For the vast majority of my life I have been a self-proclaimed wimp. I always had vivid nightmares as a child, I walked out of the Phantom of the Opera film at age 12, I moved English lit A Level class so I wouldn’t have to study Woman in Black and see it at theatre and hid behind my boyfriend for most of Hot Fuzz. Not only was I easily scared but I couldn’t see the fun in being scared. Currently, however, I’m on 9 different medications for my pain condition and depression. Generally the side effects of these drugs don’t tend to be pleasant: my pain medication makes my mood worse, has made me vomit, made my hands shake, made me so tired I once confused a pot of moisturiser for my alarm clock and ate some thinking that would turn it off. My antidepressants and anxiety medication have made my concentration non-existent and my memory terrible. The upside of all these drugs, however, is that I am so chilled-out that I can now not only watch horror films but actually enjoy them.
I have, therefore, set myself a mission to explore the genre while I’m still on the drugs. I assume my tolerance will also build so I may be able to enjoy them when I’m off the meds but just in case I’ll make the most of this opportunity.
I still don’t get the attraction of gory, torture horror like the Saw franchise or the Hostel series. I find the idea of that being fun to watch truly disturbing. For me the film must have a substantial plot rather than a series of opportunities to show increasingly depraved torture acts. Suspense is hugely important in creating true fear for me. My friend and I recently watched The House of the Devil and we were both hiding behind cushions up until the heroine is actually caught by the satanic cult. The fear of there being someone else in the house is very real to me and I have always hated being chased so watching the heroine run from what you know, as the audience of a horror film, to be inevitable capture gives me that adrenaline rush. This is the style of horror established by films such as Halloween: the focus is on the anticipation of violence rather than the actual violence itself.
I also recently watched two fairly similar films in that they both involve people hiking, cut off from civilisation and help. One is called Preservation and the other A Perfect Getaway. One of the major problems with the former is that it kills of two of the major characters far too quickly. The film takes a while to get going, which is usually a good way to give the audience a chance to get to know and become invested in at least one of the characters. Unfortunately none of them are particularly likeable so it just feels boring. Then once the scary stuff truly gets going two of the characters are killed off almost straight away and the motives of the masked killers are never truly explained so you can’t even be interested in that aspect of the film. It’s like the writers copped out of finding a strong reason for the violence except weakly implying that the teenagers are influenced by the violent video games they play (yawn). A Perfect Getaway, however, takes far longer for any true violence to start but a very effective sense of unease is established early on. Plus you become far more invested in the characters and there is a brilliant twist.
A film I loved that breaks this ‘anticipation’ rule of mine is You’re Next as the masked killers attack fairly early in the film. I think this works, however, as there are many characters being attacked and the heroine is awesome. She’s incredibly brave, resourceful and feisty. At one point my (usually sweet and lovely) friend was yelling ‘yeah blend his head, stab his neck!!!‘ as she defends herself and others. In fact this friend and I are compiling a badass girl group including her, Emma Stone’s character from Zombieland (mostly for her fearless fighting skills but also for her ability to pull of a fierce smokey eye while battling zombies). I’d like to add Buffy to the list but I don’t think my friend agrees, I guess preternatural strength gives her a bit of an unfair advantage, plus she’s not technically from the horror genre.
I have a huge soft spot for tongue-in-cheek parodies of the genre, from classics like Scream to the surprisingly hilarious Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Shawn of the Dead and The Cabin in the Woods. I love anything that’s self-aware and combines humour with true scares.
On the other hand, I have watched some truly diabolical films. House of 1000 Corpses manages to be simultaneously confusing, depraved and straight up weird. It would honestly make just as much sense without any dialogue, if not more. It is, however, memorable which is something. Films such as Patrick, Vacancy, Demons Never Die, Case 39 and any remakes/sequels in general, I’m looking at you Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Scream ) are pretty forgettable as well as being let down by weak plots and cheesy scripts.
Both The Sacrament and Misery are worth a quick mention as The Sacrament manages the unusual feat of being scary in daylight and Misery is based on the book of the same name by Stephen King and anything written by him is ok by me!
My education is far from over, next up The Shining , Friday the 13th and The Ring!