Hello, fellow horror fans! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Ari, a relatively new contributor and critic at BD. I helped cover SXSW 2017 this year alongside Trace, but even if you haven’t had a chance to catch any of my posts here just yet (or at Dread Central, where I previously wrote for a bit), I’m glad you decided to start with this one. I feel like this will doubly serve as a nice introduction to who I am and what gets me going as a horror fan, as well as (hopefully) inspire you all to take a trip down memory lane and reflect on the genre films that ultimately made you the horror diehards you are today.
I recently had some drinks with a few other genre fans and we began sharing memories of movie scenes that terrified us at an early age, whether from straightforward horror fare or otherwise. This got me thinking about pivotal moments over the years in my horror education–times when a shocking or unsettling scene or really unforgettable movie-watching experience managed to shift or expand my tastes in the genre right then and there. As someone who is equally content taking in an atmospheric, slow-burn Satanic thriller or simply enjoying a good ol’ girl-to-bloodthirsty-beaver transformation, my taste in dark genre films tends to run the gamut these days. Like many of you though, I have gone through different stages in my lifetime as a horror fan, gravitating exclusively towards specific subgenres at certain points and adventurously exploring unfamiliar or lesser-known titles at others.
In any case, you’ll find a list of a few films below that I feel really contributed to my horror education over the years in one way or another. Not all of these may qualify as “horror” in the traditional sense (though almost all are), but each played a significant role in my appreciation for the various aspects of the genre at a given time in my life. They are listed in chronological order based on the time of my first viewing of each film, just FYI. Happy reading and be sure to let us know what films you’d put on your list!
Beetlejuice was the first film I recall being ridiculously obsessed with as a child. My mother and I actually rented the VHS so many times from our town’s video store that the owner finally just gave it to us. (I still have that VHS, too!) Still, as much as I loved re-watching about 95% of the film, I had issues finishing it. While Betelgeuse’s turn as a giant snake or the Maitlands’ transformations into horrifying monsters never phased me, the final scene in which Otho’s attempted séance-turned-exorcism causes the couple to appear and begin decaying in their wedding attire scared the crap out of me. Maybe it was the super creepy stare that Geena Davis delivers right into the camera or just the overall dark atmosphere of the scene when compared to the rest of the film… whatever the case, it took quite a while for me to finally watch the film all the way through. Needless to say, I was very proud of myself when I did and found myself searching for movies with more straightforward scares after that.
I first caught Browning’s Dracula on TNT at my grandparents’ house one weekend. My grandpa had recently introduced me to the amazingness that was TNT’s MonsterVision, so in my mind the network was just about the best thing on TV. While this film didn’t actually air as part of the MonsterVision lineup that night, my viewing of it was made possible in large part thanks to TNT’s support of the genre back then and Dracula immediately became one of my early favorites. As you’ll see, I got away with watching a lot of horror films at an arguably inappropriate age, and I like to think that Browning’s classic, evenly paced approach to the well-known horror story and Lugosi’s menacing, but not outright nightmare-inducing performance was a nice way to ease me into the types of films I would soon encounter in the coming years.
Now this is where things took a turn. Right before I started school (yep, I was maybe 5), I would go to the video store with my dad and he would let me pick a few movies every weekend. I naturally hung out in the horror section and due to some very loose supervision at night and the fact that the VHS tapes at our video store were packaged in clear cases instead of their original boxes, I got away with renting and watching some rather intense titles. I remembered picking movies that had the scariest cover art, and with Demons 2 boasting a more overtly unsettling (though notably busier) design than its predecessor, I actually caught this film before I ever saw Bava’s original. Let’s just say that I was definitely not ready for it. From oozing limbs to outrageous dog-to-demon transformations, Demons 2 was the first outright gore-fest I was ever witness to and it definitely gave me a few sleepless nights. Still, it somehow only served to reinforce my love for the thrill of being scared and I thus made it a regular mission as a kid to keep upping the ante with each new movie I discovered–mostly during my weekends at Dad’s, that is.
By the time I saw Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in the mid-’90s at a friend’s house, I had a pretty good idea of who Freddy Krueger was: one of the most famous boogeymen in horror who stalked victims in their dreams while sporting a killer glove, dusty hat, and that sweater. He was arguably the most well-known horror villain in pop culture at the time, but given my preoccupation with “mini monster” movies like Gremlins, Critters, and Ghoulies at that age, I just hadn’t quite made my way over to the Nightmare films up to that point. Still, while Freddy’s Dead was not the most representative of the franchise, I fell in love with the series then and there. The film’s outlandish death scenes and Englund’s maniacal performance punctuated with biting humor and those killer one-liners gave me a whole new appreciation for the power of a great, iconic villain. I soon caught up on the other five films in the series (New Nightmare had not been released on home video just yet), and A Nightmare on Elm Street fast became one of my favorite horror franchises.
This was where my love of horror really took a pivotal turn. As a preteen with a strong penchant for sarcasm and a love for twist endings in stories, Scream was both a breath of fresh air and a wonderful retrospective of sorts for me when I caught it on home video in ’97. Given that my family and friends who typically didn’t love horror films really dug Scream, it notably made me excited for the possibility that horror might again become something universal that I could share with others I knew without being labeled a blood-and-guts-obsessed weirdo. Most of all though, Scream solidified my love for the slasher and Sidney Prescott quickly became my favorite final girl ever. I loved how Neve Campbell brought Kevin Williamson’s sharply-written lead to life, and Sidney also became something of an empowering figure for me at the time–particularly as an admittedly effeminate young outcast who tended to gravitate towards strong female characters in film and TV. Needless to say, my love for the genre became far more unabashed after I encountered Craven’s modern classic, and the film and its sequels have since held a very special place in my heart as my favorite horror franchise.