Hollywood takes everything to the extreme.
I love disturbing movies as much (or more) than most. Unfortunately, Hollywood often defines disturbing as graphic, which usually means the disturbing gives way to the absurd. I know that’s subjective, but Hollywood tries harder and harder to shock, and in my opinion, it has become predictable and boring.
The most disturbing things remain the unseen or what is only suggested. This forces us to engage our own fears, and let them out of the shadows for a while, even if we’d rather keep them locked away.
I’m not anti-slashing. Sometimes the situation calls for it. In the right story, a well-done dismemberment can be a work of art. I can name scenes over the years that serve as great examples, but I tend to remember the special effects artist or the makeup artist. I remember the scenes, but can’t remember the entire movies or books that they live in. That tells me how effective these scenes were as a part of the whole. Not very.
To me, many attempts at horror become anti-horror, or at least non-horror. It is about the special effects or makeup artistry. How well something is done has its own coolness, but sometimes it’s like hearing sounds from behind the curtain during a live performance.
There are few scenes as memorable as the shower scene in Psycho, for instance. Not once do we actually see blade penetrate flesh, yet we know exactly what’s happening, and it is worse than anything any director can show us when they hold our hand through a movie.
If you want to frighten me, don’t hold my hand and lead me down the dark hallway of a haunted house. Don’t shine your flashlight in every room as we pass to reveal everything in extreme detail. Stop doing that. Instead, just give me a nod in the general direction of my own dark hallway but let me feel that I’m on my own. When I come to a closed door, let me open it and decide if it’s worth the risk of reaching into the darkness for a light switch.
Sometimes chose to not reveal everything I smell or hear or see in 3DHD surround sound. Instead of showing me a swaying light shining on the loudest, coolest-looking chain saw with the world’s largest cutting radius, what if I thought I heard a whistling coming from down the hall, like I did last night? And what if I walked down the hall to check it out, and I smelled the odor of bad breath directly in front of me in the dark? Or what about last week when I absolutely heard someone clear his throat in my house? Just say’n.
Sometimes stop yelling at me from the big screen and whisper. If you want to shock me, give me horror through suspense again, and let the story be memorable so I will lie awake at night, not marveling over how well done the decapitation scene was, but wishing that I’d never seen the movie or read the book because I’m no longer the same. And decades later, make me be glad I did.
Hitchcock described the difference between shock and suspense by describing scene where a time bomb has been placed under a table where two people are seated. If the audience doesn’t know the ticking bomb is there and it explodes, that’s shock.
If you want suspense, Hitchcock says, then let the audience see the bomb and the ticking clock, but keep it hidden from the actors. Then just expose the audience to a normal conversation between the two people at the table who know nothing of the ticking bomb. The more casual and off-topic the conversation, the more tension the audience experiences.
It is not a flesh-eating monster in the room ripping heads from bodies, flipping eye balls in the air, catching them and crunching them like buttered popcorn, but I promise you, a monster is there in that room with us.
And I’m not saying give me another remake of Psycho. But give me something that makes me really afraid again. It will take more than a big juicy bowl of guts. OK, that might be cool to see. Let my mind do more of the work. I may figure it out and be even more amazed by something I never saw coming.
I’m just tired of being mindlessly entertained. We viewers and readers can think for ourselves. We are not given enough credit. Don’t forget that an interested reader or viewer invested in the story is a precious thing.
If you’ve got a ticking time bomb, I’ve got a nice kitchen table and plenty of duct tape…