My Problem(s) with Horror

I’m not sure how I feel about horror movies. My original plan was to spend the entire month of October alternating between modern horror films and classic horror, but then I decided to just watch a lot of everything. Halfway through October, I’ve come to some sobering conclusions about horror films:

I am very hard to please.

I prefer a unsettling film to a gore-fest or a satire.

It must be really easy and/or cheap to make horror movies because there are so many of them.

Older is often (but not always) better, which leads to my next conclusion:

Directors/producers of older horror films knew something modern directors/producers either don’t know or don’t care to know.

Let me unpack a couple of these conclusions for a bit….

I am very hard to please.

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Even though I am not a die-hard horror movie fan, I recognize that there’s nothing new under the sun. A casual horror fan has probably seen every type of horror sub-genre: splatter films, psychological horror, gothic horror, comedy horror, science fiction horror, slasher horror… ghosts, vampires, zombies, wolves, etc. Haunted houses, demonic possession, other dimensions… You get the picture. It’s rare that you get anything original and when you do – with a movie like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, pictured above) – it’s a mash-up of several different genres, subgenres or styles. Or maybe it has a unique premise like It Follows (2014). Both of those films offer something fresh, at least for the moment. I liked both of those films, not so much for their novelty, but rather for their effectiveness (stylistic in the first case, a compelling situation in the second). I also liked the fact that I didn’t know exactly where they were going. (How often can you really say that about a horror film?)

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I can forgive a film that’s inventive and original even when the director can’t find a good way to end it, such as Phantasm (1979). I can even forgive something I’ve seen many times before if the creators have made sure that they’ve delivered a good story. But I get bored and frustrated with horror movies (or any type of movies, for that matter) that waste talent, have predictable stories, telegraph their scares, and are filled with stupid characters (most of which The Mist [2007] is guilty of).

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I’d rather see a film that tries for something unique even if it doesn’t quite work, like Soft for Digging (2001), a good-but-not-great film that has some nice, effective moments. May (2002, pictured above) is another such film.

Directors/producers of older horror films knew something modern directors/producers either don’t know or don’t care to know.

Stephen King once said, “Naturally, I’ll try to terrify you first, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try to horrify you, and if I can’t make it there, I’ll try to gross you out.” I think if you know going in that a film is mainly interested in the latter, you’re not bound for too much disappointment. It’s when you’re expecting to be terrified and are delivered the gross out that trouble starts.

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I know what I’m getting when I see a movie or a sequel along the lines of Scream, Scary Movie, The Evil Dead, etc. I know with those films that I’m not going to get something that terrifies. Truly effective horror films do terrify, but they often give us a heightened sense of unease, something that’s far more effective and long-lasting than gross out scenes. Some of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen actually fall into the horror genre, such as The Wicker Man (1973) or psychological horror such as Se7en (1995), but others are not necessarily classified as horror. I’ve seen both Zodiac (2007) and Mulholland Drive (2001) multiple times, yet they still creep me out now more than they did upon seeing them for the first time.

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The gross out movie is probably (barring the cost of special effects) the easiest to make, certainly the easiest to write. That’s why we see so many of them. It’s far more difficult (yet more effective) to suggest something rather than show it. If you question that, just watch the shower scene from Psycho (1960). Our minds can come up with some of the most horrific things imaginable. Just give us the suggestion of something horrible; the mind will do the rest. I wish we had more directors who understood this, but again, that’s not where the fast money lies.

As far as my personal watching of horror movies, I think I’ll be a lot more discriminating from now on. Or maybe I have been pretty discriminating up to this point and attempting to delve into more horror films has brought out the dissatisfaction I’m now experiencing. But I don’t think I’m done with horror, not completely. I also plan to write later this month on the theology of horror. (That should be fun!) In the meantime, happy viewing, horror or otherwise.

(Photos: Austin FilmWerewolves on the MoonFlickering MythThe Guardian, Geek Tyrant)

One thought on “My Problem(s) with Horror

  1. Pingback: Movies Watched in October 2015 Part I | Journeys in Darkness and Light

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