January 1, 2014

What Do You Do When The Scary Dies?

Large Marge from Pee-wee's Big Adventure
Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - Now that's scary!
     It's a sad fact that most lifelong horror movie fans become inured to the machinations filmmakers employ to scare them.  We grow too jaded to be frightened.  Would we continue to watch comedies if we never laughed?  Probably not.  We soldier on, though, hoping against hope that the next horror movie we watch will be the one that brings the scary back from the dead.

     I believe many of us resort to living vicariously through the terrified responses of the straights in our lives to the movies that long ago ceased to scare us.  It's one of the primary reasons we have a compulsion to share our favorites.  There's no true altruism there, just a selfish need to enjoy a scare once removed rather than no scare at all.  If our victims become fans themselves, so much the better.  Still, what we're really hoping for is to see our friends and family completely lose their shit in a fashion that we no longer can.  I've been on the receiving end of this dynamic, too.  Good ole Large Marge giving Pee-wee Herman the scare of his life in Pee-wee's Big Adventure traumatized me, and I know my friend Jeff subjected me to that as payback for all of the times I'd exposed him to horror movies for my own twisted gratification.  Payback is truly a bug-eyed, truck driving bitch.

world's worst backne from The Bay (2012)
Creepy creepin' crud  - The Bay (2013)
     We try to bring the scary back by looking for it in previously unexplored avenues, as well.  Fortunately, the horror genre is stuffed to the brim with sub-genres.  I'm forty-three years old, and I'm still never at a loss to find a heretofore unexamined offshoot.  I've found many noteworthy little gems just by deigning to explore sub-genres against which I've fostered prejudice.  I don't like vampire movies, but Let The Right One In (2008) is one of the finest movies - horror or otherwise - that I've seen in the last decade.  I'm suffering from pronounced zombie fatigue, but Pontypool (2008) spins those hoary old zombie movie tropes into one of the most mesmerizing films of its type I've ever seen.  The found footage sub-genre is pretty threadbare, but it can still occasionally offer up effective chillers like Europa Report (2013) and The Bay (2012).  The scary may be on life support, but there are signs of life if you look hard enough.

not entirely alone in the dark from [REC] (2007)
Alone in the dark . . . or not -  [REC] (2007)
     The cruel irony, of course, is that the wider the swath we cut across the horror landscape, the more difficult it becomes to keep turning up more scares.  It becomes increasingly difficult to find something we haven't already seen before.  A buddy at work suggests a pefectly solid little time waster he saw on cable the night before, and we're obliged to assure him that the flick he enjoyed so much is in fact just a rip-off of movie X, Y, or Z.  Even worse, we might be obliged to tell him that his "find" is actually a rip-off of a vastly superior foreign made original.  Aren't they always?  You might have the satisfaction of pointing your buddy toward [REC] (2007) after he ran across Quarantine (2008) on Netflix streaming, but you've only taken another step toward becoming the resident "horror guy".  Your appreciation of horror movies has become largely academic.  You can no longer watch any new movie without automatically assessing its relative merit as compared to two or three similar movies that came before.  You've become a purely critical viewer.  You'll never be scared again if you can't allow yourself to be entirely in the moment when watching a new flick, but once you've become aware of the nuts and bolts used to construct a cinematic scare, you'll always see it coming.  What's a fan to do?

Scooby and Shaggy
Shaggy and Scooby were always scared, right?  Must work.
     Some of us resort to having a few drinks to enhance viewing.  Unfortunately, beer, wine, and liquor all have roughly the same affect.  Though tying one on can boost the appeal of a campy stink bomb, it also dulls the senses and destroys focus.  It's hard to be scared by a movie if you're too blotto to know you're supposed to be.  I've also heard tell of fans smoking pot to achieve an opposite effect by sharpening focus to keep themselves completely in the moment.  I have it on good authority that this disables critical faculties while heightening attention to detail.  Though Movies At Dog Farm would of course never advocate any kind of illegal activity, it seems to me that just might work - as long the viewer doesn't fall asleep first or break the spell by pausing the movie to forage for some nachos.

     So what do you do when the scary dies?  Don't panic.  Just wait for it.  You see, I'm pretty sure the scary never actually dies, it only plays opossum.  It's still alive, taking shallow breaths and lying motionless, luring us into a false sense of security.  Then, when we least expect it . . .

     Boo!  Scary happens.  Crisis averted. 


  1. I think that it's one of the curses of being a horror fan. We lose the scares that the straights get when we watch a horror flick. This is something that I've talked at length about with others several times. For the longest time I was almost impervious to the scares in horror films. I became obsessed with finding something that would affect me on the same visceral lever that something like the original Nightmare on Elm Street had for me when I watched it as a kid. Or Murphy's death scene in Robocop. That messed me up pretty bad.

    After a while I became convinced that I'd never have another cinematic scare again. I took a little hiatus from the genre for a while in the early 00's. When I started to watch horror films again, it felt like I was watching them with new eyes.

