What scares me... (part 1 of 2)

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Summary: As a self-professed horror hound, I occasionally come across the question of "Well, then, what do you consider to be a scary movie?" and I am almost always rubbish for answers. I have plenty of moody movies, and some movies that make me wince with sympathy pains or get nervous because if jump-scares. But what really scares me? I'll explain.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

(00:28:08 CST) (1 Comment)

What scares me... (part 1 of 2)

Sometimes I talk about scary movies in a most analytical way. "Dashing good show, old chap, but I could not help but notice the color motif went off in the second half." I am sure this is confusing to those who do not get horror or, more commonly, those who get a little bit of horror and consider the genre about as far from literary criticism as you can get. What's more, old Doug "Where's the logic in that?" Bolden here rarely watches a horror movie to be scared. I have an entire collection of movies I appreciate for their plastic costumes and rubbery effects. Here, before you, is a man who watches horror movies like a fat kid eats candy and yet he is rarely scared of anything in them. What is the point?

Well, the point is that I like the genre. No real reason. I did not, one day, sit down and go "Oh, that one, with the dead thingies eating the living things, let's camp there". No, I just like the genre. I get horror. I like the campy effects and the bad writing and the low budget and the creativity. I like the basic instinct of fear, how we tap into it. The music and the foley artists working together. Lighting. Pacing. All the many millions of monsters and madmen. It interests me as much as science fiction and science itself interest me. It is fascinating.

Which means I get scared a lot, right? No. Not really. I am not going to be a blowhard and say how that movie did not affect me at all or tell you how I laughed all through this movie or that scene that everyone else thought was terrifying. I can feel what they are trying to do. That is just not the reason I am into it. What's more, having watched hundreds of horror movies, I know that all the good bits are fake bits. They are tricksy bits. The bits where a ping of sound and a drone of a bass-line fake out your heart beat and then the SLAM right after causes you to jump. The bits where they deny you seeing the whole thing, so you feel off-key. The morally bereft gamble where they bank on you really wanting that kid to survive; or where they bank you really pulling for those lovers. Most of the bits that make non-horror fans like horror are the bits that are psychology 101. And why wouldn't they be? It works. Why fix it? Well, wait, no, that is another post altogether.

I am neither jaded nor terrified about horror movies. If anything, I feel a sense of excitement, of joy. Not for the mayhem and the murder but simply for the artistic style that I dig. This brings us back to the question at hand: what does scare me, then?

The best and most ready example I can think of right here and now (and for good reason, as you'll soon see) is the Twilight Zone episode: "A Kind of Stopwatch". I listened to it just a couple of days via the Twilight Zone Radio Dramas series. If you want to hear it or see it before I spoil it, head over to that link and buy a copy of the mp3 for about two dollars and then give it a listen (or dig up the episode from some archive, DVD boxset, torrent, etc). Should take about forty-five minutes total or less if you are good. At any rate, you have a character named McNulty who is a total bore. Loves to talk and discuss things and ideas and all that but drives people insane. A really lonely guy who does not know how lonely he really is. At one point, he is given a stopwatch that, upon being pressed, causes time around him to stop. He can interact with things, but until he presses the fob again, he is the only thing moving. To be a bit Aristotlean, he can cause change but he is the only uncaused thing in existence. At first, he's just using it to try and make friends, to show off, to get a free cab ride. Eventually, he gets fed up and decides he needs money to be well liked. He goes to rob a bank but gets a little greedy and picks up too many bags and the watch drops, denying him the ability to restart time. The story ends with him begging someone to start moving again.

We are left with a series of questions about this ending:

  • Is McNulty is some tangential time where the rest of the world will go on without him but will notice all the things he consumed and all the deeds he did while he lived out his days in the barren "stop world"? 30-40 years of consumption felt in an instant (not to mention all the darker deeds)?
  • Has time become permanently glued shut, effectively destroying the universe except what McNulty does?
  • In either case, can McNulty die? In the case of the latter, does this mean that he will eventually consume everything on the Earth?
  • What happened if the stopwatch was dropped with it still running? Was it controlling time? Was time being controlled by something so fragile?
  • Back to the second question, what must it be like to die by ceasing to exist in the dimension of time?

Questions like that terrify me. Compared to that, boogeymen running around in white masks are nothing. We are talking about large scale disturbances of time itself, of this infinite non-thing devouring everything. Infinite loneliness. The fragility of meaning. That terrifies me in a way that most horror movies cannot.

Well, unless they have clowns.

Si Vales, Valeo

1 Comment(s)

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Niko: (via form)
First, skipped over the spoiled bits, as I plan to listen to "Stopwatch". There's very little in horror that scares me. Honestly, some of the best movies at the set-up/jump-scare technique aren't even genre—Jurassic Park and Jaws—to name a couple, are pitch-perfect startle flicks. What scares me are ideas, which is why Clive Barker and Lovecraft will freak me out far more readily than any zombiefeast.

file under (...on Horror & Zombies)

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