Horror: The Big Fondue Pot in the Ground

Last Sunday, I watched The Exorcist.  At the time, I didn’t know they’d be dropping its name at the Oscars.  I just wanted to watch a scary movie.  I’d been staring at my DVD collection for a while (sorry, no blueray at chez Southard), trying to decide what to watch.  Dawn of the Dead?  [REC]?  The House of the Devil?  April Fool’s Day?  I settled on The Exorcist because I wanted to take my time.  I wanted to be horrified, not frightened.

See, I feel (and most dictionaries would agree) that there’s a difference between horror and fear.  Fear is the result of your fight or flight response kicking in.  It’s a jolt of adrenaline right to your spine that tenses up your body.  Horror is deeper.  There’s a strong emotional component, a sort of dread or disgust that shakes you at your very core.  Horror is what happens once you’ve had time to think about fear.

As I was watching The Exorcist, I found myself thinking how impossible it would be to make a movie like that today.  The first ten minutes consist of Father Merrin walking around Iraq, gazing upon dogfights, archeological digs, and blind men.  It’s a series of scenes that, at first, don’t appear to have much to do with the movie.  Only later do they really resonate.

You couldn’t include those scenes today.  At least, you couldn’t include them with out half a dozen jump-scares and a rape demon that cornholes Father Merrin but good.  Maybe you could, but they wouldn’t describe the movie as a horror film.  They’d call it something else.

But so what?  Does that make slasher films less fun?  Shit, no.  There will always be room for fun in horror.  There should also be room for another kind of horror, though.  The kind that crawls in slowly and doesn’t let go.

For instance, I love both Ringu and its Hollywood remake, The Ring.  They’re completely different takes on the same concept, though.  To me, one of the most chilling scenes in Ringu involves the ex-husband character (whose psychic in this version) sitting alone in a crowd when somebody walks up to him.  We don’t see more than the girls feet and legs, but we know it’s the ghost.  It’s a wonderfully haunting scene.  At roughly the same time in the U.S. remake, we get a jump-scare of a deformed body in a closet.

But damn if I don’t love both of those flicks!

All of this got me thinking about horror fans and the differences between them.  Certain fans thrive on the gore and guts.  They want kill after kill.  Some fans only want that if it involves zombies.  Others like a nice, quiet ghost story.  Still others want something that’s more along the lines of The Exorcist, something that works its way into and maybe connects on a more cerebral level (for lack of a better term).  No one group is more right than the other (unless you ask them. then the others are all idiots or elitists, depending on who you ask).  They’re all a part of the horror.

Horror, ladies and gents. The Big Fondue Pot in the Ground.

2 thoughts on “Horror: The Big Fondue Pot in the Ground

  1. I watched The Exorcist again a few weeks ago, really for the same reason-for that wonderfully creepy element that really is lacking in most of today’s films. I couldn’t agree more about the difference between horror and fear, I really miss the days when movies had that deeply disturbing effect. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good scary scene that makes me jump out of my seat (it happens so rarely) but nothing compares to a real horror flick. One that sticks with me when I go home that night. The kind that has me running up the basement steps, and peeking behind the shower curtain. (Yes, I am in my 30s and still do this…)

    I can’t remember the last time a movie made me feel that way. I remember the first time I saw The Ring, I was at the drive-in and when I went home I turned on every light in the house and put on a comedy to shake the eerie feeling off. Ringu had the same effect but to a lesser degree, since I had already seen The Ring. But where are the movies like that now?

    It is always such a disappointment to me when a movie is hyped up to sound SO scary and then turns out to be lame- (Blair Witch Project)- yeah, it might have scared me if I was a kid, but what a HUGE letdown that was. Same with Paranormal Activity-which I actually enjoyed while I was watching it but I didn’t get all the idiots in the theater screaming their heads off every time a door slammed. Paranormal Activity did earn a little respect from me, though, when it finally made me jump a little in the very last scene. Oh, and Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin’s clip based on the movie at the Oscars was freaking hilarious.

    It’s funny, you described some of the differences between horror fans, and I couldn’t decide which of those categories I would fall into. I think all of them, in a way, I love it all! The blood and guts, the deep and disturbing storylines, and of course, zombies! There can never be too many zombies. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara”–who doesn’t LOVE that?!?!

    The Academy Awards, in my opinion, put together an awesome compilation of some of my own personal favorite scary movie scenes. I don’t know why they don’t-or can’t-make them like they used to, but I really miss the days when a movie made me scream like the idiots in that movie theater. To name a few–Salem’s Lot, The Exorcist, When a Stranger Calls (the original, of course), Poltergeist, The Shining-just off the top of my head. Every one of those movies horrified me as a child-and began my lifelong fascination with all things macabre. Oh and I can’t forget Nightmare on Elm Street-hey, I know it’s cheesy! But when I was 8, sneaking out of bed to watch it on the reflection in the living room window as my dad watched it on tv, it was pretty damn disturbing.

    Wow, I didn’t mean to ramble on for so long. But I enjoyed your rant, keep ’em coming!

  2. Terror and dread, shock and awe, or as you put it, fear and horror–I think most true horror fans appreciate both (do any professional wine tasters only drink red?), and I think that both can be present in the same movie or book. Most shock-heavy stories try to cultivate dread, but when fear jolts you, it can easily shock that dread right out of your system.

    Did you see The Descent? I think it did a good job of combining the two. It had a building sense of claustrophobia and doom that persisted through the sprinkled moments of shock and fright.

    I agree that there’s room in this genre for all different flavors of stories, and I agree that one particular flavor (call it habanero terror)has been dominating our films in recent years, but I also want more than one flavor in a single meal.

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