Understanding Horror

I've picked up a podcast called Now Playing a couple months ago and all throughout December they discussed the Silent Night Deadly Night series, capping the year off with another slasher called New Year's Evil. Throughout the series they brought up notions of why certain films failed as horror, what they loved, what their expectations are, etc. This reminded me of some of the discussion surrounding Cabin in the Woods, and even some of their own comments that seemed to suggest the film would have worked better had it stuck to being a typical slasher with a mild twist rather than...well, what they did do in the third act.

It really struck me that what I think of in terms of "good horror" is very much different than what horror film afficionados seem to enjoy or expect. Knowing some members here are evidently bigger into horror, I figured start a discussion and see what people like about it.

Personally, when I think of "good horror", my mind goes right to Alien and John Carpenter's The Thing. There's a psychology at work in each film, a suspense and a mystery as to what is going to happen. There is definitely a focus on the characters and their attempts to survive something they don't understand and need to figure out how to deal with. It goes into that sort of Lovecraftian notion of fear of the unknown.

Listening to the cast of Now Playing and some others, "horror" and "slasher" are much more synonymous and thus different things are sought out. They listed out all the tropes they expect in a film, like teenagers that all exhibit some sort of sin and come to pay for it by an omniscient omnipresent threat. That they not only expect but want this stuff explains to me why they were so disappointed in Cabin in the Woods, a film that was a criticism of this sort of expectation.

Two of their films in particular seemed to be trying for something different than a mere slasher. Silent Night Deadly Night and New Year's Evil each wanted to have villains that were human, that had a reason for going nuts, and trying to dive deeply into it to make the killer someone that is more sympathetic. But this point was hardly discussed, and instead the biggest criticisms were how long it took to get to the killing, whether the kills were creative or entertaining, or in some cases were they even bloody, and overall focusing on the violence of it all. Even the "horror" aspect was glanced over as no one seemed to be going in to be scared. One of the hosts commented on the remake, Silent Night, seeming like it would go for more the "torture porn" angle and was disappointed it didn't amount to that.

This has me scratching my head. From what I can gather from five (technically six) film reviews is that they want horror films to have a formula, to adhere to that formula, and to only be creative in terms of who the killer is (though clearly not that creative, all they require is a weapon shtick and costume shtick) and how people are killed. There is even delight expressed when someone dies in a particularly gory or painful fashion. This lines up with how I've heard other horror fans talk as well.

At first I began wondering if there has to be some sort of subconscious disdain for humankind, or some lack of empathy for others, but when I thought back to some of the Cabin in the Woods discussion that just didn't seem right. But I cannot grasp a love of watching people suffer, so to speak, even in a fictional environment like a movie. I like my violence to be unrealistic, where people get shot, grunt, and fall down never to move again (with exceptions of film like Saving Private Ryan, where the purpose is to highlight how horrifying violence and war truly are). I like violence to be a physical representation of the conflict going on within and between characters, as well as presenting a risk factor.

In truth, when I think of "horror", I feel like Japanese horror (which there is...none that I've seen fully, only enough clips and pieces to be disturbed) is a lot closer to what I feel like the films should be more or less about.

So before I keep writing, what do those of you that enjoy horror feel? What got you into it? I know at a young age I was the sort of kid that would voluntarily leave the room until the bloody parts were over if my family was watching a "grown-up" movie, whereas most of the people I know that like horror snuck VHS tapes of flicks like Nightmare on Elm Street to their friend's house to watch in secret or under the supervision of a parent that just didn't give a damn. So maybe part of it is just nature.

In any event, what are your feelings on horror/slashers?

Horror is a very broad category, and liking one of the subtypes is no guarantee that you'll like the others. Fundamentally, they're all based on provoking an emotional response, but different people have different levels of responsiveness to the different triggers, and derive different amounts of enjoyment from the different reactions.

From what I can gather from five (technically six) film reviews is that they want horror films to have a formula, to adhere to that formula, and to only be creative in terms of who the killer is (though clearly not that creative, all they require is a weapon shtick and costume shtick) and how people are killed. There is even delight expressed when someone dies in a particularly gory or painful fashion. This lines up with how I've heard other horror fans talk as well.

