I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past few years. When “I am Legend” with Will Smith came out a few years ago, I was excited. That is one of my favorite stories. I’ve seen “The Last Man on Earth” and “Omega Man” and both were satisfying end-of-world films. I sat down for the remake “I am Legend” and cringed. The entire time!
There was almost no substance and entirely too many effects (like in “I Robot” and “2012” and many many others). I understand SciFi lovers need for more advanced technology like in “Minority Report” where it mostly just showcased cool gadgets, but in the realm of horror movies…not necessary--really.
Horror is not technical, it is visceral.
How do you suppose movies like "Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal Activity" with almost no budget and so much profit were successful? Internet hype? Well, that makes you want to see it, but what made you want to see it two, three, or four times? Tension and storyline. You don't need money and effects.
Note to horror moviemakers: Give us a squeaky old dusty house and some people with issues and we're on our way! Quit putting the computer generated imagery on our horror movies, back away from the big budgets, please get back to basics!
The purpose of horror movies is to tantalize the viewer with the unseen, the unknown, the covert threat. We know to be scared of a man chasing us with an ax who just killed three of our best friends, but what of that strange sound when we are alone? What of the thoughts that take over our mind when we think we see something that shouldn’t be there? That is true horror--not what we do know, but what we don't know.
Have you noticed that special effects are now plumping up movies that have little dialogue, characterization, or plot line? It’s akin to the slasher movie complex where they became more and more gory and soon the “horror” factor was worked right out of them. They no longer contain true suspense, just gross out in-your-face gratuitous effects. There’s a big difference between suspense and disgust. The series of “Saw” movies are probably a good example of “rip-it-up and gross-em-out” terror. It’s not scary. It’s really just, well, nauseating.
Here’s an ideal example of CGI ruining a perfectly good horror story; the movie “Signs.” This fantastically portrayed invasion by aliens and the implications on one family going through it was a suspenseful, insightful, character-strong film. Well, up until the last scenes that included a CGI alien—full frontal. The movie did a splendid job building up the suspense and terror of the unknown. Viewers were only given occasional glimpses and stories, sounds and silhouettes. They board up the house, they hunker down for a confrontation. The truly drawn out and terrifying moments leave you tense and anticipating what will happen next. That is, up until the moment we get a full and completely preposterously animated monster incorporated into the story with a live character. There are many ways it could have been filmed that wouldn’t have suspended our belief. Even if the creature were seen distorted within the screen of the turned off TV in the room, it would have left us with terror and without disappointment.
So, what are you to do if you’ve seen some real clunker over CGI’d horror movies and want to try the “real” thing? Let me hook you up (reminder—in general remakes of movies only offer effects and take away suspense, plot, and characters):
If you saw “I Am Legend,” try the movie “The Last Man on Earth” with Vincent Price
If you saw “The Haunting” with Catherine Zeta Jones, try “The Haunting” 1963 version
If you saw “Saw” (no pun intended), try the movie “And Then There Were None” 1945
If you saw “Bride of Chucky,” try the movie “Dead Silence”
If you saw “Twilight,” you might try “30 Days of Night”
I am an optimist by nature and I believe that there are few moviemakers out there who still get what scares us. I’m such an optimist, I still believe in M. Knight Shyamalan's potential should he got back to movies of the caliber of "Signs" and "Unbreakable." I’m most thrilled by some of the wonderfully insightful moviemakers who give a nod to true horror such as the Scandinavian filmmakers. I understand Castle Pictures from Great Britain will be coming back to life and that thrills me more than have Disneyland to myself. I also very much admired the way James Wan handled “Dead Silence” (especially considering he was involved in “Saw”). His subsequent movie "Insidious" was a fine effort at old-time feel and horror that reminds me of the 1970s genre. He definitely understands mood and atmosphere.
You can be certain that as I inspect upcoming horror movies, I will let you know if they pass my rigorous “true” horror standards. For now, one of my favorite ones I added to my collection and consider a classic is "The Awakening" about a woman in the post WWI era who debunks psychic spiritualists and then is faced with a truly haunted location.
Happy truly terrifying viewing!
Enjoy this great capture of some of the worst of the CGI awfulness -