While you’re munching on your Halloween candy and celebrating the new president, I thought I’d discuss paranormal horror movies. You know, they’re the stories featuring a curse, ghost, or a guest appearance by the anti-Christ. For the past decade, they’ve been lamented as Diet Coke terror, moody but not frightening. Let me tell you. This sub-genre can dump an elevator full of blood if you want. Still, if you’re a fan of this category of movies, you have had at least one person laugh and claim seeing a metal spike driven through a dude’s eyeball is way scarier. Don’t worry. It is okay to be scared by the paranormal.
Films like Saw IV and slashers definitely thrill. Nothing like a blowtorch in your eye to teach you about life and death, eh? A movie is no less chilling when dealing with an invincible unknown force. Suddenly, you’re not safe anywhere. You can lock yourself inside, but ghosts can pull you into the walls. These movies expose how little we know about the universe.
Naturally, a confrontation with evil leads to insanity as well as death. You can’t sleep or close your eyes to escape the horrible images. Paranormal movies ooze unending hopelessness. Even after the laying spirits to rest, the character finds the terror is just beginning. You escaped the haunted house, but you may have brought some “thing” back with you. I’ll share my three favorite examples.
In Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) a paranormal investigator assembles a team to investigate the Hill House for ghosts. Among the group is Eleanor (Julie Harris) whose mother recently died; she wants to validate her belief in the unexplained. She gets that when the house takes a liking to her. You never see the ghosts, but you darn well know they’re there. Banging noises and rattling doorknobs don’t sound like much, but Wise cranks the volume up, unleashing a deafening assault on the investigators. Disorienting camera angles and bulging doors further the impression of being trapped inside a living building.
Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), the hero in Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder (1990), lives a waking nightmare. He is a mailman and Vietnam vet haunted by dreams of his war experience and the death of his son. He starts witnessing weird events that leave him wondering if he’s asleep or not. Riding the subway home from work one night, he finds himself trapped in a subway station with no exits. The next day, a car drives by with a demon in the backseat. Most famously, Singer’s girlfriend, Jezebel (Elizabeth Pena) dumps him into a bathtub full of ice because he has a hellish fever. The special effects are grotesque 18 years later. Jacob’s Ladder’s spinning head monster has been copied by many movies.
In Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2003), solving the mystery unearths an infinite chain of death. Journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) investigates a cursed videotape which mysteriously killed a relative. She views the tape and becomes haunted by a ghostly little girl who calmly informs her through a phone call that she’ll die in seven days. Rachel must figure out what the girl wants, otherwise she’ll perish with her face looking like a rotting fish. Editing makes the truly disturbing images effective as well as a score by Hans Zimmer that’s as pleasing as fingernails on chalkboard. The Ring’s mind-trip occurs when Rachel notices a fly in the video breaking free from the TV screen. This is the best of the Japanese horror remakes.
Some of you reading this probably feel uncomfortable being afraid of a force that you can’t see. We’re all afraid of the dark. Some of us are afraid of a killer waiting to jump out at us. Others are afraid of the darkness and what “else” may be out there to drag us into the gloom. In the words of the creepy merchant in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, “What’s your pleasure, sir?”