onsdag, oktober 16

Horror Movies Suck!

I just saw The Conjuring and am disappointed with it, because the first forty minutes were absolutely great and then there's this one scene where it all completely comes crashing down, and I just immediately knew that after that scene the movie was gonna turn to shit. And it struck me...this, where there's just this one scene that makes you 'oh, there goes that movie', it only happens to me when I watch horror movies. Only in that genre are what makes a movie great so sensitive, so fragile if you like, that it can be so easily undermined. Because filmmakers love to overdo their horror, and horror is one thing which does not benefit from being overdone.

I love horror movies, I just wish they didn't suck so much. Especially so the American ones. Here's why: subtlety is scary. The unknown is scary. Suspensions of disbelief is the basis for being able to be scared. When the premise of a horror movie is too ridiculous to be even remotely believable, the whole sense of mystery, fear and dread dissipates as soon as that premise is revealed. When the special effects are too far-fetched, too badly done, or simply too ridiculous, the same thing happens. So here's my easy points on things to avoid at all cost when you make a horror movie:

(A quick sidenote: While I also love slasherfilms, I don't consider them true 'horror' movies, and the same goes with zombie films; they rely on completely different moods and premises than the kind of movies I intend to discuss here, which is movies where the main source of suspension is the supernaturality and unknowability of the phenomena portrayed. The emphasis on this is why [REC] qualifies as a proper horror movie as well as a zombie movie, and why The Fourth Kind is horror rather than scifi).

1: The God Premise

Please, fucking pretty please, Hollywood; STOP DOING FUCKING HORROR MOVIES WITH THE PREMISE THAT GOD EXISTS. By all means, use the devil, or witches or whatever you fancy, but then make the demons/hellish entities very vague and unknown, don't over-define them and give them a solid foundation in a christian cosmology that the movie will then have to define as true. Because I can't believe in a christian cosmology. The less you talk about hell, horned men, and upside-down pentagrams, the better. Rather talk about the spirit world, a vaguely defined underworld, or secrets embedded in a creation not explicitly associated with any god.Needless to say, this whole problem is vastly less prevalent in Asian and European horror films.

How to do it: You can use satanic imagery and mythology without making it a blatant assumption that christianity is true. Examples of movies that succeeds with this particular element (without necessairly being great anyhow) are [REC] (possession, mysterious church conspiracies, everything keeps unexplained), The Unborn (a holocaust victim possessed by a jewish mythological demon very subtly handled), Grave Encounters (vague satanic ritual imagery), Paranormal Activity (vague satanic elements, like the demon seem to have clawed feet).

How not to do it: The Conjuring (lots of statements of facts regarding witches and demons, and a completely non-mysterious church organisation devoted to battling them), The Omen, Drag me to Hell.

2: The Unbelievable Possession

Possession is scary because it's about losing control and having something unknown and malevolent inhabit a person's body. But possessions in movies often serve to make the source of fear less mysterious, less unknown, by personalizing it, letting it have dialogue and making it's motivations way too clear. Mosre importantly, they're often done in a way that completely ruins the suspension od disbelief, by letting the possessed person completely change their voice (I hate this one sooo much because it's in every fucking possession move ever), defying gravity, getting weird eyes, communicating meaningfully with people, etc. Possession should be about scary behaviour, just like scary sleepwalking, and if possessed people have to do supernatural things, yes,sure, it can be scary, but it has to be unexpected and very subtly done, effects-wise. It is also scary when possessed people talk languages they shouldn't have been able to know, but for god's sake, let them do it in their normal voices or something very close to it.

How to do it: Paranormal Activity (the possessed look normal in every way but behave strangely and scarily, have almost no dialogue), The Fourth Kind (fake case study-footage, and the only case I know of where 'weird voices' has worked, because they are so mothafuckin' scary), [REC] (very, very vague, defined only as backstory)

How not to do it: Sorry but, The Exorcist. The Conjuring, every other possession movie ever.

3: The Physical Demon

I understand that your bloated special effects budget makes you tempted to use a cool, physical sources of horror, like, old witches in torn victorian clothes, or a horned demon covered in fire, or maybe an unnaturaly frail woman in a withered dress, surrounded by weirdly behaving shadows. But please refrain from it, because it almost never works. It doesn't matter how believable you can make it look, for the problem stems from the fact that the defined is not scary. There will naturally be exceptions to this, for just one scene or two, if you have a really mothafuckin' scary design going, it might be okay to showcase your demon/witch/ghost/whatever, but almost every single truly scary horror movie have that in common that they never ever do. It's much more fearsome to have something invisible assail you at night, or too see a vague shadow in the corner of a room, or a pair of eyes glowing in the dark of a cellar, than to be hunted by a completely physical old hag with sharp teeth, no matter how scary her design. Because when you portray her like that you create the feeling that she can be defeated by normal human means, and it's a subconscious thing, it's not important whether this actually is the case in the framework of the movie. But more than that, you disrupt the suspension of disbelief, because a shadow in the corner of a room is much more believable than a physical beast in your closet. Again, it is possible to use very physical looking ghosts/demons/whatever if you know exactly what you're doing, and make them look extremely scary and/or very human, but nine times out of ten it's better to just not do it.

How to do it: Paranormal Activity (the demon is completely invisible always), Blair Witch Project (is there even a physical being? who knows?), Hollow (no real pshycial being), Grave Encounters (mostly subtly used, terribly scary effects), Ring (subtly used, terribly scary effects), Kaïro (subtle techno-horror), [REC] (the original, first movie; the physical demon is only seen in the distance, through blurry night-vision),  Lake Mungo (no real evil being, just a girl's ghost)

How not to do it: The Conjuring, Mama; two movies that could have been great but where ruined by overuse of non-scary, unsubtle physical monsters. This is, by far, the most common problem in horror movies, especially american ones (though asian ones also fall prey to it quite a lot). 

By now, I'm starting to realize that I've seen so many run-of-the-mill horror movies that I can't remember them; on my harddrive, I find a huge pile of horror from many different countries, and I know I've seen them but I hardly recall the plot at all. Part of the reason is probably that all horror movies have the same name; The ing; The Conjuring, The Gathering, The Haunting, The Summoning, etc. Please stop with this? If you can't think of an interesting enough premise that your movies deserves a better name, maybe you shouldn't make a horror movie at all? I'd rather have one great horror movie per year than 50 mediocre ones.

This is hopefully the first post in a series of posts I intend to do about my love for horror/slasher movies. So if you liked it, drop by once in a blue moon and check for updates.

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