Even as a kid monster movies didn’t really frighten me. I just was never that impressed by Dracula or Frankenstein (let alone a Werewolf — a mere dog). The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Blob, the Thing, giant insects, Harryhausen animations, even zombies… All such obvious effects.
Slasher movies weren’t that big when I was a kid. Jason, Freddie, Chucky, they all came along later. The first Saw wasn’t until 2004. And again, on some level, just special effects. That’s actually part of what’s cool about the gory movies.
But ghost stories? Ghost stories definitely get under my skin!
Maybe it’s that on some level I don’t buy into mythical monsters. Human monsters, those are all too real, but the mythical ones seem just as silly to me as unicorns and pixies. I’m not saying they can’t be fun — they totally are fun! But that makes them part of play-time, not real-time.
And the thing about slasher films is that they tend to be either totally off the chain (making them mostly harmless fun), or eerily real and creepy. Less being more, it’s the psychological thrillers that affect me; gore-fests leave me mostly amused.
I know parents who can’t stand to watch stories where a child is endangered. I kind of have that with wives and girlfriends. As a rule I don’t find worrying about the safety of others — especially the innocent and vulnerable — entertaining or fun, so I don’t enjoy those kinds of movies (as a rule).
A good crime story can be a different thing — perhaps due to the reduced jeopardy of innocents. Crime stories tend to involve the guilty, and I love a good crime story (love Tarantino, for example). I particularly love a good crime caper involving the extremely clever execution of a (non-violent) crime.
But to the extent I ever ponder the reality of supernatural things — which is to say very rarely and with askance eyes — ghosts seem to make the cut as having a possible reality. Which is not to say I think they are — let me be clear about this: ghosts are not real!
But if you want to talk about things I can imagine being real, well, I can imagine ghosts. And ghosts are fun to imagine!
Ghosts present some problems: how is it they go through walls, but stand on floors? For that matter, how do they stay with an Earth that’s whizzing through space extremely fast? (And even bigger issue for time travelers.)
But you can just say that ghosts are attached to places and people. Which makes sense (for some fun definition of “sense”). You could even suggest ghosts are resonances of the consciousness of others — the more urgent a person’s motive and cause, the more powerful the ghost.
Which brings me to Ju-on, flat-out the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. The use of simple camera and staging tricks gives the movie a very effective purity. Special effects can take you out of the story to admire the effect; a gripping story keeps you focused on the characters and plot.
The same director did a remake for audiences in the USA, The Grudge, and it’s pretty good, too. The Japanese version turns out to be the third movie in a popular franchise. (I still think Ju-on is tops, though. It’s come around on cable a few times recently, but I haven’t been able to get up the gumption to watch it.)
The Ring is another film that got way under my skin. Also: great idea with the cursed video tape! That tape was its own little package of creepy. (And made for a pretty funny parody in Scary Movie 3. Also a cute episode of Castle.)
Another one high on my list is What Lies Beneath, in part due to the sexy Michelle Pfeiffer and the scary Harrison Ford, but mostly because it’s a pretty great ghost story. Normally not the sort of plot line I’d get into (nasty husband, threatened wife), but the ghostly element made it something special. (And what a great ending! (Shhh! Spoilers!)
I suppose it’s possible this ghost story stuff is anchored in my past. I did enjoy reading ghost stories as a kid, but was never really into monsters. And there was this one ghost movie back in the day that scared me so badly I had to go out and buy some candy!
Part of the plot involved special glasses that allowed you to see ghosts. The movie was in black and white (because we lived in Pleasantville), but when seeing what the wearer saw through the glasses, the movie went to a blue/red monochrome color scheme.
In fact, there was actually a gimmick where viewers could use blue glasses to make the ghosts invisible or red glasses to make them more visible.
That movie scared me so badly I just had to get up and go buy some candy! Nothing like a good ghost story to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up!