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Thread: What makes a good horror movie

  1. #1
    Barbie_Doll
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    What makes a good horror movie

    Just curious, what do you guys think makes a really good horror movie? Are there certain elements or techniques that are used that you like/dislike?

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW Writer2011's Avatar
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    I like scare tactics...because if they are done right, will really scare the mess out of you. I also like the psychological aspect, the stuff you can't see. So many horror movies are full of cliches, but that makes it fun

  3. #3
    Snoopy Dance! sthrnwriter's Avatar
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    I think what elements that make a good horror movie are a well written original script, good actors, special effects, the director, so on. I think they all have to mix well for the movie to be good.

  4. #4
    excessively spartan preyer's Avatar
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    i think they fall into certain styles, slasher/gore, psychological, or a mix. each has its merits, but i think as far as writing one goes, you need to decide which you're going to do. i might even add 'action horror' as a style, such as, and this is giving it credit, i think, 'blade' and some of the imports starting to trickle in from japan and china (which, i feel, tend to be the far east's version of low-budget horror flicks: you know, the type of movie where a head is slashed off and ten gallons of blood shoot forty feet into the air). it's kind of difficult to categorize 'jaws' for me. if they ever do 'house of leaves,' i'm so there.

    some examples of good horror, and i might put in there 'suspense,' too, are 'house' and 'alien'/'aliens.' certain parts of 'the sixth sense' scare the hell out of me. gimmicks done well can be effective, like 'blair witch.' i'd be exceptionally proud to write anything like 'poltergeist.' the ultimate horror movie to me is 'the exorcist.'

    i'd say the 'urban legends' and 'ginger snaps' type of fare is entertaining, but i won't go so far as to say they're 'good.'

    what makes good horror movies, though? as with any story, it starts with good characters. without that, you've got any 80's dumb slasher story, because that's what you'd have to make to make up for good writing. in other words, if your characters suck, throw in lots of gore and sex. that's pretty obvious, isn't it?

    what scares/interests me most is the supernatural, ghosts and such. i'm not talking about your cheesy 'candyman' or jason. for me, good horror doesn't tend to be very gory (though i'm not averse to that, per se). it builds itself up along the way. not often is the bad guy obvious from the start (though with notable exceptions). while you feel its presence, you learn what it is along with the characters.

    being trapped in a house, mall, underground military installation, island, whatever, works for me, too. having unlimited mobility detracts greatly from not only the suspense more often than not, but also in the oppression i want to feel. sometimes, the entrapment involves a self-containment, that is the character feels compelled to trap himself. the 'preyer challenge' i have going on right now has the heroine trapped in her apartment with some sort of quasi-supernatural reason why that the reader learns about as i learn about it while i write, lol. 'nightmare on elm street' worked so well simply because the characters were trapped when they went to sleep. otherwise it's a boring slasher (and, really, if you watch any but the original today, they're pretty lame movies).

    cats jumping into frame is always effective, but it's such bad tactics i hate dignifying it with pixel space.

    good horror has to be an innate fear certain people have. personally, i've never been scared of any movie involving bees, spiders, rabid dogs, etc.. some people are, though. it's hard to make that stuff effective because it removes the unknown and makes it mundane, killable, even if they're hard to kill or see. few movies do it well enough, just not my preference. 'the cave' looks to be this sort of movie, but it looks fairly decent. 'pitch black' with vin diesel and i think it was 'darkness falls' by stephen king were good 'darkness closing around you while you're trapped' kind of movies.

    being stuck or trapped in pretty basic characterization in a lot of stories, not just horror. you can be stuck or trapped in a well, a job, a marriage, school.... almost everyone has felt trapped before. tapping into that ennui or extreme circumstances is something a lot of writers fail to realize as a part of how to make their characters connect with the reader. connecting with the actors is essential to any good movie, horror is no different. that's why it drives me crazy when an otherwise decent premise, say for 'final destination,' is treated like a movie for teens and young adults by adding in actors barely legal enough to get naked. don't get me wrong, i truly enjoy seeing young naked actresses... just doesn't make for good horror stories necessarily.

    that's what gets me about horror movies, college age kids facing indominable odds and pulling through. gimme a break. okay, that's your audience. but is it the best way to turn a buck? i mean, really, is it? obviously, they think so, but i aver that with a slightly better quality script and attention to characters not on screen because of their looks but their actual characters (college kids aren't real people, after all, and i often am confused if i should be horrified when they get slaughtered or laugh, especially as they're making love like they've been doing it for thirty years), you'd *still* get not only most of the audience you shot for originally, but a more mature clientele as well. pandering to old children is fine up to a certain point, but it would be nice to move beyond that and not wind up with 'white noise' with michael keaton. somehow, h'wood equates 'mature' with 'slow and boring.'

    i think because a lot of writers do horror for their first script, they write about what they know, meaning people their own age. screenwriters my age write what they think is superior horror by making the characters have all these adult problems, then by slowing everything down to a crawl that somehow is supposed to equate to dramatic effect. wes craven, if you're reading this, please, for the love of tree bark, STOP making teenage horror movies! you're an old man: act like it and write something decent for a change. movies with more generic characters i can't imagine....

    zzzzz. please, someone write a horror movie geared towards a 35 year old guy who likes to be entertained, will ya? that is, if you can make good characters. if you can't, don't bother: the last thing we need is any horror movie starting off with 'a group of college friends....'

    horror comes in a couple of guises. suspense, gore, shock....

    (more later, i've got an errand to do. )

  5. #5
    (Graeme Cameron) three seven's Avatar
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    The unknown. As soon as you can see what's stalking you, you can put a name to it and it's no longer anywhere near as frightening.

  6. #6
    Zodiac Fleet Commander Ivonia's Avatar
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    Like preyer mentioned, you gotta have good characters. If the characters are boring, you won't really care about what happens to them.

    Some spoilers ahead for the Exorcist, the Grudge, Boogeyman, and a game called Fatal Frame 2. Don't read on if you don't wanna know about it.




    I'm not sure if this was intentional subtly or not, but I remember in the Exorcist (I think the uncut one), there were two really creepy parts to it (no, not where Regan spiderwalks down the staircase, although it is kinda creepy too). I think it was around the middle of the movie, where the mom is in the kitchen, and you can see a faint image of that Pazuzu statue. It's hard to see it unless you pause/slow down around that area and look for it, but if you do see it, it's kind of creepy (a friend had to point it out to me).

