Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ghosts and Goblins and Ghouls, Oh My!

by Jo Robertson

Psychologists theorize about why people enjoy being scared half to death in the name of fun. Rides at amusement parks, scary movies, and recklessly fast driving all apparently give risk-takers some sort of vicarious thrill.

But what’s so fun about being frightened?

Those same doctors suggest that scary movies and books, fast thrills, and watching others engage in risk-taking behavior provide a release for our natural inclination for daring excitement in a safe environment. In a movie we can watch the heroine get the mysterious phone call, hear a strange noise, and YEP go into the basement to check it out. "Don’t go downstairs!" we yell from our safe seats in the movie theatre.

By the way, why does she always go down there anyway? If we authors wrote such action for our protagonists, we'd say they’re TSTL (too stupid to live) and kill them off in a hurry.

But I LOVE those movies!!! I watched SAW One, Two and One Hundred even as I knew how stupid, violent, and silly the whole thing was. I love being scared, sitting in my house, safe and warm, reading a book or watching a movie, knowing I am secure while the heroine, idiot woman that she is, gets chased by the monster.

Those same doctors insist we like watching scary movies and reading scary books because they remind us that essentially we’re protected. They provide us the thrills we crave from a safe distance.

When my husband and I were engaged, and poor as church mice, we spent every Friday night watching the Friday Night Spook Movies on TV and eating homemade popcorn. I loved the old Bella Lugosi and Vincent Price movies, the scariness of the black and white screen, and the vicarious thrill.

When I was a young mother, I read a book whose name I've forgotten, about a possessed house, a sort of poltergeist (before those movies), an evil historical entity that threatened the whole family, a la Amityville. My husband was gone on an overnight conference and I was so frightened that I woke up my new-born baby and one-year old son, just to have the company. And I kept the lights on ALL night.

My favorite scary movie? It's "Night of the Living Dead," the 1968 movie that gives me the creeps to this day. And a close second, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," both versions!

So, what about you? What's your favorite scary movie or book? Why? Do YOU like the thrill of being scared out of your wits? Why?


Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Jo -

One of Dean Koontz's novels - ShadowFalls, I think - scared me half out of my mind. I had to recheck all the locks on the windows and doors that night. It's a story of young woman who discovers she has a psychic connections with a sick, sick, evil sicko murderer (did I mention he was twisted?).

I think people like scary movies for the emotion spike. Personnally, I prefer Romance *g*. I'm not into horror but The Silence of the Lambs had me on the edge of my seat. I wasn't thrilled with the latest remake of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was Disney-fied. But I did like the earlier ones.

Donna MacMeans said...

Well - Pigs must be flying somewhere in the world if I won the rooster (big grin).

Susan Seyfarth said...

Hi, Jo! I'm not a big scary movie fan. My husband likes 'em though. Before I agreed to watch the Sixth Sense with him (not even a bloody one, just psychological) he had to promise to get up & personally walk me to the bathroom for a month if I ever had to go in the middle of the night. :-)

Speaking of psychological scares, I thought Silence of the Lambs was one of those, too. Somehow I'd missed it when it came out (I spent a few years in the woods & missed a lot of pop culture stuff). My husband was out of town on business, so I figured I'd rent it & catch up. Okay, so nobody mentioned the whole trapped-in-a-dark-house-with-a-killer-who-has-night-vision-goggles business. Ack. Lights on, all night.


jo robertson said...

Yeah, Donna, you DID win the rooster. I adored Silence of the Lambs and it's one of the few films that I thought lived up to the book. Uh, and WHAT happened to Thomas Harris with the sequels to his class novel?

Anna Campbell said...

Donna gets the Rooster! Donna gets the Rooster! Is that the first time, my tardy Bandita friend?

Jo, great post. Actually, I'm not a great horror fan but I agree with Donna when she says it's the emotion spike. That's why I read romance - all those larger than life emotions and high stakes situations. My favorite sort of horror film is the one that uses a strong mythological/religious base for the story. You know, the Book of Revelations or whatever. Those things really scare the life out of me!

doglady said...

