With the upcoming release of my first nonfiction book, 666 HAIR-RAISING HORROR MOVIE TRIVIA QUESTIONS (Post Mortem Press), I've been thinking a lot about how I got here. I've been pondering my lifelong fascination with "things that go bump in the night", and I've done a lot of reminiscing on the seminal books/movies/etc that made me what I am today.
With that in mind, I wanted to do something just for fun: a list of the movies that scared me the most when I was a kid. Note that I'm not talking about the movies themselves. In some cases, I didn't see them until years later (and there's at least one title on this list that I've never seen). It was the cover art on those old VHS tapes that kept me awake at night. Oh, the countless hours I spent hanging out in the Horror section of the video stores (remember those?) while my dad browsed for something to watch! Of course, it wasn't uncommon to find that the films inside those bulky clamshell cases didn't live up to the nightmare fuel promised on the outside. Like the song* says, the chase is better than the catch.
In any event, this jaded old horror fan has been chasing that feeling ever since . . . that mix of terror/infatuation as I stared at the images on those video boxes, the "real world" fading to a dull murmur around me 'til Dad finally came looking for me with his rentals in hand . . . .
I'd be willing to bet, if you're reading this, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Hit me up, friends -- I'd love to hear about the movie art that made an impression on you, back in the day. They don't make 'em like they used to, do they?
HALLOWEEN II (1981)
I'm not sure this one scared me, I just thought it was oh-so-freakin' cool. I might even go so far as to say that this one ranks among the five greatest images ever created for a horror film's promo materials, in my opinion. Iconic. Eerie. Perfect.
I remember very little about this one, other than the fact that the killer on the back terrified the pint-sized yours truly, probably even more than the hand coming out of the grave on the front. And guess who played said black-robed-slasher-with-embalming-trocar-in-hand? None other than a young Bill Paxton.
THE EVIL DEAD (1981)
Notice a theme here? Yeah, hands coming out of graves gave Little J.N. goosebumps. And this one most definitely did live up to what its cover promised. The Evil Dead has been one of my favorite films ever since that first time I saw it.
THE PREY (1984)
It was just an axe. No big deal. Half of those old VHS covers used to have axes on them, or hulking silhouettes carrying axe-like killing tools. But it was the tagline on this one that gave me goosebumps when I was a kid: "It's not human, and it's got an axe!"
Come on. That's pretty scary whether you're eight or eighty.
Re-Animator's cover art wasn't really scary, per se, just fascinating. I had to know more! That tagline was so odd . . . should I be rooting for a weirdo with a head in a dish on his desk, or that mysterious shape stepping out of the shadows behind him? Cool stuff.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984)
A weird sort of . . . "paradox" (is that the word I'm looking for?) exists in the fact that Children of the Corn scared me when I was a kid. Just think about it for a second: if you were a minor living in the world of Corn, you would be safe. Only the adults are doomed, after all. Still . . . that arm holding the scythe aloft, preparing to bring the blade down into God-knows-what . . . and the glowing eyes of those tiny figures within the rows . . . yeah, this one never failed to terrify me.
MOTHER'S DAY (1980)
I don't know why this one bothered me as much as it did. I think it was the head in the box. And the way old Mother was half there, half not. The whole thing was more than a little goofy, I was old enough to know once I finally got around to seeing Mother's Day, but in a more innocent time this artwork made me feel like I was looking at something I wasn't supposed to see.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)
Look at his eyes. His eyes, man. The dude is obviously off his rocker. Plus, there's the woman with the bloody boob. How'd that happen? I didn't want to know . . . yet, at the same time, I did. I really wanted to know.
My dad rented this one at some point, and even at the age of just nine or ten I knew it was ridiculous. Something about a giant snake biting people and making their faces get all lumpy like that dude on the front. That's all I remember. Oh, yeah, and the boobs. The boobs you could almost but not quite see (all of). I used to stare at this one a lot. But I'm pretty sure that, as I got older, I stared at this cover for entirely different reasons . . . .
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
Show me a kid who wouldn't be traumatized by Santa crawling down a chimney with an axe, and I'll show you a kid who needs therapy.
THE HOWLING (1981)
Those claws scared the crap out of me. Imagine what they could to do naked flesh. But even worse was Eddie's face on the back. I vividly recall seeing a review of The Howling on Siskel & Ebert back in the day; when they showed a clip of the transformation scene I had nightmares later that evening.
Too bad, in the years since, I've always found this one to be incredibly overrated (please send all hate mail to newmanjam-AT-gmail-DOT-com).
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
Not even one of this movie's better covers. In fact, this edition is pretty bad. But the dude slowly rising to . . . well, I'm not sure I knew at that age what he was gonna get up to, but I did know it couldn't be good . . . yeah, it worked on me. Bigtime. You might say it scared me to death.
Go ahead and groan. 'Cause, yeah, the pun was atrocious.
THE ISLAND (1980)
I have never seen this movie. But when I was a kid, I found that tattooed-hand-with-a-knife terrifying beyond words. Whomever it belonged to, he had a long way to swim . . . but I had no doubt he would get there. And when he did, I knew it wasn't gonna be pretty, whatever he planned to do to those poor people on that boat.
One of the best. I couldn't wait to buy a ticket from that ghastly thing in the booth. And when I did, this one lived up to my expectations in every way.
Believe it or not, it's only been within the last decade that I saw this film for the first time. But, mannnn . . . back in the day, there was no scarier cover art. I would pick up this box and stare at it every single time my father and I went into the video store, but I was always too afraid to ask if we could rent it. I was sure that this had to be the scariest film ever made.
I mean, look at 'im! The guy has worms in his eyes! Yyyuuuck!
* Motorhead/"The Chase Is Better Than the Catch"