I never understood what the big deal was about horror movies. Sure, I like a good scare as much as the next person. But what is the point of stories about blood and gore, with severed limbs and spurting blood and all of that mess?
I remember sitting on my Aunt Marian’s lap to watch made-for-TV movies like Scream Pretty Peggy and One of My Wives is Missing when I was far too young to be watching things like that. When Elizabeth Ashley raised her blood-streaked face to the camera, I stood straight up on my aunt’s lap and very nearly plunged through the picture window in pure, delicious terror.
I won’t even discuss Sian Barbara Allen and those plaster mummies full of bones. Holy crap, my heart is pounding just thinking about it, thirty-odd years later.
That kind of fear is fun. That’s the kind of fear that made my sister and me huddle together on the couch to watch Terror in the Wax Museum and damn near piss ourselves when two neighborhood boys reached through the living room window to grab us from behind during the movie. It’s the kind of fear that made my friends and me scream at stupid moments during The Amityville Horror or jump right out of our seats when the alien burst out of John Hurt’s chest in Aliens.
It’s the kind of fear that keeps me from ever putting a scarecrow in my garden, thanks to Dark Night of the Scarecrow, because I just know that Larry Drake is going to pop out of somewhere and moan, “Bubba didn’t do it!” But would I watch those movies again? Absolutely. Just let me buy a fresh box of Depends first.
But there’s a line between Scary and Horror. I don’t know exactly where that line is, but I know I don’t like crossing it.
I don’t want to watch a movie that makes me throw up. I don’t want to spend the entire two hours with my face buried in my date’s shoulder. (Oh, okay, we all know I never have any dates, so let’s say I don’t want to spend the entire two hours with my face buried in my hands.) I want to wonder about the whodunit and whydunit, not isitoveryet?
I like movies with ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. I get a thrill out of movies that make me jump and squeal and sleep with the light on for the next few nights. Even those cheesy old flicks about giant ant invasions or Africanized honeybees taking over the Earth can be fun. I can overlook swamp monsters with visible zippers, or aliens with obvious rubber masks as long as the plot makes some kind of sense.
But movies with brain-slurping zombies or killers who want to wear their victims’ faces for no apparent reason? No, thank you. If a psycho killer is going to hang mummified teens on a wall in a church cellar, at least give me the satisfaction of telling me why. “He’s just evil” isn’t enough for me. Tell me why the killer is slashing all of the town’s promiscuous teenagers; don’t just roll their disembodied heads down the stairs because it’s a cool special effect.
I just don’t get it.
My kids watch horror movies late at night when they think I don’t know about it. They are part of the modern generation of viewers who get into Saw and Jeff the Killer and Slenderman; they have grown up in an era of movies that spoon-feed them everything with expensive special effects and CGI blood that looks like the real thing. They simply cannot understand older movies that tell rather than show.
Psycho made them ask me when the “good stuff” was going to start. They were unable to sit through the build-up that led to the shower scene. They wanted the blood and mayhem to begin immediately and screw the story behind it.
But I plan on changing that. One day soon, I am going to find a copy of Dark Night of the Scarecrow or One of My Wives is Missing and watch with them in a darkened living room. And if all goes well, I just may recruit a couple of neighborhood boys to reach through the living room window and scare the living hell out of them just at the climax of the movie.
Because I like scary movies, not horror movies, and I’m that kind Mom.
If you are a fan of horror movies, please check out the upcoming series The Tome of Terror by Chris Workman and Troy Howarth, which is described as “a series of books dedicated to the history and evolution of the horror film, from the silent era to the modern day.” It was co-authored by a friend of mine who is an outstanding writer with an eye for detail, and I am sure that these books won’t leave out a single thing.