Well, its that time of the year again, my friends. Halloween. Samhain. The Witching hour. Etc… Every year at this time we dress up as monsters and ghosts and walk around trying to scare the crap out of each other. It’s also a tradition that on All Hallows Eve, we watch a considerable number of horror movies.
Unfortunately, I’ll bet not one of you gets really scared while you’re watching them. Why? Well basically it’s because there just aren’t a whole lot of scary movies out there. Actually, I guess it would be more accurate to say that the ones that are really scary have, for the most part, either been hidden away or lost out there somewhere in the great sea of pretenders.
Most of the movies in the horror section of a video store are probably slasher movies. If I ever get into any position of power I’m going to decree that slasher movies get a totally different section. Way back in the day maybe they were scary, but that day passed a long time ago; somewhere back in the eighties. I’m old enough to tell you I saw Friday the 13th in the theater. Yeah, back then it was scary, but it was something you didn’t normally see on screen. Since then there have been a trigillion slasher movies of dubious quality. You know I’m right. I mean hell, Scream proved that. When you can make a movie that parodies a genre to the level that Scream did, then it’s come to the point where precious little real horror is to be had in the genre, and that goes beyond the old “The killer in my movie is a ghost, not a psycho like Jason,” thing as well.
Now I know that many of you will be seeking out scary flicks to watch for the Halloween Holiday, so here’s a quick way to tell if its going to be really scary or just flat out not scary at all.
A: If the movie even says on the package words like “A group of sexy young teenagers, graduates or college students…that shouldn’t inspire you.
B: It costs less than six bucks to buy. You might find a rare gem, but you might also find a cow pie. Just to be safe though, you’ll probably want to you’re your hands after handling the case.
C: Any description of the movie comparing it to a well known movie. Hell, that’s an easy one. If it even hints to words like “Inspired by The 6th Sense” or “Just like The Ring”…well, there’s one born every minute, my friends.
D: The movie makes a big deal about having either Roy Schieder, Lance Henriksen (post Millenium) or any other “name” star that hasn’t been in a big time movie for some time. Now don’t get me wrong. Roy Schieder and Lance Henriksen are excellent actors. It’s a shame that they seem to be slumming it in direct to video crap nowadays. A bad movie with them in it is, I suppose, actually worth seeing on some levels.
But that doesn’t mean the movie is going to be scary. It might be entertaining, but is it scary? Did you really feel frightened when you saw it? Did it make you uneasy in the dark when you thought about it? Did the hair on your neck stand up a bit? A good horror movie can be GOOD, but did it really scare you?
Keep in mind there’s a difference between being scared and being startled. My wife always gets that wrong. She’ll jump out of a closet or a doorway sometimes and yell “RAAAAAH!” just to watch me jump back in surprise and claimed she scared me. Scared is the wrong word. I wasn’t really scared by her jumping out like that; I was startled…just like anyone would be when caught by surprise like that. A spring loaded cat in a movie isn’t scary…it just gives you a start, and that’s a cheap way to claim any kind of thrills in a movie. It might have been frightening the first time it was done, but in the last 800,000 times…well, shucks, it just ain’t scary anymore.
A truly scary movie will involve you with the characters. You’ll find yourself caring about them on a human level, so when they feel fear or taste death it affects you emotionally. It all depends a lot on the actors as well. If they can act scared they can make you share their fear….well, that’s some fine acting. In the movie “Ghost story” when the protagonist actually sees the ghost of Eva Galli (Alice Krige, the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact) coming down the staircase, I was for a moment shaken and stirred. David (Craig Wasson) looked so genuinely terrified I began to think how I would feel in his place. Think about Cole in the 6th sense…remember the scene where he sees the ghost of the kid that shot himself? It played on the fears that all of us (or at least most of us) probably had as a child. It freaked me out because I felt the same way I did as a kid moving around the house in the dark of night. I related to Cole for an instant and his terror felt genuine.
The lack of real fright might be because they took away all of our monsters! Vampires, once the great staple of horror flicks, are now mostly a joke. The last vampire movie I saw, Underworld, wasn’t a scary movie, it was an action movie. (Blade movies don’t count…I like ‘em, but they are essentially super-hero flicks) Nowadays, vampires are depicted as Eurotrash posers (Thanks Anne Rice) that moan about immortality and hang out in night clubs. Bah! Dracula himself has been parodied as a chocolate cereal icon, a duck, and a puppet with an obsessive counting disorder. Werewolves…well, they never got the respect they deserve I think. Hopefully that will change if more movies like Ginger snaps or the excellent Dog Soldiers are made. It’ll help wash away the taint of the last Howling movie. Zombies may even have a chance….a good zombie movie can be chilling….and 28 Days Later was an engaging movie (even if the monsters weren’t technically zombies) Heck, maybe we’ll get lucky and someone will make a really good haunted house movie….you know, one that doesn’t depend on very stupid people getting naked in a house they know has a cranky, murderous ghost.
So this Halloween when you’re looking for a scary movie, settle down with Dead and Buried instead of some puerile crap like Friday the Thirteenth part 45. Enjoy Dog soldiers instead of Howling: The Marsupials….and for Samhain’s sake, dress up like a monster instead of Spongebob Squarepants. Let’s bring a little fear back into Halloween.