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By Jesse Fox Mayshark

OCTOBER 27, 1997:  I don't honestly remember the first scary movie I ever saw. I remember being frightened by parts of children's movies—the trees in The Wizard of Oz, the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp, most of Willie Wonka—but I'm not sure when I graduated to full-bore horror films.

I do remember that when I was about nine, my younger sister and I used to watch old monster movies on a local TV station every Saturday afternoon. We'd put blankets over the windows to make the room suitably dark and mysterious. I only recall snippets of most of what we saw, but a few of them made stronger impressions. The most prominent one is The Black Cat (1934), a black-and-white classic directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and starring the two leading men of horror: Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. It took the title and nothing else from an Edgar Allan Poe story. I can't tell you the plot for sure, but the atmosphere is dark and creepy and the film ends with a man being flayed alive (top that, Wes Craven).

The first movie to give me nightmares was Philip Kaufman's chilling remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, PG). Donald Sutherland is feverishly distraught in the lead, and the film's searing ending manages to be as much an allegory for the post-Watergate '70s as the original was for the post-McCarthy '50s. At the time, of course, the main thing I absorbed was the movie's overwhelming sense of dread; as I recall, I slept on the floor of my parents' bedroom that night.

In the years since, I've sat through plenty of scary films, good (The Shining, John Carpenter's The Thing), classic (The Uninvited, Rosemary's Baby), bad (Scream and most of its ilk), and just plain silly (let's face it, The Exorcist is pretty incoherent). The one that has stuck with me the most in my adult years is a somewhat obscure British film that's hard to find on video but more than worth the search. Paperhouse (1989) is a strange, disquieting movie about a young girl who discovers she can enter a fantasy world of her own making. But she can't control it as much as she thinks, and the dream world's intersection with the real world becomes increasingly blurry. It's not a horror film exactly—no gore, no real villain—but it gave chills to a roomful of college students raised on standard slasher flicks.

Happy Halloween!


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