    Another scene had that image again. I think the mom had just stepped out of the bedroom, and you could still see the walls of the bedroom as she left. The room was dark, and the image is on the left side of the screen on the wall. While the actors don't see it, if you notice it, it makes it much creepier. Again, I don't know if I was just "seeing things" or if the filmmakers intentionally threw those images in to make the scene creepier than it really is, but it worked on me.




    Atmosphere and the environment can work at times. For instance, in the Grudge (the American remake, I saw the Japanese original, but I dont remember if it had this scene in it), there is a scene where a woman is going home after being late at work. As she is taking the long stairs to leave, her cell phone rings and she hears a creepy noise coming out of it. This is followed shortly by the lights going out on every level above her, and when she looks down she sees a ghostly figure slowly climbing the stairs up towards her.

    Since I've worked in a business building before similiar to where she's at, I can understand the feeling of "solitude" when taking the stairs, and I always had this imaginary fear of something like that happening, where someone or something was waiting stalk me on those stairway areas (I should mention that the Japanese version had a very scary scene in it too involving a young girl being haunted by her friends who were murdered in that house, but it's not in the US version unfortunately. But yeesh, they were really creepy to look at, I suggest you watch it if you want to be scared hehe).

    Playing on people's fears works for me too, if done properly. I'm really afraid of the dark, because it hides unknown stuff that you can't see. However, you'd better have a good reason for forcing a character to go into the abandoned building and into that dark area, or else I'll start to become too "logical" and start complaining about the movie (because I don't think any person would just walk into a scary looking house just for the heck of it). I'm willing to suspend my belief for a while, but if too many stupid things start happening, then I'm not going to really care (especially if it's more confusing than scary, in Boogeyman I was never sure what was going on, and most of the "scary" parts were predictable).

    The next part isn't directly related to good movies, but I thought I'd share it anyway, because it is horror related.

    There is a scary game I've played recently called Fatal Frame 2, where you play as this Japanese girl, along with her sister, and you wander through this ghost town (I'm not entirely sure what the plot is anymore, I forgot). What makes this game scary is that there are ghosts haunting the town, and while some of them are only in certain areas, later in the game they start to randomly pop even in safe areas (such as a save room. There was a ghost that I swore resembled Samara from the Ring, holy crap did she scare the heck out of me when I went too close to a chest lol. she floats above the ground, and her head hangs down until she rushes you, in which time you see her mutilated face, really creepy especially as you're looking through the camera).

    What makes this game interesting is that your character isn't some gung-ho superhero, you're just a regular girl, and you can "kill" the ghosts by taking their picture with a special camera (although early in the game there is one ghost where you can't hurt him at all, and if he touches you you die instantly. It was scary at first, cause he changes the screen from color to black & white, but after too many deaths I found myself being more frustrated than scared of the area).

    Some of the ghosts are really scary looking to, and while they don't rush at you with super speed (well, one of them does, but most are slow), the problem with that is your character can often only move so much, especially inside a small room, so if you don't get a good shot of the ghost in the camera's viewfinder, they can really hurt you). It's a good play on fear of ghosts and dark, scary places (what makes it creepier is sometimes as you're wandering around, you'll see other ghosts pop out of nowhere. These don't hurt you, but they make a scary noise prior to appearing. They often appear in really obscure places, like above a walkway while you're passing underneath for instance, and seeing them for a brief moment is certainly spooky).

    One more interesting/scary part I should mention is, there's this one room where a ghostly woman falls from above (I think she was called "Fallen Woman"). When you first go there, there's a cutscene where your character is walking, and suddenly this very pale faced woman falls down in front of you, headfirst that is (and she always fall down headfirst). The entire time her eyes are fixed right at you, and everytime she falls she screams. She then slides across the floor on her back in an attempt to grab you if you don't snap her picture in time to hurt her. Well, she wriggles rather, she moves as if all her bones were broken, if you can imagine that (yeesh, I got shivers just writing about this and thinking about that scene hehe).

    I remember "beating" her once, and then passing through the area again, thinking it was safe, when suddenly I heard a scream and the ghost woman fell down again. She scared the bejeezus out of me, and let me assure you, I never, ever went into that room again lol (nor did I go to any tiny room where ghosts appeared).

    As you can see, if done right, horror movies (and games hehe) can be pretty scary and entertaining at the same time. However, if the movie/game is too difficult or non-sensical to understand (because most people don't want to delve too deeply on that stuff), then it won't be as scary to me. Not that they can't have a complex story/plot, but if it's too confusing to follow along with, then I find myself being less scared of it as I try to figure out what's going on (such as in the case of Boogeyman).
    Last edited by Ivonia; 08-21-2005 at 06:05 AM.

  7. #7
    excessively spartan preyer's Avatar
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    i imagine every single aspect of 'the exorcist' was designed to have an effect, from the type of bed regan suffered on to the shadows. i know there are people who have dissected this film frame by frame and assigned meaning to the seemingly most trivial thing. for instance, the poster has the priest walking up to the steps at night, a street light on and there's a traffic sign in the picture, too, if i recall. well, every single element of that basic shot has meaning, or so some would tell you. and maybe it does, i can't say for sure. but, sure, i believe that if the demon shows up 'in the shadows' or whatever that's not obvious, it's put there for a reason.

    while that may or may not work, a lot of movies now have easter eggs or references to other films. not that it's meant to have any effect, it's just fun for some people to find. for instance, in disney's 'the haunted mansion,' try to find as many 'mickeys' (the three circles that form his silhouette) as you can. (as an aside: if you do this, the lock holding the gate closed looks like a mickey and probably was meant to be one, however that lock itself is an old design and can even be seen in lots of movies, mostly set in the victorian era. man, the worthless crap i know....)

    atmosphere is an excellent pick, ivonia. i know everyone here has watched a bad horror movie and said, 'you know what, if this thing had a little bit better of a script, good actors, and some real production values, this dumb movie might be pretty good.' if you haven't said this, say it next time you watch a bad horror movie just so i'm not proven to be a liar.