Old-school slasher films certainly do follow a formula, but it's because the formula works and is what people watching them generally want/expect. Romantic comedies are in a very similar position. I really liked Cabin in the Woods, but I'd say that Scream is still the best deconstruction (or whatever the proper word is... I'm a scientist, not a liberal arts person :-P) of the subgenre. As with romcoms, I don't think people fundamentally watch these movies for the suffering, but the emotional kick of overcoming obstacles. The deaths of the non-protagonist characters are there mostly to show how much of the obstacle is there. A problem with the subgenre is that there have been so many of them over the years that regular viewers will get a bit jaded, so the filmmakers need to do something to make their film stand out. The easiest way to do this is with violence, but that will lead to people who are really into the subgenre having their main point of interest be "what kind of new thing are they doing with the kills". The criticism becomes more about how it fits into the subgenre rather than it's qualities as a standalone film.

In truth, when I think of "horror", I feel like Japanese horror (which there is...none that I've seen fully, only enough clips and pieces to be disturbed) is a lot closer to what I feel like the films should be more or less about.

Again, i think it comes down to what you want from a horror movie. Torture-porn type movies are about triggering visceral disgust, while the few Eastern horror movies I've seen generally use more body-horror and stuff being fundamentally wrong to provoke a similar reaction. Personally, I don't enjoy watching either because I find the responses they trigger in me to be fundamentally unpleasant, but that's textbook YMMV stuff. Suspense-based horror like Hitchcock's Stuff or Silence of the Lambs work quite differently by playing with the emotional response to tension and catharsis, with haunted house-type movies doing the same thing in a cruder way, and usually mixing in a few jump scares for an extra adrenaline kick. These films are essentially messing with the fight-or-flight response, which I can quite enjoy if I'm in the right mood. I have a couple of friends who just hate that strung-out feeling of tension, though, and much prefer the "jump-relax-jump-relax" type movies.

I enjoy the slasher formula well enough. I took a film class back in the day, and the professor definitely had a thing for teen horror films. I think film buffs enjoy the analyzing more than the actual movie. I didn't actually take any courses specifically on slasher films, but it came up several times. Anyways, that's all I have for now. I may write down some more later.

Sonicator, it's interesting you bring up Hitchcock as that was something I had forgotten. I really dig Psycho, but again I actually find the psychology of Norman Bates and the whole scenario spiraling out of his control to be rather fascinating. It certainly didn't play out in the typical formula, though.

Maybe I need to find that sort of interesting horror film that's about other stuff, but when it comes to emotional response you're very right in different people will react differently to certain things. I enjoyed the original Saw because it felt like it was about the mind of the killer and I found that stuff fascinating. It also didn't seem as obsessed with the victims as the second and third installments, which eventually became "how crazy can we make this person's death?" over time. The psychology of the killer became stale.

I think that's another thing that gets me. The constant sequelizing of horror flicks. That is usually because they can be made cheaply and get tons of people in seats, though.

tuffalobuffalo wrote:

I took a film class back in the day, and the professor definitely had a thing for teen horror films. I think film buffs enjoy the analyzing more than the actual movie. I didn't actually take any courses specifically on slasher films, but it came up several times.

I've noticed that a lot of current Internet critics have grown up with slasher flicks as well, and while I think there is something interesting about them, I just can't get into that as much. I took a Film Arts class and it helped boost my interest in analyzing and dissecting film, certainly, but to me it is much more fascinating that John Carpenter likes to use corridors to convey a sense of mystery and walking into the unknown in The Thing than what most people have to say about Nightmare on Elm Street.

Yeah, horror is a very broad category. It includes everything from the gory splatter films to the more eerie ghost stories to more realistic suspense stories. The main goal of any horror story is to play on the viewer's fears, whatever they may be. This ultimately means that there's no formula that will appeal to everyone, as everyone has different fears.

To me, slasher and splatter stories are the lowest, cheapest level of horror. In theory they are meant to play off the basic, natural fear of death and pain. They try to create uncertainty through sudden deaths and try to make the viewer unsettled by making no character safe. This formula really doesn't require great depth or detail, its attempt at playing on peoples' fears is right there one the surface.

Of course this genre really moved away from that with time, as each story had to try to outdo its predecessors, getting more creative and violent as time moved on. For some time now, I'm not sure I would consider slasher stories as horror. They tend to rely on more shock factor, creativity, and some times just gore to invoke negative responses from the viewer. I personally don't feel like they delve into the horror that the genre once tried to touch.

