The View from the Edge of My Seat :
Some of the world's most genuinely scary movies
by Andrew Hall
There aren't really a lot of scary movies out there. Sure, there's
aisle upon aisle of "horror" movies at your video store, but that's
where the fine line comes in. The standards for what makes a horror
movie are basically things like multiple murders by masked or
deformed men, monstrous creatures from other worlds or scientific
experiments gone wrong, paranormal hauntings, that sort of thing.
Most of the time, people are dying for some reason. The only problem
is, the masked men are usually unmasked by the end and either die or
supposedly die and then come back, the origins of the monsters are
explained and their complete appearance revealed to be ultimately not
that big a deal (beforehand you just see flashes of glowing eyes,
bloody teeth, and/or slimy body parts), and the hauntings are either not
paranormal or just explained and eliminated.
Therein lies one of the 3 big problems. You have to ask yourself,
"What scares humans the most?".
The answer you'll usually get is,
"What they don't understand.".
There you go, we've identified one
of the biggest problems with these movies; the scare is explained.
What happens then? Usually, you're not scared anymore. How do you fix
this problem? Don't explain the scare tactic. If it's a perfectly
normal human being (except maybe in the mind), there's not much you
can do until you get down to their reasons.
Another problem is, the scare is usually stopped in the end. There
may be various, failed attempts throughout the movie, but it's over
by the end. The masked man is caught and/or killed, the monster is
killed, all the questions are answered.
Then, of course, there's the motive. The masked man is exacting a
revenge on specific people or specific types of people, the monsters
are predatorial or just hungry, the ghosts want people out of their
homes. You can usually mix this in with the scare being stopped.
So, how do we make a scary movie? It's as simple as taking the
answers from above, and doing a 180. If the scare isn't flat-out human, don't explain what it is.
Unfortunately, there aren't many scare tactics you can run with
without seeing what's scaring you. You have to see the human, even if he is
masked. You have to see the monster, even though if you have the best
animatronics and/or computer rendering there is, the monster will
almost always seem buffoonish.
Whatever it is, it can't be stopped. Humans that can't be stopped are
usually the masked men that either only allegedly died and then come
back, or guys like Jason Voorhees, who seem immortal. The problem is,
these fiends only express their cheap unstoppability through multiple
sequels. It's much scarier to try and do it all in one movie.
Scary ghost movies usually occur in haunted houses, or possession-
based movies. If you can't exorcise the problem from house and home,
you can either run away from the house (leaving the ghosts still unstopped), or the ghosts will either trap you or follow you wherever
you go. The scariest use of this device comes with applying it to
monsters. Sure, you can just blow up the genetically engineered super-
bear, or electrocute the little space goblins all at once. What about
an uncurable virus? A monster that multiplies or gets worse the more
you try to destroy it?
Why are people dying? To make it scary, you basically have to go nuts
and ask, "Who cares?!". Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger kill only
teens. Son of Sam kills only long-haired brunettes. What's the
problem with that? Adults and short-haired blondes aren't scared of
being killed. Most monsters kill for no reason, but once you see
them, you're not scared.
Humans are scared of the unknown. They don't want to deal with what
they don't understand. If you don't want to deal with it, you don't
want to be in the movie. If you're too scared to even watch the
movie, you don't want to be in the movie. If you don't want to be in
the movie, then you wouldn't want to be in the situation that the
people in the movie are in. You don't want to have to board your
doors and windows up to keep zombies out. You don't want to leave the
planet to avoid an airborne disease. You don't want to wake up with
friends and family seeming like totally different people. Scary
movies that cause you to feel this way usually have an unstoppable
force that grows in strength, and DO NOT HAVE A HAPPY ENDING. If you
don't feel safe throughout the movie, what's scarier than a complete
lack of the proverbial "knight in shining armor"? If you're not happy
in the first place, and you're not happy at the point when you think
you should be happy, what chances do you have of EVER being happy?
Here's some movies that do a good job of keeping you up at night, and
looking over your shoulder at every turn, in no particular order of
fear-factor or favortism:
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD - 1985
Night Of The Living Dead (60's) helped a great deal in making the
concept of zombies widespread. What we're introduced to is the idea
of unburied bodies suddenly becoming...well, not dead. Common
misconceptions that people who haven't seen the original have is that
zombies come from the grave, eat brains, that sort of thing. These
rules don't apply to the first film. The bodies are unburied, and eat
only flesh. Return Of The Living Dead (ROTLD) says that the original
movie "actually happened". The person who created the film witnessed
government chemicals accidentally causing corpses to "move about".
