When Halloween rings my bell each year, I like to dig out a scary movie or two to get into the spirit of things. I’m not really into serious horror, nothing with too much blood or violence; generally I enjoy stuff that’s more suspenseful, fantastical or creepy. In the past, I’ve rewatched old X-Files episodes and movies like Signs and Sleepy Hollow (so you see what I mean—not hardcore, just the creeps.)
This year I thought I would do a bit of a marathon, with four movies: two to be rewatched (Shaun of the Dead and Psycho) and two new (Darkness and White Noise). I’m not going to say much about the first two, except that usually zombie movies turn my stomach, but Shaun is so hilarious (and I’d be laughing with this film, not just at it) that I can keep all the nausea down with a some chuckles—the scene where Shaun and his roommate fend off a zombie in the backyard with an old Sade LP is priceless! Psycho is your classic chiller/suspense film. It’s definitely creepy, but it’s also got some excellent twists. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out for the frights alone (it’s not all about the shower scene.)
Darkness (2004) is about an American family who moves to an old house in Spain (apparently to a part of Spain where everyone is fluent in English, including 40-year-old newspaper headlines). Family tensions take a turn towards the macabre when dad starts to lose his mind (doesn’t help that he has an anxiety disorder), and the son sees ghosts in the darkness of his bedroom (we see them too) and wakes up with mysterious bruises. Mother (Alias’s Lena Olin) is in denial, chocking it all up to adjustments and the rebelliousness of her daughter (X-Men’s Anna Paquin). Only the daughter suspects that the real problem is (you guessed it) the house and she tries to save everyone. As the movie progresses, things go from creepy to downright freaky evil all the while spliced with quick cuts from location to location, the past and the present, along with flashes of slightly-seen scary faces and other creepy sights. To its credit, there are twists to this film that are not half-predictable, but frankly, the pace of this type of horror movie is not only distracting, but exhausting. I’m too busy sorting out what’s what to be scared. (3 out of 5)
White Noise (2005) is similar. I was completely hooked by the trailer, which showed none of the movie, but only talked about EVP (aka electronic voice phenomena), where people hear voices of the deceased through the hum of electronic static and white noise. This idea is creepy in itself, but when you hear muffled shrieks and haunting moans over the hiss of static, it’s extra-eerie. Unfortunately, the movie wastes its time on the obsession of Michael Keaton’s main character, who’s convinced that his dead wife is communicating with him via EVP. He begins to see video images in the on-screen snow that guide him to rescue people, but whenever he turns his back, the image flickers to ominous silhouettes (that occasionally pop into the real world while he’s not looking) and he receives warnings to keep away. Still this movie could have been worth some cheap scares, but too much of it was spent looking at TV static and trying to make out something (It wasn’t fun when I tried to watch pay movie channels that were scrambled, it’s even less fun now). Plus, if you remember Keaton’s other movie performances, he’s kind of a mumbler. When he started to understand the EVP message and tell another character what he heard, I couldn’t understand what he was saying (and he’s one of the living)! By the time the silhouettes turn into ghosty/demony beings with some kind of unknown agenda, they’ve pretty much pulled the plug on my interest. (2.5 out of 5)
Watching Darkness and White Noise, it occurred to me that in the age of The Ring, and The Grudge, most horror/suspense films don’t really care about the plot or the characters. They take an interesting concept, toss in some horrific images and ominous music pieced together with quick cuts and camera tricks (with a touch of CGI thrown in for extra-evil) and that’s supposed be enough. I admit that I get scared as easily as the next guy (maybe easier—in fact, a sound in my kitchen just now gave me quite a fright). I just wish more movie makers would really earn the scare with some creativity and intelligence rather than just going for the creeps.