I am not a wuss, as a certain president might have said.
Well, okay, I am a bit of a wuss, to be honest. But I've seen so many horror films (as least twelvety at the last count) that most of the conventional horror gimmicks don't faze me. I'm not going to list the big-money, major franchise horror flicks that have not impressed me lately. But there are a lot of them.
Some films give me the willies, the chills, possibly even the screaming ab-dabs. Why? I don't know, to be honest. But it is undeniably the case. So here goes with some movies that, for whatever reason, gave me a few sleepless hours.
1. The Mothman Prophecies
I've tried to work out why this not particularly film scared me so much. There is little violence, none of your body horror stuff, and the actual monster (if it is a monster, in the true sense) is never clearly seen. But oh dear me, the Mothman is never far away. Zooming out of the night, red eyes a-glow, to cause a car crash. Flickering into being, for a subliminal moment, in a brain scan. Sketched by a dying woman. Blazing his unearthly radiance into the eyes of of a courting couple. Calling people on old-style phones, calling himself 'Indrid Cold'. The Mothman of Point Pleasant is just terrifying, and all too believable.
Based on a long series of genuine Fortean incidents (and no, I have no theory as what really happened but clearly people were scared and confused) the film stars Richard Gere as a high profile Washington Post reporter. One night Gere's character is driving through the night to be sure he gets to a significant political interview the next day. But instead he finds himself in the tiny West Virginia town of Point Pleasant, where he is held up at gunpoint by a very twitchy local.
This is just the beginning of a series of strange events that feel a bit like an extended episode of The X-Files. But this time Mulder and Scully do not turn up with a convenient explanation. Instead we get Brit stalwart Alan Bates talking about time and stuff, and telling the hero to give up on his dangerous quest. Instead, assisted by a cop (Laura Linney, reliable as ever) Gere tries to get to the truth of the mystery. The climax is a little trite, but - as I said earlier - it's factual.
Mothman is now a real tourist attraction. Whether he/it was ever anything else, I don;t know. I do know that every time I watch this film I get genuine chills up the spine, in part because it does not conform to the usual horror formula. Even though I know what's going to happen it still feels wrong, strange, disturbing. This film does not fit readily into any category, hovering on silent wings above the genre conventions.
2. The Last Broadcast (1998)
A major contrast with The Mothman Prophecies in terms of style, and a much cheaper movie. But this one also scared me when I first watched it. It's arguably the first found footage horror movie (I'm no expert, there may be others), appearing well before The Blair Witch Project.
TLB is presented as an investigation by a documentary maker into the killing of a group of internet radio broadcasters. The group went into the New Jersey Pine Barrens to look for the fabled Jersey Devil. Only one member of the group returned alive, and was convicted of murdering the others. However, film maker David Leigh (played by David Beard) thinks something else may have happened.
I think what gave me the chills about this is the constant sense that something truly disturbing is about to be revealed. Eventually, it is. While a low-budget, fairly simple movie, TLB pulls off the trick of balancing the banal with the frightening. The faux-documentary format is the key - it's not just a rag bag of clips, the David Leigh character is attempting to put a coherent story together.
The central question is, of course, whether the actual Jersey Devil was responsible for the killings. We see artistic renderings of the legendary beast, a hoofed and winged nightmare. The old-fashioned illustrations used are far more effective than any 'genuine' monster the film makers could have afforded, and certainly put me in the right frame of mind for the final revelation.
3. Ju-On - The Grudge (2002)
This is one I still won't watch last thing at night, this is a series of vignettes focusing on the residual rage and pain in a house where a man murdered his wife and possibly his small son. It unerringly finds several deeply disturbing ways for the ghost, Kayako, to finish off her victims. The death-rattle, the pale woman crawling along the floor, the mixture of sudden jump-scares and slow-build creeps - they're all here.
The body count of The Grudge is remarkably high, but then Kayako is a top-flight menace. As with Sadako in The Ring, she doesn't mess around and is utterly relentless. The vignette approach means we just get enough time to know a character and find they are essentially good, or least innocuous. before something terrible happens to them. It's an emotional pounding delivered with great elegance and economy by director Takeshi Shimizu.
So, three different films, at least one of which should deliver the goods this Hallowe'en. Enjoy! And make sure that not a single part of your person protrudes from under the covers when you go to bed afterwards.