27 August 2009

The Nature Of 'Boo!'

The following is a great article from the fanastic Monkey See blog on NPR:

The Nature Of 'Boo!' or: What Does It Take To Really Scare The Pants Off Of You?: "

Janet Leigh in the shower scene in 'Psycho.'

This is a pretty scary scene, right? Or is it?

We're wondering what really scares you. (Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

by Linda Holmes

There are two scary-movie franchises putting out new chapters this week: Rob Zombie's Halloween II is opening against The Final Destination — which is actually the fourth movie in the Final Destination series.

(Believe it or not, The Final Destination is a different movie from Final Destination, making it literally only one-half as creative as the 'let's drop two instances of the word 'the'' approach to sequel naming that was pioneered by Fast & Furious.)

Horror movies of various kinds are huge business, but are they scary?

The difference between unease and assault, and some spoilers about Psycho, after the jump...

I ask this in the context of having recently watched Psycho again. What struck me was how very leisurely that film actually is. Not only is there a long prologue involving Marion and her lover and her embezzlement scheme that ultimately has basically nothing to do with anything, but there are sequences — like the cleaning of the bathroom after the shower scene — that proceed with an odd and maddening normalcy. Nothing jumping out at you, nothing about to jump out at you. Just a guy cleaning up after a killing — and it goes on and on and on.

While you can certainly argue — in fact, it's hard not to — that Psycho takes a bizarre wrong turn in about the last five minutes with that endless 'Dr. Exposition, I Presume' speech, what does work about it is the unease it creates throughout. Something is vaguely wrong, all the time. Wronger and wronger as things progress, but for much of the time, there is a general unease that only gradually becomes legitimate horror, first for Marion and then for the people who come looking for her.

This is why I always (always, to the point of mockworthy repetitiveness) call Wait Until Dark, with Audrey Hepburn, my favorite scary movie. You're less likely to have seen it than Psycho, so I'm hesitant to spoil it. But suffice it to say that while the end is a classic horror sequence in many ways, most of the movie involves nothing more gruesome than a woman gradually figuring out how much trouble she's actually in, which is the way it generally feels in real life when something frightening happens.

At the same time, as much as I'd like to claim that only languid suspense frightens me effectively, there are plenty of viscerally scary things that I couldn't even begin to explain. Like so many other people, I was terrified of Pennywise the clown in the book (and the movie) It. I don't like spiders. I'm not great with loud noises. Anything happening to anyone's eye is a problem. (A film of people putting in their contacts would suffice as a horror movie in my book.)

So here's my question: What do you consider scary? Don't overthink the question too much — I'm not talking about how scary An Inconvenient Truth may have been for you. What works on you as scary?

Has the sight of blood been ruined for you? Does the classic 'close the medicine cabinet and see someone behind you in the bathroom mirror' shot do anything for you? Does explicit horror still horrify you, or are you more unsettled by uncomfortable situations?

Feel free to think broadly: is it the music? Dark rooms? Car accidents? We're talking about the nature and execution of a good movie scare here, so fire away.

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