Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: Time for a Halloween confession: name a movie you've never watched because you're afraid it will be too scary.
The critics' answers:
"I only avoid horror movies when I think they'll be too disgusting. I'll never watch 'The Human Centipede,' for example, or 'A Serbian Film.'"
"This is a tough one, because I tend to pride myself on a strong stomach and willingness to sit through any scary movie (even if I have to cover my eyes on occasion). However, there is one particular thing that I simply can't stand to see on screen, or even think about. Rather than describe it, I will simply say that I've never seen 'Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom' for exactly the same reason that I refused to watch 'The Help.'"
"If I were 12, I would have a pile of movies ('Candyman' and 'A Nightmare on Elm Street,' to name a few), but at 29, nothing comes to mind that I'm too scared to watch. That said, I won't watch movies with a lot of gore because that carnage sticks with me and I can't eat a pepperoni pizza without thinking about a prolapsed anus."
"The one movie I’ve always been too afraid to watch is 'The Exorcist.' 'Creepy,' I think I can handle, and even 'spine-tingling' to a certain point. But we’re talking about one of the most terrifying movies ever made here, and 'terrifying' is something I just won’t do."
"'Sex and the City 2.'"
"'Snakes on a Plane,' because the concept is so scary, it doesn't even matter what the filmmaker does with it. Think of the most frightening scene in the closing night film of the 50th New York Film Festival, 'Flight,' combined with the opening night film, 'Life of Pi.' John Gatins, a terrified flyer, and the writer of 'Flight,' told me that Zemeckis, who is a pilot, took him up in a plane and wanted to work on the crash scene, while in the air. Ang Lee, on the other hand, said he had four Bengal tigers to play Richard Parker, in the little boat on the ocean, in 3-D, no less. But I would go to see 'Tigers on a Plane.'"
"For a lover of horror movies, 'too scary' sounds less like a threat than an incentive. If I'm told that a movie is unwatchably violent or disgusting, my response tends to be a curious 'Oh, really…?' That said, certain subject matters do strike preemptive fear into my heart: terminal illness, nuclear war, 'real world' stuff like that. As a result, I've yet to watch 'Threads' or 'Testament,' and don't know if I'll ever see 'Collapse,' the 2009 documentary about peak oil. I have enough debilitating anxiety in my life; I don't need movies about global catastrophe adding to it. (Special mention goes to 'Irreversible' and 'Men Behind the Sun,' both of which sound utterly nauseating. I'll still probably see them someday, however, because dear-god-what-is-wrong-with-me.)"
"My answer is Tobe Hooper’s 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' I don’t love horror films on the whole, though I’ve seen more than I realized (or at least, I’ve seen more beloved or well-liked horror movies). And though I was unfortunate enough to see the execrable and disgusting 2003 remake, I haven’t seen the 1974 original. There are a few reasons — I’m sure the original isn’t as excessively gory as the redo, I really can’t stand tons of blood and guts in movies, for example — but I will admit that some part of the concept freaks me out. The idea of a road trip going sour, of driving in some rural area, having no help available, and being beset upon by evil forces, is a foolish fear to have, but one I constantly harbor when I go on a long drive. One day, maybe when I know I’ll never drive anywhere again, I may check this out, but it’s not happening anytime soon."
"I've not been afraid to watch a film because it would be too scary since around Junior High. I will avoid films that from what I've been told would be too disgusting ('Cannibal Holocaust,' 'Men Behind The Sun' — I don't go for actual animal slaughter as an atmospheric effect)."
"For a long time the answer to this was 'An Inconvenient Truth,' because I totally didn't think I could handle a movie that laid out just how fucked we are in terms of global warming. I eventually watched it and dealt with the existential terror, but I think I've spent up all my courage about scary movies, because now I avoid all of them, documentary or not."
"I'm usually down for anything scary, but it is the gratuitous, disturbing horror films that I usually avoid — 'A Serbian Film,' 'The Human Centipede,' etc."
