In 1984, a true “Nightmare” became reality.
Director Wes Craven – best known at the time for his low-budget 70s horror classics “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes” - released another low-budget shocker that unleashed one of the iconic horror villains of all time.
The movie was “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the diabolical baddie's name was “Fred Krueger.” Not “Freddy,” the watered-down, hardly scary, wise-crackin' killer comedian found in later sequels … No, this was Fred the child molester, and he wasn't funny at all in the original film. In fact, he was downright evil.
Even after the glut of horror movies that hit theaters during the Golden Age of Horror, nobody was prepared for what “Nightmare” was going to do to our psyches and dreams. This would turn out to become one of the most daring, original and frightening movies ever released.
I cannot do justice to how much this movie scarred me when I first saw it in a theater, during the film's opening weekend, with little to no idea as to what I was in for. From the opening scene, where we're helplessly caught inside a girl's hellish, surreal and nonsensical nightmare and we see for the very first time Krueger's famous finger knives, brown hat, Christmas green and red tattered sweater and hideously burned face, and we hear his hollow, echo-y but very sinister laugh, we learned very quickly that sh*t was about to get real.
And the nightmare didn't let up. The more we became trapped in the nightmares of Fred's world and feared for our likable teenager protagonists, the more we got sucked into hell's vortex. In our dreams (and especially our nightmares), nothing was safe. Laws of gravity and physics no longer made sense. Inanimate objects came to life, and the safety and comfort from our beds and blankets, from our homes and even our parents, were non-existent.
When we sleep, we become pawns in Freddy's deadly game. And there's nothing we can do about it.
You can drink coffee, you can take adrenaline pills, you can put bars on your windows. But it doesn't matter. Because eventually, we all have to fall asleep. Until, that is, when you're dead.
It's startling to me that in the history of movies, no mainstream film ever capitalized on our common fear of nightmares, of the inevitability of our monsters preying on us when we close our eyes as this one did. (At least, not as successfully.)
Very much like “Halloween,” what makes “Nightmare” so damn effective and iconic is that it efficiently taps into a simple phobia that we have all shared at one point or another. While “Halloween” attacks our primal fear that evil can strike anywhere, any time, with no rhyme or reason, “Nightmare” attacks the central dread we have all shared – that no matter who we are, we all have bad dreams, we cannot control them, and we cannot escape them.
The film's ending, which has admittedly received a great deal of discontent and sometimes even outright hatred from even the film's biggest fans, is perfect. Because it doesn't make a damn bit of sense, because it doesn't have a happy ending and because it clearly shows that the nightmare isn't over.
Just like the worst nightmares we all have ever had.
For its sheer originality, for its ferocious tenacity in exposing our worst nightmares and fears, for giving us an incredibly brave and likeable heroine that we can all relate to, for the relentless feelings of helplessness and dread, for absolutely scaring the crap out of its unsuspecting audience and most importantly, for presenting a perfect manifestation of our worst nightmare in the diabolical Krueger, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” deserves to be considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made.
And a big round of applause goes to Wes Craven, who made a name for himself in the 70s with one-two punch of “Last House” and “Hills,” who revolutionized horror in the 80s with “Nightmare,” and who single-handedly resuscitated the dying horror genre in the 90s with “Scream.” He had one hell of a career, and if there would ever be a Mount Rushmore of Horror erected, his bust would and should surely be included.
Rest in peace, sir. You will be missed and never forgotten.
(Craven died in 2015 from a brain tumor.)
So, from my proud beginnings in horror movie fandom in the mid- to late-70s and continuing up to 1984, there was no doubt that I was blessed to be growing up in such a wonderful era. And as the years moved on, I found myself more and more in Horror Heaven, because not only were new fright flicks popping up in the theaters for me to enjoy, but the rise of popularity in videocassettes and later DVD's would enable me to travel back in time, to view films from the 50s, 60s and 70s that would forever change me and my life as a horror fan.
And throughout the coming months, I will talk about them, and share my opinions about them, here on this site. Because there are far too many great and classic horror movies that perhaps you've never heard of that deserve to have spotlights shone on them. And yes, there are many truly awful horror movies that deserve attention, so that maybe I can help you avoid them at all cost.
And yes, there are many “WTF” horror movies, that are either so bad they're good, or they simply defy all logic and need to be talked about.