    in many, many, many cases, what truly separates a bad horror movie from a scary one? money. with money you get a better script, better actors, and production values. with production values you get atmosphere. it's difficult to be scared by a production using mom's video camera and filming a friend's farmhouse. in a supernatural thriller where i feel atmosphere is incredibly important, it's atmosphere that acts as the evil character until it appears at the end. the sets, the detail to attention, even the film stock all goes towards creating it. it sounds odd, but film stock is important: you usually want your movie to look like film unless you're a techno-head wanting everything to be as pristine as possible. i think that's a fallacy in horror movies. some movies switch from film to video when the characters are in front of a news camera. to imagine a director not giving consideration as to what his movie is going to look like would be silly. film, video or digital? correct me if i'm wrong, but some digital is made to *look* like film. funny that, no?

    atmosphere has everything to do with 'the exorcist,' not so much with 'friday the 13th.' then again, that's the difference between something a few weirdos faun over in their mum's basement and a DVD some people are afraid to rent because they believe real daemons live inside it.

    you can take some cues from masterpieces like 'resident evil.' the game, not the dumb movie. i literally was almost afraid to play it, it was so creepy. to be honest, it's really not that good of a game, the controls suck and there's an auto-aim option that's sorely missing, but it creates an amazing atmosphere of creepiness that if it could be captured on film, it would be an instant classic. why is it so creepy? for one, since you're a character in the game, that's a big boost right there. two, it can add whatever details that a middling movie production might not be able to afford, not to mention camera angles and f/x that work in the context of the game (though, again, for playability, new angles you don't control is just frustrating more than anything else).

    there are a lot of videogames that use atmosphere to near perfection. 'resident evil,' 'tomb raider,' 'fatal frame,' and to lesser extents 'blood rayne', 'devil may cry' and, well, the list goes on and on. for one of the creepiest game sets to ever be in, try 'nocturn' when you're in the hotel, i think it was. such things should not exist as entertainment, lol.

    the point is that since it's a game, you have to figure that something's behind every single corner, every door, hiding in the shadows. knowing this, you have to create a situation, through atmosphere which can be a cornerstone of suspense, that's far more scary than it really is. it's not always darkness and fog, either, and it's not limited to lighting (which is pivotal to any quality production) and sound, which, lots and lots and lots of people agree (especially producers looking to keep costs down), is far more scary than anything else if used right. (i don't mean to insult anyone's intelligence here, i'm just approaching my reply as thoroughly as i can.)

    there's what i call 'the squirm factor.' it's really the only reason to watch 'fear factor,' people eating or doing absolutely horrible things. remember the dinner scene in 'indiana jones and the temple of doom'? that was entertaining, but what creeped me out was the bugs later on crawling all over kate capshaw. that's the only time i think bugs creeped me out in a movie. anyway, zombies eating brains and such is another example. scary? not really. it's usually not even gross. i predict we'll see more and more grosser things as digital f/x costs fall, as evidenced in 'jolly roger: massacre at cutter's cove,' a terrible horror flick, but it did have a few digital effects which obviously cut deeply into the budget, lol.

    when i was a kid, i remember seeing a movie on t.v. that had one scene in it that gave me nightmares. a chick was walking around an abandoned old hotel, and far across the balcony she was on where the hotel wrapped around, was a ghost walking by. scary in itself? ??? the atmosphere, though, made it chilling to me.

    as an aside, that scene ivonia mentioned about the falling woman i had written out years and years ago, except the MC thought the ghost was continually repeating a suicide from a cliff (turns out once he got the nerve to investigate the top of the cliff much later, she was murdered). anyway, the first time he sees her, she's falling directly on top of him, then through him. thought it was a pretty cool scene. another scene which i, ah, 'borrowed' from the disney ride 'the haunted mansion' (best ride-- ever!) i had the same MC be in a 're-lived' scene of an execution that happened at the same spot hundreds of years ago. now, on top of that place, was a dilapidated theatre, which are great for ghosts to hang out at (i think since so many actors are troubled to begin with, they're prone to turn into ghosts anyway, lol).

    as a broad rule, show only what you need to show. unless there's a good reason, don't be quick to show the ghost or killer or bad guy right up front *unless* you've got the dramatic writing chops to back that up. i feel drama is one of the hardest things to write well, and movies are scripted, perhaps subconsciously, in such a way to make the arrangement the most important element of suspense. arrangement is critical, of course, but keeping the wraps on the monster til the end is also the easy way out. if you can show it up front and *still* deliver, well, you're one helluva writer.

    something else to consider is avoiding all the bad horror cliches, like tripping while running through the forest, or the car that won't start. in my 'cliche' thread, i wouldn't even give those credit, they've just been mentioned too often to mention again.

  8. #8
    excessively spartan preyer's Avatar
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    from TMe: Screenwriter FAQ:

    'Horror and Thriller Don't's
    Don't kill an animal on screen. It just isn't done, not by good directors. It's a cheap and repulsive way to get an emotional effect. I will generally stop reading a screenplay where this happens.

    While it is perfectly all right to have an undead creature strangle the department store Santa to death under the neon lights, less cartoonish violence, especially when directed against the weak (women, children, pets) often throws the reader and the audience out of the movie. So, for example, if you have a physically abusive husband who's going to get his just desserts later on, you should not show him beating his wife on screen. You don't show a rape on screen. You never show someone hurting (as opposed to frightening) a child on screen. It is classier and more effective to show the aftermath of extreme violence than the violence itself.

    You can, if you must, kill your animals off screen, but personally, I prefer a movie in which the pets have the sense to snarl at the vampire and run away.

