I've nearly completely stopped enjoying horror movies - at least the ones that intend to scare the hell out of you, so the new release Zombieland doesn't count.
When this first dawned on me, I wondered if it was just another aspect of aging, like my once deep love for roller coasters (why is that two words?) morphing into dread once I passed the age of thirtysomething. Gallagher explains it here, just after the 3:00 mark.
After giving it some thought, I've concluded that not enjoying a good scare comes from my becoming a father. One of the gifts of parenthood, if you will, is a whole new and different relationship with fear. Before kids, most of your fear is, well, selfish and episodic: fear of yourself being hurt, embarrassed, wronged, etc. - all of which only come up on rare occasion.
After having kids, fear shifts to this constant background hum.
At the library I was fetching my returns from my trunk, which just slams when I let it go because the pneumatic system that holds it open failed long ago. A mom with her two little ones about two cars away did the parental jump, spin, and immediate scan of the environment to see if they had gotten hurt, followed by the scan to see if they had done anything to cause that sound. I immediately apologized and said I had kids, too, and often did the same thing.
Thus, getting an additional jolt - anything that tosses a stone into your rippled pool of parental fear - just isn't pleasant. At all.
My realization that getting scared for fun was no longer fun started with The Ring, which I went to alone, when I was feeling kinda crappy with chills and a headache. Since movies have always been a major source of succor and comfort for me, I didn't really think the movie would scare me - it'd been a long time since one had - and I would be entertained enough to get away from feeling icky for a couple hours.
Then, after the creepy opening, the parents opened their daughter's closet to find this (with the big cacophonous noise on the soundtrack, etc.):
I literally jumped out of my seat (luckily I was at the back of the balcony, so no one saw this), my chills tripled and my headache temporarily fled in panic, but slammed back into my skull the second I regained composure and sat back down.
"Shit," I thought to myself, "do I really want to go through this?" I seriously considered walking out of the movie, but it was so damn good, I felt like I was being a pussy for even considering leaving, so planted myself. After the next nasty shock, I debated leaving again, but again was embarrassed by being actually frightened by a movie for the first time in a long time. I stuck it out, but when I got into my car, I felt a hell of a lot worse than I had before I'd gone in. So much for comfort and succor. It just sucked.
The Ring was one of the new wave of horror movies inspired by Japanese horror flicks (or blatantly copied from, actually), which had found a way to be legitimately frightening, rather than just drop a "boo!" once in a while, or hack the hell out of a co-ed after a shower or screwing her BF, like most American horror flicks. Except The Exorcist, which if you know nothing about it and watch it in the dark, is still one of the more frightening film experiences, in my opinion.
Then, my wife and I watched The Grudge, which even got to my horror-film-loving wife who never really gets honestly frightened. She watched stuff as a child (with her father) that would've kept me awake for a solid month had I watched it at the same age.
TLD: The primary horror of my childhood was some mummy film where someone took a broach off of a mummy, which was then x-rayed, which brought it to life, and it pursued the possessor of the broach with this leaden, relentless plodding. The penultimate scene was the heroine staring intently at the jam of her bedroom door one night, thinking she'd heard something, and just as she was about to relax, a bandaged hand gripped the edge of it. That week at school our "Weekly Reader" featured a story about a mummy that had just been x-rayed, oh and there was a broach under the bandages. For the next year or so when I couldn't sleep, I would stare at the doorway of my bedroom convinced that I, too, would see a bandaged hand grasp the edge. If staring at something had the same effect as the sun does on color photos, I would've nearly blacked the edge of my doorway.
The Grudge really pinged my lovely wife. She jumped and yelled, got goosebumps, etc. (though not as much as I did - a grand source of entertainment for her). When the credits rolled, she announced that she didn't want to watch a movie like that again. What finally got her was [mild spoiler] when the thing crawled out from under the covers of the heroine's bed, which was violation of all that's good and true, because our beds are where we are supposed to be safe, as long as we don't let an arm drape over the side.
That was the last truly scary horror film either of us has seen since. Oh, we saw Saw, which was clever, but it wasn't scary so much as icky and gory. We never have been much of a fan of those, though.
So these wonderful new terrors like Paranormal Activity and The Fourth Kind will most likely go unseen by us. Which is too bad, because they look frightening as hell.
This one shot alone from the preview of The Fourth Kind gives me the willies (someone in the midst of being abducted), so I can't imagine being able to convince myself to stay seated, and then sleep well anytime soon. Though I don't believe alien abduction is real, it still gives me the fantods.
If you're up for it, go see them and report back. At least I can live vicariously.