A Prelude to the List: On the Subjectivity of “Scary”

Well, I don’t think either the hostage or I really understood what we were taking on when we decided to make a list of 50 horror films. It took us days to just agree upon whether or not we wanted to go with “Best” or “Scariest” horror movies. No doubt, best is easier. There are objective markers to use – plot, acting, writing, directing, use of special effects, etc… not so when making a list of the scariest. Unfortunately, it also means that most “Best of” horror lists are pretty predictable.

“Scary” isn’t an impartial evaluation – it’s a gut, emotional reaction. Fear isn’t rational or logical, and it often stems from our past experiences. Thus, scary tends to be much more personal and different for each individual. Several years ago, I saw The Grudge (2004), and am ashamed to admit that it scared me to the point I had to sleep with the lights on that night. I’m ashamed of this because, apart from the ghosty bits, The Grudge is not a good movie; the pacing is terrible, the story incidental, the acting (sorry Buffy!) just passable. And yet I still get tense when I hear the rattle in her throat, or imagine her crawling up my sheets under the covers. The Grudge would never make a list of the best horror movies, but the scariest… I told this to a friend, and he scoffed at me, stunned that a horror maven such as myself would be cowed by this film, which he found laughably bad. I, impressed by his clear bravery, asked the last movie that really scared him. His response: Darkness Falls (2003). Wait, what? You mean the one with the Tooth Fairy? No, seriously though. I was shocked, because I found that movie to be a massive disappointment in the fear department.

But that’s “scary” for you. It doesn’t have to make sense. I can’t tell you why watching a psycho slasher go on a rampage doesn’t raise my heart beat a tic, whereas matching ghost girls bidding me to play with them forever makes me hold my breath. Which one do I have a better chance of encountering, and therefore should fear? But alas, emotions don’t seem to pay much attention to rationality. So I expect some will read the list with a feeling of shared kinship, and others will think us batty. It’s ok if you think we’re crazy; we are.

One caveat: neither the hostage nor I find gore to be scary. It can enhance a scary movie, or deliver a great shock, or make you squirm uncomfortably in your seat, but it is not scary to us in and of itself. I think too many movies are made by people under the impression that if you show a lot of gore, you’ve made a scary movie. We’re more about what you don’t see than what you do. While we obviously love a good massacre, as anyone who reads the site can attest, the films we find scary are more about atmosphere and tension. Now, when you can find a flick that manages to pull off both a genuinely creepy atmosphere and excellent gore… that’s the holy grail. But we think torture porn flicks like Martyrs (2008) and High Tension (2003) rely too heavily on trying to shock you and don’t focus enough on trying to scare you. No offense to people who like those movies – we enjoy them too! They just won’t be making a list of films we find scary.

So we continue to work on the list (to be honest, actual life stuff has been crazy lately, which gets in the way of the important stuff. Like horror movie lists). We hope to have it soon.

K

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 1

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 2

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 3

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 4

50 Scariest Horror Movies: Part 5 (Top Ten!)

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~ by K. Harker on November 11, 2011.

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