"I love horror movies. I enjoy being freaked out for days on end from the weird and terrifying things within them. But I've never watched 'Open Water.' I've been told it's not even that scary, but as someone who watched 'Jaws' at a very young age (possibly too young) nothing scares me as much as sharks. I love 'Jaws,' and watch it again each year… usually before going to the beach. It frightens me, but at least its familiar and people survive. The idea of being left to float defenseless on the open water with hungry sharks with their rows of pointy teeth below — Just no! I'm out."
"I don't mean this to be boastful, but I'm simply not scared by movies, especially horror films. The odd 'boo!' effect aside, the effect of which is too transitory to get worked up over, horror just doesn't frighten me, particularly to the point of my not wanting to watch them. I take truly messed-up movies ('Salo,' 'Antichrist,' 'A Serbian Film') as a dare, and even films that actually do succeed in unnerving me and giving me nightmares ('The Human Centipede,' the murder of [spoiler] in 'Looper') I can handle. Ditto films about death. I have a crippling anxiety over dying, and yet I will soldier through, say, 'A Lion in the House,' the 4-hour documentary about kids with cancer. So I'm going to go with 'Finders Keepers.' I am a massive, unstoppable, unapologetic, borderline obnoxious partisan of director Richard Lester, and I've been happy to discover that even his less respected work — 'Cuba,' 'The Ritz,' 'Superman III' — has at least isolated pockets of merit. I've never found a copy of his cross-country chase comedy, starring the always hilarious Michael O'Keefe. (Not that I've tried very hard.) And that may be for the best, because it sounds horrendous, and I like few things less (artistically speaking) than watching favorites of mine make total asses of themselves. Perhaps it's secretly great and the critics and audiences of 1984 were wrong? That may have to be for someone else to discover. I'm good (for now)."
"'The Passion of the Christ' – There are some places too terrifying to venture, and the inside of Mel Gibson's head is one of them."
"I rarely say, 'I'm never going to watch that film.' I want to be fair by giving every movie a chance, no matter how gruesome, scary, or horrific the movie may be. But there are often times I say, 'I will never re-watch that film.' The #1 movie I will never re-watch is Harmony Korine's 'Gummo.' I am so afraid to re-watch this film because of the strange nightmarish imagery, inexplicable structure and tone, and horrific setting and characters. I watched it once and I don't think I need to watch it again. Even writing this entry gives me chills. Yuck!"
"The movies I'm afraid to watch aren't necessarily spooky Halloween movies; they're in the realm of extreme horror that I find deeply upsetting. I'm more afraid of the physical effects of a movie — nausea and dizziness because of shaky handheld motion, for example — or really violent and disturbing content. That said, I am pretty freaked out by scary movies when I watch them, even jump scares that I know are coming. I try to keep a lid on it, but I do sometimes yelp a little when things get scary!"
"This might sound like boasting, which I don't intend it to, but there are no movies I'm afraid will be too scary. I don't scare easily at all. In fact, out of all the films I've ever seen, there are only seven that I would say legitimately scared me. There is, however, one movie I've never seen — and never will — not because it's too scary but because it's too disturbing. I'm talking about 'Faces of Death.' Even though I know portions of it are fake, certain parts, especially those involving animals, are legitimate. I have no interest in watching any living being die for real. When I was a teenager, watching 'Faces of Death' on VHS was a rite of passage, a way of proving one's mettle. I never took the plunge because I knew it would only disturb and depress me. By the way, my joke answer was 'The Oogieloves.'"
"Adam Sandler's 'Jack And Jill.' It sounds terrifying."
"I've never avoided a horror movie because I was afraid it would be too scary, in the traditional sense. I tend to think the idea that you're just dead after you die is much scarier than any ghost or werewolf story. In the non-traditional sense, I avoided 'Hairspray' (the Shankman version) because that publicity shot of John Travolta in drag smiling like a mongoloid legitimately gives me nightmares. I rarely avoid 'scary' movies, but I do avoid depressing ones. For instance, 'Babel.' I couldn't stand '21 Grams,' because as well put-together as it was, it felt like it was just trying really hard to make me sad, and 'Babel' seemed like more of that. Critics excuse movies like that with 'Yeah, but every movie is manipulative!' Maybe so, but I can understand the gesture of manipulating reality in order to entertain people or make them think or make them laugh much more than I can understand manipulating it in order to make people feel like shit. That I don't get."
