(Films in bold are on television this weekend.)

It’s almost Halloween, so it must be time for a few scary movies. But what is a scary movie? Is a movie that startles you scary – or does it just have good timing? Is what was scary 80 years ago still scary enough – or do modern filmmakers have to go a step further?

Looking at the films being shown this weekend, it is not difficult to find the oldest: James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). This feature, a landmark at the time due to its casting, might frighten a few under 10s, but not many others now. It is quite stylish, though, and Elsa Lanchester, a British-born classical actress who was married to Charles Laughton at the time, is quite something. Clearly she inspired the modern trend towards streaked hairdos.

The 1930s were a good decade for horror films, starting with the original Dracula (1931), directed by Tod Browning, but a much better film to check out and a good deal more frightening is Browning’s Freaks (1932). This film epitomises what I think is frightening: reality. The closer you get to something that might really happen, the more frightening. Just think about who is in Number 10 now: that is really scary.

Horror films went out in the 1940s and 1950s. What could be more terrifying than being in the middle of a world war, followed by the threat of nuclear destruction?  Yikes! The second of those decades was the era of sci-fi and the beginning of invasion fever: body-snatchers, spinning saucers, robots and Reds under the beds. Save those for another time.

Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)

I will not delve into Hammer’s horror offerings on this occasion, but for me horror films got their revival at the end of the 1960s. Rosemary’s Baby (1968), directed by Roman Polanski from the Ira Levin novel, was perfect for its era: drugged stupours, devilish insemination, a bit of nudity, and Mia Farrow as a young mother going mad. But George Romero’s zombie revival classic, The Night of the Living Dead (also 1968), sparked an obsession that carries on today, although more modern examples of the genre, such as Danny Boyle‘s 28 Days Later (2002) are more politically, or maybe pandemically, pointed.

Quick nurse, the screams!

The next decade had the film industry in full flow. The Exorcist (1973) freaked out Catholics more than anybody else, and Linda Blair’s spinning head and full force vomiting had more than a few people looking away. But one of my favourites, Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976), really can get you jumping out of your seat.  Be prepared for the David Warner scene at the end. I hope you will have finished your giant cola by then – or else get a plastic sheet.

Of course, the highlight of your weekend will probably be watching Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). You want to know what is really scary about this movie?  If you happen to live on a real Elm Street, you will find that your house is worth up to 70 per cent less than a similar house on the next street. Now that is frightening. [If you fancy the real house, by the way, it is currently on market for $3.25m.]

I do not favour the modern trend for ‘found footage’. My eldest son had me watch The Blair Witch Project (1999) with him and his friends. I could not stop laughing. Was that scary? No!

If you want something modern and scary, check out Jordan Peele’s oeuvre, Get Out (2017) AND Us (2019).  Happy Haunting!

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