    This led to the annual horror purge ritual! Starting November 1st, I would ban all horror movies and I wouldn't watch any until the New Year. These days the purge is less severe. I'll usually ban horror movies for a week or two and then slowly start to integrate them back in with seasonal fare. By the time January rolls around, I'm ready to go!

    1. I generally have a purge in early winter, too. I'm usually more burnt out than usual after binging in October, and then the holiday season starts. I work in retail, so extended hours and extra days leave me with little enthusiasm for actually enjoying anything I watch. I just watched Berberian Sound Studio last night, and that was my "restart" this year. It was very convenient for me that The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2013 neatly coincided with my viewing sabbatical. It was calendar appropriate, and it gave me an opportunity to tread water without being super obvious about it. lol

      Still, I'd love to find that one movie that'll really make me shit my pants in terror again. It's out there somewhere, but it ain't gonna come looking for me.

  2. I'm on the same quest my friend. That's the whole reason we do this, isn't it? The thrill of the hunt.....chasing after that elusive gem that will punch us square in the gut terrify us beyond reason.
    If I may humbly suggest (if you do not already) look at collecting films on VHS....there are many horror films that have never seen DVD and Blu Ray and very well may never. So many great films that are waiting just in the wings to be discovered.

    As you said, these films aren't going to come looking for us. It's up to us to track them down and then spread the word that they're out there!

  3. I'm with you, Brandon. I don't often encounter a movie that makes me feel like I need to turn on every light on my way to the bathroom. I must say that The Exorcist does it for me every time, but the scares are few and far between. Sometimes I want a good movie that just makes me think.
    Did you see Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem? I just watched it. Most critics say the pacing was too slow. I think that Zombie was trying to pay homage to Kubrick. Overall, Lords worked for me. I also saw it as a metaphor for addiction. Did the movie scare me? Nope. But I did think a lot about the themes in the film. And I'll take that.

    Happy New Year!

    1. I suppose as an old guy watching horror movies the best I can generally hope for is to be intellectually stimulated. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I miss just being straight up scared, though - just good old fashioned primal terror. If I'm lucky, a movie occasionally makes my pulse quicken.

      I did see The Lords Of Salem several months ago, and I continue to be a Zombie apologist. He has a keen visual sense, and his work is obviously maturing. I'm even one of a very small handful of people that believes Halloween II had merit. It was unrelentingly grim and nihilistic. Had it been called something other than Halloween II, I'm sure it would have met with more critical favor. Bottom line: Michael Myers is The Boogeyman, not a troubled psychopath, and the Halloween franchise was an ill conceived place for Zombie to deploy his particular "point of view".

      I found The Lords Of Salem to be . . . worthwhile. Flawed, but worthwhile. I really thought we were heading toward a payoff a little richer than the music video melting face clusterfuck that actually ended the movie, but it was compelling up until then.

      I've long believed that Zombie has two primary problems as a filmmaker: 1) He's a pretty lousy writer, and yet he insists upon writing his own screenplays. He has a tin ear for dialog, and his narratives are awkwardly structured - and not in that good, Dario Argento way. Applying his own unique flair for arresting visuals to a really good screenplay would make a world of difference. 2) He's determined to cast his wife in everything. Don't get me wrong - she clearly gave her all in Lords, and she wasn't bad, but imagine a real A list actress in that same role. Zombie has at least gotten a little more prudent about shoehorning often distracting genre star cameos into everything, but that's part of the same problem.

      So what does Rob need to make the masterpiece I still know he has in him? 1) A screenwriter, and 2) a casting director. And no, The Devil's Rejects isn't that masterpiece, though that seems to be the movie the critics always hold up as the pinnacle of his directing career thus far.

  4. For a movie to scare me, it has to seem like it could really happen. I know it's cliche to say, but I still have a hard time watching Jaws( well not watching it, but the falling asleep after part). I was so disturbed by Mayrtrs and Irreversible, I did not sleep for a week. There were no big scares in there, but the way it didnt shy away from any of the nastyness if what caused me some great night terrors. Oh I have no doubt I will be freaked out by movies again. Great post

    1. The greats get under your skin and stay there. If I'm still thinking about a horror movie a week after watching it, then it was a good horror movie. I've obtained copies of several titles I found on year end "best of" lists, and I have high hopes for a couple of those. Thanks for reading, Vern.

  5. I've never done a horror purge on purpose, but I have been watching a lot of action lately instead of horror. I decided to keep track of every movie I watch this year; I've seen 19 movies since midnight on Jan 1, and only four have been horror. In fact, two of those were goofy Hong Kong horror comedies, one was a ridiculous Indonesian movie that might as well have been a comedy, and the fourth was an MST3K episode, so I'm not even sure any of those count as horror. I'm sure it won't last. Horror is a lifelong addiction.

    1. "Just when I thought I was out, horror pulled me back in!" - I said while nursing yet another addiction with an electronic cigarette. Step One: admit you're powerless over horror. Only then can the healing begin. lol Thanks for reading, Erin.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...