When I was nineteen, my mother-in-law (the first one, I’ve had a couple more since) asked if I’d ever seen Psycho and I said something stupid: “No, but I know the whole deal, so I don’t really need to.” I will never forget the look she gave me in response; withering doesn’t even begin to describe it. She told me to shut up, sit down and watch the damn movie. And thank god she did.
Looking back, it’s kind of weird to think that I honestly believed there was no point in seeing Psycho, one of the all-time great horror movies, just because I “knew the whole deal.” C’mon, shower stabbing, he’s got mommy issues, yadda yadda — what’s the point of actually sitting through it? My arrogance and naivete is terribly amusing to me in retrospect, but I think it’s not all that uncommon. I hear variations on this theme all the time while talking to people about movies, especially horror movies. “I don't need to see that one, I saw the remake.” “I read all about it online and saw a bunch of the best parts on a clip show, hardly seems worth watching now.” “I already know the ending, so I don’t see the point.”
That’s some bullshit.
Films are more than the sum of their parts. Knowing the story, having seen the kills on one of those ubiquitous “50 Best Slasher Deaths” videos and reading its Wikipedia page are not the same as seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street. Not even close. Seeing a film, a good film or a classic one, is a complete experience. Every aspect of the movie works toward creating that experience. Aspects like music and pacing can’t be captured in a clip, much less described in a way that carries any weight.
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The good news is that it’s never too late to see the great films. A weak film can be ruined by spoilers or hype, but for the classics it doesn’t matter one bit. I didn’t see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre until I was well into my thirties; although I was well aware of the basic story and much of the lore around the movie, it was just as fantastic as if I’d seen it at its premiere, or caught it on cable when I was still young enough for it to make me wet the bed in terror. Sure, sometimes you miss your window of opportunity and the film just falls flat, despite its reputation (like my experience with The Exorcist ), but even in the worst case, having seen a film is better than not having seen a film. The ninety minutes or whatever of your life that you won’t get back are a small price to pay in order to be able to offer an honest opinion on a classic scary movie rather than a tepid, “Eh, I never got around to watching that one” when it comes up.
No matter how hardcore our horror fandom, there are always movies we haven’t gotten around to. Frequently those holes are the classics we missed for whatever reason, the films we pass over time and again precisely because we do know too much about them. Well, the Halloween season is the best time to rectify that, with dozens of those classics in local theaters, and many more on cable TV and Netflix. Whatever your missing classic (or classics) are, stop putting it off. Shut up, sit down and watch the damn movie.
See any number of horror classics this month at our fine local film emporiums such as Sie FilmCenter, Alamo Drafthouse and the Esquire Theatre. You can even see Psycho, if you’re like teenaged me and want to fix that, at 7:30 p.m. this Friday, October 9 at the Alamo. Find tickets and more info at the Alamo's Psycho event page.