The New-Age Blog: Scary Things

So, after a while out of action on the blogging front (anyone who does university nowadays probably knows why), I’m returning to my original wordpress address to continue a journey of worldwide travel, movie trivia and critical commentaries on all-things ‘cinema’. There are a few things in the pipeline over here in Nottingham (*cough* get a job *cough*), so here’s hoping to a summer expedition to the Netherlands, catching The Dark Knight Rises on the opening week, and the new fish in the pond – interaction with the Nottingham Poetry Society.

BUT before we go onto all that, I recently revisited one of the big movies of this year – The Woman In Black. After buying it on DVD last week, ‘me and me mam’ settled down for a bit of old-school Victorian haunting shenanigans, with my mum keen to see how it lived up to the play. After viewing, we both decided that once you know what’s happening in a horror story, it can never scare you the same way again.

But now I’m beginning to think a little more into that. Not being one to scare easily, I have to really think hard to find anything in cinema that ever scared me even remotely. The Wicker Man had one of the most hilarious endings to a horror film ever (Christopher Lee dancing around with a cheesy grin as the villagers chant and have a party – come on, it was side-splitting!), and Paranormal Activity is forever embedded as something I watched with my freshman year housemates, laughing all the way through. The Human Centipede got a much better reaction from us!

So sacred would films be to grace my ‘Top 5 Scariest Films’, I would have great difficulty in thinking that they were never able to scare me again upon the subsequent viewings. This is true in some cases (such as The Shining), but then there are always going to be films that constantly freak you out. What I was wondering was – what makes a film scary more than once? Not jump moments for darn sure – what makes a film so scary, it still scares the crap out of you even when you know what’s coming?

Here is my Top 5 Scariest Films, to find out what makes the horror genre tick:

5 – The Woman In Black

It even surprises me that such a modern film appears on this list. It’s probably because it was so much fun to watch! There’s a not a lot to add to the review in all honesty – it does what it says on the tin. Sometimes I get scared because of the unexpected, but in this case, you got plenty of warning in advance. The theory behind this film was that successful horrors had three factors:

1 – A character you care about (in this case, Arthur Kipps)

2 – An iconic villain you cannot stop (in this case, the ghost of the title)

3 – Children. Losing them, or being haunted by them, are the scariest things for a parent to go through. If people without kids can’t relate to the story, make sure they can relate to the main character, so they feel scared for him / her.

These three points came up in the ‘special features’ part of the DVD. I’m curious to see if they feature anywhere else on this list.

Scariest Scene – You put the baby in the bed, you wind up the toys, and you wait. Then a wall of darkness flies down the corridor outside towards you… and you know you’re f*cked.

4 – Requiem For A Dream

This is the most iconic ‘love / hate’ film I think I’ve ever seen. Anyone who’s ever watched it will either say it didn’t do anything for them, or will refuse on all accounts to ever watch it again. I was one of the latter, though I have since watched it a second time, and despite knowing how crazy the ending got, the pure cinematography and visual style of replicating the drug-induced nightmarish visions of the characters more than justifies it’s position on this list.

The beauty here is that nobody can really tell you what to expect – the horror for me came from not really expecting to be scared. Some people decide to chase their ambitions, and every ambition involves drugs somewhere. That’s about it for the plot. I had no forewarning, so watching this just before going to bed left me with a sleepless night. Not wanting to state the obvious, but shock value is always added when you watch a film you know nothing about. It was cold sweat galore – ‘Requiem…’ is still a freaky film with a weird style, and although not strictly horror, it ranks up alongside Antichrist and A Serbian Film for me as a cinematic experience not to be approached lightly.

Main Characters – Several interlinking stories, you (should) care enough about all of them.

Iconic Villain – This film draws a blank. Drugs are apparently the enemy in this one.

Children – Nope, although one character is the son of another one… but he’s not a child.

Scariest Scene – The fridge wont let you give up food that easily.

