There are scary films and then there are the truly terrifying films out there. Forget gore and jump-scares, there are truly terrifying stories out there.
There are scary films and then there are the truly terrifying films out there. Of course, there are things that are scary; that creepy person who follows you a little too closely, someone walking up behind you and you not hearing them, and the odd bird or two that flies too close to you or your car while driving. These are scary, sure. They’re scary in the sense that they make you jump, or they play on the fear that someone or something is not quite right. In the latter situation, you worry that maybe you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Or are you? There are films that play on those fears. The fears that start out as blatantly irrational only to become eerily real. You know, films like Chucky. Of course, there’s no way a doll could be possessed. And you keep telling yourself that. Then there’s that one night you’re working late in a retail store and you pass by the toy section. At the end of the aisle is a display of little baby dolls. And just as you walk by this little display the lights go out. You hear the canned recording of children’s laughter. Then a footstep…
Cheap HorrorsThat was a true story, by the way. I was working in a retail store right out of college and it was getting close to a holiday. As a result, I had a lot of clean up to do that night. The lights for the store were on a timer set to turn off at midnight. That little display I mentioned? It was hooked up to a motion sensor so that when people walked by, the little doll would wiggle and laugh to catch their attention. Well, when you walk by at 11:59:59 pm, the lights turn off as you trip the motion sensor. The store goes dark and little doll giggles and laughs. I have to remind myself of this every time I tell the story because it was just too much of a coincidence. Right? That’s cheap horror. The jump scares and the absurd amounts of blood that come gushing out of a wound. It’s a basic approach to scaring people. And it’s used a lot in horror movies. Rest assured, little baby dolls with canned laughed and giggles don’t terrify me. It was the situation that did.
Real FearMost of these cheap horrors are entertaining to watch. Mainly because the “fear” they present is due to an over-contrived situation. I don’t watch a lot of horror movies because I find the writing to be pretty basic. And if you’ve watched enough of them, you can easily pick who’s going to die, and in what order, within the first ten minutes of the film. But every now and then I end up watching a film or reading a book, that does send shivers down my spine. These films and books don’t deal with the paranormal or some cooked up and extreme situation. These are plausible. Not just possible, but plausible in that someone could pull these things off. And is most likely alive and well at this moment. After reading the book or watching the movie, I’m constantly reminding myself that it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen. I may not sleep well that night either. Eventually, I do get over the fear and figure out how to live a productive life. But if you’re looking for some genuine thrills for Halloween, check out these films, and at least one book. You can download them through your favorite streaming service, so long as you have the best internet deals available.
I grew up on the northern coast of California. When I was about ten, I think, a small city nearby was used as the main filming location for a thriller called Outbreak. I didn’t watch the film until I was well into my twenties because the thought of a real outbreak scared me. Luckily this film just focused on one town becoming infected and was more action-oriented. Thus, I felt prepared to watch another Outbreak-like film. Then I watched Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh. I was wrong. Contagion was not just one city but the entire world. The virus that causes all the death begins presenting with normal cold symptoms. And then people begin to drop rather rapidly. It didn’t help that Matt Damon plays the dad of a child who gets infected. He survives and has to protect his one other child as the rest of the world falls apart. Then there were the scenes of empty streets and mass gravesites. That just made it worse. Thanks a lot, Soderbergh. There were other storylines but identified with Damon’s role because I am a dad. And the fact that a virus could move that fast was also freaky. Really makes you think twice about washing your hands.
Directed by David Fincher, Seven walks the fine line between thriller and horror. The film does a good job of focusing on the suspense parts instead of the gore and horror. But that stuff’s in there too, so there’s no avoiding it. The dark cinematography, the grainy scenes, and the bad weather in LA contributed to the bleak mood of the entire film. I’m not one for gross-out types of horror. My brother talked me into watching it. And knowing my brother’s choice in films, I should have ignored him. But here we are. Anyway, the gross-out stuff was easy enough to forget. It was the serial murderer that made it worse. The fact that there was someone out there deranged enough to go those lengths just made me shiver. After all, Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were based on Ed Gein, a real person who really did gross-out, disgusting stuff to a corpse.
What makes Arlington Road so terrifying is that I watched it as a teenager, well before the 9/11 attacks happened. At first, I was just creeped out that my neighbor might be a homegrown terrorist. And then after the attacks, I was even more freaked out because it seemed even more likely that I lived next to someone who could do horrible things like that. You see, Arlington Road was about a professor, played by Jeff Bridges, who suspects his next-door neighbor, Tim Robbins, is a homegrown terrorist. As the story progresses we get a distinct feeling that Bridges is right, and Robbins really is planning an attack on a government building. A minor detail here is that they live in the DC area, and Bridges teaches at an area university. Of course, Bridges girlfriend doesn’t believe him. Then she disappears. It gets scarier from there, but you get the point.
I haven’t seen this film yet, but I did read the short story it was based on. And it was written by Stephen King. I also listened to the audiobook, narrated with the haunting voice of Frank Mueller. Unlike most of King’s other works, this one doesn’t deal in paranormal anything. Set in the early 1970s, a teenager, Todd, discovers a Nazi war criminal is living in his small town. Although he has convincing forgeries that give him the alias of Denker, he’s really Dussander, the former commandant of the fictional Patin Concentration Camp. Instead of turning him in, Todd wants to hear the “gooshy” details of what it was really like during the war. Todd thinks the textbooks have watered down everything. It’s not exciting to read about it. He wants to hear it from someone who was there, in person. In exchange for his silence, Dussander, AKA Denker, agrees and begins to tell Todd what he wants to hear. And then they both start getting nightmares. The nightmares turn into daytime “activities.” Soon both are spiraling out of control. Not only is the short story scary, but the audiobook is even more so. Frank Mueller, the narrator, reads it in a solemn, reserved tone. He also does a superb job of imitating a German accent. As Dussander begins to lose his mind, Mueller’s narration gets creepier and creepier. This is apparent in reading Dussander’s lines of dialogue. To top it all off, King has a character give a sort of “final summation.” You see, Dussander is on various watch lists, both in the United States and abroad. A Nazi hunter from Israel gets involved in the story. I won’t spoil the details, but this guy, named Weiskopf, has a chance to sit down with a detective and explain the cold reasons behind what made Dussander so efficient at his job. Dussander wasn’t sadistic to start with. He was bad, no doubt, but he wanted to rise in the ranks because he believed in Hitler. To please Der Fuhrer, he worked harder to make sure all orders were carried out “swiftly and efficiently.” Thanks to Dussander’s attention to detail, he figured out more efficient ways of carrying out Hitler’s “Final Solution.” This is why he earned the nickname “The Blood Fiend of Patin.” He found ways, through accounting, to make sure he met or exceeded his quotas. This is why, as Weiskopf explains, that if a government ever tries something close to what Hitler did, it’s not the psychos or the sadists we should worry about. It’s the accountants. Because they’ll find ways to calmly, coldly—efficiently—wipe out large portions of a population.