I really enjoy a spooky story. Not gross, just good, old fashioned, huddle-under-the-covers-so-the-thing-under-the-bed-doesn’t-get-you scary.
Most of the time, the movies that give me chills are those that could happen in real life: the determined killer (the original Halloween, Psycho), the vulnerability of being alone (The Strangers), the isolation and fear of the unknown in the woods (Deliverance), and natural circumstances beyond your control (The Birds). I can even stomach a bit of blood when it’s relieved by comedy, like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland (and it’s usually pretty easy to know when to hide your eyes).
Occasionally a thriller with supernatural overtones will give me the heebie jeebies, even though I’m 99.9% sure it could never happen: The Ring, Event Horizon, Insidious, the original Night of the Living Dead. And my personal favorite, Nosferatu (Max Schreck is unnerving and terrifying). Seriously, if you haven’t see this movie because it was made in 1922 and it’s silent, treat yourself. Watch it alone, in the dark. I dare you.
To the rest of the movies – like Saw, Cabin Fever, or Night of 1000 Corpses – I turn a blind eye (and don’t do links). There’s nothing frightening to me in gore, just shock. There’s no scare; it’s pure nausea. It’s to those movies I apply the Word of the Week.
Fee, Faw, Fum
Nonsensical words, supposed in childish story-books to be spoken by giants. I am not to be frighted by fee, faw, fum; I am not to be scared by nonsense.
The entire Georgian era has many fearful stories to recommend, but I especially love the tale of the Wynyard Ghost. The story concerns four English officers encamped at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, during the American War of Independence. Like the cliché portends, it was a dark and stormy night . . . and a brother of one of the gentlemen was soon to make an unexplainable visit. You really should read the whole story, and historian and author Geri Walton tells it much better than I ever could in her blog post Wynyard Ghost Story.
If you’d like to get your seasonal, Halloween-y historical chills via the small screen, I recommend two period dramas to keep you wide awake. The first has a truly awful trailer, nothing like the mini-motion picture teasers we have come to expect – but don’t let that put you off. The film is nothing like its cheesy promo: Director Martin Scorsese ranks this film as one of the top ten horror movies of all time. Creepy setting, creepy music, and creepy children: what more could you ask for?
The Innocents (1961)
An adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw
And from the long list of “Don’t Trust Your Husband” films of the 1940s, like Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Notorious, comes my favorite. It’s the story of a woman whose husband is trying to slowly drive her mad. Another sad little trailer, but Ingrid Berman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and Angela Lansbury will make it worth your while.
Based on the stage play of the same name, Gas Light
- Slang term definition found in the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- The BBC released an another adaptation of The Turn of the Screw at Christmas in 2009. It’s well shot and very well acted (you’ll see Matthew, Mary, and Denker from Downton Abbey), but some critics took exception to the fact that the setting was changed from 1840 to Edwardian England, and that it was much more sexualized than the novel. Personally, I thought it had way too many horror movie clichés, spilling the plot over into the predictable rather than the disturbing. And this story should definitely disturb. Find the trailer here.