When it comes to watching movies of horror or thrillers, I admit I’m a tough customer. For one, I don’t startle easily or get squeamish. That leaves a lot of horror movies struggling in vein to get my attention. I recognize because I’m jaded and naturally cynical, most films just don’t work for me. There’s enough hardship, screwed up, and things truly disturbing in real life that fiction cannot touch.
But the one thing that does work is when we screw with the mind – because that is responsible for everything we which we feel, think, perceive, and interact. Unhinge the mind, and literally everything else is questionable and falls apart, often with disastrous consequences. It’s also the thing you can’t get away from. Never mind Jason or Freddy, you can’t run from you.
There are things I really need to enjoy a horror movie…
- Good horror and suspense typically requires you somehow either like or identify with the character(s) involved. If they are generically 2-dimensional or unlikeable, I won’t care what happens to them. I might watch it play out in hopes something clever might play out, but that’s rare.
- Keep me guessing with a story that is somehow unique. Stories repeat themselves, told across time and peoples in myth and lore. The structure is usually the same, the path the same, the result the same. More often than not, one can see the impending train wreck before its even left the station. I like mind-benders and reality twisters.
- Startles don’t work, I need unsettling and disturbing. I don’t typically jump or startle, so most films that rely on startles just won’t work. Especially when you can predict it with the musical cues in the soundtrack. Give me something that lingers with you for days after, feeding paranoia and questioning perceptions.
- Relatable works more than excessive gore. For me the gore isn’t gross or bothersome, I just wonder how they did it and what they used for the effects. What can get to me is seeing something happen that is exploiting the most vulnerable, delicate, and totally relatable anatomy.
- Sometimes the reason is “because…” Many things happen for reasons of just being at the wrong place and time. There are no other reasons, no justice, and no compassion – just the horror of bad timing or circumstances. There needn’t be an origin story, and most are better without it – it’s the fact that you don’t know why this is happening that makes it so horrible. The Unknown is more powerful than any reason given.
- You don’t always win (and more likely will lose). If you were to face something truly super natural, alien, invasive, or completely mind-shattering, rarely would there a happy ending. Rather, I’d expect the result to be catastrophic, ending in a defeated whimper, not in some heroic blaze of glory or suddenly overcome and rise as the champion. Nope – horror is the inevitability or sudden realization that you never had a chance, all effort was in vein, and the story ends.
So with that and in honor of October’s traditional celebration of Halloween… here are some of my favorite horror films – for one reason or another. Note that any of the foreign (*) horror films that appear below are the originals and not the Hollywood remakes.