So, it’s spooky season, Halloween time, and some of y’all are going to want to settle in with someone you’re trying to hit on and try to get them to put their arm around you (or yours around them or whatever floats your metaphorical boat). It’s a time-honored tradition. I don’t like horror movies, actually, but I still pull that trick, because, hey, a little bit of shared terror does wonders for the psychological bonding of a relationship. It’s why I pay people to randomly scare my girlfriend and me at unexpected times.
Since this is the only time of the year that I watch horror movies, though, I want to make some suggestions and recommendations based on my personal list. The real reason I don’t like horror movies that much is because too many of them are just gory and jumpy as opposed to truly, deeply unsettling. It’s the difference between “Hostel” and “Vertigo,” for example.
“Vertigo” is probably the most unsettling movie I’ve ever seen. It deals so well with the nature of the obsessive that it has the effect of completely unsettling the viewer, if the viewer gets into it. I will note that the movie is unambiguously from a male perspective (Hitchcock’s movies are almost always about the male gaze), so I’m not sure how women will respond. I would be creeped out by it, I think, given a different gender perspective. I’m certainly creeped out by the male aspect of it, and I don’t really like to think about Jimmy Stewart anymore. He scares me in the best way: the deep, scarring personality-changing way that comes from a properly done horror movie.
Similarly, don’t watch any of the “Saw” franchise or most of the “Friday the 13th” or “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchises. Some of them have their moments, but most of them are obsessed with grossing people out or creating an object of unimaginable terror. That’s a problem with me. Sure, it might be difficult to walk near a lake at night after seeing one of the Jason movies, but that’s not a real fear. You know there’s not some mythical undead superman with a hockey mask trying to chop you to bits with a machete. Or you should, if you have any sense.
The problem with these movies is that they don’t delve into the actual unseemly and grisly parts of human behavior. They substitute such outlandish stuff that it prevents an honest exploration of the bad things about humans. They’re escapism in the exact same way of frat-boy farces, romantic comedies, superhero movies and, well, just about everything Hollywood produces. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but don’t expect deep thoughts about the human condition from these movies.
Instead, go see a movie like “The Shining,” “A Clockwork Orange” or “Full Metal Jacket,” to name a trio of Kubrick films that will make you wholly depressed about the inherent nature of man. Sure, they have jumpy moments like girls and blood in elevators, but they have a deeper meaning to them that will make you feel terrible on a much deeper level.
And that’s what true horror is. Not this teenager-killing crap that people go to feel terrified in a completely controlled way. Kubrick’s movies in particular make you terrified in an uncontrolled way, and that’s way worse. Meaning better, if you value your own utter despair as something to be treasured.
And if you really want to go all out this season, go rent or buy “Mulholland Drive.” It not only has one of the best set-up jumpy scenes in recent memory (don’t look it up, be surprised, you’ll thank me), it’s filmed, shot and written to be as close a representation of dreaming as possible. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you view the scenes as representing the broad emotions of the id. Scenes aren’t there or in a certain order to make you understand the plot; they’re there to completely unnerve you the way a literal nightmare would. When I first saw it, I wasn’t right for days. Do yourself a service and turn off all of the lights and try and get into the movie and figure it out. Don’t be consciously ironic or self-aware. Let the movie take hold of you and get completely anxious and ill for days afterwards. Be horrified. After all, isn’t that why horror films are made?