In my last post, I listed the films and stories that creeped me out as a kid. The idea was to follow it with a list of what scares me as an adult and look at how things have changed. If that sounds like a bad college paper, don’t worry—I’d never put that much effort into it.
For the childhood list, body horror was a common theme. So what scares me as an adult?
Global coffee shortages, ankle sprains, and car trouble. But let’s keep it to movies…
Here’s the problem: horror movies don’t scare me. A few can inspire a brief sense of unease, but that’s usually as far as it gets. I still don’t like body horror, but that’s a gross-out factor, not the result of real fear.
So I’ll have to fill my list with horror films I thought were original, fun, or that got my pulse up for a scene or two.
The Innkeepers (2011)
The concept is incredibly simple: two employees work at a haunted hotel on its last weekend of operation. Horror ensues. Of all the films on my list, this one got me closest to being scared. How did it accomplish this?
The characters. The two principals are so normal, wonderful, and realistic that it becomes easy to empathize with them and even imagine yourself with them. It’s pure joy to watch the female employee attempt to throw a bag of dripping hotel garbage into a dumpster without getting the juice on her legs.
The hotel is itself is great. On the surface, it’s quite un-scary: in the middle of town, brightly lit, and clean. Nice counter-programming.
The film makes a great investment in sound, too. Not the screeching jump scares most horror films throw at you, but barely audible disturbances that make you lean in to hear.
The Descent (2005)
Women go spelunking, monsters attack. Simple.
My claustrophobia revved up for this one, but it’s the growing madness of the protagonist that makes the film. When a horror movie can end with a candle-filled birthday cake and a smile and have that scene be the best of the bunch, you really have something special.
It Follows (2014)
This would have destroyed me as a kid. Writer/director David Mitchell pulled the film’s supernatural terror directly from his childhood nightmares. He describes a fairly common dream scenario; an unstoppable menace pursues you, but it moves too slowly to get you unless you stop running long enough for it to catch up.
I’ve had that nightmare.
Extra points to the film for never offering any explanation for why the creature exists—perfect.
The Kill List (2011)
A fantastically strange, aggressively British movie that joined my two biggest fears—underground sewage tunnels and a murderous cult of naked senior citizens—into a single scene.
You’re Next (2011)
Equal parts horror and dark comedy. I can’t say much without giving away the goods, only that it’s my favorite twist on the “people trapped in a house and attacked by mysterious killers in masks” genre.
The Witch (2015)
Brilliant. I don’t use that word often.
Most people I know who saw this film were disappointed, and I understand why. It was sold as traditional horror, but its strengths lie elsewhere.
The makers researched the lives of early New England colonial settlers—in this case, Puritans/Calvinists—and did their best to represent that experience faithfully. This includes speech—without subtitles, it’s often difficult to understand the dialogue.
But the conceit is perfect. The film takes all the worst Puritan fears about witches and Satan and makes them literal—and then brilliantly chooses to show what it would mean for the woman who embraces them.
Nothing scary about this film. I just caught part of it the other night and had to mention its hilarious setting—the high-stakes, big-money world of New York fiction publishing!
Even though Wolf appeared before the internet got its hands on the industry, the film imagines a publishing world that probably never existed.
Witness powerful literary agents live the good life in their gigantic New York mansions! See them battle over lucrative book deals and best-selling authors! Watch titans of the publishing industry move and shake the world! Plus, wolves!
The Babadook (2014)
As much a commentary on parenting as a horror film, but so original and stylish that it kept me from lmy telephone machine for the full running time.
The Invitation (2015)
A rare non-supernatural entry on the list. I think The Invitation qualifies as horror, though it masquerades as thriller/suspense for a while. High score on the “creeping dread” index.
The story: A man and his girlfriend attend a party to reconnect with his old friends—and ex-wife—for the first time in years. As his ex-wife and her new husband introduce strange new guests throughout the evening, he starts to suspect (or hallucinate?) a sinister plot against him.
So how does my adult list compare to my childhood list? Body horror doesn’t appear, so I can’t make that connection.
I see one consistent theme here.
Style. Quality. Originality. That’s the rub—before a film can get to me now, it has to satisfy all these other “adult” criteria. As a fan of great storytelling, I’m stuck with it.
It wasn’t like that in childhood—if there was a monster on the screen, I was hooked. But as an adult, if I’m fifteen minutes in and I don’t think I’m seeing something new, wild, or weird, I can’t buy in.
For all of these (except Wolf, my joke entry), it took just a few minutes of run time for me to lean in and think whoa, there’s something interesting here.
I realize this boils down to little more than saying “these are good horror movies,” but it’s what I’ve got. A fairly clear division of what inspires me now vs. what scared me in childhood.
Tell me about some of your recent fav horror films! Do they scare you, or do you just dig the genre?