Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hollywood Hates Horror

Good evening. And what a fine evening it is! We've come so far, had so much fun and been through many adventures on this Rollercoaster of a Halloween Countdown. But, as this train is pulling into the station and Halloween looms just one more sleep away, we're going to be talking about something a little more placid and perhaps even a little more fun.
Now, I admit, with NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I wish I was talking a bit more about writing so I could help those of you that are struggling to turn that story into 50,000 words. I might talk about that next month, but if you can't wait that long I suggest you look no further than the Incomparable Miss Sridhar, whose latest post The Writing Zone, talks a bit about her experiences expanding a short story into a novella.

But I'm not going to talk about writing or books today. Instead, I'm going to talk about movies. Because there are a lot of scary movies out there, these days, but for some reason or another most of them aren't all that "scary" to me. The Word of the Day is: 'FLINCH'
Flinch /flinch/ v.i. 1. To draw back from what is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant. 2. To pull away under pain; wince.
Well, I've learned two things today. Firstly, the Word of the Day was going to be "jump-scare", but Dictionary gave me a dirty look when I wanted the definition, because it isn't a word, it's two words that mean one thing.
Secondly, I thought a wince was that high-pitched sound you made when someone hurt you, not the flinching motion (I also thought it was spelled "whince"). I'm learning a lot today . . .
But the reason the Word of the Day is Flinch is because that's what jump scares make you do, and I believe that "jump scares' are ruining modern "Horror Movies". So many of the biggest Horror movies out today think they're the latest example of horror, but they're not at all. They don't scare me, they make me flinch. In his review of Dead Space, Yahtzee Croshaw once said:
  "I've heard people praise how scary it is, but really all it does is startle, and that's not difficult. I was startled when an opossum jumped into my window - that doesn't make it the marsupial answer to Stanley Kubrick."
This is not a trend that occurs merely in horror games. One of the most popular horror series of this decade is Paranormal Activity. I enjoyed the movie for its style, but not its scares, because it wasn't scary to me at all. If you watch this "Official Trailer" for the film, you'll see what I'm talking about. it shows footage of the audience in the theatre, jumping at the scares. You could get the same footage if, instead of the movie, the audience sat there while an usher wandered about the dark, tapping people on the shoulder.

I'm not saying I've got an iron stomach or that I'm "too brave to be scared". I flinch at the jump scares as much as anyone else, often the atmosphere is creepy and I like Paranormal Activity (the first one, anyway) and a lot of horror movies for their stories, even if they don't terrify me. Also, as my mate Sean says: "If you want to be scared by a Horror Movie, let yourself be scared. Feel what the character is feeling, you'll be scared every time."
So it's not that Horror Movies aren't scary. But for this Halloween, I've been looking for some genuinely horrifying movies that you should watch with your friends. After much searching, I believe I've found five movies that do more than just startle their audience, so I've put them together in a list, that I call:


If you're getting together with friends this Halloween to give yourselves a fright - or if you just want to spend a night with your girlfriend cuddling up close to you so she can feel safe - these are the movies for you. Before we get into it, two things. I have not seen every Horror Movie, I just watched those that others called "The Scariest", from them I created this list. If a movie you find the scariest isn't on here, it either didn't suit my criteria, or I haven't seen it.
For our "second" thing, some movies you might want to check out, but didn't make the cut have earned some Honourable Mentions:

X. The Saw franchise
I considered putting these one on the list, because I like the complicated storyline, but the problem is that almost all of the horror is Body Horror.
It's gross-out stuff that makes you feel frightened and unwell because of how wrong it is for someone to inflict such torture to a human body. Now, I personally like Body Horror, because it's horrifying and I get this sinking feeling in my stomach that adds to the tension. It's a good scare . . . but, like the jump-scare, it's kind of cheating and some people just feel sick from watching it. I'm here to make you afraid, not throw up.

X. Dead End
In my search for scary movies, I came across a list of "cheap, unknown" horror films that are said to be terrifying. None of them actually were, except for this gem from 2003. the creepy part about this isn't the family falling apart during christmas vacation. It isn't the endless road that feels like purgatory. It isn't the ghostly woman in white or the reaper's black car. These are all spooky, to be sure. But what terrifies me, is the mother Laura Harrington (Lin Shaye). I'm not going to spoil what happens, but when her fear gets the better of her, she turns from a quirky little passive character to the scariest part of the movie. I just wish the rest of the movie had that same punch-to-the-gut fear.

