High Expectations


Cover of "Bag of Bones"
Cover of Bag of Bones

My expectations must simply be too high.  Or maybe I’m just too damned old.

I love horror.  It’s my genre of choice — my drug of choice, if you will.  When I reach for something to read, I want to be chilled, creeped out, riveted to the book.  I recently finished Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, and it kept me up literally all night once and came really close two or three other times as I turned the pages.  No, it wasn’t “scary”, but it was engaging, and a good read.  King’s OTTBFs (“Over The Top Big Finishes” — h/t to Sherri for that one) can often let me down (this one did), but the writing, right up to the end, was usual King fare.  Very well done, excellent all the way through.  It’s a door stopper at 529 pages or so, and it was a library book (read: Hardbound), but despite the size (and weight!), I couldn’t stop reading it.  Most of King’s books I’ve read held me captive; Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, Cujo, Pet Sematary, Christine, It, The Stand, The Shining … all fantastic reads.  Sans some of the OTTBFs, of course.

When I watch movies, I want the same thing.  I remember being held spellbound and scared to death by movies like The Exorcist when I was young; Jaws did the same thing.  I remember enjoying movies like Ghost Story, and the book by Peter Straub upon which it was based, and I had fun with movies like An American Werewolf in London, The Howling. I loved movies like The Good Shepherd and Next and Vanilla SkyBladerunner was fantastic.  I loved 12 Monkeys.  And Alien (not that crap-ass series of sequels, thankyouverymuch) was one of my favorites of all time.  I’ve seen and enjoyed movies before.  I know it’s possible.

As for horror movies, I really loved the original Halloween with the Scream Queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis.  I already mentioned some of my other favorites.  I used to adore the Hammer Studios movies, what with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and the thick gelatin blood and wonderful vampiric darkness.  Ah, the memories!  And Dracula with Frank Langela as the Count was one of my favorites.  Truth be told, it still is.

But something happened somewhere along the way.  I remember seeing The Hills Have Eyes back in the 70s when I was a kid and being horrified by the prospect of rednecks eating people.  I remember how frightening the idea of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was, and how I couldn’t bear to face it when I heard, through sources I deemed credible (they weren’t), that it was based on a true story*.  Now, I can’t seem to get scared to save my life.  Matter of fact, I can’t even sit through an entire movie anymore.

I remember catching Dawn of the Dead on cable some time ago.  I think it was DotD.  Might’ve been another Romero.  It was a recent remake of an older “classic”, where the protagonists are trapped in a Mall while the zombies swarm around them.  They eventually must escape, do so to a boat, sail to an island and are greeted there by … zombies.

I fell asleep sometime during the film.  I just … couldn’t get into it.

I have FEARnet on my cable’s OnDemand package.  I check it every once in a while, to see what’s there.  John Carpenter‘s The Prince of Darkness is playing now.  It’s an oldie, but a goodie.  I didn’t watch it.  Instead, I wanted to watch one called Ghosts of Mars, with Jason Statham, Ice Cube (what’s with that name?) and a hot blonde I’m not familiar with.  Basically, she’s recounting a story on a Mars colony, where she’s a drug-using cop.  It’s a matriarchal society, so women are in control.  But I got part way through the thing and it was so bad, I shut it off.  I just couldn’t take it.

I’m not a fan of gore.  Suspense?  Love it.  Thrills?  Bring it.  Scare me?  If you can, I dare you, I welcome you.  But gore me?  Pff.  Please.  I’ve seen some pretty awful things in real life, and I double-dog dare you to top Saving Private Ryan for pure gore shock value.  Not gonna happen.

Which leaves me … what?  I’m sort of looking forward to seeing new films when they come around, like The Unborn.  Liv Tyler’s in one that’s on Pay-per-View right now called The Strangers, an American remake of a big foreign film from a couple years back.  I’d like to see that one.  And there were a few others; SciFi made one, and I saw the trailer on Apple.com before I knew it was a SciFi network film, called Splinter.  That looked good.  I was in the mood to see The Ruins (which is supposed to be a fine book), but couldn’t find it anymore — it was on PPV a few weeks (or has it been months?) ago, and I hoped it was on one of the premium channel movie sets, but it’s not.  Maybe I missed it, but I hope not.

So, if I don’t want gore, I don’t have a lot of choices in the horror field anymore.  I saw one called Ginger Snaps II a couple of months ago, and it had potential, but it was just another homemade-looking B-movie full of mediocre (over)actors, some kid on a synthesizer in his basement doing the musical “score” — you know, the same one(s) who make all the porn movie music — and a stuffed elk or something being used as the monster.

The Saw franchise seems popular, but only if you’re under 20.  Otherwise, it looks like just another kidnap-and-slash movie to me.  But that’s me.

