Not surprisingly, Halloween
week gets people talking about horror movies. Dorothy Snarker recounted the horror background of various actresses this week. And
recently, Jamie Lynn got hoards of you reminiscing about the horror films of yesteryear.
I’m not a big horror aficionado — I blame a babysitter who, in an ill-advised
move, allowed me to watch Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.
However, I stumbled across a horror movie “best of” list this week
that intrigued me.
Time.com counted the 25 Best Horror Movies from 1896 to the present. I was surprised
to note that I had seen 10 of the movies. I was even more surprised
to note that Bambi was one of them. Not Bambi Meets Godzilla. Bambi. You know, “You can
call me Flower if you want to.”
I’m pretty sure Bambi’s inclusion
was the result of a double dog dare, but here’s what the list-maker had
that the first movies parents took their tots to in the ’30s and ’40s
were the early Disney features. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
Pinocchio, Dumbo all exploited childhood traumas. Parents disappear
or die; stepmothers plot the murder of their charges; a boy skips school
and turns into a donkey. Kids were so frightened by these films that
they wet themselves in terror. Bambi, directed by David Hand,
has a primal shock that still haunts oldsters who saw it 40, 50, 65
While I don’t buy that Bambi
is legitimately a horror movie, I do agree that elements of it are
horrifying — and haunting. The movie certainly gets at some primal childhood
fears: loss of a parent, violence, fire, etc…. And the images stay
with kids long after they leave the theater. So that got me thinking
about other movies that are haunting without actually being horror movies.
(And, yes, I could, but will not, delve in a discussion of how the supernatural
or over-the-top dangers in horror movies symbolize real dangers, blah,
blah…) So I conducted a thoroughly unscientific poll and asked some
friends and colleagues what movies haunted — or still haunt them.
Here are the results, plus
a little glimpse of some of my neuroses. Some of these are deliberately
creepy or contain intentionally scary elements, but none are traditional
1. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate
This was the most popular response
in my unscientific survey, and I heartily agree. You’ve got kids getting
themselves into pretty serious peril — and adults who either don’t keep
them safe, or don’t really care that they’re in danger. Much of the
visual imagery is jarring. And then there’s the Oompa Loompas — red
faces, green hair and spooky songs. (My brother used to taunt me with
the Oompa Loompa song.) .
And the scene where Violet
Beauregard turns into a blueberry still freaks me out.
2. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
This was another common choice.
Margaret Hamilton is the standard by which all other scary witches
are measured. And she was possibly more frightening as Miss Gulch.
Again, there’s scary imagery:
witches, flying monkeys, apple-throwing trees. But there’s also the
danger: the child who cannot get home, the adult who wants to hurt you
for something that was an accident and the all-knowing adult who turns
out to be a fraud. Haunting concepts for a kid.
This is another one that is
supposed to be creepy, of course, but a friend of mine had a very strong
reaction to it. It wasn’t so much the specifics, e.g., the rat, but
the vulnerability. The very idea of being completely dependent on someone
else is the haunting concept. (Of course, when that someone serves you
a pet parakeet and a rat for dinner, it’s that much worse.) But even
without the pathos, that type of vulnerability is still haunting.
4. Parenthood (1989)
Yes, I mean the Steve Martin
A friend of mine said this
one right off the bat and then expanded it to include any movies that
feature long-term relationships or parenting responsibilities. And,
although I laughed at first, I think this friend makes an interesting
point. As 30-ish straight woman, she runs into assumptions that she
wants marriage and kids, but these things freak her out to no end. And
I’m guessing she’s not the only person haunted by images of commitment.
(I happen to love the movie,
but get a little freaked out by how much Diane Wiest
looks like my mother in it.)
This was Scribe Grrrl’s pick.
It haunts her both in the sense that it scares her and that it stays
with her (and, she admitted, it definitely turns her on too). David Lynch movies are tough to classify. The supernatural
and surreal elements could make them horror movies, but that doesn’t
seem quite right.
certainly provided a great deal to interpret and wrestle with. The friends with
whom I saw it could not stop talking about it afterwards — what did the
alternative reality mean? Which character interpretations were real?
I did not find it as compelling. But there were women kissing and I
This was the linster’s pick,
and I must say that I agree. I, definitely found this documentary about
evangelical children to be chilling. This also made me think about documentaries
in general. The callousness of the principals in Enron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room
disturbed me immensely. And I cannot even bring myself to see An
Inconvenient Truth. I don’t need to be convinced about global warming
and, frankly, don’t need to get that freaked out. Documentaries can
focus on extremely scary concepts without providing anything fictional
to hide behind. Now that’s haunting.
7. The Day After (1983)
Both Scribe Grrrl and I independently
picked this 1983 nuclear bomb made-for-TV movie. I’m just old enough
to have been afraid of nuclear war with the Soviet Union when I was
a kid and this movie gave me some serious nightmares. Again, that omnipresent
danger and lack of control was beyond unnerving. I do, however, conflate
this movie with the other ’80s nuclear bomb made-for-TV movie, Testament.
The latter was primarily about the effect on one family. And Roxanna Zal, who played some of the most depressing
adolescent roles in the ’80s, was excellent in it.
8. Overboard (1987)
I’m only half-kidding about
this one. While I actually enjoy the movie and am not scared by it,
I’m always disturbed when I watch it because memory loss scares the
crap out of me. This was comic amnesia, of course, but the idea that
loss of memory equals loss of identity chills me to the bone.
Of course, different things
scare different people. What non-horror movies haunt you?