I’m not what you might call a “scary movie buff,” but I probably do watch more scary movies than the average person. Every autumn leading up to Halloween is prime scary movie season, so of course I get a ramped up desire to watch something that is guaranteed to make me look twice at the dark corners of my house.
Of all the scary movies that I have seen, four films in particular really jump out at me (get it?) as my all-time favorite scary movie viewing experiences. Now these may not be the best horror films of all time, but they are my favorite watching-experiences because of the situations that I experienced when watching them. Horror movies are often about the mood, environment, and circumstances when watched, and my circumstances viewing the following four were perfect.
3. The Blair Witch Project
For those of you that watched horror movies in 1999, perhaps you remember the anomaly and phenomenon that was The Blair Witch Project. It was the horror movie pioneer of the “found-footage home video” style of shooting and went on as the champion of this low-budget-to-mass-market-appeal up until 2009 when Paranormal Activity came out.
What was great about this film was that it was marketed as if it really was actual video footage that was found about real missing people. And what you have to remember about this is that in 1999, most people still didn’t really have steady access to the Internet and even if they did, it certainly wasn’t the robust source of information and dialogue that it is today. People genuinely didn’t know if this was real footage or not (a relatively new marketing tactic for a horror movie at the time).
Well amidst all of the hype for the film, two buddies and I decided to rent and watch The Blair Witch Project once it came out. There we were, three 13 year-old boys watching the “actual video footage” of three young people getting lost in the woods of Maryland as they sought out the truth behind the Blair Witch legend. And as the characters got more lost and more scared, we huddled together and got more and more anxious in the dark of my friend’s living room.
While I do think The Blair Witch Project is a great film, what really leaves it standing out in my memory is that it is one of my first scary movie experiences where not only was I scared, but so were the other people watching it with me. We were together a collection of terrified individuals all trying to act like we were not scared. And the icing on the cake was that after my friends and I finished the film, we had to walk back to my house through the wooded suburbs of Indianapolis as we scrambled to stay in the streetlight and avoid all trees and shadows.
2. Paranormal Activity
As I mentioned up above, Paranormal Activity is the spiritual successor to The Blair Witch Project. It wonderfully captured the techniques and scares that Blair Witch originated a decade earlier; however, unlike The Blair Witch Project, I watched the original Paranormal Activity in a movie theater, not at home. Even though I was no longer a 13 year-old boy, the huge screen and booming sound more than made up for the age difference. I promise you, every horror movie is scarier in the theater than it is in the safety of your own home.
Paranormal Activity was filmed with a low budget using fantastic “found footage” techniques, great acting, brilliantly simple special and sound effects (sound effects that sound just like the noises that you know you’ve heard yourself in your own home), and a creepy lack of music that totally enhances the creep-out factor. It made everybody who saw it second-guess the noises in their own homes.
I think Paranormal Activity is a great example of “less is more” in horror films, but why this movie experience earns a special place in my heart is because of the audience in my particular movie theater the night my girlfriend and I went to see it. We sat in a packed theater in Huntington Beach, CA and all throughout the film the audience members around me were losing their minds while watching events unfold on the screen. I cannot say enough how much these people were covering their eyes, screaming, and yelling at the characters on screen to either do something or not do something else. In the end, I’m not sure if it made the movie scarier or less scary, but it did make it an awesome experience.
This sort of audience reaction actually did happen. True story.
1. The Ring
Say what you want about The Ring, but there is a reason that it took in more than $128 million when it released in 2002. The Ring was the first of a number of Japanese horror films that were adapted and made into new films for the US market during the 2000s. I’ve seen most of them and The Ring still stands out as the best.
Despite seeing this with a group of about a dozen friends in a movie theater when I was a senior in high school, this movie freaked me out for a variety of reasons:
- Suburban home setting – check
- Urban legend lore – check
- Super scary visuals – check
- Ghost that just wants to seem to hurt people – check
- Story that actually makes sense – check
- Super creepy kid – check and check
- False sense of safety – check
This is a great film to watch with some friends and one of my favorite memories was leaving the theater and all of us laughing together at how scared we were when watching the film. I specifically remember looking down the row at one point and seeing two of my buddies placing a death grip on their chair armrests as they squirmed backwards in their seats.
I’m sure there are plot holes to this film like there are in many horror films, but for me this was an unbridled ride of terror for 90+ minutes. I remember feeling like I my heart stopped about a dozen times while watching this on the big screen and just when you think it’s over… oh boy. I don’t want to ruin the ending, so if you haven’t seen it, I cannot recommend The Ring enough.