Scary Things in the Basement

Because of my passion for terror, I have created a blog to share the fun. That’s right, I am writing to you about horror movies from a haunted house. You’re not too scared to keep reading this blog, are you? But, like me, you may enjoy being scared to the core. One way is to imagine all sorts of creepy things in the basement. I love that I have one. I had a friend over recently who refused to go down into the deep, dark depths, where terror resides. I, of course, foster the idea to entice him even more. But when he acquiesced, and we were descending the narrow stairs in the dark, suddenly we both heard an inhuman noise.

Not deterred, I continued down to find out the origin. He reluctantly followed. He inched along behind me with trepidation. How foolish he felt when he saw what was at hand: an old gasping water heater, in the throes of hot water production. I laughed out loud as he grimaced in shame. I almost wished it had been a monster. But the old water heater may not be here for long. It may conk out within the year requiring replacement. I hear tell that a tankless system from https://tanklesscenter.net is the way to go.

My friend and I chilled out looking online for info about this high-tech model. It gets nothing but praise: it is a tad more money but saves on electricity in the long run. In effect, it pays for itself. It is small and easy to store and works like a mini computer to control output for the volume necessary for the day’s use. Every household has its own requirements. How cool.  It is certainly nothing to fear. As my friend began to relax from the “almost fright” he experienced, we contemplated my budget and when to make the exchange. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Favorite Horror Genres

A horror movie is appealing because they often are about our big fears. Those things that go bump in the night, that we think about when we can’t sleep and are lying awake at night, the boogeyman from our childhood unleashed from the closet and lurking in the shadows. Even if nobody actually dies, everyone is scarred somehow. These films rely on fear and shock to keep viewers interested and provoke a reaction (a scream, a gasp, or even just an elevated heart rate). Horror is actually a complex genre of film. There are subcategories within it. I’m going to highlight my three favorites.

The first is the slasher film. The antagonist is often a nearly indestructible psychopathic serial killer. Usually there is a past trauma that is retriggered by an anniversary or other event. The action is usually centered around stalking and killing prey. Victims are usually seen shortly before they are dispatched committing some kind of minor vice (mostly teenagers and sex). There is often a “final girl” left alone to face the killer. You will know which one she is because she typically is the one portrayed as ‘pure’, doesn’t drink or do drugs, and is generally obnoxiously virtuous while everyone else has fun and is murdered. You usually think that the “final girl” is victorious until the next movie in the series comes out and you learn that all she achieved was making the killer even more angry. Halloween is considered to be one of the leaders in slasher-film tropes. I like these mostly because you pretty much know what you are going to get. They don’t often make you think too hard about what happens, and you know which characters you should not care for (check out the Sorting Algorithm of Morality if you don’t already know.)

The next film category is splatter. It differs from slasher films in a few ways. There is not a lot of suspense. You know just about everyone, everywhere, is going to die. They are also going to die really nasty and graphic deaths. They don’t get you with the anticipation, they try to gross you out (or turn you on, as “torture porn” films fall into this category) with each kill. There doesn’t have to be a good-triumphing-over-evil bit at the end like typical slasher films. There is often a complete lack of order (and sometimes even really a plot), no snappy dialog and no big backstories. Everything is sacrificed to the almighty terror that comes from dismembering or gutting other people. Movies like Hostel and the Saw franchise find themselves here. These are good movies to watch when you have a really bad day and have no beer left in the house.

Last is the horror-comedy. I like stupid-funny movies, and stupid-funny movies where people get hurt is about as good as it gets to me. These films are often not scary, instead exploiting the way people think about situations or spoofing horror-movie stereotypes or tropes. I was a big fan of the Scary Movie franchise. I also think the Evil Dead franchise belongs in here (although it fits other places as well). Those movies are just so… funny, for lack of a better word. Movies like Ghostbusters belong here too.

What’s your favorite type of horror movie?

Favorite Horror Franchises

For some reason, Hollywood often treats horror movies like fat kids and candy. They can’t control themselves and just keep going. They make sequels and prequels and trilogies and beyond. Sometimes, the story or characters benefit from being revisited. Sometimes they don’t (I’m looking at you, Jaws. Explain to me why a family hunted by a shark decide to work at SeaWorld.) I’m going to talk about a few of my favorites that aren’t quite mainstream films, or the first one made a splash and the rest unfairly went essentially straight to video.

