When I asked my colleagues about their “scary movie” memories, I learned two things. None of us really cares for scary movies. And the films we saw when we were young really stick with us. This is likely true for most people.
To quote B.B. King, “The Thrill is Gone.” Horror movies, like roller coasters, lose their appeal as we grow older. Experts give many reasons, including emotional stabilization as you age and a more sophisticated understanding of the mechanism of fear-based story telling.
Also, real life can be a lot scarier than Freddy Kruegar. Ever face an IRS audit or wait for your daughter to come home from prom?
In learning about the psychology of fear and movies, I came across a great interview with three pioneers of modern horror (John Landis, David Cronenberg and John Carpenter). I was surprised by some of their views. Especially that children should be barred from watching their horror movies. Considering the lasting impact scary films had on our tender young memories, I think they were on to something.
Here are some of the movies that we remember.
I grew up minutes from the beach, where I played, swam and surfed from the time I could stand up.
I was 9 years old when Jaws came out. It was rated PG. Because parental guidance was just a suggestion, I went to see it. Huge mistake! I had seen sharks for years, even caught some fishing. Yet somehow, I was more concerned with jelly fish stings and crab pinches than being down downgraded on the food chain. Jaws changed all of that. Still today, thanks to my scariest movie, I must suppress a palpable sense of fear whenever I go in the water.
For example, last year, I had an amazing and unexpected experience paddle boarding with a curious and very large wild dolphin. He swam beside and around me for over 20 minutes. I could have reached out and touched him. The sad thing is that he was so large (close to 10 ft. long) that I was reminded that there also were big sharks in the water. It totally cast a cloud over a wonderful experience. Jaws is the gift that keeps on giving.
Scary comes in many forms. Joe Pesci provides a lot of tension in the movies Casino and Goodfellas. The rawness of slasher movies such as the original Halloween or the more sophisticated presentation of fear in The Exorcist is very memorable. But I’m going to say the most lasting scary for me in the movies has to be in the form of a large and unrelenting shark. Even today, the movie Jaws causes me to change my swimming habits at any beach I might visit.
Okay Rick—I’m not a scary movie person for this exact reason: my 1st scary movie….Cujo. It’s a movie based on a little-known fiction story written by Stephen King.
It was a movie I saw at a sleepover in 1983 (without telling my parents). One well-known jump scare sent me into a brick fireplace where I cracked my head and that injury landed me in the ER, where my parents were waiting.
Interesting facts: some say that Stephen King acknowledges that he was so drunk/high in the 1980s that he doesn’t remember writing Cujo…and the book was banned in 2020 in many states. Maybe I should have started with something a little more tame!
Trilogy of Terror (with Karen Black, 1978). More of a scary movie for my 7 year-old self but that little voodoo doll …).
For me there are two films that I find frightening — The Exorcist (original film in 1973) and Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis (1978). When The Exorcist came out, there had never been anything like that in the theater. It felt so real and horrible. It ushered in a whole new area of horror that we are still experiencing today. And, you can’t get much creepier than the movie Halloween. I think the scene where Michael Myers is tearing into the closet where Jamie Lee Curtis is hiding might be the most terrifying clip ever in the history of movies. Both these films leave you unsettled, wide-eyed at night and looking over your shoulder expecting something evil to suddenly appear.
And then there’s Jaws.
I’m going to go with The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling inching her way through the pitch-black basement looking for Buffalo Bill? No thank you. That’s when I learned I really don’t like scary movies.
I don’t know if I’d call it a “favorite” because I can’t bring myself to watch it again, but The Exorcist certainly made an impression on me. I was a teenager when I first saw it and, having been raised Catholic, the subject matter was particularly disturbing. Aside from the horrible acts and imagery in that movie, perhaps what stuck with me is the fear of losing your volition and being forced to act according to someone (or something) else’s wishes. Autonomy is a fundamental human thing. Having it swiped away and, on top of that, doing horrible things to your loved ones is a terrifying notion.
I’m not a scary movie fan (at all), but I do appreciate Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas from a creative/visual perspective. Sorry, probably not what you’re looking for!
I used to love watching thriller and scary movies but it’s been a long time since having a little one. So my selection goes way back.
The Sixth Sense is suspenseful without all the blood and gore. There was a lot of anticipation and symbolism using the color red throughout. It signaled something scary was around the corner like a red balloon, roses, door knob, woman in a red dress, just to name a few. The twist at the end made this movie memorable for me.
What can I say, little girls are creepy. I saw The Exorcist at a young age and the image of the girl’s possessed face and her body floating up over her bed stuck in my head. Great production for its day. It didn’t help to know that some people believe that this could happen to someone, making it even scarier.
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