Halloween is a great time to watch scary movies - what do you like?

Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Myers in Halloween: Resurrection (2002). Picture:Andrew Macphearson.

Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Myers in Halloween: Resurrection (2002). Picture:Andrew Macphearson.

Do you like scary movies?

That's not just a question, it's a quote from Scream (1996).

If you don't like scary movies, you might want to go read something else. This probably isn't for you.

What's your favourite scary movie?

If you've seen Scream, you know one character answers Halloween (1978) and the other A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). What happens after that you will have to discover for yourself, if you've a mind to - no point spoiling the fun. And Scream is fun, especially if you're familiar with the slasher films that itslyly satirises.

Is it my favourite? I like it but I am not sure it would be Numero Uno. There are too many to name. The original Halloween was surprisingly unbloody, relying on suspense and that indelible theme written by director John Carpenter. It made a Scream Queen out of Jamie Lee Curtis who went on to mainstream success in films like A Fish Called Wanda. Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street is impressive, too. These were genre classics made by people who knew what they were doing, before endless sequels and rip-offs diluted the effect.

But you might have your own favourite for Halloween viewing.

There's certainly plenty of choice.

We've mentioned slasher films. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) is one of the earliest and best examples, highly influential and endlessly rewatchable for Anthony Perkins' performance, Bernard Herrmann's score and its deft handling of suspense, foreshadowing and shock.

This sub-genre peaked in popularity in the early 1980s and established its own set of tropes - or, if you like, cliches - that Scream and its sequels exploited: never leave the room, never drop a weapon, never assume the killer is dead, never have sex. Your best hope of survival is to be female and a virgin.

Drew Barrymore in Scream. Picture: SBS Publicity.

Drew Barrymore in Scream. Picture: SBS Publicity.

Slasher movies are often cheap, dumb and formulaic. But you can have fun with even the worst of them. You might catch an appearance by a future star: such notables as Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th), Paul Rudd (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers), and Jared Leto (Urban Legend) got early breaks in slasher movies. Well, you've got to start somewhere. Even without this pleasure, counting the cliches and seeing how they remix and tart up the ingredients can be diverting. A bad slasher movie is infinitely more fun to watch than a bad comedy.

Don't believe me? Try sitting through, say, Epic Movie. Just try. It's more painful than most torture porn. And don't say I didn't warn you.

Maybe you have a taste for the classics, like the Universal monsters of the 1930s and '40s, like Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein and Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolf Man. Sure, they might seem dated and corny now, but the best of them are still a lot of fun, especially the first two Frankenstein films. I never understood the danger posed by the Mummy, though: surely an ancient corpse wrapped in bandages that moved like an arthritic turtle could be dispatched at one's leisure with a lit match?

Or perhaps you prefer these creature's Hammer incarnations in vivid bloody colour: Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were among the fine actors doomed, as many horror stars are, to typecasting. Oliver Reed, who played the luckless lycanthrope in Curse of the Werewolf, wasn't, though he consigned himself to an offscreen character: that of the hard-drinking hellraiser.

More recent efforts to resurrect these characters have proved uneven: Bram Stoker's Dracula was a lush, commendable effort, but Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was less well received. Universal's recent attempt to reboot their properties into a new, shared Dark Universe had two not terribly successful entries, Dracula Untold and The Mummy, before apparently being halted.

Poor box office returns can kill a monster just as surely as a wooden stake or a silver bullet.

The Invisible Man (2020) is unrelated to the Dark Universe has little to do with the 1930s movie or H.G. Wells' novel beyond the premise but it's quite a striking film about male abuse of women. It's a reminder that horror films can comment on society as much as more "respectable" movies.

Movies about evil children - Village of the Damned, The Bad Seed, The Other, The Omen - play on the mysteries of childhood and parental fears. The Exorcist has loftier ambitions: writer William Peter Blatty intended it as a meditation on faith. Admit it, though: you watched it for the green vomit, head spinning and demonic faces.

I'm partial to horror anthologies, especially the Amicus films and their imitators. While inevitably uneven, films like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Torture Garden had surprisingly impressive casts and often darkly humorous stories - I remember the bizarre tales of jealous trees and pianos, for example.

The pseudo-realism of "found footage" movies like The Blair Witch Project (with its shrewd, unrepeatable marketing campaign) had its high spots but, like all sub-genres, too many cheap and maladroit efforts.

And there are so many more - sci-fi horror like The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, cheesy classics like Plan 9 from Outer Space, on and on and on.

What is it about horror that's so enjoyable?

Partly, as I've said, that even the junk can be enjoyed at some level, as long as it's not boring (the worst movie sin). And there are the cliched explanations: controlled fear, thrillseeking, schadenfreude, seeing order restored (or, sometimes, destroyed but in a safely fictional way).

Some people hate horror movies on general principle. They don't understand why people want to watch them.

But we know why. Don't we?

This story Frightful films can be a scream first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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