As for why people might enjoy them, well, the motivation hasn't changed much. Thrills are thrills, regardless if they sparked from some high action movie or a bone-chilling horror story. Slasher stories retain that. If there was a lack of empathy, or total detachment from the pain and suffering of characters, then there would be no emotional response, no triggering of that sense of thrill. While there is some detachment from the bloody deaths on screen, I think is is mostly owing to how over-the-top the deaths have become. They tend to become so surreal that we can watch them without loosing focus on the fantasy they are telling.

Personally I generally prefer the more down-to-earth suspense and psychological stories, rather than slashers. They can definitely be hit-or-miss, since they play on ideas and fears that may not be as deeply rooted in people as more general fears may be.

For example, I recently read Edge, by Koji Suzuki, better known for writing The Ring. The prologue of the book lays out the situation the characters will finds themselves it. It starts with people vanishing in the California desert. Then entire stars star disappearing. Finally the prologue ends with numbers from a mathematical constant vanishing into an endless sting of zeroes. I personally felt like that last one was the most frightening of the three. That constants in how we understand the universe should start to vanish. I know others I have talk to just find it strange, but not unsettling.

That sounds very inspired by a Lovecraftian horror, actually. I understand what you mean in that the very basics of our understanding of the universe, all brought about to numbers, begin to turn to nothingness.

I think it should also be said that I don't know if I've ever felt actual fear from a movie. Suspense, certainly, but not really fear. It might be trite to say but I've only gotten that sort of fear from a video game, where I was in control. I still remember playing Resident Evil on the GameCube for the first time, my first survival horror game, and being afraid to move forward because I didn't want to die in the game. It was the closest to that level of fear I could possibly become from the safety of middle-class-white-boy living.

Which only makes one wonder why horror really doesn't do better in video games since it just seems like a much more interesting place for it. I guess for the opposite reason horror films are so constant. Games are always expensive to produce while you can make a horror flick (and a romantic comedy) for cheap and get a large number of butts in seats paying the bill.

The whole torture/verging on snuff film thing really doesn't jive with me, eg; saw sequels, hostel, or even the final destination films in their own way. The general attempt to shock rather than be scary seems a bit trite, I gather films such as the human centipede fall into this realm as well (certainly from the plot description they do).

I get that for some people the fun is in seeing all the creative/gruesome/whatever ways people can die but yeah, it's not for me. Perhaps these are our modern fill in for the gladiatorial arena filling some primal desire to see blood shed?

I grew up with horror movies. My mom didn't want to watch Psycho alone, so she woke me up (I was 6) and made me watch with her. Thus began my foray into suspense and thriller movies. I "discovered" slasher flicks at 11 when Joey Randall and I decided to watch Halloween 2 while his parents were away. While Halloween is my favorite slasher series, I still have trouble watching 2 because of how that specific one affected me as a child. The same with the Blob remake.

I think a lot of the best, or most memorable, horror movies touch into something we, as a society, fear or have severe apprehension about. This could be content, or in some cases, the presentation.

Nightmare on Elm Street: I was so close to finally believing there was no boogie man until he killed my boyfriend/girlfriend.

Jaws: There are some things in nature whose sole purpose in life is to find a way to eat you. Don't go into the water.

Friday the 13th: What if our parents are right and having drunken, naked fun in the woods will have dire and immediate repercussions?

Gojira/Godzilla: We only just found out what radiation was after it killed our friends and family surrounding the cities. What could this crazy stuff do to a tadpole?

Cloverfield: Could this movie channel the feelings of 9/11 any more?

Most of these examples did suffer from sequelitis. Godzilla especially. But I find the original entries are always the most fascinating.

ccesarano wrote:

I think it should also be said that I don't know if I've ever felt actual fear from a movie. Suspense, certainly, but not really fear. It might be trite to say but I've only gotten that sort of fear from a video game, where I was in control. I still remember playing Resident Evil on the GameCube for the first time, my first survival horror game, and being afraid to move forward because I didn't want to die in the game. It was the closest to that level of fear I could possibly become from the safety of middle-class-white-boy living.