The Candyman trilogy is surprisingly good. The first two are better than the last one, but all in all, not a bad way to kill time. First of all, it’s Clive Barker. That guy is really scary (he’s also the guy behind the nightmare that is Hellraiser, which is a little too uneven of a franchise to put on this list). Secondly, it stars Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd. You want to talk about somebody perfect for a role? Tony Todd was born to play Daniel Robitaille. The first film is gritty and legitimately creepy: the urban legend come to life. The second one is a lot of backstory but a good flick in its own right. The last one is pretty much what you’d expect – the cash cow not having enough milk left to sustain a third story. After you watch it, see the first one again to get that bad taste out of your mouth.

You probably saw The Blair Witch Project. It was such a new and interesting concept – found footage and use of the handheld camera. You probably liked it, too. But there were two other films that went along with it. The improv style used by Myrick and Sánchez influenced not just other tv and film directors but inspired everyday people with a camcorder to make their own horror movies. Whether you like the other two films or not, they used technology advances to their advantage. By the time they got to the third installment, they were using cell phones and drones to shoot the footage. It was creative and brought a new level to the voyeuristic joy many people get from horror movies in general. They didn’t even really need to be good to bring new life to the horror industry. They are worth watching for that reason alone.

Lastly, there’s Insidious, which is a four-film franchise that shockingly had the same screenwriter for all of them. It is the kind of concept that has been done before but deserved a new twist. The first couple of films focus on a family whose son’s body is being used as a vessel for ghosts and demons. The third switched focus to the psychic who helped the family from the first two films. The final film, released earlier this year, actually comes second in order. Confusing, yes, but now that they’ve all been released you can watch them in the proper order.

These are some of my underrated favorites. Other franchises, like Halloween or Alien really deserve whole posts of their own, and I’m sure I’ll get around to them sometime.

Why Do We Like to Get Scared

Horror movies are more fun when you have other people to watch them with. I like seeing somebody else jump, scream, or squirm. So I’ll often have friends over and host movie nights. I am very good at “setting the stage” for people to be scared.

First, it helps to have a house already with a reputation as my place is haunted already. Mostly it does not affect me. Sometimes I hear voices or stuff is moved even when I am out of a room for just a few minutes but that’s mostly it. There are friends that the ‘spirits’ don’t like, though. Sometimes people get locked in my downstairs bathroom and people have said they smell weird things (mostly like the house is on fire).  I also have a black cat named Poe. He is very cool but he likes to hide on chairs in the dining room and jump on your back when you walk by. I think it is funny. Other people don’t.

If you can’t get your hands on a haunted house or a spooky cat like Poe, you can still host a great horror movie night. Here are a couple of tips:

  1. Have the viewing at night, obviously. Preferably when there is no moon, unless it is Friday the 13th or Halloween or something. Or if it is a werewolf flick. Make sure that any curtains or blinds are closed. You can have lighting on in your house, but try to leave the room that you’re showing the movie in is as dark as possible – movie theater style!
  2. You don’t need a big TV or anything, but a tv with a quality picture and a good internet connection (if you’re streaming) or a high-quality player is good to have. Take a minute to wipe down the screen and/or the disc before you start the showing. You also don’t need a good sound system, but it certainly helps. At the very least, you need a speaker or two behind the listeners as well as in front. It’s just better that way. It’s like the killer is inside the house with you.
  3. Give your guests good food. Serve BBQ snacks or meatball sandwiches if it is an especially gory movie. Ribs with the movie Aliens or something. Think outside pizza and popcorn.
  4. If you’ve seen it before, don’t talk about it during the movie. Don’t be that guy. You don’t need to introduce it and you don’t need to explain what is happening. If you were able to understand the movie through one sitting, expect your friends to be able to as well. If they aren’t smart enough, then a) pick a different movie and b) what does it say about you that you hang out with such idiots? A big exception to this is if it is not the first movie in a series and they haven’t seen the ones before or if it is based on a book, which you have read, and the film leaves something out that makes more sense in the book. As long as it doesn’t ruin the movie before the person has had a chance to see it, you’re good.

What are your favorite ideas to make a horror movie viewing more immersive?

Why Do We Like to Get Scared?

