I love late October, the scary time of the year, when a good horror movie casts the heaviest of shadows over the mind and spreads the iciest of chills within the spine.
I love how a good horror movie worms through the creaky, cobwebby attic of my brain, causes the pulsations of the heart to begin beating between my skull wall like hoofbeats of some headless horseman approaching from distant bog; how the horror movie’s scenes then escalate in suspense and cause my heart that is trapped within its dedicated torso cavity — held captive there like a wolfman chained — to begin lifting with the pull of a bad moon rising; how the horror movie then gets really down and dirty, the now deafening crescendo of my heartbeats reaching climax as my heart snaps its chain and bursts from the chest all blood squirty and alien.
Alas, unleash then all things macabre: that bucket of pig’s blood tilts and free falls from the rafters and dumps its slaughterhouse contents down onto the unsuspecting prom queen; that English nanny stands just outside a top-floor window, noose-necked, calmly looking down from the ledge at the birthday boy three stories below and announces, “Look at me, Damien. It’s all for you…” and steps forward into a neck-snap of nothingness; those blue-dressed, hand-holding, murdered twins at the end of the hotel hallway asking young Danny Torrance to play with them “for ever and ever and ever . . .”
I love how a good horror movie releases from within me a cold sweat, a shudder, a gasp, a yelp, a scream, all of this serving as the pay dirt for what Stephen King calls “daring the nightmare.”
Always, this time of year, I search the horror movie sections on the streaming services, listen to horror movie soundtracks on Spotify, and revisit the various online top 100 lists of horror movies.
It’s the season of the witch and the reason Brynne and I recently watched the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The sound of chainsaw chew has always given me the heebie-jeebies ever since I first saw (and heard!) the movie trailer on TV in October 1974. I’ve never forgotten the trailer’s cautionary words, “After you stop screaming, you’ll start talking about it.”
Just the trailer itself made it hard for this nine-year-old boy to sleep. I didn’t see the actual movie until 10 years later. How scary was it? It left my mind deeply unsettled, as the best horror movies do. Even now, I still have no desire to drive thru Texas, and I turn away when I see a meat hook. Despite its low budget feel, the acting is actually great, and the fright is very real. It scored several gasps from Brynne and some shouts of “No!” Scary movies seem scarier when watched with her.
I texted my kids an invitation to send me their personal top 10 horror movie lists. Both are adults now and connoisseurs of celluloid creepiness. Credit this to good upbringing. Interestingly, only two of the same titles appeared on both lists: House of 1000 Corpses and, yes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
They consider me crazy for not having seen House of 1000 Corpses, the directorial debut by someone aptly named Rob Zombie. I might attempt to see it, but man, that’s a lot of corpses.
Inspired, I too took a stab (insert Psycho music here) at my own list. It wasn’t easy. My first draft surpassed the 10 mark. Then I soul-searched, asking myself which movies most likely contribute to my compulsion to cover my entire body with blankets while in bedroom darkness (never let a hand dangle bare overnight — it will not be there in the morning). In other words, what horror movies really haunt me?
My current list includes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; The Exorcist; Carrie; The Blair Witch Project; The Shining; Rosemary’s Baby; Halloween (the original); A Quiet Place; Get Out / Us (a tossup), and The Witch.
I struggled to not include Jaws (my favorite movie ever), The Silence of the Lambs, Sinister, The Omen, An American Werewolf in London, Alien, X, Hereditary, Midsommar, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and even Deliverance (to this day, I avoid woods). The original The Wicker Man made me a basket case. Shaun of the Dead was hilariously bloody fun. Raw disturbed me so much I actually considered vegetarianism. Though not billed as horror, First Reformed is terrific, timely and terrifying—religion, politics and the environment are the true monsters here.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the only title on all three of our lists, making it the scariest movie in the Saalman household.
Though my kids took their latest dad-appointed task seriously, that didn’t keep them from taking a dig at me during a group text.
“Truly the greatest horror movie of all time is Vacation because it was so hard to endure. It was like a nightmare that wouldn’t end,” texted Delaney, recalling how Brynne and I held them captive and made them both watch this comedy classic.
Austin responded, “If Vacation was pure horror for you, was Animal House more of a psychological thriller?” alluding to yet another great comedy we made them watch.
Delaney replied, “Yes. Both hard to endure. Started therapy again.”
Their reaction alone is the scariest thing associated with this column. Two of my top ten comedies, both of National Lampoon ilk, actually terrified them. Welcome to my real nightmare.