inventory of fear: my favorite horror films not just for Halloween

I have written before about my love for horror/scary films, and particularly the Twilight Zone. In my freshmen comp. class we're working on a project where we focus in on a specific part of our identity. When I was giving examples in class and in the prompt I talked alot about my horror film geek identity and how it's connected to me. I've been watching the History Channel this week after my friend, De, told me there were a lot of Halloween-themed shows on. One of the most interesting ones focused on why and how we experience fear. It talked both physiologically and culturally about fear and I found it really fascinating, especially when they explored the most common fears we share: drowning, snakes, buried alive, being burned, rats, terrorism. I was surprised to see rats as part of the program on common fears. I mean, yes, they're creepy and carry diseases, etc but I had no clue that it was so common to be terrified of them. I am crazy afraid of rodents. When I was in high school, an opossum got into our garage and when I went to take the trash out, it was standing on a table or shelf above the garbage cans. I screamed and slammed the door and ran inside. No one else in my family saw the opossum but I was totally freaked out. Finally, someone else (my father or brother) took out the garbage and the opossum was in the bottom of the can. I was glad I did not see it again. I do not like squirrels, or guinea pigs or hamsters. They all freak me out. I am not a big fan of spiders but I'm not freaked out by them the way M is. I have noticed that I have nightmares about rats/mice when I am really worried or stressed about things. It's how my fear or stress manifests, I suppose. And though neuroscientists talked about where fear is located in the brain, they did not go into nightmares, but still it was just really wild to see what happens physiologically when we are afraid.

It's fascinated me for years that as humans, we are the only species who scare ourselves on purpose. We watch scary movies, go to haunted houses, ride roller coasters, bungee jump and do other x-treme kind of sports. We get as close as we can, in many ways, to death but in a way that triggers our fears but doesn't kill us. One of the scientists spoke about fear and arousal, which was something I'd thought of while working on a project a few years ago but to hear it explained from a neurological standpoint certainly added to my understanding. What is so interesting to my about fear is how we manage it. Some people only appreciate true crime, for example, stories about serial killers, etc. While others prefer ghost stories or psychological fear. We seek out fear in various ways and some try to avoid it altogether. I enjoy many genres of horror films but I love monster stories, the more fantastical and outrageous, the better. It's easier for me to separate myself from those kinds of stories than the ones that have happened or that could happen. I prefer horror that focuses on situations I'm unlikely to find myself in, because I need a way to distance myself. So, for example, the Friday 13th films never bothered me because I don't go camping whereas Halloween scared the crap out of me because I babysit and The Shining terrified me because it's about madness, and that can happen to anyone. I prefer a kind of intellectual horror, if I'm going to be snobby about it, films that wink at themselves or ones that really create tension in what you don't see. I love suspense films for this exact reason and have adored Hitchcock since I saw Psycho though I think my favorite is either Dial M for Murder or Marnie. I can't quite decide, though I also love Rear Window for its comments on voyeurism.

Part of the student project is to create an annotated inventory based on the narrative identity. So here are some of my favorite scary movies, not just for Halloween, but any time you're up for it. These films are here because they truly scared me. And because, I think there is technique, and skill involved in each of the stories( that there are stories, speaks for itself).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a German expressionist film about an insane hypnotist, Dr. Caligari who controls Cesare, his performing somnambulist (and murderer), from a state of sleep. The film is like a strange nightmare with twisted alleys, lopsided doors, cramped rooms, overhanging buildings, and skewed cityscapes.

The original 1978 Halloween as I said is my favorite. The opening sequence Michael Myers as a young boy shot from Myers' point of view is chilling. The scariest moments of the film for me are the moments you see and then don't see Myers. He appears and vanishes throughout the film, you're never sure where he's going to show up, which creates the bulk of the tension in the film.

The Hitcher (again, the original 1988 (I think) version with Rutger Hauer) has some of the most awful and grotesque scenes as Hauer terrorizes the main character. Hauer is excellent as the film's antagonist; he can do so much with a glance or leer. What is so great about the film is the silences, particularly in the opening scene. The entire film is just heavy with this horrible possibility. It seems nothing is off limits for John Ryder (Hauer's villain) and what the terror of what he will do next is only met by the horrible things we see him do. Definitely skip the remake of this and see the original, if nothing else but for Hauer's performance.

Wes Craven's 1972 version Last House on the Left still stands as one of the most difficult films for me to watch. (I have not seen the remake, though I hear it is very good). It features the terrifying ordeal of two teenage girls who are kidnapped by a group of sadistic escaped convicts. It is horrible in its realness, psychological violence and overall terror. It taps into parents' fears as well as the idea that we're all capable of violence, of monstrosity in the name of something and here, it's revenge.

The Descent is a British horror film about a cave expedition gone awry. I've never considered myself claustrophobic, though I certainly don't like confined spaces. This film, though, is about tight, confined and dark spaces and all that might lay in wait. I stopped this film twice before finishing it because I needed a break. I felt like I couldn't breathe; it has such a visceral impact. The crawlers are truly creepy, particularly because we seem them in shadow and flashlights and we're never completely sure what, exactly, they are only that they pose a danger.

Drag Me to Hell is brilliant in its approach to horror. Many reviewers have mentioned its kind of throwback style, the way Raimi (the director) uses sounds, cats, creepy cars, instead of relying on guts and gore or physical torture. Raimi uses humor to cut the tension and even some of the horrible moments have a hint of humor. It's amazing that something so terrifying comes with a PG-13 rating, which typically waters down the horror genre and ends up cliché and lame. But Raimi is able to achieve, perhaps because of those limitations. He is creative and clever as a director and the actors are pretty fantastic, too.

It's true I don't have many contemporary films on this list and it's mostly because they lack the depth I need to truly enjoy being scared. I need a payoff, an edge, not just slash and gore. I expect more and it's been tough to find lately. Also, I haven't seen as many movies this year as I have wanted to. I haven't yet seen Paranormal Activity or Zombieland, both of which I heard are fantastic in their own right.

So, if you're looking for a scare post-Halloween, check out these films. Though some may be hard to come by, they're worth it, I promise.