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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

October 20, 2009 at 10:21 AM

Let’s talk about scary movies

But first, a scary story: Yesterday, my hard drive died. (In a fascinating trifecta, it died at the same time that the Times phone system briefly went offline and my cellphone announced that its battery was spent. Which meant that, for one brief shining moment, I was utterly unreachable. This was surprisingly thrilling, though brief.) Anyway, said hard drive has been dying slowly, over several weeks, and I finally got fed up with the glacial pace and summoned the assistance of a nice tech guy named Jason, who took a look, frowned, and said, “This is generally an indicator of doom.” He then took my computer apart, showed me where things were weirdly leaking, and took the hard drive out and let it dangle outside the box, like guts on a zombie. I asked, trying not to betray too much emotion, whether it could, as its final act, save the Nick Hornby interview I’d been writing up. He said “maybe” and we stood and watched it for a while, like the next of kin standing over a hospital bed while a ghostly white invalid summons his last moment of strength to initial the new will. And then, it was over.
Anyway, Halloween is coming, and just a few strains of Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho” score heard on the radio the other day kind of freaked me out (there’s going to be a few fun “Psycho” screenings next week at Benaroya with live accompaniment by the Seattle Symphony, did you know?), and got me thinking about scary movies. So often, what affects us about scary movies is the setting and mood in which we see them. If you watch a movie in your living room, with bright lights and telephone interruptions and cats jumping in and out of your lap, it might not seem very scary; even a horror movie in a theater, if you go feeling skeptical, can just seem silly. (This happened to me with “The Blair Witch Project.”) But in the right mood, some movies can terrify.
I think of “The Shining,” which I saw long ago when I was an undergraduate, at a late-night screening at the Harvard Exit. Three of us took the bus up the hill to the theater, all giggly and nervous and not quite sure what to expect except something scary. And — well, I will never forget how much that movie affected me, with its endless hallways and creepy music and slow depiction of violent madness, and how everything seemed strange and terrifying on the ride home in the dark. The friends with me, still dear friends to this day, probably still remember that night as well. (Katy and Sally, are you reading this? Do you remember? “Redrum! REDRUM!”) If I saw “The Shining” on TV today, it probably wouldn’t affect me much; indeed, just this clip seems fairly tame out of context. But oh, those twins haunted me years ago:

So, let’s talk about scary movies, and the circumstances that surround them. What’s your favorite? Do you think it would scare you in a different setting? What scene has truly stayed with you? (That final grab from the grave in “Carrie”! Janet Leigh in the shower! You tell me . . . )

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