I think one of the things that made me a horror fan was being compelled to find a film that could actually truly frighten me. Very few people's egos will permit them to admit that they've been controlled by something as trivial as a film, particularly when it comes to horror. To say you've experienced a sense of dread or fear during a horror flick is to admit that you've been controlled and manipulated. No one wants to cop to the fact that they're powerless to something. Horror is incredibly pornographic in nature, in that it provokes a response from the viewer through intense and explicit imagery. In fact, that's precisely what pornography is. It does not strictly refer to graphic depictions of sexual acts. Anything that is of an extreme nature that provokes a physical response is pornographic. News footage of some idiot getting his head lopped off by middle Eastern zealots might make some folks sick, while secretly others might be titillated. Deep down, we're all fascinated by mortality, and so each and every one of us has some interest in morbid imagery or subject matter. On some level of consciousness, each and every one of us is interested in gruesome things because they are both possible and inevitable. Horror stimulates; it quickens pulses. A genuinely thrilling film can bring about a sense of euphoria afterward that can be addicting in much the same way thrill seekers are addicted to an adrenaline rush. There's absolutely nothing sick about it. In fact, these experiences are healthy. A great horror film plays on the audience's sense of empathy toward the characters getting run through a ringer on screen. Certainly there are movies that feed their shallow protagonists to villains like Christians to lions, but GOOD horror films invest in great characterization and give you the opportunity to empathize and even occasionally experience victory over the odds.
There are mountains of garbage horror movies made by low brow delinquent types who don't understand the psychology behind this genre or what makes these films work. In fact, very few writers or directors actually "get it," and even it's even more rare when you get a pairing of the two that both do. When those elements align, though, they can create a gratifying experience. Even if it's just one moment that bothers you or jolts you a little, it's a miraculous achievement on their part.
I've been rattled and creeped out by very few films throughout my life time, but when it happens, I'll commend the effort. One of the first movies to really shake the hell out of me was "Sssssss." Granted, I first experienced this movie as a little kid, but the experience was profound enough to haunt my memory for years to come. Overall, the movie effectively weaves a mood of its own, but what really scared the shit out of me was the imagery at the end of the film when they reveal the half-man half-snake hybrid. The first time I saw that I ran out of the room. After that, I was routinely teased by my family, who'd remind me of the Dirk Benedict snake man at really inopportune times. Decades later, the movie doesn't hold the same impact that it once did, but it's still a very entertaining and well-made film. In fact, it's relatively tame but still manages to be a strong little mood piece. For parents seeking films to watch with young ones around this time of year, I would whole heartedly recommend it.
The plot is simple, and leans more toward nuclear fifties sci-fi. Benedict plays David Blake, a student who gets a job at a serpentarium, assisting a doctor who's performing radical research on snakes. Blake eventually becomes a part of the doctor's experiments when he begins receiving dubious injections which lead to some pretty severe life changes. All this is complicated by a brewing romance between Blake and the doctor's daughter. It might not unnerve you, but it is at least a fun ride. Worth seeking out.
Trailer courtesy mgoddard23.