This may come as a surprise, but I really don’t like horror movies. I’ve tried (mainly against my will) to sit through them in their entirety, but for the most part, I just cover my eyes and wish I had made better decisions. As a film person, I understand that I miss out on a lot of (apparently) great movies this way. I’ve never seen The Ring (2002), or any of the numerous Halloween’s, and I’m quite content with that. Sure, most people would say old school horror movies aren’t that bad, but even Scream (1996) has made an appearance in a nightmare or two of mine, and that’s just from catching a minute of it while flipping through the TV channels.
My friends don’t get it, and I don’t blame them. I’ve flown stunt planes, scuba dived with sharks, and fenced against Olympic athletes, but I won’t watch Saw with them. The only “horror” movie I’ve ever liked is 28 Days Later (2002), and that’s just because it’s just a plain awesome movie all around.
I was once tricked into watching a Rob Zombie film, as I had no idea who he was at the time. The film, which mainly consisted of my fingers over my eyes and lots of screaming, was probably the worst hour and a half of my life. At the same time, I was riveted. The wanton violence, the disturbing reality created by the characters, and the raw psychosis depicted was masterful in making me fear. I found myself creating two versions of the film-- the half that was scary and sucked the me into the director’s game, and the half that used incredibly iconic film techniques to create that game.
For film class, the assignment this week was to watch the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) in all its 80’s glory. I went through the stages of convincing myself to watch the film. The thoughts, “It won’t be so bad, it’s from the 80’s, they couldn’t even show dead people on TV,” and, “You’ll watch it with the lights on, nothing to worry about!” helped me get around to finding the film, but it took me a while to actually press play. How was I supposed to analyze a movie for class through my closed fingers? And worse yet, I had put off watching the movie until the night before class. It was 2am before I, hugging a security blanket, pressed play.
The film itself is of course, full of 80’s angst. The main characters are two teen couples who begin to have odd dreams about a man with blades on his fingers. But besides the cheesy subplot, it really gets interesting when the dreams and reality begin to merge. With Freddy apparently able to kill from the dreamworld, no one is safe. The line between dreaming and reality becomes blurred both in editing and plot until the audience is waiting for Freddy to appear at any turn. The use of lighting and jump-cutting give subtle clues to what is more real than not, but without any prior knowledge of these clues, the audience is strapped in for a wild ride. Thankfully, I was able to watch most of Nightmare without the lens of my fingers, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared. But instead of being paralyzed by it, I knew why I was scared.
I couldn’t tell you if I had nightmares after watching A Nightmare on Elm Street, but I certainly had a better understanding of why people actually like these incredibly violent and disturbing realities complete with their own sadistic villains. These films, in the iconic words of that masked guy from Saw, want to play a game with us. They dare us over and over again to question our own realities, and use editing, sound, and lighting to draw us each into our own private hells. Even if the plot is barely coherent, or they used way too much fake blood, a horror movie will play upon our most basic human fear, that our reality might not be all that it seems.
By Screenshot from "Internet Archive" of the movie Dracula (1958) - http://www.archive.org/details/HorrorOfDracula-Trailer, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11740931
I still can’t quite pinpoint the exact reason for my hatred of horror movies. Maybe it’s because I can’t help but think the character’s dumb for even walking into the haunted house in the first place, or for not grabbing a gun when the killer only has knives for fingers, but you know, that’s just me. Whatever the case, all movies deserve at least a chance, and perhaps I’ll work my way up to a scarier one eventually. But no clowns. Definitely no clowns.