I love this time of the year, when it's warm enough to still walk everywhere, but cool enough that you don't have to wear a t-shirt and suck in your pizza gut. Thanksgiving is warm and familial and you get to eat too much, and Hallowe'en is frenzied and slutty and you get to eat too much. I like all of it, but I've never been able to appreciate a good scary movie.
My friend Bradley has a great blog here, where he's counting down the days to Hallowe'en by writing about a different scary movie or tv show every day. This is a great device, but not one I could get away with, as my blog would be about two and a half days long. The Exorcist, Goosebumps books, the first twenty minutes of The Ring. I just can't take scary movies. In high school, a bunch of friends and I went to see The Ring, and I was out of that theatre seriously within twenty minutes. And nothing scary had really happened yet! But they were playing all that tense music and nobody was joking around or coming to terms with things (the only two genres of movies I'd watched until that point) and then Naomi Watts is reviewing “The Tape” in an editing machine, notices a fly in the corner of the frame, then the fly is suddenly alive and blood starts gushing out of Naomi Watts' nose and the music goes “BONNNNNNG!” and I was like, “Done!” I ran out of the theatre and went to a nearby Chapters where I read Entertainment Weekly with shaking hands until the movie was over.
But I feel like I'm really missing something by not watching a horror movie every once in awhile. I usually defend my choice by saying I don't like to be scared, why would I put myself through that, but I wonder if depriving myself of artificial fear makes my instances of real fear somehow worse. From my window, I can see the raccoon who lives at least part time, on my neighbour's rooftop. I feel like he's looking at me, and it gives me the willies. Maybe if I watched more movies where people got sliced up or birthed demon spawn, I'd realize it was just a fucking raccoon.
Dream: Find the perfect scary movie to watch.
Goal: Achievable. People always think they've found a scary movie that I'll not only be able to handle, but love as much as they do. Whether my friend Will insisted I watch The Omen (which was okay, but what was up with that kid?!) or my friend Shannon's pick, Megalodon: Sixty Feet of Prehistoric Terror, about a giant shark, they all say, “This movie is more good than scary. You'll love it.” I haven't yet, but there are so many non-scary movies out there that I do like, surely it's just a matter of time until I find the perfect one for me.
Plan: Find a movie which meets the following criteria.
The protagonist takes the hint early on. I saw a trailer this summer for a scary shark movie. A bunch of sexy teens were vacationing together at this cabin and they were all out water-skiing and suddenly the guy on skis gets pulled into the undertow. “Jeff?” they scream. “JEFF?!?!” But blood rises in the water and of course that's the end of Jeff. Later in the movie (and later in the trailer), the sexy teens go for a swim off the dock, presumably to get their mind off of their dead friend. Really, teens? From my seat, I said, “Get out of the water!” They didn't, and more sexy teens perished. Why would you ever go back in the water? That's the incongruity of most scary movies: something scary happens, usually in a specific place, and people keep on going back to that place!
In my movie, they'll figure it out right away. For instance, a group of sexy paleontologists are in town for a convention dedicated to disproving the existence of dinosaurs. This makes them really mad, and they get madder still when the Hyatt Regency loses their reservation and they're forced to room together in the dingy, dilapidated motel on the outskirts of town when they discover.... a small velociraptor in the shower!!! GAH! Shit! He'll eat them all! So they wisely barricade the shower door, leave the motel early (to hell with their bill, they'll reimburse whichever sexy paleontologist left their credit card), and go on their way! The rest of the movie will be them doing great presentations at the conference and making jokes like, “You sure you want another cup of coffee? You might have to go to the bathroom! Ha ha ha!”. I'd watch that.
Scary movies, especially these days, seem to place a high premium on gratuitous nudity and violence. I'm all for boobs and punching but, together? It seems like the college girl is always stepping out of the shower before she's slashed in her guts, or the young couple starts having sex in the back of the car when the guy with the hook-hand shows up. Excuses for nudity as a precursor to violence is so badly written these days that I'm sure there's a movie where a girl is just sitting with her shirt off for no reason, maybe she's a sexy lab technician who wanted to let her “boobs breathe” while she was alone doing research, and then she gets attacked by some creepy dude. I'm all for nudity in films, but does it always have to signal imminent danger? Or else nudity is due to a simulated sex scene, which often makes me feel embarrassed for the actors. To have pretend sex while being for real naked in front of a bunch of crew jerks doesn't sound fun. I think foreign filmmakers have it right. There's this super sexy Mexican movie I saw called Y Tu Mama Tambien where these two hot young dudes go on a roadtrip across Mexico with his sexy older woman and they all seduce each other. If I'm remembering correctly, there's no nudity in the sex scenes, but they all go swimming and sunbathing naked and the movie is gorgeously shot and their bodies look impossibly beautiful. Similarly, I loved the French movie Swimming Pool. Charlotte Rampling plays this writer of mystery novels who is fresh out of ideas and so spends the summer at her agent's beach house, and the agent's sexy daughter decides to crash there for the summer as well. The daughter is played by Ludivine Sagnier, a kind of French Scarlett Johaanson, who spends the movie lounging by the pool topless, smoking haughtily, and it drives Charlotte Rampling crazy. She's jealous of her spoiled lifestyle, perfect body, ease with men and joie-de-vivre. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that both films have nakedness solely to emphasize the beauty and sensuality of their subjects, not because they're about to be fake-raped or attacked by some lizards.
Finally, my movies wouldn't have slow, painful lead-ups to anything bad. This is the staple of the horror movie and, for me, the absolute worst part of the experience. You know the parts I mean. Where someone is walking slowly down a long hallway, the music getting ominously quiet. The lighting is sparse and you can hear the person breathing heavily, and their footsteps creaking along, until they turn a corner and suddenly....GAH! THAT's the worst! It's the guy with the hockey mask or the wolf with sunglasses or whatever. The music goes BOOM and the whole audience jumps and I scream. Wouldn't it be great if, like in my upcoming film, the lead-ups were only to pleasant things? Like what if it was Joan Cusack around that corner? You don't see her in anything anymore! And she goes, “Oh gosh, sorry if a scared ya! Come on, I just made muffins!” Ahhh, that would be great!
I know these suggestions seem impractical, because if you take the scary out of the scary movie, where's the movie, but it can be done. I just finished a fabulous book called Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan. Stewart O'Nan is primarily known for his horror fiction, and he's even collaborated on some work with Stephen King, so I had some trepidation going into this one, which is about three generations of a family spending one last summer together in their cabin by the lake. It turned out to be totally sweet, sedate novel about family dynamics! There's a moment where one of the adult children of the family goes to a gas station and the attendant is missing and the police cordon off the area because of a possible abduction, and it comes to nothing! The family hears bits about the abduction on the new and they say things like, “Oh, that's a shame! I hope they find her!” and then drop it completely. I won't tell you how that turns out, but suffice it to say it has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the book. Message boards were flooded with angry comments from readers wondering why this kidnapping had just been dropped in and not developed in a novel that wasn't the least bit scary, but I loved it. So I think this Hallowe'en, I'll watch the first ten minutes of American Werewolf in Paris, then finish it off with Midnight in Paris. Or I'll watch some demonstrations from Occupy Wall Street on the news, then check out the crowd numbers from Newsies. Maybe I'm a big wuss for avoiding scary stuff this Hallowe'en, but maybe that's what keeps this my favourite time of year. Now if I could just do something about that damn raccoon...