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Shock Horrors

Some may say that all you need to do to make a scary film is to make something gross-out or violent. Everyone has a natural fear of death, so if you can make life seem even worse than death, surely that is scary? This was picked upon in the ‘torture-porn’ genre boom in the noughties – up until this point, we’d had x-rated films and films that ‘pushed the boundaries’ of what was an acceptable level of violence. After torture porn, the verdict really is out on this one. You have to go to the lengths of A Serbian Film to use old-fashioned shock tactics to scare experienced audiences with violence. Personally, I think the days of shock horror are over. I think modern society is too de-sensitized to anything violent, disturbing or primal. We see it in almost every BBC thriller, every hollywood horror, and if you go overseas things become even more lenient (evidently!!!)

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3 – The Haunting

One film that didn’t make this list was House On Haunted Hill, although it scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid (nowadays quite laughable!). That film reminded me a lot of Jacob’s Ladder, though most refer the inspiration back to this film from the 1960s. ‘The Haunting’ is on most people’s list as one of the scariest films ever made – and we’re not talking about that forgettable remake of the 90s.

The title should put your guard up straight away. A group of people stay overnight in a ‘supposed’ haunted house, just to see what happens and if paranormal activity does indeed occur. The main protagonist slowly loses her mind, and although a ghost is never seen throughout the whole film, threat is implied throughout.  This idea of the implied is interesting – you can still have a villain, even when there’s nothing there. This film was psychological horror – and possibly more effective for it.

Main Character – Eleanor. Timid, weak, helpless. Becomes a bit of psychopath. Should you care? Probably.

Iconic Villain – Hill House, or the architect Hugh Crain. All ghostly-goings on are implied, so no villain clearly identified here.

Children – Nope, although I have difficulty remembering if cherubs featured in this one or not?

Scariest Scene – What’s on the other side of that door?

2 – The Orphanage

Aside from The Woman In Black, this is the only other film on the list that I saw at a cinematic event. Funny that the top two of this list were films from overseas – evidently, the foreign film makers have a much easier ability to make a film seem ‘alien’ to an audience such as what I would represent. Though from the director of Pan’s Labyrinth, we all knew this film was going to be one to watch with the lights on.

Spielberg, after making Jaws, said that you can only make the audience jump once. The biggest (and best) ‘jump moment’ in cinema was in this film, and if you’ve seen it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

That for me, however, was not the real horror (jump moments never are). For a film about a haunted orphanage full of dead children, and a living child who goes missing, this more than adheres to the ‘include children’ rule. When a child goes missing, the parent automatically becomes a character you care about. It also helps if they’re down to earth – here in ‘Espana’, they believe in making films that are plausible, and sometimes sacrifice scares / ‘jumps’ just for a better sense of realism… which makes the finished piece all the more scary in all honesty! This film also had one of the best twists at the end of any film ever (maybe) – if it didn’t knot your stomach, you need help.

Main Character – Laura. Lost her child, determined to find him. You definitely care.

Iconic Villain – Surprisingly, yes. If Cillian Murphy’s ‘Scarecrow’ from Batman made you uncomfortable, just wait till you get a load of Tomas’s ghost!

Children – Most definitely yes!

Scariest Scene – You want to communicate with the dead, so you hire a psychic and rig up some cameras, then leave her in the house all alone. You get what you deserve…

1 – Ju:On – The Grudge ( / ‘the series’)

Probably no surprise to see this at the top of the list – it’s no small secret that ‘hair horrors’ sold very well over in the western markets, though sadly got (pardon the pun) murdered by less-effective remakes with dodgy acting. If you want the real scares, you need that aforementioned alienated feel to the film, and for that, always go for the originals. Ringu was good, but once you know the trick at the end of the film, it loses it’s horror-shock value. Here, on the other hand, we have a film that I’ve used to entertain many a film-buff friend over the years, and it also gave my nightmares for weeks ( / years)!

