When I was thirteen, I watched a scary movie with my dad. I was curled on the couch, alternately eating popcorn and biting my fingernails while watching the worst parts from behind my fingers. It came to the moment when the heroine was backing up slowly in a dark room to the pace of quiet, creepy music.
Suddenly, the killer was right behind her.
Insert a loud jarring screech as the killer seizes her!
Right about then was when my dad took the opportunity to grab me and scream “BAH!!!!”
No exaggeration, my legs went completely numb. Had I been a few years younger, I might have peed myself; had I been a few years older, certain cardiac arrest. (Much older, the peeing and the heart attack both.)
I’m not exactly a horror film connoisseur, but I know a scary movie when I see it – or feel it. A scary movie should do three things. Immediately following the credits, I should 1) be afraid to let the TV go dark or turn to snow (2) be afraid to take a bath because something might come up through the drain, and/or (3) be afraid to walk past a mirror because something might jump out of it, including my own reflection.
But lately, filmmakers aren’t showing me much, except maybe that they’re running out of fresh ideas to make me pee my pants in public. (Only Poltergeist has had that privilege, and I was 7.) These days, I’m lucky if I can get worked up enough to fear the dark after a horrific blockbuster. Am I just getting immune to this stuff, or is Hollywood losing its punch?
I just finished watching a new release horror flick (which I won’t even bother to name because it will distract from my topic), and I find myself annoyed at the same old clichéd attempts to “scare me” – i.e., the sudden loud sound during a quiet moment and the gallons of squirting blood. That got me back when I was thirteen, but now? Have I outgrown the obvious? Have I outgrown the scary movie altogether?
I don’t have a clue what new methods or ideas will actually scare me or creep me out. But for the fun of it, here’s a helpful list for Hollywood of clichéd things that do still get me when done right:
1. Children. Mostly any children, but children who stare, talk in tongues or get spontaneous nosebleeds are especially good.
2. People pulling out their teeth (or tearing/scratching off their skin).
3. People cutting off or breaking their own body parts to escape anything.
4. TVs or radios that turn themselves on.
5. Reflections or shadows that don’t move when the actor moves.
6. Spiders. Any spiders, any scene.
7. Bodies with altered gaits.
9. Clowns with jagged teeth.
10. Sudden, wrenching paralysis - especially when accompanied by cracking noises.
11. Dolls. Even better, dolls with turning heads that make creaking sounds or, worse, CLOWN dolls.
12. Unassuming Serial Killers (Not the Freddy or Jason kind. More like the pedophile wearing glasses and tan windbreaker kind.)
13. Ouija boards.
15. Mustaches. Even better, mustaches paired with banjos.
16. Dark, unlit bodies of water.
17. Unexplained rashes.
18. Biblical stuff. (Locusts, backwards Latin, etc.)
19. Dogs and cats staring into space or barking/hissing at nothing.
20. Slowly turning doorknobs.
21. Cornfields. Even better, cornfields at night.
22. Inanimate objects moving on their own - especially when it’s not obvious.
23. Carnival music or children’s nursery rhymes/songs. Better, chanted by creepy children.
24. Breaking fingernails. (Like snapping one off when clawing away from the killer. Ack.)
25. Any movie with Christopher Walken.
There’s my 25 “cliché but still effective” horror movie must-haves. These can still get me on a dark and creepy night when I’m watching a movie all alone – or worse, within reach of a loved one.
What scares you?