How creepy is too creepy?

Last updated 10:12 30/01/2013

A man sits in his living room, watching television, when suddenly he hears a window breaking in the kitchen. He grabs a nearby golf club and makes his way down the shadowy hallway, a streetlight reflecting on the wall opposite a venetian blind. He steps into the kitchen and spies the broken window. The orchestral score swells. A figure strikes the back of his legs with a baseball bat, exclaiming "today is your lucky day".

20130130In the late-night darkness of my living room, the house gently creaking while the street outside sleeps and my heart beats loudly with each step down that hallway, the above scene from Monday's Criminal Minds would have been scary.

Luckily, I was watching it on my laptop the next evening while my fiancée enjoyed America's Next Top Model: College Edition, as I ate a lovely roast chicken dinner. It's fair to say some of the ambience was lost.

Okay, to be clear, I don't avoid watching Criminal Minds in the dark because it scares me.

But I do wonder sometimes: how creepy is too creepy for you? Are there shows you actively avoid watching in the dark, alone - or avoid watching at all - because they scare you too much?

There aren't many shows that I find particularly frightening. I mean, I'm the same guy who discovered a love of television by getting engrossed in first season episodes of The X Files, lying on the spare bed at my parents' place and watching each new instalment on an old-school 14" television, with the lights off. I was 14 at the time.

Mulder and Scully did get into their share of scary situations, though. I remember an episode titled Darkness Falls, which found the duo investigating (and eventually falling victim to) glowing nocturnal bugs who coated their victims in a spider-like web and slowly devoured them. Eugene Tooms, a monster in a pair of first season episodes titled Squeeze and Tooms, had my skin crawling too. Among much else, those early seasons of The X Files mastered the art of creepiness.

Nowadays, I'm almost immune to manufactured eeriness. There isn't much that gives me goose bumps or has me turning the lights on in the lounge for a semblance of reassurance. For a start, I'm not a big fan of excessive gore. I just don't find it frightening, even if shows like True Blood and new series Banshee have me turning away from the screen occasionally. Honestly, I have trouble understanding the appeal of splatter-porn*, and I find that style more off-putting than horrifying.

I also can't buy in to the clichéd horror stylings of some dramas. I roll my eyes whenever Vincent yells really loud and punches a brick wall on Beauty & The Beast, or when the witch casts a spell on Once Upon a Time, or when Doran glares menacingly down the camera lens on 666 Park Avenue. Supernatural drama, uhh, Supernatural does a better job with its horror sequences, but even those come across a little comical at times (usually by design).

In fact, of everything I see on television, it's usually the surreal that is the most menacing, the most sinister to watch. Several elements of SoHo drama Durham County gave me the chills - the little kids with the elaborate masks, the murder scene dolls, the entire opening scene of the first episode - and I found it hard to watch. Fringe is a show that freaked me out from time to time, too. There's just something fundamentally troubling about an otherworldly eel crawling out of a man's mouth.

I haven't given up on any shows due to entertainment fear factor, though - Durham County is off the schedule, but only because I couldn't get invested in a show that could best be described as The Killing: Canada. Mostly, I think scares done well can be a big part of what makes a show succeed or fail. If I can handle them, of course ...

So how creepy is too creepy for you? What shows do you avoid watching alone in the dark? Or avoid watching at all? And which shows are great at giving you the occasional scare?

(*) It took me three attempts to sit through Eli Roth gorefest Hostel. In hindsight, I wish I hadn't bothered.

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