In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The 12 Steps Of Horror

I have an eleven-year-old niece that has just recently expressed an interest in horror movies. My brother and sister-in-law are now telling me these funny stories of Gaib asking them questions like, “Can I watch that movie with the guy who has knives for fingers?” and them having to say, “Uhh... no.”

It is strange being on the other side of this dilemma and seeing the double standard that exists. They made the right call, but on the other hand, years before I was her age I was watching slasher marathons and I turned out (relatively) fine. My childhood was FILLED with blood, guts and mayhem, but I also completely agree with their decision to shield her from such material until she is older. Currently, she is satiating her need for horror with titles like Twilight, but I’m sure the much harder stuff is just around the corner. Anyway, this whole thing brought me back to the days when I was a kid and watching anything I could get my hands on. I had the most liberal parents on the block, so it made sense that the neighbourhood kids would sneak over to my place to watch stuff that their own parents would not let them see – there was an incident with Halloween that got me banned from someone’s house forever. Now, there were a number of my friends that were afraid to watch horror films and I found this to be incredibly absurd. It’s OKAY to be scared, that’s the WHOLE point! I was always trying to convert people into the fold because let’s face it, it’s always more fun to watch a horror flick with others, isn’t it?

So, as a public service, I developed The 12 Steps Of Horror. Basically, it was a list of twelve horror films that started off really tame and worked their way up to a crescendo of fright. For the first few years, I even had some trivia questions written down to ask after each movie to make sure whoever was watching hadn’t been covering their eyes during the scary bits. I put a few of my friends through this course and most of them passed with flying colours. It was a fun thing to do, but I also wanted to toughen up my circle of friends, so occurrences like being pulled out of Predator by a buddy would never happen again. I remember staring at my friend like he had three heads as he stood there in the lobby crying and saying, “It's too scary!” I quickly told him, “there’s the phone, call your dad to come pick you up” and went back inside. I missed Carl Weathers’ climactic death scene because of that goof. The list has changed and shifted a bit over the years - I recall Aliens was on it at one point - but it has always stayed with me. The last time I tried to use it was with an ex-girlfriend. She was absolutely petrified of scary movies – come to think of it, she was actually afraid of everything; the dark, spiders, heights, you name it – so I got her on the 12 Step program. Let’s just say it didn’t go very well. Not only did she quit after the third movie, she would always accusingly ask me why I liked this stuff, insinuating that I was some kind of freak. Needless to say, the relationship ended shortly thereafter.

So, here we are in 2009. I figure I’d dust off the list and share it with you all, in case a new generation of horror fans would like to partake.

#1 – Cat’s Eye (1985) Rated PG.
Purpose: Exposes viewer to the elements of a horror film. Shock value: Low Includes: Eerie music, the troll, a decapitated head.
Cat’s Eye is light horror. It’s pretty tame and has likely played on the Family Channel. It has a tongue-in-cheek style throughout and being an anthology, it gives the viewer time to relax between stories.

#2 – Lady In White (1988) Rated PG. Purpose: Exposes viewer to prolonged intensity and horror themes. Shock value: Low Includes: A girl’s murder re-enacted, a boy being chased by a killer, a scary old lady.
Lady In White is light horror and again pretty tame. It is much like Stand By Me with an interwoven murder mystery. There are some humourous plot devices intermixed to dampen the more intense material.

#3 – Paperhouse (1988) Rated PG. This one is hard to find because it still has not received a DVD release, but I’ve never been able to find a suitable title to put in its place. This is the movie that broke my ex-girlfriend. Good times. Purpose: Exposes the viewer to prolonged intensity and horror themes without the benefit of comic relief. Shock value: Low Includes: A girl being chased by man with hammer, a child being beaten, eerie music.
#4 – House (1986) Rated PG-13 Purpose: Exposes viewer to prolonged suspense as well as special effects & monsters common to the genre, but easing into it with a tongue-in-cheek style. Though the movie has several frights, they are fairly comedic and over-the-top. Shock value: Low-Medium Includes: the medicine cabinet portal, the thing in the closet, eerie soundtrack.

#5 – Night Of The Living Dead (1968) Not Rated Purpose: Exposes viewer to pure horror themes. The film is black & white and not particularly gory. Shock value: Low-Medium Includes: the zombie BBQ, the death-by-trowel scene, the body upstairs.

#6 – Halloween (1978) Rated R
Purpose: Exposes viewer to pure horror themes, including atmosphere and is more reality based. Said realism means that the detachment a viewer can feel during a supernatural horror film is not present. Shock value: Medium Includes: Michael’s escape, Annie’s demise, the chase.

