Who doesn’t love a good scare? Who doesn’t love to be creeped out to the core of their throbbing gristle while watching a ghoulish movie, TV show or even reading a chilling novel? Fear is a great way to release pent-up energy and even anxiety. It’s cathartic and just plain fun.
That’s why people love Halloween. It’s the ideal time to indulge yourself in your fears and test your taste for terror—not to mention gorge on candy like it’s the end of the world! Like many people, I get in the mood for the maudlin and downright mortifying this time of year. I indulge in my very own horror-fest with a vast array of scary films that I’ve loved for years. These can run the gamut from your basic vampire tale to preternatural nail-biters and even edge-of-your-seat mass murder tales.
Among my all-time favourite scary movies are ‘Black Christmas’, a sorority house terror that was actually shot in Toronto (some locations just up the street from where I live) and features Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin, among others. It is one of the creepiest films I’ve ever seen and to this day makes me look over my shoulder in the middle of the night. Another classic is ‘The Amityville Horror’, again starring Margot Kidder (is there a theme here?) and James Brolin about a sweet young couple who become the victims of demonic possession when they buy the house of their dreams…or rather, nightmares. I also love the 70s version of ‘Nosferatu the Vampyre’ starring Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani. Other honourable mentions include ‘The Descent’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.
However, the ultimate of all horror films for me is ‘The Exorcist’. This movie shook me to the core of my being with it’s twisting psychological and spiritual battle between a priest and Satan for the soul of a young girl, played by Linda Blair. It is still chilling and shocking 40 years after it’s premiere.
In celebration of the season of the soul (and soulless), I asked a diverse and fascinating group of fellow mavens of the macabre and horror genre cinephiles what movie, TV show or book shook them to their core, made their knees knock and their heart pound. Here’s what they say scare the sh*t outta them:
Sometimes a movie is so chilling it renders you practically speechless. This was the effect a certain bone-chilling bloodbath of a psychological thriller had on Maggie. “’SEVEN’. Period,” says Cassella of her favourite terror flick. “If you have to ask why you’ve never seen ‘SEVEN’. I don’t want to talk about it anymore it’s bringing back the terror.” The movie stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey and is about a pair of detectives on the case of a brutal murderer who bases his kills on the seven deadly sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust and envy.
Hopefully Maggie, a comedy maven and co-owner of the popular Toronto hotspot, The Flying Beaver Pubaret, will be able to sleep after recalling Seven.
David Ivey… “My favourite horror movie would have to be Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’. I first saw the movie when I was 10. It didn’t just give me nightmares; it would launch a lifelong obsession with horror movies. It had everything: Abandoned factories! Best friends in body bags! Epic practical effects! And Nancy Thompson the most kick ass final girl ever. It makes perfect Halloween time viewing. I would suggest a double feature along with ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ (in which Nancy returns to help a rag tag group of teens take Freddy on in what is considered the best horror sequel since Bride of Frankenstein).”
David Ivey is an amateur horror blogger and professional smut peddler. His horror movie blog Homodrome features his take on everything from spooky musicals to chainsaw massacres.
Andrea Zanin… “I’ve never been a horror fan, but the one exception to that rule is the Borderlands anthology series edited by Thomas F. Monteleone,” Zanin says, “which came out in the mid-90s. The idea behind the series was to publish short horror and “dark fantasy” stories that fell outside the usual tropes of the genre, and the results are terrifying—often in subtle, mindfucky sorts of ways. If you haven’t yet enjoyed them it’s well worth tracking down old copies on ABEbooks.com or the like. They are long out of print. Be warned, though, some of the imagery will stay burned into your brain for the rest of your life.”
When she’s not working on her PhD in women’s studies, Andrea Zanin travels the world to teach about sex and sadomasochism. Back at home, she co-organizes the annual Canadian leatherdyke weekend An Unholy Harvest and runs a pervy book club called The Leather Bindings Society. Andrea blogs at sexgeek, writes the “Ask the Sex Geek” column for In Toronto magazine, judges leather contests, and pens pervy porn, most recently for Tristan Taormino’s Lambda Award-winning “Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica.”
