Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Eve. Call it what you will, it’s the time of year for fairies to move and when the boundaries between the mortal and spirit worlds are supposedly easily crossed. While the pagan celebrations and rituals have faded into history, it still remains as the season of scary movies – or so-called scary movies.
The definition spans multiple genres. Hitchcock’s classic “The Birds” is one. It was marketed as a thriller. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” – based on a Gothic fiction story by Oscar Wilde – especially the 1945 B&W version, seen at 1 in the morning with all the lights out – is another, but billed as a drama. Lon Chaney (“The Wolfman”), Boris Karloff (“Frankenstein”), Bela Lugosi (“Dracula”) comprised the classic horror movie genre: monsters – fictional monsters. The horror category was considered B-list and everyone associated with them did not command much respect. In recent years, scary movies come in many flavors and the horror category has expanded to A-list movies: Alien – the first movie of the series, with Sigourney Weaver is an example. It was a sci-fi movie. You never saw exactly what happened to the crew when confronted with the alien up close. You didn’t get a good look at the entire alien until the end of the movie and yet the movie was scary as hell without being explicit. The only explicit horror scene was with the android. Now, I’m a popcorn moviegoer – the b-i-g bucket. And until that time, androids (or robots) were made up of wires and chips on the inside. We had just finished the big bucket when the android was ripped apart and started spewing very liquid insides. Definitely did not help digestion. Horror became ‘mainstream’. The Master of Suspense himself would be mortified to have his movies categorized as horror, since he was an A-list director, but “The Birds” is now classified as horror. Today’s advertised horror movies rely mostly on gore – the more graphic the better – blood, intestines, decay – all designed to physically upset your stomach, with very little plot – if any. The classic horror films at least had a story and didn’t rely on gross-looking special effects.
Then there are the so-called scary movies, because ‘scary‘ is subjective and some movies take themselves too seriously: “Halloween“ – the original Jamie Leigh Curtis film debut. A friend had seen it and said it was a ‘scary‘ movie and since we had seen everything else that had recently come out, we decided to go. We laughed – as did most of the audience with us – and we were the target market audience for the film. In fact, towards the end, the audience started shouting out encouragement to Jamie Leigh (“Get him again!:) because seriously, did she really think one poke with a knitting needle would have a fatal effect on a killer armed with a very large knife?
Besides, we were the audience who first experienced “The Rocky Horror Picture Show“, a sci-fi horror comedy musical audience participation movie when Tim Curry was still young and slim. Rocky Horror did not even attempt to scare and it certainly didn‘t take itself seriously. Scary would be seeing Tim Curry today, dressed in a corset and platform high heels – a sight that would make it difficult to sleep at night. At the time it was just fun. I remember preparing for the first time I went to see it with my friends. One mentioned that she had made rice for dinner and had leftovers. I didn‘t know why we needed rice but I was quite certain it shouldn‘t be cooked. And while on line for the midnight show (always midnight) we were searched for ‘concealed water‘. Now, at that time, most people didn‘t drink bottled water and I didn‘t know we were supposed to bring any and how we were supposed to bring it. However, they were unconcerned with concealed bottles of beer hidden in sweatshirt hoods – smuggled in by the same person who had cooked rice for dinner. Rocky Horror was the ultimate : mad scientist, monster, aliens and Meatloaf – even dancing. And it taught the dance steps. How could you not laugh? How could you not want to participate?
It should come as no surprise then, that “Friday the 13th” – the original – wasn‘t scary as much as just dumb. My boyfriend and I laughed through that one as well as “Halloween“. The plot was just a variation of Agatha Christie’s mystery “And Then There Were None” (aka “Ten Little Indians”) without any literary redemption whatsoever. It not only spawned 11 sequels (Why????) but a slew of teen slasher movies. Even while “Poltergeist” had a few scary moments, it was more comedic than scary. “Jaws” didn’t come close to scaring me – especially after reading the book which I thought was a waste of two hours of my time. There really haven’t been very scary movies made of Stephen King novels. The books, yes. The movies, no. And the ending of “The Shining” in the book was far superior to the movie, which was so anti-climatic. Freezing in a topiary maze? And I didn’t cry over of “E.T.”. ET was just ugly. I wouldn’t have hidden something that looked like that in my closet. Gizmo, yes. ET, no.
In the end, the only movie that still plays at theaters every Halloween (midnight) is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. One local theater this year will even be providing their own ‘prop bags’ for all moviegoers, because adults still dress up for Halloween and party and no matter how big your TV may be, it is the one movie that has to be experienced in a theater on a screen larger than life, because it is an event, not just a movie. If you go, just don’t bring cooked rice. “Let’s do the Time Warp again!”