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The Wright Stuff: What is Scary?

March 14th, 2014 by John Wright Comments

Horror movies seem to be going through a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Movies that are well-crafted, well executed and very memorable. After the onslaught of slasher movies starting in the late 90s with Scream, the focus moved on to sci-fi horror with the likes of the endless Resident Evil movies, which relied on CGI monsters, zombies, vampires and werewolves, before evolving into more explicit territory of what was dubbed torture porn such as Saw and Hostel. There seemed to be a method of over-saturation of the market, where something new in the genre would come along, then everyone would jump on the bandwagon. Horror movies of the past 15 years or so can easily be categorised into sub-genres, and the pattern continues on to this day.

The game changer in recent years to me was The Blair Witch Project. I was naturally drawn to this, being a paranormal investigator in my spare time, and I was very pleased with the results. It was something that went back to the basics of horror, whereby the catalyst for making the movie work was the audience’s imaginations. Hardly anything was shown on screen; it was what was unseen, just out of picture, or what was around a corner. Only sounds and the reactions of the actors were needed to create a very suspenseful movie that remains one of the most profitable in history in terms of the ratio to the cost of making it.

I love it and, by choosing to ignore the strange sequel, I also love the fact that it has remained as a standalone story to this day. Paranormal Activity came along years later, using similar methods to create a hugely effective movie. It’s a slow-burner, with the tension and anticipation of what was to happen next ramping up to a chilling finale. Not so much now, with each sequel/prequel/spin-off to drag out the franchise for as long as possible to rake in as much money, to the point where nobody cares (see: X-Files, The). But, back then, it was so refreshing to take a step back and instead of relying on tired, cheap scares. It played with our emotions and wasn’t afraid to shred our nerves, merely by making an unexpected sound.

This is what brings me on to writing this article; as I remember reading online reviews of Paranormal Activity, then scrolled down to the comments to read offensive, derogatory remarks from people whose courage comes from behind a keyboard. Their comments were aimed at mocking the people who found it scary, saying it was dumb, a waste of time, not scary at all and that people were stupid to have found it scary. Obviously the tone and language was much worse, but that was the jist of it. I found this really getting me annoyed, but I bit my lip, as these comments sections and forums are used now mainly to sling around hate and show the most pathetic side of human nature. Yes I agree that not everyone may have found it scary, but to judge people for saying that they were, is highly offensive to me.

Personally, I can’t stand watching movies like Saw and Hostel, I avoid them completely as I don’t find it scary to watch people being subjected to graphic torture, and I find it a bit sickening. But, I am perfectly fine with people who find that type of horror movie scary. Horror movies seem to divide people into what they personally find scary. In some cases, it’s the psychological horror that plays with your mind that creeps people out, me included. It’s what is not shown on-screen that I find can be most effective, leaving your imagination to do the rest. *SPOILER ALERT* The Conjuring does this so effectively in one scene, where a girl stares petrified at a door, saying she can see something behind it, yet nothing is there. It’s her acting skills and what goes through your mind that makes the scene so frightening, to imagine what it is the character is seeing, yet it is just a door in a dark room *SPOILER ENDS*.

In other cases, it’s the visual, graphic horror that people go for, knowing that people will be subjected to suffering or death by some grotesque monster or deranged killer that scares people. I’m no psychologist, but I’m assuming they are placing themselves in the victim’s shoes, knowing that there is little or no escape from the horror that is coming. The movie Creep does this extremely well, with some visceral scenes that make you so glad you aren’t the poor sap, isolated from the world, about to meet a very nasty end with no rescue coming.

I suppose what I am saying, is that people find different things scary and I guess that is why horror movies tend to fall into sub-genres in order to appeal to various target audiences. What is pleasing is that so many well-made, critically acclaimed horror movies have been made in recent years. It seems the craft is being perfected through experimental phases in past movies, to produce some true modern classics, and long may it continue. Just stop making more Paranormal Activity movies now. Please?


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Originally forged in the steelworks of Teesside (imagine the reverse of the end of Terminator 2), John is a self-confessed 80s child and movie geek and he indulges his passions for movies by occasionally appearing in them. When he is not doing that, he is investigating the paranormal with either his West Midlands or Berkshire buddies, or planning another Due South fan convention in Canada. John will depart our UK shores in 2014 to live in Australia and wrestle crocs (the shoes, not the animal), but he aims to contribute to FTN as much as he can...

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