So, what’s a good horror movie that’s about actually horrifying and scaring the audience, not about nauseating them?  Any recommendations?  Good Sci-Fi is welcome too; love me some Sci-Fi.

Sound off, y’all.
-JDT-

*Like a lot of other movie serial-killing “monsters”, those in TCM and THHE were based, loosely, on the incredible story of Ed Gein, a prototypical butcher and human monster.  The ghoulish Gein seeded ideas for movie monsters like Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb in Silence of the Lambs, Norman Bates from Psycho, and yes, Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The events of TCM, otherwise, are purely fictional.

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7 thoughts on “High Expectations

  1. My favourite horror movies are The Exorcist and The Shining.

    Two of the all-time greats. I think The Exorcist and Alien are mine.

    The Exorcist is scariest when the demon appears on the screen if only for a split second.

    There’s a lot of creepy stuff that went on during filming. Great stories!

    The Shining is scariest when Jack gets that look in his eyes.

    Jack. Whattaguy.

    And in both films, very few people die. And when the people do die, it isn’t very gruesome. No creative methods of murder. The Shining, a guys gets an axe in the back. The Exorcist, thrown out a window. Not like the increasingly silly deaths in the Hellraiser franchise.

    Good point! Very few deaths. The old exorcist (played by a not-very-old Max Von Sydow) died of a heart condition; the young priest killed himself. Not much gore, just a lot of spilled pea soup.

  2. There is nothing really SCARY out there anymore bud. It’s terrible but even Romero’s Land of the Dead didn’t do it for me. Probably the last movie to scare the crap out of me was Blair Witch and that was only because of the ending. The art of true suspense has been lost. The ability to scare the living crap out of someone without the gore. The same thing we try to achieve in our writing. That art is gone in movies. It’s a shame because true suspense is the best horror. Sometimes I blame it on the music. I know when it’s coming because of that. Also the writing is atrocious and they really need some fresh blood writing scripts (pun intended).

    Wow, The Blair Witch Project?? Really?? Falcon and I laughed through that one. We all have something that creeps us out though, and I guess movies just aren’t going to do it for me. I agree about the “atmospheric” music too — dead giveaway!

  3. I am a self-proclaimed horror-phobe. I do not relish the adrenaline rush when things I’m not expecting pop out at me, I don’t like to think about things that go bump in the night and what they could be, and I definitely do not want to think that human monsters live amongst us.

    Hmph! As a horror writer, I’m horribly offended! (Get it??) 😀

    Most of the great King books you mentioned I read when I was younger. I read The Stand in pretty much one sitting across 4 days stopping only for the necessities. You couldn’t pay me enough to pick one of his new ones up just because I don’t like that thrill of being scared or surprised or even having goosebumps. I’ve officially become a weenie *sigh*

    I’ve heard his later ones aren’t as good. Maybe you should dip your toe back in just in case. 😉

  4. As a kid, the movie “wait until dark” scared me. Also an old time radio show called “Caller on line one”. It’s actually not too old time, made in the 80s I think. I couldn’t sleep for two days after I heard that one…

    Gore is just gore. It’s gross, not scary.

    I agree. And now I have to find that movie somewhere! If you’ve got tips on getting old radio shows online, I’m all ears, too!

  5. My favorite ‘scary’ movie is JAWS. Did not sleep for several nights after the first time watching the movie. One of the all-time best movies, period.

    YES! Love that movie! LOVE IT!

  6. I’m a complete wimp in this respect. I stay far, faaaaar away from anything in the horror genre. The last horror film I watched was The Ring. It ruined me. I “slept” with the light on for three nights, and couldn’t get the images out of my head. Something in there pushed all my most primordial fear buttons. Not enjoyable in any way, although I have to hand it to the director – mission accomplished.

    ROFL! Well, that WAS the goal! Welcome, and thanks for stopping in and saying “hi”! Now, if I can get you to read some of my fiction … 😉

  7. One time, I searched about Stephen King on Amazon and find the Duma Key. I don’t know if it’s his latest work but after seeing that it’s categorized under the Horror genre, I had to look for other books. Yes, I’m a scaredy-cat, never a fan of horror movies or books and anything creepy.

    I’m with you on Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was scary and I really couldn’t sleep for days, imagining that someone would just cut my limbs. I love gore…sometimes.

    I really don’t like horror movies so I can’t recommend! 13 Ghosts and The Exorcism Of Emily Rose are enough to put me off the Horror bandwagon.

    I’m all for dramas, comedy, romance and anything not horror LOL.

    Much Love,

    Yes, Duma Key is the latest King novel, as far as I know. But he has a lot of others you could start with. Not all of them have monsters and goblins and ghosts, oh my! in them. 🙂

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