Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Taking the Easy Road: The Problem With Haunted Houses, Clowns and Squeaky Swing Sets.

I admit to watching bad TV on a regular basis and one thing I know from watching bad TV, is that you can never win a reality show (especially a reality show about shitty singing) by doing something easy. The same I think, can be said about horror movies. I've been seeing this more and more as I expand my horror reserves and I've noticed that a lot of movies are getting scare cred by doing very easy things. Easy things and jump scares- but since we know that jump scares are my arch enemy, we can skip that part for now. So what is easy? Now, now, put your B list celebrity jokes aside kids, I mean business. Easy are things that are so naturally scary, that it's almost impossible to mess it up. You've heard it in joke form before, "It was a dark and stormy night....blah blah". Well, here is a short video of naturally scary things that perfectly represents what I'm talking about.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? is yes a scary (kids) show- but it's title credits speak largely on traditional horror. A misty night with a rocking canoe, a lone swing swinging on it's own, a scary clown in the attic, footsteps in the dark, the list goes on and on. If you don't find yourself the least bit scared due to a primal or innate sense of fear burrowing within your soul, then I'm sorry but you might be dead. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little tired of horror movies taking on such imagery and using these typical scare tactics. A horror movie that really makes me jump out of my skin? Something that isn't supposed to be scary but scares the living daylights out of me. It's called originality and it's refreshing and delightful. And P.S. I miss it.

Yes there are quite a few movies nowadays that step away from the popular kids and wear a different outfit to school. Movies that go for thrills during the day as opposed to the night, movies where horror happens in crowded places as opposed to old abandoned houses and possibly (at least I hope), and someday maybe, a movie where the cute little old man next door is actually a brutal monster.
Hey, a girl can dream OK?

I guess I'm just sick of seeing clowns in movies. What isn't scary about a clown?
For the majority of people who still have a pulse, a clown is scary. Period. Squeaky swing sets in an abandoned playground? Actually squeaky, creaky noises in general are scary. Nighttime is scary. Sure scary largely has to do with what we each personally find to be scary--but you have to realize at some point that there are things universally accepted as scary right? Right. Not only that, but since I equated naturally scary things with jump scares, I'm starting to think that these typical tactics are just tricks like jump scares. Is what the director showing actually creating a level of fear or are we just made to feel scared because it's so easy to equate spookiness with a haunted house?

And yes I do realize that there are a lot of movies that take those typical things and take them to different and original places. But, I'm largely speaking to most of the mainstream garbage that I've been seeing a lot lately. I'm not saying that if you use a fat and scary clown in your movie you are cheating and forcing people to find your film scary---but well no, I guess I am saying that. Whoops.

So, I will now ask you to take a step back and think about if what you are watching truly is scary- or if what you are seeing is just so naturally scary that it's almost too easy. That it's making you feel fear for reasons that have little to do with the actual movie and more to do with our deepest, most natural fears.



deadlydolls said...

Neat post with some interesting ideas. There are certainly a lot of gimmicks directors use, particularly in horror simply to draw some sort of natural fear factor. I'm dumb right now so I'm empty thinking of any good ones, but clowns are definitely sometimes overused (and I'm generally afraid of them), as are spiders and kids with blond hair.

The Mike said...

While I agree with most of this, I feel like the simple use of natural fears can be a huge assist to a horror film. Things like the "cat-jumps-out-of-the-closet" scenes of the '80s are tricks, because really, who's cat just sits in the closet waiting to jump at you? The same can be said for when filmmakers just go "Oh, that house is supposed to be haunted!" or "The lead hates clowns, so we're gonna pop them up in every scene!", because they're just adding probable fears with no reason that coexists with the plot. This can add to the film on other levels (like the fear of snakes in Indiana Jones movies, which become funny), but is rarely truly scary.

In the meantime, if a threat has been established, the choice to make things suddenly darker or to use bugs/spiders/etc. can add depth to the threat the viewer sees. Halloween is a perfect example - we know there's a killer, which is a threat, and then darkness falls and the idea of "the boogeyman" that every child knows of comes in to play. Suddenly we aren't only thinking about the fact that there's a killer on the loose, but we're wondering if that killer might be linked to the things we've always been afraid of. And then shit gets real.

In conclusion, I'd say it's the easy road if it's used on its own, but if those innate fears are tied to real threats THEN you've got something worthwhile.

Anywho, good article! Got me thinkin', which is always appreciated.

BJ Colangelo said...

Great post. I agree 100%. One of the creepiest things in Halloween is when Michael Myers is just hanging out in the middle of broad daylight. That takes balls. Freddy and Jason never pulled shit like that. I honestly DO think they're cheating when people use these gimmicks. It's a cheap shot. Like when movies mention 9/11, kill children, or give a loving couple some sort of life threatening disease. It's a cheap shot.

Andre said...

Kids with blonde hair! Eeek! So true. I hate those little bastards.

Mike- Excellent points! You are very right about Halloween which I would say is a perfect example that uses our natural fears to the best of their abilities and it ends up being extremely effective.

Haha Cat jumps out of the closet is great! I never even thought about that but it's so true. I did have a friend though whos cat never came out of the closet so I'm not saying it's impossible..

I guess I mainly am pointing to those movies that just have those elements but aren't doing anything with them. Some movies can do "haunted house" well, and others end up falling flat. Taking the easy road doesn't work as well as people think it should.

Wooo right on BJ-C! GOOD call on daylight Michael Myers, definitely one of the creepiest things...ever.