31 October 2013

Halloween Horrors

Halloween Pumpkin Sitting on Staircase
Halloween Pumpkin...
David Woods
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Since it's that time of year again, I thought I'd take a look at scary movies (in general and not the lame spoof series). I'll go through what I think makes a good gory horror slasher and which thriller is the most...enthralling (I couldn't bring myself to say what makes a thrilling thriller). Of course, with every good movie, there are a lot more bad ones out there (especially in this genre).

The Best:

The Shining - French Style

The Shining -...
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The Shining. It's a classic movie, a classic story. One that can still hold up over time and still chill audiences even now. Originally based (albeit loosely) on Stephen King's book of the same name, the film follows a family of three as they move into a hotel for the winter when the father, Jack (as sinisterly played by Jack Nicholson) gets the job as the winter caretaker. Of course, chaos ensues when it turns out that the hotel is haunted, in a way where ghosts can harm and kill, especially in their aim to get to Jack's son, Danny, a boy who has a psychic gift called 'The Shining' (hence the title - clever, no?) As the hotel and its ghostly inhabitants start to realise that there is a great force staying in the hotel in the form of Danny, they do everything in their power to take him for themselves, leading to some spooky moments in the film. One of these moments that sticks in people's minds is the character of Grady, the hotel's previous caretaker. His demeanor is so calm that it comes across as jarring, especially when you realise that he's actually instructing Jack to kill his family (as he so lovingly puts it: 'But I "corrected" them sir. And when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty, I "corrected" her.') Even more unsettling is when you realise that this character has actually died and has come back to recruit more people for his mission. Not once does this character raise his voice, being evil so calmly that nobody would ever suspect this British gentleman to be a crazed killer. And yet, this is the spookiest of everything that happens in The Shining, a mild-mannered man being affected by the hotel so much, he ends up a psychopath (this is the contrast Stephen King wanted for the main character, for him to be played by an actor nobody would believe would turn out to be a cold-hearted murderer, the change in character being so quick, the audience would be left reeling. Unfortunately, Stanley Kubrick decided to go with Jack Nicholson, someone who doesn't require much to convince people that he's a psychotic killer). Onto the acting then: as mentioned before, Nicholson gives a very convincing portrayal of someone who is possessed. Though saying that, there's a wariness from the audience all throughout his performance, waiting for the character to snap any moment - from the start of the film, when Nicholson first appears, to the moment when he is affected by the Overlook Hotel. Some could argue that the build up of character change could be more gradual but Nicholson still manages to have a charisma that intrigues audiences to his character. The one gripe I have with this film is the Wendy character, as portrayed by Shelley Duvall. I get it, your husband has just turned into a raving maniac, but that's hardly the time to have a complete breakdown. She's such a weak character that it is hard to conjure any sympathy for her. Fortunately Nicholson's Jack Torrence, Scatman Crothers' Hallorann and even Danny Lloyd's Danny Torrence all make up for it.
Even though it's a departure from the book, The Shining is still strong enough to stand on its own. So many of the film's trademark spooky scenes: the two twins asking Danny to play with them whilst quick cuts show them dead on the floor; Jack axing down the door whilst shouting: 'Here's Johnny!' and the lift/elevator opening up with a river of blood pouring out in slow motion are all conjured up from the mind of Kubrick. Scenes so powerful visually that they stick in an audience's mind for quite a while after the film has ended.

The Worst:

Paranormal Activity
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A slightly different sub-genre to the previous film I mentioned, I'm counting Paranormal Activity as one of the worst 'horror' films I've seen, especially at the cinema. Most of the bad horrors are normally a sequel (or the 10th film in the series), examples being: Final Destination 2, Saw 3D, Scream 3, etc but Paranormal Activity stands alone as being a film so bad to begin with, I dread to think what the sequels are like.
  A film that was so hyped up, I had to check it out and see what the fuss was about. One of the first signs that a film is naff is when the whole audience of the cinema is laughing...and not at any comical moments in the film as there are none (at least none intentionally). Paranormal Activity follows the premise of a couple moving into a house, and surprise- find that it's haunted. What separates Paranormal Activity from other films and what made it such a draw to people, was the fact that it was filmed in a low-key, POV style, as if the characters themselves were making homemade movies. This concept implies a realism, a technique used in low budget documentaries. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here. Ghost stories, as a whole, should be considered so scary that you would have to watch behind a cushion or whatever else people use to shield their eyes. It shouldn't really be boring. There were no sudden 'jumps' - tactics used in film to make people jump, normally consisting of silence and a loud music jolt coming out of that silence; there was no sympathising with the main characters. It was such an uneventful film, that the only thing that sticks in my mind is when the female character, Katie gets possessed by one of the spirits haunting the house and stands over the male character, Micah whilst he sleeps. The camera, that is set up to film them by the characters themselves, shows that a long amount of time has passed with Katie still standing over Micah. When the most memorable part of a film is the characters sleeping, you know that it is a pretty dull movie.
  Another technique movie producers apply to keep a film as realistic to audiences as possible is to hire unknown actors, normally actors who haven't been in much previously. This is to stop audiences associating the actor with their star persona rather than the character. However, the lack of acting experience is normally quite obvious, as was the case in Paranormal Activity. This may be the reason why there is no sympathy with the characters, and I was more interested to see if they would lose to the ghosts than if they actually survived the film. If the characters can't connect with the audience, then it leaves the film as a whole quite flat.
A film that left me scratching my head in puzzlement to why it was so hyped in the first place and why people continued to rave on about it (clearly not the people in the cinema that I attended). It's a shame that it had to spawn several sequels, surely twice as bad as the original.

Horror films. When done correctly, they can last a lifetime, giving modern audiences the same chills that the original audience felt. When done poorly, they become laughable, something to get quite exasperated about due to not doing the intended job, which is to scare people. It is a shame that there are only a handful of horror movies that I actually find powerful as it's a genre I quite enjoy.

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