Movies that truly scare me
When I was a kid, the old Universal monsters – Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Wolfman scared the beejeezus out of me. Imagine sitting in a dark old house, my father in the middle of the couch, my brothers and I are on either side of him, a blanket around us all, close to midnight and our eyes fixed on the television. A woman pulls the mask off a hideously deformed man playing the organ, his face first visible to us (scare one), then he turns to her, (scare two), and finally the camera closes in on the creature as he turns to the woman in full. This was Phantom of the Opera (1925), the first silent film I had ever seen.
Sitting in an Egyptian tomb, a young scientist speaks aloud words from Sacred Scrolls bringing a long dead mummy back to life. We see the eyes gleam with light and the centuries-old mummy moves, coming across the room to retrieve the scrolls and walks into the desert night. The young scientist’s mind cannot handle what he has seen and he begins to laugh, babbling insanely, “He went for a little walk! He went for a little walk!” It was the single most frightening sequence in The Mummy (1932).
Most terrifying of all was Larry Talbot seeing what he dreads most, the full moon. He collapses into a chair and before our eyes, the man becomes The Wolfman, the stuff of many nightmares.
These were the Friday nights of my childhood, off to bed at seven, awakened by my Dad at 11:15 to watch Fright Night Theatre on WKBW out of Buffalo. No doubt this was the place my lifelong obsession for all things cinema was born.
As I grew, I studied the history of film, the development and tried to see everything I could. Genres evolved, and my beloved horror films went through the greatest change. By the time I was a teenager, though, I knew that mummies coming to life, vampires and werewolves did not exist. They were borne of the supernatural tales out of Europe and early America.
In 1960, a truly terrifying monster was unleashed on unsuspecting audiences in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). This was one scary film, mostly because it is plausible. Unassuming, decent looking young boy next door is a serial killer! How often have we heard this on the news? Realism scares me. Authentic portrayals of terrifying events scare the h*** out of me.
Devil worship in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), demonic possession in The Exorcist (1973), a killer Great White shark feasting on bathers in Jaws (1975), a seemingly superhuman killer in Hallowe’en (1978) – these are the kind of films that scare me.
And still, film makers upped the ante. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), John Doe in Seven (1995) – they scare me because they are real possibilities. Brilliant monsters capable of terrible acts of violence, they are both horrifying. Something happening to helpless children, women or the elderly scares me. Serial killers such as Kevin in the terrifying We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) scare me because we hear of them snapping at Columbine or Parkland. They exist, they walk among us, their own parents do not suspect the madness building.
Vicious aliens (because I believe in them) scare me too, especially in Under the Skin (2015), Annihilation (2017) and A Quiet Place (2017) – they all cause absolute raging terror within me. I personally believe that other planets far from us are inhabited and centuries ago they were regular visitors to Earth, but they stopped coming. Why? Did they see the cruel, inhuman acts man was capable of? Perhaps. If they should ever return, can you imagine their intellect, having found us? Their weaponry could be terrifying.
Religion as a cult, as a theocracy both scares and worries me. The Crucible (1996), because it actually happened, frightens me, perhaps more because it has happened since 1692 with McCarthyism in the fairies. Religion as theocracy is dangerous as history has proven, that scares me.
Most of all, mankind itself terrifies me, so films about man’s vile behaviour to one another will always and forever scare the heck out of me. Think of the line “terminate with extreme prejudice” to gain insight into man. Watch Schindler’s List (1993) to experience true horror. Nothing supernatural, just a deep, hate-driven madness causing unspeakable horror. A little girl in a red dress, moving naively through the chaos of the Jewish ghetto, later to turn up dead, on a wagon. THAT, above any type of horror film, was truly terrifying.