Let me start by saying that the title of this piece isn’t really meant to be vituperative or condemning. In fact, the word “insidious” might be a little strong for the point I’m trying to make (but, hey, I liked the sound of the title, and it’s kind of my blog…so…there you go). I have made a critique of horror, before, on this blog, that the genre tends to be formulaic, that a truly original and artistic horror film, while possible (see The Witch, It Follows, etc.) is rare, and many horror films are startlingly similar. And this is true. But, far from continuing to condemn this tendency, in this post I’d like to celebrate the beauty of formula, when the director works well within a framework to create a really excellent film. In doing so, I guess I’ll sort of be suggesting that much of contemporary horror gets a bad rap from – not even, but especially – its most avid, enthusiastic followers, when it need not. A filmmaker can follow common horror tropes and eschew aiming for arthouse quality filmmaking without creating a bad film. I believe this because I’ve invested some time in watching really bad horror, and I avoid, for the most part, posting about it, because there’s no point in simply slandering someone else’s efforts on a blog when I have little if anything nice to say. So, today I praise Insidious. While it’s a movie that follows some typical horror conventions, it’s a really fantastic, scary, fun movie, and one that says a lot of interesting things about the ghost or the specter. Continue reading “An Insidious Slander: In Praise of Insidious”
Early Encounters, Part I: The Horror of Bloody Mary
A year ago on my blog, I began a series called “My First Fright” which sought to examine the things that scare us most when we’re children, to re-situate us in those moments when we first encountered feelings of fear. Upon consideration, it has occurred to me that a first fright, or a first confrontation with the feeling of fear, can be, and often is, much different than a first encounter with something – a story, experience, movie, and so forth – that may typically be considered part of the horror genre. While I may have experienced fear listening to the dreaded chipmunk song or watching Large Marge’s face contort during Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, those horrifying moments were far different than early moments I faced that constituted my first encounter with horror. And while I can’t decide, with certainty, what qualifies a work or a story for membership in the horror pantheon, and what my definitive first-horror moment is, I very much recall hearing the story of the formidable Bloody Mary, the violent mirror witch-ghost, for the first time. To that end, I’ll delight in re-living my first encounters with the Bloody Mary myth, and how she partially initiated me into the genre during my early years of childhood. Continue reading “Early Encounters, Part I: The Horror of Bloody Mary”
A Scarier Sequel: Drama and Anxiety in The Conjuring 2
As I watched The Conjuring 2 this afternoon, I found myself spastically reaching toward Michael’s arm and clasping his hand during the film’s intensity peaks. And when we were in the middle of a jump-scare, my startle was often augmented by Michael, who would grab my hand and come close to squeezing it off. In other words, The Conjuring 2 is scary, so unless you’re really emotionally stoic and relatively immune to anything horror, The Conjuring 2 promises you a few unsettling moments – at least. Michael, who has been seeing horror movies with me since we started dating over a year and a half ago, said that this was the most afraid he’s been since he got used to seeing films from the genre. I was scared too, but also intrigued. In fact, I was not just intrigued, but impressed, as we watched the film. The Conjuring 2 does not rely on fear alone, though the movie is scary. It manages to be an incredibly satisfying, even emotionally moving story, at the same time. In other words, the plot isn’t a mere vehicle for terrifying moments. The Conjuring 2 is a well-developed film with a unique story line that “happens to have” a lot of scary parts. And – bonus! – it’s based off a true story. Continue reading “A Scarier Sequel: Drama and Anxiety in The Conjuring 2”
Exorcising Fear: The Vatican Tapes
I have a self-imposed challenge as an avid horror viewer: I must find an exorcism movie that truly terrifies me. Huddled with a group of giggling 12-year-olds when I was in seventh grade, I watched in near-disbelief while Regan spewed unthinkable profanity and did immodest things with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Assuredly, I was not old enough to watch the movie without being flung into a shock-provoked state of uncomfortable laughing fits (a twelve year old is hardly mature enough to take those scenes seriously), but something about that reaction seems significant when I reflect upon exorcism films almost 20 years later: Namely, the film was shocking, unorthodox, compelling – and indisputably ground-breaking for the era – but The Exorcist, along with, I think, every other exorcism film I’ve ever watched, has never really scared me. I find them interesting, and essential from the standpoint of someone who makes it a (humble, wage-less) second-living to know and review horror fare (albeit for a small number of readers), but for some reason I’ve always found ghosts a lot scarier. Don’t get me wrong: conceptually, the devil is terrifying (to the extent that I believe he exists, at least), but films rarely do justice to the horror of the demonic. The Vatican Tapes, a fairly average film, was no exception to this trend. If you like exorcism movies, it may be worth seeing, at least for comparative purposes. But, there was a small, hopeful part of me thought I might feel afraid during The Vatican Tapes. As it turns out, I did not. Read my discussion below (which, admittedly, has some spoilers) to find out why.