Its an art one would think Hollywood seems to have forgotten.
The art of tapping into our basest, primal fears.
For the last few years, Hollywood has struggled with the horror genre—creating assembly-line, cliched gore-fests — all the time labouring under the assumption that the more blood, grizzly deaths, screams and busty soon-to-be-dead ladies in skimpy tops they can pack in 90 minutes, the more is the horror induced.
However the best horror movies are the ones that never fully articulate the object of fear, the ones that don’t tell you everything—-instead inviting you to read between the lines. Which is where the real horror lies.
“Se7en” (1995) was a classic in this respect because of what it didn’t show. If the camera had focussed on the box rather than on Brad Pitt’s face, I wonder if “Se7en” would have been the modern classic it is considered to be. Similarly, “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) packed a punch because the horror was always through indirection: the jerky camera movements and the muffled sobs—– never is the object of fear ever shown on camera. The last scene of “The Blair Witch Project”, totally absent of any explicit violence, still chills you to the bone because of the anticipation of death that it implies. Similarly, the climax of “Se7en” grips your jugular because it shows you, sans any of the usual devices of a horror film, the face of true malevolence—an evil that spreads to anything that comes in contact with it.
To my list of favourite horror movies (which are by no means restricted to the two above mentioned films) I now add “The Descent” (technically not Hollywood though) —a testament to the fact that there are some who haven’t still forgotten how to spin a terrifying yarn. A story of six women who go spelunking (cave diving) and encounter unspeakable horrors in a dark cavern, “The Descent” plugs directly into our fear of closed spaces, of being buried alive, of being stuck tight in a pitch dark crevice and of being unable to breathe. Claustrophobic, dark and disturbingly violent, it is as much about the fear of the unknown as it is about the darkness that exists inside each of us.
The movie is not without its flaws—least of all being the changed ending Lions Gate (the movie’s producer for US) subject us to —an ending that dilutes the crackerjack effect of the director’s original denouement (the one that is in the British version). Even with that, “the Descent” is possibly the best horror movie of recent times in which the violence and gore is never allowed to suffuse the simple horror of normal people descending into the abyss of madness.
Thanks to “the Descent”, my faith in the ability of movie-makers to understand what constitutes horror has been restored.
At least till the arrival of Part II of the “Grudge”, Part III of “Saw” and the Part n of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” . (all of which are going to happen in the next few months)
[If you have seen the American version of ” The Descent”, here’s the original British ending. You don’t want to miss it]