Much like most of the others on this list, this is classic haunted house stuff, brought up to present day. Once you go into the haunted house, you die. Again, that’s pretty much it for the plot. The ghostly threat primarily comes in the form of a murdered wife, and out of all the hair-horrors (and believe me, there’s a lot of ‘em), this was my choice of the lot.

Despite the weak attempt to make a central character, the truth is there are no central characters to care about in this film. They have about ten minutes each, and then they just… disappear. It’s not a violent film. It’s just… weird. That can add a level of ‘unexpected’, but for something that has become such a successful franchise nowadays, you should always approach cautiously!

Main Characters – Not really. Rika is probably the closest you get. Bothered? Not the slightest.

Iconic Villain – Oh wow. This hair-horror image is surely up there with Vader and Lecter?

Children – Yes. And they die. And then follow you home.

Scariest Scene – The bed covers wont save you.

The Ones That Didn’t Make It:

Predator is freaky the first time you see it, but how scared can you get when Arnold Schwarzenegger is the main protagonist? Let’s face it – Predator was a dead alien walking. Aliens was also quite scary (despite being an action movie, for me scarier than the first film). Were it not for Newt screaming through half of it, it might have actually made the list. Audition is good, but the slow first half is a lot more boring on the second and third viewings. The Exorcistoh please (sorry, I wasn’t born early enough for that to qualify). The Silence Of The Lambs should also get an honourable mention, though I always found Hannibal Lecter far too entertaining to be scary!

Iconic Villains – This is one of the most iconic of them all.

It seems in retrospect that children, unstoppable monsters and sympathetic characters are all guaranteed to add chill factors to any horror narrative, at least in relation to my list of Top 5. ‘Paranormal’ things cannot be explained (thus don’t try to explain it – it’s better if we don’t know / ‘less is more’). I think it’s important to also mention that the notion of ‘shock value’ is also harder to come by nowadays, though granted, for a low-budget film The Human Centipede still managed to gross people out to a notorious extent!

Theoretically, ‘end of post’. But then I had a funny idea – let’s compare my Top 5 scary films to my Top 5 scary VIDEO GAMES. I wonder if the narratives have anything in common:

5 – Portal

This was a toss-up between Condemned: Criminal Origins and this one. I decided to go with Portal for the simple fact that this game is still awesome – Condemned fell by the wayside ages ago, much like the Prey series. The games couldn’t be more different – whereas the former was a hunt for a serial killer who stalked serial killers using their own MOs to execute them, Portal was a ‘cute’ game about somebody trapped in an underground lab trying to escape.

Anyone who’s ever watched 2001: A Space Odyssey (or The Terminator, for that matter) will know exactly how scary and intimidating a cold, calculating machine can be when it wants to execute you. I often quote ‘343 Guilty Spark’ as one of my favourite villains of any video game franchise, just for his pure eccentricity. If he wanted to kill you, it wouldn’t be anything to do with emotion or affecting the future of the narrative – it’s simply statistically the logical thing to do.

However, Portal took eccentricity to unfathomable heights – you have a bit barmy to even understand the humour for the most part. GlaDos is the machine that’s gone haywire, with you firmly trapped in the lab trying to run the portal simulation tests and escape before she succeeds in your execution. The puzzles were complex, the feeling was isolated, and a one-on-one showdown with a robot in an unfamiliar place ranks as my number 5 scariest (or is that, most bizarre) video game. The game achieved a well-deserved cult following, and a second game was released, which is a game I have to play!

Main Character – No idea.

Iconic Villain – GlaDos is as iconic as the turrets, companion cubes, and ‘the cake’.

Children – No, although the entire experience of this game has a very childish feel to it.

Scariest Scene – It’s all fun and games until you go behind a wall of one of the test chambers, and find a previous test subject has written clues to your escape in blood all over the walls. Oh dear.

