Coming to terms with the fact that I’m bad at horror movies, I wanted to think of the ones I’ve seen that worked as intended: scary fun. That means no mention of The Cabin in the Woods or Drag Me to Hell, because as much as I love them, they didn’t scare me. It also doesn’t include The Exorcist, which even as a Protestant, I think is the outright scariest movie I’ve seen, but is the opposite of fun.
And I should probably acknowledge again that I’m absolutely not a connoisseur of horror movies, if only because I avoid anything that seems to emphasize gore, sadism, or torture. But I did enjoy these, at least!
The sequels went too far in the self-aware direction, but I think the first one hit exactly the right balance between deconstruction and old-fashioned teen horror movie. The opening is perfect, because it’s genuinely scary at a level that the rest of the movie couldn’t possibly maintain — but of course, you spend the rest of the movie wondering if maybe it could. I’ve mentioned a few times that I saw this in Novato, CA at a theater running a “tightwad Tuesday” discount night, so the theater was jam-packed, mostly with teenagers. It was one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve ever had, the audience screaming and yelling at the screen at exactly the right times.
A throwback to classic ghost stories that just nailed the tone. I remember being creeped out from beginning to end, even though I could tell pretty early on what was going to happen. This one deserves classic status.
This was originally pitched as an X-Files episode, which is apparent from the tone and the structure; it feels very reminiscent of the best standalone episodes. The inclusion of the unintentionally creepy song “Turn Around, Look at Me” was a brilliant touch. Really, the entire series of movies is based on a gimmick, but what a fantastic gimmick: show the audience a dozen different ways a person can be killed, and then spend minutes letting them imagine all the different scenarios, letting them all play out in their head. The first and third in the series — the ones with Glen Morgan and James Wong’s direct involvement — are still the best, and extremely underrated as clever suspense movies.
I’m not a big fan of the rest of the series, and I’ve been critical of Paul W.S. Anderson’s other movies enough that I think I might have been unfair. But I unapologetically love just about everything in this one. The laser murder hallway is my favorite, a sequence that set up a threat and then kept raising the stakes brilliantly. It set the tone not just for the rest of the movie, but for what I expect from horror/action movies going forward.
Let’s be honest: this is not a very good movie. It’s not even particularly scary; I remember there being a couple of good moments, but the bulk of it is kind of a slog. But that opening sequence is fantastic. It felt like they were setting the bar for how far this movie was going to go, in terms of how many people they’d kill off at once. The CG wasn’t at all convincing, but it still did exactly what it needed to do. I wonder if part of the disappointment of the movie is due to the fact that it can’t possibly live up to the beginning.
10 Cloverfield Lane
I’m not sure if this one is technically classified as “horror,” but I sure watched it like a horror movie. Meaning: filled with dread over what I was going to see next, but too invested to leave. One of the many remarkable things about this movie is that John Goodman’s character here is essentially the same as Walter from The Big Lebowski, reminding us that it was only bowling and Judaism that kept him from being completely horrific.