Congrats on the Rooster, Donna!! Hold it high with pride. I LOVE to watch scary movies, but only if they are really good. I used to read stories by Poe and H.P. Lovecraft to my students on a Friday afternoon as a reward for good behavior and progress all week. Picture 15 or so teenagers sitting quietly in their desks while I scared the "beejesus" out of them. It did get them reading, however. Movies based on mythological or spiritual or folk like stories do not bother me. I have read enough on the subject to know what countermeasures to take, if that make any sense. There is a strange logic to demons, werewolves and vampires. Movies about serial killers or psychopaths, however, scare the living heck out of me. My late hubby was a psychiatrist in the prison system. Abnormal psychology was his thing. I typed his notes and read profiles and case folders. There is NO countermeasure to keep you safe from a homicidal maniac except a dead aim with a big gun. I loved the Vincent Price version of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE MASK OF THE RED DEATH. The 1968 version of Night of the Living Dead is another favorite. I also LOVE Shaun of the Dead because the British humor and attitude is just priceless!

Caren Crane said...

Well, Jo, you know I am a first-class chicken! But I thought 'The Sixth Sense' was wonderful. Scary, but great.

I saw 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' when I was in college and thought I would die of sheer terror. I wasn't right for months after that!

I tend more toward movies like 'Silence Of the Lambs' that have the psychological angles. Movies that mess with your head are my favorites, though they are not necessarily scary.

I greatly prefer my horror with humor, like 'Shaun Of the Dead' and 'Scream'. I do intend to see 'Sweeney Todd' when it comes out. Nothing better than Victorian horror!

Also, I was a HUGE fan of Edgar Alan Poe, Doglady. I remember for oral poetry recitations, doing both 'The Raven' and 'The Bells'. It's hard to do 'The Bells' and not leave people snickering, let me tell you. *g*

jo robertson said...

OH, Anna, I'm so with you. The whole 666 and the mark of the beast. Pretty scary stuff those early Christian writers laid on us mere mortals!

And Susan, The Sixth Sense was one of the FEW movies that GOT me -- I had NO idea until the very end, that whole scene with the wedding ring, you know?

And speaking of The Ring, yikes, how creepy is that woman crawling out of the well?????? Ooooohhhh, I'm scaring myself here.

jo robertson said...

How funny, Doglady, scaring a bunch of teens, but I admit I did the same thing.

On Oct 31 during class, I used to turn out all the lights, use a flashlight to highlight my face from beneath my chin, and finger a bowl of raw chicken livers (covered so only the blood seeped through) -- all while I read Poe's "Tbe Tell-Tale Heart."

When I got to the part, "it's the beating of his hideous heart," I'd unveil the plate of chicken livers and hold them up. Got a lot of screams!

Gosh, it's a wonder I didn't get fired for that trick! I sorely repent of it, now of course.

Caren Crane said...

I sorely repent of it, now of course.

Does anyone besides me not believe Jo repents of scaring the teenagers? *g* I think it's funny as all get-out!

Caren Crane said...

I forgot my favorite horror books! Being a Scaredy Cat, I prefer scary books because I can control my exposure. Movies are all there in your face. With books, though, you can skim pages or gruesome scenes.

The most terrifying book I ever read was 'The Shining'. Scratch that. I'm not sure I ever finished 'The Shining' because I would get so scared I couldn't read on. I've read lots of Stephen King, but that was the one that scared the crud out of me. I think because it was, essentially, about the two things that scare me the most: haunted houses and psychological creepiness.

I've heard other people say Koontz is their horror of choice, but his writing never resonated with me like King's craziness. Stephen King, keeping it real. And scary!

The mind is a terrible thing. *g*

Helen said...

One of the scariest movies I have ever seen and only once when it was released a long time ago was the Exorcist turned me of scary movies for years I will never watch it again but I did enjoy The Others and Sixth Sense I have also enjoyed The Scary Movies and I Know What Happened Last Summer Physco was another really good movie. I don't read scary books so I can't comment on those.
Great post
Have Fun

Helen said...

Congrats Donna on getting the rooster award.

Joan said...

Well, poo.....I go out shopping for clothes to replace the three bagfuls I de-cluttered out of my closet and Donna snatches the prize.


Ok, I am very susceptible to horror and hate it. I remember reading the Pit and the Pendulum and freaking out (I think I was in 7th grade)

The Exorcist? Don't even start me on that one. I was a VERY impressionable teen...never READ the book...never SAW the movie but from listening to people talk was FREAKED OUT!

Despite that I talked my brother into going to the movies to see "Tales from the Crypt". Mistake. Huge Mistake. Half way through I made him leave. (He got to keep the popcorn).

