The most terrifying movies aren't horror

A lot of movies advertise themselves as scary. So why are the most frightening movies often the ones that aren't marketed as horror?

I grew up in the age of Jason and Freddy Krueger. No. Strike that. I grew up in the age of Jason and Freddy Kreuger sequels. These took the original, scary concepts and turned them to pure camp and cheap special effects. The horror movies I grew up with had cackling snake monsters and lurching guys taking on New York with baseball bats. In other words, I didn't even know that movies could scare me. That is, until one movie changed everything.

The most terrifying movies aren't horror

That's right. City of Angels was a movie that horrified me so deeply I was not the same for at least a decade afterwards. No, I wasn't scared that Nicholas Cage was looking at me in the bath. Like anything could keep his attention.

What horrified me was all the angels in the movie literally heard every thought that people had. They heard it in full, clear sentences, so that no human being even had the mercy of incoherence. As teenagers, we're all a bit self-conscious. As people, we all like a bit of privacy. The concept that I wasn't allowed to be alone even inside my own brain was nauseating.

And what's worse, all the angels hung out at the library. To almost every nerd in the world, the library is a near-sacred space. At the time, it was also the source of most of the world's information. Pre-massive internet, you could go to the library to sneak books about illicit subjects off the shelf, or magazines out of the archives. Lust, greed, morbid curiosity, self-doubt, every embarrassing thing was something you could find answers to, in private, at the library. And according to this movie, guys in black suits were watching every move I made, and listening to every thought I had.

I knew it wasn't real, but it still took me years to fully recover.