The goverment said he couldn't tell anyone, but they let him proceed
with making a movie with reanimated bodies, under completely
different circumstances. The original bodies were successfully
contained. The canisters containing the bodies were to be sent to be
destroyed, but a few accidentally made it to a medical supply
building. This is where the plot comes in. 2 men are working at the
supply office. The one who's worked there for a long time tells the
new guy about the canisters, and shows them to him in the basement.
A simple slap to the side of one of the containers, and the gas
circulating within the canister leaks out, knocking them out, while also
circulating through the building's air system, into a freezer with the
building's single cadaver. The men wake up, feeling sick. They hear
the cadaver pounding on the freezing door, screaming. They call
another employee to come over and help. They let him out, and try to
destroy the brain to kill it again, as in the original movie; this
doesn't work. They chop it up and cart the bodies to the neighboring
funeral home. Their friend working there is attacked by one of the
still-moving arms, and helps burn the body parts in the building's
crematorium. The resulting smoke goes up
through the chimney, mixes in with the impending rain clouds, and the
rain comes down on the neighboring graveyard.
You get the idea of
what happens next : hundreds of zombies (with wicked makeup,
especially the "tar-man" and the legless zombie) running around
screaming, determined to (I know this sounds lame, but) eat your
brains. There is a reason for this, but that doesn't save anybody, especially when the final solution doesn't work in the long run. All
in all, the zombies can't be killed, are very smart and flexible, and
burning them's a bad idea. These are zombies at their best. These are
zombies meant to scare the shit out of you, and they do. I dare you
to sit in the driver's seat of an ambulance, have the passenger door
swing open, have a screaming zombie literally lunge at you, and not
be scared. Many fansites on the net will tell you this is a comedy-
horror movie. This is wrong; there are a couple of humorous sight-gags and
lines (the pinned-down butterflies moving their wings, zombies using
ambulance and cop-car CB-radios to request more cops and paramedics),
but they don't quite add up enough to constitute even a half-comedy.
This isn't just a night of the living dead... it's an environment for
a never-ending nightmare.
THE THING (80's)
Another remake of a much older film, again being much scarier. The
original tells the tale of an arctic outpost that encounters a
spaceship. The single being inside is a hulk of a being that thrives
in cold temperatures, and seemingly can't be killed. In the end, we
find it doesn't like heat, and they burn it into a midget (there's a
funny outtake photo with the giant and midget actors standing side-by-
side in costume). The remake stars Kurt Russell. Again, same setup as
before, but instead we have a shapeshifting creature that, again,
doesn't like heat, but is much, MUCH harder to kill, let alone even
find in the first place. What makes this one hell of a scary movie is
a mix of genuinely grotesque animatronics, the fact that the creature
can increase in size via "consuming" more and more people (even after
shapeshifting into a much smaller being) and the possibility that this
being makes the transfer from an arctic outpost with less than 10
people to...well, the rest of the world. The death and alien-
transformation scenes in this movie are so intense, so brutal, so
gory, it's insane. People are screaming, the alien is shrieking in
it's own way, nobody has a good time for the rest of the movie. If
you're a true horror fan, you won't be smiling until long after it's
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
If you don't like scary movies, you probably don't like this movie.
In fact, if you've seen it, you've probably tried making fun of it.
Those who saw it in theatres got carsick from the shaky handheld
cameras being projected on such a huge screen. People who think
they're funny like to say, "Ooh, they're lost in the woods, that's so
3 college students undertake a film project, doing
a small-budget documentary on the legend of the Blair Witch
occurances in a small town and its large woods. Yes, they do get
lost in the woods, and no, it's not as simple as not having a map or
compass; they DO. They lose the map later, but that's AFTER they get
lost, and yes, weird and spooky things do start to happen. Using the
compass, they walk in one direction for an hour, and end up back
where they started (no, not the start of the movie). Nobody knows
they're out there, nobody SHOULD be out there, and yet there's weird
stick figures and rock formations appearing out of nowhere. There's
the sounds of large branches snapping in the distance, children
laughing, and something completely different eminating from all
around as they try to sleep. We don't see anything, no answers come
up, and yet the ending is still too scary (and GOOD) to give away. The
fear that this film goes after, the thing in people that this film
aims to trigger, is fear of the old term, "what goes bump in the
night". Not everybody is a camper, including myself. For most people, if you're in any
environment, be it home, the woods, whatever, and you know that no
strange noises should be going down, you know that sounds that can only
be made by another living being should not be occurring, you're
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (70's)
One more remake, scarier than the original. The original has pods
from another planet replacing humans, leaving duplicates that are the
same in every way, but with an overt lack of emotions, and a
determination to replace the entire world with a logical reason.
