“What is the scariest film you’ve ever seen?”
Their question lingered like cigar smoke in an old man’s bar evoking a smell not as sweet, forcing me to choke on the inside on a malodorous stench as soon as they finished speaking. The answer they were looking for was an 18+, by director X, detailing actors and actresses (before they too became actors), a way to engage on a commonality, to share my knowledge of film, an act of opening up to show my preference, to be judged and remarked upon, in the danger zone – one bad title away from private ridicule.
The answer I withheld rose all too quickly to my conscious, like a string-cut balloon released from the depths of a lake. I didn’t know them that well that I could say it, even flippantly, even with a manic depressed chuckle tacked on to hide the truth. And I knew even if my best friend had asked, I would have hidden the answer deep, buried under the mounds of a Yes/ No, staying generic, my minds gravedigger all too ready with the worn wooden handle, the spade itself so well used, the metal so polished and sharp it could be used as a weapon.
The correct response would have been Psycho, The Hostel, Hitchcock and George Romero. As for actors, few made a career from horror, it’s too restrictive: Hammer Horror and the likes of Christopher Lee don’t exist any more.
What could I say to the question?
Anything but the truth, which in itself sounded like a tagline to an eighties B movie, complete with near orange blood as if they’d raided a Heinz factory for the unspecial effects. Other key ingredients were the fuck it it’s good enough! first draft script, actors well versed in the Tree Method and out of synch choreography, where punches flattened opponents even with a visible two inch gap between them and the target, and exploding dye packs bled through white shirts.
What makes a film scary anyway? Bar the psychopaths, we all know the moving images are fake, a manufactured state of fiction designed to scare and titillate the hypothalamus with dolly shots and jump cuts. Strange how images and sound override our rational brain. Even frequent reminders that the characters are not real – the bloodshed pantomime – somehow manages to convince a part of the brain that it is, it must be so, look, on the screen, death and violence! I imagine it to be the same unevolved spastic region of the brain that led to my forebears seeing a stranger near their cave and senselessly without warning clubbing them on the head, killing them cold, all because the illogical thought process overrode the possibility that they might not be hostile, sensing only danger, real or otherwise.
I could tell my friend was growing impatient, their pint reduced to the last dregs that for some inexplicable reason required it be swilled around in a clockwise fashion. Also the glazed over eyes were a give away, not to mention the fact ten minutes had passed, perhaps more. Everyone else in the pub looked dead. Nobody moved as the TV above the bar churned out the afternoons racing, the sole contributor of noise, announcing King Pyjamas had won by a nose at 14/1.
As if at the snap of fingers, everything came back to life when I delivered my answer.
“The scariest film I’ve ever seen – is my life, and I have to watch it…every…day.”
Except I didn’t.
“Psycho or The Hostel,” I said, noting my pint hadn’t been touched.