TRULY SCARY STUFF
People enjoy the horror genre for different reasons. Some like the twisted creativity at play, some like vicarious thrills, others might be into it out of morbid curiosity, etc. The thing I enjoy the most, but which is also the hardest quality to find, is SCARINESS. By that I don’t mean weird atmosphere (eeriness) or unsettling imagery (creepiness), or even those annoying jump scares you find in lots of modern horror films–where things build to a crescendo and then the cat jumps out from behind the couch and we all gasp purely out of reflex. I’m not against any of that–creepy is awesome! BUT, when a book or movie exhibits TRUE SCARINESS–as in the kind of terror that seizes the whole body and mind in its cold grip and won’t let go–those moments are what I’m really looking for.
And frankly, I hardly ever find them. But, when it happens I never forget. Here are a few things that truly scared the living bejeebers out of me…
1. COMMUNION by Whitley Streiber
Firstly, I’m pretty sure this won’t be high on many people’s lists. Turns out (and I didn’t know this when I bought the book) I have a deep-seated fear of UFO-related stuff. Thus, perhaps it wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had to read that book during my graveyard shift gas station job in Pasadena when I was 19 or 20.
For those of you who don’t know, Communion is written like a memoir, which in this case deals with Whitley Streiber (author of The Wolfen) beginning to recall repressed memories of being abducted by aliens several times over the course of his life. Holy crap did that do a number on me! Nothing like physically shaking in a little glass booth at 3:30 AM, while reading of lost time episodes and other alien-related nightmare action I’d never heard about before. I’m pretty sure the whole thing is fictional, but man did it freak me the hell OUT!
2. PET SEMATARY by Stephen King
Probably, if you are checking out this horror blog, there is a good chance you’ve read this book. Of all of Mr. King’s novels, this is the one that packs the most industrial-strength scare factor for me, that feels the most dangerous somehow. The last time I reread it, I was amazed at how deft he is at ramping up the dread and creepiness and off-kilter aspects of the book (the funeral scene alone, where the main character and his father-in-law get into a fist fight, is still one of the more jaw-droppingly cringeworthy things I’ve ever read). The final act then takes all that built up tension and DELIVERS in the scary department. And then delivers again. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, he effing knocks it waaaay out of the park with the last few paragraphs. Man! I love this book and any time I hear people badmouth Mr. King, I tell them they really oughta visit the Sematary before they start spouting nonsense.
(For the record, I CAN’T STAND the movie version of Pet Sematary)
3. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
Look, I avoided this movie like the plague for years and years, based solely on the title and the few production stills I’d seen in magazines or books. Even when really well respected critics would talk about it glowingly, I figured it was just a hack and slash curio from the early 70s, and that it wouldn’t do much for me except make me nauseous. I bet there are a few of you out there who currently think the same thing, and have never given it a chance.
Well, I finally did several years ago, and it was a revelation, frankly. Everything about the film is nightmarish and unsettling, ultimately feeling like fingernails raking the length of your soul for its run-time. Upon re-watching it a few more times, it’s shocking what is ACTUALLY shown and what you THINK is shown in this movie. You turn it off feeling as if you just left an abattoir on a busy day, but there is barely any blood or grue onscreen.
This is going to sound moronic on one level, but I feel as if TTCM comes closest of any horror movie I’ve ever seen to weaving an actual “spell” on its viewers. There’s something about the sickeningly grimy feel of every shot, the nightmare quality of how scenes flow into one another, the sound design and art direction, that adds up to something beyond normal scariness. The opening minutes of the film, leading into the title, are a good example. Completely bonkers and unexpected and artful, letting you know you are in for something god awful. It’s AWESOME!!!!
4. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
I won’t get too carried away on this one, because it’s so divisive. I watched it once with a friend in St. Louis during an off day on a music tour when it first came out. I thought it was pretty unique and cool, and decided I was going to have to see it again when I got home. Well, guess what? After the second viewing, I was so horrified and scare-jazzed, I couldn’t sleep all night! So, for me, it’s one of the champs of all time, with an ending so perfectly realized that I still think about it to this day.
This sucker gets its own post later in the (final!) week, so I’m not gonna say much. Other than, I doubt I’ve ever been more scared than the first time I saw this happen:
We’re in the homestretch, folks. Only five more days til Halloween…