Sunday, June 20, 2010

Midnight Warrior Attack: What is guaranteed to make you happy?

Dear horror movie bloggers: I love you for updating and giving me reading material and suggesting cool movies for me to watch. But I especially love you for holding participatory events that spur me to quit staring at your sites for long enough to update my own! This is my first Midnight Warriors post for the wonderful The Mike over at From Midnight, With Love. What The Mike does is, he presents a topic, and then we either email him our thoughts or, as in this case, post our own and send him a link.

The current topic is: What's guaranteed to make you happy when it comes to horror, genre or cult cinema? This was a fun topic to kick around. The Mike's list is here; although he kindly insists we do not need to also come up with top 10 lists, I came up with 10 anyway, albeit in no particular order.

1. The woods. Always, anything set in the woods. I grew up on a farm in Tennessee, and at night I would lie awake and think about all the dark forest surrounding the house. What was going on there right now? What creatures were prowling, leaves rustling, unseen things moving through the dark trees? I sleep with the light on when I visit my parents, always. And my favorite horror movies confirm what I always suspected, deep down: There are awful things in the woods and they are going to get you. My beloved "Evil Dead" captures the mysterious feel of the woods late at night so perfectly; "Cabin Fever" does a nice job too, I think, and even M. Night Shyamalan's maligned "The Village" turns that primal dread into a nifty, creepy fable.

2. A dreamy mood. I love a movie that clings to your imagination like cobwebs afterward, trailing gorgeous sticky shreds of mood. I love being haunted by a movie. "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" comes to mind; after watching it, I just put it on again and let it play while I wandered happily around the house, enjoying the music and the creepy water scenes. "Spike" is another one (with another nice eerie score), and so's "Carnival of Souls." I love watching "Evil Dead" at night because it sends me to sleep feeling that way: like I've already been dreaming. Mm.

3. Comedy, but not too much. Such a tricky one. I love the humor in "Evil Dead" but "Evil Dead 2" is almost too much, and "Army of Darkness" makes my head ache. I just like things to be subtle. "Cabin Fever" though is pretty gonzo and it cracks me right up. I also love the vicious black humor of "Hostel," and the loopy insanity of "Spider Baby." Even "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" has some of the most hilarious moments in horror ever -- I love Pam sitting up in the freezer. And then there are the "Friday the 13th" movies, which aren't quite comedies but are impossible to watch straight-faced. Hm. It's hard to get the balance right, but when it's there, oh baby. "Bubba Ho-Tep, "Re-Animator," honeys, I'm looking at you.

4. Gin and microwave popcorn. I don't keep microwave popcorn in the house anymore, but back in my 20s when I was less worried about my girlish figure, my favorite thing after a tough night at work was to fix a giant gin martini, sit down with a bag of popcorn and watch something scary. These days it's usually a baked potato, but still, it's all about the gin and butter. Happy AE.

5. Children. Scary scary children. The floating vampire kid in "'Salem's Lot." Tomas in "The Orphanage." The entire cast of "The Devil's Backbone" (except for that fab teacher with the wooden leg). Is it some kind of psychological anxiety? Is it just that they're small and could creep unseen around your bed at night? Whatever the reason, nothing's as creepy as children.

6. Being surprised. There are jump scares, there's twist endings, and then there's a genuine surprise. Maybe it's taking a chance on an old BBC movie and having it be so scary I actually spit out my drink in terror at one point ("The Woman in Black"). Maybe it's a twist that's more than a gimmick and actually makes you think ("High Tension" -- I realize not everyone will agree with me here). Maybe it's a movie you expected to hate and ended up loving ("The Wicker Man"). When a movie surprises you it becomes yours in a whole different way.

7. H.P. Lovecraft. Darling, elegant, mannered, racist, disturbing Howard. Just trot out his name and I'm happy. It doesn't matter if it's a faithful adaptation like "The Call of Cthulhu," or something that takes more liberties, like the CoC team's upcoming adaptation of "The Whisperer in Darkness." Or something that is completely insane, like "Re-Animator" or "Dagon." Or even something that just requires the adjective "Lovecraftian." I am just happy about the man from Providence.

8. Houses. Anything set in the woods has me. Movies set in houses are much trickier. Done well, they bring your worst nightmares to life: something evil invading the place where you should be safe, making you fight for your life in the exact places you have your cozy daily routines. The best ones make you look around, as you sit drinking tea in your living room, and think : "where are the exits? What could I use as a weapon here?" They force you to think about really nasty logistics. "The Birds," of course, is the classic, as is "Night of the Living Dead." I am also a pretty big fan of "Signs," although it doesn't really turn into a house movie until the very end. Done badly, though, the logistics fall apart and everything becomes confusing: this happens in "Ils" and "Dog Soldiers."

9. This.

10. Fear. That's all. Waking up in the night knowing -- just knowing -- that the old dead woman from "Black Sabbath" is in your doorway. Driving down your street and wondering if, like Mary in "Carnival of Souls," you shouldn't be here. The best horror movies get under your skin, expand your perception, stretch your imagination. Sometimes it hurts, but it's good for you.

Wow, this is long. So much happiness. Also, I clearly need to just dedicate a post to "Evil Dead" already. Thanks, The Mike!


Joe Monster said...

Great post, AE! This is quite of list of happyness mechanisms, most that I can whole heartedly agree on. I really loved your items on the dream mood in horror film and fear. You're a really great writer. Keep up the good work!

Gotta love that Charleston...

AE said...

Thank you, Joe! You're right, I spelled "happyness" wrong -- Will Smith is going to send Jaden after me. I will just let the Charleston play on a loop while they are kicking my ass. But thanks for visiting!

Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, houses are just great! I just watched Scream again last night and was really impressed with the way the houses were used as a setting. ("Which door am I at?" etc.)

But the hotel in The Shining is still the scariest setting ever for me. It's one big, impersonal house for one small family: the best of two extreme worlds.