X. The Cabin in the Woods
I love this movie. The concept is amazing, I love the way it plays with horror movie cliches and I absolutely love the writing and style. This movie is a deconstruction of horror movies and if you're a fan of Horror movies, you NEED to check this out. If you love analyzing or critiquing film, you NEED to check this out. If you love making movies or writing stories, you NEED to check this out (especially the Extras on the DVD, which you need to buy).
However . . . this movie isn't scary. It is quintessentially horror and it's a great movie, but as much as I feel the need to rave about it, it's more fun than fear, so it cannot earn a spot on my "Genuinely Scary Movies" list.

Now, on to the Main Event! Trade that Halloween Candy in for some Popcorn & see if you can stomach these horrors . . .

5. The Descent
Synopsis: After a tragic accident that killed her husband and daughter, Sarah Carter (Shauna MacDonald) decides to join a group of her friends in some recreational caving, hoping to stop mourning and start living again. But when the five girls get stuck in a cave that's never been explored before, they're only option is to head deeper and deeper, looking for another way out and facing the creatures that live in its uncharted darkness.
Scare Factors: Stuck in the dark, with little food and even less light, this movie is tense and claustrophobic. The brilliant characterization of these girls draws you into their struggles. In a cave so unpredictable and immense, it's survival of the fittest, and you can feel that every time one of the girls gets even slightly hurt. Once the girls face the cave monsters and have to literally fight to survive, it becomes a question of how far we have to go to survive & of course what will be left of us after spending so long in the dark . . .
Summary: This film needs to be watched. The reason it's so far down on the list is because I have a problem with seeing women get hurt. It's just a quirk of mine, but I find it distasteful. Also, while this is an impressive story and has its fair share of creepy moments, the movie seems to think that the cave monsters are a lot scarier than they actually are. They're pretty weak, to be honest, but the highlight of the film isn't the monsters, it's the main characters and what they have to go through to survive. This film, especially the ending, gave me chills.

4. The Grey
Synopsis: Ottway (Liam Neeson) has lived a life of hardship and loss, that's lead him to work as a hunstman for an oil company in Alaska, paid to shoot and kill any wolves that get too close to the site. After a long haul on-site, all the workers are heading home, until bad weather crashes their plane, leaving only seven alive, including Ottway. They want to wait for rescue, but they're in the middle of nowhere and after an attack in the middle of the night, they realize they're being hunted by a pack of grey wolves. The only way to survive is to brave the wilderness and find help before they're all eaten by the wolves.
Scare Factors: This film has quite a few jump scares, but even on a second viewing and knowing they're coming, this film still managed to keep me on the edge of my seat. This is about what separates man from beast and it's a story of desperate men in a desolate landscape. But more than anything, the thing that creeps me out is the tragedy. This isn't just death, this is being torn to pieces by animals, freezing to death in the middle of nowhere, dying slowly, one-by-one with no chance of respite or rescue.
Summary: This film isn't just scary, it's also a fantastic movie. Whereas The Descent features an all-female cast, struggling to take care of one another and get along; this is an all-male cast, forced to get along under the circumstances and clashing against one another as tensions rise. I'd love to go into detail about how Grey and Descent reflect man and woman. But for now all I'll say is, to me, this film is questioning what it actually means to be a Man.

