I’ve been a huge horror movie fan for a while, but there is one thing that always irked me about a certain ongoing trend in them. I was going to ignore it until I noticed that it was happening in suspense/thriller novels as well.
Here’s the deal, everyone has seen these movies. The story starts off with a group of people. These people are usually in their teens or early 20s. They have drug problems, criminal records, are not the most upstanding people around either being depraved or entitled, and the horror story their stuck in is 99.99999% of the time of their own making. Either they pissed off fate, did something really stupid, or went somewhere that they shouldn’t have been.
I’ve always felt that horror is 30% visual, 70% psychological. You can add visual descriptions, jump scares (in visual medias anyway), and things like that, but in the end, you’re not going to scare anyone. Startle them, but not scare them. Horror is supposed to send chills down your spine. It’s supposed to make you think!
Let’s look at The Exorcist, and I mean either the book or the movie as both are pretty much the standard for horror. The book is far worse than the movie in terms of scares. I don’t recommend reading it in the dark. The movie may be tame by today’s standards, but at the time it sent people screaming from the theaters and, not helping matters, several religious orders came out and actually confirmed that similar incidents have been known to happen. That is freaky.
The problem is that most of the horror these days focuses more on the visual and less on the psychological. It’s become gore-exploitation and allowing scary visuals to do the job of actual creativity. That’s a problem, and it is why so many horror stories are written or made into film and quickly forgotten about.
Why are these stories and movies written this way? Perhaps as a cautionary tale to the younger generations? Perhaps someone was bullied and wants to see those jerks get what’s coming to them in some way… um… okay.
Well if you’re doing it for the second reason, people are going to notice. If you’re doing it for the first reason, kudos, but the general audience is not going to enjoy it. Why, because seeing a bunch of morally bankrupt people get what’s coming to them IS NOT SCARY!
Why are stories like the Exorcist so frightening? Because there are no bad people in there. Reagan, Father Merrin, and Father Karras are all good people. Karras has a bit of a crisis of faith, but all the same, he’s a good man. Yet we watch as so many bad things happen to these characters throughout the story. The fact that they are good and/or innocent, does not protect them. It makes us think, if it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone. That prospect is absolutely frightening. Not even good can protect you from this kind of evil.
Bad people in the end almost always get what’s coming to them. It’s a well-known fact. So exposing them to horrors that most-likely they either deserve or brought upon themselves is not scary. I usually find myself sitting there in sarcastic tone going ‘No… don’t do that.. don’t desecrate that person’s remains… stop, this will come back to bite you.’
It means nothing, I feel it never…
However, when I saw the exorcism of Emily Rose for the first time… heard the poor girl plead with her boyfriend not to leave her… I felt for the character. Maybe in part because I’ve had friends and girlfriends in the past get very sick and ask me the same thing in the same way…
So then to see something like this… Particularly 1.20
That still sends chills down my spine! Especially when she reveals who the demons are.
That scene is scary enough, but perhaps even more frightening than that is this scene:
Erin Bruner: Dr. Cartwright?
Dr. Cartwright: I recognize you from those courtroom drawings on the news. You’re much prettier in real life.
Erin Bruner: May I sit?
Dr. Cartwright: Yes, please… You’re losing. I had hoped Father Moore wouldn’t need me but I don’t wanna see him put away.
Erin Bruner: How do you know him?
Dr. Cartwright: Well, I was his parishioner at St. Vincent’s Church years ago. I hadn’t seen or heard of him for years when he called me last fall. But he needed help, so…
Erin Bruner: What kind of help, doctor?
Dr. Cartwright: He wanted a medical perspective from a psychiatrist… you know, one that he knew, trusted to observe Emily’s physical and mental state during this…
Erin Bruner: During the exorcism.
Dr. Cartwright: Yeah.
Erin Bruner: Doctor… Doctor… Can you help our case?
Dr. Cartwright: That girl was not schizophrenic, she was not epileptic, or any combination of the two. I’ve seen hundreds of people with those problems. They can be terrible afflictions… but they don’t scare me.
Erin Bruner: But what you saw there, did?
Dr. Cartwright: God… If I’d known, I never would have been there…
The lines I highlighted in red… I really wish that I could find a clip of this scene from the movie because the script simply does not do it justice. The entire time, Dr. Cartwright is looking around nervously and you can feel the fear in his voice. Something is haunting him… and you never see what it is. In this scene it’s more what you don’t see than what you do that is freaky.
Honestly, out of any scene in any horror story… this one really sent chills down my spine more so than any other I’ve ever read or watched. You have no idea what this man has scene, or what is continuing to stalk and torment him in the shadows. There are no jump scares, no dark music, nothing. It’s two people in the park talking, that’s it, but that’s all you need. What’s said there and the emotions that are effectively relayed are enough to send a person’s imagination wild in fear. THAT is effective story-telling from a horror perspective, whether you like that movie or not.
So honestly, in round up, all I can say is that watching people get what’s coming to them is not scary and it never will be. You’re not going to frighten anyone by having a bunch of drugged up ex-cons running around doing stupid things that get them into trouble. It just doesn’t work.
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