Saturday, June 30, 2012

The horror of horror films

Which horror films scared you the most? I was fourteen when The Exorcist chilled me to the bone. I saw the movie at an aunt’s place one late night. It was raining heavily and I had to return home through a dark and narrow alley running through a high-walled home for the aged and a deserted home for the mentally challenged. I made it home safely but swore never to watch a horror film again. It’s now more than three decades, the possessed face of Regan is still fresh in my memory.

Back then, morbid curiosity got the better of me. A couple of days after I saw Regan wrestle Father Karras on the floor and to his death, I watched Friday the 13th and The Omen series over two days, both in the dead of night – when the sands of time trickle slowly through the hourglass of horror.

I have a vague recollection of the many-parts Friday the 13th in which a mysterious entity murders young campers. It was a well-made thriller. 

The Omen was scarier because there was no hideous face to Damien, the antichrist, unlike in The Exorcist. I remember a few scenes from The Omen, most especially the end when a young Damien, having destroyed his family, stands at the top of the stairs of a building, looks in the distance (or at his chauffeur down below) and smiles. At least I think that’s how it went. Damien Thorn was a cute kid who won many hearts; you couldn't believe he was also the devil incarnate.

Incidentally, The Omen was directed by Richard Donner who also gave us the Superman and Lethal Weapon series – a trilogy of supernatural, superhero and super-crime films.

These horror flicks were soon followed by The Entity whose ultimate scary proposition lay in its stalking music, like Jaws. Shut off the sound and you might as well be watching Mel Brooks tickling you to death. Two scenes were spooky – when the invisible entity slaps Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) in front of her dressing table, throws her on the bed and molests her, and when the front door slams in the end, indicating the demon has left for good. Has it really?

Yet another film that freaked me out was An American Werewolf in London, the terrifying metamorphosis of a young tourist from man to beast and beast to man. I saw parts of this cult film a few weeks ago but, thankfully, it didn’t hold.

In the mid-1980s, I saw quite a few horror films that bordered on the ridiculous, like Evil Dead that had a tree raping a woman or something like that, and A Nightmare on Elm Street that didn’t make much sense either; though, it had twenty-one year old Johnny Depp making his dream debut in a nightmare of a film.

Around this time I also saw The Fly on VCR. The 1958 original gave me the creeps, particularly the end scene where the wife of the half man-half fly scientist is forced to destroy it. I think the scientist, played by Vincent Price if I’m not mistaken, pleads with his wife to kill him after she recovers from the initial shock of seeing her husband’s face appended to the body of a fly, perched on a plant in their garden. I’m writing this straight from memory and I hope it’s the way I remember it. 

So, these are some of the horror films that scared the pants off me. How about you?


  1. I have long liked HALLOWEEN for the sheer simplicity of the story and its effects.

  2. The exoricist was the first. The Ring was the most recent. Ghost story scared me half to death but I think that was because I read the book first and was so scared by it.

  3. Ron, thanks for mentioning HALLOWEEN. I recall seeing it many years ago. I should catch it some time.

  4. Charles, I think I have seen THE RING. It looks very familiar after I read what it was about. I saw GHOST STORY a long time ago though I have never read the book. In fact, I haven't read a good horror book for quite some time now.

  5. Fascinating post Prashant. Most of my friends at University in the 80s loved horror films int eh slasher vein it had evolved into by then though I always preferred something with more wit and style, like De Palma's version of CARRIE, Clive Barker's original HELLRAISER, Stuart Gordon's Lovecraftian pastiche RE-ANIMATOR and Brian Yuzna's more nakedly satirical SOCIETY. While I admire the craft behind THE EXORCIST, I was always uninterested in its rather pompous seriousness (in some ways I prefer the second sequel, EXORCIST III for its more straightforward scares).

    The kind of horror I really like is to be found in the black and white Val Lewton / Jacques Tourneur thrillers of the 1940s like CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and Tourner's later NIGHT OF THE DEMON. I also really admire Robert Wise 1961 version of Shirley Jackson's THE HAUNTING and its superior near-remake (or hommage) THE HAUNTING OF HELL HOUSE written by Richard Matheson.

  6. Thank you, Sergio. I watched a lot of horror films in the 80s too but now I studiously avoid watching any unless they are really worth jangling my nerves. I definitely avoid the gross and the macabre. I do, however, watch the odd black-and-white horror film. I must admit I haven't seen any of the films you mention, though I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE sounds oddly familiar. So, thanks again for the heads-up, especially CARRIE, HELLRAISER, RE-ANIMATOR and SOCIETY. I need to check those out.

  7. Well, HELL HOUSE the Richard Matheson novel is homage to Shirley Jackson's THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE that comes dangerously close to plagiarism (the more blatant sexual content is not handled deftly in the novel). I like THE HAUNTING OF HELL HOUSE (the film), but it isn't a touch on THE HAUNTING...but never waste your time with the remake of THE HAUNTING, any more than you want to with the remake of PSYCHO.

    Here're some posts of relevance:
    13 Suspense Films You Probably Should See...
    13 Surrealist, SF, or Fantasy Films Resembling Horror and Suspense Films You Probably Should See

  8. Not to be tiresome in this, but have you seen any genuinely good Indian horror films? I was amused upon my first encounter with a Bollywood horror...which nonetheless was (necessarily) in part a musical, and nonetheless not bad as a horror film.

  9. You were refering to Damien Omen 2 ending on your text. I actually find The Omen(1976) sometimes scarier than The Exorcist aswell.