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When Was the Last Time a Horror Film Gave You Nightmares?

We had a family outing at the weekend. We all went to see The Last Exorcism, on the recommendation of my gran. We were pretty much all disappointed, but to different degrees. Anyway, as we sat around the kitchen table at midnight, discussing the film, my gran and my aunt conceded that whenever they typically saw a film about demons, they had trouble sleeping – even the camp horror of The Devil Rides Through or the courtroom-focused drama of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. However, neither would have any real trouble sleeping that night (and, the following morning, both seemed perfectly rested). So it got me thinking, perhaps the perfect measure of a horror movie’s effectiveness is how afraid it makes you as you lay yourself down to rest. So, when was the last time you had trouble sleeping?

A stab in the dark...

I have no difficulty confessing that it still happens to me, in passing. That said, the only really recent film I can think of that forced me to make a conscious effort to repeat “it’s only a film” under my breath was Paranormal Activity. I still got a decent night’s sleep, though – I honestly can’t remember most of my dreams, so that’s as sure an indication as any that the film didn’t get as deep into my subconscious as I had feared. I was refreshed for work the following morning, which was perhaps a sign that I was more afraid of being afraid of it than I was actually afraid of it, if that makes any sense? It probably doesn’t.

Of course, I like to think that my grandfather helped make me of sterner stuff. When I was a kid (younger than ten years of age), I used to love getting to stay over at my grandparents – because they never sent me out of the room when they were watching anything with a rating of 15 or higher (in fact, I remember a Christmas at home where I had to sit in the hall as my extended family watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was horrifying for reasons that had nothing to do with ghouls or vampires and more to do with Keanu Reeves’ English accent). So, on those weekends, my grandfatehr would pick a classic movie or two off the shelf after my gran went to bed and we’d watch it – on the condition that I never got him in trouble with my parents.

Of course, these were all hokey eighties films like The Serpent and the Rainbow or The Prince of Darkness, but that didn’t make them any less frightening for a ten-year-old kid. those two movies mentioned featured sequences of being buried alive paralysed and demonic possession, which was enough to keep a kid like me up at night. That said, we also watched bona fides classics that I loved at the time (and would love more growing up) like Dawn of the Dead, The Shining or even Braveheart (it’s not a horror, but still). So I had built up an immunity to those sorts of films at a young age. I still look back fondly on those weekends.

Which horror films are a cut above the rest?

Anyway, the last time I remember being genuinely terrified in my own bedroom was about ten years ago. I had just convinced my parents to allow me a television in my bedroom. My argument had been, quite logically, that I owned vast amounts of Star Trek videos and – unless my parents wanted to watch all the episodes with me – I needed a television in my room to make use of them. I was quite the salesman, though it took some convincing.

Now, around that time, I discovered that Channel 4 were doing an Asian cinema season. Channel 4 are probably the “coolest” main broadcaster in the British Isles – they are a little bit “out there” and “quirky” and “indie” and whatever adjectives you want to use. As part of this Asian season, they aired films like Battle Royale, but they also had a slight preference for late night horrors on Monday. I had heard good things about Ringu, so I sat up late and watched it, with my lights off.

Ringu, in case you didn’t know, is the original Japanese version of The Ring. Except it’s more intense and far more terrifying for reasons I can’t narrow down. It’s about a woman who comes through your television and murders you. it sounds crazy, but it was horrifying. So, when it was over, I was alone in my room, in the dark, with my television. Sure, I unplugged it, but that didn’t stop her in the movie – and I was damned if some fictional character was going to catch me off guard. I got about two hours sleep that Monday.

Being a glutton for punishment, I came back the second week for Channel 4‘s next Asian horror pick. Audition. To this day, I don’t think it’s a great film – or even a very good one. It starts off as a romantic comedy, almost, and then becomes a weird thriller. As I was watching it, it wasn’t registering with me as Ringu had. I wasn’t as engaged. I almost found the movie harder to buy into than Ringu, which is saying something about a film where a killer climbs through your television. And yet something about Eihi Shiina’s performance terrified me even more (maybe it was the weird squeaky sound I can still hear in my head).

