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Genuinely chilling people’s blood in the name of fun is notoriously hard to achieve. How many Halloween icons actually scare you? This can depend largely on how they are portrayed, whether by a film or a costumed actor in a spook alley, but for the most part, it’s clear to me which horror icons actually resonate with me when done right and which ones, no matter how noble an effort, will simply never be scary to me. So, where do your cherished icons weigh in on my scare scale?
Vampires: Ah, the ultimate representation of non-scary things that are constantly labeled as such (or, worse, as sexy). This doesn’t mean a good movie can’t be made about them, but vampires never will be scary to me. I just don’t get it. Their trademark is sucking blood, which you wouldn’t want to happen to you in real life or anything, and might be a good premise for, like, ONE film, but what a random and distasteful thing to spawn such a massive subgenre of both horror and romance. And I’m not one of those vampire purists who disdain the “Twilight” breed of vampire but worship “real vampires” like Dracula; every Dracula movie I ever tried to watch was so unscary I gave up on it faster than I would a “Dora the Explorer” episode (I’ve never watched that, but I hear it’s totally not scary).
Slashers: This is a broad category, as most fears already stem from the fear of death. A slasher can be a supernatural force like Freddy Krueger (NOT scary, by the way; decent premise, pitiful execution) or the boy next door. It is certainly scary to imagine human life concluding in such brutal and dehumanizing ways, but what already happens in real life is infinitely scarier than anything movies can cook up. The characters rarely even resemble real humanity, and the flicks are generally so focused on giving audiences “what they wanna see” that suspense, the most important element of horror, is lost. You already know that everyone’s going to die except one or two people; the only “surprise” is what gruesomely creative death they will have. I won’t rule out the occasional well-made slasher movie, but documentaries on real-life crimes are far more bone-chilling.
Clowns: The awesome thing about this one is it seems to have happened completely by accident. Someone thought grotesquely painted, ski-footed subhumans would elicit the same reaction from children as giving them a puppy. In rejection, perhaps, of adults’ misconceptions about us as children, it has actually become cool to be afraid of clowns. Stephen King capitalized on this with “It,” but you won’t get scares there. For a truly haunting portrayal, order a DVD of the old TV series “One Step Beyond” and find the episode “The Clown,” allegedly based on a true story. You’ll never laugh at a clown again.
Werewolves: My husband is obsessed with these, but I think they offer better opportunities for character study than for scares. Fright-wise, I think these too are a bit boring, but I respect that they represent the scariest thing of all — our own lack of self-control. Imagine being guilty of animalistic atrocities you never knew you had in you, knowing you are completely out of your own control, which is how many real killers may feel.
Zombies: This is another insanely popular one I just don’t get. They can be creepy, but they’ve gotten progressively less scary with every portrayal since the original “Night of the Living Dead.” I think dead bodies are inherently creepy, but zombies don’t even have to be dead bodies. I know there are many different interpretations, but in general, zombies are kept from being intimidating by their utter absence of brainpower. All they’ve got is a body, a fragile thing which is so easily incapacitated. If they can’t move, they’ve got nothing, meaning that, at least for dead-body ones, particularly hot or cold weather can immobilize their one asset. I know, I know — YOUR zombies are different, right? They’re still not scary.
Demons: This is an interesting one, because so many religions still consider them very real. Therefore, to some of us, demons are no laughing matter, something each of us have a very real chance of encountering. What I like about the demon genre is that, in general, the element of suspense is all-important. We’re rarely shown more than tantalizing hints of what the demon might look like through ancient drawings or hoofprints, ala “Paranormal Activity” and “Drag Me To Hell.” Demons have to be handled particularly well to be scary, but when they are, they’re very scary.
Witches: Again, witchcraft is a real and serious matter to many people, so they can be haunting for that reason alone. “The Blair Witch Project” is probably the best example of a scary witch (who, of course, we never see). Besides that, I can’t think of many scary witches, but movies about the Salem Witch Trials do genuinely creep me out for their portrayal of such dark times, when the very idea of witchcraft was so terrifying to people it drove them to do the Devil’s work without magic.
Ghosts: This is about as overdone as you can get, but, again, it all depends on the treatment. Ghosts don’t have to be scary to be interesting; some ghost stories can be romantic, touching or thought-provoking. But it’s hard to find much here we haven’t seen before, so for true ghostly scares, look to the older films, like “The Haunting” (the original) and “The Innocents.” Again, ghosts are scariest when the idea of them is more important than the sight.
So basically, every horror icon that creeps you out is, on the whole, not scary . . . to me, I guess I have to add, but come on, think about it. Zombies? Really?