The Willies

Schlockmeisters believing themselves quality horror purveyors need to set up campfires that burn holes into patches of the darkest nighttime woods extant. Amid this pitch black setting, using remedial storytelling lessons, they should huddle around the flames and rediscover what truly jolts audiences.

They can start by reciting “The Monkey’s Paw” then diagram why the story still tingles.

Horror movies have lost their purpose. That being to frighten. It would be easy to say real life has surpassed fiction, but a better explanation is those who shock and scare the public via celluloid are letting deviance suffice as art.

Thanks to special effects almost more real than reality itself, filmmakers have also lost touch with the ur-causes which chilled blood, made skin crawl, drove the sane mad, and, most horrifyingly of all, kept societies in line. See? Horror movies and the Bible have plenty in common.

Today’s moviemakers have gorged on movies at the expense of any engagement with literature. For many what they’ve gazed glassy-eyed upon and sponged from the screen is all they know. The source material is a book too many only know through a synopsis someone else wrote.

This generation of cineastes is among the most technologically adept craftspeople of any industry. Yet viewers can increasingly see their products are hollowed at the cores.

The jolts presented are derivative of other motion pictures. But the stories of the Bible are the fount of Western literature, and from it our storytelling flows.

While a thorough grounding in biblical parables should improve current filmmakers’ efforts, drawing inspiration from others’ writing – not in synopsis or script form – but in fonts, columns, and segments recognizable to classic storytelling certainly would burnish a good many film project. These absorbed preferably through paper, not off some device’s touchscreen.

Do pixel words on screens arouse the same avid responses as those ink-pressed upon paper? Doesn’t paper make what’s written less ephemeral? And really, aren’t our imaginations diminished through electronic means? Okay. Through them our minds, like many a video-game playing couch potato’s body, aren’t exercised.

Know what transformed a good number of Golden Age films into classics? Few, if any, strayed from the Seven Deadly Sins. Maybe that’s why those pictures riveted contemporary viewers.

Only within the last several decades has religion lost its power over the public. When those movies premiered the Almighty’s presence seeped throughout American life. At least He received fulsome lip service from those claiming to be His most faithful servants.

Then, though, the good words from the Good Book imbued a sizable portion of the populace. While a relative few could recite chapter and verse, more people than not had the gist of “right and wrong.”

Breaking down the plots of long-ago chillers, one invariably detects a recognized vice driving the menace, madman, or wraith. It’s no coincidence these abominations manifested after World War I and started becoming further depraved upon the Nuclear Age.

The War to End All Wars industrialized carnage. Its continuation 20 years later refined mass murder. Perhaps World War II committed more and more of mankind to question whatever deities it worshipped, a doubting which expanded the notions of permissibility and permitted the ease of greater sin.

After the introduction of weapons which could eradicate opponents as well as those who deployed them, the formerly acceptable wages of sin must’ve appeared lacking. Americans had always been described as “innocent,” a better sounding label than “immature.”

No longer innocent, we remain immature.

The moody atmospheric conditions which had bewitched interwar-era moviegoers who retained vestiges of what they would’ve immodestly ascribed as “simple but virtuous people,” lost hold after the heedless slaughter of the late 30s through mid-40s. Once fascism had been tamed, the old horrors seemed deficient. Since then, onscreen luridness, gore, ultra-violence, and arty depravity have equaled and surpassed real life’s most sordid aspects.

What flickers before us no longer shows the possibility of our depths or reflects them. What’s seen onscreen now vaults across the precipice and plummets into the abyss.

October having elided into November is a fine time to regard our fascination with bump-in-the-night incidents. After all, don’t hobgoblins abound during this spectral flux?

Hobgoblins. A word that demands uttering with conspiratorial mirth.

All Saints’ Eve yields to Day of the Dead. Both occasions insist we on this mortal coil deal with manifestations from realms “beyond.” At least the movies suggest it. Uprooted from its meaning, Samhain festivities purely agrarian societies once offered thanks to harvests now promotes an industrial society masque we call Halloween.

Instead of celebrating the last season’s crop yield and beseeching spirits responsible for similar or improved results next season, our fancies, fueled by the promise of candy or spurred by whatever means eases shameless behavior, riots for one night. As if id has its one session to rampage then tucks itself into slumber until next autumn.

One must ponder whether enough commercialism may corrupt Day of the Dead observances on this side of the border. If somewhere down the line a vengeful Mictēcacihuātl will appear then inflict her wrath on Anglo business interests who’ve rendered a time of reverence into a kitsch-fest a la Christmas.

Hey. It could be the basis of a horror movie, no?

Hoodoo and hokum used to be a lot easier before rational thinking demystified plenty of the formerly inexplicable that our thoroughly superstitious forbearers humbly accepted as facts. These days, making the populace shudder is generally much harder. Sometimes it seems all those strenuous special effects efforts don’t yield the anywhere near the results as the shadows which previously concealed then suddenly revealed or the creaking door or floorboards.

Granted, on the surface the reboots and remakes are far better visually than the antecedents from which they’re drawn. Audiences should rightly marvel at the spectacles unspooling on screens before them.

Yet past the effusions of enhanced sight and sound do these modern whiz-bangs stir viewers in any way similar to less sophisticated audiences? The Golden Age black & white studio concoctions had the power to jar.

Some of the spookiest Golden Age movies told stories in the most succinct methods possible. Quickly. Sharply. Straightforwardly. Back stories complemented the plots rather than threatened subsuming them.

While not character driven projects as viewers know them today, the characters were fleshed out. Individual quirks that made this featured player stand out were integral to the plot. They weren’t set up to be sacrificed to it.

In Golden Age films, actors and actresses filling featured roles pushed the exposition, added color and nuance. Without them the movies would’ve been bland. Familiar faces whose names just couldn’t be placed, they spiced scenes. Unlike current second-fiddle players, those of that era just weren’t “designated victims.”

When plots demanded their demises these absences were often palpable, not brushed aside.

What viewer now doesn’t know that the socially awkward nerd and the trampy slut, along with the arrogant jock and his counterpart the stuck-up and snotty Miss Hottie are merely meat for the grinder? We sit in the dark anticipating their removal. So desensitized, we feel nothing once they’ve been mangled into modern art.

Such are the horrors that have befallen horror films.

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