So I don’t know. Maybe that’s the gold standard for horror. I don’t know – I still think making a well-made and well-put-together film counts for something, but I’ll give a movie points for simply scaring the crap out of me.

16 Responses

  1. Snyder’s Dawn remake was the last film to give me nightmares… Paranormal was the last film that kept me up at night and made me leave the hall ligt on!

  2. Horror movies are very scary but it makes people addicted to watching it. I recommend you to watch Asian horror film. Sensation that they present completely different.

  3. The Orphanage really scared the shit right out of me. Wasn’t a good idea watching that alone, had to shut the doors super tight that night.

    • It’s always creepier when you’re on your own, even though you get to turn on more lights than if a sane person was with you. If there’s wind outside, that’s a killer. (I meant metaphorically.)

  4. Psychological horrors definitely get to me the most, and there’s something really addictive about the fear. As for gore, I “watch” it with my hands over my eyes. However, the most recent film which I found somewhat unnerving, and this is a little embarrassing…Disturbia. In my defence, I was alone in the house at the time and was convinced I heard some noises outside the window.
    I remember Final Destination even making me a little paranoid for a while.

    • Yep, gore I can handle. In relatively decent quantities. Through, as you said, my hands.

      The psychological or spiritual stuff (“it’s behind you” or “you can’t see it”) that scares the crap out of me.

  5. There’s something about psychologically disturbing movies that mess with me worse than anything. Aside from Snyders Dawn Of The Dead, my films aren’t so obvious. 28 Days Later still packs a punch so deep I wake my husband up in the middle of the night so I don’t have to use the restroom alone in cast a wandering zombie catches my shadow. As a kid and still today Poltergeist terrified me. The mere thought of re-making it makes my stomach turn. The Others creepy factor undoubtedly was a scary film for ghost fanatics like myself, but the one that haunted me as a kid was no other than Gremlins. Sure laugh it up, but I was convinced those evil things were under my bed, in my closet, hiding in shadows waiting for me to jump out and get me. Sometimes I still jump off my bed at night!

    • Yep, they’re actually showing Gremlins 2 at the IFI horrorthon this Halloween, which is the closest thing we have to a “frightfest” in Ireland.

  6. I have always said that the first SAW film, when I went to see it at the cinema, scared me shitless. Imagine the ‘torture-porn’ genre not even exisiting …imagine going into the film thinking that the ‘set-ups’ were merely quite interesting … imagine not knowing anything about the film and then picture me watching in a cinema. I had to go for a cool pint to simply wash away the fear – after the credits run to the desperate screams of Adam…

    I don’t know what it felt like to watch EXORCIST on its initialrun, I don’t know what JAWS was like not knowing who Spielberg was and don’t know what it would have been like to be turned away from the cinema because you are 2 minutes late for PSYCHO … but I damn well know what it was like to see the ‘torture-porn’ film that started them all.

    • I think the original Saw film gets a bit of a hard time due to the movies that followed, but it was a wonderful little psychological horror. Not perfect or even great, but it felt like it could have been the film James Carpenter would have made were he trying to break into the industry today.

  7. You had a family outing watching The Last Exorcism? Wow, your family have nerves of steel obviously. I’m not a horror fan at all, but I did see The Exorcist against my better judgment and suffice to say, THAT face still haunts me from time to time, talk about indelible! There’s not many movies scarier than that one, but now I choose not to fill my mind with things that makes my stomach turn.

    • I have to admit, I didn’t like The Exorcist. It wasn’t really that scary. It just repeatedly crossed all sorts of lines in a way that if a horror did now we’d deem it exploitative. But I’ll shut up before I draw the wraith of some horror buffs.

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