But no matter what is talked about here, the simple fact is that any and all talk about horror movies must start with the “Unholy Trilogy” of “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” If you haven't seen them, then go ahead and check 'em out, and come back. And if you say you don't want to see them or if you say that you've seen them and you think they suck, then, well, you might as well NOT come back, because, like the many victims of Michael Myers, Mrs. Voorhees and Fred Krueger in those all-time great films, you're dead to me.
I'll be seeing you soon, in your nightmares...
In the summer of 1980, one of the most influential movies of my life was unsuspectingly unleashed into theaters. No, it wasn't “The Empire Strikes Back,” or even “The Shining,” two of the biggest-budget movies released that year, although both of those films are incredible.
No, it was a low-budget slasher flick that took the world by storm that year … Sean S. Cunningham's “Friday the 13th.”
Now, I was only approaching my 12th birthday that summer, and I knew there was no way in hell that my parents were going to let me go see it. The controversy surrounding the movie and its graphic content had reached full-blown mainstream access, even without the Internet's existence. Critics from every newspaper and on TV were appalled at the film's violence, while word of mouth was stirring about how scary and bloody it was. Fangoria Magazine devoted front covers and numerous pages each issue about the film, highlighting its graphic special effects and horrific content.
Heck, there were even reported boycotts of the film from parents and religious leaders, lambasting the film for its sex scenes, nudity and, most of all, the many realistically graphic murder scenes.
The movie and its notoriety became one of the biggest media stories of the year – the little, small-budget slasher flick that shocked and outraged a lot of people, becoming one of the biggest financial hits of the year.
And meanwhile, kids like me all across America were hearing and reading the stories, sharing gossip with each other about how bad, bloody and scary we heard it was.
And after all the hype and hoopla, after being told by my parents that I absolutely would not be allowed to see it, I knew there only one thing I had to do: See the damn movie, at any cost.
So, I did.
And I gotta say, my life changed forever.
I vividly remember watching it for the very time. Filled with dread before it even started. Peeking through my fingers during the opening scene. Jolting out of my seat throughout the movie as the suspense built. Gasping at some of the murder scenes. And finally, screaming like a little girl during the film's shock ending.
It was every bit as terrifying, gruesome and unforgettable as I had hoped it would be.
And, it was exhilarating.
Now, I know the generations after me would probably watch the film now and scratch their heads over my fawning for this film. Yes, the film is now dated and somewhat cheesy, and some might find it today to be a little slow in parts and filed with horror movie clichés. But you have to understand something … for its time, this movie was a stunning revelation. It broke many barriers and crossed many lines. It wore its low budget like a proud badge of honor, it generated unbearable suspense and created so many of what we today call horror movie clichés, and it was shocking in its unbelievable special effects for its time (pre-CGI).
And most important of all, it scared the ever loving crap out of me.
At that point in my young and naive life, with only a handful of viewed horror movies under my belt, I was convinced that no horror movie was ever going to be better than that.
And then, I was proven wrong. Thanks to a local video store and the gift of a used video cassette player, I was finally able to see the one movie that I had been dying to see since it came out in 1978. The one horror movie that I heard and read so much about, the one that actually received a ton of critical praise, the one that was built into my brain as being so scary that even looking at the film's poster would give me chills.
Four years after its release, after it terrified the nation, I finally got to see “The One.”
And “The One” is John Carpenter's classic, “Halloween.”
And after finally witnessing it, I not only knew that is was going to replace “Friday the 13th” as my favorite movie, it would forever be the greatest horror movie I would ever see. And today, exactly 40 years after its original release, it is still “The One.”
The Boogeyman. The Shape. Michael Myers. Pure, unadulterated evil. The mask. Those soulless, blackened eyes. The music. The terrifying opening, the relentless stalk-and-chase sequences, the harrowing ending. The lighting, the camera shots. This movie in every aspect is The Perfect Horror Movie.
Honestly, I could spend days and thousands of pages declaring my love for this movie, because it deserves it. No movie has ever impacted me like “Halloween.” It is deceptively simple story, about a little boy overcome with evil for no rhyme or reason, who kills his sister, is institutionalized, escapes on Halloween 15 years later and returns home to continue his killing ways. He randomly picks his victims, taunts and torments them before striking and then methodically goes in for the kill, with no passion or remorse.
