October 9, 2010

CUT IT OUT! Things Hollywood Should Stop Doing in Horror Movies

The horror film must be the most maligned of all the genres of film. Often schlocky and renowned for being cheap to produce, they get no respect. Despite the numerous great directors to cut their teeth with horror like Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, its not until they get out of the horror business that they get the recognition they deserve. Actors will star in horror films and then later turn around and talk shit about them once they achieved the level of success that those crappy films helped elevate them to. Hollywood throws out dozens of these films every year, frequently with little promotion, casts full with nobodies because lets face it, the movie-going public at large just wants to see these goons die not get to know them right? And sequels, those idiots love to pay to see the same crap over and over and over again right? Just have that person killed with a power drill this time instead of a chainsaw and then that dude whose name nobody remembers who survived the last movie? HE is the killer now. OMG, we’ll have to wait for the next sequel to see what HE kills people with.

What makes this all the more tragic is that horror has some of the most passionate fans in the world. They go to the conventions, they go to the midnight screenings, they buy the DVD, they buy the remastered directors cut DVD, they buy the fifth anniversary DVD, they buy the toys based on the characters, they live for this stuff. Someone like me sees the horror fan base as one that deserves to be rewarded for their loyalty and their love for the genre, unfortunately more often than not that love is exploited and perhaps even punished by some of the dreck that Hollywood puts onto the screen and then two months later in an 18 second-longer “unrated” DVD release. There are myriad reasons why Hollywood has done such a disservice to horror in general and I am going to list as many as I can in this series of pieces on the subject. These are the reasons why so much mainstream horror is so disposable, so samey and most tragically of all, not at all scary.

1. Cheap Tricks
Hiding behind a door and jumping out at your little sister might scare her the first time you do it, but do it three times a day every day for a year? Yeah she’s not falling for that crap anymore. Why is it then that so many mainstream horror movies do the same crap over and over and over again? Perhaps they make the assumption every time that their film is being viewed by people who have never seen a horror movie before. This is rarely the case however, so if you want to make sure your horror film is not scary make sure to include all of the following. Include each one multiple times for even greater effect!

Ominous music ends in cat/parent/boyfriend/etc appearing and scaring hero/heroine. This has been absolutely done to death. Who still falls for fake scares? Why set up the fake scares the same way you set up the actual scares? The ominous music is something I will come back to at a later date, but why numb people to the actual scares by throwing in these ridiculous teases? Is making the audience feel stupid because they jumped at a cat jumping into shot really important than catching people with an actual scare? Its a HORROR movie, don’t burn people out with the fake stuff so that they don’t react to the real stuff.

Protagonist looks in bathroom cabinet mirror, opens cabinet, closes cabinet and OMG THE KILLER/GHOST/GIANT SLOTH IS RIGHT THERE BEHIND THEM! This is not scary. It has never been scary. Not ever. Please stop.

A figure darts in front of the camera that the protagonist doesn’t see. This is frequently accompanied by a quick shot of discordant violin playing. This has not and will never be frightening, not ever. Why? Because it is always a scene when the protagonist is investigating to see if something is there. The protagonist does not see the person or the violins and so does not know for sure if there is a presence there or not therefore they are scared. The audience has been informed that there is something there by the visual and audio cues and therefore the situation is not scary anymore. I will always maintain that what makes many films scary is the unknown, we are frightened by things we do not understand or unfamiliar situations where we are not in control. The viewer should be experiencing the situations vicariously through the protagonists, giving the audience extra information puts them in control and they are not frightened anymore. A good horror film atmosphere is created far more successfully by what is not seen rather than what is, knowledge is power and if you give that audience knowledge, you are giving them the power not to be scared by your movie anymore.

Stay tuned, plenty more on this subject to come.