Oh, I certainly think video games is the greatest medium for the horror genre. It's really the only medium were the person experiencing the story has anything at stake other than possible emotional involvement. It also has the ability to change up the events of a story, so, unlike in a movie or book, you don't know when things are going to happen. Surprises can remain surprises even in multiple playthroughs.

It's really a shame horror games haven't done as well as they should.

Forget being horror aficionados, it seems like the cast of Now Playing doesn't even like horror movies. Even as a kid I enjoyed Silent Night Deadly Night for the story behind what caused him to crack (and the box art). Plus a killer Santa is cool. I suppose that's why the movie and the killer Santa from the Crypt comic are still stuck in my head.

As someone who grew up with Freddy and Jason as babysitters, slashers without humor or a decent story are as to horror as disposable pop is to music. They're cheap, easy, and forgettable. The increasing use of CGI and established physical effects has heaped the torture genre into this category as well. One of the interesting parts of the various kills for me was thinking about how the effects were done (Tom Savini had a good book covering his jobs).

I doubt that the torture and slasher movies of today will ever have a cult following the way the various exploitation genres do. That was a period of exploration that can't be repeated, which if part of the reason why remakes like I Spit On Your Grave fall so short of the originals.

It's not all gloom and doom though, I have great hopes that the popularity of American Horror Story and Cabin in the Woods will remind Hollywood that horror doesn't have to be one dimensional.

Hm let's see what's on my blu-ray/DVD shelf, what I've actually spent money on, and deem to be quality horror...

Alien. Covered in the OP. Suspense, fear of the unknown. Awesome.

Shaun of the Dead. Comedic horror obviously. Pokes fun at some of the silliness of zombie movies, but still pulls off a great story.

Seven? It's on the shelf, and while it's presented as a murder mystery the disturbing way that Kevin Spacey's killer goes about his business scares the hell out of me. If Silence of The Lambs is going to be in this talk, then this should be too, right?

Nightmare on Elm Street + Freddy vs Jason. Classic, my favorite horror series. Like others, seeing this as a child made it hard to sleep. Sure there's some sequel-itis issues in here. Especially part 2 and 6 were below the bar. The trilogy aspect of 3-5 is nice, along with the return of Nancy in 3. New Nightmare is brilliant. Movie about making a movie of the series of movies, and the real villain being the fear we create with these stories. FvJ was back to the horror/comedy blend of some of the middle of both series, where you almost root for the villain at parts, but still know he has to be taken down.

Scream. Great series. Yes all of them. The first will stand alone as something really special, a deconstruction of the genre as mentioned above.

Never say "I'll be right back." Those are the rules. You don't know the rules?!

... and so on. Some great moments. Still the others have their merit. Definitely enter into the mystery genre a bit with "who is the killer?" throughout your first viewings of each of them.

Signs. I know, I know, there's some logic holes wide enough to drive large trucks through, as usual with Shyamalan. But the atmosphere, the tone, the jump scares... haha. My wife won't even watch the thing it scares her so much.

Looks like that's all I own right now. I've never found a good Friday the 13th set although I've seen them all. I didn't have as much love for Halloween, Hellraiser, and the others as a kid in the 80s. I've seen them all, but don't consider them all worthy of owning. Saw the first Paranormal Activity, and really enjoyed it. Like Signs and others, many jump-worthy scares. But a great example of just making you jump with the things you see and hear on screen. Not like the cheap "loud sound" that a lot of lesser horror/suspense movies toss out. I loved Cabin in the Woods and will pick up the blu-ray on sale sometime this year. My wife and I rented a lot of Hitchcock's collection when we were students at Louisville, thanks to the free library movie section. There are some of those I'd like to buy, but I haven't' got around to it. There's plenty of mystery and suspense titles in there that might not be horror, but are very good films.

There were some other decent films in the 90s. Urban Legends, with a female killer. The first Final Destination, with the idea of fate coming to finish what it started. The sequels, meh, they get into gory kills as much as possible it seems.

I don't like the torture porn genre. I've never seen the Saw series and never will. I was working at the theater when the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2004?) came out, and had to screen it. I consider it trash. I watched that Tucker and Dale movie on Amazon last year. It was funny, but pretty above my threshold for kills.

Good mention of Jaws by Grenn. The first one really is played for horror. Even the 2nd too. The 3rd and 4th have their issues. There's a whole slew of monster movies like Godzilla, and lots of B-movies that might seem cheesy now but were intended to be scary.

