Sunday, January 5, 2014

Evil in Modern Horror

       When I think of horror, of what truly makes a good scary movie, the only thing that comes to mind is the Disney classic Fantasia, specifically the Night on Bald Mountain. The monstrous demon that emerged from that mountaintop was, bar none, the most terrifying creature I had ever seen in my life at the time. As I’ve grown older, and seen more things, I still remember that evil figure and the terror he instilled in me that, to this day, I strive to feel once again. What can compare to this literal archetypal figure, modeled after centuries of contrived thoughts of how demons could behave?

Humanity itself has presented little in the way of true cinematic villains that can compete with the demon of Bald Mountain, save for a select few. Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs inspired more sweat-soaked nightmares in his combined ten minutes of screen time than any other slasher I could think of, save perhaps for the dream-haunting antics of the infamous Freddy Kruegar. Both were simple in design, and even simpler in their method: they did these horrible things because it was fun for them. They were well aware that their actions hurt others, but they didn’t care: to them, the game was on once the film started rolling, and it didn’t end until someone made them stop.
The more supernatural villains have, over the years, grown to rely far too much on gore and sudden-scares to accomplish their goals, something I sorely believe has led to a lazier class of monster that I myself cannot stand. A few troopers that have pushed on would have to be the tooth fairies from Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a tumultuous tale of a little girl and her struggle to survive the ravenous hunger of sadistic nocturnal demons. The Shrine goes the distance as well, painting the picture of an idyllic paradise gone afoul from zealous murderer’s, when in fact they are the only ones stopping the evil of an ancient being from spreading.
The key to horror cinema, sadly, seems to have devolved from the days where Count Orlok would creep across the screen silently, building a dreadful suspense that none could ignore to the slash-and-bleed slaughter fests and in-your-face sudden starts that leave an audience breathless, but ultimately unfulfilled. A great example of this is the Paranormal Activity series. In the first movie, we see almost no real traces of the monster, just the rattling and movements of the otherworldly beast. It isn’t until the end, after a great deal of tension has been gathered, that the great climactic scene occurs that makes the movie one of actual value.
The second installment had everything the first did, so the ability to build suspense was somewhat hampered. No matter, they made up for it with a few sudden scares, as well as the all-around creepiness of adding children’s toys to the mix. The second movie was mostly a flop, but it had a hard mountain to climb when compared to the first, and with what it had, it did it’s best.
The third was an absolute failure, becoming more comedic than scary as the minutes ticked by. Sure, there were plenty of surprise scares, but the producers took the extra step and began to limit the monster of the film (naming it, for example). During the scenes when the spirit was actually doing anything noteworthy, it wasn’t so much scary as funny, as it seemed like the creature was actually just… playing with it’s victims. The climax of the movie was so horrible that it bears no repeating, with such a random shift in plot that it would take Machiavellian-level intellect to immediately understand what was going on. The movie, supposedly a prequel, also leaves several questions wholly unanswered, opening vast wounds in the plot that even the most talented of writers could not stitch them up.
This trio of films shows exactly what is wrong with the modern horror movie: too much gore, not enough plot. The writers spend almost no time building anything up for the audience to look forward to, merely dragging us along this strange ride and slamming grotesque scenes of carnage before us, expecting such things to make up for lack of plot, or acting or basic storylines (I’m looking at you Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, and Dawn of the Dead). Don’t get me wrong, I love a good gore fest on occasion, and I know there is only so much that can be done with zombie-based horror, but the directors and writers can at least try and do something for us, instead of just mindlessly adding sluttier and sluttier women and more volatile bursts of violence to try and cover up their multi-million dollar pieces of art.
If you, dear readers, wish to see a few good films of true horror, not just mindless bloodshed, than I suggest The Woman in Black. A classic in the making that, while slow at first, does not rely on excessive violence to do the job that story is supposed to. For a good zombie movie, I look no further than I Sell The Dead. While not strictly horror, the film boasts and amazing story the likes of which I’ve never seen, and also boasts having Ron Perlman to boot. My final recommendation for a taste of crimson terror, delve into the archives and dig out Shadow of the Vampire. A story following the making of the silent movie Nosferatu, it tells the tale of how the director went to great lengths to obtain a real vampire for his movie, and the horrible things that follow from such a mistake.
Take a look into these films, and I promise you will not be disappointed, save for when the lights go out and all that’s left is you and your thoughts.

Sweet Dreams 

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