Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Quick and the Scared

Well it's October so it's time for an obligatory Halloween centric blog post. Instead of talking about my favorite horror movie, however, I'm going to do what I do best: talk about things that annoy me.

I appreciate a good scary movie now and again. I just recently watched George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" for the first time and I absolutely loved it. It had all the right ingredients for not only a great horror movie, but a great movie in general: fantastic story, a perfectly suited atmosphere, and to top it all off, it had an African-American in the lead role who was smart, well-spoken, and didn't die in the first ten minutes of the movie. Even more impressive was the fact that this movie was shot in the late 60s amongst extremely high racial tension. I don't know why it took me so long to see this movie, given my pro-zombie disposition, but I'm a better person for doing so.

The plot of all the great slasher movies from the late 70s into the 80s were all the same, but they were the pioneers of that genre and movies were (and still are) very entertaining. It's now about 30 years later and horror movies now just rehash the same story: there are a group of people who wander somewhere unfamiliar and they are killed one by one until the movie ends. Thing is, writers and directors of current movies do nothing to improve the genre; if anything, the movies now are worse. There is no time spent building up tension with foreboding set and developing a well established threat or villain. The concern now is more on how gruesome the deaths can be or there are "jumpers" every five minutes than actually making a good movie.

Nothing bugs me more than "jumpers" in horror movies. "Jumpers" is the name for when there's a long period of silence in a movie before something jumps out (hence the name) to startle the audience. Bottom line: jumpers are cheap, lazy ways to scare movie goers. There's no need for foreboding sets or well established threats when these movies are doing the equivalent of what a child does to scare a sibling. The worst part is that now the entire remainder of the movie is spent in anticipation, waiting for something to pop out unexpectedly. I get that's the point of the movie and that's why people see these movies in the first place, but for me, as soon as the first jumper appears, my focus shifts from the dialogue or plot to wondering which dark corner the killer will jump out from behind next.

What I think is truly scary are psychological thrillers. The horror movie slasher can always be defeated or outran, but what if the true horror is all in your mind (cue lightning and maniacal laughter)? Almost every episode of "The Twilight Zone" dealt with someone losing their sanity but that's what made them equally terrifying and entertaining. Whatever was menacing them was all in their mind, therefore making the threat unescapable thereby making it even more terrifying. It takes actual writing skill to develop characters and then gradually break down the human psyche over the course of a movie.

A horror movie should not be about how much blood is shown on screen or how brutal a certain kill was, but rather making the audience feel unsettled and uncomfortable in their own mind. That's why so many people are afraid of the dark; they know nothing is there, but they're terrified of what could be there. And the best part is: whatever unseen, unspeakable thing is lurking in the unknown is being imagined by the scared party themselves. The best horror movie words to live by? Nothing is scarier.

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