#7 – An American Werewolf In London (1982) Rated R
Purpose: Exposes viewer to pure horror themes, including frights and gore, but with a comedic edge to provide some balance. Shock value: Medium-High Includes: Jack’s demise, David’s dreams, the werewolf attacks.

#8 – Poltergeist (1982) Rated PG-13
Purpose: Exposes viewer to pure horror themes, including atmosphere, gore and frights, but is done in a more family friendly way than the final four movies on the list. Shock value: Medium-High Includes: a boy-eating tree, the killer clown, the face-peeling scene.

#9 – The Omen (1976) Rated R
Purpose: Exposes viewer to extreme horror themes and done with no-holds-barred atmosphere. Shock value: High Includes: a decapitation, the hell hounds attack, a chilling score.

#10 – A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Rated R
Purpose: Exposes viewer to extreme horror themes, including frights and gore without the benefit of comedic balance. Shock Value: High Includes: Tina & Glenn’s demise, Nancy in the bathtub.

#11 – The Shining (1980) Rated R
Purpose: Exposes viewer to extreme horror themes. The atmosphere is probably one of best examples in the history of the genre. The long running time and some over-the-top moments offer some relief though. Shock value: High Includes: Halloran’s demise, the twins, Room 237.

#12 – The Thing (1982) Rated R
Purpose: Exposes viewer to extreme horror themes. The atmosphere and large amounts of gore come fast and furious. Shock value: High Includes: the dog transformation, the blood test, the Doc’s disarming.

So, there you have it. Let me know what you think. Did I miss anything? I suppose some of these titles may seem fairly tame to some with all the Saw’s and Hostel’s out there now, but I’ve never equated gore to scares. The scary stuff is what comes to mind when you are walking in darkness from the light switch to the bed. You know, the stuff that makes you double-check the bathroom door is locked before taking a shower and not want to look in your rear-view mirror while driving at night. Have fun kiddies! May these dark nightmares continue to entertain for many generations to come.


Jeff said...

Good list.

I feel like THE MONSTER SQUAD needs to be in there early on. If only to make fraidy cats feel dumb for not being able to handle a kids movie. Also though, it rules.

TEXAS CHAINSAW needs to be on there. Your list lacks a naturalistic, "this could happen to you" sort of movie.

I think PIN would be a good gateway film too. Really creepy and borders on horror film without really being one.

Maybe throw SUSPIRIA in there somewhere to show how pretty a horror film can look.

Darryl Shaw said...

Awesome desensitizing concept. I wish I had that instead of skipping directly to Robocop and Running Man and having my skull shattered from the inside.

I think "The Exorcist" should be on it.

Perhaps you can group "equally upsetting" films at different numbers so the applicant has some options.

Just one question... If you watch the list backwards does that turn you into a wimp?

Anonymous said...

It's funny, because as a kid my first two horror films were Poltergeist and House.

I really feel as though The Exorcist should be number 12. Although THE THING is scary, I feel like the Exorcist is far scarier. I remember not being able to sleep the night I saw it. Definitely a good way to end the 12 step program.

or is the goal of the program so that you can watch the Exorcist after you are done the program?

Jay Clarke said...


All good suggestions. I have to confess I only saw Monster Squad just recently. TCM and Suspiria could be on there for sure, consider them alternates.

damn... having alternates... why didn't I think of that?! As for running the list backwards, maybe we should try some controlled experiments!


Yeah, The Exorcist. Maybe that IS the hidden #13!!! MWAA HA HA!

Jeff said...

Oh, and do you have PAPERHOUSE on tape? Can I borrow that off of you? It sounds wicked.

Jay Clarke said...

Sure man, but I believe they still have Paperhouse for rent at Queen Video.

Unknown said...

Very ingenious, sir. I may try to get my wife on this 12 step program, though it'll probably just end up being me re-watching a bunch of great films by myself.

Anonymous said...

These sound pretty good, some there I have not seen. As for me, the ones I primarily used for desensitization were the humourous horror flicks such as House (even better is House II hehe)or Motel Hell. Hell even Freddy Krueger was kind of funny. I mean, anyone remember those mouth-like heroin holes? What I had trouble getting used to as a kid was the really bloody shit. But I agree, some of the creepiest films had little to no gore: Burnt Offerings, The Shining, Psycho

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that "Twilight" may not be the best gateway film. If anything, that film would make one an even bigger pussy. What ever happened to a vampire's balls man?

Rafael said...

At last I see someone give The Thing due credit as top horror. I honestly thought The Exorcist would pop up in at the end, and I think it should be there on the list, perhaps as a tie, but there's no denying the psychological argument behind The Thing that makes it what it is, pure horror at its best.