I’ve been revisiting horror films the last few months. I used to watch them religiously. There should have been a temple and some version of rosary beads involved, or maybe, and even better, some snake handling. Some titles that held me in rapt terror back in those days: Cellar Dweller, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Evil Dead, Creepshow. Just writing the names of these films bristles to life some masochistic region of my heart that seems intent on scaring myself to death. It’s part nostalgia and part an honest-to-God joy of pure fear.
In the past few months I’ve run through a great list, viewing and viewing and running to the bathroom in the dark and back to bed. The Conjuring, The Descent, The Last Exorcism, We Are What We Are, Cujo, Children of the Corn, The Fourth Kind. Not to mention the sequels and the stuff I’m forgetting at the moment. I’ve been happily busy.
The first books I read as a kid that moved outside the realm of juvenile literature were Stephen King novels and story collections. Pet Sematary, Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, Christine, and on and on. I used to get a dollar a day for what we called the candy store at school. At that time, a mass market trade paperback was a mere $4.95 at a nearby store called The Book Nook. I collected and read. And then it wasn’t a large step to watch the horror movies based on these books. I lived at The Book Nook and the video stores near my house. Reading and then watching; watching and then reading. All horror, all the time.
But before any of this, way back in the early 80s, I will never forget standing in the doorway of my bedroom and sneaking to watch insanely horrifying scenes of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (the woman demon trapped in the basement stands out most vividly in my mind). I was drawn to horror films then and I’m still drawn to them. However, I took a long, long break from horror fandom, only recently picking up where I left off. I’m not exactly putting movie posters on my walls now (I had no less than five displayed in the bedroom I shared with my two brothers at any given time in my early teens) but I’m dipping into the pool, heading back in the direction of the deep end. I have a heart condition, so it has to seriously be a process.
My first film out of horror fan retirement was Sinister, the 2012 film starring Ethan Hawke and featuring a couple of small but important scenes from Vincent D’Onofrio, one of the best working today in any film genre. Hawke gives a good performance; much like any other of his films, he plays Ethan Hawke to perfection. And that’s all I ask of him. It’s all I asked of John Wayne and Sean Connery. It’s good enough for me. But the acting is never the showcase in a horror movie. It’s always the scares. And Sinister, let me tell you, has at least three really good ones. I’ll not name them here (nothing worse than a rabid viewer spilling the good shocks and spoiling all over the place). But let’s just say it’s not, as was the case with The Evil Dead’s demon woman, the actual monster itself that does you in with a movie like Sinister. It’s the evil in the shadows just sitting there being all evil and unseen; it’s the tension.
But not everybody wants to be scared. Some people, especially those who are intensely empathetic, will almost always hate with a bloody red passion anything to do with horror movies. Folks with past trauma, ditto. Heart conditions, ditto. Those of us, though, who still want to be put in that place where, at the age of forty-one, we scramble to get to the kitchen switch so we have even the smallest, yellowish shaft of light to hold to in the dark, we want all the horror you can throw at us.
Links to some horror movies you need to catch up on, if you haven’t already:
Sheldon Lee Compton is a novelist, short story writer, editor, and columnist. He is the author of three books – the collections The Same Terrible Storm (Foxhead Books, 2012), Where Alligators Sleep (Foxhead Books, 2014), and the novel Brown Bottle (Bottom Dog Press, 2016). In 2012, he was a finalist for both the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award and the Still Fiction Award. The Same Terrible Storm was nominated for the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Excellence in Appalachian Writing, while his short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best of the Web, and cited in Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best Small Fictions 2016, guest edited by Robert Olen Butler and Stuart Dybek, respectively. Other writing has appeared in the anthologies Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia (Bottom Dog Press, 2010), Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia (Ohio University Press, 2015), and Larry Fessenden’s Sudden Storm: A Wendigo Reader (Fiddleblack, 2016). He is the past founder and editor of four literary journals and is currently the founding editor of the online flash fiction journal The Airgonaut.
READ OTHER WORK BY THIS AUTHOR:
- Terrible Title, Beautiful Film: Home for the Holidays
- 5 Movie Moments Great Enought to Break Your Mind
- Westworld: Exploring AI Theory and Philosophy
- The Exorcist
- Television Confessional: Introducing Split Screen