    Don't start the movie with a horrifying sequence that turns out to be someone's dream. It isn't original at all.' ~

    elsewhere on this site it also says, paraphrased, 'rules are made to be broken, do so at your own risk.' good advice. still.... i think there *can* be a lot of power in showing some of the 'weaker' things getting clobbered. there are plenty of movies where women are smacked around, but i've never seen anything like james woods and sean young in 'the boost,' where he just simply beats the holy hell out of her in a cocaine fit and it's just like 'whoa!' effective? most definitely. when i was a kid, i saw this one thing, and i don't even know if it was a movie, t.v. show, or what, but i remember the father picking up his baby, just months old, and in a rage gives it a punch that sends it flying across the room. that was simply nightmarish and something that sticks to me to this day, that something i saw back in the 70's. we see pets get clobbered in a comic effect all the time. okay, those are horror movies (though the effect can be horrifying), and it's something i wouldn't want to see all the time, but it *can* work. if you consider how deer have such a nice, cute and cuddly reputation, watching the deer attack in 'the ring two' may dispell some of their reputation. (despite the ridiculousness of a bunch of pisssed off deer attacking a car ala 'jurassic park', it was an okay scene.) there's some room to play there, i think, although, yeah, it's probably best advised that pets get killed off-screen. (note that in most videogames, wandering chickens make for highly entertaining target practice.)

    i agree wholly with the idea of dream sequences. DO NOT HAVE THEM!!! what turns out to be a dream is not only incredibly obvious, but it's often the scariest part of the movie except (hopefully) the end. i think they're in there just to have *something* scary to watch in the meantime. generally, dream sequences are pointless. again, since i just watched it last night, i'll refer to 'the ring two''s dream sequence: it was good... and utterly pointless. all hack writers rely on the dream sequence not only to put in something scary, but to kill some time. imagine for a moment any movie whose dream sequence turned out to be what actually happens to the characters. that would kick asss. here you'd be waiting for them to wake up, having seen a horror movie before and knowing how these things are 'supposed' to go, then the movie never goes back. you'd be surprised, and that's partially what is supposed to happen.

    this belongs more in my 'cliche' thread, but you see it quite often now, where a little girl stands in background just watching you. creepy? can be. i guess. it was... the first thousand times i saw it. of course, you have to allow it for 'the ring,' which was practically the movie's scariest parts.

    i think that's where we're at with 'good' horror movies right now, that creepiness factor. it's good b/c it's effective, it's bad b/c it's being overdone in a lot of high-end movies. often, these movies are remakes of japanese horror movies. 'the ring,' 'the grudge,' 'dark water'.... i doubt we'll see 'premonition' in american form only because the premise of newspapers foretelling the future was already the basis of a t.v. show on CBS several years ago. other than that, i could see it being remade.

    what makes good horror.... today, i feel, it's all about being creepy. throw out sex and gore, the trend tends to be going for a pg-13 audience, which pissses me off b/c that's saying a movie is too scary for a twelve year old but not scary enough for an eighteen year old. the content of a movie is important to me. otherwise, right now, it's about being creepy, which in a roundabout way suggests it's all about mood and atmosphere. if the movie draws you into the character, you should feel every bit as stalked at they do.

    plenty of movies have sounds or music or some weapon that identifies that horror is around the corner. jason's 'ch ch ch' was brilliant. freddy's got his razor glove. michael myers has that one song, forget the name of it offhand. dark vader's got his breathing. jaws' fin would come out of the water. plenty of villains, in other words, have a gimmick of some kind. not saying these are great movies by any means, just that the villians are important to the story, too, and by not giving them motivations and personality through whatever means you feel is needed, you're missing out on half of what's scary about the movie a lot of times. ghosts may be the exception here, but not always. plenty of characters get a 'cold chill' when in the presense of a ghost.

    i have a definition of good and great. interested in writing a good horror flick? follow the trends. it may even turn out great. 'great' encompasses most everything, and certainly all of 'good' (in that what makes 'good' watchable ten years from today).

    for me, perfect pacing goes into great movies in general. this is why, i feel, a major reason why horror sequels are so bad in general, because there's an entirely different pace to follow once the audience already knows who freddy kruger is. i'd have to do the math, but i'd say off the top of my head those slasher movies make up for it with a high body count. without pacing, a movie like 'the others' would be a disaster in every sense, as would 'the sixth sense.'

    lighting and sound is another key element. you often don't want to see the villain outright and in all its hellish glory right up front. most better horror flicks try to keep something in reserve, literally hidden in the shadows. of course, movies like 'underworld' can only keep things in the shadows for so long. i think you're going to have to 'come clean' with the vampires and werewolves a lot sooner than were it a case of a single villain. freddy was different in that he changed. jason, on the other hand, well, those movies are basically a waste of celluloid to all but the most die hard slasher fan, where lighting effects are wasted.

    part of horror is suspense, so that's something to bear in mind, too. the kind of horror you're writing dictates where and when and to what degree the villain/s are revealed. you won't find many quality vampires whose powers are exposed from the get-go eventhough you'll see his face plenty of times before the end ('fright night'-- remember that one?). a legion of the undead will come into play early on, no?

    horror can have social commentary. it usually doesn't, but a hidden message can work if done well. is your vampire, essentially a sexual being, reflecting society's values in any way? going against them? what is your audience's values regarding sex and how do you use your sexual creature to illustrate those? as american society becomes more and more open towards certain sexual proclivities or what have you, where does that leave your vampire? for instance, imagine real life being completely sexually free, people walking around naked and having indiscriminate sex in the park, whatever. your vampire is, ah, screwed. he's going to have to be the essense of intimacy, as opposed to how he normally is right now, being a guilty pleasure or a sexual awakening for the victim. any idiot can write a vampire who slashers and bites the hell out of people. and that vampire sucks, no pun intended. there's also been a lot made out of 'night of the living dead''s commentary. is commentary necessary? no, but sometimes it doesn't hurt. for example, zombies have lost all meaning.

