Horror films: Can I finally stomach them?

Mortianna, the face that caused multiple sleepless nights.

Growing up Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Mortianna the witch in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) haunted my dreams for years. As did my brother’s plastic Dracula mask that – with the benefit of hindsight – I now realise wasn’t particularly frightening at all.

If I did, on the very rare occasion, decide to take the plunge and put one on myself – think something along the lines of Final Destination (2000) and certainly nothing higher than a 15 rating – I made sure that the lights were on and that my dog was there for company (read: back up and security). A cushion was also never far away to hide behind in case I became too frightened.

Dipping a toe

My Letterboxd diary reveals that out of the 1,205 films I’ve logged since 2012, 9% (110) are from the horror genre.

To dig a little deeper into this stat many of the horror films that I’ve watched take place on or in the sea, as anything water-based is a particular pleasure of mine, be it hungry sharks (The Shallows, 2016) or deserted yachts (The Boat, 2018).

Several of the 7% fall into the vampire (Dracula, 1958) and zombie (28 Days Later, 2002) subgenres, and there are a handful of comedy-horrors, including Shaun of the Dead (2004), Warm Bodies (2013) and The Voices (2014).

My highest rated horror is Jaws (1975), with five stars out of five, followed by Alien (1979), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Let the Right One In (2008) and A Quiet Place (2018) with four and a half stars apiece. My lowest rated is Cage Drive (2017) – otherwise known as Open Water 3 – with just half a star.

Taking the plunge

On my watchlist: Psycho (1960).

Though I’m familiar with several horror subgenres there are many classic 1960s (and earlier) films that I have yet to watch, as well as the more bloodthirsty human-on-human ones. I’m yet to hear Dr Lecter’s infamous line about Chianti in-situ and while I know the plot of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), I haven’t watched it.

There are many films I haven’t seen on Rotten Tomatoes’ ‘The 200 Best Horror Movies of all Time’ list, including all but two of their top 10. Psycho (1960) is their number 1. It is a film I have wanted to watch for a while, but mostly due to the fact it was released during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

While I’m open to getting to know Messrs Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, for the sake of my mental wellbeing, ‘torture porn’ films of the Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) ilk will remain a no-go, as will anything starring clowns or the paranormal. Let’s not be hasty, eh?

  • As I take my first tentative steps on the blood-strewn path of the horror genre, what are your recommendations?

5 thoughts on “Horror films: Can I finally stomach them?

Add yours

  1. Great post. I too have struggled over the years with the horror genre but just recently I feel like at times it is all I watch. There are so many on Netflix and Prime etc that I get drawn to them. My stomach has toughened over the years and find I can pretty much deal with most things. That isn’t to say I always enjoy them. You should avoid things like Hostel, not because they are overly gory (which they are) but because they are not very good. I find the more realistic films more disturbing, although not strictly a horror film Irreversible was very difficult to watch for example.
    As for some of the ones you have mentioned above, a lot of them are scary because of the atmosphere they generate as opposed to what you actually see, that is definitely the case for Psycho and I would also suggest Silence of the Lambs, both need to be seen, both outstanding films.
    As for horror, well I always prefer a good ghost story or creepy film to the hugely gory films. I always feel with gore that it is a sign that the filmmakers don’t know what else to do to frighten, but thats just me. I guess if you are unsure just make sure you have the dog as back up with you 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Dom. I agree: there does seem to be an influx on Netflix and Prime at the moment. Perhaps they are cheaper to make than films from other genres? Horror seems to be a popular genre for television shows too.
      Overly gory is definitely not for me, or anything that makes me shudder to think that an apparently sane person has written it – Hostel, for example, but also the Saw series and similar.
      I’m with you there: building atmosphere and intensity is definitely more of a skill than chucking buckets of blood at your leading stars!

  2. I don’t think I could stomach horror movies, though I don’t mind Hitchcockian thrillers like Psycho. I cannot stand slasher horror or ‘torture porn’ though and refuse to watch those. I did enjoy a few horror films of late such as A Quiet Place, Train to Busan, Crimson Peak, etc. as they have a good story and not just a bunch of scares.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Ruth. It’s interesting: when you dig deeper into the genre you realise just how many subgenres there are! I don’t mind slashers like Scream and Halloween but ‘torture porn’ is a big no-no for me.

      A Quiet Place and Train to Busan are two excellent films. Train to Busan was the first zombie film that I actually cried at! Sad tears, mind you, not scared tears.

      I’ve been a bit nervous about watching Crimson Peak, as I’m not too keen on the paranormal. I’m a big fan of Mia Wasikowska, though, so will make the effort.

  3. As someone who has clearly loved some of the greatest scary movies ever made (based on your Letterboxd ratings) you’ve got great taste in the genre, Claire! 😉

    I love the genre for its ability to offer that sense of escapism that comes from those feelings of tension/suspense, fear and the instant hit of the jump shock. But safe in the knowledge it’s a safe kind of fear. Like going on a rollercoaster.

    That said, I hate gore and excessive violence (the latter you tend to get in action films more than horror anyway). So there’s a certain type of horror film that hits the sweet spot for me – ones like The Exorcist, Alien, Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, The Shining, and Don’t Look Now that take their time to create that sense of fear through characters you care about, drama that’s given a sense of credibility and recognisable tragedy/conflict, and a foreboding, enigmatic atmosphere.

    That means I tend to prefer films about ghosts over zombies, and supernatural entities over slasher killers. However, there are still some great films about zombies and slasher killers that I love (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, The Burning, My Bloody Valentine) and horror-comedy is great too (An American Werewolf in London, Return of the Living Dead, Evil Dead 1 and 2, Fright Night).

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