Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why I Love Horror Movies, and What's Wrong with So Many of them Today

Note: If you read my Nightmare on Elm Street Blog you will recognize some of this, as a portion of this is a copy paste job from that one. The reason I did so is because I had been thinking about what I'd said, and I wanted to expand on it, so I needed to repost it in order to do that. If you're one of my three readers (lol) and you're astute enough to catch this, rest assured that less than halfway in, it stitches to all new material, and even the copy paste job isn't just that as I have edited some things.

So, if you do recognize some stuff, keep reading, the last 60% or more is totally new.


Moving on with the blog....

It all began with three little words. 

Three little words was all it took to remind this 28 year old why, after all these years, it is that he still loves the horror genre (or at least, the idea of it. Don't get me started on most modern "horror" movies).

What were those fateful words?

            "It's not real, it's not real."

Those last few words called to mind (with no effort on my part) a line from Stephen King's IT (the miniseries, based on the tremendously awesome novel). The line is:

"You're not real!!! You're not real!!!"  
It's delivered by Annette O'Toole, the actress who portrayed Beverly Marsh, and it's delivered in a very convincing voice, fraught with several emotions at once; a woman on the edge, desperately trying to keep it together while she tries to grasp the enormity of the situation in which she finds herself after thrusting herself blindly back into her past, at the whim of a childhood friend whom she hadn't heard from in 28 years.

I heard that line in my head as I typed that out the same line, purely by happenstance and in a completely different context. I typed out that line and then immediately I heard the line from the movie, and I swear I heard it exactly as it's delivered in the movie. And upon recalling the line, I felt a small, but real chill. A momentary shudder, as I recalled the situation this woman found herself in, and the terror I felt as a ten year old boy watching this unfold on my TV (gee, thanks mom, ABC and primetime TV! Nice thing for a ten year old to see on television. As Freddy Krueger would say, "Welcome to prime time, bitch!"

Note: I actually didn't mind, believe me. I was already fully immersed into an unhealthy love for horror by that point, having had seen The Gate, Poltergeist, a couple of the later A Nightmare on Elm Street films, The People under the Stairs, The Evil Dead, and more. Things were certainly different then!

Anyways, why mention this? Well, simple. This demonstrates the power of film. Sure, horror movies aren't high art, but they do have the fantastic capability to really resonate with you. To burrow into the psyche and lay dormant for years, only to spring forth at opportune moments and elicit the same fear they did when you first experienced them. People say the boogeyman isn't real, but I say he is, in the form of the latent emotion, leftover in my subconscious as a result of watching a shitload of horror movies as a kid.

And that, friends, is the power of horror.

Btw, filmmakers. Do you know which scenes resonate with us like this? The psychologically weighty ones. Not the stupid LOUD NOISES BOO!!!! nonsense. Get with the fucking program. Jump scares are 'scary' for a second. If at all. They're a cheap, hollow way of trying to move the audience and trick them into thinking they are watching something scary.

It's the movies that leave you feeling ill at ease that are the ones that stick with you for years. The ones that give you new associations: drain pipes and clowns. Televisions and poltergeists. Boiler rooms/furnaces with burned dead men who haunt you in your dreams. Remote cabins and well, lots of bad things. Certain death ;) Meteorites and demons. Sleeping bags and spiders. Beaches and sharks. Girls named Regan and really bad shit.

It's the movies that get under your skin, make you wonder "what if?" The ones that prey on childhood psychological fears. The ones that take archetypal fears and run with them to their most horrible conclusion. These are the movies that resonate with us. That leave an impression on us so great that we'll be standing in the shower 7 years later and suddenly get the feeling that the shower head just moved, just a little. And then we'll instinctively look down at the drain, and then laughingly, but uneasily, chide ourselves for being so silly.

That's the effect REAL horror movies have on you. Sure, age plays a part, but most of the tripe today wouldn't do the same to me at that age that the older ones did. They do not know how to create suspense and maintain it over the course of 3/4 of a film's running time. To slowly but surely instill a sense of dread and unease, to make your audience uncomfortable and afraid for the characters in the film, to care for the characters, these things are becoming lost arts.