    'zombies have lost all meaning....' sounds silly. but, if your zombies were represenative of a type of person in some way, not only may that be more relatable, but it opens up certain avenues of storytelling. i think it was 'day of the dead' where the zombies naturally congregated around the shopping mall, for instance. what great commentary, eh?

    most horror you see on the shelves at blockbuster is low-budget, generally meaning under five million dollars. some look like their budget was fifty bucks plus all the donuts you could eat. no crane shots here, and usually no pans or moving camera work save for the hand-held look which never works well and is in itself a cliche now. five million bucks is all a talented writer needs to tell a good horror story 99% of the time. it's almost as if they more money you spend on a horror movie, the chances are it's not very good. 'the haunting', for instance (i think it was called that) with liam neeson and catherine zeta-jones was a complete waste, rightfully bombing bad. now, $5 million won't buy you those spiffy f/x, but when you're spending more than that on f/x *that don't work*, you might as well spent a fraction of the money and get someone who knows how to write a scary story. ('the haunting' holds a special place in my heart as one of those movies where you scratch your head and wonder how in the hell a remake of a classic could turn out so bad, especially considering the budget and cast. for what it's worth, the remake of '13 ghosts' was much better.)

    your body count is also dependant on the type of movie you have. 'the exorcist' body count was, what, two? actually it was one less if you consider the sequel had the one priest survive his fall. did anyone even die in 'poltergeist'? being savvy movie watchers, by now we all should be able to tell with nearly 100% accuracy those characters slated for death fifteen minutes into the movie. simply by virtue of how the movie carries itself is a strong indication. high body counts don't tend to be very scary, those being slashers usually. the only movie that recently surprised me body count-wise was 'shaun of the dead.'

    even bad horror movies often have character growth by the end. where it fails is its plausibility, the details. 'shaun of the dead' had excellent character growth, even if a lot of happened in a rather dull second act while trapped in a pub. 'van helsing' had virtually no growth in the character when it had all the potential in the world. oh, to have been a writer on that script! to have that talent, budget, history and some really great ideas just to turn out pop sludge... breaks the heart. what could have been terrifying to the last frame was just an action-adventure, and not a very good one at that. how you can drain every last ounce of suspense from walking down a hallway full of vampire spawn is beyond me. pacing and a complete lack of seriousness killed the movie, not to mention characters who went absolutely nowhere by the end of the movie. where was van helsing's fear? or his hate, for that matter? exuding confidence in every shot gives you such a one-dimensional character it's not funny, but sad in that someone got paid a lot of money to write that drivel. alpha-males are great... in your romance novels, but even then they have fears and such. name an alpha-male in any successful (not just having made money) movie where he's the MC and there not be any fear to conquer in him. i can't think of any. even 'predator' had the MC afraid and desperate for his life.

    short story long, horror writers seemingly forget that any story, horror, sci-fi, romance, whatever, is about people first, plot and setting and all that second. cliche characters separate good from really good or even great. 'final destination,' for instance, could have been much better with better characters. wes craven needs to stop writing teenagers. he got lucky with 'scream,' but generally his teenagers reek of cardboard. 'red eye' couldn't look more boring to me.

    can i drone on more about this topic? we shall see.

  9. #9
    figuring it all out
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    I completely agree that the key component is atmosphere: setting, lighting, music, filters, etc. Great examples of atmosphere: The Ring (I found the video especially unnerving, like a window into the depths of truly disturbed madness) and the Shining. Just look at the opening sequence of the Shining when the Torrence's car is climbing the mountains toward the Overlook Hotel. The special camera lens distorts the picture just enough to make it feel "wrong." The bizarre music really caps it off.

  10. #10
    i used to make little horror films with friends.
    we showed them to people to see which were the most scary, the most shocking etc.
    the most scary was one about a guy who was turning off the lights downstairs when he saw something at the end of the garden.
    you could see it at a distance, and it was an exact double of him waving back with an ever so slightly tin smile on his face.
    it was in mid shot, no close up
    it was about 2 mins long
    with no explanation on the end or anything like that
    37 got it right - when its explained, its no good
    and it needs to be something that could happen to anyone too i think
    i mean, its so much more real when you go upstairs to brush your teeth, check the windows and you think you (did I) just saw something (i just saw something) out there.


    by the by - the most shocking was 'The Gratuitous Rape and Plunder of Beethoven's Bottom', about two neo-Nazi professional knitters and their visits to homes.

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  11. #11
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    you also have to have a weapon to fight the villain with. simply running away constantly is boring real quick. i'm not quite a fan of chancing upon a weapon like a coat hangar and sticking it in the guy's eye. i like it when they have a plan of action, be it 'okay, we'll run into the basement if the zombies break in, and defend ourselves the best we can with what we've got' or 'yeah, baby, i've got a chainsaw for a hand now. bring it on. let's party!' obviously, a plan has to come before happening upon a weapon during flight, but it doesn't have to happen that much sooner unless complicated preparation is key.

    there are two kinds of desperation in horror, the first being the kind where you constantly run away, get lucky and find a wooden stake at the last minute, and the kind where the character is just desperate enough to screw up their courage and fight. obviously, the second form is what's used most often, for good reason. interesting to note that in 'alien,' the crew did a hunt, got their assses handed to them on a plate, *then* made a mad dash to safety. just a clever twist. find a clever twist and you've got gold.

    also along the cliche lines, although it almost never fails to scare, is whenever a character is staring at themselves in the medicine cabinet's mirror, opens it for something, then closes it with something suddenly standing behind them. i mean, it's just sooo obvious, that's why sometimes they misdirect you and *don't* show something in the mirror. it builds a form of suspense, i think more appropriately anxiety, in the viewer: they expect something to be in the mirror, then isn't. so, where's the pay-off? opening the shower curtain to find something?

  12. #12
    excessively spartan preyer's Avatar
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    one thing that never fails to at least interest me is when a character is sitting downstairs alone and hears a distinctly human noise comes from upstairs, like the scampering of feet or a voice, maybe a door closing. the suspense leads to the horror. suddenly shocks don't usually get to me, but some better shocks work really well, like in 'poltergeist' when the camera pans to the side just a little with the mother's face in the foreground, then, in the same shot, she turns around and the chairs are stacked.

  13. #13
    How 'bout some ether? Carole's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by three seven
    The unknown. As soon as you can see what's stalking you, you can put a name to it and it's no longer anywhere near as frightening.
    Absolutely! Once there's a face on it, it's over for me. I was beginning to like *Signs* until we actually got to see the creep-a-zoid. It was almost comical form that point, in my opinion. I got bored and went into the kitchen.

    Blood and gore also do nothing for me when it comes to a scary movie. I have two teenage sons...just open the door to either of thier rooms and the posters are blood & gore. Big deal. The exception for me was the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That one really does still get me every time. I enjoyed about the first 15 minutes or so of Stranger in the House, too.

