Shiznit Halloween shamefest: movies that scared us silly


31st October 2011

Boo! Sorry for the fright. It had to be done so you understand the mental anguish this article caused. For you see, us Shizniteers bear the terrible mindscars of a youth misspent watching movies that freaked us out in horrible ways. We only share these experiences with you now in the hope their curse will be lifted, or maybe even fobbed off on to you, dear reader. Either way is good. So behold as we regale you with tales of terror, each more terrifying than the last. You have been warned...

Jaws (1975)

I know what you're thinking: the big fake rubber shark, what a pussy. Well you'd be wrong. The thing that scared me most about Jaws was the water; the thought of not knowing what lurked in the cold, dark recesses of the ocean. Thinking about being underwater right now is giving me shivers, so can you imagine the effect it had on an impressionable child? Remember that children are also stupid.

Swimming was a no-go, baths became more foam than water, seaside trips were cut short. But worse was to come. For reasons I wont try to fathom, my family used to regularly swap carpets. So obviously at the height of my aquaphobia I inherited a piece of blue rug, which scared me so much I refused to walk on it - instead leaping from the doorway to the bed, and to safety!

It took for my brother to spill a chemistry set at my cousin's house to finally get rid of it, ending what felt like years of terror and planting a field of green beneath my feet. Ahh green, lovely green. There's nothing that can kill you in a field is there? Luke
Arachnophobia (1990)

Kill or cure, that's always been my motto. Probably why I got kicked out of medical school. It's also why, as a ten-year-old, I agreed to go and see Arachnophobia at my local Odeon, despite having been shit-scared of spiders for as long as I could remember.

The thing about spiders, right - an irrefutable fact - is that they're inherently evil. If insects were the same size as us, we'd rub along pretty well with the ants and the grasshoppers. I'd happily have a pint with a centipede. But spiders would try and take over the world. They'd storm the White House with their stalky, piston-like legs and eat everyone inside, before encasing it in webs, roaring in triumph.

What little I can remember of Arachnophobia makes me shudder. A suspense scene where Jeff Daniels moves slowly towards his bedroom wall at night where there's a spider-shaped shadow that turns out to be a coat-hook. (Which, with hindsight, he'd presumably put up himself). An extermination guy. A spider biting a bird in mid-flight, which drops to the ground like a stone. And above all, real spiders on the screen. Massive, furry, bird-eating bastards all over the place. In the cinema I jumped at any sudden itch or tickle on my skin, brushing it off frantically. It went on for months. I couldn't sit on the toilet without first checking under the seat. Go to bed without a thorough sweep under the duvet first. Even now, if there's a picture of a tarantula in the paper, I have to tear it out before I can read the rest of the page.

I haven't watched it again. The Wikipedia page tells me it was a "comedy-horror", exec-produced by Spielberg, and that John Goodman was in it, all of which are things that make me a little bit tempted to a second viewing. But I can't go back there. These days I can just about deal with the little ones. I'd be right back where I started: a slave to the eight-legged threat.

Ironically, I still really want to be Spider-Man. Ed
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

I don't really watch scary films. I'm not a total coward, or a big fat girlpants or anything like that. No, I'm just one of the people who had their entire lifetime of terror fully covered by the age of 8. I don't have to see The Ring to know fear, for I watched Willy Wonka take families through the acid-fuelled, centipede infested, Tunnel O' Hell. I saw depressed Dorothy Gale, committed to an asylum, return to Oz to face Mombi the head collector and evade evil steampunk rolling death machines. I wish to hell I was making this up.

You want more? Fine, but you asked for it: No Heart the headless faceless villain of Care Bears; Maleficent, the wicked witch of Sleeping Beauty who cursed a child, stabbed a princess and turned into a fucking giant dragon; Pinocchio having one puff of a cigar, turning into a donkey and being forced down to the salt mines for a life of hard labour; the floating dead rabbits of Watership Down; Bill Sykes beating Nancy to death; The Nothing that will consume Fantasia and plunge the universe into mind-bending oblivion; Bambi's. Mum. Gets. Shot.

