What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?

I Know What You Did Last Summer Jill Kolongowski—I suppose if I were to answer this honestly, I’d have to say EVERY SCARY MOVIE EVER. I don’t do well with them because I have vivid nightmares. I stopped watching horror movies after The Ring, not necessarily because it’s the scariest movie ever, but because I could not get the images out of my head. I had bizarre nightmares for weeks. I love sleep much more than the thrill of fear.

I was going to say that that must mean The Ring (2002) was the scariest movie I’ve seen, but now I’m thinking it has to be I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). I know. Hear me out.

It was the first horror movie I ever saw. I was in eighth grade. We were spending the night at my friend Hayley’s house, and it was dark and thunderstorming. Hayley’s living room had big picture windows facing the woods that left me glancing over my shoulder every few seconds. Mid-movie, the power went out. We had to crawl our way back through the unfamiliar house in the pitch blackness to her bedroom. I lay the rest of the night sweating, as tense a wire, staring into the black abyss under her bed. I still sometimes shudder when I see Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Gavin Craig—When I was a bit shy of two years old, my family was spending Thanksgiving with my grandparents during a broadcast of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978). I’m told that the general atmosphere was one of mirth, and that there was no thought of what effect the movie could be having upon me. After all, there is nothing graphic in the film. Only shot after shot of screaming extras fleeing from produce rolled in their direction by off-camera assistants. My imagination had no difficulty filling in the details. I knew what the screams meant.

My grandmother, unaware, was preparing lunch in the kitchen. The Craigs have always been fond of bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. I screamed.

I have not eaten a tomato since.

Jaws Ana Holguin—1. Jaws, all of them. I know the third one at the aquarium is supposed to be really stupid, but come on! An underwater walkway? You are completely surrounded by the ocean! An ocean that will break your stupidly fragile “protective” plastic barrier. Claustrophobia + sharkfear!! Two words: chomp, chomp.

2. Jurassic Park (mostly the first, but again all of them). Ok, I don’t get why more people don’t share my paralyzing fear of dinosaurs and their terrifying museum-display bones. People, dinosaurs are freaking ancient giant bird-lizards that ruled the Earth! Does not their stature, their mere presence as immobile artifacts give one sublime pause? Three words: enormous tyrannosaur eyeball!

3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Not scary like a slasher flick, this movie just creeps and slinks its way under your skin (so to speak). I didn’t realize how terrified I was until after the movie was over and I began to register how tense my (brain and body) muscles were. Unlike the first two movies on my list that prey on our baser instincts and primitive fear, Massacre shows us post-rational man and the deepest darkest regions of his mental/emotional life. *shudder*

Stephen King's Cat's Eye Rosemary Van Deuren—As a kid, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (1985) was one of the few horror movies I watched to completion, because it was not scary enough to force me to flee from the room. I was a weird, introspective child, easily immersed and susceptible to getting swept up in movies to the point of jubilation or terror. I thought hard and deeply about anything I watched, and Cat’s Eye had enough horrific scenarios to pique my precocious interest and start my wheels turning about how I—nine-year-old me—would deal with the torture-related dilemmas brought upon the characters through the fault of their own broad flaws. Would I be able to walk the ledge of a skyscraper over the plummeting dark while pigeons pecked at my fingers? How would I possibly bear it if people I loved were electrocuted while I were forced to watch? Or what if some well-meaning but misguided adult put my pet cat outside for the night so he was unable to protect me from the evil troll that lived in my house? I laid awake that night pondering these serious issues, as well as thinking about how cool it would be to have a troll-fighting cat of my very own.

Poltergeist 2 Mike Vincent—I don’t remember if the movie as a whole scared me but the performance of Julian Beck in Poltergeist 2 (1982) definitely unnerved me. I remember his sweaty, gaunt visage and creepy smile like it was yesterday. The maggot creature in his likeness was totally creepy but nowhere as creepy as Beck himself. Later I would come to discover his work in the creation of The Living Theater.

As Poltergeist 2 descends into a wacky, blue screen nuttiness it sort of loses its edge. Granted, this was a necessary development as Beck died during filming. But when I think about films that scared me, that really creeped me out, the sight of the wincing, sweaty, cult leader that led innocents to their death.

Perhaps this is a testament to the last performance of Beck, the triumph of acting. Maybe it was all his experience with the confrontational theater he founded. Perhaps in that setting he mastered the art of making another uncomfortable. Perhaps it was my own youth, or the concept of following someone to your own death. Aren’t the things that scare us really just the things that we truly fear?

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