    Vampires, zombies, monsters, aliens...nope. Witches and magic - nope. I don't care how spooky a movie seems to be about conjuring up a spell and bringing forth the Whatzitsname, they rarely get even close to reality which is WAY scarier! (or can be)

    The unknown...suspense...small details that resurface later in the movie...Dark staircases...a forest at night. It's really hard to scare me with a movie and that is kind of the pits. I love scary movies. It seems to me that the older ones are way better. Movies made back when they had to rely on a solid storyline rather than boobs and CG crapola, lots of psychological stuff. I think Hitchcock was an absolute master of his craft. I'd take any of his movies over anything made after the late 70's.


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    excessively spartan preyer's Avatar
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    i wonder if the old movies were better. to be fair, bad horror movies probably really had its heydey in the 50's and 60's when the thing to do was go to the drive-in theatre saturday night then go back sunday morning for your drive-in church service or swap meet (they didn't like the term 'flea market'). i don't have any numbers to base things on, but bad horror movies abound.

    there's certainly no lack of psychological horror today. indeed, i'd say that on average today's is every bit as good as anything pre-'rosemary's baby' (minusing out hitchcock-- yeah, he's the wrench is the cogwork of this defense of modern movies, lol). it depends on what you call old, eh? where does the definition of 'modern horror' begin? i think a lot of movies are mis-categorized as suspence, too, now that we're in an age where labelling is an art form.

    there really is no fair comparison for modern horror (let's say for the sake of argument horror since the late 70's to now) against the 70 years of movie-making before that. personally, i'd venture to say modern horror has it roots traceable best to the mid to late 60's about the time 'rosemary's baby' came out (i want to say that was '67). from that point, language, nudity and gore (while not necessarily of the slsher variety, it was still pretty gruesome for the time, comic by today's standards, like 'the last house on the left') were in vogue. if the news guy can be trusted as a reliable source, kids have about $170 BILLION to spend on non-essentials, roughly about a third of americans' excess money they spend in a year. that's certainly why we're seeing a lot of PG-13 horror nowadaze, fewer cursing, boobs, and machetes plowing into a camper's skull and more 'the ring two's.

    does that bode well for the genre as a whole? i don't know. here, the ratings are nothing more than a marketing ploy. on the surface it might seem that without the gratuitous horror flavours audiences enjoyed during the 80's that the movies would by default have to be written better. i've seen an awful lot of awful horror movies lately, but some damn good ones, too. if you visit your blockbuster's horror section, it's almost shocking to note how few good horror movies are actually on the shelves.

    the horror audience is savvy and desensitized, but they're always suckers for suspense and psychological mind-jobs (though stay away, far, far away, from 'a tale of two sisters', one of japan's more recent snooze-fests). reduce to the essense of what each film is, stripped of the gore and sex and language, and you'll find a lot of things that work today just as they ever did. it's kinda hard to stand out in a genre that's limited like horror with a century of material already behind you, eh?

    who are today's hitchcocks and vincent prices? well, we still have wes craven (hack that he's become), romero (one trick pony he always was), shyamalan, stephen king (for writing, though i'm rarely impressed), and, when he wants, spielberg is a genius no less beguiling than hitchcock. no great genre actors, though, none of note anyway. jamie lee curtis may have been the last great screamer.

    is modern horror worse than ever? eh, not really, in my opinion. i imagine we're probably making *more* bad horror flicks, but that's really because of the way hollywood works today than the genre going stale. we have so few studio horror productions it's sad, so every idiot with a camera who pulls together a few thousand bucks and a child star from the 90's who hasn't worked in eight years can rent a cabin or warehouse and make an indie, enter it into a festival and shoot straight to video for a profit. used to be the drive-ins were the only way to see your really cheesy horror (theatres won't play that crap), now we've got straight to video.

    horror is a pretty closed genre, too. what i mean by that is once a horror hits it big, *everyone* copies it for a minute until you can't stand it anymore. how cliche is it now to have a creepy little girl follow you around since 'the ring'? pretty darn, i'd say, not to mention that she covers a hundred yards in less than a second. rest assured they still make movies called 'ancient evil 2' with washed up actors battling mummies dressed in ACE bandages like they've always done (washed up actors being great horror movie fodder since, like, forever).

    for a fair comparison, you'd have to compare modern to a period of horror movies, not now vs. the entire history, and there, i think, you'd find we stand up fairly well, but you get into serious indie territory. 'dog soldiers' was pretty good for a werewolf flick (no 'howling', but...) and the painfully mis-title 'deathwatch' was also pretty good, just to name two off the top of my head (those weren't american films, btw, but neither is half the new horror you find now, either, most of the 'better quality' horror coming directly from japan without so much as a version dubbed in english).

    i think our exposure and availability to horror prejudices us, too. using the drive-in again, were you to go and see all the reels of film that you could watch on-screen lined neatly on a rack, you might be like, 'yikes, i didn't realize how few good horror movies they actually make!' let's be honest, too: if they had the budget (horror films being so under-financed in general) and the tehcnology, you bet hitchcock would have used it. no question. just he'd have used it to perfection, not as a crutch, but then again, it's hard to compare to shakespeare, know what i mean, lol.

    it's hard to write a good horror movie. we demand so much and are so hard to please. flick on the sci-fi channel late one night and give, say, 'pterodactyl' a watch and you'll find a dinosaur bird swoop down on a soldier and brutally decapitate him, his head go flying and blood spurting out in a medium range shot with no cuts to hide the act. nope, just a guy getting his head taken away by a giant predator and we see it all. what could hitchcock have done with that? lol.

  15. #15
    How 'bout some ether? Carole's Avatar
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    I guess a really important thing for me is that it has to be logical. Attempts at phychological thrills are just silly if what you are seeing doesn't make sense. If you have a charachter who is insane, you still have to have a rationale for what they are doing. Think of Psycho. Because of his state of mind and the surroundings in his house, dear Norman's actions made sense.

    If the blond, big boobed chick runs up the stairs while being chased by the scary whatzitsname, there has to be a valid reason why she didn't go out the door instead. (There should also be a reason why she was in the kitchen in a thong and no bra, standing at the stove making tea. Sorry...girls don't usually do that)

    Also...even though Rosemary's Baby remains one of my favorite movies, there are still parts of it that bug the life out of me.
    Last edited by Carole; 09-06-2005 at 11:31 PM.


