Movies You Should See Vol 5: Ones That Terrified Me

Monday, May 16, 2011

I like "kind of" scary movies. I don't generally go in for raw, ridiculous cut 'em up movies. This is why the Saw/Hostel type of movies just aren't for me. I never even saw Scream, or any of it's spawn.  Since Munch's Painting already scared me, I didn't need that mask derived from a profound expression of human grief and suffering racing around with a knife.

(ooo lookie there, my elitist education is shining through! I have Art History Knowledge!....Little Known fact, Dawn considered (heavily) an Art History major, but didn't want to commit to living in a city where it was clear I would have to settle in order to have a career)

Movies that scare me tend to be ones where small things are emphasized. The things we don't see scare me, because that is where your imagination kicks open and you can fill in what could be happening.

When the hype around "The Ring" was happening, I was only partially attentive. I knew it was a re-make of a Japanese movie. I knew that some of the images they flashed in the previews made me uneasy. But Meh. Not really interested.

The "The Grudge" was remade with Sarah Micheal Geller in 2004 and the commercials began. Oh My.  Those previews were even more scary. That NOISE. That woman and child.  Oh dear.

I broke down and ordered it on Netflix.  And it was Good. Scary. But I knew it had been a re-make. I knew there was MORE in that story that was not really coming across in the Western remake I was watching.  I also became aware that there was a horror tradition that had nothing to do with my upbringing surrounded by Gothic creations like Frankenstein and Dracula.

So, off I sent for the original - Ju On (2002). The director had made a 'for TV" version in 2000, which was extremely well received...and let him bring the story to film.

Let me just say that Ju On, as my first  excursion into the genre known as "J-Horror" was complete and utter success. I was Terrified.  Not a ton of gore. Lots of slight movements and silence lets you craft the story with the Protagonist.  It was in this movie that I was also introduced to the very Eastern idea of  Evil existing AS Evil, with no goal.

By this I mean that I had become accustomed to Evil being vanquished by the Hero at the end of the movie. That was just how it went. Bad things happened, but in the end, Justice was served and the crazy guy was  vanquished.

However, this movie introduced for me the idea that the psychic energy left by the victims and perpetrators of this crime becomes it's own entity.  It does not need to be "put to rest", as in so many Western Ghost stories. It simply IS. It does not want resolution. It can only seek more victims.

I realize that may sound kind of ridiculous, but it was a new concept for me.  I also admit it kind of troubled me. I mean, how could you fight something that wanted no resolution or was, by definition, unstoppable.

At this point my curiosity was piqued and I rented Ringu 1998. Sweet Suffering Moses. If Ju On terrified me, than this movie paralyzed me.  I honestly don't think I moved for the entire viewing, aside from when I was pausing to run and pee since it was making me so dammed nervous.

I assume you all know the premise, right? Many of you may have even seen the remake with Naomi Watts. Do yourself a favor, go get the original. You will  understand more of the backstory that is left out by the remake, as it makes no sense in the Western context. You will also start to understand that there are specific imagery in J-Horror that are somewhat Iconic. The Woman in White with the long Black Hair. The issues around Water which seems to recur again and again. These are elements in the folk and ghost stories of Japan and other eastern cultures.

Other movies in this genre that I enjoyed?  Dark Water , Cure 1997,  Premonition (2004), Reincarnation/Rinne 2005 ( I actually REALLY enjoyed this one, it's use of place was excellent as well as a sort of dual time reality). Kansen/Infection 2004 kept me AWAKE, mostly for the superb use of the hospital for atmosphere and the real unknown of what was happening.

Now, I have also gone through a great many others in the genre - Ichi The Killer, Suicide Circle,  Kairo/Pulse,  One Missed Call (original version),  Parasite Eve 1997.... Many of these fell short of expectations for me, but they did fill in gaps around mythology and themes that I would see over and over in other films. Isolation. Obedience. The fear and use of technology as a transmitter of evil and supernatural.

Korean Horror has many similar themes to the J-Horror Genre...although I find most of Korean Horror to be more "thriller"  or mystery oriented than its Japanese counterparts.

Whispering Corridors (1998) is kind of the "starting place" for most of the K-Horror movies. Arang (2006),  Memento Mori 1999 are all enjoyable. Some would include others I have talked about previously - A Tale for Two Sisters, Hansel and Gretel, but I think of them as more than scary movies.

More recently, a true stand out for me was 2007's Epitaph/Gidam. When it ended I thought "Well THAT was a proper Ghost Story!" Yes, it is kind of slow. Yes, the stories are intertwined, but in subtle ways.  The use of imagery and the attention to the cinematography  is truly epic. It is a BEAUTIFUL film - Sad, and beautiful.

While the Pang Brothers are most "famous" for their movie The Eye ( which was entertaining and much better than the terrible Jessica Alba remake), the movie that really stayed with me was "Recycle" (2006).

At first blush, I didn't like it. I was confused and by the end I just felt irritated. Then, the images starting recurring in my mind.  Is it a horror film? Not entirely, but it does tackle how we mine our life for bits and pieces - keeping some, discarding others, entirely editing some events.  Where do the other bits go? Where do they live? How do they live? Are the decisions we made in the past the same ones we would make now?

I watched it again. True, the special effects are kick ass. However, it was this idea of the ghost towns of our inner lives which fascinated me.  Perhaps because I know I have these ghost towns. In some ways, it reminded me of why I loved Pan's Labyrinth - this acceptance of these alternate inner worlds, acceptance that some things that live inside these inner worlds are grotesque. Plus, if you didn't find the ogre in Pan's Labyrinth terrifying then you sir do not have a soul.

Speaking of Spanish films? REC was an unexpected delight...before it was re-made into that crap-tastic hollywood version.

El Orfanato ( 2007) was a film that also also stayed with me. Slow, atmospheric, building to the ending which left me both shaken and impressed.  While not mentioned in most reviews, I also viewed it as a Peter Pan story, told in reverse.  Rather than the children leaving for neverland, the adult comes back. Not unlike the story told in Cornelia Funke's Thief Lord .

Sorry, see, this IS how my brain works, mixing bits and pieces from other genres and stories, mixing folk and fairy tales. It can be maddening.

OK, Last one. Noroi (2005) - At first I wasn't sure I was going to watch it, as it is shot in the quasi documentary style that produces a billion really crappy movies and every once in a while gets a Hit like Paranormal Activity, or Blair Witch, and so we get a billion MORE crappy derivative films shot in quasi documentary style.

However, give this one a chance because it is one of those rare REALLY good ones. It also tells a Story, so it takes some time to build. The stories the film makers explore, at first , seem to have no connection. However, one by one, you start to tie the events together with the film makers until the end when I was - Literally - STARING wild eyed and breathless at the screen and thinking "HOLY SHIT!".

When you see a movie this good, you get angry at having to endure the trope filled crap.

Have Fun!

2 Baleful Regards:

Kikilia said...

I'm not big on slasher type horror films either. I prefer the old Hollywood 'horror' movies such as "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" and "THe Uninvited" (original not the remake).

I'll have to look into the ones you've mentioned.

Dawn said...

For the most part, most of these aren't gory. I don't like those. I like spooky. I like Spooky and clever best.

Suicide Circle was gory, but it was kind of a genre "must see" since it dealt with the idea of "Youth" as cultural sheep. But I didn't love it and Ichi was gory too.

But most of the others were just atmosphereic and creepy.

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