Published on October 12th, 2019 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Kim Thinks About Horror (A Halloween Op Ed)
Kim doesn’t like horror movies. Or, hey, maybe he does. Either way, he ponders what horror means to different people and talks about his favourites.
Let’s get something out in the open straight away — I don’t like horror movies. When a friend asks, Do you want to watch a horror tonight? my answer has never wavered: not a chance! So needless to say, I am not an expert on the genre and it feels weird to write an article about something I know very little about. But, hold on — it turns out I do like (some) horror movies. In the same way that no one would ever describe me as a massive fan of rap, I happen to love me some Run the Jewels, Public Enemy, Ice Cube and Beastie Boys.
I recently discussed favourite horror movies with a few friends, and realized that it’s a very slippery definition. Not everyone defines horror in the same way, and the biggest divide lies with suspense vs. gore. For some, the bloodier, the more sadistic, the more saws and screams, the better. For others, the taunt suspense and supernatural insinuations tunes them in. And for some movies that pop up in the Greatest Horror Movies of All Time lists, it seems that a few have been grandfathered in.
Is Psycho a horror movie? That’s the heading you find it filed under, but in 2019 that movie seems to be more of a suspense/drama/psychological thriller than a horror. But then I remember poor Marion in the shower, stabbed again and again and again. This has to be one of the most horrifying and skin crawling on-screen murders of all time (a scene that could be examined and dissected in an article all its own).
Or how about Jaws? That movie basically destroyed beach life all over the world, as anyone who watched Jaws refused to swim at the YMCA for the rest of their lives (let alone the goddamn ocean. That thing is full of sharks!).
I know that when people love horror movies, they love horror movies, and my rudimentary and ignorant list is probably missing some obvious flicks, or it includes movies that are not what you would consider horror. But I’m trying to figure out what makes me like one and not another, and I know that there are probably a dozen great movies out there that I would like if someone steered me in the right direction. So for you avid horror fans, this list is for you to sneer and snicker at, but for those casual fans of the category it might inspire you to take a chance on a movie you might like but have been avoiding because it’s ‘horror.’ The real trick here was making a list of movies I actually love, not just what I think you want to hear or agree with. Here we go:
Attack the Block (2011) – equal parts laughs and scares, this UK monster mash shows that there is a dangerous down-side to hanging out with drug dealers.
Poltergeist (1982) – made me scared of ghosts, kids, televisions and home ownership.
IT (2017) – Stephen King’s coming of age story for a group of kids that is punctuated with skin-freezing fear in the form of a macabre clown.
28 Days Later (2002) – Danny Boyle departs from his comfort zone and provides us a Romero influenced update of the zombie movie before we just beat that whole fucking topic to death (I’m looking at you, Walking Dead).
Evil Dead 2 (1987) – From the bowels of hell and an ancient book of spells made from human flesh come some big-belly laughs.
The Shining (1980) – a family isolated from civilization and a man swallowed by madness? Classic Jack.
Carrie (1976) – the ultimate revenge on your high school bullies.
The Thing (1982) – basically, the first X-Files episode ever.
Dracula (1992) – a much needed update by Francis Ford Coppola that tells the classic vampire story as it was meant by the book – as a love story, first and foremost.
Get Out (2017) – Jordan Peele directs this brilliant, subtle, creeping portrayal of a seemingly ‘normal’ family that is anything but.
Psycho (1960) – so much more than just the famous shower murder, the first popularized movie of its kind.American Werewolf in London (1981) – my absolute favourite for atmosphere, and a landmark in special effects.
There are a bunch of obvious movies missing from this list. But for my money, I am not going to watch Leatherface pirouette around like an inbred, zombie-infected cannibal sawing up screaming girls. Not for me, mate. And same goes for Pinhead, Candyman and Freddy (although I do like his sweater. I think it looks smart). The Exorcist isn’t on that list because I’ve never seen it. Hey! I said I wasn’t an expert on horror films.
There’s also a list that didn’t make the cut because I couldn’t see anyone agreeing that horror would be the correct category. A few of those include Tremors (1990); Aliens (1986); Silence of the Lambs (1991); Shaun of the Dead (2004); Zombieland (2009) and Frailty (2002). I have seen all of these on Top Horror Movie lists, but I see them more as sci-fi, comedy or drama. Again, it depends on your criteria for definition and that can be accurate and misleading at the same time. Here is the best example I can think of and I’d like you to play along. The following movie description is from TV Guide in 1998 (see if you can guess the movie):
Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.
Think on it for a minute. Many of you readers have probably heard this one before as it went ‘viral’ (whatever that meant in 1998). If you don’t know and can’t guess, you’ll kick yourself. But the accuracy of the description is based on how you see the movie. Some might say the movie Scream (1996) is not true horror, just horror satire. Great horror movies might make you laugh or become ridiculous at times or have a relatively low body count and maintain their credibility, while some might check all the boxes for required horror definitions and still miss the mark. Did you decipher the TV Guide description form above yet? It’s the Wizard of Oz (1939). Hardly a murder mystery, let alone a horror, but witches, murder and evil flying monkeys beguile the true nature of the film.
Nothing inspires a good horror movie marathon like Halloween and I always enjoyed Sleepy Hollow (1999), yet that movie is on nobody’s list of top horror movies. Evil forest, decapitated victims, a headless horseman dispensing death and unleashing hell, it seems to have all the elements. It’s even directed by the Master of Mood, Tim Burton. But something about that movie makes me feel hesitant to recommend it as a horror movie. One that would fit the genre would be House on Haunted Hill (1959) with Vincent Price, maybe best known for his narration and maniacal laugh on Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982). I love this idea! Strangers lured to a secluded mansion with the promise of some serious money if they can survive the paranormal night. And yet, that whole premise is just a stones throw away from being Clue (1985) and Clue isn’t a horror movie, it’s a fucking board game.
The subjective nature of what makes a horror movie credible and recommendable is possibly more varied than any comedy, action or drama. While one person is freaked out by Chucky, the next person finds the idea of a murderous doll laughable. And I’m not sure where my tastes fit into the grand scope of all the slasher and horror flicks that I have (mostly) avoided my whole life. I’m trying to open up because I’ve liked almost all things Stephen King, and he has so much (he’s got to be the only best-selling author that’s written more books than he’s read), I can look at twenty movie titles and not immediately recognize that they were all his works. And yet, he doesn’t have the whole market cornered for horror.
So, what are your Top Twelve movies for Halloween? Having read my scratching-the-surface understanding of the category, what can you recommend? I can tell you that my limit is set when hopelessness steps in. Once the movie just becomes screaming and crying and torture and guts and there’s no way out, I’m done. If I wanted to be cornered by bleak and truly horrifying circumstances, I’ll call my bank. Horror movies should provide thrills and chills and frights, yes, but they also need character, mood, story and direction, just like any other style of movie. Go on, then. What’s your Top Twelve?