For years I have been saying (to anyone that will listen) that by and large horror movies are not scary. There was a time when I would have added an ‘anymore’ claus to the end of that statement, however in thinking about that I realized it was a load of hooey – horror movies by and large have never really been that scary. And I’m not talking about startles or gore, I’m talking about Fear (upper case intended). In my mind there are really only two movies that have inspired actual Fear in me: The Exorcist*and The Blair Witch Project. Why these two films specifically? Despite contention I stand by the idea that The Blair Witch Project was not only an excellent film, but also an experiment in how far filmmakers can push their actors. Before the film’s hype machine began I remember reading an article where one of the actors said** that they were not given the entire story at first, that the fimmakers sabotaged their compass with magnets and then followed them through the first leg of their journey into the Pine Barrons – I’ve always particularly been affected by the scene in the film where the three leads are awoken in the middle of the night by noise outside their tent and then something strikes their tent. It’s always been my understanding that what was captured on film there was actual, genuine human Fear, and it translates to the viewer quite well in my opinion.
So that’s the first one, but what about the other? Well, I’ve saved the scariest for last. And just what is it that makes William Friedkin’s The Exorcist so damn terrifying? Well, perhaps if we take a minute to think about mechanics of the film we can learn something from it.
In thinking about it recently I came to the conclusion that The Exorcist scares the hell out of me because I do not believe in the devil, as a matter of fact, and yet when I watch that film it makes me believe – for the duration of the film and then some, like let’s say if I’m leaving a friend’s at 2 AM and walking out into the dark to get in my car and drive home – in the devil. It makes me believe in him and that he has nothing better to do than try and find me and hurt me and those I love. I admit that’s a bit ridiculous, but regardless, it is indeed true.
That’s a pretty darn good mechanism for invoking fear, especially in a society that is largely either presently religious or post-religious; nothing else I’ve encountered has that effect on me.
There have been some other films that inspire moments of fear, but nothing quite on the level we’re talking about here. The [REC] films are brilliant – but the fear is perfectly honed with an Aliens-esque action element, and that sets off an entirely different set of emotions that alter the Fear and make it move differently as it passes through my nervous system. And believe it or not, to me, Insidious was pretty close – there were quite a few scenes in that film, along with a generally well-held tone of absolute forboding that never dipped into cheese (as they often do) and sent actual waves of Fear pulsating through me. This is the feeling I seek to repeat, almost like a drug experience. Not all the time of course, but I’m always looking for another film that will inspire that 2AM-walking-to-the-car dread in me; have me looking over my shoulder or stretching out the shivers on my spine as I walk into a darkened room. And now, if the trailers and even radio spots are to be considered truthful harbingers, we have The Devil Inside and honestly, it looks like it may be too much.
Maybe not too much, maybe it’s just me being a wuss, but something about this one, as opposed to the general scoffing that pretty much every exorcism movie since Friedkin’s masterpiece has inspired in me, is already getting under my skin and giving me the heebie jeebies – and I haven’t even seen it yet!
And I’m not sure if I’m going to. Maybe it’s the feeling of disbelief that it will actually live up to the ads, or maybe I’m just loosing my edge. I don’t know, but I’m looking for feedback from folks who see it, so if you do, and you read this, drop a comment and let me know.
Does it deliver, or is this another nu-exorcist wannabe like the last exorcism***? And if I get a few favorable experiences related I guess I will have to man-up and go get the living hell scared out of me.
* Which apparently only applies to the original version, not the ‘version you’ve never seen before’, although I’d have to go back and A & B them to be sure; it’s been a while since I’ve watched the original and when I watched the ‘never seen before’ version recently I felt it didn’t quite live up, mainly due to pacing (although perhaps the film just doesn’t affect me like it did eight years ago, although I doubt that very much).
** Now, whether that was eventually revealed to be part of the marketing strategy and as such not true I do not know. I hope not; I’ve always wanted it to be true.
*** Which admittedly I’ve never seen, and when several friends revealed the events that comprise the ‘twist’ ending I thought I wanted to see. However those same friends assure me that while it sounds good, it is awful and something one friend even expressed concern that I might “burn down the theatre” for.
I would never do that. Not unless the theatre was owned by chase bank, that is.