Beauty and the Best

exorcism of emily rose

What Happened to Scary Horror Films?

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So the first reviews for the Evil Dead remake are in, and, by and large, they’re positive. Yet I couldn’t help wonder as I repeatedly read about the excessive gore in the new movie: is it scary? It seems horror movies these days are anything but scary - funny, meta, gory. What happened to good ole make-you-crouch-in-your-seat, keep-the-lights-on-at-night scary horror films like The Exorcist or Ringu (Japanese original of “The Ring” ) or Alien? Don’t get me wrong, I love meta and funny horror movies: Cabin in the Woods may have been my favorite film of 2012 (and that was a strong year for movies). Still, what made me fall in love with the genre was the dreadful mystery of going to movies so scary it was rumored people walked out of them. It seems like these movies only existed in the 70s and 80s. (Ti West can set up some scary atmosphere, but is not so good at paying it off.)

For the record, scary to me is not jump cuts or cheap thrills. I’m talking the type of thrills where, when you see them, they send a shiver down your spine and you know it’s going to stick with you later when the lights go out.

I understand today’s audiences are tougher to frighten. The Exorcist had the benefit of religious taboo going for it. These days it’s cool not to believe in anything; that’s a tough foundation to build scares from. To write a horror film today, I think you have to account for aud’s cynicism from the start. The Exorcism of Emily Rose did a great job with that by presenting those courtroom scenes where all the enigma of demonic possession was analyzed away by Laura Linney’s character, so by the time the demons scared her, the audience actually had a reason to be frightened as well. But again, this is a movie that had a problem paying it off (Jennifer Carpenter contorting herself into a pretzel, bathed in trippy lighting, is not really scary). What we need here is H.R. Geiger type conception combined with something revolting and truly shocking, horrifically realized. That means several months of pre production working out your horror conceit, what it will do, and the mechanics of how to pull that off believably, how it will be shot, etc. It also means a good script with characters we actually care about.

Hopefully someone will soon be up to the challenge. I look forward to a Susperia for the modern age.

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