Are disaster movies scary? So many of them delve into Action Hero movie like Independence Day that they can't really be tossed into scary disaster stuff. The first Predator movie has some awesome elements of a horror movie, being hunted, all the kills. But then Arnold kicks some ass. Still, is it any different than Nightmare/F13, where a supernatural alien killer hunts down a group of people and then is stopped by our hero?

The first SAW is worth watching, as it has a lot of psychology. After that, well, it drifts into the torture pr0n.

Where I'm coming from: I love horror. I've kept a picture of Freddy Krueger over my bed since around '87, since it for whatever reason helped me stave off real nightmares as a kid. I write a horror podcast when time allows. My first job was in a haunted house.

Alright: One movie has scared me all the way out of the theater. You can start laughing before I even say it. House on Haunted Hill (1998). The remake. yes. This was a movie made to take full advantage of a theater environment, with a lot of wonderful subtleties happening on top of the blatant scare scenes. Yes, it was a roller coaster of a film. No, it wasn't trying to tug at heart strings. What it did was tap into what I am afraid of. More on this later.

One movie got me as far as the door. May (Lucky McKee). The movie was intense. Intensely sweet. Intensely sad. Intensely funny. Intensely surreal. Then just intense. The last five minutes had my heart pounding fiercely. Again, I was lucky enough to see this in the limited theater release.

Horror in the written form tends to do less for me. Most long form horror has to be "any generic novel plus scares." I admire Stephen King but he's writing for a different audience. Clive Barker is probably the most satisfying author I've read of novels AND short stories. Most short stories, these days, feel like a challenge to see who can write the most uncomfortable supernatural smut possible. I'm not even the Lovecraft fan people should expect me to be unless the name "Randolph Carter" is attached. Then I'm a huge fan.

So before I keep writing, what do those of you that enjoy horror feel?

I feel there are heroes who can endure and survive anything. This is the Elm Street heroine who has to find her strength THEN the courage to use what she found. That second part is just as important. Life hasn't always been safe or pleasant on my end.

Also, I feel horrified when "the rules," no longer exist. This was the world of ghosts in the House on Haunted Hill remake. This was Freddy's dream world, Cube 2, or Event Horizon. To some degree, this was the miniseries of The Stand. There is this place, and in this place the rules are thoroughly different. There was someone there first who is as alien to our rules as we are to theirs. Bad things are about to happen. Even May captured this in its own manner.

What got you into it?

I had nightmares as a kid. A video store was handing out paper "book covers" which were all the rage at the time, but they doubled as posters with the Nightmare on Elm Street 2 box art on one side and the Nightmare on Elm Street 3 art on the other. I had read about one kid who avoided nightmares by having all of his scary thoughts before he went to sleep, and thought to hang the poster up as an experiment. I was probably about 10, maybe 11 years old.

It worked. I was able to explain as much to my parents. My mother already enjoyed the Nightmare on Elm Street series (but not as much as Halloween), and she knew about the nightmares, so there was a sort of acceptance. It apparently worked.

I slowly worked my way up watching horror films: Creepshow and Nightmare on Elm Street 3 with my mother. Saturday night horror features (Monsters, Tales from the Darkside, Friday the 13th: The Series, and finally Freddy's Nightmares.) Then the video rental store after I turned 16. A job in a haunted house. Late night movies with my brother and cousins.

Horror was a combination of a roller coaster, magic show and even a subtle moral play. Face your fears or lose everything. That's what I really wound up falling in love with as a younger person.

Last Thought Horror is a very intimate sensation for all of us. I know real, trained, working clowns. I knew that Pennywise was Frank. N. Furter with different makeup on. Clowns don't scare me. They terrify other people. That's cool. You're not lame if clowns scare you: you have a different set of experiences. Fears dig into what we know, what we don't know, and what we care about.

Horror is a very intimate sensation for all of us.

Hm I forgot about the Exorcist. I never saw the original until they did the theater re-release for the (25th?) anniversary. So glad I saw in in the theater first. Disturbing on many levels.

mudbunny wrote:

The first SAW is worth watching, as it has a lot of psychology. After that, well, it drifts into the torture pr0n.

I can't express how disappointing I found what they did with the SAW franchise, because the first one was very well written genuine horror (though it skirted the edge of gore porn).