The Sixth Sense was good but I thought a bit bloody (all those ghosts who'd been executed in that school. Bleah)But loved the ending.

To me, the scariest movie was the first Jurassic Park. Man, when those two velasoraptors chase those kids in that kitchen! Gahhh...(covers head with arms).

I live alone and that night I SWEAR I heard rapping on my bedroom window and knew...just KNEW it was them.

Excuse me while I go check the doors.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Okay, I so admire you guys, but I have scared myself so bad even reading about scary things I won't hardly even read scary anymore. I mean, I know there is no such thing as vampires (right? please tell me you guys agree) but I read NR's Circle Trilogy and lost sleep for a week. I couldn't even read it after dark. Jurassic Park scared me silly, I can't handle things jumping out of no where and suddenly they are in your face. Nope, not me, total and absolute coward to the bone. Mess with my kids and it might be a different story but just me, myself, and I and I am hiding under the covers. I am with you Joan, time to check the doors and windows and find my garlic.

MsHellion said...

The Sixth Sense--we saw the midnight showing--and it was 2 am, and I was looking around for dead people. Then I was wondering if I was dead and I just didn't know it. Crazy.

The Village I saw much later...and by then I knew what that writer/director was about, so I spent my time trying to figure out the twist. And then I was like, "This is the twist isn't it?"--to my friend who'd already seen it--and she was: "YES! I hate it! Isn't that stupid!"

My favorite gory-chills one is Sleepy Hollow with Johnny Depp. It's by turns comical and macabre. Plus Christopher Walken has filed teeth.

I am also lined up to see Sweeney Todd. Anything that has the tagline: Never Forget, Never Forgive has my support. Sounds like one of the family mottos, really.

I've never liked gory movies...and I've thought monster of the black lagoon looked hokey. I'm not sure what to think of the body snatchers...but I did always like Hitchcock's suspense stuff. Funny dialogue and action...

I don't read scary books. I'm a romance girl. BUT I do read Laurell K Hamilton, which is a bit of a mix. *LOL* And her 8th/9th Anita Blake book, Obsidian Butterfly, totally skeeved me out. It had skinned people walking around like zombies. I. Could. NOT. Sleep. Which was tragic, because I love sleep.

Aunty Cindy said...

I'm with Joanie, the first Jurassic Park scared me spitless! Silence of the Lambs scared me too, but more than anything I was scared/fascinated with the Hannibal character. That scene where he peeled off the guy's face and uses it to escape is still one of my FAVES OF ALL TIME!!! I'll never forget my son's reaction the first time he saw it.

When we were kids, my mom would drop me, my sister and brother off at the Sat. double feature. Some of those were the old creature features (invasion of giant grasshoppers anyone?), or even a few Vincent Price horror flicks. My brother and I would tease my sister mercilessly about those, because she was always so scared.

Stephen King's early novels get my vote as scariest too. I couldn't read "Salem's Lot" after dark and once I finished it, I gave the book away because I didn't want it in my house! My absolute fave of those early King novels is "The Dead Zone." I absolutely could NOT put it down.

STILL the sloth!

Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

I can't stand slasher movies. Creep me totally out. I can't stand to watch scary movies about things that could actually happen. I prefer my scary to be of the not-possible kind -- like the Underworld movies. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Scott Speedman looks HOT in those movies. :)

I still remember when I was little, seeing the King Kong movie with Jessica Lange. We lived out in the boonies with no security light, and it was DARK at night. I was convinced that King Kong lived in the woods behind my house and that I would look over at the window and see him in the middle of the night. Dang, I get chills thinking about it now.

Joan said...


The scariest creatures on earth.

Oh, I know there are those who think them delightful, whimsical maybe even FUN but that's part of their evil plan. Lure you into accepting a balloon animal and then BAM....

You can't trust someone who has to paint a smile on their face!

This was brought to mind at AC's mention of Stephen King. While exercising one day I accidently tuned into the movie "It". If I didn't trust clowns before THAT took care of it.

Do not, I repeat, do not turn your back on them :-0

shannon said...