I'm getting under my duvet and I'm not coming out till Christmas. Kirsty
The Thing (1982)

Thanks to some vastly irresponsible parenting, I was exposed to horror greats like Freddy Krueger and Chucky when I was still in single digits and, as a result, I'm now numb to most jumpy scenes of ghosts and gore. Credit where credit's due though: John Carpenter, your Thing is still guaranteed to make Adult Matt drop a huge Certificate 18 in his pants. I could write essays on why this film is holy-jumping-fucking-Christ terrifying, starting with the fittingly vague title: a huge part of The Thing's power is its complete anonymity. What does it look like really? Why is it on Earth? What is it trying to do? It's not often that an alien monster is so... well, alien. There's no invasion plans or egg-laying - just the deeply unsettling mindlessness of cruel mimicry.

And then there's the crux of any film student's thesis: the core-shattering psychological fear of losing one's own identity. It's a personal phobia that is the epitome of the 'unnatural' - a disturbing paranoia manifested in the most horrific of ways.

And yet, this isn't the reason my stomach rethinks its last meal whenever I watch this film. It's for the sickeningly graphic mutation scenes, and for one in particular. Not the human head on spider legs - although that alone is enough to make any respecting adult sleep with the light on - but for the first paralysing transformation; a dog slowly being turned inside-out to become a flurry of frenzied tentacles chaotically thrashing around in the air. It's a scene that comes to mind whenever I think about this movie and, whereas under any other circumstances, I would hug my cats for comfort, I can't here for fear of them turning into the throbbing fleshy mass of a violent, shapeshifting killer alien. Matt
The Blair Witch Project (1999)

I first saw Blair Witch when I was thirteen. That's mistake number one right there. And I watched it alone, in my room, at night. There's mistake number two. I'm not too sure what I was trying to prove. Needless to say, I had a shit night's sleep that night.

But even after watching it a couple of years ago with my girlfriend, I got frightened when she popped outside for a cigarette (she lived in a small, dark, wooded village in the middle of nowhere). She called me a pussy. Quite right too.

The shaky, POV camerawork, the terrifyingly realistic narrative, spooky woods, scary piles of rocks and close-ups of snotty noses - it all adds up to make for very unsettling viewing for a young teenager... and subsequently, a wimpy adult too. Rob
Poltergeist (1982)

Kids these days don't know how lucky they are (wait, did I turn into my Dad?). TV is on 24/7. They've never fallen asleep watching TV and woken up illuminated by static and had to scurry for the remote in blind panic. Yep, after watching Poltergeist, I was scared of TV static. But there's more to Poltergeist than a fuzzy TV. There's a tree. A big-ass scary tree that tries to eat you alive. And meat. Steak crawling with maggots that makes you want to tear your face off. That doesn't even go near the freaky shit about 'the other side' and whether you should or shouldn't go into the light.

Structurally it's brilliant. The poltergeists bring amazement at first before their child-snatching antics turn it on its head. Once Carol Anne has been saved you think it's over, but then it gets worse than ever with coffins rising out of the grave and corpses flying out. If that's not enough there's a nightmare-inducing bastard of a clown too. Ben
It (1990)

Everything scares me. Clowns. Spiders. Dying. Giant spiders. Giant clown spiders. Naturally, this makes Stephen King's It the scariest story ever made. King's horror credentials have never been in doubt, but It doesn't seem like It was made for entertainment purposes - It feels like it was carefully crafted to scar an entire generation for life. Clowns are humanity at their worst: it's just about the only thing Puff Daddy and I agree on.

It's a pretty nifty device to have Pennywise adopt the form of whatever the characters fear the most, thus ensuring there wouldn't be a single child watching left unsoiled. He's an evil clown that hides in sewers. He leaps out of photographs. He'll turn your hair white. Also he's a giant fucking spider. Just in case. Fuck this godless abomination of a miniseries, and fuck Stephen King for taking such delight in so much misery. Now if you don't mind, I'm off to get no sleep. Ali

More:  Halloween  Horror
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