Kendall Partington… “If I have to go to the one that probably scared me the most,” explains Partington, “it was the original ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’. I remember being shocked watching the first true murder scene in that movie when the actress was being brutally slaughtered by an invisible being and the sound effects and screams were very real sounding to me. Worse…it took my one refuge from such things and turn it into the very place you were attacked!! Your own bed wasn’t safe anymore. Brrr…it was a great concept and the first movie was a masterpiece. Too bad they cotton candied it into a joking franchise of crap sequels a la ‘Friday the 13th’. What scares me now? The thought I may never see a great horror again with originality!”
Kate Johnston… “Okay, well, it isn’t my favourite horror film (not sure I have one as I don’t watch a lot of them anymore),” Johnston admits. “BUT it is the one that scared me the most and pretty much damaged me for life. ‘The Exorcist’. I was raised Catholic, so that might have had something to do with it. I saw it the week it was released with my friends who all laughed but they were Protestant, so it was comedy to them. I still can’t get the images out of my head and when it was re-released this year, I couldn’t look at the ads. LOL. My dad ran a movie theatre as a kid and so I saw a few movies that scared me as a kid. ‘Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte’ was one. Also ‘The Night of The Hunter’. Menacing. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ would be the one that I COULD watch again. Scary. Polansky at his best.”
Kate Johnston is a filmmaker (TomGirlfilms.com) who makes films by, about and for women and the queer community. She was a producer on Christine Chew’s short films SLOW BURN and CLICK and has recently written, directed and produced her short film STORMCLOUD, which is in post. She is currently in pre-production to co-direct her feature film TRU LOVE featuring a cast of well-known Canadian actors.
Dr. Tod Oliver… And now for an appearance by a TV show. “My scariest TV show is ‘The Walking Dead’,” confesses Oliver. “Beyond the flesh-eating Zombies who dominate the world, the tension between the characters brings a whole new level of suspense to the series. You never know what is going to happen next. The other thing I like is that characters come and go in the series. They disappear, get eaten, get blown away, or come back from the dead as zombies (… reminds me of my old job). It’s the only series that has ever given me nightmares…and I don’t mind. Walkers Rule!”
Dr. Tod Oliver is an Industrial Organizational Psychologist with NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He lives in southern California with his wife Amanda and their 3 little zombies…ah, I mean kids.
“My favourite horror film has to be Fred Walton’s ‘When A Stranger Calls’ (1979),” says Webb. “Largely based on the urban legend “the babysitter and the man upstairs”, the film stars Carol Kane who plays Jill, a babysitter who receives increasingly threatening calls from a brutal serial killer whom she first assumes is simply a prankster- he’s not. “Have you checked the children? Have you checked the children?” OMFG!!!!! HAVE YOU CHECKED THE F-CKING CHILDREN?!?!? The first 20 minutes are the most terrifying minutes committed to film- the direction is brilliant, the score is genius- and Carol Kane is unbelievable.”
Wolfgang Webb is a producer and scores music for television. He is the owner of Channelonemedia.
Scott Dagostino… “The best horror novels tend to make the best horror films too,” says Dagostino. “I love how ‘THE EXORCIST’, ‘THE SHINING’ and ‘JAWS’ combine shocking frights (vomit! axe! shark!) with deeper existential fears (Hell, daddy, water) — yet some frankly mediocre movies have been made from my favourite horror series. Despite their wild visual imagination, Clive Barker’s ‘BOOKS OF BLOOD’ demand to be read, for these stories are indeed soaked with blood, vicious horrors, sexual perversity and malicious wit. Stephen King called Barker “the future of horror” and his ‘BOOKS OF BLOOD’ back that up.”
“The scariest book I’ve ever read was Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot’,” recalls Fraser. “I was in high school and could so relate to the small town atmosphere of the piece that I read the entire book in one epic sitting. The scenes of the vampire children crying to be let in through the windows still haunt me. In terms of movies I’d say my first viewing of Robert Wise’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, the film was called ‘The Haunting’, scared me in a way no horror film had ever scared me before because my imagination created the monsters and they were far worse than anything Hollywood could imagine.”
Brad Fraser’s work encompasses many forms of media over the last thirty years. His plays include; Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, Poor Super Man, Martin Yesterday, Snake in Fridge, Cold Meat Party, Wolfboy, Young Art, True Love lies, 5 @ 50 and the lyrics and book for the musical Outrageous, to name the most well known.