There's 2 distinct differences between the films (other than the
actors, although one actor, the director, and Robert "for no reason"
Duvall make cameos). For one, the remake does an absolutely
phenomenal job of being scary as hell, including great makeup
effects. Secondly, there isn't a happy ending. It's simple, but
you'll feel like the victims do. Nothing goes right for the heroes,
even when hope seems to shine through.
This barely makes the list. There's a reason, the threat is stopped,
there's a happy ending. The fear factor rides on the possibility of
the threat occurring in real life. It's VERY possible, in fact. A
monkey is shipped in from another country, scratches up the pet shop
owner who bought it, and then eats part of a banana which is then
fully eaten by a delivery boy. The delivery boy flies home, and his
loving girlfriend makes out with him in the airport, even though he's
pale, sweaty, and very sick. What's the problem? No, it's not just a
jerk of a monkey. It's carrying (yep, you guessed it) a super-virus
from the depths of the forest of another country. It makes you sick
as hell and can kill you in under a week. Anyways, people get sick,
some scientists make a connection, make sure no bodily fluids are
swapped again, find the escaped monkey, develop a cure, save the day.
Problem solved? Oh, sorry, we're only a third of the way through the
film. Let's have the virus mutate into an airborn disease. They
didn't know the airplane boy had it until it got airborne, so now
everybody he shares a room with picks it up, which gradually becomes
an entire small town. This is actually a very well acted, extremely
suspenseful movie. They find the monkey and make a cure, but they
have to let the army know before they napalm the town. It's more of a
suspense movie, but as stated, it's the concept that's scary. It's a
VERY REAL, VERY SCARY concept.
Pretty short list, eh? Well, I haven't seen every horror movie there
is, but there's plenty that look too ridiculous to be scary. Don't worry, though, there's some movies that have the right stuff, even if
not from start to finish:
This is the first in a trilogy of movies - Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2,
and Army Of Darkness. These films have a cult following, especially
ED2. I'll bet there's alot of ED2 fans yelling, "What's wrong with
this guy? ED2 is better!" Yes, yes it is. Some think ED2 is a sequel
to ED1, but it's actually a comedic remake, meaning the first one's
not funny. It's not terribly scary, either. It's a little college-
student-budget type of movie. It still does a good job of being
pretty creepy in a some spots. And hey, there isn't a happy ending.
A good example of how much a director (Stanley Kubrick) will mess
with a book-to-movie transfer if the original author (Stephen King)
doesn't have a lot of input. To say the least, Jack Nicholson helps
make this movie a lot scarier than it would otherwise be. This is a
total haunted-house movie, but it's just as much a Jack-Nicholson-is-
a-psychopath movie. The house is haunted in the first place, and Jack
loses his mind via some supernatural interference mixed in with cabin
fever. And hey, director Stanley Kubrick is a bit of a control-freak-
jerk in his own right. All in all, you've got a great movie anyways.
On a side note, the 90's made-for-TV remake stuck VERY close to the
book (from what I saw, I missed most of it), making it a 3-part, 6-
hour project. Steven "Wings" Weber replaces Nicholson for some
reason, but I don't hate the guy. Stephen King obviously had a hand
in this, as, true to his style, he makes a cameo as a ghostly band
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (90's)
"Return Of The Livng Dead" was a sequel. This was a remake, and a good
one. This sticks VERY close to the original; there's practically
little or no differences. Other than the main female character going
from grief-stricken half-mute to a butch-lesbian-looking/acting gun-
toter, it's just a matter of dialogue. Tony "Candyman" Todd plays the
hero, doing a great job. The zombie makeup effects are great, and the
movie is very scary. Like the original, the zombies are stopped in
the end, but otherwise, it's a really good, scary movie.
All Jademyst.com submissions displayed are the legal property of their respective authors, and as such cannot be duplicated without permisssion of the author.
In other words, plagiarism=bad; either write your own stuff or ask the author if you can use this.
Back To Essays