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I'm not a gore-hound.

To those of you who know me, that may come as something of a surprise. After all, I make dead people, and I have a lot of various body parts hanging around.

But there is a method to my madness. To me, there is something of a recipie for horror, and it deals with mood, suspense, and isolation.

The mood of a movie is a bit difficult to define, but I'll try and set it forth as the overall atmosphere and environment in which the story takes place. It's affected by a number of things such as art design, lighting and cinematography, and music and sound.

Suspense is created as an artifact of the storytelling. Hitchcock is a master of this, and pretty much created the theses of creating good suspense by letting the audience in on the secret of which the chatracters are oblivious. Certainly it's not the only way of creating suspense, but it is a good one.

Isolation is a tool. It's also probably the single biggest determinant of whether a movie is a horror movie, at least for me. Think about it: every single horror movie works around isolation as being a key element: you can't get help.

SPEED is a great example: suspense, but not horror. No isolation.
ALIEN, horror.
UNDERWORLD, not horror. No real suspense, very little isolation.

There are other elements, certainly. You have to actually care about the characters to have enough emotional investment in them, or the suspense doesn't work. That's not inimical to horror; it's something that's necessary in any storytelling genre.

The Sixth Sense is a wondefully moody pic. (If you haven't seen the movie yet, STOP READING NOW.) Look at the hidden isolation of Bruce Willis's character. You never really see him interact with anyone other than the kid, except for the anniversary dinner with his wife, which is a brilliant bit IMHO. It's the suspense element that has me wobbly as to whether it's a horror movie. There are elements of suspense, mostly having to do with the ghosts that pop up at unexpected times, but those are mood-scares more than anything. There's not a lot of suspense about the main storyline of the film.

Panic Room. Suspense. Mood. Isolation. Yet I back away from considering this a horror film. Why? Because the monsters were human? Consider what this movie would have been like if it had been space aliens invading instead of robbers. Would it have been a horror movie then?

Hmm... is there the necessity of a sense of inhumanity to the "monster" in a horror film? That would cover things like zombie movies and monster movies like The Thing and even Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, but what about something like The Andromeda Strain? Does the "monster" have to have some active sense of malevolence?

Solaris. Horror, at least to me. Not so malevolent.
Dark City, not horror. Malevolent.

Movies like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes aren't really horror to me, or they are a sub-genre that doesn't interest me all that much. Sure, I like the effects: it's my thing. But neither one of them is a satisfying experience as a movie to me. Human monsters just don't have the unknown factor to them.

Ooooh, there's a bit of insight. A sense of mystery about the "monster".

Eh. Doesn't fit everything, does it?



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 3rd, 2005 08:45 pm (UTC)
By your definition, a movie can be a "horror" movie without being even slightly scary. Is that okay with you?
Aug. 3rd, 2005 09:02 pm (UTC)
Scary is a completely subjective measurement. I've seen "scary" movies that weren't.

Now intent might be something different.

What kind of a moody suspenseful isolationist movie isn't scary?
Aug. 3rd, 2005 09:00 pm (UTC)
>I make dead people

You REALLY need that on a T-shirt!
Aug. 3rd, 2005 09:04 pm (UTC)
I do, don't I?

Or maybe business cards.
Aug. 3rd, 2005 09:43 pm (UTC)
Isolation itself doesn't do it for me. Perhaps it is because I was an only child, but being alone to face whateverthehell doesn't bother me. I don't get tweaked by the usual things, like women being chased through the woods by a psycho-killer... instead I yell at them, "GET A WEAPON, YOU STUPID COW!"

Suspense gets me every time. Suspense in knowing too much, or not knowing enough. This is why I lovelovelove Hitchcock so much. I get disappointed when the boogeyman is revealed too early, because the monster in my head is much worse than anything anyone can show me.

Helplessness or a sense of futility (which I think you're labelling "isolation") also helps me appreciating a film as horrifying. Your Alien example fits here well.
Aug. 7th, 2005 05:20 am (UTC)
1) Rob's Three Keys (isolation, suspense, mood) WITH NO GORE = The Blair Witch Project.

2) Rob's Three Keys WITH GORE = Saw.

So here we see that, really, how disgusting a film is has very little bearing on whether it's an effective horror film. Good news for low-budget screenwriters the world over.

I'm interested, then, how much gore has to do with the malevolence factor. In "Devil's Rejects," par example, is the nasty stuff necessary to carry the malevolence of the villian-heroes? How does a director/editor convey malevolence without gruesome-ness? I hypothosize that malevolence is 100% necessary, BUT the malevolence is to violate. There are ways to be violated that do not require gore. Go back to Blair Witch Project -- the violation is more spacial than anything else (beating on the tent, followed by simple seperation of the group). The underlying threat is always death, but then isn't all fear, at heart, a fear of death?

Personally, I think malevolence might be *the key.* The actual feeling I get while watching a horror film involves two factors. The Isolation you've already mentioned. But Isolation does not become horrifying until the Danger becomes real. I think Lex tapped into this when she mentioned the "just grab a weapon" factor. To evoke a sense of horror there must be no one to help you AND the inescapable sensation that without help you WILL be violated in some horrible way. We don't experience horror when the hero of an action film is trapped, because we expect he'll get out of it (the distinct difference in mood is also a factor here).

We have established then that the "monster" must be a real threat ("stronger") than the victim/hero. And...ta da!...this is often effectively carried off through mystery, because the unknown is always threatening.

So, then, is "Silence of the Lambs" a horror film? I'd say the Three Keys are there. Hannibal Lector is sufficiently malevolent, Buffalo Bill is a mystery, they are both inhuman. I'd say yes, it is.

But what about "Red Dragon"? Isolation, suspense, mood are all there. BUT -- the "monster" is a sympathetic character. This also brings me to "American Psycho" (which I would not count as horror, as it's grossly lacking in Mood, though an excellent film anyhow, IMHO), in which the hero/monster is also sympathetic. In these there's the sense that the real villian, the real monster, is something INSIDE the villian that he cannot control. The monster remains human but the sense of malevolence and threat is not lessened. Mystery is maintained.

I'm babbling. I'm going to bed now.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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