I love Halloween — though as I mentioned in my interview with Historic Hudson Valley, I’m more of a Christmas person than a Halloween person, mainly because I’m one of the world’s great chickens.
Don’t get me wrong — I love horror movies and horror novels. But I was one of those kids — and I’m now one of those adults — who can’t get my mind to shut off once I go to bed. I watch a scary movie, or read a scary book, then go to bed and lie there in the dark, the covers pulled up around my ears, straining to listen to every sound, convinced the creak of the floor or the wind in the pine tree is the monster/alien/slasher/Joker coming to get me.
Most of the time I can get over it. However, there remain trapped in the dark corners of my brain several snippets from horror movies that still scare the daylights out of me. Most of these I saw before the age of fifteen — just the right age to embed memories that can mess you up for the rest of your life. So if you really want to scare me, just mention any of the movies mentioned below, and you’ll immediately have me reduced to a quivering, gelatinous mass.
Here they are, ranked from least to most scary — though even the least scary one still seems pretty darn scary to me. Ready? Here we go:
(5) I Married A Monster from Outer Space (1958)
The movie itself isn’t really all that scary — and even the trailer isn’t gloriously dopey enough to give you a sense of what you’re in for — but the monster from this movie? He absolutely terrified me.:
The same picture was included in an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland the ten-year-old me somehow convinced my mom to buy for me — and it scared me so badly I had to bury it in the bottom of my desk. Meanwhile, my 7-year-old brother whimpered himself to sleep. Need I add that this was also the last issue of Famous Monsters I would ever own?
(4) The Amityville Horror (1979)
I was eleven when The Amityville Horror hit the movie theaters — which means I was nowhere close to being old enough to see it. But I remember the trailer for it running on television in the evenings — including one memorable evening when my brother and I were spending the night at a friend’s house. Normally, one of us would leap up and snap off the television when an ad for a horror movie came on, la-la-laing loudly to ourselves and counting off the minute or so until we could turn the TV back on, safe from any horrifying sounds or images . . . except for one moment when we didn’t get up fast enough to turn off a variation of this trailer:
The trailer scared the daylights out of me — especially the voice croaking “GET OUT!” I was so nervous about this movie I didn’t even try to sneak a copy of the book from the library, as I normally would have with such taboo material.
When I finally saw the movie on cable in the early 1980s, it was terribly corny. The trailer, however, did its job well enough to make it onto this list.
(3) Poltergeist (1982)
Two words: clown puppet.
(2) Halloween (1978)
I watched Halloween from the back seat of my parents’ car at the drive in. No, my parents didn’t take us to see it. I think we had come to the drive in to see The Betsy or something equally as lame that didn’t hold my attention. But Halloween was showing on the screen behind us, and my brother and I spent the evening squatting on our knees, looking out the back window at the flickering screen several hundred yards away. We never could tell what was going on, but we felt we were really getting away with something.
Several evenings later, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert discussed the movie on Sneak Previews and showed a brief clip. And to this day, I still can’t believe they could get away with showing this moment on television. It’s a moment that’s scared me for thirty years. And it comes at four minutes and 45 seconds into the following clip:
(1) Black Christmas (1974)
From Bob Clark, the director of the family classic A Christmas Story, comes one of the scariest movies ever: Black Christmas — or, Stranger in the House, as it was sometimes titled (and as it was called when I watched it on HBO in the early 80s). The set-up has become cliche — a maniac hides in a sorority house, makes creepy phone calls to the girls, then disposes of them one-by-one — but you’d be hard pressed to find any movie that’s done it in a scarier way.
For proof, here’s a brief clip of Olivia Hussey — the heroine — answering a phone call from their mysterious caller: