I often tell people that the only movie that ever scared me was the Blair Witch Project. I suppose that’s not entirely true. As a kid, I caught Children of the Corn on TV, and I remember it giving me nightmares.
Not everyone who saw Blair Witch thought it was scary. But I saw it back in 1999, when it first came out in theaters, before “found footage movies” were a thing. Someone told me it was true, and I believed them. I was living in Pennsylvania at the time, in a rural area, with a scary, dark forest in my back yard.
While all that scared me, what really did it for me with that movie was the fact that you never actually see the witch. All these movies that conjure up monsters with teeth and claws and dripping blood make me laugh. Because for me, it’s not what I can see that’s scary; it’s all the things I can’t see.
I don’t find comedies funny, but if you show me most horror movies, I’ll laugh and laugh. The Ring had potential up until the bad guy was a little girl, crawling out of the TV. With that scene, it went over into silly for me. Intellectually, I found the first Paranormal Activity scary, but it didn’t make my heart speed up or give me any gut-wrenching moments. It was more that I knew it was scary rather than I felt it.
Maybe that’s because I worked in mobile crisis for awhile, where bad things could actually happen to us. I got lucky, and nothing ever did. But other teams I worked with had some scary stories.
Nothing I can see is scary. Blood and guts and gore don’t do it for me. What scares me are the things I can’t see. The monster who stays off-screen and won’t show it’s face, or the human monster who looks just like the rest of us. Psychological horror, where something’s going on, and we don’t know quite what, but it’s messing with my head.
The Shining, by Stephen King, is one of the best examples of psychological horror. Because yeah, there are ghosts or demons or whatever, but it’s what they do that’s so wonderfully horrible. They make this mess of a man, who’s really trying to be better, devolve into someone who almost kills his wife and son. That’s horror.
What scares you?