Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Attack on Horror Movies

What is it about human beings that we constantly desire to be scared out of our wits?
If you don't know what I'm talking about, just listen. Children love to jump out and scare each other; this does not always phase out as they grow older. I know some grown men that still pop around corners flailing their arms and screeching at the top of their lungs. Also, there are amusement parks, water parks, and countless annual fairs featuring rides so jerky and fast that you pee your pants before it starts. Yet we constantly desire to ride them.
One theory is that people enjoy the adrenalin rush from the fear and excitement. Are we insane? We desire to put ourselves in harms way just for a high we get afterwards? Raise your hands; How many of you played chicken? Now, How many of you played chicken on a bicycle? Now, how many of you played chicken on a bicycle against a train? I knew it. A good many of you raised your hands at each question. What is wrong with us? That's right, I said "Us." I've done quite a few reckless and irresponsible things in my day. And that includes taking a bicycle down a bumpy hill while holding sharp implements.

But physical fear is not the only way we can lose our wits, And seeing that it's nearing Halloween, I think its fitting that I talk about one of the most common ways we as human beings scare ourselves. Horror Movies.

Over the last century, horror movies have played a big part in the development of cinema as we know it. But what exactly is a horror movie? According to Wikipedia, "Horror films are movies that strive to elicit the emotions of fear, horror, and terror from viewers. Their plots frequently involve themes of death, the supernatural, or mental illness." Sounds good to me. But we also run into our first problem. Not everyone finds the same things scary. What's frightfully terrifying to one person may only be mildly annoying to someone else.

People are scared of different things. Someone with coulrophobia will be terrified of any thing dealing with clowns, but may not be scared of spiders like the person with arachnophobia. Which is why "phobia" movies don't really do well.

There's your good old-fashioned monster movie, but many of these can just appear cheesy and or not frightening at all. Some of these can even become action movies rather than scary monster movies such as Aliens, Predator, Cloverfield, even Godzilla.

Well there are movies based on horror novels. But many of these are never true to the original works or are just plain not scary. I've never seen a true rendition of Frankenstein that was anywhere close to Mary Shelley's book. Victor Frankenstein was a college student who was experimenting with alchemy not a full-fledged doctor studying scientific research. He didn't make the creature(not monster) in an underground laboratory in his family castle; he made the creature in his upstairs apartment in the city where he was attending college.

Now we come to tragedy movies. They just plain suck.
Moving on.

Haunting movies, whether or not these are based on "true events" does not change the fact that ghost movies are so cliched they're not original anymore. Come on, seriously. A family moves into a haunted house, the children notice things first, it's not until one of the children die or get harmed in some way that the parent/s notice. Things get worse toward the end of act 2, in act 3 we either get help from a priest, voodoo man, or some such thing, but the main character takes it into their own hands and nothing ever really gets solved; either the family moves away and tries to forget what happened, everyone dies, or the ghost go away. Its the same in just about every ghost movie, except a few which I like; The Sixth Sense is one of the most unique ghost movies I've ever seen. But even it, still has elements of the cliches.

Now we come to the most popular "scary" movie subgenre: Slasher/ serial killer movies. Another genre riddled with cliches. Pretty much if you've seen one, you've seen them all. Same concept - a small group/ family are systematically hunted down by one killer, who kills almost all of them, usually there is a heroine (female hero for those who don't know) I don't recall seeing one where there was a hero, unless you count Batman I guess (it follows a similar path, don't believe me? just watch them closely and see the similarities) the heroine will overcome her fear and take down the bad guy after everyone else except maybe one person (either the love interest or best friend) dies. Like I said, if you've seen one slasher flick, you've seen them all. Although there is one movie I've seen that has taken the subgenre and ran with it to an extreme and even points out the "horror" moments to the audience in a clever way. Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon is awesome in that aspect, and I highly recommend seeing it.

Branching off from the slasher movie subgenre is yet another subbier genre. That is torture horror movies (or torture porn as some critics have called it). Basically the whole movie shows numerous people getting maimed and killed in horrifically graphic ways. These movies are full of gor, nudity, and helpless people who can't do a thing to save themselves because they're scared witless. Personally I don't really mind the gor so much as long as it is done artistically and not just a blood fest. But the thing is, in some of these movies, the victims are actually bad guys, and you end up rooting for them to die. That's messed up isn't it. The movie is justifying the deaths of the people by shoeing us their heinous crimes. So who's really the bad guy; the torturer or the victims? Either way, these movies can sometimes be enjoyable on a different level. One of the best examples is the first Saw movie. It had a dark and complex story that showed how everything was intertwined and connected and how these people are forced to see the error of their ways through torture. The later ones I don't like so much, they've basically made it so everything in all six movies are weaved together and joined, which is neat, but it requires you to remember every detail of all six movies. (I know six isn't out yet, but I guarantee you that it will harken back to at least something from the previous five.

Apart from those, what else is there? Well now we get to my favorite type of horror movie. Psychological horror/thriller movies. I really haven't seen to many good examples in live action movies, but there are some anime movies that really take the cake. I'll describe 2 of them, these happen to be 2 of my all-time favorite movies. The first is the original Ghost In The Shell. It takes place in the not to distant future, where technology has advanced such that people can have there "souls" basically and memories downloaded onto a cybernetic brain and can be put into whatever body they choose. AWESOME! The story centers around a secret police organization that deals with cybernetic terrorism. Criminals can hack into other peoples' bodies and force them to commit crimes. AWESOME! One particularly bad ass hacker is going on a massive crime spree. He calls himself the Puppet Master, and no one knows who he is, not even the american government (who hired him to begin with) AWESOME! The majority of the movie focuses on a hot female cyborg who leads this secret police and her quest to understand herself and her possible connection to the Puppet Master. It's not really a scary movie, but it is full of suspense and anticipation as you follow the cyborg on her journey.
The other movie that is a prime example of psychological thriller is Perfect Blue. This is also an anime movie. The story centers around a former pop star who attempts to form an acting career. Her fans don't take kindly to this and she even gets threatening emails from them. Her manager leads her further down the path of stardom and Mima(the pop star) has to make many compromising choices, including being rape(in a scene for the TV show she's in, not physically) posing nude for a magazine photographer, and being detached almost entirely from her former band. As the movie goes on, someone claiming to be her runs a website and knows exactly what she does everyday(as if someone is stalking her), people involved in these less than modest events wind up dead, and to top that Mima keeps seeing visions of the pop-star her tormenting her and committing the murders, Mima loses her grip on reality and eventually she can't tell the difference between her nightmares and her real life. The climax has such a twist that it'll blow your mind, and the sound track is so dissonent that it ads to the breakdown and you start to wonder which is real and a figment of Mima's imagination.

I highly recommend both movies.

Well there's my attack on horror movies. Many are just re-hashings of cliches and other peoples visions, but there are some that decide to take a step out of conformity and try something fresh. And those are always worth it.

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