Friday, October 23, 2015

Top 5 Horror Movies From A Guy Who Doesn't Like Horror Movies

You heard right, I can't stand horror movies.
"Has anyone seen Torgo?"

Not entirely for the reason you might suspect, which is: "Heh...I knew that guy was a sissy." In which case, you might be right.

Maybe it all started from being traumatized at a young age watching some Anthony Perkins hosted, 70s era montage show about horror movies (I was 6, and completely unprepared). Maybe it had something to do with watching "Trilogy of Terror" on Halloween, and not being able to cope with it for months (little bastard freaked the hell out of me!).

Maybe it had something to do with growing up in Maine, and the ghosts that we live with are so much more realistic, yet slightly less terrifying than anything Hollywood could produce.

The monsters that existed just outside of the glow of the flashlight?

If you grew up in the part of Maine where it's slow to catch up with the rest of the world, you know that they're there.

They've always been there.

Maybe it has something to do with with growing up with an appreciation of a proper ghost story. Regardless if it was the "Man With the Hook" story that someone always brings with them to the campfire, or any given musing from Edgar Allen Poe that we had to read in school. Somewhere along the way, I learned that what happens in your head is much worse than what happens in reality.

Maybe it's because I've been watching 'reality' unfold on a nightly basis in the form of another school shooting, another family ripped apart by violence, and somehow some straight-to-video splatter-fest seems pale in comparison.

Maybe I'm old and jaded.
Maybe I'm Keyser Soze.
...Maybe I'm a Chinese jet pilot...

"Did you just use my line, Screwhead?"

Halloween Horror Nights, Haunted Hayrides, Sideshow Haunted Houses, I have never been a willing participant in things that are designed to make me scream like a little girl while making me pee myself. At best, these things do what they're supposed to do and scare the bejeebus out of least for a while...then it tends to get boring. Predictable. Mundane.

Oh, look! It's another Leatherface knock-off with a defanged chainsaw looking to use my scrotum as a murse...yeah...that's what the last one said...and the one before that...

The scary doesn't seem so scary when it's the norm. Being surrounded by a bunch of clownish, chainsaw wielding Summer Stock actors maniacs might have an initial shock value when you walk into the park, but it gets a little old when you're trying to get a funnel cake. Come to think of it, I've seen plenty of occasions (especially around the end of the night) where the actors in these horror themed parks, have more or less clocked out before their shift ends.

"Rawr! I'm going to eat your braaaaaii..wait, is that funnel cake?"

This is harmless make believe, and sometimes, it gets old. I used to feel the same way back in the Golden Age of Blockbuster; looking at all the titles in their horror section quietly muttering to myself, "seen it, seen it, boring, seen it, miss it, miss it....oh, what the hell is this? Co-ed Zombie Cheerleaders vs. Alien Vampires from Mars?"

I fear that we may have reached an epoch as far as what we, as a society, think what the boogie man looks like. Real horror is your country being bombed on a regular basis because of religious reasons. Hollywood horror is all about making money. I'm not a fan of either.

Not to say anything bad about the Horror Movie industry in general. On the contrary, from a certain point of view, it's good business. To make an instant hit, you don't need that much money. All you need are a couple of friends, a camera, a place, a few maxed out credit cards, and pure will. And whether your little horror movie is universally panned, or embraced by fandoms, more than likely, the possibility of making a decent profit is pretty high. Although it is not a guaranteed formula (from a studio's perspective), it has worked quite well, especially for a few notable first time directors.

My problem with horror movies isn't box office draw, my problem is an oversaturation of a formula that has been pervading the genre for quite a while now. My problem is that I'm seeing these travesties presented through the lens of a storyteller. Since the dawn of the "Slasher Flick", the horror movie has been less about actual horror, and more about formulaic exploitation. How many "Saw" movies do we need? How many Nightmares on Elm Street are we going to have to go through before we wake up? My problem is that Hollywood is out of ideas. I mean, it goes without saying, but nothing says, "I got nuthin', but it doesn't matter because you're going to see this turkey, because it has blood, guts and boobs, and you're going to make me stinkin' rich anyway" more blatantly than a cheap slasher flick, or a remake of a slasher flick, or a reboot of a remake of a slasher flick...

...sorry, what was I talking about?

These days, it's less about "horror" and more about "exploitation". It doesn't seem so scary when it's the norm. And that's kind of dangerous.

My problem is that the genre is at risk of becoming stagnant. Is it me, or is every other horror movie some variation on "Found Footage", or zombies, or both? Kind of like how YA Fiction has almost become synonymous with pouty vampires.

Personally, my definition of Horror falls closer in line to how Alfred Hitchcock defines it, rather than the blood-soaked, prepackaged, uninspired slaughter fest that gets cranked out year after year.

What are we up to now, "Saw 19: Jigsaw files for Social Security"?

