Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Is Scary?

I love being scared. I love curling up with my husband on an air mattress in our living room and watching some psychological thriller. The rush of adrenaline. The guessing. I like horror/thrillers that make me think and that still haunt me when the movie is over or the book's last page has long been read.

There are three things that terrify me most:
1) Intelligent, realistic threats that toy with my understanding of the world and help me see it differently.
2) Ghostly/Demonic movies that play off of the supernatural.
3) Creepy Southern People.

These things will have me running from a dark room to a lit room or looking over my shoulder when I swim in a lake. They will even have me getting a car check-up and locking my doors before heading below the Mason/Dixon line (I can say this, I lived in Tennessee for seven years. Very sweet people, generally, but there are some crazy, creepy southerners too.)

Why do these things scare me? Because they can be true. (I know, I know, my fellow friends who are skeptics may not agree with the entire list, but I assure you that creepy southern people do exist!)

In this day and age, it seems there are two types of horror: the startlefest and torture porn.

The startlefest is a movie in which something jumps into the scene and startles me. This is not horror. This is surprise.  The dog knocking over a glass can do that if I'm not prepared for it. I accept that this type of scare is generally a part of building the physical stress of watching a horror film but it's cheap and should not be the only thing driving the scares.

Torture porn are movies like Hostel, Captivity, and some of the Saw films (though at least one or two had some psychological cleverness) where they all try to terrify us with extreme visuals meant to make us weak in the knees. This is not horror to me. This is cheap gross out tricks that are obvious and require no speculation on my part. There's no mystery and no room for the mind to conjure its own definition of what might lay in wait. I just get to sit there while the movie preys upon my sense of compassion and try to imagine how physically awful it must feel to be that person. I don't want my skin to crawl, I want to be so terrified I'm still looking over my shoulder when I get home. I want horror that lasts.

Unfortunately it seems that my type of horror is becoming more rare.

Some of my top terrifying stories are:
1) Silence of the Lambs - The scenes with Hannibal are spectacularly intelligent and even though he's behind the glass, I still fear for the protagonist. 
2) Jaws - Classsssic. Who to this day doesn't think about this movie when swimming in the ocean?
3) Paranormal Activity- Some didn't like this but I found the simplicity of the effects more terrifying than any hollywood horror overdressed in blood, guts, and special effects. 
4) X-Files: Home Episode -- This... yeah. You just need to watch it.   
5) Wolf Creek - Australian for Creepy Southern Folk

The list isn't complete and I would be remiss if I didn't mention there are some really great stories out there that didn't terrify me as much but that I really enjoyed for the power of the story (e.g., Se7en, the Descent, and Dawn of the Dead [remake]).

What about you? Do you enjoy horror? What's the most terrifying story you've ever experienced, either as a book or a movie? Why was it so terrifying?

Photo courtesy of Flickr's Mexia1

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