Tim Grierson on Being a Reformed Horror-Movie Wimp


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It’s Halloween time, which means you’ve probably seen plenty of those “Scariest Movies of All Time” lists pop up on the web. Looking at the movie titles on those countdowns, you probably remember the first time you saw them, maybe as a kid during a sleepover with a friend when you were probably too young to handle it. Or maybe it was in a packed theater with your buddies, all soaking in the scares together. Not me. I’ve seen most of the top horror movies, but only as an adult. You see, I was a scaredy-cat as a kid.

For a lot of red-blooded American boys (and girls), seeing horror movies is a rite of passage: They’re another way to prove that you’re tough and cool and not some baby. I never went through that phase as an adolescent — I guess I was just a sensitive kid, and the idea of watching slasher movies and being exposed to tense situations in a dark theater just wasn’t all that appealing. (I also didn’t ride roller coasters. Yeah, I was that kid.) Other young people had a natural curiosity about experiencing terrifying things — I just never did. In fact, I didn’t see my first horror movie until I was 16, and even then it wasn’t my choice. It was a double date, and I tried hard to convince everybody else that we should check out “Dead Again,” the well-reviewed Kenneth Branagh thriller. I got outvoted, and off to “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” I went. I hated it — not because it was scary but because it was terrible. I was pretty convinced that my lifelong aversion to horror movies had been well-founded.

But I knew that wasn’t going to be the end of it. I was going off to film school, and if I really wanted to have a career in the movies, eventually I’d have to start watching horror flicks. Much to my relief, once I started watching them in classes … well, I can’t say I became an instant fan, but I did start to develop an appreciation for them. Growing up as a budding film enthusiast, I tended to prefer dramas and other “serious” movies, deciding that they were somehow “superior” to comedies or action blockbusters or horror films. (Looking back, I realize that the 15-year-old version of myself had the same prejudiced mindset as your typical Oscar voter.) But in film school, I began to understand how horror movies often reflected (or capitalized on) the real horrors of their times. How “Night of the Living Dead” spoke to the paranoia and confusion of the Cold War/Vietnam era. How David Cronenberg’s remake of “The Fly” could be seen as a parable about the fear of AIDS. But perhaps most importantly of all, I came to recognize that, done well, horror movies were as “meaningful” as any other type of film, whether it be the psychological horror of “Rosemary’s Baby” or the haunted-house suspense of “The Innocents.” These revelations ought to have been obvious, but for me they weren’t.

Not that I suddenly became a horror fanatic: Those movies had their place, sure, but I didn’t rush out to see the latest installment of this or that horror franchise. But even if I wasn’t all that passionate about those kinds of movies, I wasn’t done with them. When I started reviewing movies, I’d work for outlets that would assign me the films that other people didn’t want, which was understandable since I was the low guy on the totem pole. And so I ended up at a ton of horror screenings. Most of them were bad — I’ve blocked out the titles — but the weird thing was, I usually had a pretty good time watching them. Partly, this was because I was just starting out as a critic — since this was the job I’d wanted since I was a boy, each assignment was incredibly exciting — but, also, I started to gain an appreciation for how hard it is to make a good horror movie. Not unlike comedies, which are constantly trying to elicit laughs, horror films are working to get a visceral reaction out of you. If you’re just sitting there passively watching the screen, the movie’s not working. I realized how much pressure that was on a filmmaker, and so I found myself weirdly intrigued seeing how the director went about trying to freak me out.

But another major component, I must admit, is that I still carried around with me that feeling of what it was like to be a scared little kid — a sensitive boy who was afraid that horror movies would be too rough for me. If you talk to psychologists, they’ll tell you that one of the reasons why people love horror movies is because they get to experience the sensation of being terrified in a safe environment. You shriek or sweat or feel your heart pound, but you don’t have to worry about dying — when it’s over, you go home without a scratch on you. (Same thing with roller coasters: We put ourselves in harrowing circumstances without the anxiety of real consequences.) When I was young, there must have been a part of me that wasn’t convinced I’d escape unscathed. I think I was afraid of what being scared would feel like and what it would say about me — that I wasn’t tough or cool or manly enough. And yet, here I was as an adult, reviewing horror movies — and I never died once.

Nowadays, I still review some horror movies, and my colleagues are always a bit surprised when I’m not dreading going. Most adults I know in general — and critics in particular — hate horror movies. They find them immature, tedious, badly made and predictable — and, for the most part, they’re right. But there are times when there’s a good horror movie, like the recent “Sinister” or the “Paranormal Activity” series, and it gives you an experience that’s like nothing else at the movies: You genuinely and unreservedly get scared. Everybody else, who grew up watching horror movies, has probably become a little blase about that sensation now that they’re older. Me, I feel like I’m making up for lost time.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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