Life can be boring. If all I did was work, come home, watch tv, eat and sleep, I don’t think I’d live very long. Sure, my cat Poe adds something interesting to my life (and that something usually smells or is dead) but there is not a whole lot I feel worthy of a real reaction or pushes my buttons. You might think it is because I am a calm guy but that’s a bit of a misconception. Usually it is because I don’t get too involved with anything or anyone. I come from a long line of “emotions are useless” people. My family is pretty stoic in general. It’s a wonder we’ve cared enough about anybody to procreate enough to continue the line as long as we have.

People ask me all the time why I’m “obsessed” with horror movies. I don’t think it is because I have an “obsession” with death or murder. Maybe that is true for some people who like the genre, but I think the vast majority of us have a different motive. Watching a horror movie is a cheap way to feel like you “cheated death” and feel alive. It is the same reason people swan dive out of perfectly good airplanes and drive racecars. You have no control over when and how you’re going to die so we sometimes feel like we want to take things into our own hands – maybe have a little say in the matter or to show ourselves that we are stronger than death. Or display our own stupidity as we earn ourselves a Darwin Award. That stuff can be messy or expensive.

The whole thing is because we like the way our body reacts. Horror movies do the same thing, but from the comfort of your own living room or a plush seat in a dark, air-conditioned theater with surround sound. It is all of the reward of being in those death-defying situations but with none of the actual risk. Scary movies can elevate your heartrate and scare the bejesus out of you for the price of a movie ticket. They provide a break to our ordinary lives. Horror movies also often reinforce the belief that good triumphs over the unexplained evils of the world, even when our reality is trying to show us differently. Sometimes we need that reminder. And if we’re having a bad day, with nowhere to put all of that emotion, watching a movie where a bunch of idiots suffer and die for their betrayals or mistakes can really make a guy feel better.

Scaring yourself silly is a great way to release stress and tension. It is good harmless fun, unlike some of those death defying sports out there. So go catch a movie about a bunch of jerks who die in ridiculous, painful ways. Watch people being held brutally accountable for their bad choices and terrible judgement. You’ll feel better about your own life, I promise.

My Favorite Stephen King Movies

When my mom figured out she couldn’t stop my obsession with scary movies, she tried to get me into scary books as well. It did not really work. For the most part, I think reading is boring. She tried to get me to read Stephen King, but that backfired. Boooooring! But his movies, on the other hand? Those I like.

First up is The Shining. Now, I know that Kubrick’s version of the film is not a whole lot like the source material. It is actually notoriously hard to adapt a Stephen King book, and Kubrick basically did his own thing with it just like he did with everything else he ever made. King disliked a lot about the adaption, from the casting of Jack Nicholson (because he’d already played somebody crazy so it would give that part of it away) and the watered-down, pathetic way Wendy was portrayed. But you know what? I’ve seen the tv adaption from 1997. It might be more true to the book but it is nowhere near as scary. Those creepy twins and the blood in the elevator? Gone. No REDRUM either. And everybody remembers the “Here’s Johnny!” bit with the axe. Poof! Those things were all added by Kubrick and hurt King’s feelings apparently because he had to do it over as a tv miniseries. All I really remember about the tv version is that they casted the guy from “Wings” and that lame, not scary ending. I hope the book fans like it because there was no other reason to make that garbage. I don’t know anybody who like the “authorized” version better.

I was mad when they announced the remaking of It. How can you get a better Pennywise than Tim Curry? The other major problem I had with it was that the book is incredibly long. The mini-series was long too. The movie is not. A lot had to get cut, and you feel the missing relationships and connections through the movie. There was a lot of suspense and build-up to the mini-series, but the movie is mostly CGI and cheap jump scares. It did not do Tim Curry’s terrifying Pennywise justice at all.

Another movie I love is Pet Sematary. This is one of the few King-written adaptions that I really like. If you like gore and creepy and are a fan of horror, you’re going to like this one. And the ending is just dark and awesome and works really well. They are remaking this one as well, supposedly. That should be interesting (maybe. It seems that I hate remakes).

The last movie I will write about here is Misery. Now, this is not the same kind of scary as the ones above. It is more of a thriller. While it does justice to the book according to fans, William Goldman (of Princess Bride fame) wrote the screenplay. James Caan and Kathy Bates are amazing in their roles. While I wouldn’t say this movie scared me, it does put me on the edge of my seat every time I watch it and I still cringe every time it gets to the hobbling scene. That part is super hard to watch.

What are your favorite King films? Or do you like to waste your time reading all those pages instead?