Of all the articles written for MovieFanFare there is one in particular that seems to have struck a nerve. If you look to the right you’ll see it nearly topping the list of our most popular posts. I’m referring to Movies That Scared Me — When I Was Young.
Regardless of how old one is the films we’ve seen in our youth have made lasting impressions on us. Probably none more so than the horror films which gave us such visceral reactions that we remember vividly to this day.
Though we all fondly recall our own early scares chances are many of the chills we experienced back then are not the ones that frighten us today. Indeed, some creature-features are almost laughably tame when we revisit them. That in no way takes away from our original experience, just that we mature and horror conventions change, giving us a different perspective than that of our younger selves.
So let us expand on the “movies that scared me” theme. If you’re a regular at MovieFanFare you may have read my Images of Horror post. In that article I listed many of my favorite horror scenes from classic chillers. One still gives me the heeebie-jeebies every time I watch it: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Five teenage friends in Texas drive to their old homestead to check out reports of vandalism. Once there, one by one they encounter members of a family like no other. Years of isolation and desensitization from working in the local slaughterhouse have robbed the clan of their humanity. Killing is all they’ve ever known. Early on, when one of them makes contact with the travelling teens he tries to impress them the only way he knows how: by cutting his own hand and showing them his blood. Naturally, they are horrified and toss him out of their van. They do not understand his stunted attempt to connect with them. He is not welcome as a part of their family. And with their rejection he does not view them as “one of us.” Now the young interloping teens are just more cattle to be slaughtered.
Director Tobe Hooper meant the film as an allegory for the television’s depiction of the Vietnam War. In front of Hooper’s eyes carnage and brutality played out night after night on the news with a disturbing lack of empathy. There were monsters in the world alright. Man was the monster.
Empire magazine put it as well as I could have when they described Chainsaw as “the most purely horrifying horror movie ever made.” Not that I have to justify my feelings on the matter by quoting an outside source. It simply creeps me out, and does so in a way that even repeated viewings cannot assuage.
Though it may have gotten a reputation as a filmed bloodbath, Chainsaw is relatively gore-free. Not so with my next entry for this list. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead is a blood & gore-soaked frightfest. Again, five friends are on a road trip, this time going to a remote cabin in the woods for spring break. They are soon beset by unseen demons unleashed by incantations read from a tome (The Book of the Dead) found in the cellar. The grisly tortures that the five go through during the course of one hellish night are extreme to say the least. Admittedly it is not for all tastes, but I feel it is less about the grue than it is about unnerving supernatural evil. In that regard it supplies a barrage of scares that, for me, is more audacious than even The Exorcist. Star Bruce Campbell commented that from the production’s outset “the message was very clear: Keep the pace fast and furious, and once the horror starts, never let up.” Done and done.
The Legend of Hell House
I could have gone with Hellraiser or Jacob’s Ladder for my third and final choice but there’s another film that serves up chills galore. Though some may snigger at it I love the Gothic haunted house tale, The Legend of Hell House. While others may hold The Haunting as their preferred filmed ghost story I have an affinity for this low-budget entry. It is a deeply flawed affair yet it still delivers the goods, filling me with dread & creepy unease with each watch.
The notorious mansion was reportedly the scene of sexual perversions and murders overseen by its sadistic owner, the “Roaring Giant” Emeric Belasco. Now, years later, the manor house is still haunted by the evil spirits of Belasco and his lascivious cohorts. An earlier attempt to rid the house of those poltergeists resulted in calamity, with only one person from that team of experts unscathed from permanent physical & mental harm. An eccentric millionaire enlists that survivor and three other parapsychologists & physicists to spend a week at Hell House re-investigating the supposed “survival after death” that enshrouds the damned place. For their efforts in discovering the real source of the diabolical happenings and to “clean” the house once and for all they will be paid handsomely. If they survive.
We’ve heard—oh boy, did we!—about the early fright flicks that gave you nightmares. Now let’s hear about the movies that scared the bejesus out of you, and continue to keep an evil grip on your psyche. Tell us all about the movies that scared you—and still do!