He is a human shark wearing an expressionless mask, toying with his food before he eats. He has no anger toward the people he kills, he just simply kills them because they were there. The movie offers no long-winded explanations or provides any colorful background or origin story as to why he does what he does … If you're unfortunate enough to cross his path, then you're simply his next victim. And it doesn't matter where you live, or how fast you run or where you hide; once he decides you're next, you're fate is sealed.
And no one can save you. Not your intelligent and resourceful friends, not your parents, or even the authorities. And the fact that he can strike anywhere, at any time, even in a safe, small quiet suburban area, even if you're behind locked doors and you have weapons to defend yourself with. It just doesn't matter.
THAT is what makes “Halloween” so terrifying, and the greatest horror movie ever made.
I will have much more to say about these two legendary movies in future installments. And next time, I will be talking about the next boogeyman that forever impacted my horror loving life.
One, two, Freddy's coming for you...
So ...why do I have a website dedicated to horror movies?
Why should anybody give a crap about my opinions, reviews, insight when it comes to the wonderful, wicked world of horror?
Well, I may not have a Masters Degree in Horrorolgy (yes, I made that up), I like to believe that I am pretty damn well educated when it comes to the monsters, nightmares and evil that has cursed our movie and TV screens for decades.
Egotistical? Yeah, probably. But quite frankly, I feel that I am very qualified to start the spark in what I hope will become a very engaging, fun and interactive horror movie site.
For anyone who is wondering how horror became such a huge part of my life, allow me to start from the beginning.
The very first four horror movies I ever saw were “The Exorcist,” “Jaws” “Night of the Living Dead” and “The Amityville Horror” - all by the time I reached my 10th birthday.
Pretty cool, right?
Now, before you gasp in shock and accuse my parents of being less than stellar role models, please understand that they didn't exactly let me watch them. In the late 70s, “The Exorcist” aired on CBS one evening and I sneaked downstairs to watch it while my folks were upstairs. Later, my family was visiting relatives and I got to sneak out with cousins and see “Jaws.” And, on one Halloween night, Channel 11 and “The Chilly Billy Theater” showed a midnight screening of “Night of the Living Dead,” which I watched at a friend's house. And, in 1979, I somehow miraculously talked my father into taking me and my siblings to see “Amityville.”
It was officially the genesis of my life-long love of horror.
I became obsessed. After this first foray into terror, I would do whatever I could to satiate my voracious appetite for horror. I would go the Bowlby Library and spend hours reading the movie sections of newspapers in the hopes of finding advertisements for the scary stuff and read reviews about any new thrillers that came out. I religiously watched any programming that talked about or featured horror, such as “Sneak Previews” with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, as well as scoured the boob tube for reruns of classic shows like “Twilight Zone,” “Night Gallery” and “The Night Stalker.”
(Heck, I even became obsessed with family-friendly sitcoms like “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family,” just because they had ghoulish characters in them.)
I would frequent Doody's Book Store in downtown Waynesburg and spend hours sitting cross-legged on the floor reading classic horror magazines such as “Fangoria.” And, I would head back to the library to check out Stephen King's classic novels as well as borrow audio cassettes of classic radio shows from a bygone era, shows with titles such as “Suspense” and “Inner Sanctum.”
And then I found my second home – the legendary Opera House. I became good friends with the family who owned the theater, and I would go to watch many, many great horror movies over the years. The theater had the best popcorn – which is even still today my biggest vice – and the workers were so nice that they would give me horror movie posters, which I would later plaster all across my bedroom walls.
And just when I thought my horror obsession could not be any greater … along came the 80s.
Ah, the magical, wondrous 80s. A decade where two of the most incredible things ever happened – the explosion of the home video/VCR market, and the abundant Golden Age of Horror, where it seemed as if at least one new blood-curling thriller was being released in theaters every week. Even the titles would make my spine tingle with glee - “Hell Night,” “He Knows You're Alone, “When A Stranger Calls,” “Prom Night,” “Terror Train” and so many, many more.
And the more Golden Age of Horror flourished, the more mainstream exposure this exciting genre got – through movies, TV, music, books and magazines and the rise of video cassettes and video stores – it seemed as there was never going to be an end to this marvelous madness.