"I was unfortunate enough to have seen about half to three quarters of 'Arachnophobia' when I was a kid, and it scared the crap out of me. Also, it informed me that I have that same fear of spiders that gives the film its name. In that regard, the movie fortunately pointed that out to me… unfortunately though, it's one of the only movies that I've only seen a part of, since I'll never finish it. Yuck…"
"Ah, if only. I fell in love with horror movies around the age of eight. I recall it vividly: my parents were out, and my older brother was watching 'Psycho II' in the 'TV room' (as we called the tiny room at the back of our house). I snuck quietly into the living room (which abutted the TV room) and watched through the doorway, completely hidden. I got about halfway through, then totally freaked, giving myself away. I can't remember if my bro let me watch the rest with him, or if I saw the rest later. All I remember is that I had to sleep with my parents the next couple of nights, and that my brother got in big trouble. After that, I was hooked, and the scarier a movie's reputation, the more eager I was to see it. I've honestly never been reluctant to watch anything. I WISH I could be that scared again. Maybe the closest thing I can think of is 'The Human Centipede.' I haven't seen it, not because I think it'll be too scary, but because it just looks totally grody and un-fun."
"'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' I was a kid when it came out and 'somehow' never 'found the time' (ok, I'm a chicken)."
"'The Shining,' 'Rosemary's Baby,' 'Jaws,' 'The Omen,' 'Nosferatu,' 'The Silence of the Lambs,' 'The Others,' and 'Alien.' That's basically all the movies that could be considered 'scary' that I've seen, and they are a pitiful few indeed, but as I previously noted last week, I was never an aficionado of the horror genre (for a purely primal reason). So putting aside 'Psycho,' 'Carrie,' and some golden classics of the '30s like 'The Mummy' or 'Frankenstein' that I do plan to watch, you have your pick of dozens of undoubtedly great horror movies that I'm too, yes, scared to watch. How's that for a confession?"
"'A Serbian Film.'"
"There is no such film. I tend to shy away from movies featuring slaughter of live animals if I can help it, but even then you never know. Look at '1900!' Or 'Time Of the Wolf!' Or 'Maitresse!' None of them Halloween oriented or otherwise 'scary.' (Okay, the Haneke's pretty scary.) I don't always relish the prospect of being scared, but I don't scare that easily and I'm sufficiently arrogant to have a 'bring it on' attitude toward nearly everything in the category."
"I'm not sure I'll ever be able to watch the 'Paranormal Activity' movies, but I'm going with 'The Descent.' It combines my two greatest fears: flesh-eating creatures and cramped spaces."
"There is no film too hair-raising, too terrifying, for me to tackle. And I'm too old to get scarred at movies anymore… which makes me a little sad."
"Well, I'll confess something you, Matt Singer: I am absolutely terrified of plane crashes. This is a hassle, because I fly quite a bit. Also because plane crashes, horrible horrible plane crashes, are in a lot of movies. And ever since I suffered a massive panic attack during a screening of 'Alive' in January of 1993 (which may have been chemically induced — I was a freshman in college, after all) I have been unable to watch movies with plane crashes since. I haven't seen 'Cast Away.' I won't see 'Flight.' I saw 'The Grey,' because I had to, but I raced out of the theater before the crash and came back once I heard the cessation of booms from the lobby. I recognize this is crazy, but, hey, I've gotta be me."
"Not sure I've avoided it for the traditional 'too scary' reasons, but I can't bring myself to watch 'A Serbian Film.' Avoiding it may disqualify me as a horror fan completist but, in this case, I think I'm pretty okay with that."
"I've never seen any of the 'Friday the 13th' movies. Way too scary!"
"I never saw any of the classic 80s horror films as a kid because 'Jaws' messed me up so badly I avoided all 'scary' movies. As a so-called 'adult,' I can't think of a film I'd avoid seeing. Frankly, the most horrifying film of the year is 'The Act of Killing,' and despite its real life chills should absolutely be considered mandated viewing."
