How to know when to be terrified

A local horror film aficionado telephoned a few days ago with an alarming problem:

“I think I’ve gotten out of touch. Every time I watch a good horror flick anymore, I always seem to take a break at the worst possible time. I get up for a snack and, when I get back, the zombies have eaten all the scientists and the heroine has her clothes back on. What’s happening to me?”

Alas, this reader’s problem is not an uncommon one these days. Time was you always knew when all hell was going to break loose in a good horror movie because somebody was about to enter either the cellar or the attic of a dilapidated mansion – or the comely heroine decided, apropos of nothing, to take a shower in the cellar or attic of a dilapidated mansion.

No longer.

Today, the clues are still there but they’re a little different and you have to be on your toes to avoid missing the good parts while making a snack or bathroom run.

Now that winter is upon us – and you can only watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” so many times – here are a few tips to keep you on top of late night TV horror and the best of B movie videos.

Attics, basements and showers still play a minor role as important cues to upcoming mayhem, but you should also look for:

* “No signal.”  Anytime a frantic horror movie character gets a “no signal” or “out of service area” message on his or cell phone while trying to summon help, you know the screen is about to erupt in horror. Lots of it. If the heroine is taking a shower in a deserted motel when she gets the “no signal” message, stay glued to your seat.

* “Did you hear that?” These words are invariably spoken by an apprehensive character to skeptical companions immediately before a half dozen vampires drop down from the ceiling and suck the life out of the aforementioned skeptical companions. (Note: Hidden menace also may be aliens, mutants or thirsty Republicans).

* Flickering figure. This is one of those cues that are easy to miss because they’re quick and somewhat confusing. For example, a shadowy, flickery image may dart across the screen just as the heroine is about to take a shower in the attic of the old abandoned lumber mill. You see it, but you’re, like, distracted. Whatever you do, don’t get up for a beer now. That flickery image is sure to turn into your worst nightmare.

* Dead Nazis. Anytime dead Nazis insinuate themselves into a horror flick, the action’s about to become riveting. And messy. This is, admittedly, a pretty common-sense concept. Let’s face it, anytime dead Nazis show up anywhere, they’re trouble.

See you at the movies, amigos…

Originally published December 21, 2003

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