By Kathy Goodman
How many times have you gone to a horror movie, and left the theater fully convinced that you could’ve written a scarier script yourself? Does watching yet another formulaic, unscary horror film convince you that no one in Hollywood knows what scares us? It’s possible that they do know, but don’t think we really want to see it.
At a film festival, I listened as a director claimed that there were lots of scripts floating around Hollywood that would truly frighten, disturb and haunt audiences. He stated that these films would never be made, because no one believes movie-goers really want to be frightened, that they’re comforted by formulas. As a horror movie devotee who hates formulas, I found that assertion insulting, irritating and frustrating.
Clichés, predictable characters, and worn-out conventions ruin horror movies. And note to M. Night Shayamalan…a twist in
every film makes us too ready for it. If we spend all our time trying to figure out what the twist is going to be, when
it comes, it just feels good to get it out of the way.
Here are a few of the old tricks, cheats, and characters that need to be retired:
Crashing noise that shatters our eardrums whenever something “spooky” happens onscreen may make us
jump, but not because of what we see. We jump because we’re suddenly in pain! An evil, grinning face appearing at a second story window…scary. The inevitable screech of discordant synthesized racket that accompanies it is not.
Enough with the dusty memories of Nazi Germany explaining the source of whatever evil is now
haunting our hero. We get it–Nazis were bad guys. They were undeniably the super villains of our age. There are probably some great movies that are yet to be made about Nazi Germany. But as for horror movies, it’s time to let it go.
Stop with the animal noise. If you never left the multiplex, you’d believe that cats don’t make a move without screeching as they do so, and if they’re on a shelf, in a cabinet or closet, or anywhere other than the floor, they will spring at you given the slightest opportunity. You might also believe that bats and crows love to fly straight at your head, only to vanish entirely moments later, once the initial shock of their deafening screams wears off. Not scary…just stupid.
In a suspense movie, if anyone, anywhere, at any time, admits to ever having had even a single blackout, whether due to injury, mental illness or drunkenness, there’s your killer. Mystery solved. If no one suffers from blackouts, but there’s a sad, angelic child, especially one who doesn’t speak, do not turn your back on that kid. We know this. Screenwriters can stop writing
It takes more than one apparently successful attempt to really kill a bad guy. No matter how dead he looks, he’ll still manage to raise one bloody, mangled paw (accompanied by a shrieking clash of music) to grab at you when you unwisely
bend over his battered body. So don’t get too close…and if you do, cover your ears.
Does anyone not know that levity in a film signals the sudden appearance of The Bad Guy? Or the discovery of a dead body, or some other unpleasantness? Filmmakers know we know this, and depend on it to get us all tensed up for the arrival of
danger. But it’s gotten really tiresome…how refreshing it would be if people joked and laughed in a horror
movie and nothing bad happened. By all means—let there be carnage, but let it begin when we aren’t expecting it.
There are other things we’ve seen too often (sex equals death, showers are usually fatal, flicking on the light in a pitch black room will cause a demon/monster/corpse to appear inches from your face), but doing away with just some of these
situations would go a long way toward not only making horror movies more original, but scarier as well. Scarier
is a good, good thing. In the immortal words of Dan Ackroyd at the beginning of Twilight
Zone: The Movie…
”Okay. Scare me.”