Friday 15 October 2010

Fear on Friday - Trapped in the Dark

Today I'm looking at horror films. I can't bring much to the table on this one, because I see so very few of them. Since becoming a family man, the films we go to see are very much suited to a child-friendly perspective and so I have to think back to stuff I watched in my single days or things I catch late at night when everyone else has gone to bed.

The last film I watched that had me truly shaking on the way home (this will show how rarely I go to the cinema and how little modern horror I watch) was Event Horizon. I found its use of jump cuts very effective at immediately raising the heart rate, and its slow unfolding of the true horror of the rescue crew's predicament gnawed away at my nerves. There were some rather corny bits but the combination of the aforementioned elements and its ambiguous ending meant that I was jittery and jumpy on the way home and for sometime afterwards.

Other than that, it's hard to think of other films that have chilled or scared me to a similar extent. The appearances of the skeletal Death in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Navigator send a shiver right through me but the rest of the films hold little terror for me.

So what is it about the cinema that makes it a more powerful, more affecting experience than reading or watching television? Is is that perhaps we find ourselves a truly captive audience whilst at the cinema? Sitting in the darkness, devoid of any other sensory distraction, we cannot turn off if we think it's going to get too much, nor - unless we want to make a spectacle of ourselves - can we get up and walk away. There is also the factor of the cost of the ticket if we do so - cinema isn't cheap these days. The huge screen, with its visual impact magnified and the much louder sound levels mean that the senses are rivetted and overwhelmed. If you go on your own, there is not even the sense of another human to whom to turn for comfort or escape.

Of course, not all of us watch horror movies at the cinema. Home viewing makes up a sizeable proportion of the occasions on which such films are watched. The impact of these may well be slightly lessened, since there will be the option of escape, others to talk to and contextualise the experience. There is no option to pause a cinema film while you go and get a beer and some pretzels.

Regardless of where we watch horror films, I'm opening the floor to you all to share your cinematic terrors with me. Is it modern splatterpunk or old-style chillers that send shivers down your spine? Do you find sitting in a cinema more evocative and atmospheric than sitting on the couch with the remote in your hand in case it gets a bit too scary?

Over to you...


  1. The scariest movie I ever saw was Ridley Scott's Alien. I first saw it in the theatre and I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole time. The first time the alien appeared, killing Harry Dean Stanton's character I think I crushed my drink cup spilling Coke all over myself.

    This is perhaps the only time I've ever been scared by a movie - though I was only 13 at the time, which may have something to do with it, I thought it was masterful the way that Scott was able to maintain the tension and suspense throughout.

  2. I don't do scary movies. Heck, I see maybe one movie total every two years.

    On the other hand, I can scare the pants of my players. This coming Wednesday night is our Halloween session, if the players choose to take that route in the sandbox we have set up.

  3. Movies that have scared me:

    The Blair Witch Project. Some people hated it for the camera work and the (realistic) bitchy film student characters, but the verisimilitude of it worked well for me. And the whole ending sequence is absolutely chilling.

    Picnic At Hanging Rock. An old Australian offering. Not nearly as well known as it should be. Don't expect any gore or sudden shocks here. In fact, on the surface, it's a bunch of well-bred young ladies wearing pretty dresses in broad daylight and seeming quite untroubled. Don't be fooled, though. Brilliant soundtrack.

    The Haunting (original, of course). Much has been said about this one. Pretty much everything about it is perfect, but I especially like the ambiguity about exactly who or what the titular haunting is. It's much scarier not to know.

    Session 9. The newest one I'll mention. A bunch of workmen are hired to clear hazardous material out of a sprawling, long-abandoned insane asylum (the real life Danvers State Hospital). Madness, murder, and such ensue. The hospital is virtually a character unto itself. Best use of a disturbing location in a horror film since The Shining.

  4. Blair Witch was truly one-of-a-kind creepy but there's the nagging doubt that part of that was just the hand-held camera physical nausea (same I'd get when I tried to play Doom for more than 15 minutes).

    I'm a sucker for "YAA GOTCHA" moments like when they're investigating the abandoned boat in Jaws.

  5. Jaws, Grizzly, Orca and the original Wicker Man were pretty strong contenders from my childhood.

    They were all viewed on television, and probably alone, while lying on the floor, wrapped up in (and sometimes under...) a couple of blankets.

  6. Three films you might want to try - not classic but evocative.

    Outpost - Abandoned WWII bunker somewhere in Eastern Europe investigated by mercenaries - goes for creepy rather than Wolfenstein.

    The Descent - Claustrophobic caver movie with all-female cast; a Marmite movie you either love it or hate it.

    Black Death - Sean Bean leads a medieval warband into lawless, plague-ridden lands to find a village strangely unaffected.

  7. In no particular order:
    The Thing
    The Descent
    The Keep
    The Cave (not dissimilar to the Descent)
    Silent Hill - I just didnt get the end at all!
    Hellraiser (before it went into Space)

  8. .....oh and the first Candyman with Tony Todd

  9. 'The Keep' was used as a D&D adventure by my younger self, and started my love for the Sd.Kfz.222 armoured car...

  10. The remake of invasion of the body snatchers was pretty good.

  11. Hi Daddy Grognard. Great questions.

    I love watching scary movies under my Halloween blankets, snuggled next to Tim, with the house lights off, and the Halloween lights on.

    Splatter kill'em movies do nothing for me. I like the slow, spooky movies with scary settings, good writing and eerie music.

    We also love to watch B horror films while eating pizza. Those are so fun.

    As for the scariest movie? Jaws. I'm afraid of water as it is, throw in a shark and I'm not going anywhere near THAT beach.

  12. I would have to say Alien was the first one that creeped me out. I get bored with the slasher and torture films that are trendy, although Saw movies have given was to Paranormal Activity movies.

    Hmm, I would say one of my favorite, although not very scary, but very good is The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, And I much much prefer to watch movies at home any more. Too many people want to text or talk on their phones during a movie and I like not being in jail.

  13. @Tim - I agree with you that the behaviour of some cinema-goers is quite out of order; I have no idea what's happened to good manners at the movies these days. The presence of an usher is very rare and their taking action regarding disruptive elements is even rarer. And it's not always the youngsters either.

    For us, as I mentioned in the post, a cinema visit is a special treat rather than a regular family slot. That kind of makes it a big emotional investment for us and to have some selfish XXXX spoil it for no apparent reason riles me all the more.