Hello! Unfortunately certain perky circumstances mean I’ve been unable to blog for a while. But I’m back and am going to be posting a lot more often! Delving into the world of film once more, I’m taking a stab at horror (again). Are you sitting comfortably? If not, there’s nothing I can really do.
WARNING: This blog post contains spoilers as well as insufferable OPINION.
I’ve finally gotten round to watching Paranormal Activity for the first time a while back (late to the party, I know), and was left less than impressed. The thing is, once I had switched of the TV and got dragged down the corridor by me legs out of the black mass of ennui it had left in my living room, I realised something; demons aren’t scary. Or at least, I don’t think so. The key to any good horror movies is actually being believable, even if it’s improbable. When you think about it there are only two really scary things; people and ghosts. (I’m leaving out slashers for this protracted wittering as I think they’re a little different. Their appeal of sudden shocks and over the top gore and are meant to be more entertaining than spine tingling.)
The Wicker Man is scary because a manic masochistic matriarchal society may well exist on some god foresaken remote island. The Pitchfork Disney, what I would actually consider as a horror piece of theatre, left me terrified, alongside my So So Gay colleague Eleanor, because such twisted people living out such warped lives is uncomfortably convincing. Se7en is horrific in that the John Doe’s raison d’etre is so warped, meditated, and out rightly evil, it bares not thinking about. Buried is possibly still the most intense and excruciating film in that it’s just too damned possible as well as playing to an absolutely horrifying fear of many. And Eden Lake was just unyieldingly brutal.
But why also ghosts? Ghosts are still (sort of) people. I suppose it might lock into our yearning that people we knew that have passed on are still about etc. But essentially, it’s because there’s something familiar and recognisable about them. The Woman in Black is an absolutely nerve shredding tale of spiteful revenge. The Orphanage (one of my all time favourite horrors), is a chilling tome of loss, maniacal child’s play, and some terrifically choreographed building of atmosphere. Even The Ring and Nightmare on Elm Street had antagonists of supernatural but human origin, albeit in bad need of a haircut or moisturising and a manicure. Also, let us not forget the unforgettable Ghostwatch, a coup de gras of television genius, where a live investigation team were haunted by a faintly recognisable but none the less ghostly vision of a man.
The film that is the best example of striding both brilliance and botched is Jeepers Creepers. The beginning is nerve shredding. The great big walloping truck, the gruesome “Sistine Chapel” basement, and the foreboding sense of not knowing what on earth was going on had my firmly behind the shoulders of my then boyfriend. But as soon as you realise that it’s not some crazed psychopath and actually some badly dressed demon, it lost ALL of its terror. Why? Because at that point it became totally outlandish.
Demons are just that little too far fetched. The debate on whether they exist or not is a little irrelevant. It’s not an issue of whether they’re real or not, my argument is that they just don’t relate to an audience enough. Unlike good old fucked up humans, or embittered and marauding ghosties, you just can’t empathise with a dark entity with an appetite for going bump in the night, and a penchant for mauling young ladies for no other reason other than they can. It’s just difficult to engage and be afraid of something mindless and uncategorised. In films where you do see them (and I think it was a good decision to keep the demon in Paranormal Activity wholly unseen), though they tend to look horrific, they verge safely on the side of gruesomely surreal than realistic. That’s why I think demons should be left more to things like Hellboy, where they seem to work deliciously well for high octane, high camp madness.
But even then the demon is only part of the problem with Paranormal Activity. As the severity and intricacy of the events escalate, the more I lost interest, and ultimately, the less scared I was. A few unaccountable movements and unexplained thuds and I was a little creeped out. But when Ouija boards started catching, fire and strange footsteps appeared in the talcum powder, it just became a little far fetched.
This leads to my example of a perfect horror; The Shining. You’ve got the unsettling deterioration of Jack’s mental state. Danny’s unexplainable and unsavoury wtf visions, and the supernatural element is just the cherry on the icing.
Yes, of course good direction and cinematography can really help a film along, especially like The Oprhanage. The scary bits in Guillermo del Torro’s rather wonderful The Devil’s Backbone is also expertly done. In Paranormal Activity’s defence, there were some genuine moments of edge of your seat/behind the duvet tension in the fuzzy blue tint of the amateur camera image.
But that’s not to say that the inhuman(ish) doesn’t always fail to work. The Crying Angels set a benchmark for all the scary nastiness that The Dr encounters, The Birds is a veritable aviary of chilling ornithological terror, and even Signs was a little frightening (albeit a masterclass in emulating Alfred Hitchcock) until fear of the aliens were overcome by some well placed glasses of water and visible zippers.
In saying all this, like in any film, the characters also need to be likeable! My main complaint of Paranormal Activity is that Noah was an absolute cockface. I think Katie was using her “demon” as a cover for giving him the twatting he deserved. Just saying.