The scariest stuff happens when things are implied. Great filmmakers know this. You want to freak the hell out of an audience? Have the action happen off screen. Leave just a little to the imagination. Did we see Mr. Blonde cut that cop's ear off? Did we see the needle go into Mia Wallace's chest? No, we didn't see it, but it doesn't mean that audiences didn't cringe, or in some cases, faint.

There needs a little left to the imagination. There needs to be a little more substance. It can't all be jump scares and zombies. Not for me.

Just to clarify, I'm not down on the genre as a whole. There are some notable exceptions that try to elevate and move the genre forward. For a while, Italy seemed to be taking the horror movie to a higher art form. These days, that distinction seems to be claimed by the Far East.

I loved Peter Jackson's "The Frighteners" and Benecio Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth". Both are genuinely scary, and wildly, giddily imaginative. Not a chainsaw or a zombie to be found in either of them (I'm presuming that there won't be any in the just released Crimson Peak either). These movies are scary, but they are gorgeous. They activate the imagination, rather than bum me out and exhaust me.

These are my top picks. These are the best horror movies, presented by someone who kinda doesn't like horror movies.

5. Poltergeist

I don't know if there's a word for it yet, but there is a handful of movies I just have to watch if I'm just flipping through the channels on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Tobe Hooper's flare for the gruesome coupled with Spielberg's trademark ability to make a movie shot from the POV of a child so friggin' terrifying, makes this an enduring classic; a nice re-invention of the haunted house story.

4. The Shining

Speaking of classics, I'm not sure if Kubrick was the originator of the slow build, but he certainly was the master. He was a photographer before he became a film director. Maybe that would shed some light on his long, unflinching establishing shots. Stephen King based this book on a trip he took to Colorado. It's also a very personal story, because he also bases the story on recovering from alcoholism. Kubrick's version to interpretation. 

Do a Google search on "meaning of The Shining", you'll see what I mean.

Here is an example of horror where the monster isn't waiting beyond the shine of your is already inside all of us, and is waiting for that right moment to wake up.

That, plus Jack Nicholson is the manifestation of nightmares.

Also, Kubrick was pretty slick at setting the tone in the trailer...*shudder*

3. The Blair Witch Project

The concept of "Found Footage" has already been established well before this movie with Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust" in 1980. However, the style never caught on, except for a few low budget Indie's, and I presume that it was done so unironically. 

So much derision has been poured on this movie. It was almost universally panned. "The shakey camera almost made me puke," one reviewer would say. "I have no idea what's going on," said another. The horror in this movie was folded in layers of fear; fear of the dark, fear of the unknown... The horror was all in these three tenderfoots slowly getting lost, and slowly losing their minds. Simple, and still effective.

Every so often, a convention or a style gets broken or turned on its ear. Up until this point every movie, including Indies, had to be shot a certain way, or else it might be mistaken as a 60 minutes segment or something; all dolly shots and what have you. Here comes a movie that was made by a couple of unknowns for almost no money, has no Hollywood stars, no soundtrack, no script, and is completely stitched together with footage shot from several different cameras. The end result confused, confounded and angered many critics, because it wasn't what they were expecting. The end result was that it was the most profitable horror movie of all time. Sheer audacity.

Flash forward another 10 years, pretty much every horror movie WITH a huge budget, WITH Hollywood stars, WITH a soundtrack has finally adopted the style, and somehow it's cool now(?)

Anyway, I've always been a fan of this movie, both in its approach, and it's ability to successfully advertise almost entirely utilizing the internet. It might be considered the first viral hit.

2. Jacob's Ladder

I...I can't even...

*takes deep breath*
*regains composure*

There is a very short list of movies I will never watch again after the first time. Mostly because the majority of them were unapologetically bad. A couple of them, including this one, I will never watch again because the subject matter, as well as the style in which it was shot, kind of hit a little too close to home in the old brain pan. I won't get into detail as to how, should I put this...???

Okay..."Leaving Las Vegas" was a pretty accurate portrayal of what it's like to slowly kill yourself, right? Well, "Jacob's Ladder" is a pretty accurate portrayal of what a bad flashback is like... of hands, who knows what I'm talking about?
Let's just leave it at that.

1. The Babadook

Yes, a relatively new one on this list. Even though I'm not a true blue fan of horror, I saw the trailer for this, and I was quite intrigued with it.

The movie did not disappoint.

Not a zombie or a vampire, or a frame of found footage to be seen any where near this thing. Yet, it still made my skin crawl, yet I still walked away from it pondering and asking questions...

Yet, I found it hard to go to sleep that night...

Believe the hype. This movie will find a way to crawl under your skin and stay there. Good stuff.

Are you like me? Are you picky when it comes to scary movies? Let me know what your list is in the comments below.

Happy Halloween, everyone.