And it was during the early part of the 80s when I would be exposed to the three horror films that forever changed my life: “Friday the 13th,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the greatest horror movie ever made, John Carpenter's 1978 classic “Halloween.”
To be continued...
So … what's YOUR all-time favorite scary movie?
And … in your opinion, what is the best horror movie ever made?
After watching horror for roughly four decades, these are perhaps the two most often questions I have been asked in my lifetime.
(Especially if you don't include the two my wife always asks me - “How much did you spend on THAT crappy looking movie?” and “Are you really taking me to see THAT horror movie??”)
In regards to the two questions that I started this column with, I have heard them far too many times in my lifetime to count. And what surprises me the most is how I believe they are two very different questions, and how much agony they cause me when I think about how I'm going to answer them.
Because, truth be known, I have seen just way too damn many of them. And I think the genre label of “horror” is just far too huge in its scope to narrow the tens of thousands of horror movies down to one simple choice. There are just too many decades and eras to choose from, too many subgenres to think about.
And besides, really, what is scary to me may not be scary to you. What you might consider to be a horror movie, I might classify it as a thriller or a psychological drama. And what was horrifying to me when I was 12 may be not be so frightening to me in my 40s.
And then there are so many other elements to think about when it comes to choosing one's personal favorite and best horror flicks, such as the person's own frame of mind, familial and social upbringing, age, personal traumas, and phobias …
I am personally not afraid of spiders or snakes, but thunderstorms scared the hell out of me as kid. I don't find haunted house movies terribly nightmarish, but give three kids a camcorder and watch 'em get lost in the woods, and I won't sleep for days. Creepy clowns don't make me look over my shoulder, but home invasion movies make me keep all of the lights on. And closeups of graphic brutal violence don't make me squeamish, but a low, eerie groan coming from an unknown source far off in the distance raises the hair on my arms.
So we're all different when it comes to what scares us, and what horror movies specifically impacted us, traumatized us, gave us nightmares. And that's what makes those two questions so awesome, because the opportunities for debates are endless.
Several years ago, with 13 days to go before Halloween, I started a Top 13 Countdown of what I considered to be the best horror movies ever made. I started with my Number 13 pick, then every day I narrowed it down until we got to Number One, on October 31. I did it as a tongue-in-cheek fun time-wasting activity, not expecting the bloody floodgates to open from the public who passionately voiced their opinions of my selections – whether they agreed or disagreed, the opinions on every selection were plentiful, and very, very strong.
And it was then that I realized that I had struck a nerve. Because I realized that the responses were not just coming from the horror movie junkies who I knew, they were also coming from people of all ages, from all walks of life, who not only shared their passionate opinions about what scares them but also confessed personal stories of HOW their favorite horror movies always stayed with them.
It is THAT passion that I hope to feel, and read about, and receive from those who visit ScarySteve.com. Because the truth is, we may all be different, but we all have one very important thing in common: SOMETHING scares the hell out of us all.
So … what is YOUR all-time favorite horror movie?
And … in your opinion, what is the best horror movie ever made?
I can't wait to hear from ya...
“The Strangers: Prey At Night” worth seeing
It won't win any awards and it won't be remembered as a classic in the years to come, but horror fans starved for a suspenseful, blood-soaked thriller that's proud of its “R” rating should find “The Strangers: Prey At Night” a worthy viewing.
A much belated sort-of sequel (or is a reboot/remake/re-imagining/whatever they call it these days?) to 2008's “The Strangers,” the home-invasion thriller with Liv Tyler and three killers wearing very creepy masks, this new installment finds creative ways to bring back the sense of creeping dread that so skillfully dominated the first film.
Be warned, though, that this film takes its sloooow time before getting to the scares. Too much of the film's first half is devoted to getting to know the protagonists before it kicks in. But once the formalities are out of the way, the film becomes a lean, mean killing and scare machine.
What I liked the most about the film is that it follows the original's best asset – that we have no idea who the killers are, or why they're doing what they do. There's no talky explainin' about their motives or reasons, which – in my opinion – makes the villains all the more creepy.
The main characters are likeable, the effects are realistic, the villains are particularly unnerving and monstrous, and the setting – an isolated and dimly lit trailer park – is original and effective.
