There’s a new TV show that’s being advertised constantly. Call me a wuss if you will, but I can’t bring myself to watch it.
It’s Bates Motel — the back story, apparently, of Norman Bates and his mother, Norma. Of course, Norman figured prominently in the Hitchcock thriller Psycho, where he donned his mother’s dress and ruthlessly stabbed to death a young woman taking a shower in the motel that Norman managed. I think Psycho is one of the creepiest, most unsettling movies ever made, and Norman Bates is one of the creepiest, most unsettling movie characters ever conceived. In view of that, why in the world would I want to see even more of young Norm and his unbalanced mother? Is there really a big audience for a TV that tells their disturbing story?
Of course, if Bates Motel is successful it might start a trend. Why stop at telling the bloody tale of only one horror movie icon? No doubt other TV producers will begin searching for frightening film characters whose earlier days remain unexplored. Some possibilities: Little White, the moving, coming-of-age tale of an awkward young shark striving to become an unstoppable killing machine off the beaches of Amity in New England; Hockey Boy, the whimsical tale of Jason Voorhees, an uncoordinated youngster whose dreams of career in the NHL are foiled but who discovers he experiences strange new urges when he dons a hockey mask; and Vlad Ain’t Bad, a comedy about a white-skinned, cape-wearing exchange student from eastern Europe who fits right in with the Goth crowd then discovers an insatiable craving for corpuscles.
Generally speaking, I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t pay attention to black cats or walking under ladders or spilling salt. (I make an exception, however, when it comes to sports teams — in which case I believe in jinxes, karma, cruel fates, and the undeniable reality that everything I do has a direct and profound impact whether my favorite teams succeed or fail.)
I don’t worry about bad luck on Friday the 13th, either. Why? Because on Friday the 13th of October, 1978, Kish and I had our first date. We went to Dick’s Den — its evocative motto: “Why Not?” — a campus bar and live music venue on High Street. We drank beer, sat for part of the time with another couple that happened to be there, and listened to a band that didn’t require a cover charge. Obviously, I was a big spender who knew how to show a girl a good time.
So, I have no fear of this dreaded day. How could I be superstitious about Friday the 13th? It certainly hasn’t meant bad luck for me.
What makes for a good Halloween scare? For me, it’s the more subtle, deliciously creepy stuff that is most thrilling.
I’m not much for over-the-top gore or slasher films. Buckets of blood spraying everywhere as a masked guy who can’t be killed eviscerates a bunch of horny teenagers may be startling, but ultimately is boring. I’d rather watch a Hitchcock movie than any of the Friday the 13th series. Old-fashioned horror films, where character development occurs and back stories are told, are better than the recent movies that devote all of their creative energies toward figuring out new ways to behead, impale, or disembowel the indestructible killer or his hapless victims.
Good scary movies are always suspenseful, but don’t need to be gory. The best ones have a weird, interesting character — and sometimes more than one. Usually they involve a twist or two, and a false start or other surprise. Consider Silence of the Lambs. It’s really not a very bloody movie, but I’d wager that most people felt a deep, horrible, mounting anxiety and terror as FBI agent Clarice Starling closed in on the profoundly disturbed Buffalo Bill in that ancient, darkened basement. In my view, that scenario — and Clarice’s spine-tingling interactions with Dr. Hannibal Lecter — are scarier than Jason anyday.