Here's a weird thing for a guy who writes zombie novels to admit on Halloween: I'm not all that big on horror movies. Oh, there are a few I love. Enough for a top 10, even. (And if you think you're getting out of this blog post without seeing that top 10, you don't know how Halloween blog posts work.) But I have pretty much the same relationship with the horror genre that I have with rap and heavy metal. Every so often I find myself enjoying it -- when I hear De La Soul, say, or "Ace of Spades" -- but 99% of the time it's simply NFM (Not For Me).
Part of the problem: I'm the kind of weirdo who doesn't enjoy watching people suffer and die. I was very much digging the film Cabin in the Woods recently -- it's a pretty darned amusing meta-riff on horror -- but about 20 minutes in I had to take a break and watch a 30 Rock instead. Why? Because that's when the suffering and dying kicked in. I was having such a good time up till then I almost forgot I was watching a real horror film and not the driest, cleverest, most restrained entry in the Scary Movie franchise.
HYPOCRISY ALERT: I love mysteries and (good) action movies, both of which need bloodshed (and sometimes plenty of it) to fuel themselves. What's absent -- from the ones I enjoy most, anyway -- is the suffering part. There are a lot of bodies in your average Thin Man outing, but terror, torture and dismemberment? Not so much. And James Bond kills, like, 75 anonymous henchmen per hour, but he's not doing it just for sadistic giggles. Somebody's got to blow up that freeze ray, dammit!
So, to summarize. Gunning down a hundred jumpsuit-wearing lackeys: O.K. Chopping half a dozen teenagers into camp counselor pate: not O.K. In my book, anyway.
(And I don't just point the hypocritical finger of judgment at the horror genre, by the way. I absolutely loathe serial-killer thrillers. Really. Loathe! Don't get me started on 'em...and please don't tell my friends who write them.)
But it's not just the cheering-at-the-Coliseum aspect of horror movies I don't like. I'm also irritated in a silly, pedantic way by most depictions of the supernatural. If you say "Candyman" five times while looking in a mirror, he'll come and kill you? Really? Why? And you can send the demon back to Hell if you take Ye Olde Convenient Book of Spells to the top of Mt. Plotpoint and spout Latin mumbo-jumbo at midnight? Why would the universe work like that? I mean, is that midnight according to your wristwatch or the demon's?
No. If you want to spook me with the supernatural, you have to capture the real reason it's unsettling: because it's something we don't and probably can't understand. There are powers greater than us in the universe, and they're capricious and unfathomable and not necessarily nice. Slap a bunch of stupid hocus-pocus rules on them, and you might as well be making Bewitched.
That's why most movies about Satan and demons and ghosts are bunk. They treat The Unknown as not unknown at all. Everything's easily codified and demystified. Confused? Just ask the old gypsy lady/moody psychic/creepy guy at the gas station/"parapsychologist"/mystic/priest -- he/she will explain what's going on. That's why Eraserhead is a creepier movie than Jan de Bont's remake of The Haunting by about a million times. It's freaky, and the movie about a house full of extremely unfriendly ghosts isn't.
Anyway, you get the idea. Horror = NFM...usually. Behold the exceptions!
Steve's Highly Subjective and Probably Not All That Original Top 10(ish) Horror Movies
(1) The Shining (because it is freaky)
(2) The Exorcist (see above)
(3) The Thing from Another World & The Thing (because it's possible to love them both)
(4) Alien & Aliens (see above)
(5) Dawn of the Dead & Shaun of the Dead (see above above)
(6) An American Werewolf in London
(7) Poltergeist (because in spite of the dated special effects and the silly ending no other film better captures what it's like to be a 9-year-old alone in your bedroom at night)
(8) The Ring (see way above, re: freaky)
(9) Pan's Labyrinth (see above's "see way above")
(10) Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (just because)
Honorable mentions: The Legend of Hell House, Return of the Living Dead, Psycho & Silence of the Lambs (because I don't hate all serial-killer thrillers...just most of them), They Live (although isn't it really science fiction?), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the 1978 version, actually...and isn't it really science fiction, too?), The Sixth Sense, Zombieland, Let the Right One In, Tucker & Dale vs Evil and a bunch more good movies I've forgotten but will soon be reminded of...right, guys?