The first half-ish of Poltergeist is classic supernatural horror.

The Exorcist, The Omen, Alien, The Thing, Signs, Seven; these are all great horror flicks (Seven being a hybrid mystery/horror film). Lots more out there too.

Straight up slasher/gore porn barely qualifies as horror in my book, because those are typically all about jump scares and "scaring" you with pain. They rarely dig in beyond a completely superficial level of horror.

Stele wrote:

Hm I forgot about the Exorcist. I never saw the original until they did the theater re-release for the (25th?) anniversary. So glad I saw in in the theater first. Disturbing on many levels.

This actually brings up a great issue for me to expand on. I spent half of the Exorcist dozing off and the other half laughing. Other people are terrified of it. I understand their terror: the religious implications, the growth of a young child to an unruly teen, the "worst that can happen" in two situations very close to them.

Farscry wrote:

I can't express how disappointing I found what they did with the SAW franchise, because the first one was very well written genuine horror (though it skirted the edge of gore porn).

Two of the films that terrified me in the 90s were Candyman and Lord of Illusions. They did the same thing. They were well written stories that refused to shy away from showing the full terror of what happened. The gore does not mean they got a pass on telling a story. The story does not mean they are refrained from showing us exactly what the horrible thing is.

I don't see why story, atmosphere and gore need to be separated. They're tools of horror, not reasons for it.

(Oh, I spent years frequenting a horror movie forum, too. )

Farscry wrote:

The first half-ish of Poltergeist is classic supernatural horror.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention that. Probably because the sequels mucked it all up.

Stele wrote:
Farscry wrote:

The first half-ish of Poltergeist is classic supernatural horror.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention that. Probably because the sequels mucked it all up. :(

Yeah, the behind the scenes stories, perticularly regarding the curse the series is said to have, are more interesting than the actual second or thrid movies.

Mantid wrote:
Stele wrote:
Farscry wrote:

The first half-ish of Poltergeist is classic supernatural horror.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention that. Probably because the sequels mucked it all up. :(

Yeah, the behind the scenes stories, perticularly regarding the curse the series is said to have, are more interesting than the actual second or third movies.

Likewise with Exorcist, vs it's sequels/prequels, none of which are worth watching.

I don't like slasher or torture porn. I hate that slasher seems to have usurped the title (I've been playing a lot of Crusader Kings 2) of horror these days. I remember my wife and I turning off I Know Who Killed Me when the first five minutes were straight up torture porn. Blech. Didn't watch Friday the 13th or Elm Street. I was more into Hellraiser, Alien, stuff with atmosphere more than splatter.

Like the OP, I personally like Japanese/Asian horror. The original Ringu was pretty frightening, as was the movie Shutter. What I liked the most about Shutter wasn't just the supernatural aspects, but also the horrible things one of the main characters did to bring on the wrath of a vengeful ghost. I also quite like horror in the vein of Hitchcock or Night Gallery/Twilight Zone where the true horror is implied. Torture porn just doesn't do it for me. Heck, I almost laughed at the Hostel films as they were so campy.

Smart doc on American horror films and what makes them tick and the different things we expect out of them.

The most interesting part is hearing the directors of some seminal films discuss the what these films represent and why we love them.

MrAndrewJ wrote:
Stele wrote:

Hm I forgot about the Exorcist. I never saw the original until they did the theater re-release for the (25th?) anniversary. So glad I saw in in the theater first. Disturbing on many levels.

This actually brings up a great issue for me to expand on. I spent half of the Exorcist dozing off and the other half laughing. Other people are terrified of it. I understand their terror: the religious implications, the growth of a young child to an unruly teen, the "worst that can happen" in two situations very close to them.

The Exorcist is insanely boring. I assume it's only scary to religious people.

iaintgotnopants wrote:
MrAndrewJ wrote:
Stele wrote:

Hm I forgot about the Exorcist. I never saw the original until they did the theater re-release for the (25th?) anniversary. So glad I saw in in the theater first. Disturbing on many levels.

This actually brings up a great issue for me to expand on. I spent half of the Exorcist dozing off and the other half laughing. Other people are terrified of it. I understand their terror: the religious implications, the growth of a young child to an unruly teen, the "worst that can happen" in two situations very close to them.