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  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW Writer2011's Avatar
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    I also think that what can't be seen makes a good horror movie. Of course there's lighting, effect, ect. Case in point...well a few examples. The Shining it's really creepy even though there aren't many "scary" parts in it....granted there are a few, especially with the two twin girls...

    Of course you can't forget EVIL DEAD which is a cult classic...there are tense moments, especially in the beginning when you CAN'T see but know something is there...

    That's just my take on it.

  17. #17
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    "'Horror and Thriller Don't's
    Don't kill an animal on screen. It just isn't done, not by good directors. It's a cheap and repulsive way to get an emotional effect. I will generally stop reading a screenplay where this happens."

    Do you not consider "Halloween" a great horror movie?

    I think to make a great horror movie you need the right kind of pacing. That, and not giving away the antagonist's appearance until the end of the film, just peeks, i.e., Halloween and Alien. The right kind of music is a must as well. I loved Halloween because of the pacing. One minute he is there, the next he is not. Combining that and the steady pace of the music with the antagonist's steady, unrelenting, lust for killing his sister, makes that movie a classic in the genre', in my opinion. That movie still creeps me out.

    Horror movies as of late have sucked b@lls, in my opinion. And most of 'em are PG-13?! Nothing like selling out the "horror" to get @sses in the seats, huh?

    I thought "The Grudge" was a big, steaming pile! "Kill Bill" was more of a horror movie! I was never scared or creeped out at any point of that "film"! I watched it twice, just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating--I wish I were! "Boogeyman" was another joke. And "The Devil's Rejects," I could've left at so many points of that film! But it was like a bad accident, I had to keep on watching. I now know how NOT to make a horror film.

    -JRAII

  18. #18
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    i missed 'the grudge.' my wife saw it, said not to bother. it's a japanese remake, i believe. i mention that because a lot of japanese horror (not the american remakes) is seemingly based almost entirely on pacing with an agonizingly long build-up with a pay-off that just falls short to my american eyes. case in point, 'a tale of two sisters' just went on and on and on, and if anyone can tell me what the ending was all about, you're smarter than i am (which most people are). maybe to a japanese person that's scary as hell stuff.

    it depends on what you're watching, too, as to when you show the creature, but even if you see dracula do something early on, you've not seen him in his full horrific glory until the end. lots of movies show the villain around the middle of the movie towards the end, not just in the last fifteen minutes. we tend to get peeks and alternatives until the end.

    does that make for a good horror movie? i think it follows our expectations, but it's fairly rote suspense-building. hard to show the werewolf in its full form in the first five-minutes, eh? i think horror movies in particular will get people to flock to it if it's any good. there's not a lot of good horror at the moment, i think. most lists i've seen of the top 100 horror movies of all time don't have many (if any, can't think of any except for 'scream') from the last ten years. maybe not even the last twenty.

    anyone with a good idea for a horror movie can make some serious money, particularly considering how much they usually cost to make.

    i agree, if the chick runs upstairs for no reason, it falls apart fast. fixing tea in a thong... yeah, i can see that. that's what chicks secretly do, after all, walk around naked and talking dirty to their girlfriends on the phone before inviting them over for a tickle fight. as they're collapsed on one another and exchanging compliments on their body parts, they get run through together by a piece of rebar. happens all the time. or is the idea of sex and violence connected a thing of the past?

  19. #19
    How 'bout some ether? Carole's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by preyer
    i agree, if the chick runs upstairs for no reason, it falls apart fast. fixing tea in a thong... yeah, i can see that. that's what chicks secretly do, after all, walk around naked and talking dirty to their girlfriends on the phone before inviting them over for a tickle fight. as they're collapsed on one another and exchanging compliments on their body parts, they get run through together by a piece of rebar. happens all the time. or is the idea of sex and violence connected a thing of the past?
    Dream on, Preyer...dream on. 9 times out of 10 when a girl is at home alone or even when other girls are around sleeping over, they are in sweats or pajamas. Sowwy to bust your bubble.


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  20. #20
    excessively spartan preyer's Avatar
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    dreaming? maybe. but that makes for some damn entertaining cinema, lol. seems to me, though, that girls nowadaze are very, ah, 'experimental' more than ever, or at least more openly so.

    i'm on the fence as to whether movies like 'se7en' could be classified as horror or not. suspense is still what's missing out of most horror movies, imo. how you build that suspense depends on the kind of story it is and the type of pay-off you want. essentially, 'the sixth sense' built up for one big revelation, the 'exorcist' dolled it out fairly evenly, if you get what i'm trying to say. to really get a handle on it, i think we'd have to list all the kinds of horror movies and dissect them for critical analysis.

  21. #21
    How 'bout some ether? Carole's Avatar
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    There's a movie that I love...not horror, but it has a reference to what you just mentioned about girls being more openly experimental. The name of the movie is Garage Days, an Australian flick. Anyhoo, girlie finds out boyfriend is interested in another girl, so girlie dumps boyfriend. She is walking along mulling the mess over in her mind and comes to, "Oh, if it weren't so tragically hip to be bi these days". I think that is pretty much the whole thing. I don't think the interest has changed, just the desire for it to be a show. Face it - a lot of guys really dig it, and a lot of girls like that fact.

    I liked Se7en, but there were parts that were hard for even me to watch, and that takes a lot! I say, dissect away! I am not a horror writer, but I am definitely a horror fan.

    Sex and violence do compliment one another very well, I think, in a horror movie. You have a couple...or even a gaggle of people doing really naughty stuff, so the heartbeats are already racing, then you toss in faceless guy with a machete and send the audience over the edge.

    I wish Rosemary had come to her realization that "This is not a dream...this is REAL" in a different way in Rosemary's Baby. I can't put my finger on why, but that part of the movie just doesn't flow to me. I did like the "mouse bite" part though. I thought that was nifty the way the chocolate mousse was brought into it that way. Tell me...do you think she became a mother to the baby or do you think she was pretending?

    And so I am rambling. It's 2:30 a.m. and I just can't sleep. Maybe time for a movie.


