Last year, I made a stupid bet. My boyfriend, a horror movie lover, and me, a musical lover, made a bet: if the New York Mets made it to the playoffs, he would have to watch six movie musicals. If they didn’t, I would have to watch six horror movies. In short, the Mets had an epic downward spiral and did not make the playoffs. I lost the bet, and had to watch six horror movies in the month of October.
I have never been a fan of horror movies as I am a well-known, lifelong ‘fraidy-cat. I have only seen a handful of them throughout my life. I had seen Scream in 1996 because it’s what all the cool kids were doing, but I think I covered my eyes through most of it. I remember watching IT on TV and being traumatized, and I remember watching The Shining at WAY too young of an age and learning that my older brothers were indeed the worst babysitters ever. I mean, I still close my eyes when the stupid flying monkeys come on the screen in The Wizard of Oz. Needless to say, while I was figuratively hiding under my jacket since then, I missed an entire genre of film. I was given the slate of movies from my boyfriend that we would be watching and always being true to a bet’s stakes, I obliged. Imagine my surprise when I not only didn’t hide my eyes, I enjoyed every one of them. He chose a good selection covering a wide array of classic horror subjects including vampires, werewolves, zombies, and aliens. And I have to say, I may be a convert now.
Film One: ‘Alien’
We started with the 1979 classic film, Alien. I didn’t know a lot about Alien going in. I knew Sigourney Weaver was in it and everyone hailed her as a badass (they were right). I also knew that at some point an alien was gonna pop out of some guy’s chest because I saw it in Spaceballs and my brother explained the reference to me. What I wasn’t expecting was that I was going to have white knuckles for the entirety of the film. I wasn’t exactly scared, but I was on the edge of my seat. And I figured out it was because of the sound, or lack thereof. The sound design on that movie is perfect. And the use of silence evokes tension that is gripping throughout.
Film Two: ‘Return of the Living Dead’
Next we went a little more campy and watched Return of the Living Dead from 1985. This one was so weird. I didn’t know what to make of it until I was reassured it was okay to laugh at it. Why didn’t anyone tell me that horror movies could be funny? It was so very 80s, but I will say it was quite compelling. At the time I was watching it, I was convinced I wasn’t enjoying it as I tried to wrap my head around the gory deaths and the gratuitous nudity. And yet for the days and months after watching, I keep thinking back to it and remembering moments that were so great, I have to laugh. It may need a re-watch because I’ve decided in the aftermath that I liked it way more than I did upon first viewing.
Film Three: ‘Near Dark’
Sticking with a little 80s camp, we watched Near Dark from 1987 next. I think this was picked because, as my boyfriend said, “It is a perfect Bill Paxton performance.” And boy was he right. The film itself was a vampire story, and it may be well-known to horror fans, but I sure had never heard of it. This too was an over-the-top campy story, but had a few genuine jump scares. However, it is Paxton’s performance that makes it a great movie. It’s as if Chet from Weird Science had become a vampire and decided to lean into the darkest and craziest parts of the persona. And I loved every minute of it. I don’t know if this film gets much credit in the annals of cinematic history, but for me, it will hold a special place in my heart as it reminded me just how much we lost with the passing of Paxton.
Film Four: ‘A Quiet Place’
We went back to aliens for the next entry with a more modern film. A Quiet Place was all the rage a few years ago, and I’m amazed I didn’t get spoiled on the ending, frankly. Talk about jump scares! The silence that had created the tension in Alien created an entire story in this film and kudos to John Krasinski for capitalizing on that. I’m not sure if I could curl into myself more than when a very pregnant Emily Blunt, who cannot make a sound, accidentally stepped on a nail sticking up from the floor. It was an excruciating scene and to do it in complete silence was about as horrifying as I could stand. I haven’t watched the 2020 sequel yet. Is it worth it?
Film Five: ‘An American Werewolf in London’
After that we went back to the 1980s to watch An American Werewolf in London. I had always heard things about this film and was very curious. I certainly wasn’t expecting Griffin Dunne to die within the first 15 minutes, nor was I expecting to discover how unbelievably hot David Naughton was. One thing I really loved about this film was that there were actual consequences for wreaking havoc and not following the rules, a plot point that tends to get lost in all genres. Also, I learned the difference between a horror comedy film and a horror film that happens to be funny. I had only known Griffin Dunne from Johnny Dangerously and more recently This Is Us and I knew David Naughton from Dr. Pepper commercials in the 1980s and his banger hit “Makin’ It.” The two were compelling, and I think this was my second favorite of the six that we watched.