Had a weird thing happen to me the other day. Well, not really weird, but startling.
I was in the parking lot of the Allendale Shopping Center, sitting in my car and eating a salad. As a lot of my readers know, there are a horde of seagulls there, swooping and scavenging food.
And, I have to admit, I contribute. I tossed a few leaves of lettuce out my window, and sure enough, a dozen or so gulls descended on them.
One of them, very briefly, landed on he hood of my car, startling me a bit. He looked right at me -- or at least in my direction. I felt a little bit like how Tippi Hedren must have felt in Alfred Hitchcock's movie, "The Birds."
Which got me to thinking. I think the best scary movies are not necessarily about monsters or alien beings. (One caveat: "Alien" was brilliant: The alien in it was so alien that it scared the heck out of me.)
But think about movies that were truly frightening to you. For weeks, maybe more after I saw it, "The Birds" had me jumping every time I saw a bunch of pigeons perched on a telephone line.
I remember walking home from the library one time at around dusk, and looking up, I saw about six crows perched on an eave of a neighbor's house on Glen Street in Adams. Were they looking at me? Some of them seemed to be.
But, of course, if you remember the movie, sudden movement seemed to set the birds off. So I remember walking home at an accelerated, but measured pace. Behind me, the crows cackled humorlessly.
But those kinds of movies were, to me, more frightening than giant ants, werewolves, dinosaurs and giant apes. (As I may have noted in this space before, the end of "King Kong" has never scared me, but it always gets to me. I'm still angry at Carl Denham for taking the Big Guy out of his native habitat and bringing him to New York to try to make a couple of bucks.)
Another example: It's hugely maligned these days, but "The Blair Witch Project" was pretty scary and disturbing. I'm still not exactly sure what happened at the end of that flick, which is, of course, exactly what the filmmaker was trying to do. But it was tough to get through.
I think that, more than he fear of the unknown, it's the fear of the known doing unexpected things that is probably scarier to humans.
Yes, giant apes ghosts, monsters, Freddy Kreugers and the like scare and titillate us. And while I know the flying monkeys in the "Wizard of Oz" scared me, when I see that movie now, it's more on an emotional, not a scary, experience.
But in addition to the aforementioned movie, I remember a flick made in the 1950s called "Invaders From Mars." Bad plot and cheapo special effects. But part of the story was that people were walking on this sandpit, and they'd get sucked down a hole, where the evil Martians would brainwash them, then send them back up to the town to infiltrate the humans. (Of course, the brainwashed people acted like bad zombies, walking stiffly and talking very slowly. As per the bad script.)
But the thought of getting sucked down a hole in a field was, to a kid who grew up in where there were sand pits around, darn frightening. The movie blew it when the "King Martian" was revealed (a very cheap doll). But it took a while for me to think about stretches of open land without cringing.
Derek Gentile is an Eagle reporter. Follow him on Twitter, @DerekGentile.