Thrills & Chills – Watching Creepy Films Alone & How Modern Cinema Lost its Magic

I’m a wimp. When the mood takes me, I like certain level of scary cinema. I don’t like a whole genre to pass me by because I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat. So there are a handful of DVDs that sit on my shelf, waiting until I have compliant company before I can watch them. My friend gave me his copy of the original Dark Water (Hideo Nakata). It’s been sat there a long time.

Usually when I do watch something chilling on my own, it’s an accident. The Shining was on TV one night, years ago. I was sure my housemate hadn’t gone to bed yet & would reappear at any minute. I really wanted to see it. He’d gone to bed. I didn’t enjoy afterwards facing our creepy bathroom in the small hours (mildew-ridden student digs, you can picture it).

When I was even younger, 15 maybe, Psycho was on telly. I’d only seen Hitchcock thrillers (The 39 Steps) up til then. I thought, ‘Old movie, can’t be that scary.’ Idiot.

I’ve had a copy of Shutter Island for a few months, unable to decide from the cover it was a thriller or a chiller. I use the term chiller because horror is too strong. I’m talking psychological levels of fear. So I watched that alone. I was wary of the fact it was set in a mental institute for the criminally insane. I’ve got a Brad Anderson film called Session 9 set in an abandoned mental institute, which still bugs me. The idea of lobotomies, the complex layers of trauma, the feeling of being on the edge of your own sanity.

Shutter Island plays on all these things to good effect. It’s exploration of the layers of the human psyche that may be partially or fully repressed and also the fear that somone can plant false memories in your mind. At the same time, a bit like Inception, this glossy big-budget exploration of these types of themes leaves me a bit cold. They are ultimately a bit lost in their own cleverness. The simple twist at the end of films (think back to the era when audiences were wowed by The Sixth Sense) is not enough anymore.

Hollywood is playing with themes of a multi-layered ‘reality’ much like the surrealist & modernist filmmakers started doing years ago. In fact, I’d argue The Shining did such a thing. And whereas I can watch the labyrinthine madness of this Kubrick classic again and again, I doubt I’ll be that fussed to do the same with any of these new kids on the block.

There is something lacking in all the modern glossiness, like Prometheus in comparison to Alien or Aliens. I don’t know if I’m just getting older & more nostalgic in this matter. When CGI, 3D & everything else make anything possible the magic starts to get lost somewhere. It’s like watching the Premiership on telly in comparison to going to a lower league football game. The former has become so distanced from reality, it has become a bit, well, boring.

Post Script: I’m still too scared to watch Dark Water on my own.

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3 responses to “Thrills & Chills – Watching Creepy Films Alone & How Modern Cinema Lost its Magic

  1. Great post. Nowadays there are very few big-budget horror movies that compare to the classics. Part of the problem is that audiences would much rather watch what is effectively a 90-minute jump scare like Paranormal Activity than an excellent, genuinely scary horror flick.

    There are some exceptions though. Aside from a few audience-pandering scares, I found Sinister to be surprisingly creepy. There are a huge number of brilliant up-and-coming horror directors, mostly on the independent and straight-to-DVD release scene. The likes of Absentia, The Tunnel, The Innkeepers, and Dread are fantastic and truly scary. And of course, it’s always worth remembering that when The Shining was originally released, it was disliked by both audiences and critics alike. It even had Razzie nominations!

  2. Yeah, I think some cinephiles forget the groundbreaking nature of (some) horror & the way it can reflect on changes in society. If only I was less of a wimp, I’d watch more…

  3. I’m with Rob Gordon. Much of horror cinema today leaves me cold, but the imagery in “Sinister” (not necessarily the plot) was decidedly creepy and good for a blink or two out the window late at night, hoping not to see that…thing.

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