Saturday, October 29, 2016

A horrifying trend?

It's the just prerogative of a cynical cinephile to talk about how dumb a particular horror movie was and how little it scared them.

For this particular cynical cinephile, though, it's becoming increasingly less common.

And I can't tell if that's due to a decrease in my cynicism, or an increase in the quality of horror movies.

Or maybe I'm just becoming a wuss.

Anyway, the raw materials of this discussion is that I've noticed myself becoming increasingly receptive to horror movies, even the ones most people think are terrible. That probably requires some rephrasing. I've always been receptive to horror movies, as being scared is one of my favorite emotions to experience during a movie. But I've frequently been disappointed by horror movies' actual ability to do that.

Not lately, though. I'm not sure how far back this goes, but a couple prominent examples in recent months were what prompted me to start writing.

The first was Dark Skies, which I watched back on August 14th and ended up writing about here. I had known this one was not particularly well received, but I watched it out of a general curiosity and a specific appreciation for the work of Keri Russell. I ended up getting the willies scared out of me, in part because of the influence of another horror movie I watched last Halloween, The Nightmare (as discussed in more detail in that post). I gave Dark Skies four stars on Letterboxd, grading on the general quality of the film (it was good!) but particularly on the quality of the fear it generated in me. That was at least two stars more than anyone else gave it.

Then earlier this month I watched Sinister, another film I talked about (here) because of its generic adjectival name, which was a trend back in 2012. Sinister also threw me a loop. It features pretty standard ingredients for a modern horror movie, especially one produced by Jason Blum -- scary kids, old movie footage and a demon insinuating himself into those videos, the minds of the scary kids, and the hallways of the protagonist's house. Yet I watched this movie with what seemed like a constant chill. Again I gave this film four stars, and again that was an outlier in terms of the average critical take. Then again, the Blum-produced The Gallows really creeped me out last year, and someone I greatly respect selected it as his worst movie of the year. (Maybe it's because both films feature footage of someone being hanged on tape or in 8mm. Maybe that's one of my triggers.)

Then last Saturday night we started V/H/S, and I finished it in the wee hours of this Saturday morning. (And I'm talking really wee -- after I fell asleep on the couch from about 10:30 to about 2, I finished it between 2:30 and 3:30, which certainly improved the scare factor. Starting to have too many scary movies to watch before Halloween, and too few nights to do it.) I suppose the general critical reception for V/H/S is a bit better than to either of the previous two films I've discussed, but V/H/S has also seemed to get kind of lost in the recent trend of found footage and horror anthology movies (like The ABCs of Death, which in general I did not like -- which did not prevent me from laboriously ranking the 26 short films in this post. Meanwhile, the current post quickly becomes an anthology of my previous posts.) The quality varied very little in the five (or six, if you count the framing story) short films contained here, and each had something about it that I found pretty disturbing. This time I reined myself in and gave it only 3.5 stars.

Oddly, it was the prestigious horror movie I saw this month -- Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak -- that did very little for me. (And again, here's a link if you want it.) Though I did think it had a few scary moments in terms of the sheer effectiveness of the ghost character design.

So do I scare more easily than I once did? Or am I just more forgiving about films in general?

I've discussed a number of times how much more likely I am to give out ratings in the three- to five-star range than I am to give out ratings in the one- to three-star range. Part of that is, of course, self-selection. You never intend to watch bad movies -- except when you do, of course -- and I think the more movies you watch, the better you are at determining which ones will reward the decision to watch them. Most movie fans surely like more movies than they dislike, because curating your viewing experience is more likely to occur among people who are not critics and who are paying for every movie they see.

But horror movies have often been a genre where I opt in, even if I think there's a good chance the movie will disappoint me. So I should be seeing as many bad ones as good ones. Lately, though, it seems I'm seeing only good ones. And it's worth wondering if this is just a good period of selection for me, or a lowering of the bar for what I consider a good movie.

I suppose I require further research on the topic. Which means I'll have to keep seeing plenty of horror movies, even when it's not October.

I guess it's a good thing that I'm actually getting scares from the few horror movies I've seen in an October where I've ended up having a variety of non-horror demands on my viewing schedule. If I'm only going to see a few, best that it's a scary few.

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