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Man Vs. Machine

Ever since the HAL-9000, people have been freaked out by the idea that machines are going to eventually tun on the human race and wipe us out. It was once classed as science fiction, but as technology progresses, we become increasingly more aware that the idea could become a reality. There have been many ‘Man Vs. Machine’ type films over the years, and it hasn’t been any different in games. The Monitor from Halo and The Reapers from Mass Effect are but two examples of enemies that definitely creeped me the hell out. It’s the lack of emotion that does it – they’re computers. They don’t want to kill you out of revenge, envy or anything personal. It just… purely statistical. Heck, they almost convince you to kill yourself! They do it because their programming tells them to do it – it’s almost a post-modern commentary on religious ideals in and of itself!

Machines – Can’t be bargained with. Can’t be reasoned with. Will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead… but may become your best friend if their protocols suddenly change. Bloody weird stuff!

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4 – F.E.A.R 2

This game sits more convincingly on this list, as one of the last ‘survival horrors’ when the genre phased out in the mid-noughties. F.E.A.R stands for First Encounter Assault Recon, and follows the exploits of the initial FEAR team as they attempt to contain a powerful force named Alma – basically the psychic power of every Japanese hair-horror film you’ve ever seen. If The Grudge tipped my movie list, it’s no surprise FEAR will turn up here – the franchise was based around doing to hair horror what James Cameron did to Alien: blow stuff up. Somehow, when even the badasses get their asses kicked, you fear the antagonist even more!

Main Character – Beckett. Not featured in the first game. You don’t care.

Iconic Villain – Iconic in the video game world, I’d say so.

Children – Alma often takes the form of a child.

Scariest Scene – Level 2. After being knocked out in an explosion, you wake up in a hospital. You’re alone, your voice echoes down every corridor, and the whole hospital is empty… maybe.

3 – Majora’s Mask

In my childhood, one game sticks out very vividly for me as ‘scariest game ever’, and it will surprise some to know it was actually a game from the Zelda franchise. The sequel to one of the best games of it’s era, ‘The Ocarina Of Time’, this game picked up where ‘Ocarina…’ left off, with the main character Link going to search for his fairy companion Navi in a forest. He gets jumped by a homeless child wearing a mask (also stolen, coincidentally). But it seems the mask has got plans for all involved…

Majora’s Mask is just plain weird. That’s what makes it scary, and there’s just no clear way to put it. For a franchise that’s primarily mediaeval fantasy, this game adopted an almost ‘Steam Punk’ attitude to it’s visual style. The main character gets his ass whooped very early on, and his only friends seem to be another fairy called Tatl (originally allied with the mask), and a weird chinese man who originally owned the mask.

What made the game so amazing was that the power of Majora’s Mask caused the moon to crash into the planet, 72 hours after Link arrives in the other-worldly dimension. After retrieving the Ocarina Of Time, Link can rewind the clock back 72 hours earlier. The effect is like Groundhog Day – all puzzles reset, all progress undone, and all levels back to normal. The impending doom makes every character rather contemplative and depressed, and every time you help people and fix problems, you are simply forced to rewind the clock and return everyone back to their original distressed state anyway.

The levels and monsters were equally weird. Again, the feeling of isolation was key. Adding to this a very memorable soundtrack, and you have one of the biggest (and best) mindf*cks you can experience on a video game console.

Main Character – Link. He’s bland – you’re not really bothered.

Iconic Villain – Arguable, but the mask is recognizable in the gaming community. The eyes genuinely do freak you out after a while!

Children – Mate, it’s supposed to a kid’s game!

Scariest Scene – Spoilt for choice amidst this madness, but for imaginative design, activating the switch at the entrance to the fourth Temple. You wonder what it will do – then the whole level flips upside down and you almost fall into the sky. Sh*t a brick!

2 – Resident Evil

Time to pull out some of the all-time classics as we approach the end of this list. Sometimes, you just have to believe the hype, and Resident Evil is no exception to the rule. This quirky little game effectively invented the ‘survival horror’ genre, and it’s simple premise, about a lone group of marines trapped in a mansion surrounded by zombies, caught the imagination of many ‘a nineties kid.

