ONE of the great things about childhood is how easy it is to access the distinct delight of being scared out of your mind. Adults just have more trouble getting goosebumps. That’s because experience is the enemy of true terror. You may shriek the first time you see “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” but the second or third time you might only shudder. That’s why dedicated horror fans sometimes have a hard time finding a really nerve-rattling movie. They’ve already seen it all.
Those who make horror movies may face the greatest challenge. They know what goes into the engineering of a scary sequence, and they have a good idea what’s coming around that corner. And since they presumably went into this line of work in part because of the pleasures of trembling in the dark, they have seen more than their share of horror movies.
When I polled a diverse collection of filmmakers about the scariest movie they’d ever seen, their passionate answers made it clear that their standards were very high. Here are excerpts from their e-mails.
JAMES GUNN, director of “Slither”: I saw “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” in a theater when it first came out, and it was so gritty and dark I felt sick to my stomach for a couple of days afterwards — like the evil of it stuck to my soul. Part of what was so frightening was Michael Rooker’s incredible performance. We normally distance ourselves from villains, but I almost felt for him as Henry. The last thing you want to do is identify with a serial killer. That’s scarier than anything jumping out of the corner of a film frame.
Read More: Jason Zinoman discusses what makes movies scary at NY Times