Week Two’s movies are classics I’ve (embarrassingly) never seen. In addition to watching them, I’ll give you my rating for each, using the following graphics, which represent the five things I value in a good horror film.
I need to care about the characters and believe that they are real people. They don’t have to be likeable, but they need have authentic humor, flaws, and reactions.
Who says horror movies can’t be artistic? I expect inventive cinematography, design, scores, and scripts that all lead me to ask some big questions about my world.
Movies that make me feel a part of the action also score big–and no, I do not mean found footage. I mean by aligning me with the protagonist as they try to solve the conflict. I want to shout at them to try something, and then see them try it and fail. I want moments of revelation, where we realize something important at the exact same moment.
Very few movies actually scare me, so this is a special achievement. I’m scared by the unexpected and the authentic, even when dealing with the supernatural. I want to be surprised, and I want it to be plausible within the story world.
I hate the super-chiller ending, where the antagonist comes back to life. Sure, it leaves them open for a sequel, but it undoes the entire movie. What’s the point of watching the protagonist try and fail at overcoming the conflict? I’m okay with the antagonist winning–this can also be satisfying. Whatever the ending, it should fit with the piece thematically.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
A group of teenagers all begin dreaming of Fred Krueger coming to kill them, and then the dreams cross into reality. I loved Nancy’s (Heather Langenkamp) spunk. At a certain point, the movie becomes Home Alone, horror style, and that was fun.
Possible Teens vs. Killer Substitutes: Halloween, The Cabin in the Woods, Urban Legends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hocus Pocus, or Scream
When a Great White Shark begins attacking beach-goers at a resort community, Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) calls in an ichthyologist (Richard Dreyfuss). They pair up with a local fisherman (Robert Shaw) to save the day. This loveable trio had me cheering for them the whole way. Even today, I can see how groundbreaking Jaws was. John Williams’ music is, of course, perfect, and it’s no surprise that it won an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe. I was included in trying to figure out a way to stop Jaws, discovering right alongside the characters what that sneaky shark was doing beneath the water’s surface. I gasped multiple times, because I was so sucked into the action I didn’t even have time to anticipate that Jaws was going to pop up and scare me. The ending is sweet and definitive, which matches the movie’s overall tone.
It’s not a great movie. At all. I liked Elizabeth Banks’ character, because she kicked butt and saved the day. There’s not nearly enough Nathan Fillion in it.
Possible Campy Substitutes: Fright Night (2007), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Deep Blue Sea, Ghost Ship, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, The Frighteners, Gremlins, or Elvira Mistress of the Dark
In honor of American Horror Story: Freak Show, I watched Freaks, which will no doubt be alluded to at some point in the season. In this brave film, Tod Browning, director of the Lugosi Dracula, cast real sideshow performers, but the horror, Browning suggests, is the beautiful trapeze artist who takes advantage of a little person. It was released in the 1930’s in a severely edited format–the original is lost. Even with the edit, crowds disapproved of it, and it ruined Browning’s career. It’s well filmed, and I cared about so many of the characters. Even in its now 62-minute run time, Browning manages to build the show life. Ultimately, it’s vengeance horror, and I enjoyed it.
This spin-off from The Conjuring has gotten a lot of negative reviews. It’s not as good as The Conjuring, but I still enjoyed it. I screamed at a few parts. (The ten year-old boy next to me was stoic. Don’t ask me why his dad brought him.) The characters were demon-movie stock, but I could empathize with them. My favorite part in terms of artistry was when the perambulator rolls into the street. This part is filmed in the style of Rosemary’s Baby, a perfect nod for a film about Satanists and a mother battling a demon. One issue that some people may have with the ending is that Annabelle is escaped, not defeated in the film, because we know the Warrens capture her much later. There are a couple of tie-ins to help make this more satisfactory.
6. Drag Me to Hell
This is the story of a woman trying to get ahead by refusing a loan extension to an old woman, but then the old woman puts a gypsy curse on her. This raised the question of whether the old woman overstepped her boundaries (probably) and whether the woman’s action was evil (strong maybe). There are some cool effects, like the hands in the picture, but there are also a ton of gross-out moments (this is Sam Raimi, after all, maker of Evil Dead). I really wanted the woman’s boyfriend, played by the lovable Justin Long to get dragged down at the end in a bitter taste of irony. Too bad.
Possible Contagiously Crazy Evil Substitutes: Black Swan, Final Destination, The Ring, Contracted, The Skeleton Key
I just finished the book, so I must say the obligatory “the book was better.” A group of adults come together to handle some unfinished business from grade school–killing Pennywise the Clown, evil incarnate. My evaluation is based primarily on the book, because I cannot un-know what I’ve learned about the characters. However, seeing Seth Green and John Ritter in this movie was fantastic. For someone who counts clown as scary, I didn’t think the movie was as scary as I imagined it. Maybe that’s because I knew it was Tim Curry under all the face paint. Stephen King is a master at connecting plot and thematic closure.
What have you been watching so far?