Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Heath Holland On...Scary Movie Month 2014

by Heath Holland
Eatings and salivations, boys and ghouls! The screams you hear in the distance can only mean one thing: it’s Scary Movie Month! 31 consecutive days of frights, chills, and -- thanks to you guys and your seven word reviews -- the coolest interaction on the internet.

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.
You want to see real horror beyond your wildest imagination? Turn on the news, local or national, and you’ll see reports of war, mass murder, the senseless death of innocents, and even armed killers successfully hiding from authorities in the woods for weeks at a time. Everything from Final Destination to The Hills Have Eyes is playing out in our real lives, RIGHT NOW. This is the stuff that makes me pee my pants and sleep with the light on, and the last thing that I want to do this Scary Movie Month is stack my viewing schedule with real-life horrors in the vein of The Strangers or The Hills Have Eyes. So rather than working myself into a nervous breakdown and spending the month of October in mental hospital a la Laurie Strode in Halloween: Resurrection, this year I’ll be going for movies that don’t hit quite so close to home.

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.
What I’m saying, in other words, is that I’m no longer convinced that you have to totally freak yourself out and give yourself post-traumatic stress disorder to get the most out of horror as a genre. After all, horror can be ANYTHING, can’t it? There’s a lot to be said for horror cinema as a warm blanket that you wrap around you because it can tackle terrifying issues (again, Grandma’s bathroom) in a way that can be downright comforting. An American Werewolf in London has some large themes on its mind and some really great scares, yet it’s a funny movie with cool creature makeup, great music, and an old-school feel that has become a totally safe, comforting film for me.

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.
So this Scary Movie Month, watch what you want to watch. Will you screen slasher movies with killers that can’t be stopped, even by death? Is biological terror, like 28 Days Later and 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!


  1. 3 times you slept with the lights on in your column. And twice you pee-ed in your pants. I'm sensing a trend here ;)

    Just joking of course. Great work Heath.
    My types of horror are all the films caught up in the silly video nasties debacle. I just rewatched the Ban the Sadist videos documentary. I like to look at the videos in the background on the shelves and look for stuff I have not got. And they came up with there own perfect seven word review which I wont post as it is a documentary but i will share here as it's brilliant

    "Video Nasties are Raping our Childrens Minds!

    Your right about the news. Its like the Bill Hicks (RIP) joke when he says. Have you seen the news lately?
    War Famine Death Disease Homeless Recession Depression. Drought. Then Repeat. On a loop. War famine........

  2. I might actually follow you on some of these movies and watch them for my horror marathon I do this month too. great minds think alike!

    1. Andy! Sounds great, sir. You can watch any horror movie at all, we just come here and write seven-word reviews for them when we're done. It's amazing how many clever things people can work into seven words.

  3. I loved this column Heath. I also just discovered the universal monsters thanks to this site and the podcast and I just adore them. I used to be someone who only liked to watch newer things and it took me a long time to realize the charm and beauty of older films. I love all kinds of horror and the great thing about the genre is that it's so varied in content. Sometimes I'm in the mood for violent crazy horror and sometimes I want something quieter and softer. I recently watched the movie the devils rejects and I liked it alot when it came out and have watched it a few times since but man this time it just really rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn't having fun, I was feeling every ounce of mean spiritedness and I really didn't enjoy myself watching it. So I totally get what your saying about wanting the comfort horror and as I get older that's the kind of movies I lean towards. I will however be watching all kinds of horror this month and I'm really excited to explore and reexplore lots of horror films. Thanks so much Heath.

    1. Thanks, Travis! I know what you mean about The Devil's Rejects. I've always really enjoyed that movie and think that it's one of the great horror films of my generation, but the last time we watched it here at the house (last Scary Movie Month) it went over like a fart in church. Circumstances in real life definitely contribute to how a movie plays. Also, I'm glad you've discovered the Universal Monsters! They get better every time I watch them.

  4. I really enjoyed this one Heath! I too love the variety you can get within the horror genre and look forward to watching all types this month!

  5. The Devils Rejects

    "I am the Devil and I am here to do the Devils work"
    Holy crap that scene is intense