Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Fading Traumas

With SpaceSquid's Sixth and Final Halloweenapalooza on Saturday, the time has come to start chivvying my various acquaintances into providing a definitive answer as to whether or not they plan to attend.

In several cases it transpires that people's reticence stems from the belief that my little shindig will be "too scary" (we shall assume for the purposes of this post that they are referring to the horror films themselves, and not to either my company or my increasingly dilapidated bathroom). Certainly this was the concern raised when talking to Anonymous McNoname and J-Dawg this morning.

Unsurprisingly, this led to a conversation on what does and doesn't constitute scary. My stated position has always been that it is practically impossible to be afraid whilst watching a horror film on a TV whilst surrounded by ten or so tipsy mates. I realise that's not always true, though; my friend Julia managed to be freaked out at the first Halloweenapalooza by Ju-On, despite the fact that that film is so unspeakably bad the scariest thing about it is that someone decided to remake it for American audiences and let the original director have another crack at it.

We also got onto my insistence that there's always one film that is too old for anyone to find it scary anymore. I made the point without really thinking about it, and Anonymous called me on it, but I genuinely think it's all but impossible to find a horror film that's more than, say, fifteen to twenty years old still scary. It can still be very good, still be interesting, and certainly one can appreciate how atmosphere was crafted and scares delivered, but more than any other film genre, horror seems very poor at maintaining its level of immersion as time passes. If I were to identify the cause behind this phenomenon (if indeed it exists at all outside of my own mind, though anecdotal evidence suggests I'm not alone on this) I'd say it was something as banal as the increased distance from contemporary production standards. In a strange way, it's the same issue as blatant CGI (described as "the bane of modern cinema" by SFX in 1997, and it doesn't look like we'll see the back of it any time soon); one can be impressed by it, but not be fooled into thinking it's real (even for the briefest flash of a second), and horror relies on our mind's willingness to be deceived.

Or at least, that's how it seems to me. I may be conflating faded scares with the fact that I don't ever get to see older horror films at the cinema (a naturally more immersing environment) and that I am more likely to see such classics in the company of others than alone. I think that there's something more there, though. I think the older a film is, the further away from contemporary viewing experience, the harder it is to watch it without the realisation that you are watching a film being strong and entirely conscious right the way through. With most films that doesn't matter, but with horror films I think that disconnect is more of a problem.

Anyway, this year's horror classic is Hellraiser, so I shall see how well that has aged (I've only seen it once, and long since forgotten anything but the bare bones of what it's like or about). Doubtless further musings will appear at the start of November.


Gooder said...

The great horror films are still great and quite unnerving, there are however not many of them.

But then I feel a genre were 'Hellraiser' is classic has issues with a lack of quality anyway.

SpaceSquid said...

Any specific examples in mind?

In truth, I think there's a bit of a gap between something that unnerves and something that scares. I think the former suggests something more cerebral, which can most definitely be transmitted by older films.

I also think it would be a mistake to suggest my choice of "classic" horror film for this year is an indictment of the genre. At worst, it reflects poorly on my own taste, but I'd argue that this is nothing more than an example of how "old + popular = classic". Until I've had the chance to watch it again, I wouldn't want to defend Hellraiser itself any more fully, but I'd certainly be careful about trying to spin it into a general comment on horror films itself.