Is it great? Well, no. Is it at least as good or better than the original (which I liked a lot)? Not quite, because I feel that the startling effect of the creepy masks worn by the baddies has lost its luster a little bit after the first film.
But give credit where it's due. It TRIES to be scary and it's not ashamed to be what it is – an effective, fast-moving thrill ride that flips a middle finger to the politically correct, safe PG-13 tripe aimed at teens and that tries and fails to pass off as horror these days.
It's this simple: If you liked the first one, you'll like this one. It doesn't re-invent the wheel, but that's okay. And it would make a great double-feature with the first one if you decide to wait until it comes out on DVD.
Just remember: If you're waiting to watch this at home on DVD, make sure you lock your damn doors first.
AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS...
Welcome to ScarySteve.com! This is an exciting new endeavor for me, and I hope you come along with me for a fun ride through the dark, twisted, blood-curling world of horror entertainment!
First, a little background … Since I can remember, my life has consisted of three “hobbies” that I have always been obsessed with. I have forever had a love for writing, music and horror movies. I remember when I was little tyke I dreamed of one day being a professional writer, as well as being either a front man for a rock band or at the very least, a guy who would be able to entertain the masses by playing music, having fun and making awesome friends.
And finally, I have had a lifelong love affair with horror movies, and ever since I was a young 'un I hoped to one day be involved somehow with this favorite pastime – whether it was being a “critic” reviewing horror movies, writing or acting in horror movies, or at the very least, having some kind of public platform where I could share my reviews, opinions, photos and other forms of creativity with other horror fanatics.
Well, looking back, I have to say that I'm pretty happy with what I've done so far with my dreams. I have been a professional writer for more than 20 years (not to brag, but I've won a quite a few awards for my writing in the past), and I have loved it. And I have enjoyed a long and exciting career for nearly two decades of entertaining crowds as a DJ, which helped me create far too many awesome memories and friendships to count. And I have loved that, as well.
And yet … something was missing. I feel that I haven't tapped into my obsession with horror movies with the same zest, zeal and desire that I did with my other two obsessions. Yes, I've written a few horror movie scripts and short stories (never published) in my time. Yes, I've met some amazing people in the horror movie industry and visited some sites that were actual horror movie locations. And yes, I've attended some incredible horror movie conventions and horror flick premieres.
And finally, yes, I have amassed what I consider to be an awe-inspiring collection of horror movies on DVD and Blu-Ray that I believe would impress even the most die-hard horror fan.
But I never really felt that I ever fully, truly explored the idea of taking my love of horror into a more exciting, unusual direction – one that would inspire me to be just as excited about my horror obsession as I am with my writing and DJ careers.
Thanks to the crazy Internet and the genius known as Ben McMillen – who inspired me to create this website, who came up with the awesome webpage name and who has used his “techy” know-how to help make this possible – I am proud to present what I hope will complete my very own trilogy of pursuing my dreams when it comes to my biggest lifelong obsessions.
As time goes on, there will be a great of activity on this site. I will use ScarySteve.com to announce upcoming releases of horror films in theaters and on DVD/Blu-Ray. I will provide links to trailers of classic and new horror flicks that I feel are worth checking out. I will publish reviews as well as blogs offering my personal insight in all things horror, and I will open up my collection and highlight many movies that you may have never seen.
I will offer special giveaways from time to time and provide contests for people to win movie tickets, posters, DVDs, etc. I will have special features such as “Top 10 Countdowns” and “Theme Days,” where certain films will be featured and highlighted to coincide with holidays and other special attractions.
I will provide detailed info on local haunted attractions as we approach Halloween (the greatest holiday ever) and I will provide news, updates and recommendations on upcoming horror flicks, as well as photos, videos and links. And, social media will be a very big part of this madness.
I will explore the many eras and genres of horror movies – classics, slashers, found footage, foreign, paranormal, psychological, you name it – and I will provide info on where you can stream or buy many of these movies.
Finally, this site will be interactive. I will encourage others to share their photos, stories, reviews, blogs, whatever, as long as it involves the awesome realm of horror entertainment.
So, here it is. After 40-plus years of loving horror, this is where the countless hours of watching, reading, writing and experiencing horror movies all come together. I hope that in being a part of ScarySteve.com you will have as much frightening fun as I will running this site.
Welcome to my nightmare, baby...