I remember being attracted to the horror genre because it was explicitly forbidden. In the videocassette rental store a 5-minute walk from my house (yep, I am that old) there was something I have not seen before or since, far in a back corner: the Castle of Horror, a plaster fortress enclosing the videotapes of the damned. I spent hours, fascinated, browsing the covers all over that store yet the Castle of Horror always called like a siren to those who would enter, even though one knew they may break themselves on the rocky shores of cinematic waste that lay within.
But I urge you, dear reader, to give yourself a treat tonight and wade through the muck to find a really good scary classic to watch, or a good scary book if your prefer. Because there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like the scare that fires the imagination long after you witness it. I saw "Nightmare on Elm Street 3," my first encounter with Freddy, when I was 10 years old at a sleepover party. Now that I knew that Freddy might be there to stalk my dreams, my night was like those of the film’s troubled teens: a grueling struggle to stay awake until dawn through any means available.
Like the other often-disreputable genres of comedy, sci-fi, fantasy, and even some pornography, horror actually makes our mind confront the impossible and improbable as invading the possible and present, and at its best asks us what we would or even could do given such an unlikely situation. It unleashes us to collaboratively imagine exaggerations of the everyday, to push the mental limits of aesthetics and physical limits of revulsion. The absolute best of the best will affect you differently as you pass through life stages. "The Exorcist" is shocking enough the first time around, what with the absolute profanity of its demon so thoroughly corrupting a young child’s body. Try watching it as a parent. The film’s possible reading as an exaggeration of mental illness, the helplessness of modern medicine in many cases to control it, and the role of faith in weathering its challenges, all makes for a stomach-churning rewatch. Or "The Shining," which is scary enough because of twins, empty hotels and, you know, Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson. It can also be read as an extreme metaphor for a man choosing his work and drink over the well-being of his family, and coming to complete, manic serenity in that choice. "It Follows" twists the old sex=death rule by making sexually active young people knowing vectors of death. "The Thing" is what happens, messily, when no one can really trust each other in a place cut off from civilization. And while we are on Mr. Carpenter’s work, "Halloween" (ignore every sequel or reboot until the new one) visits senseless death on the American Dream, visually contrasting the mayhem of that night with the (simulated) autumnal beauty of that day in small town USA.
My Halloweens have become more sedated as of late. I feel joy in seeing the happiness of my child in costume getting candy, yet also feel ironic karma in having to walk her up to my neighbors in a campaign of shameless, hostile begging, as my father did for me (the chant, after all, is "Trick of Treat"). All this is as it should be. When she and my wife go to bed tonight however, with the help of my DVD player and imagination, the terror begins.