by Heath Holland
After 334 days of not-so-patiently waiting, Scary Movie Month is finally here! The stack of movies has been piling up for months now and the dropping temperatures outside are a reminder that the dark half of the year is right around the corner. Soon the nights will come early and last longer…and anyone (or any THING) could be waiting in the shadows. This is our Christmas, Chanukah, Valentine’s Day, spring break, and birthday, all wrapped up in one month-long celebration of creepy crawlies that go bump in the night and on the screen.
What’s really exciting is that it seems like a lot of you are about to embark on your very first Scary Movie Month. To the new blood I say “welcome,” and to those returning I say that I’m glad you survived last year’s event.
Speaking of last year, I wrote a piece for this site back then talking about how effective horror can be when it’s something that you believe in. For instance, if you believe in the supernatural (ghosts, demons, the Mothman and his chapstick), or in backwoods rednecks who kill travelers that wander too far off the main highway, or even in the sick consequences that occur when science goes too far and man attempts to play God, your belief in what you’re watching makes all the difference in the experience you have when watching a horror film.
I concluded that writing by saying “as we enter into another Scary Movie Month, I hope that each one of us watches at least one or two movies that are informed by something we believe in. If you believe in ghosts or demons or the people under the stairs, watch a horror movie about that. Get scared. Pee your pants. Sleep with the lights on. That’s what Halloween and Scary Movie Month is all about. If there’s ironic distance in your mind between what you are watching and the safe place that you put yourself in, remove that distance. Expose yourself to your fear. I think you’ll be scared, but you’ll be happy that you were.”
What a difference a year makes.
That’s what makes horror such a great (read: THE BEST) genre. Horror can be anything and go anywhere (hell, space, your Grandma’s bathroom); plus, horror movies frequently deal with real-life terrors that are just too overwhelming or on-the-nose to deal with directly. Most horror films conform to some common theme: serial killers, mass infection by some deadly virus or disease, cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers created by the toxic byproduct of progress…you know, the big, everyday problems. Within that framework, smart filmmakers have the opportunity tackle the darker social concerns such as sexism, racism, consumerism, and other –isms that I can’t think of right now. Of course, some directors just want to put boobs and guts on the screen, and that’s fine, but a well-made horror movie taps into the fears we all have deep within us. In fact, Wes Craven said it best: “horror films don’t create fear. They release it.” I think he was talking about Vampire in Brooklyn.
The same goes for the Universal Monster movies, which are a staple of every Scary Movie Month because of the affection that Patrick and JB have always shown them. When Scary Movie Month started several years ago, I hadn’t seen any of the Universal horrors. Now, though, I consider those movies to be the ultimate comfort films. I love everything about them: the gorgeous black and white cinematography, the sets from Universal’s backlot that pop up over and over again, the performances from legends like Karloff and Lugosi, the unforgettable music, and probably most importantly, the timeless quality that the movies themselves possess. Each year that passes, I’m closer and closer to declaring that the Universal Monsters cycle is the most iconic and coolest bunch of films Hollywood has ever produced. They aren’t particularly shocking or graphic, but they are undeniably horror films.
I think most of us have at least one horror movie that we like to curl up in bed with whenever we’re not feeling well. It’s that metaphorical nature that a lot of the great horror films have which gives them life even when they’re far removed from October 31st. They’re movies that have something to say and that can deal with the inevitability of death and our fear of the unknown in ways that aren’t preachy and are ALWAYS entertaining. A movie doesn’t have to have a severed head being sucked on by a grodie ol’ vampire to be horror. But it does help.
Cabin Fever your thing? Maybe you’re more into the low-budget, pinky-lifted chamber horror of Hammer Films. The fact is, horror (and its sibling, science fiction) is the widest and most versatile genre in all of entertainment, and you can find hundreds of horror films to suit any mood. If you don’t want to scare yourself to death, stick to safer waters. If you do want to freak yourself out and sleep with the lights on, there’s no better time for it than Scary Movie Month. Just be sure to come post your seven word review here at F This Movie! when you’re done. Buckle up, because here we go into the funhouse again.
Happy Scary Movie Month!