Poltergeist, and the Decline of Contemporary Horror

Sunday, July 01, 2007, 6:56 PM

It's a while since I've posted because I've been an extremely busy boy. I took advantage of some down time this weekend to do a couple of nice things.

One: I watched Poltergeist.

I recorded it during the week on my Sky+ box, and watched it over the weekend. It's a long time since I've seen this movie, and it was a good print in the original aspect ratio (hooray for Turner Classic Movies). I'd forgotten how (almost) brilliant it is. As it unfolded I was conscious of something that might not have crossed my mind a year ago, and that is the depth of the story. Poltergeist was one of the first movies we rented when we first got a VCR way back in the early to mid eighties, and at the time, it was scary as hell. Watching it as an adult, it's still got a lot of power, and I wondered why this is so when most contemporary horror movies fail to raise my neck hairs.

I realised it's because buckets of viscera and sadistic violence do not a horror movie make.

The fear in Poltergeist does not stem from flying furniture, sparkly ghosts, or some guy peeling his own face off - it comes from watching a family deal with the loss of a child. Likewise, think of what is regarded by many as the greatest horror movie ever: The Exorcist. While spinning heads and pea-green vomitus may have scared the bejesus out of generations, it's the horror of watching a child held prisoner by evil that stays in the mind long after it's over.

There are only a couple of recent horror movies that genuinely horrify, at least in my view. And they both happen to be low budget efforts. Take the original Saw, for instance. This movie has plenty of sadistic torment going on, but that's not what makes it work. It's the tension in the room, and the fear for the family's safety that makes it work. It has real story, in other words.

The other that comes to mind is the Blair Witch Project. A camcorder plus three kids in a forest equals truly terrifying. No gore in sight, just real fear.

There have been quite a few decent horror movies in recent years (28 Days Later, The Descent and Hostel all come to mind) but few have any real resonance. And to achieve real terror, you need real resonance.

This is why a certain Stephen King is the master of the genre - his writing cuts deeper because it speaks to more personal parts of us than our fear of blood.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I said Poltergeist is almost brilliant because the unnecessary finale (you know, the coffins spewing forth and so on) seems like a cynical ploy to get a few more jumps out of us - the real story was over a good twenty minutes before this.

Two: I wrote a short story.

I haven't written one in a while, and this came to me over the last couple of days. Like all my short stories, it was written in a couple of sittings with little or no planning. I've sent it to Elektra's Crapometer for critique, and I'll be curious to see how it fares as it's a spin-off from my recently completed novel. I wonder if it stands on its own, of if the reader needs to know the larger story for it to make sense.

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Blogger McKoala said...

Can't watch horror films at all. Apparently, I believe in everything, however improbable. I was spooked by my own ouija board scene.

I'll look out for your story, but having read the novel, I might not be much help on whether or not it can stand alone, because I'll have all the background in my head!

2:14 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've scared myself with my own novels.

2:34 AM  

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