My favorite scary book to this day is Misery (Steven King... well,duh!) This was the ONLY book I have EVER read that I had to keep the lights on and that truly freaked me out. I also like Dean Koontz (well not ALL his books... just the good ones :) and I appreciate most Steven King books (although I have a hard time getting past his lengthy and in my opinion unnecessary discriptions) but Misery was just as perfect a thriller as they come. My favorite scary movie...hmmmm... well I have seen SO many as I too LOVE to be scared, especially in a dark theater. I think the movie that freaked me out the most and which caused me to peek under the bed a few times was The Grudge (the first one). Such a creepy movie! Of course some major classics are Poltergeist, Jaws, The Ring, Silence of the Lambs and Seven.

jo robertson said...

Aunty C, I'm with you on the Hannibal Lecter face-peeling thing. Yikes! And the freaky trans-sexual wannabe -- anybody notice that that actor is the long-suffering detective on MONK?

Joannie, how could we forget IT -- that epic Stephen King book. I've never trusted clowns since I read that book.

jo robertson said...

Hey, Shannie, thanks for joining us! Remember when we had that awesomely scary spook alley in the garage with so much "blood" all around the severed limbs and disembodied heads?

Kennie has never eaten ketchup since then. Er, so I'm told.

Keira Soleore said...

Jo asked, "But what’s so fun about being frightened?"

EXACTLY! I'm a scaredy cat. So if things go bump in the night, I'm liable to nudge Hubby awake and ask him to go downstairs to check, while I cower under the comforter.

Jo said, "I was so frightened that I woke up my new-born baby and one-year old son, just to have the company."

That must've been one scary book, because to my thinking there is nothing that might make me wake up a newborn and a one-year-old when I finally had 30 minutes of peace and quiet to myself.

Donna: That would be the chicken flapping his wings. Squawk snork!

Anonymous said...

Jo, I'm at the far end of the scaredy-cat spectrum. I refuse to watch scary movies. Won't do it. Even my definition of scary movies is expansive. I can get scared by watching a preview.

You know what I really hate? When they make kids look scary. Like when they make their faces white or mess with their eyes. (shudder) Can't handle it.

I will stick with my romance novels, thank you very much! :-)

DownUnderGirl said...

I'm with Kirsten - don't even bother. I can see a preview or read a critque and go "nup, not going to see that one". I was talked into seeing The Creep Show as a teenager and was scared witless. Same goes for Cujo.
I can do psychological thrillers that have me on the edge of my seat but plain, gross, freaky creatures and blood and gore and slaying people and evil ghosts and spirits etc. Nope.
Although I did see Silence of the Lambs (but that was defintiely psychological I reckon) and Sixth Sense. I dont really regard these as horror. To me horror is Nightmare on Elm St or The Amityville one or The Exorcist etc etc.
Nope. Can't do it. Same goes for scary books. Give me lurve any day.
Having said that one of the scariest books I've ever read was one that fictionalised the Bubonic Plague being spread in the US - the speed of it's spread was truly terrifying.


AndreaW said...

Good question! And I'm a little stumped on the answer. I love to watch scary movies...Exorcist, Silence of the Lambs, Scream, Wolf Creek and Halloween to name a few. I'm not sure exactly why except that I like them. Maybe because I know it's make believe and it's nice to see something "bad" happen to someone who isn't real. Does that make sense? LOL


Caren Crane said...

Shannon, I loved Seven! Totally forgot about that one. And here I thought I didn't like or watch scary movies. Maybe I just put them out of my mind. *eg*

Caren Crane said...

Amy, it was Stephen King's 'The Stand'. My favorite King novel of all time!! I've long thought that one deserved to be a mini-series on SciFi Channel. Like they did with 'Children of Dune'. Awesome!

Beth said...

I watched my fair share of horror/scary movies as a teen (Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween etc) but you couldn't pay me to watch one now. I've never seen The Sixth Sense and since I know the ending now, see no reason to *g* I think Silence of the Lambs would seriously freak me out :-)

My older sister always loved scary movies and books and would delight in scaring the bejeezus out of me when we were kids. Sadly, she's never sorely repented of it *g* Oh, and my 13 yo daughter's reading class just finished The Tell Tale Heart - like her mama, she didn't like it either :-)

Caren Crane said...

Keira, you're not a chicken, you're a Golden Rooster! *g*

jo robertson said...

Shannon and Caren, Seven was soooo scary to me. I went to see it because of Brad Pitt, but then the whole head in a box thing freaked me out. Hmmmm, is that where Prison Break got the idea from?