Halloween is fast approaching, which means that it’s time to revisit some of my favorite horror movies. My plan is to share my thoughts about them in a series of short-ish posts—and yes, I realize that I just finished a set of horror-themed pieces not very long ago, but really, can you ever run out of things to say about horror cinema? It’s a boundless, rich, endlessly fascinating genre, and of all the film genres it’s the one I’ve had the longest relationship with. My love of horror movies dates back to the very first film I ever saw in a movie theater, Disney’s Snow White (1937), which I saw at the age of three, during one of its theatrical revivals in the 1980s.
Anyone who would argue that Snow White is not a horror film hasn’t seen it recently enough. It’s true that a good portion of the film’s running time (maybe a bit too much of it) is taken up with cute songs and comic gag sequences (the Seven Dwarfs get a lesson in washing, etc.), but its most dramatically powerful moments are arguably those which concern the Wicked Queen, one of the great villains in the movies. Her transformation scene, in which she makes herself over into the leering hag who will succeed in tempting Snow White with the poisoned apple, appears to have been inspired by sequences from silent horror cinema such as Lon Chaney’s histrionic metamorphosis in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s also one of Snow White’s most virtuosic pieces of animation, with Snow White’s terrifying race through the forest coming in a close second. I would argue, in fact, that Disney was at his best when he dealt with frightening or nightmarish material: witness Lampwick’s violent transformation into a donkey in Pinocchio, or the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence in Fantasia, or the Maleficent sequences in Sleeping Beauty. Always scary and fun in equal measures, Disney’s horror scenes exemplify the exuberant pleasures of the horror genre—an ideal place for the budding horror fan to start.