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:


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 over.


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 scary! *scoff*".
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 scared shitless.


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 conductor.


"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.

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