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Modern Horror Fails to Scare

The problem with modern horror is not that it lacks frightening content, rather it provides insufficient endings that fail to scare.

Horror Films are unsettling films designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience.

Tim Dirk – www.filmsite.org/horrorfilms.html

The modern horror (not including the slasher sub genre e.g.  the Saw or Halloween franchises) is never short of scary moments, including instances that truly make your skin crawl, or send you hiding behind your hands. Unfortunately, the majority of horror films I have watched in the last few years have failed to deliver any lasting effect because they have such pathetic endings. The film may have been scary but it becomes unforgettable.

In my opinion, a really good horror should make you want to watch a comedy afterwards, just to dispel the residual fear. But are directors afraid to really scare people? Is there a policy dictating that horror films have to end happily or have ‘safe’ finales? What happened to leaving cinema-goers with a creeping feeling between the shoulder blades and a need to turn on every light in the house, especially before entering a room?

Ask any horror fan and they will be able to name films that left them messed up and unable to sleep properly for weeks. It; Child’s Play; The Shining; Jacob’s Ladder; Candy Man; Hellraiser; Silent Hill; Ring – all are renowned films famous for leaving a lasting impression.

Theatrical poster for Jacob's Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder (Copyright: TriStar Pictures)

Yet the modern horror largely fails to make it’s mark and passes into insignificance, because not enough time is spent on the ending.  All the scares are present but even the best horror is ultimately let down by a rushed, shoddy and often arbitrary ending.  A great example is 2011’s Insidious: a film hyped as the scariest horror movie ever made. I had very little complaint about the actual film, it was the ending that was disappointing.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

On the whole, the film gave me what I wanted. That deliciously spooky feeling began with the slow moving, greyscale opening credits complete with ghostly music.

I particularly enjoyed hiding behind my jacket lapels during the daylight scene with the ghost of a little boy. You may or may not have seen him. He just stands there, facing the kitchen wall, while Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) walks by obliviously. A lot of viewers didn’t notice he was even there. Then Renai sees this child wearing old-fashioned clothes, dancing in her living room to a eerie old banjo song ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’. An exemplary scene that built suspense and horror, and left you with chills.

Another effective scene was when Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) goes into her trance to investigate what is haunting the Lambert’s son Dalton (Ty Simpkins). When she catches sight of the creature, her reaction is fantastic: a mix of outright fear. While describing the figure to her assistant who is drawing what she describes, it’s as if she is possessed. Her assistant draws a disturbing, black figure with a red face and dark hollow eyes, perched in the corner of the ceiling in Dalton’s room. Now imagine you were in that scene…that is effective horror!

Image from Insidious. (Copyright: Alliance Films)
The human perception of evil is often scarier than a real depiction.

Regrettably, the whole effect was ruined in the final stages of the film when the demon is shown in full form. It is almost a parody of the what should have been a terrifying image of the ‘man with fire on his face’. The visualisation made it look silly.

More annoyingly, the ending with Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) trapped in the astral plane, having been replaced by the Old Woman who’s been after him for years, smacks of convenience and a lack of creativity.

The filmmakers had done so well until near the end and it all got too silly for words. Hence the ending did nothing to add anything further or make a conclusive impact. It only served to detract from the film’s overall scariness, which was a great shame.

Ghost of an Old Woman
The OId Woman who plagued the childhood of Josh Lambert in Insidious (Copyright: Alliance FIlms)

 

More recently, The Devil Inside (2012) was the biggest pile of BS money can buy. My 150 word review can be found here.

But let’s focus on the ending: the lame-ass ending these so-called filmmakers deigned to release for our consumption!

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

The film basically ends with a possessed Isabella saying to priest Ben “You know me, everyone knows me.”

This should have been intriguing: the subtly of that line…we’re dealing with the actual devil here. Satan himself has seen fit to possess not one but four people in this film alone! But did they do anything with it? Nope, they decided to end the film with a lame car crash!

Half the audience just got up and left, cursing the waste of money and time. I however waited for the ponderously slow credits, to see if there would be anything to redeem such a mediocre ending. I was rewarded with a cheap and nasty marketing ploy in the form of a title-card directing me to a website. (More about THAT title-card here from the guys at Badass Digest)

The film had a few intense moments, but they were too few and fleeting.

The Devil Inside, Insidious, Unborn and Uninvited (an unnecessary remake) like so many other horror films fail to finish. They are distinctly anti-climatic films. As a horror fan, I want a film that leaves me crushing my popcorn box, terrified, and sends me off into the night mentally and emotionally disturbed! Unfortunately, modern horrors rarely succeed.

Image from Unborn
One of the creepier moments from Unborn (Copyright: Universal Pictures)

Maybe it’s not so much a case of dodgy endings, but flimsy explanations leading to poor finales. The dénouement or the resolution is crucial in this genre, especially supernatural horror. The explanation can be anything, e.g. a cursed Native American burial ground (Poltergeist) or a satanic cult (Rosemary’s Baby), it can even be far fetched, but if done correctly it can make a film brilliant.

Recently, here have been some great ideas, but they are never developed properly, and this makes it harder to invest emotion into the film. You don’t care about the characters, you cannot buy into the myth or try to believe the story.

It’s as if studios don’t trust their audiences enough to find their way back to their own secure, safe and soothing realities. Instead, they create feeble endings that do nothing to protract the film’s horror, only diminish the viewers suspense.

Directors prefer the big scares. They do not care about the post-movie nightmare; the legacy of a superbly written and executed horror flick. These days, it’s too easy to shock and scare people momentarily, but I want to see a film that leaves me reeling and frightened. So far, nothing has delivered.

 

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