Monday, October 27, 2008

The Horror...The Horror...

Saw V did over 30 million at the box office this weekend, proving once again that public appetite for such 'horrific' fare still reigns supreme, especially when All Hallows Eve approaches. Also in the spirit of Halloween, my tweenage son and I watched Will Smith's I Am Legend on Friday night.

Bad idea.

Now I am old and jaded, so it didn't do much for me (not to mention an abundance of CGI which, however well it's done, always tends to push me out of a movie as opposed to draw me in), but it freaked my son out. A lot. He's since woken up from nightmares, and when awake hasn't stopped talking about it - ("...what if world got wiped out by virus?" "...what if a virus turned us into flesh-hungry zombie-like creatures?"). What if. What if. Gak.

I will admit I'm feeling a little guilty for subjecting him to it (even though he was the one who said: "Let's watch something scary!")

"I Am Legend", like most contemporary horror films, isn't 'original'. The story is adapted from a 1954 sci-fi novel by Richard Matheson, which has been filmed twice before, as "The Last Man on Earth" (1964), and "The Omega Man" (1971) starring Charlton Heston.

And I do remember "The Omega Man". Oh yes. It freaked me out when I first saw it...probably around the same age as my son is now. And like him, I didn't even see it in a theatre but on late-night television, and it still freaked. Of course, checking it out now, it seems pretty cheesy...but way back when...Omega Man...."shiver".

Sticking with when I was younger, the two movies constantly referenced as well-made pictures that also managed to scare the crap out of the audience were "The Exorcist" and "Psycho".

No argument here...but when I eventually saw them, I'd either heard too much already or my expectations were too high, and I felt let down. I wasn't 'fugged up'.

"Jaws", on the other hand, freaked me out quite a bit, but most wouldn't really categorize it as a horror movie. The first "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" all had their moments, but they were just good candy-coated popcorn...tasty in the moment, but generating very little of the residual 'wake up screaming covered in sweat later that night' factor.

No, the two that really did it for me it were John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982)...

...and "Alien" (1979).

I suppose one could debate whether they are 'horror movies' in the classic sense as well, but I would say so. At their core they're 'trapped in the house with a monster' movies...relentlessly suspensful and tension-filled...and they accomplished horror's highest grade - they scared the bejesus out of me.

More on contemporary horror later this week, but now that you've read this far --- scariest horror films ever?


Good Dog said...


interesting post, especially about how CGI can ruin a movie, especially I Am Legend, which really fell to bits for me once the creatures appeared.

I tend not to watch too many horror films, mainly because the stories usually aren't that great or it all gets a bit silly. I remember seeing The Exorcist on a re-release when I was about 16 and, although it shook me up in places, the one time I had to look away was when the kid goes for the hospital test and they stick the needle in her.

Loved John Carpenter's version of The Thing, but the one bit that made me jump was the hot wire in the blood sample rather than the other, gorier sequences. (Still don't understand why MacReady blows the creature up though. Surely that does more harm than good?)

The one horror film that really scares the shit out of me is...

Kubrick's The Shining.

It's the whole sense of unease and.... ugggghhhh! Especially since we're so used to old dark houses and this is brightly lit almost all the way through. Also there's the great/creepy use of sound as well.

Just thinking about it makes me shiver. The big admission is I actually can't watch this film after dark. It creeps me out that much.

daniel. said...

dear lord was 'i am legend' terrible. but it's strange how younger generations can be creeped out by CG monsters that don't even move fluidly.

here's a link to a post i did a few years ago about horror movies...

as for scariest ever... im not sure. the 'halloween' series (including the bazillion sequels) got me when i was a kid. 'alien' still gets me. 'the descent' got me a couple years ago, as did '28 days later.' 'audition' (from japanese filmmaker takashi miike), however, freaks me out to this day, and not because theres monsters or ghosts, because of the morality. ick. now i think every woman i look at the wrong way has a right to do terrible TERRIBLE things to me. eek.

i am greatly looking forward to 'let the right one in' and 'deadgirl'!

deborah Nathan said...

Exorcist, pretty freaked out when I first saw it. But Psycho, I had to leave all the lights on all the time and wouldn't close the shower curtain. Absolutely frightening. And Jaws - have not been in the ocean since, seriously. And Alien - I think the best horror movie ever.

And even on TV, there was Night Gallery - could only watch it while I was on the phone the whole time with my girlfriend and we would scream together.

Fun or what?

Your Girl Jimmy said...

