Modern Day Cheaters of Horror


Lately I have sat in several movie theaters, watching horror movies, and wondering to myself – where have all the good writers gone (Insert Paula Cole music here)? Then I start getting this conspiracy idea, where maybe the special effects people killed them off and replaced them with robots from the planet Lame. It seems to me that movies have begun to rely on something that Stephen King and I refer to as, the cheap scare (Note: Stephen King may not have actually said that. For that matter, he has never met me, nor does he care what I think). This is the scare that comes from A: loud noises erupting in the middle of a silent part and B: extreme violence and/or gore that adds nothing to the storyline. Don’t get me wrong, effects are awesome when used properly… and sparingly, just like that hint of cyanide you put in your spouses coffee each day to keep them from going to the cops.

Story lines seem to keep getting dropped in favor of, well, noise and millions of dollars of make up/effects. But to me, a writer, a horror writer nonetheless, the story should be the strongest part. A strong story trumps noise and effects any day, and generally, makes a movie cheaper. And I don’t hear any studio executives complaining about the movies being too cheap, while they sit in the chairs made from the skins of dodo birds (that’s right, I’m on to you). I remember watching Night of the Living Dead – it’s ‘music’ track and noise effects were so horrible, the fat guy in the back row snoring was scarier. But then you see the little dead girl with the trowel and that hungry look on her face, and suddenly your pants are a bit more brown.

Or how about the first Halloween? Their entire special effects consisted of a guy in a three dollar mask walking around (slowly) swinging a butcher’s knife. Yet the story was so well written, there was so much suspense in the scene placement and cinematography, that you found yourself on the edge of the-guy-in-front-of-you’s seat. We aren’t talking 100 million dollar budgets here, and yet, these are the films that go down in history. These are the films that scared us.  But don’t get me wrong – there have been great films with good special effects in them. The Exorcist – to this day still freaks me out. The makeup was superb, the voice of the demon creepy as hell, and the story… so intense, so frightening, that the movie was banned in England when it was first released. People got sick in the theater.

I can count on my friend Amputee-Jim’s missing fingers how many times I have watched people puke in the theaters lately. Is it because we are more desensitized to violence than we were in the 1960’s? Hardly. It’s the lack of story lines and craftsmanship of a well-made horror film. So sally for… sally fort… sally forth, and bring back good writing.

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