Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Monster Doesn't Matter

Now here's one of the huge disconnects between an audience and a (if I recall it was a) horror film, or a book, or a video game. The central focus of the media is [insert monster] killing [insert jock], [insert slut], [insert other slut], [insert sleaze], [insert poor nerdy kid], [insert parent], [insert love interest] usually in that order with some variation. So now the audience has the idea that this "monster" has to be something terrifying and spectacular, and they find themselves utterly disappointed when at the end of the film (book, comic, or game) the monster's mere appearance doesn't leave little terror turds tossing through their trousers.

What they don't understand is that it's never going to. At the climax of the film, the monster is at its least terrifying because by that point the movie is about facing your fears and realizing it isn't that scary after all. With the exception of literally everything by Hitchcock, the climax is when the hero(usually -ine) realizes how to defeat the beast that's been hunting him(usually her) this whole time. And from that point onward it's a metaphor for overcoming your fears so when you finally see the monster it isn't supposed to be scary because now it can be beaten.

Did I drill that in hard enough? The monster is not the scary part of the movie. It's just the convenient plot device to film all the other scary shit and the metaphor to make it all go away.

The part of the movie (or game or comic or book) that seeps under your skin and makes your flesh crawl is everything around the monster. It is never the kill that does the scaring (with the exception of the shock-kill. Y'know, like a screamer.) it's everything leading up to the kill. It's the thinness of the air, the shallow breaths, the heavy chugs of the panting and exhaustion. It's the crackle of the leaves under your feet, the snap of twigs to the left, and that suddenly arctic air clinging to the sweat on your back.

When you're alone in the woods, or in your house at night and you think something freaky is going down, what scares you most, what builds the flight response in your brain to dizzying proportions, is how freaking loud you're being trampsing around in the darkness. Because it can hear every little move you make. You accidentally twitch your finger? The fucker knows where you are. That's how your mind works, and that's the part of (this time, particularly games) that will excite and terrify your senses.

The rare instance where the monster itself is terrifying is almost never because of what the monster looks like, but because of how they act or what they do. Pennywise the Clown doesn't look terrifying at all (or he shouldn't, but I have a bit of coulrophobia. Nobody else has an excuse.) but you're scared shitless of him because he's going to make fun of you while breaking your bones one at a time, and then eat your heart while you're still very much awake. Sleeping hearts lose flavor, you see.

Kayako is one of the few visually startling movie "monsters", but even she wouldn't have been nearly as pants pissingly terrifying without her classic bone-rattling groan. She also can crawl up under blankets without you knowing, so don't even think about hiding there. But that has nothing to do with how she looks, does it? That has everything to do with taking away everything you ever knew about saving yourself from monsters. The blanket has forsaken you.

Jason is not scary. Actually, I'd go right up, give him a hug, and ask to be friends. He doesn't really want to kill everyone, he's just lonely. Freddy is not scary. He's just a short little guy, and the second you see him you know you're asleep. Who controls the dream now, dickhole? Myers is not scary. If you aren't related to him, simply stand to the side and watch him march on by.

Atmosphere is the key. It is all about the atmosphere. The shrillness of the violins in the music, the emphasis of the silence, and the bumps and thuds eerily similar to a beating heart. That's what gets people. Oh, there's also this:

Sleep tight!

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