I have a very active imagination. It tends to buzz and whir and give me all kinds of interesting imagery that I can use when writing, and it tends to do it at night. I do all my best writing and creating from about 10pm through to 3am (flexi-time anyone?).
The downside of this is that 10pm to 3am, while annoyingly being the time of day I have usually reserved for sleeping, is also the time of day known as "night". A time when there is no light and fewer noises and when drowsiness mixes with an ancient evolution-honed caution, and places its finger on the instant adrenaline button.
This is not to imply that I am some flighty gazelle, terrified to close my eyes and bolting out of bed into an instant ninja-type stance at everything that goes bump in the night (be it ghoulie, ghostie, or long-legged beastie). Most nights I sleep like a log. But some nights all I need is a trigger and my imagination runs riot and I can kiss restful sleep goodbye. Years ago I figured out that one of those triggers was horror films.
The last horror film I saw was 28 Days Later. That was six years ago.
I should clarify that: 28 Days Later was the last scary horror film I saw. I am a fan of the old 1950s and 60s pulp horror and sci-fi films (The Creature from the Black Lagoon is my favourite). I also love Kaiju movies. But they aren't scary, at least not any more. Lon Chaney as the Wolfman was terrifying in his day but watching it now he comes across as campy and hackneyed.
You know as well as I do that the best horror leverages off the societal fears of the day. So the Communist threat of the Bodysnatchers became the consumer-culture zombies of Dawn of the Dead which became the anger-fuelled hordes in 28 Days Later which became (for some reason) CGI vampires trying to kill Will Smith.
This is why I am Legend and Cloverfield sucked. Neither film gave real relevance to their antagonists. I am Legend started well with the "what will Earth look like when we fuck it up" meme that was floating around and then proceeded to screw up the ending (by the way totally recommend watching the alternate ending instead).
How do I know I am Legend failed? It didn't scare me. Not once. And it should have because it is all about the thing I fear the most: the end of society.
Really that's what we all fear. We fear the end of life as we know it, whether that means constantly running from zombies or giant ants or having to kill loved ones because they got bitten by something weird. Interestingly plain old death isn't as scary as being the ones left afterwards. This is why apocalypse movies aren't scary; the apocalypse just kills you, it doesn't turn you into a monster.
I should also mention that things that scare us the most also tend to be in the "uncanny valley". Easily the creepiest werewolves ever were the ones in Harry Potter (followed by the Nazis in American Werewolf in London). Again it's the base of our fears; something that looks like a person but isn't moving or acting correctly. It what makes Tool videos creepy.
So that's why I was surprised to find myself suggesting yesterday that we rent Quarantine. Quarantine is the American remake of the Spanish film REC, which was described as the "scariest film ever made". And while Quarantine was not as scary as I thought it would be, my imagination still had me lying in bed with my eyes wide open, and ears straining to hear every sound, for at least an hour. Stupid brain.