From pastabagel. Again, this is an email.
So I’ve decided to watch every horror movie that’s come out in the last ten years that’s supposed to be scary. I’m through a lot of them, and none of them are scary. But I have learned a few things:
Amityville Horror (the recent remake), The Conjuring, Insidious, and Haunting In Connecticut are all the same movie. I don’t mean that they are scripted or even plotted the same–they aren’t. They don’t share writers or studios, for the most part. They are all about the haunted house with the newly added feature of the ghost hunters sent in to investigate. And the great part is that all these movies have the same ghost hunters – Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were real “ghost hunters” who gained their notoriety investigating the Amityville horror house at the family’s request in the 70’s.
And the fact that these people are real, that they have made a living searching for the tooth fairy, tells you everything you need to know about the state of horror films in America. These movies are massively popular and keep getting made for two reasons.
First, the vast majority of the American public believes in ghosts, hauntings, demons, the paranormal. Yes, atheists too. Maybe not consciously, but it’s there.
Second, the vast majority of the American public is functionally illiterate, and by extension, cripplingly inarticulate.
It’s important for you to understand that people are stupid. Not lack of information, lack of interest in information. Why is this like that? I dunno…hee hee. They love not knowing. It’s funny to them. But they are really good at covering up. They know how to act not-stupid. If you ask people,” do you believe in ghosts?” they will never say yes. Because they know that sounds stupid, and they don’t want to be laughed at. No one believes in ESP, alien abduction, necromancy or witchcraft, or any of that stuff. No one believes it, except for Big Data, judging by the occult section at Barnes & Noble. Because their consumer data tells them to stock the occult section just as widely and deeply as the religion section (and right next to it, wink wink). And if there is one remaining objective truth after postmodernism’s conquest of society, it’s that Big Data is never ever wrong. Ever. You can’t hide from Big Data. Big Data knows what you read, what you watch, what you listen to, where you go, what you masturbate to, who you talk to, and how you spend your time. So you like to read about ghosts and what Ghost Hunters, but deny you believe it to anyone who asks? Don’t worry, your secret is safe with Big Data. Big Data is like Big Brother, only without the judgment.
Nobody believes in ghosts. But put people in their own house alone at night in the dark with no TV or distractions, and they all believe. Every creak is a serial killer’s step, every pile of crap in a dark corner is a ghost peering, every hiss is a demon’s breath. And this is where I reiterate my rule: No human can sleep alone at night without an audio or visual stimulus if their room is more than two doors and one flight of stairs from an exit. Once you are that deep inside a dwelling, it’s like you’ve exited the normal world and now occupy a space in your own head. This is why so many single people sleep, with the TV or radio on, or with guns, cocktails, or a half-empty package of Ambien on the night table. They are worried about something that they stop worrying about almost completely the moment another person is sleeping next to them. The belief you disavow in public but which governs your mood and behavior in private is your true belief. “There is no God” is the same as “God is always with me”, because alone at night, no one ever thinks they heard God or Darwin in the downstairs closet.
And this is why all horror movies suck. They are unrealistic. Not because the characters are too quick to believe in the supernatural and call the ghost hunters, but because they aren’t quick enough. Because if the audience was in The Conjuring, and they heard the clap from the closet in front of them and then saw the only other kid in the house come in from behind, they’d have lost their minds. They would not have thrust their flabby arms into the closet to investigate. Real people don’t investigate. Real people panic, drink, and overcompensate, in that order.
You think that when people joke about audiences talking back to the screen yelling at the characters not to go into the dark basement it’s because the audience knows the genre so well? No. The reason audiences react like this to the screen is more simple and instinctive–they think you should never go into a dark basement. Ever. The people in the audience certainly don’t.
And because the filmmakers know that the audience is made up of closeted paranormal believers, they play with the typical paranormal movie tropes by piling on paranormal action. It used to be the rule that you never show the ghost or the monster. Now they all do it. We’re beyond the idea that horror is “the thing not seen.” If everyone already believes it’s there, seeing it doesn’t matter. Is your inky-haired ghoulish woman in a nightgown and/or psycho in black really all that different from the hundreds we saw earlier this year? No. So by all means, show us the Red Demon in Insidious, the psycho death metal frontman in Sinister, the masked douchebag in The Purge. Because the fact that a creepy thing is haunting the house isn’t scary, because every dim-witted organ donor in the audience already believes in it. The horror now is in being unable to get rid of it (in the same way one can’t get rid of the fear in your own head.) The way to deal with a haunting in the older movies was to leave the house. You have two acts of all the adult men laughing about how hysterical their women are, and in the third act they realize the place is haunted, and they split, usually leaving the hysterical women behind.
Now, Insidious and the Conjuring start with a family that had already left one house where bad stuff happened to a new one (we now start movies by setting up prequels). See, moving doesn’t get rid of it. The scary bit now is that the thing sticks to you. So now, exorcisms are the standard third act move in horror movies. Ghoul in the attic? Call ServiStar Exorcists for a free estimate. Exorcisms are to haunted house movies what car chases are to action movies. Audiences expect them. So much so that there are people in real life who make a living claiming to do exorcisms or spirit cleansings or whatever. And it’s such a steady income that they are getting their kids into it.
For horror movies to get better would require people with enough insight that there are no ghosts or monsters or demons, especially at night and in the dark. The evil creatures of the world are the other people in it. Alone in the dark is the only place you’re safe from them.
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