Where I'm from, Halloween means cool nights, brilliant foliage and crisp apples, but everywhere it means scary movies.
Lately, I've been thinking about my scariest viewing experiences.
As a little girl, I used to enjoy the network broadcasts of classic Universal horror films like The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man.
I also recall being terrified as a child by Alfred Hitchcock's masterworks The Birds (eyeball sockets cleaned out by attacking flocks is an image seared into my brain) and Psycho (I was uncomfortable in the shower for months...okay...for years after watching).
Later on, it was Regan's spinning head in The Exorcist then Michael Myers' and Jason Voorhees' refusal to die in the Halloween and Friday the 13th series had me squirming in my seat.
How many times did I cover my eyes and think "DON'T DO IT!" when a monster was lurking in the woods or a poltergeist haunting the house?
Although I was an adult by the time I saw this one, possibly the most original and interesting of the horror films I've ever seen is Tod Browning's 1932 shocker Freaks. I also recommend the 1967 movie version of Truman Capote's book In Cold Blood if your tastes run toward true crime.
But, these films may be too tame or too true for hard-core horror fans.
Whatever your preferred description, "slasher" or "splatter" or "slice and dice," the serial killer movies deliver frightful moments despite their predictability parodied in films such as Scream.
I remember being especially frightened by The Blair Witch Project. I saw it at the theater with a friend and afterward was scared to walk to my car in the well-lit parking lot. Driving home, I kept thinking about how much better I'd feel inside my own house.
Turns out, I was mistaken.
Lingering fears remained. I locked the doors and checked behind myself then took the unusual step of locking myself inside my bedroom. Just as I was about to go to sleep, my eyes flew open with the realization that there is no escaping true evil.
To see if the effect of the film is still potent, I watched it again a couple of days ago on my computer. I'm not sure if it was the ambiance of my cheery den or the interruptions from my phone while viewing, but The Blair Witch Project doesn't faze me at all after all these years. I went straight to bed after watching it and slept like a baby.
Clearly, mystery and suspense prove more effective than gimmickry over the long haul.
This semester, I'm teaching a seminar called "Gender and Hitchcock." I'm glad to report that many of Alfred Hitchcock's films hold up for students (and for me) even upon repeat viewing.
It's not that I find his films as terrifying as I did years ago -- and because of allusions throughout popular culture students may find some elements derivative (though the opposite is actually the case because it is Hitchcock who is copied!) -- but the tension is maintained nonetheless.
And, of course, it is the tension that gives us the opportunity for exquisite release.