Crossfader’s Super Spooky Listicles: Horror Movies for Sissies
I hate scary movies. My friends invite me to watch scary movies when they want me to feel included but they don’t actually want to hang out with me (I appreciate the gesture, guys!). Fortunately, there are a few great scary movies out there that have enough bite to appease the die-hard horror fans, but are gentle enough for the weak constitutions of those of us who prefer to go an entire day without changing pants. Some of these films place more emphasis on psychological creepiness than cheap jump scares, while others are just plain fun to watch. So, my fellow non-horror fans, see below for some proposed amendments to your die-hard friends’ next movie night (and for those of you who can’t wait to catch the latest Japanese/German/demon/gorefest/body mutilation flick, consider those listed below if you ever want to cut us a break).
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (The “Not-Really-Horror-But-Everyone-Loves-It”)
The debut of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost’s famous “Cornetto Trilogy,” SHAUN OF THE DEAD bills itself as “A romantic comedy. With Zombies.” and it couldn’t be more spot-on. Non-horror fans will identify with titular Shaun, a recently-dumped average dude whose life is so boring that he hardly even realizes when everyone around him turns into drooling, shambling husks. Most of the humor stems from just how average Shaun is, particularly in one memorable scene where Shaun fights off an oncoming walker with old vinyl records – sifting through carefully so he only throws the records he doesn’t like. While decidedly not a “horror film” by any stretch of the imagination, this hilariously dark comedy still stands out as a classic in our modern world inundated with zombie films, and let’s face it: it’s also easily among one of the greatest zombie films of all time, period.
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (The “So-Bad-It’s-Good”)
If you forget about the rampant racism, sexism, and bottle-your-emotions-up-until-you-die-ism, the 1950’s were a pretty great time – especially when it comes to campy horror movies. Master of hokey horror William Castle’s opus, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, has to be seen to be believed (if you didn’t watch the trailer, seriously, do it – I’ll wait). When it comes to spooky B-movies, this is the Holy Grail. It’s got Vincent Price’s floating head, spooky wobbly skeletons, chocolate syrup blood, and a crazy old witch on a skateboard. Maybe Castle thought that if enough people onscreen were screaming, everyone would think it’s scary (likely, considering the premise of THE TINGLER he released the same year). Either way, this little gem is readily available online and is the perfect addition to a Halloween party with adult beverages involved.
VERTIGO (The “Scary-When-You-Really-Think-About-It”)
Non-horror fans can usually catch a break with the psychological thriller, but Hitchcock never lets his audience get too comfortable. VERTIGO premiered to middling reviews, but has since been honored repeatedly on AFI’s “100 Years… 100 Movies” list and has garnered the number one spot in AFI’s top ten mysteries. Hitchcock blamed the movie’s initial failure on Jimmy Stewart being too old to play a convincing romantic lead for co-star Kim Novak, but Stewart’s portrayal of an acrophobic detective’s descent into madness is one of the most chilling I have experienced. This isn’t a film that jumps out and scares you. This is a film that plants a seed in the back of your mind and makes you feel a little off for days. If you can stick it out through the somewhat slow build-up, the second half is a masterpiece of suspense.
EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (The “Over-The-Top-Crazy”)
When horror fans have seen it all, what’s the next step? Make fun of it, of course! If SHAUN OF THE DEAD is “comedy that is also horror,” EVIL DEAD 2 is a true “comedy horror.” I have found a safe haven in the arms of comedy-horror, from classics like Wes Craven’s SCREAM quartet to more recent films like Shyamalan’s THE VISIT, but my introduction to what is now one of my favorite subgenres was EVIL DEAD 2. After being strong-armed into sitting through this one, nothing was more satisfying than the moment I saw a manically laughing zombie deer head mounted on a cabin wall and thought, “Oh! This is supposed to be funny!”. If your aversion to horror stems from the hyper-realism prevalent in modern films, you may enjoy this one more than you expect. Between the DIY practical effects and Bruce Campbell’s famous chainsaw arm, it’s a “groovy” choice for any horror or non-horror fan.
JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (The “When-You’re-Ready-To-Ramp-It-Up”)
Indebted to 1951’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, which was based on the short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, this one’s a milestone in the horror canon. Drawing inspiration from that one Twilight Zone episode everyone had to read in eighth grade, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” Carpenter’s tale of paranoia, suspense, and stunning practical effects is undoubtedly chilling (no pun intended). For my fellow horror-averse readers, I must warn you, this one is actually kind of scary. However, this is the first “scary” movie I ever saw and liked. Here’s why: I always thought that horror films were all about jump scares and cheap thrills. But THE THING proved me wrong. This one combines the over-the-top craziness of EVIL DEAD 2 with the psychological terror of VERTIGO (also, Keith David!). If you feel that you’re up to the challenge, this is a whip-smart and gripping entry-point to higher level spookiness.