October is that time of year where movie critics talk about horror movies. Endless lists of the scariest films are run on rarely watched cable channels, marathons of popular slasher franchises are forced on consumers, and Wes Craven materializes in television studios around the country. It seems only fitting that John Devore join in the revelry.
I’m not the biggest horror buff – I want movies to be good, no matter what the genre. But there are ways to grab my interest instantly and it usually has to do with the type of horror movie
When it comes to Halloween, I lean more towards the spirit world than the physical when selecting entertainment. Below you’ll find my favorite genres, with a few great examples, as well as my least favorite genres. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find something to watch with the lights out on the 31st.
Haunted House - I love a good haunted house movie. Some of the best are films that portray the location as simply evil – good examples of this are 1408, The Shining, and most recently, Sinister. Audiences don’t need explanations, Indian burial grounds or curses. We just need to know that a particular location is dangerous. Evil is by its very nature wanton and indiscriminate - a haunted house embodies these qualities to a powerful degree. The impersonal nature of the haunted house makes it much more horrifying than a human killer hiding in the shadows. The house/hotel room exists only to torment those that enter. These movies are excellent at creating a sense of dread – the feeling that something bad is going to happen. Dread is much more powerful than any visible monster. The audience reacts to this on a primal level, creating a spectacular tension not found in other types of horror.
Possession – Demonic possession is a universal fear. Almost all religions allow for some sort of evil spirit capable of controlling an unwilling victim. In the United States where Christianity and society are inextricably mixed, possession is thought of as a very real possibility by a large number of people. Add an innocent to the formula, like a child, and you have a volatile concoction rubric for a horror film. Obviously, The Exorcist is the quintessential film for possession. But there have been other films, films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Evil Dead, and Paranormal Activity, which are as affecting and powerful. If you’re looking for a more recent film, check out The Possession, a film about a Jewish evil spirit called a Dybyyk.
Sequels - Listen, I know you liked Paranormal Activity. I did too. It was a fun movie experience, one that I’d like to replicate. But four movies about the same thing, featuring the same scares, the same format, the same story isn’t going to cut it. Fear, like comedy, is only effective when unexpected. Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street are the same movie with different murder victims. At this point, we know that Jason is going to appear out of nowhere despite being a gigantic zombie. We know Freddy is going laugh at his own jokes. We can predict the horrible ways that people are going to die in Final Destination 2-900. A sequel to a horror movie is only going to leave you unfulfilled, like making a meal out of candy corn or leaving a strip club at closing. Branch out, find something new, and force Hollywood to scare you in new, interesting ways. You’ll thank me.
Gore/Torture - I personally find this genre to be distasteful and boring. Just because Eli Roth is fascinated by graphic eviscerations doesn’t make it frightening. The Saw franchise, Hostel, Final Destination, House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects - these are all films that focus on depravity rather than story. I spent a summer cleaning and filleting live catfish for restaurant in Lenoir City. I killed thousands of fish that summer. Set it to a scary soundtrack and it might be as engaging as the typical Saw film. My point is that audiences should require more than buckets of blood and scores of decapitations in their horror movies. What you don’t see is always scarier than what you do. Too much blood and the audience stops noticing it.
Everyone has their own list, of course. If zombies, vampires (the non-twinkly kind) or aliens are your thing, that’s fine. Try finding a film you haven’t seen before or try experiencing a favorite in a different way. The Exorcist is a different experience with an audience than alone. Happy Halloween, folks. We’ll pick this conversation up again next October.