Peter Laneas… “My favourite scary movie is John Carpenter’s ‘Prince of Darkness’, recalls Laneas. “When I was growing up my mother let us read horror novels and I got to read all kinds of scary stories. Nothing scared me as badly as my imagination. When I first got to see the movie, I was watching it mid-afternoon on television and I was sitting with one of my cousins and my aunt Letty. About two thirds of the way through the movie—the plotline was scary, it was very well done, Alice Cooper was featured in the movie and the story had Satan with swirly green goo that brought out the worst murdering instincts of anyone who got exposed to it—my aunt reached over very quietly and put her hand on my thigh very fast and very abruptly and screamed, which made me scream at the top of my lungs in front of everyone in the room. And ever since it’s been the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.”
Peter Laneas is an actor who is currently featured in a national campaign for Comwave. He has also been working in the young adult cancer community as an advocate and survivor spokesperson for the past three years for the Canadian Testicular Cancer Association as well as Young Adult Cancer Canada, specifically for LocaLife Toronto.
Adolfo Mirra… “My favourite horror movie of all time has to be ‘It’ by Stephen King,” says Mirra. “It’s this insane clown. And you trust clowns and then to have him come out and start killing all these kids was just really creepy. The first time your see the heads it was just something unreal. It was fun but it was also scary at the same time. I haven’t looked at clowns the same way for a while. Especially ones that live in sewers.”
Adolfo Mirra helps run his family’s restaurant called Mirra’s Place.
Jeff Maynard… “I saw The Exorcist when I was 7. It was creepy, spooky, but I didn’t really find it all that scary. I’m not sure why, maybe because I didn’t believe in God, and therefore the whole premise didn’t sit as something plausible with me,” Maynard explains. “But pretty much during my early years I just loved horror movies. But the first movie that I ever found really scary I happened upon when I was thirteen years old, house-sitting for my uncle. He had a massive collection of movies, hundreds and hundreds, which I used to go through every time I house-sat for him – mostly looking for movies with nudity. But on one occasion I happened upon a movie called ‘Evil Dead’. It was in just about every way the perfect movie. It was bloody, it was gory, and the cinematography was amazing. But there’s a scene in the film where one of the characters is sexually assaulted by some trees. I’d never seen anything like that before, but it freaked me out. It was years before I didn’t feel anxious and stressed out with a sense of dread walking in the woods at night, which happened often as I lived in the country. Looking back, I think I can attribute most of my desensitization to gore in general from watching that movie. There’s a lesson in parenting there somewhere.”
Jeff Maynard is a digital project manager at a social media agency called Rocket XL. Jeff is 33, single and straight, so if you have any cute friends…
“In my adult life, no movie has scared me more than Rob Zombie’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects,’” says Preece. “Which is odd, since it was a sequel to his previous Texas Chain Saw Massacre “homage” ‘House of 1000 Corpses’, which I didn’t particularly care for. But in this one, the psychopathic Firefly family takes a group of people hostage, killing pretty much randomly (RIP Brian Posehn’s “Jimmy The Roadie”). Their penchant for random violence, and both psychological and sexual torture, make the middle act of this film absolutely terrifying – I literally had no idea what would happen next. I didn’t pee myself from fear the first time I watched it, but I was pinching the valve. Both Bill Moseley as ‘Otis’ and Shari Moon Zombie as ‘Baby’ were brilliantly psychotic in their performances. Let me put it this way – the original ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ scares me stupid, and for good reason. Yet I still watch it every year around this time. I had to be talked into watching these scenes from ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ again for this piece. And I’m not yet sure I made the right decision. Hold me, Andrew – I’m scared.”
Greg Preece is a writer and segment producer for Naked News. He’s been trying to sell a zombie-related show called “Wasteland” for years, but everyone ignored him BEFORE “Walking Dead”, and those same people now accuse him of trying to rip off “Walking Dead”. But he’s not bitter at all.
And there you have it folks. The movies, TV shows and books that scare the sh*t out of some of the bravest people I know. So, to celebrate, why not go rent or buy one of these ghoulish titles, curl up in a dark room—preferably with someone you can cling to—and enjoy the thrill of having the sh*t scared out of you. Happy Halloween!