The Horror…The Horror
I love horror.
I have since I was a boy.
When my eldest brother, Greg, graduated High School and later went on to get accepted to West Point on a hockey scholarship (“East Barricade Academy” making sense yet?) my parents, for the last summer he had at home, got him a VCR. You know, those old things that played giant plastic bricks, gave rise to Blockbuster video, “Be Kind, Rewind,” and also got a generation of wanking husbands caught because they left the porn tape IN THE VCR.
Anyways, this began the start of Family Movie Night. We’d go out to “West Coast Video” which was a real chain in the late 80’s. You know, because generally, most of those who don’t live in LA have this weird obsession with it. (Something about sunshine, vajazzeling, and a starter house being 850 grand.) My father would rent pretty hardcore shit for my 12 year old eyes at the time. Robocop. Altered States. The Accused. Aliens. Predator. You haven’t been a teenaged boy unless you’ve gone through the horrible experience of hiding your boner during the sex scene in Top Gun with a pillow. (I’d wager young gay dudes had the same problem with the volleyball scene, but I digress.)
I loved sci-fi, action… I loved John Hughs’ films, I ached for every glimpse of boobs I could get. (This was before you could get gaping on your cel phone…good luck, digital generation!) I also found out that I LOVED horror. And the movie that mentally fucked up a generation was…
I could write an entire blog about that film, but long story short Spielberg and Tobe Hooper did such a fantastic job of depicting your average American Nuclear Family in the first act and systematically terrifying them for the last two that it ruined sleep for weeks for the majority of my generation. A scary clown, a corpse filled pool, an evil tree, and a guy TEARING HIS OWN FUCKING FACE OFF were just overload for our young heads.
As Stephen King says… we were hooked, like addicts.
I’ve seen almost all of them. The good (“The Exorcist”) the Bad (“The Stuff”) and the Ugly (“Martyrs.”) Each offers some unique twist on some common fear. This twist ultimately reflects the feelings of society at that time, or it has something to say about life, longevity, family, or any number of themes.
Hollywood loves to produce horror movies. Why? Because, more often than not, the bean counters point to horror flicks as lower budget, low risk movies that can potentially yield huge profits…or, even better…
A FRANCHISE. (Which, more often than not, the original creators depart from and then becomes exponentially worse over the years. Ever copy a copy of a copy of a copy? That shit fades.) I still mourn the loss of Freddy and Jason as scary, cool villains and their horrid transformations into wise cracking action figures.
So here’s my point, and it’s a point I started to realize right around the time the Halle Berry “Gothika” movie came about. I don’t want my horror to be high budget, or with recognizable actors. I don’t want it to be well lit, or heavy in CG.
I don’t want to see the fucking monster.
Fear, like attraction (and sex,) is all in the brain. I often quote yet another Stephen King saying in that “When the lightning crashes and the door opens and you see a 20 foot bug part of you sighs because you were expecting a 40 foot bug.” Even in my mid 20’s I knew this, which was why in Unreal 1 I made sure you saw as little of the Skaarj alien as long as possible before locking you in a dark room and unleashing him upon you.
Alien knew this. (Hell, even Cloverfield knew this, as much as the casting of those Real World looking motherfuckers distracted us all.)
I’ve joked with friends before in development that this is called “Monster Foreplay.” You tease it as long as possible. (A stripper doesn’t suddenly show up naked, she comes out and takes off her clothes as slow as possible to Alice in Chains.) The exception to this is, of course, the occasional jump scare. The dog in RE1 worked. But that’s not what this blog is about.
You can say what you want about the genre of Found Footage, but when done right, it largely works. I know the gimmick…but I’m more than willing to go along with it. Paranormal Activity 1-3 mostly just…work…because it feels like IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU. (This is why we’ve seen a rise in Gonzo porn…it seems like just a couple of guys in a van who find a random girl on the street who just so happens to know how to enjoy double penetration.) I don’t want my horror over produced. I want it like I want my Five Guys burgers. I want it greasy, raw, and soaking through a brown paper bag. I walk away from a Five Guys burgers like I just bought a 40 ounce Colt 45 from the corner store…a mixture of pride and guilt.
I’ve mentioned it before, but one of the rare exceptions from the last few years was James Wan’s “Insidious.” This movie was one of the rare studio exceptions that felt somewhat slick, with recognizable actors that actually worked. (Patrick Wilson…the suburban go to guy for unhappy marriages…even Lena Dunham picked up on this.) I sometimes wonder if James was a fan of The Mothman Prophecies, because that movie was a stellar studio flick that had great scares and it didn’t always BEAT YOU OVER THE HEAD with it. (The Mirror scene is a classic…I couldn’t find it on Youtube, but those of you who have scene the movie know what I’m talking about.) The opening credits of Insidious are filled with things that are just “off” and it’s Wan’s way of saying “Hey…you…pay attention…the scares in this movie are going to often be subtle and creeping…”
The credits were a TUTORIAL FOR THE MOVIE.
High work for the guy who brought us the not so subtle Saw franchise.
(Man, I can’t wait for Insidious 2.)
The key in this over saturated Youtube nation isn’t bigger, better, and grosser. Less is more. It’s all about the director that can master subtlety. Again, the biggest scare in “Signs” was the news footage scene of the alien. It’s just a CG alien walking by. But the buildup is long, a slow burn, and the shaky cam nature of the shot only adds to the moment. (Bonus favorite M. Night scene here. People forget that the Sixth Sense had scares and heart, btw.)
The “Signs” scene is also helped along by the fact that, apparently, the kids are speaking Spanish. This is one of the reasons why I often find foreign horror to be extremely effective. Watch it in the original language and read the subtitles, you ignorant fucks. The original “Let the Right One In” was incredibly powerful because, as an American, the stark and cold Swedish apartment complex felt so real and alien. (“The Citadel,” a solid recent thriller, benefited from this as well.) “Martyrs” works on another level because of this as well.
I’ll have to save another blog post for why “Martyrs,” in all its’ heinous horror, is one of my favorite films of all time.
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