The zombies never scared me, although they provided clues to something called the ‘T-Virus’ which has been infecting everything all over the forest surrounding the mansion. Eventually, you find the labs where the virus originated, and various animal test-subjects have been unleashed. You find giant lizards that chase you, giant wasps and hornets that fly in your face… and giant, twitching, furry tarantulas that crawl along the ceiling.

When you’re not slowly running out of ammo shooting everything that moves, you’re trying to solve the mystery of the family who used to own the house – sort of like ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, a mystery from many, many years back. The mansion is booby-trapped, the zombies are everywhere, and again, you feel very much alone, and way out of your depth.

Main Character – Depending on what you choose, it will still be a stereotypical ‘army’ type.

Iconic Villain – For the most part, the virus is the main villain. More of an idea than a physical threat.

Children – Not for the most part.

Scariest Scene – Again, hard choice. For arguments sake, that moment when you think the window will keep the rabid zombie dogs safely outside the mansion walls!

1 – Doom 3

The original Doom was way ahead of it’s time back in the early 90s, but by the year 2000, it’s graphics and gameplay style were already ancient history. Doom 3 set about re-vamping the original story, of a marine court-marshaled over disobeying orders, and sent to a work station on Mars as punishment. A science team on Mars is experimenting with teleportation, only they find the warps actually lead to a very sinister place indeed. The rest, as they say, is history, and became a solid classic of the survival-horror genre.

Doom 3 managed to keep to it’s classic FPS style of gameplay, whilst bringing on the hordes of monsters in increasingly nightmarish waves. Mars is plunged into darkness, blood is everywhere, and as one of the sole survivors, again their is a rather empty atmosphere to the game, with your only contact being a radio to your equally isolated sergeant. It is a definitive mans game, with tons of gore, lots of bravado, and a gun called the BFG-9000. It ensured to continue kicking ass, but for more disconcerting players, or those with a nervous disposition – it is possibly one of the scariest games you’re ever likely to play (even by today’s standards!).

Main Character – Surprisingly dull given his backstory.

Iconic Villain – Sadly not, unless you class the classic ‘Cyberdemon’ boss in this category.

Children – Babies from Hell start attacking half through.

Scariest Scene – Most will tell you the level ‘Administration’ when the giant pinky flies through the glass (quiet at the back please). For me, it’s much worse a few moments later – spiders appear that jump into your face from right across the room!

Conclusion

Well, there’s what makes me tick. I think by preference, the weird and the unexplained scare me a lot more than ‘tangible’ thrills. I have some fairly odd choices, such as ‘Portal’ and ‘Requiem’. Some may not have found them bad films to watch at all – this is merely a list of my own personal scares. Every piece should be honoured – not a lot scares me much at all on either platform! I think games are more effective with jump tactics – they make you panic, and then you die. It doesn’t work so well in films. Movies need character, and my point about shock horror only cements the fact that the horrors of today are about the unexplained and the unstoppable. Let’s get the test sheets in:

Sympathetic Main Character – 4/10 (all from the films – it is more important to care about leads in films than games)

Iconic Villain(s) – 6/10 (optional to have these – ideas, notions, or the psychology of the setting can replace physical villains)

Children – 8/10 (I’m being lenient with that score as some were hard to say, but it seems that one thing that brings all factors together at least is children)

So there you have it. Children have the most potential to creep people out, at least as far as my own list goes. Use clowns. Use dead children from beyond the grave. Make children psychopaths. Make them disappear, and re-appear, but not quite right in the head upon their return. Make them the devil’s son. I’m quite surprised at this result, as I wouldn’t have thought such matters would bother me yet – subconsciously, it appears I may be wrong!

I’m gonna finish of with this ‘thing‘ that did the rounds on 9Gag a while back. (I know I’ve got a few of you already with it haha!) Now if you don’t mind… I gotta make a call…

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