Well, it's that time of year again. Leaves carmelize, the weather cools, and yours truly vaults into a marathon of Petri Dish entries on the horror film. Yep, it's all horror, every day until Halloween--if it kills me.
So why do this for a third time? Of course, it's a way to keep the old scribbling muscles in shape, and a test of my ability to really stick to a self-imposed deadline, come hell or high water. But that doesn't address why I've found myself so inexorably drawn to the cinema of nightmares for as long as I can remember, nor does it come close to answering that other age-old question: What the hell, exactly, is a horror movie?
I was fortunate to grow up at a time when exposure to the old (via late-night TV screenings) and new (first-run movie houses and the embryonic steps of home video) in horror cinema came hand-in-hand. Expressionistic German silents, Universal Studios' Gothic epics, noirish Val Lewton gems, Hammer Films, gut-level grindhouse thrillers, slashers, and (then-)contemporary shockers like George Romero's first three Dead movies inundated me equally during my formative years. I grew to love them all, and have kept pretty caught up with the genre's many permutations over the years. My main criteria to this day: If it scares me, freaks me out, or in some way taps into anything primal or dark, it's a horror movie. Oh, yeah, and a monster helps, too. But not always. That's about as incisive a definition as I can cough up, except to paraphrase Potter Stewart (thank you, Vince Keenan) and say that, while I may not always be able to concisely define a horror movie, I know one when I see one.
As for why I love 'em so, in lieu of too much pithy analysis, I figured a simple checklist would suffice.
Reason 1: Being Scared is a Rush. Those of us who dig the scary stuff share a few things in common, the most obvious being a simple fondness for the primal titillation of a good scare. It's similar, I'm sure, to the rush a bungee jumper gets from taking a barely-tethered leap; and as a fan of spicy food I can say with authority that horror and habaneros give me a similar endorphin kick. It's a metaphoric stare into the face of danger.
Reason 2: Horror is the Punk Rock of Movie Genres. Horror's always been the ugly fractious stepchild genre in the collective consciousness of most moviegoers. Horror is the troublemaker subject to scorn, ridicule, and profound misunderstanding; a button-pusher who offends the status quo until time and changes in mores catch up with it. No wonder it appeals to the rebellious misfit in me, too.
Reason 3: Fairy Tales, Even the Blackest Ones, Weave a Spell. Long after familiarity and changes in morality cause their initial shock value to fade, scary movies still serve as fables that render our deepest subconscious fears alternately mythic and tameable. That's why even some of the oldest chillers--Lon Chaney's horror silents and the Universal Classics of the 1930's, to name just two examples--are still being watched by folks whose parents (grandparents, even) weren't born when those films were originally released.
Reason 4: History Lessons with Monsters, Gore and Stuff are a Gas. All art offers some sort of glimpse into the times and sensibilities in which it was created, but what could be a more profound reflection of those times and sensibilities than what scares us at any given point in history? Whether it's the nuclear-induced nightmares of fifties giant-monster flicks, the free-love-gone-to-hell disease fear of David Cronenberg's early chillers, or the Bush-era xenophobia manifested all-too-graphically in Eli Roth's Hostel films, horror movies beat the hell out of a dry old textbook when it comes to viewing the fears of any given generation.
Reason 5: By and Large, Crappy Horror Movies are More Fun than Crappy Non-Horror Movies. Pick two random sample movies from the same year--1970, say--and think about it. Which 1970 bad-movie experience promises more jollies--Liz Taylor and Warren Beatty grousing for 113 talky minutes in the gambling drama The Only Game in Town; or The Horror of Frankenstein, in which a swinging sideburned Ralph Bates woos busty peasant women and builds a diaper-clad muscular-stud monster played by future Darth Vader Dave Prowse?
The defense (of the genre, that is) rests.
I could cite plenty of other reasons, of course, but I'd prefer to just get to it already. The next couple of weeks are all about the horror, so welcome, one and all, and prepare yourselves for a scary ride...If you dare!