rock didn’t fall!” probably influenced Texas Chainsaw Massacre series scene where the grandpa couldn’t quite get up the strength to smash his waiting victim’s head in.
Age 21. The Fly
Jeff Goldblum morphs into a mad doctor before he starts really morphing into a fly in this 80s lost classic. It seems like only the Simpsons remember it. I watched it after getting stoned with Sonic Youth. I couldn’t maintain and spent half the movie trying to climb onto Thurston’s lap in horror (to his horror too).
Age 25. Silence of the Lambs
I don’t even have to recap this movie. You have all seen it. And whether you admit it or not, it scared the crap out of you. The ushers told me they had to walk people to their cars every night. The scene above was one of the scariest ones for me. I have to say, I did appreciate that Clarice saved herself and wasn’t saved by a man, a new idea in movies at the time (See Alien, another movie to make you jump out of your seat). And nothing beats the “Goodbye Horses” dance scene. Check out Jay and Silent Bob’s spoof.
Age 39: The Ring
I like the original Ringu more than the American version of The Ring. Basic premise is that there is a videotape, and if you watch it you will die in 7 days. Unless you pass it on to someone else. The moral dilemma has a lot of real-life applications, like chain letters. The scene above is the first time I had screamed out loud during a movie in years.