they’re coming to get you, Barbara!

I am often asked, “What is your favorite horror movie?”

That is not an easy question for me to answer. I don’t have just one, all-time favorite. I have several very different movies that I love for several very different reasons.  Here they are in no particular order.

This movie is not for everyone.
I feel the need for this disclaimer because the last time I professed my love for this movie my mom watched it.  Afterwards, she called and asked what in the hell was wrong with me.  For the first time since high school, I think she wondered if I was on drugs.
The Evil Dead is like an oozing, puss-filled, festering wound being picked at by a dirty ragged fingernail.  It’s beyond gross, but it is also genuinely scary and at the same time over-the-top campy and just a ton of fun.  Sam Raimi (who would later go on to direct Spiderman) made this movie on a shoestring budget with a bunch of friends.  In it, five friends travel to a remote cabin in the woods where they unwittingly release unspeakable evil lurking in the woods after playing a taped translation of an anchient text, The Necronomicon.  One by one, the campers are possessed by the evil and it is up to Ash, played by Bruce Campbell and his chin, to dispatch them and return the evil where it belongs.  That is a very sensible synopsis of a movie that gleefully makes little sense.  I can’t help but love it.

Where The Evil Dead is a bludgeon, The Exorcist is a scalpel.  Yes there is some blood and buckets of regurgitated pea soup (not to mention the very unorthodox use of a crucifix), but the movie also relies heavily on pacing and tension.
We all know the basic story, right?  The 12 year old daughter of an actress is possessed by a demon (Pazuzu was his name-o) and two priests (the younger one struggling with a crisis of faith) are called in to perform an exorcism.  Curse-laden, head-spinning hi-jinks ensue.
I love The Exorcist because it was the first movie that actually frightened me.  I’ve seen it at least a dozen times and the scene where possessed Regan does that upside down spider-crawl thing down the stairs never fails to run a shiver down my spine (this scene was cut from the original version and can only be seen on the re-release).  There is a reason why The Exorcist has been called the most terrifying movie ever made.  I don’t recommend this movie for everyone, either, but for very different reasons than The Evil Dead.  If you don’t like being scared, do not watch this movie.

The grandfather of the modern zombie movie.
Before 1968, zombies were corpses brought to life by a sorcerer to do his/her bidding.  The zombie myth has roots in West African religions and Haitian voodoo culture.  George Romero created a new type of zombie in Night of the Living Dead.  They are still reanimated corpses, but they are not under anyone’s control.  They are feral, roaming creatures with a hunger for human flesh.
The story is simple:  A group of people barricade themselves inside a farmhouse while hordes of zombies, possibly created by radiation from a falling satellite, stumble about outside.  The hero of the movie is a black man named Ben.  He is the only one who seems to have his shit together while everyone else is either catatonic or freaking out.  The only thing more chilling than the zombies is the social commentary that weaves it’s way through the movie and gets you like a shotgun blast to the gut at the end.  Seriously, if the ending doesn’t knock the wind out of you then you are probably one of the undead and got bigger things to worry about than analyzing horror movies.
Unlike The Evil Dead and The Exorcist, I would recommend this movie to anyone.

So, those are my big three.  What’s your favorite horror movie?