"I'm scared to watch 'Salo: 100 Days of Sodom.' I expect two hours of half-naked children wallowing in poop and forced into sex acts. To say that it doesn't sound like a movie for me would be an understatement. Close runners-up? Pretty much anything from August Underground, a production company who specialize in faked serial killer videos presented as avant garde horror films, full of (simulated) rape and (actual) puke. No thanks."
"I suppose there's a reason I've hesitated to get around to seeing Pier Paolo Pasolini's final film 'Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom,' having heard much about its notoriously graphic and brutal content. That said, I've sat through animal slaughter and coprophagia in other movies, so… I dunno. As ever, so many movies, so little time. I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually (I have the Criterion DVD of it, after all)."
"I have never watched and I will never watch 'The Human Centipede' unless you tie me up like Alex in 'A Clockwork Orange' and force me to. My teenage daughter came back after watching it with some friends and made a detailed description of what she had seen including a schematic drawing to help us understand the construction. That was too much information already. It took me days to get it out of my system."
"I believe I described myself as a 'big chicken' in last week's response, and I wasn't kidding. I'm a child of the 1970s, but I didn't see 'The Exorcist' until my senior year of high school, and actually managed not to see 'Jaws' until college. As for what I'm currently avoiding, I gotta go with 'Audition;' I don't know what happens in this movie, but the look people get on their faces as they avoid describing it tells me everything I need to know."
"When I was in grade school, we would usually find some horror movie for our all-night get-togethers, and while at the video store, the only movies we would talk about in hushed whispers, accompanied by nervous glances over our shoulders, was any the 'Faces of Death' series. Claiming to have seen any of them was a badge of honor for anyone in the group — of which I believe there was only one person, who said he had seen a few and would tell us which was the best (i.e., most disgusting) one. At the time, it was certainly fear (mostly of our parents, who would be angry if they came into the room — and that's only if they didn't get mad at us for wanting to rent it in the first place) that kept us from ever renting them, and I have yet to see any of them. Now, of course, it's because that feeling of breaking a taboo has significantly lessened since I was a kid."
"When 'Final Destination 2' opened, I was too scared to see it cause I remember all those horrifying driver's ed videos about people getting ripped to shreds in highway pile-ups and I knew that was the central disaster for the movie. When it opened, I decided to go see 'The Recruit' instead but since then, once I watched it on video, I've watched it many many times. I was probably scared of watching 'Hostel' the first time I heard about it, too."
"I've never actually passed on a movie, because it might be too scary. If anything, a movie's reputation as being 'too scary' has me wanting to see it even more, to see if the film lives up to its build, hype and reputation. But not to poop on the party or anything, I'll confess to never having seen 'Jack and Jill' because… oh, the horror!"
"I wish I could think of one. For me, they can never be scary enough — certainly not as scary as my own nightmares."
"I'm not sure if it's because it'll be scary, but after seeing 'Enter The Void,' I've never seen 'Irreversible.' I can say that I have been scared to put myself in the hands of a director as brutal and merciless as Gasper Noe again."
"I'm ashamed to admit that Hooper's 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and Craven's 'The Hills Have Eyes' both look disturbing enough that I've consciously avoided watching them. But every so often I relent and push myself to view something like that. So I now have 'Videodrome' and Craven's 'The Last House on the Left' under my belt."
"This isn't a film I'm afraid will be too 'scary' but more too sick and disturbing. The film in question is 'A Serbian Film.' After reading the perhaps too detailed Wikipedia plot synopsis for the film, the activities described did not sound like ones I would want to see onscreen. I love horror films and like to think there is no film I would refuse to watch on the grounds of it being too scary (Is there such a thing?) however the content of 'A Serbian Film' sounds like all too true and graphic 'horror' that I would prefer not to watch."
"'A Serbian Film.' There's horror, there's shock, and then there are things no one should see. I read reviews and breakdowns of 'Serbian Film' when it came out, and I knew I'd never, ever see it. Good luck and godspeed to the brave fools who want to project meaning onto it. I'll be over here, living a happy life."