The Exorcist is insanely boring. I assume it's only scary to religious people.

That puzzles me. It's no more or less scary than any other well-done film where the horror is centered around a mythological or supernatural force. This one happens to use Catholicism, but it could just as easily be something else. If the film establishes the mythology and/or the rules (or bases them on fairly well-known ones to a culture) then it's simply a matter of suspension of disbelief to get immersed into the film.

iaintgotnopants wrote:
MrAndrewJ wrote:
Stele wrote:

Hm I forgot about the Exorcist. I never saw the original until they did the theater re-release for the (25th?) anniversary. So glad I saw in in the theater first. Disturbing on many levels.

This actually brings up a great issue for me to expand on. I spent half of the Exorcist dozing off and the other half laughing. Other people are terrified of it. I understand their terror: the religious implications, the growth of a young child to an unruly teen, the "worst that can happen" in two situations very close to them.

The Exorcist is insanely boring. I assume it's only scary to religious people.

There's also the parent issue: Here's this girl about to turn into a teenager, and she became a terrifying demon from hell. Life changed for the parents, who were ill equipped to deal with this transition.

I'd actually like to think that a truly religious person would think of the movie as ridiculous. The series of events leading up to the demonic possession are, in all honesty, really stupid.

Lot's of uncanniness in The Exorcist, too.

SpacePPoliceman wrote:

Lot's of uncanniness in The Exorcist, too.

Yeah, the uncanny/body-horror stuff in that movie gave me the wiggins. Up there with the end of Ju-On. Didn't find the core of the movies particularly scary, but those one or two moments... yech.

Guess that's the example of the other side of MrAndrewJ's comment about clowns.

Something I remember discussing with my brother a while ago is how interesting it was that the aspect of American horror that really took off were tangible threats. Even if it is supernatural it takes on a physical form or representation. Yet in Japanese horror, or at least what is often remade in America, it seems like the incorporeal are the big thing.

Though I think with stuff like Paranormal Activity you're starting to get a boost in ghost stories in American horror again.

Farscry wrote:

That puzzles me. It's no more or less scary than any other well-done film where the horror is centered around a mythological or supernatural force. This one happens to use Catholicism, but it could just as easily be something else. If the film establishes the mythology and/or the rules (or bases them on fairly well-known ones to a culture) then it's simply a matter of suspension of disbelief to get immersed into the film. :)

I can actually understand why it might be harder to suspend disbelief in this case. If you've spent your whole life actively disbelieving a religion, it might be difficult to do a 180 on that even for the purposes of enjoying a film. It's harder to maintain disbelief in a religion as compared to, say, zombies or ghosts. Not because one is more plausible than the other, but because you have to hold your disbelief against the push of people who do believe, it can be hard to let that slip for even a moment.

This is why my dad ended up hating Signs. He's a very proud athiest and he didn't like the theist undertones of that movie. I have an unusually strong ability to suspend disbelief though, it takes a hell of a lot to pull me out of immersion, so I had no problem with it. It's actually one of my favourites!

I actually think literature's the best medium for horror, but games and movies are damn fine, too. As people have said above, there are different aspects of fear, which can be expressed in horror movies; I tend to have a short term response to the surprise scares, but a longer term response to the eerie/unknown fears, which suits my preference for Lovecraftian horror. There's also quite a number of subsets of those, like body horror (Cronenberg). I'm in the middle of reading a book (Shock Value) on the rise of horror movies in the 70's and 80's that's really enjoyable and relevant.

Bibliography:
Supernatural Horror in Literature - HP Lovecraft
Danse Macabre - Stephen King
Shock Value - Jason Zinoman

ccesarano wrote:

Something I remember discussing with my brother a while ago is how interesting it was that the aspect of American horror that really took off were tangible threats. Even if it is supernatural it takes on a physical form or representation. Yet in Japanese horror, or at least what is often remade in America, it seems like the incorporeal are the big thing.

Though I think with stuff like Paranormal Activity you're starting to get a boost in ghost stories in American horror again.

It's also interesting looking at how horror antagonists have changed over time in response to society. Go back to Lovecraft's era when they were just discovering the extent of the universe, and it's all about fear of the unknown. Various scientific revolutions set off things prompted things like Frankenstein, then towards then end of the 20th century it was more about other people, and now it seems to be swinging to supernatural stuff.