The frightening films of Halloween

Jam of the week: “Crips” by Ratatat

Holidays are always great occasions for something. Christmas gives me a good excuse to go a bit crazy on the eggnog, New Years Eve marks a rare occasion where I watch network television, and Halloween in the near future means horror movie marathons.

I was big on horror films for a while because I enjoy the sensation of being afraid on occasion. However, my obsession with Halloween horror began innocently enough with a pseudo-documentary on the paranormal on basic cable.

When I was in elementary school, my parents hired a sitter for my sister and I when they went out for a party with some friends. Sitting with a pile of candy and the kind of sugar rush you can only get as a child, I was ready to take on the world. I convinced my sitter to sit through a television show about ghosts that must have been on the Discovery channel. This wasn’t a show like “Ghost Adventures” or similar shows on TV today where the fun is watching a bunch of guys shout at dark rooms. Rather, this was grainy footage of what was most likely camera errors or natural phenomenon.

Still, my child mind was so convinced of the images I saw that by the time my parents got back late at night, I was still laying wide-eyed in my bed, convinced something was waiting for me just around the corner waiting for me to fall asleep at my post. When I had to get up to use the bathroom, I grabbed a souvenir from my family’s trip to the Appalachian Mountains, a hammer carved out of wood with “Hillbilly Attitude Adjuster” written on the side of the handle, and tip-toed there and back.

While at the time I was glad to see the imagery of Halloween fade in favor of Thanksgiving , I eventually found myself seeking out scarier and scarier things for Halloween. As a young teenager, I somehow convinced my parents to let me watch “The Silence of the Lambs,” a film they only owned on laser-disc. It got me hooked on the big Hollywood horror films. Following Halloweens were always christened with my friends by watching whatever stereotypical slasher flicks we could get our hands on at the local Family Video.

However, what began as a genre that I loved eventually faded. By college, I was sighing moments before Liv Tyler tripped and broke her ankle in “The Strangers.” I only felt melancholy as I sat through forced jump scares in “The Haunting in Connecticut” as children ran around playing hide and seek with nothing scary actually happening. Promises of films based on true stories did nothing to help my suspension of disbelief.

I’d probably be incorrect and more importantly, crotchety, if I said that more modern horror films are worse than older ones. Even those that try and make the otherworldly to be domestic affairs, such as “Paranormal Activity,” fall flat for me now. Maybe in my maturity, the horrors that come across the news wire, the uncertainty of the future and the continuing challenges of the present have dulled my ability to be scared of running into a masked madman at a lake.

I haven’t totally given up on the genre. In fact, I’m itching to go see “Gravity,” which recently came out. Since I feel so burnt out on the paranormal and slasher flicks I’ve seen, the movie seems to offer not only a fresh setting, but the realistic yet unlikely to happen to me prospect of floating out into the endless void of space. Now that sounds like a scare I could get behind.

Still, I think the actual terror of the holiday and my favorite way to celebrate it may have mostly faded for good. Life would probably be hard to live if I still ran under the covers every time I saw a trailer for whatever sequel number “Final Destination” is up to now. Perhaps, leaving the imaginary terror of those films to younger generations is a somber way of remembering the innocence of youth when your biggest fears were homework and monsters under the bed and not the persisting, creeping terror of life and the world at large we all experience every day.

And now, dear readers, have a fantastically frightening Halloween.