So let’s rip off the band-aid: These are probably going to be the tamest picks of the bunch because as much as I love to terrify other people (and their children), I am a gigantic ball of nerves who pees a little if she jumps around too much. My love of horror movies peaked in middle school and high school, when I was still pretty certain that I was invincible and would live forever. These days, I read the Wikipedia plot summary before seeing a horror movie to make sure it’s not going to turn me into a quivering blob of jelly. But believe me– that doesn’t make my books any less scary!
When I was five, my father would call me into the living room whenever Jaws was on TV–and killing someone– because he liked scaring me, and not in a nice way. At first, it did scare me. But as I got older and saw more of the movie than just the parts he used as weapons, I began to see the humor and beauty in it. To me, Jaws represents learning that fear can’t hurt me… as long as I don’t swim in that one mayor’s town.
In middle school, I suffered terrible insomnia–but at least my family had the biggest cable package. I soon found a channel that played the most ridiculous horror movies around 2am, and Barbarella was one of them. I loved the whimsical absurdity of it, the fact that when I watched it, I didn’t question anything, but afterwards, I couldn’t explain it to another human being in a way that made sense. Those dolls with teeth definitely became part of my mental landscape.
I saw Jurassic Park in the theater with my first boyfriend, and it was so good that I… pretty much ignored him. I remember exactly how it felt, seeing that first sweeping vista of brachiosauruses among the trees, how magic tingled up and down my arms at something so beautiful and new and unreal. And then the Tyrannosaurus showed up. I love movies that really take me from one end of the spectrum to the other, from wonder to horror, all in one tidy package.
Donnie Darko is one of those movies that just sticks to your ribs. Twenty years later, and I still quote it constantly–and get chills when I hear covers of Mad World. What works for me, I think, is that it’s about holding hands with darkness as you stare down the absurdity of the world. It’s a question that’s never quite answered.
You might be seeing a pattern– I like to laugh and scare people, not necessarily get scared myself. In high school, I worked at a haunted house, but the first time my now-husband tried to take me to a haunted house, I chickened out after the first scare, grabbed the next zombie I saw, and demanded to be let out the back entrance before someone made me pee myself. That’s why Shaun of the Dead really works for me– the humor and character commentary make it that much harder for me to have heart palpitations. Not that I don’t startle multiple times while watching it.
Same thing here. The humor makes the horror more palatable. Ever since I had kids, I’ve had a harder and harder time connecting with the horror movies that called to me when I was younger. Maybe it’s because I have more to lose now, but I can’t handle seeing scary things happen to or around children, and I also don’t want to give myself nightmares and pollute my sleep hygiene. But a couple of country boys out in the woods having a doosy of a day? That I can live with. In part because I don’t go to remote cabins in the woods.