Embarrassingly enough, the Exorcist actually developed into a serious phobia for me. I watched it for the first time on my 15th birthday and it scared the sh!t out of me. I have since seen it probably (no exaggeration here) 13 times. For whatever reason I needed to see it over and over again; to either make myself feel better, (it's just a movie, film and lights and acting and pea soup), or to get re-scared again. From the time I watched it up until about 2 years ago that movie haunted me. I think it still does actually. I was always a gore hound when I was younger and there really are no other horrors that stuck with me in the sense that I was afraid except maybe Night of the Living Dead and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The original Wicker Man was oddly creepy too. But nothing like The Exorcist.

jimhenshaw said...

Like Good Dog, I'm a fan of films that ratchet up the suspense rather than go for all out gore. Agree with both of you on CGI.

So my faves include "Alien", "The Others" as well as the Spanish version of "Orphanage" and "Audition".

For parents with a freaked out kid, I recommend a little hair of the dog -- some comedy/horror to give the kid some moments of release so he can get into the genre but not be overburdened by it.

Try sharing "Fright Night", "The Lost Boys", "Shaun of the Dead" or "Tremors' with your son. You'll both have a good time and everybody will get some sleep.

Trevor B. Cunningham said...

Boy oh boy was 'I am Legend' terrible. Re-writing the 'vampies' to be brutes was silly. In the original story they referred to the protagonist as a 'legend' they were afraid of, because he was not like them...or the rest of the world for that matter. Omega Man has the goods, but the groovy chase music pulls me out of the darn thing. Like you, it freaked me out when I was little. Some movies that made squirm in my seat...'Inside' and 'Calvaire'. If you want some over-the-top humour and a fun horror movie to watch with the family, check out the under-rated 'Slither'. You'll never eat meat again.

wcdixon said...

Thanks Dr. Jim...though for a moment I was sure you were going to recommend "Passchendaele" as the sure-fire remedy.

morjana said...

Hi, Will.

I've never been a fan of horror films -- or novels. The few films that I have seen, I've been dragged kicking and screaming IN to see them. And I've only read a few horror novels, mainly the Stephen King variety, and gave up after the horrible 'The Stand.'

That being said, however, I do remember being dragged in to see the original "Chucky." And laughed all the way through the flick it was so bad. Not scary at all to me -- just extremely boring.

Scary to me was back in '67, when the TV series, 'The Invaders,' premiered on TV. We had just moved into a new home in Sioux Falls, and I was home alone. A blizzard was outside, wind howling, the house was creaking and moaning.

Yeah, I had nightmare about that night for weeks.

Good Dog said...

Thinking about it some more, there’s also The Haunting. Of course that would be the Robert Wise-directed version from the early 1960s and not the horrible remake.

I think when it comes to horror movies, finding out what wigs people out really is a generational thing. It probably divides folk more than any other genre.

Personally, I just don’t get how teen audiences find entertainment in this seriously nasty (and misogynistic) strand of torture porn that has come about of late. I’ve said it before on my blog that the writers and directors obviously have issues that they really need to address.

Maybe that’s me being an old fart. Or maybe it’s because I grew up watching movies that were not just pre-CGI, but also pre-Rick Baker/Rob Bottin effects. So the filmmakers had to find ways to scare their audience rather than just hose viscera across the screen.

One thing the BBC did then (which I’m really grateful of) which they don’t do now is programme film seasons. I guess the proliferation of satellite and cable channels have put paid to that. They’d run a series of Marx Brothers movies, or Hitchcock or Preston Sturges or films by other directors. Then there’d be genre seasons like film noir or the great 50s science fiction movies like Them, This Island Earth and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Then there would be the horror films, like the classic Universal movies from the 1930s, or maybe some German Expressionism, or the wonderful Hammer Horror movies that look dreadfully tame by comparison nowadays, but.... ooooh, lesbian vampires! Sweet! Or films like The Innocents and Rosemary’s Baby.

One that did scare the bejeezus out of me was the TV movie Frankenstein: The True Story with Michael Sarrazin as the creature and James Mason as Dr John Polidori. I can still remember the shock when Mason pulls his glove off as well as the fate of Jane Seymour’s character.

For shock horror endings there’s always John Frankenheimer’s Seconds and The Wicker Man - again, not the pointless remake. And a great companion to Psycho is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom.

Juniper said...

The Exercist still freaks me out.... mind you even hearing the music from the Omen gets me running for the lights!

wcdixon said...

The Exorcist keeps coming up as freaky scary even today, especially for women... interesting.

daniel. said...

and no one has mentioned jacob's ladder yet.