Alphabetical Movie – The Haunting
I think Robert Wise’s The Haunting is just about the perfect horror film. We never see an axe wielding serial killer. The characters aren’t chased about the house by a hideous creature. Death, when it comes, is not bloody or graphic.
In spite of all these things, the movie is as scary as any I’ve ever seen. Wise uses camera angles, sound design, facial expression and dialogue to create a haunted house so horrifying, you can’t imagine spending a night there. You don’t see what creatures walk the halls of that house but whatever is in your imagination is far worse than anything that could have appeared on screen.
I’m not a good person to talk about good horror, though, because I’m not a big horror fan. I appreciate a good horror film the same way I appreciate a good film in any other genre. There are several horror films that I love (like The Haunting). The difference between horror and most other genres is that I don’t tend to seek out good horror films because I have little desire to wade through a number of bad or mediocre horror to find the stuff that I will really enjoy.
See, the horror that I don’t like is centered around a lot of gore and jump scares. I fucking hate jump scares. Almost all of the time I know they are coming and while they still surprise me, they feel like a cheat.
Jump scares are almost always dependant on the fact that the camera’s field of vision is not the same as a human field of vision. If a cat jumps at a character from off camera, it is a jump scare. If you were in the same room, you would have seen the cat and it wouldn’t have startled you.
Making me jump out of my seat because you startled me isn’t scary. It isn’t horror. It’s just a cheap parlor trick.
If you want to scare me, get me to care about the characters in a film and then put them in a situation where they are fucked. Make me feel like something terrible is going to happen and I don’t want it to because I like these people and I don’t want to be forced to watch them die. Then rather than being scared because of them, I’m scared for them.
The Haunting works on me because there is a sense of creeping doom. We know what the house wants. We know who the house wants. By the time the other characters recognize it, there is nothing they can do.
Gore, to me, is another cheap parlor trick.
Try this – watch the pool scene from Let the Right One In and then watch the same scene from Let Me In. I think both movies are really good but one of them uses a lot more gore to diminishing effect. Again, what we imagine takes place is more interesting than seeing too much of it.
I rarely find gore disgusting or disturbing. There are times when it is used to tremendous effect (Se7en). But typically those are films where the gore is kept to a minimum so when we see it, the impact is heightened.
In most bad horror films, gore is used in place of real suspense or genuine scares. Dead teenager movies are about little more than increasingly inventive kills. I understand some folks enjoy that. It just doesn’t work for me.
I’m not suggesting I am “above” horror. The problem I have is the things that make the genre so appealing to a great many people are the things that I don’t find interesting. I don’t blame horror films for my own preferences. They are what they are.
The Haunting is, I think, a fantastic film that also happens to be a horror film. I like watching fantastic films no matter what the genre. I’m just a little pickier about mediocre films in certain genres.