I LOVE TO BE SCARED. Truly. If there is a paranormal show on tv, I watch it. If there is a book about a serial killer, I read it. If there is a haunted tour in a city I am visiting, I go on it. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a funeral home. Or maybe it’s just because I’m weird. Either way, I JUST REALLY LOVE TO BE SCARED. One of my earliest memories is of hearing my first ghost story. It was at our local Masonic Temple (my dad’s a Mason) and I was probably three or four years old. It was the night I met my very first friend Adia and this shared experience is burned so indelibly into our brains that it bonds us to this day. Neither of us remembers anything about the story other than the scary-as-all-get-out refrain of “bloody fingers on the stairs”, but we certainly remember being SCARED TO DEATH. Those were the good old days – back when you could tell pants-shittingly terrifying stories to toddlers and no one even batted an eye.
And so in the spirit of the impending holiday, I’ve collected my 10 very favorite scary things. Some may be new, some may be familiar, but I promise that they are all terrifying in their own way. Enjoy.
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! JUST READ THIS. I had never heard anything about this until a friend posted this link on fb a few months ago and let me tell you, I was up for SEVERAL nights trying to wrap my brain around it and figure out what might have happened to these poor people. I made the mistake of reading this at night while home alone. Consider mine a cautionary tale and do not make the same mistake.
Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor (mad scene)
Just watch Natalie Dessay lose her shit in the Met’s 2011 production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor right after her character, Lucia, kills Arturo, her bridegroom. Not only is her singing impeccable, but her acting is unbelievable. A mad scene that’s done right is one of the scariest things that there is.
This movie came out when I was in junior high and I remember watching it at my friend Erica’s house during a sleepover. As I am wont to do, I quickly became obsessed and forced her to watch it at least five more times before I went home. Kathy Bates won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes, an obsessed fan who kidnaps her favorite author. Annie Wilkes belongs on every best monster/villain list from now until the end of time. The suspense in this movie is pretty much unparalleled as far as I’m concerned. Just perfect.
The Silence Of The Lambs
I know that everyone has seen The Silence of the Lambs - and if you haven’t, WHY HAVEN’T YOU?!?!?! –but I would be remiss not to mention it because it’s my favorite movie. The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect film. Kevin and I agree that while Hannibal Lecter may be a terrifying sociopath, Buffalo Bill is the scarier monster. Even though I’ve seen this one at least 100 times, I cannot watch it if both of the following conditions are met: 1. I’m alone and 2. It’s dark out. In fact, I rewatched it last Sunday afternoon and had to pause it with 20 minutes left to go so that I could eat dinner with my family. When I returned home, it was dark and so I couldn’t finish it until the next day. THIS IS WHY THIS MOVIE IS THE BEST.
This is the scariest movie I have ever seen as an adult. This one is just relentless with the suspense. It never lets up, the viewer never gets a break. And it’s exhausting. And the fact that this movie is BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS?!?!?!??!?!??! OH HELL NO. (Sidenote – whenever anything says that it’s “based on actual events”, even if it turns out to be a bunch of lies as is usually the case, I will inevitably LOSE MY MIND WITH FEAR.)
Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique
You may recognize the fifth movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique as the recurring theme from Sleeping with the Enemy or as the theme song to The Shining, both scary movies and both favorites of mine. Here’s a clip of the amazing Leonard Bernstein conducting the Orchestre National de France in 1976.
But it’s not just the fifth movement (Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath) that is worth listening to, even if it is the most famous. The entire piece is fantastically scary. Hector Berlioz was a French romantic composer who wrote this piece at the age of 27 while high on opium. The piece is basically one big drug-induced fever dream. The music is haunting and the imagery is FANTASTIC. Oh my goodness. I heard this piece when Lorin Maazel lead the NY Philharmonic a few years ago FROM MEMORY and it will always be one of my most exhilarating musical experiences. Here’s a link to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the entire piece, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. I love the young maestro’s interpretation and listening is sure to give you goose bumps.
Unsolved Mysteries – Dorothy Allison, Psychic
When I was a kid, I had a standing date with Robert Stack on Friday nights. Unsolved Mysteries was my favorite show and I couldn’t wait to watch it every week. I distinctly remember several episodes where police used a psychic named Dorothy Allison to help them solve missing person cases. I was completely fascinated and unnerved by her and her ability to help solve cases.
In 1978, a local girl went missing and was found murdered six months later just outside of town. I remember a friend’s aunt (who was actually friends with the girl) telling us all about it during a sleepover (probably the most scared I have ever been in real life). Later, in reading about the case, I came across information about Dorothy Allison’s involvement in the investigation. CRAZY. You can read about it here and here
This may be a children’s book, but this story of a family who moves into an old church that sits on haunted property in rural Maryland only to be confronted with the ghost of a young girl whose family had been killed in a fire is a well-crafted ghost story fit for readers of any age. I first read this book when I was ten and I re-read it a handful of times that summer. I can distinctly remember sitting on the glider in the front yard of camp while getting the crap scared out of me, hiding the book when my Grammy came around for fear that she’d think it was too much for me (I was a VERY sensitive kid). I forgot all about it until Kevin asked me to write for the blog and I started thinking about the things that have scared me the most. This book is up there. To be sure that it still held up, I reread it this past weekend and it’s still an awesome story.
The Watcher in the Woods
Did you know that Disney used to make FREAKING SCARY MOVIES back in the eighties? Well, it did. And this is my favorite one. AND BETTE DAVIS IS IN IT!!!!! If you’ve seen it, all I have to say is NAREK and I know you’re running around your house, turning on all of the lights. Much like Wait Til Helen Comes, I forgot about it until my sister gave me a dvd of it a few Christmases ago. Like a dumbass, I put it on after everyone went to bed and made it about halfway through before I had to turn it off. IT’S SO SO SO SO SO CREEPY AND SO SO SO SO SO GOOD.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
People who love this movie REALLY love this movie and are REALLY loyal to this movie and will probably call me a blasphemer when I say that I like the Redgrave sisters’ made-for-tv remake every bit as much - and maybe even slightly more than - the Davis/Crawford original. To be fair, it’s because I saw the remake first on late-night cable. And to say it had a profound effect on me would be putting it mildly. This tale of sisters, one of whom is a former movie star in a wheelchair and must be taken care of by the other (an aging child star who cannot let go of her jealousy and rage and who caused the accident that put her sister in the wheelchair) scared the bejesus out of me. I’m not sure how easy it is to get one’s hands on the remake, but the original is available on dvd from Netflix and if you haven’t seen it, move it to the top of your queue immediately. LIKE RIGHT NOW. Bette Davis’s Jane is ASTOUNDING.
And because I clearly cannot get enough of Bette Davis (I LOVE BETTE DAVIS), I give you my bonus pick…Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. OMG TERRIFYING.
Now turn on all of the lights and invite all of the people over and enjoy your Halloween.