3. The Shining
Synopsis: Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) a writer, gets a job as a caretaker for the isolated Outlook Hotel during it's winter off season, in the hopes he'll get his novel written. He brings along his family, Wendy (Shelley Duvalle) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd), both of whom have suffered at his alcoholism and hope that the vacation will be good for the family. But after a long stay, Jack starts to go crazy from the isolation and the influence of the hotels many ghosts before he finally snaps and picks up an axe . . .
Also, Danny is psychic for some reason.
Scare Factors: Jack "Nicholson" Torrance is always a wonder to behold. Nicholson can be intimidating while ordering breakfast, so he steals the show with his spiralling psychosis and homicidal rage. The atmosphere is creepy, with the long, tracking shots; endless, creeping hallways; remote locations; disorienting scenery & surreal haunting imagery. But more than anything, the biggest frightener has to be the tension that builds and builds throughout the movie between Jack and his family.
Summary: Full Disclosure - I personally don't find this movie all that scary. Watching Jack Nicholson go from an abusive arse to a murderous one is not all that fun for me. But the other day, the lovely Miss Sridhar educated me to the fact that while the story focuses on Jack, the heart of this movie is Wendy Torrance. She's been through so much & just wants to bring her family closer together. Yet, they're torn apart by Jack's insanity, and all she can do is struggle to keep herself and her son alive as their attacked by the madman that used to be her husband. Watching this film while empathizing with this poor, struggling mother is an experience that can give you nightmares.

2. One Hour Photo
Synopsis: Seymour Parrish (Robin Williams) plays a photo technician at a one-hour photo developing laboratory. He lives a lonely life with nothing to look forward to except for a set of repeat customers, the Yorkin family. He idolizes their beautiful house, their adorable son & outwardly flawless marriage, thinking himself as their "Uncle Sy", hoping to one day be a part of their family. Due to his obsession, he develops doubles of the family's photographs, which he keeps on his apartment wall. But Seymour's world comes crashing down when his obsession is revealed & his ideal family starts slipping away from him.
Scare Factors: Robin Williams is funny and energetic, so seeing him play a quiet, reserved character like Seymour is off-putting in its own right. But this is a tale of twisted, unrequited obsession. The lengths one man will go to just to be noticed, it's both tragic and disturbing. There's one or two jump scares, but most of the tension comes from empathizing with Seymour when his secret is at risk of being exposed or fear for the family when Seymour loses control.
Summary: It should be expected of a film about photography, but this film has stunning cinematography by Jeff Cronenwerth. If you are a film student, you need to watch this film. More than that, if you've felt obsession in any form, be it fanaticism, love or disgust, this film shows the unnerving truth behind what can become of obsession when it goes too far. It's well deserving of the Number 2 spot on this list.

1. Session 9
Synopsis: In the hopes of revitalizing the local area, Bill Brigs (Paul Guilfoyle) hires a renovation crew headed by Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan) and Phil (David Caruso) to remove the asbestos from the old abandoned insane asylum. There's drama between the crew, Phil butting heads with Hank (Josh Lucas) over stealing his girlfriend. But things turn nasty when wannabe lawyer Mike (Stephen Gevedon) discovers a series of recorded psychiatric sessions from a patient with multiple personalities that is believed to have been host to a demon.
Scare Factors: This movie is all about the tension. The guys are already doing a dangerous job, they could easily die or hurt themselves in this broken down building using harsh chemicals to wash the place down and clean up the asbestos. They seem so real, they're just doing their job but they're all a little creeped out by the look and history of this place. But it's what these guys do, because of this situation that freaks me out. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that, every time I watch this movie, I can't sleep.
Summary: I wrote this list because of this movie. After seeing Saw, Paranormal Activity & Day of the Dead, I was starting to think that jump scares and gross-out movies were the only things Horror Movies had to offer. This movie introduced me to spine-tingling, bone-chilling terror, and ever since I watched it, I haven't been able to find a film that's scarier. I recommend against watching this on your own.

Well, that's are my list of genuinely scary movies. If you know one you think is scarier (that doesn't resort to jump scares or cheap tricks) then please let me know in the comments! This is not a complete list of the only scary movies, these are the ones that I think will give you the best scares.
If I can find more scary movies to terrify us, then I might just put them in a list for next year's Halloween Countdown.

But until then, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, saying "Flick or Freak!". Everyone, stay safe and have a fun; try not to scream your brains out and I hope you have a Happy Halloween!


  1. I've seen One Hour Photo and the Shining. Those movies were really creepy. I'm adding Session 9 and Dead End to my Netflix list.

    1. Dead End is a very good film (even though I think the ending could have been done better). As for Session 9 . . . I hope it doesn't scare you TOO much. I wasn't exaggerating. Both times I've watched the film, I could not sleep.


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