Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kinder, Gentler Horror

A couple of days ago I read a news story about a horror movie being released this week end. That was the first mention I had heard, which is surprising because these things are usually beaten to death with trailers. The same evening I saw a commercial on TV for the same move..."Insidious". This is by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the same guys who wrote and directed "Saw". You can link to the news story here. It's about a family who become haunted by evil spirits when their son falls into a coma after an accident.

Insidious is a bit of a departure from the usual blood and gore the guys are used to dishing up. They wanted to try a movie that had a "creepy atmosphere" without falling on the usual shocks of standard horror movies these days. I'm looking forward to this movie because I haven't been a fan of horror films the past few years (perhaps with the exception of The Ring). I saw the first Saw movie and that was plenty for me. I've shied away from movies like "Hostel" and "Final Destination" and "Grindhouse" that fall into either the so-called 'splatter' movies or the more controversial label of 'torture porn'.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mind blood or violence in a movie if it depicts a realistic situation that is advancing the story or, better yet, enhancing it. What I don't want to see is someone strapped or chained in position with a gag stuffed in their mouth and a nine inch nail...well, you get the picture.

I can recall three movies off the top of my head that made a distinct impression on me years ago that played more on the psychology of the situation. They tended to imply grievous harm without actually depicting it. As a teenager I watched Roddy McDowall in "The Legend of Hell House" (1973). This was a scary picture that didn't really show anything, but built tension with sound, music and effective lighting. It was remade in 1999 as "The Haunting" with Liam Neeson in the lead role but was no where near as affective. The second movie I recall was "Alien" (1979). Sure, there was a bit of blood in this one...who doesn't remember the scene where that little creature pops out of the guy's chest...but, if you recall, the alien wasn't really seen until near the end of the movie. The creature was more hinted at throughout the movie. The third movie? "The Blair Witch Project" (1999) scared the crap out of me. Again, there was nothing disturbing to be seen. I think the more frightening aspect was that it was preying on the superstitious nature of people. The documentary nature of the film added a certain creepy factor as well. I have heard the movie "Paranormal Activity" (2007) falls into this category of great scares with no blood or gore. I'll have to rent that one soon.

I plan on checking out Insidious to see if they attain their goal of terrifying the audience without drenching them in blood and gore. FYI, it ranks 67% at the Rotten Tomatoes web site at the time I am writing this. That number is good enough for me. I hope that the viewing audience supports movies like this because I'd like to return to a kinder, getnler, more thought-provoking horror rather than sensory overload splatter-fest that leaves you rushing home for a hot shower to cleanse yourself...

What is the scariest movie that YOU recall seeing? Was it more cerebral...or splatter?

13 comments:

Danielle Ferries said...

Alan, I'm so looking forward to seeing this too. I loved the original Saw.

kathryn said...

Great post as always, Alan. I remember a movie....I think it was called The Haunted? Old movie...in black and white...about a group of people that stay at a...hotel? No, wait...maybe they were doing research. Same thing you've stated: no blood/guts, you never actually see the thing/ghost/whatever-it-was...but it scared the crap out of me. I remember the door bowing in and lots of people screaming. I decided then & there that horror wasn't my favorite genre. Of course, I caught it again a few years ago and it was SO LAME. I also remember The Shining...and The Exorcist. The other night I was watching Ghost Hunters and my cell chimed and I nearly had a heart attack.

John Wiswell said...

The scariest movies are almost invariably cerebral to some degree. The Descent, Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch Project and Jaws all strive to establish mood. I still enjoy slasher-type movies (adored Hatchet, look forward to Scream 4), but a jump-scare doesn't match being truly unnerved for a sustained period.

Gigi said...

I don't like the blood and gore - I prefer thriller types, such as Paranormal activity (watch it during the day time though), the Others, etc. I haven't heard of this one - so be sure to tell us whether it's worth a look-see.

Laurita said...

This makes me wonder if those guys were evesdropping on our conversation last week. We were talking about this very thing.

I will have to second all of John's choices, and also add The Others which did a great job of establishing a creepy atmosphere. I will also admit, though, that the Scream series ranks among my very favourites.

Cate Gardner said...

Not a word of a lie... The Wizard of Oz.

Katey said...

That's a pretty good ranking for a horror film, actually. I'm impressed--maybe it's not so bad.

Good choices from you--Alien is definitely one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. I like scary sci fi movies. Pitch Black scared me too. That, and it's awesome.

And yes on The Ring. Not because of the movie itself, but the video they watch in it. It's been on TV lately and my husband keeps watching it. I keep hoping for innoculation but the images... ugh.

I did watch some Lars von Trier movies, which are straight up torture porn in the end. Liked Antichrist until it degenerated into torture porn, though. The man is off his rocker, and not in a good way, but he makes some incredible images.

Bukowski's Basement said...

Paranormal Activity 1 and 2 were probably the most fun I've had in a long time watching spooky movies. I was particularly impressed by how well the second one tied everything together... It all jived... rent them!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Danielle- Do you think that a cool horror movie is a good 'date night' outing?

Kathryn- Interesting. I looked it up at IMDB and the only BW that fit the bill was called 'The Ghost of Sierra Cobre' (subtitled The Haunting) from 1964. The commentor mentioned his father worked for CBS back then and brought a copy home for his kids to watch and it gave them nightmares for a long time. Have to check it out.

John- I agree. I loved the Descent and it's substory of betrayal, even though it kind of degenerated into a gore-fest at the end. Yep, the 'jump scares' are lazy ways to get a rise out of the audience.

Gigi- I shall let you know about Insidious. We've rented Paranormal Activity for this weekend.

Laurita- Big Brother has eyes and ears everywhere...I didn't mention the 'Scream' series. I only saw the first one and found it a bit corny for my tastes.

Cate- Funny you should mention that. My sister (now 41) is terrified of that movie. I think it was the melting witch and those damned flying monkeys.

Katey- You're right about the scoring of horror movies. Last one I recall doing really well was 'Silence of the Lambs'. Hey, I forgot all about Pitch Black. I never saw Antichrist. I see that it got 48% at IMDB, but the general public voted it a 55%.

Ant- I've got the first Paranormal Activity rented for the week. Will burn a batch of popcorn and watch that one tonight...

Akasha Savage. said...

I think The Blair Witch Project is one of the scariest films I've seen. I watched it with my daughter when it first came out and we were both a bit freaked. Now when I want to scare her I stand facing a corner, not moving or talking!
It will be interesting to find out what you think of Paranormal Activity. I didn't find it scary at all, in fact parts of it made me laugh out right. It was just too contrived for me and so lost the scare factor.

Alan W. Davidson said...

I watched Paranormal Activity last night. In parts, it was really scary. Mostly, though, I think the momentum was lost during all of the dialogue between the night time video scences (those sequences were pretty scary because you anticipated something about to happen). You're right, Akasha, I think Blair Witch Project was scarier.

abrokenlaptop.com said...

The definition of horror is basically something that makes us feel fear and dread, right? Most splatter movies don't make me feel anything except disgust and revulsion. I don't watch them. There's something delicious about a chill creeping up your spine vs. something being spelled out for you. We're not idiots. We'll figure out what is going on without it being shoved in our faces. Give me cerebral all of the time, please.

-Mercedes

Danielle Ferries said...

Alan, I do, but my partner might disagree.