The importance of a good spooky scare cannot be underestimated. Seriously, think of it like this: in your day-to-day whatever, how many times do you receive a good fright? Something that gets the heart racing and the mind clawing to comprehend what has just caused you to lift a few feet into the air whilst letting out a chicken-shit whimper of terror? I’m guessing not very often. Unfortunately, unless you’re a Ghostbuster or have the sickening pleasure of living in Portsmouth, the chance of bumping into a horrifying spectre to provide such a jolt is pretty slim.
Enter a good scary movie to address this balance.
Now, I’m not talking about the stupid torture porn that passes for scary these days. Hostel, Saw, The Purge – you might be very popular with the popcorn masses, but you can all bugger off to the back of the queue. Why? Because those films just ain’t scary. Vile, ugly and staggeringly predictable, perhaps, but not scary! I’m also not referring to monster movies like The Thing, Jeepers Creepers and The Mist. Yes, they do have some spooky elements and I enjoy them all, but no, you lot also need to wait by the door until called for.
Perhaps at this time of year more than any other, we all need a real butt-tingling film to truly shatter the bone marrow and make us fearful to turn our backs on the open bedroom door. I’m looking at movies such as Poltergeist, the first Paranormal Activity movie (theatre cut), The Grudge, The Orphanage… and more recently, The Conjuring. Yes sir! The Conjuring is a perfect example.
I’m an old hand when it comes to horror and fright flicks. I’m seasoned enough to remember the VHS/Betamax video nasty debates of the 1980’s, and the first time Freddie, Jason and Michael pitched up in the local flea-pit cinema. I’ve sat through Cannibal Holocaust, The Men Behind The Sun, Visitor Q and Audition. From the trendy wave of Japanese, Spanish and Mexican horror imports, to the reinvention of the more tongue-in-cheek creature features such as Piranha 3DD, Sharknado and Big Ass Spider. Whilst they may all have a place within the wider billing of “horror”, not all are quite so deserving of their resting place among the truly unsettling and macabre.
As testimony to this, last Saturday evening I rediscovered the beauty for a simple, no thrills, utterly gripping, good old-fashioned scary movie.
The Conjuring has no bad language, zero sexy moments, and less blood and gore than a typical episode of Casualty. The premise is easy, the story accessible, and the execution right on the money. To be clear, this isn’t so much a movie review but rather a review of how a movie scared the crap out of me!
The film certainly conjures (sorry!), a sense of uneasy companionship within the first few minutes. The opening shot alone cements you into a creepy apprehension on what’s to come, and there’s something to be said for that edgy, uncomfortable feeling you get when in the presence of a balls-out-of-the-bath scary movie. I have to admit, twenty minutes in I was starting to feel the heat and had taken to occasionally looking away from the screen, not out of boredom, but in an attempt to limit my exposure to the scare… when it eventually arrived.
The jump moments in this film are provided in a way that abandons the obvious attempts to catch you unaware, and instead lulls your misplaced trust into a flash of fist-clenching fright. It’s difficult to explain, but there were several moments in which the scare arrived, I jumped and swore, and then immediately re-watched the scene in order to relive the moment with a little more awareness and bravery.
Mid-way through and I was totally engrossed with the story, invested in the characters, and questioning my choice to watch this bloody film just before bedtime! This is embarrassing, but I actually started to laugh at the scares in the hope of taking the edge off. Seriously, such was the nervous energy I was infused with, I felt like I needed to laugh at the craziness in order to get through it. Stupid eh?
Minimal use of tired stereotypes, no “dumb blonde” moments and a cast of mostly believable characters who were making the same choices that I would have made in their situation – this was proving to be a very different movie to the one I had subconsciously predicted. In essence, The Conjuring had some truly unique features towards what has become a quite hackneyed and predictable genre. For my money, it was these aspects that added to my own fear scale, which for the record, was now starting to worry me!
However, the last ten minutes of this film also happened to be its worst, and provides an anticlimactic ending that almost feels out of place when referring back to the previous ninety minutes of painful suspense. Everything is wrapped up nicely (maybe a little too nicely), and whilst it managed to readdress my own levels of stupid apprehension at the time, it has provided a derisive talking point for the horror elite out there – with many taking real issue towards such a cop-out approach to close an otherwise refreshing film.
With that said, it’s been a very long time since I felt this way during a movie, and rarely have I found the need to look away and hide my trepidation from the screen before me. I really should have saved this film for Halloween night, and tested the nerve of my wife (who has categorically refused to watch it as a result of reading this!).
I’m not sure how The Conjuring played in a packed cinema upon release, but in my living room at 1am, with the lights off, and a strong coffee as my only company, I was spooked out like Shaggy in every episode of Scooby-doo.
Paul Millard 2014