Can someone please give me a good answer?
For those of us who find a certain satisfaction in paying for a movie with hopes of getting terrified, we have been left unsatisfied for the most part. Horror movies of the last decade for the most part have been unable to leave me checking dark corners. They have been unsuccessful in spooking me so much that I don’t feel safe within the confines of my own home….and this worries me.
Now a question that I seem to get from people who don’t enjoy the horror genre, “Why would you want to get scared while watching a movie?” I suffer from what is known as THE HORROR PARADOX. For me, watching a unexpectedly great horror movie is an incredible experience. It is equivalent to how a person who loves roller coasters feels when they find a bad-ass coaster inside of a seemingly unflattering theme park. It’s the same feeling for me as it is for an avid snowboarder when he or she finds that perfect, steep slope in the middle of a snowy, Colorado winter day. It’s enough to leave me excited for the next six months after seeing the movie.
As much as I love comedies or a good dramatic movie, I never have anywhere near as much fun in a theater as when I’m checking out a horror movie. With all of this being said, I don’t get to experience this feeling very often. Most horror movies released in this day and age lack one or more of these key characteristics of a great horror movie: story, scare factor and common sense.
STORY: Look, I don’t need a Lord of the Rings-esque story. Some of the best movies succeed with even the simplest of stories. Take a look at Jaws. Police chief wants to close a beach because of a man-eating shark but city council over rules him. Chief gets help to stop shark. Simple, basic yet effective story line that cruised its way to millions of dollars in revenue on a $9 million budget. Here is the problem with today’s movies: They don’t make sense. And when they do make sense, the story is ruined by writers attempting to get too cute and throw in unnecessary side plots or twists. Let’s use 2011’s Insidious for example. Although it’s one of my favorite horror movies of the last 15 years, it ultimately fails in the story category. For the first 45 minutes, the movie was blowing me away with its great story and overall creepiness. After all of this beautiful work, the writers almost destroy the third act by trying to out think themselves with a ridiculous story element and a showing a villain who probably doubles as a descendant of Darth Maul.
SCARE FACTOR: To some people, the most needed element of a horror movie(not exactly my #1 but more on that later.) You need to be able to scare the crap out of the audience. In my opinion, less is more. I don’t need to see the mass of creepy often at all in order to be terrified. It just needs to show up enough in the movie so that I don’t forget who it is. Slashers can be the exception to the rule but supernatural movies(my favorite) need to be discreet with their ghost appearances. Loud sounds are necessary along with eerie music. Throw children in the mix and you have a good chance and scaring me. Although most scenes have been done before, lets at least try to be creative. Some of the creepiest movies involve children. For instance, do you think The Ring or Ringu would have been as scary if Samaya had been a 34 year old woman? Not at all. We’ve all seen Orphan…how much creepier was that plot twist with the child actress? I rest my case.
COMMON SENSE: Enough with the women who can’t seem to find their footing when in the face of danger. I understand you may not think and act with your right mind while being scared, but I feel that if I’m being chased, I’d be even more careful with each stride I made. You wouldn’t see me or most people I know stumbling over tree branches while staring the villain down as he cuts them to bits. It makes no real sense to me. This is why common sense is the most important part of a horror film. I need to feel as if the characters did everything in their power to survive. I need to be able to relate to the characters and not be able to guess someone will die because they can’t stop having sex. I believe the father from Orphan was one of the dumbest on-screen characters in a horror film. So catastrophically dumb that I began rooting for his death in the movie. These type of characters can take the viewer away from the main purpose of the film and allow our minds to stray. The same thing needs to be applied to the antagonists also. It was acknowledged that Michael Myers wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box but when it was time for business to get handled, Michael always seemed the like the smartest guy in the movie. He showed no mercy and while walking at the speed of the Rapture, he showed patience when stalking his prey. If the almost superhuman villains can’t even show some common sense, why should we be afraid of them?
As hard as it is to make a movie with all three of these qualities, I don’t think it’s impossible at all. Take some great writers and a good director and you’ve got a delightful recipe for disaster. Maybe the end of 2011 will finish nicely and bring some horror that will get the world talking again. Until then, I may have to write my own script or rewatch any Adam Sandler movie from 2003 until now.