Where Have All The Good Scares Gone?

Is it possible that the horror genre has become so spotlit in the mainstream media, that it no longer has any shadows for scary things to hide in?

Fear and scares are dependent on the individual, what freaks someone out won’t phase the next. If that’s the case, shouldn’t there be more variety in the horror selections that are generated by Tinsel Town?

Now it’s true that there are more images that could be defined as traditional horror in the mainstream now than ever before, but they seem to be tamed, glossed over and composed of characters that are just misunderstood. Vampires, ghosts, werewolves, witches can be found on almost every channel, and in the occasional film, but most of them aren’t to be feared anymore in fact a large portion of them are subject of romantic adoration by us regular folk.

We’ve romanticized all the things that used to scare us, and the masses are quite content with a shocked jump caused by a music sting tied with a dodgy effect (or even a good effect). I won’t lie, I really enjoyed the first Paranormal Activity, cause to me the idea is really scary, but I don’t think we had to revisit the same family two more times. As Sue said to me once, “Paranormal activity isn’t confined to one family.” There is so much they could have done with the series, but the seem to be happy to recycle their ideas over and over, and sadly, most of the masses seem willing to lap it up.

In the films Sue and I talked about in our most recent podcast we talk about scary movies, and yes there are moments I try to distance myself from what may be happening on the screen, which for me is a good sign cause it means it’s having an effect on me. But even those aren’t turn-your-hair-white-with-fear scary.

Sound design plays a huge part in a horror movie, it sets the tone, and the proper use of a sound effect can unnerve you, not just make you jump out of your seat. A great example is The Exorcist, the sound design on this film can still freak people out, the dialogue, the low ambient noise, all combine to form an experience that if you give yourself over to the movie (and this is the key to enjoying a horror film) it can really get under your skin and stay with you long after the film is over.

I can’t think of one film in the past 10 years that has been able to do that. Have there been films with jumps and disturbing scenes, absolutely, but with the rise of the sub-genre tastelessly, but accurately, called ‘torture porn’ the true horror film seems to be a thing of the past.

Sue has talked at length about a film I am eager to see called You’re Next about a home invasion, and yes it does sound good, but one wonders if it can stand the test of time and become a classic.

In fact in the past 20 years are there any horror movies that are going to go down as classics? (I think the original The Descent (with original ending) may last).

They all seem to blur into one another and be forgotten almost as quickly as they come out.

I remember when I was a boy playing with friends in the woods, and one of them had gone to see a spooky movie called “The Fog.” Just him telling us about the attack scene on the fishing boat has stayed with me to this day, and it’s a film I’ve seen a number of times. John Carpenter is truly a master, and while he has made some mis-steps (Village of the Damned) his work is always dependable. In The Mouth of Madness is still a freaky trip, and he tends to be my go-to director when I want something that I can throw myself into. Some of the stuff in Prince of Darkness still gets me.

These are names we’ll remember, Carpenter, Craven, Raimi, but I couldn’t tell you who shot the remakes of The Fog, Nightmare on Elm Street, and I still don’t understand why Rob Zombie even thought that Halloween needed to be remade, the originals in each case really didn’t need to be touched.

In the original Nightmare you got time to know the characters, and consequently start to care for Nancy and her friends, which is why when things go pear-shaped for them, it’s frightening. In the remake (the casting of Jackie Earle Haley was a great choice) there’s no development or arcs to make us even care for the characters. The viewer has been removed from the enjoyment of the film, if one enjoys being scared, to being nothing more than an observer.

Or… they ruin it by laying it all out for you, taking you down their well-lit path and show you everything, taking your ability to decide what might be in the shadows and what to believe away from you. The Last Exorcism is a perfect example. Honestly, I loved the film, right up to the last five to ten minutes, and then it drops the ball. Because it just had to go and show you everything, explain it all, instead of letting you decide what was real, whether she was possessed or just crazy.

Sigh.

This trend of explaining everything, taking away the need to think in a movie and flash over substance has long been talked about in many forums on the net, and I won’t rehash it here.

However, that does seem to be one of the reasons for the downfall of the horror genre, at least in the mainstream.

These films that we now call classics, except for The Exorcist, were definably small budget independent films. New Line Cinema was nothing until Freddy showed up (I heartily recommend two documentaries about it – The House That Freddy Built and Never Sleep Again). And Carpenter also started as an independent filmmaker with Halloween, though The Thing is by far and away my favorite film of his (and Big Trouble In Little China).

So perhaps I’m looking in the wrong place, I’ll have to push aside the repetitive films that currently fill Hollywood’s stable and dig deeper into independent films.

Or… perhaps search other continents. Yes we had a deluge of film remakes of Japanese films, and of course a needless (but admittedly good) remake of a brilliant Norwegian film, and del Toro gave us The Devil’s Backbone, and produced The Orphanage (both genuinely spooky films- not to mention some of the designs in Pan’s Labyrinth).

So… to quote The Twilight Zone: The Movie…

“Do you want to see something really scary?”

My recommendation would be to eschew the tripe that seems to be the standard commercial fare and dig deeper, look around the globe, find it, share it, talk about it, and TELL ME!!!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Did you ever get a chance to see Suicide Club?

  2. TD Rideout says:

    Not yet. I’ll have to hunt it down!

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