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  22. #22
    excessively spartan preyer's Avatar
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    i think she was mother to it, not pretending. just my opinion based on her character. other than for a few scenes, i just didn't get into the movie for some reason. that's not to say i didn't think it wasn't well made, it just didn't have an affect on me. that's okay, though, can't please everyone, eh? lol.

    yeah, it does seem to be a trend, chicks being bi. that was taboo when i was that age, but so was admitting to masturbation and a white girl dating a black guy (though the last may be more a result of my suburban upbringing and the demographics involved at the time, and it's not a criticism, just an observation). but, girl-on-girl action has always pretty much been a male fantasy. every single porn you see has got that. back in my day, which wasn't *that* long ago, anais nin wasn't someone you'd be reading as much as that possibility exists today, if you catch my meaning.

    is it ironic, then, that as the american culture is opening up towards varying sexual lifestyles and expressions that our horror tends to be less graphic and geared towards the PG-13 set? is it just me, or does it make more 'sense' that the gore would keep on the same par? is it inversely proportionate, and some day when people walk around butt-asss nekkid, the horror will consist of stubbing your toe on screen?

    i'll have to come back 'se7en.' that's too much for me at the moment.

  23. #23
    How 'bout some ether? Carole's Avatar
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    Rosemary's Baby doesn't frighten me, and it never really did. I guess it intrigues me more than anything so yeah - I do get into it. The expression on her face at the end as she is rocking the cradle leads me to believe that she softened toward the baby, although that was kind of a stretch from just moments earlier when she freaked out over it's eyes. The pace is off in several places I think.

    Maybe you're right. When (when?) everyone is walking around buck-naked, horror might be less intense. I think the fact that kids have a LOT more disposable cash than even when I was a teenager in the late 80's makes them a wide open audience. Kids like gore, but society says that it has to be toned down for them. The equation might just be as simple as that.

    Thing is, I can remember going to the movies with my sister and her boyfriend back in the 70's. They were a lot older than me. An "It's Alive" trailer popped up on the screen and I freaked out. My boys saw that movie and laughed their butts off! Kids seem to be a lot more desensitized than I was. I'll even admit that when I saw the first Nightmare on Elm Street I was on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately that series was ruined, in my opinion, when Freddy developed way too much personality.

    I think kids could handle a lot more than what they are allowed to see, but who is ever going to say THAT out loud, right? I have never sheltered my boys and I think they are very well adjusted kids. To stand on a soapbox for a second: in my opinion, sheltering kids does not help them. If anything, it leaves them unprepared for the real world, and also leaves them with no skills to handle the real world. Not saying horror movies are real world...but watching them is.


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    i don't believe in over-protection, either. my niece and nephew watched most of the freddies last halloween with us and it was funny b/c those movies are sooo boring now. and you're right, kids now have lots more money (how, i'm not sure), somewhere in the one-third percentage range of the whole nation's disposable income (about 160 billion a year, if i'm not mistaken, is what kids spend nowadaze). maybe they're smoking less cigarettes and playing fewer arcade games so now they have more to spend on junk food, xbox games, horror movies, clothes and condoms? (then again, have you paid attention to what's parked in the high school parking lots lately? their cars are better than mine!)

    i grew up on horror movies. i turn 36 or something on the 17th, so, yeah, that puts me right there in all that 80's horror mess. if i didn't sneak into the theatre, i had plenty to watch on cinemax besides the soft porn. right now, i can't imagine much phazing me in the way of horror. i completely understand being desensitized, although i was taken aback by 'starship trooper''s level of violence. that lasted a minute, though.

    the last few daze i've been doing a garage sale, and when bored i'd jot down a few ideas for a horror comedy script i thought i'd try. uncharacteristically, i'm thinking of themes to put in, one of which each of my villians represents a part of human nature that our modern society frowns on. in effect, the bad guys are extreme versions of us which are being destroyed and replaced with these bogus 'christian corporation' ideals which eventually will make good parents feel guilty for sending their kids across the street without tracking devices attached to cell phones built into children suits of armour. or something like that. i had it figured out for a second just when someone asked the price of a barbie, and i forgot what i was thinking about. thanks MTV and john carpenter. where was the V-chip back then? (not that mom would have turned it on or i couldn't have gotten around it, heh heh.)

  25. #25
    How 'bout some ether? Carole's Avatar
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    Mom & Dad pretty much let us go see anything we wanted at the movies with the exception of Endless Love. Mom put her foot down on that one, not that my brother wanted to see it anyway! Funny thing is, I still haven't seen it!

    Our little town had two magnficent movie theatres. One was just the type you'd see on an A&E clip about restoration. Red velvet seats with gold fringe, winding staircase to the balcony seating..it was just a beautiful place. The other was a much smaller theater, but it also had the ornate decor. Sadly, the smaller of those theatres is completely gone now and the other has been converted into a country music "showcase" or something. I haven't stepped inside that building since the first time it closed. (It re-opened and closed again a few times over the years) I know I would be depressed so I just leave it the way it was years ago in my mind. In 1985 I could go to the movies with $5. That would buy my ticket, popcorn & a coke and I'd still have money left over. (My kids think that is too funny...I guess the same way I laugh when mom tells me that she used to be able to buy a coke for a nickel)

    Back on topic, I wonder if the visual side - gory effects and blood & guts spilling everywhere, are just too easy to dismiss because the better Hollywood gets, the more "accurately" we see it and the more we see the less it makes us creep out. I guess that's back to the whole desensitization thing. I wonder if the only thing left for those of us who are desensitized is our minds.

    I have found that in the past 7-10 years, the movies that make me look over my shoulder the most are technically psychological thriller/suspense. Think about Anthony Hopkins - As Hannibal Lechter...now, THERE is a bad guy! The boogie man in the flesh! He is charismatic, subtle and scary as hell! Then again, it's Anthony Hopkins, right? The brain thing, I think, was actually scary! Maybe it was because everything else in that scene was so refined...lovely table, elegant setting, and then the poor guy who became dinner! You know that the bad guy is REALLY a bad guy if he is able to tell his victim that he is being RUDE! Ha!

    Subtle things...facial expressions, small gestures, intelligent dialogue...those things make for a MEAN scary movie, in my opinion. It reminds me that the scariest things might just be right in front of you and they just might not look like the boogie man!


    Contrary to popular belief, I think the line between being direct and being rude is not thin, and most people are fully aware of when they have crossed it.
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