 Are they still there, if you seek them out? Yes. I have seen a few terrific ones coming out of France in the last few years that makes me think France is going to be the next home of horror, and I'm glad someone is picking up the slack, because the Americans sure as fuck dropped the ball a while back.

Once horror movies started featuring rock songs instead of original scores it was basically beyond repair. Sure, that nasty little trend is now finally dying, but the paper thin characters and by the numbers plots haven't gone anywhere. The ridiculous over-reliance on jump scares and gore (if of course it's not one of the other new horror trends, the PG13 horror movie, usually featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Or should I say Sarah Michelle Gellar and a ghost that does nothing but pop up for a jump scare every once in a while to fuck with the main character who's solving a Scooby Doo type mystery, which will inevitably end in her trying to 'set the ghost free' or some shit, only to die at the end, sitting on the floor with  that stupid shocked look on her face while the ghost takes a full minute to creepywalk over to her and all the wile you're thinking you should be yelling at the TV "RUN BITCH, RUN!!" but the chick is so insipid, and the movie so stupid that you really don't give a fuck, so you just sit there and wait for the inevitable moment where the ghost gets near and then quickly rushes at the camera, there's a loud noise, and then the credits roll, freeing you from the ineptitude of the filmmakers creatiion....



Soccer style kicker, graduated from Collier High June 1976, Stetson University honors graduate class of 1980, holds 2 NCAA Division One records, one for most points in a season, one for distance, former nickname "The Mule", the first and only pro-athlete to come out of Collier County, and one hell of a model American!


A good horror movie requires a few things:

1) Darkness. Limit the daytime stuff, please.

2) Absolutely no rock music, pop punk, rap, or pop music. Original scores only, please.

3) No damn rappers.

4) Character development. A big part of the reason A Nightmare on Elm Street was so successful was that you actually gave a fuck about the teenagers in that movie. They weren't stereotypical shallow, annoying party kids who you could not wait to see die. No, these kids were real. They had some depth, some maturity. They were good kids thrust into a bad situation due to actions taken by their parents unbeknonst to them, and when they did get in harms way you felt bad. Not happy.

5) A bit of mystery please. Shroud your villain in darkness. Cast him in shadow. Don't reveal his motives right away, if at all. Don't have him popping out every 2 seconds. The less we know the better. Minimalism can really have an impact.

6) Suspense please. A well crafted scene can literally leave us with our pulses racing as we anticipate what's to come, and a feeling of dread as we know the outcome could quite likely be bad for the protagonist(s).

7) Basically a combination of the last 2 points: don't reveal everything all at once. Keep the audience unsure, and keep them guessing. A low level but pervasive sense of unease is much better than a scream followed by a laugh because you made something jump out at the screen really fast. Remember in the original Halloween, when Michael spent the first part of the movie just watching Lori from afar? That shit was creepy. Who is this guy and why is he watching her?
I think I have more but I'm blanking at the moment. I dunno, horror rocks, or it did, and while there are some diamonds in the rough, I want the overall quality of the genre to rise.
And yes, I know there were a tremendous amount of cheesy, campy horror films in the 80's that committed many of the cardinal 'sins' of horror I mentioned here. Granted. In fact, they freaking invented (and perfected) them. However,  the best of the time are vastly superior to the best we have now. Or, at least, they were more creative, and greater in quantity.

Of course, so much has been done by now that it's hard to do something original. Maybe they should turn to the literary world. There are a lot of good, original, fresh horror novels that could easily be adapted. Midnight Meat Train is a recent one (based on a short story, actually but still) (story by Cliver Barker, btw, from one of his really good Books of Blood) that was fairly original, if I recall correctly. I actually need to rewatch that one, because there's a British one that I think may have been somewhat similar, and I may be getting the two mixed up.
Ah well, until next time, bring your kids to the fair, and pay their fare, and they will share, a gift that's rare.

....Don't ask.


  1. Someone should give you a budget and a camera.

  2. Pft, I wouldn't know what to do with it, but I appreciate the sentiment!


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