"I don't really avoid films for scariness, but my reason for avoiding 'Salo' on account of how disturbing I hear it is probably counts. I've also been scared away from the documentary 'The Bridge.'"
"I'll confess to putting off seeing the French horror film 'Martyrs' for quite some time, but that was more due to its reputation for shocking intensity than actually being scary. The reputation is well-earned, and watching it is a pretty powerful experience, but I wouldn't necessarily call it frightening. Similiarly, I've avoided 'The Human Centipede,' but I have no reason to expect that's going to be scary at all, just disgusting. My benchmark for being legitimately terrified while watching a movie was seeing David Lynch's 'Lost Highway' late one night while completely alone at home. The first half of that movie is a masterpiece of psychological terror, and I'll admit that I felt deeply uncomfortable being alone that night. That said, it's a feeling I enjoy; if someone pointed me in the direction of a film twice as scary as that experience, I'd watch it in a heartbeat; while there are plenty of things in life that are too scary for me, the phrase doesn't really register when it comes to the movies."
"There aren't many movies I'm afraid of in theory, but there's a (fairly) recent wave of 'extreme' horror that I'm avoiding (movies like 'Martyrs' and 'Inside' and 'A Serbian Film') because there are certain images I don't want in my brain. It's the same reason I wish I'd never seen 'Boat Trip.'"
"This is, admittedly, a bit of a dodge (and it's not just tough-guy 'movies don't scare me' bluster) but one movie I'm a little afraid to watch is 'Heaven's Gate,' because I didn't even particularly like Michael Cimino's 'good' movie ('The Deer Hunter'), though 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot' is okay. People say it's actually greatly underappreciated and has moments of sublime brilliance and all that stuff, but the idea of sitting through it and discovering that those people are actually wrong does scare me a bit."
"Alright, I'll admit it. I've never seen 'Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.' The really macho part of me, comprised of my small toes and about 2% of my spleen, wants to say that it's not because I'm 'afraid' of seeing Pier Paolo Pasolini's coprophagic sadism brouhaha, but what else can I call it? It doesn't sound like a pleasant thing to watch. I've never sat around my house thinking, 'I feel like watching Italian fascists forcing people to eat poo today.' But I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually, possibly on a dare, and I'm sure it won't be nearly as unpleasant as the back of my head makes it seem, not unlike my experience with 'The Human Centipede.'"
"I enjoy the possibility of being scared, so I'll see anything that's touted as being so. However, there are a few titles I definitely don't wish to revisit, and these include the likes of 'Man Bites Dog' and 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.'"
"I've really struggled to come up with something for this, but as a real animal lover I've long avoided Ruggero Deodato's 'Cannibal Holocaust.' I'd happily watch 101 hapless teens fall to their demise, but throw out there the premise of a squirrel monkey losing it's head and you've lost me."
"'The Oogieloves in The Big Balloon Adventure.'"
"I actually seek out films that will scare the crap out of me. Having said that, I've never seen E. Elias Merhige's 'Begotten' and I hear that's pretty disturbing."
"My movie-watching career was born in earnest at Butt-Numb-a-Thon 5 (scrambled eggs after seeing the live birth in 'Teenage Mother' anyone?), so there really isn't a movie I'm too afraid to see. The stuff that made lesser viewers lose there lunch (literally, they couldn't find their lunchbox anywhere), cover their eyes, or start making religious signs was the exact thing I wanted to see. The joke answer here is 'Norbit' because, come on, but the closest I've come to fearing a movie was when my friends in Austin kept talking about 'Dear Zachary.' The mythos that was built up around that film and the titanic emotional power it was capable of legitimately made me nervous to see it. When everyone said not to read anything about it beforehand, it was another fear brick built into the wall. The thing is, when I did watch it (and I've seen it twice now), it exceeds the mythos that was built up around it. It's scary in its own way — nothing to do with shadows or zombies or anything; just the raw, terrifying evil that lives in some people's hearts and the devastation that that can yield. It also sucks every last teardrop out of your body, but other than that, I also have to promote not knowing anything about it before pressing play. Seeing it might make you nervous, but it will be the best kind of crushing experience. "