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The Fear Factor

Over the last couple of years I have been very conscious about something that has been missing from my horror viewing experience. Something that is unpleasant and unsettling yet something that drew me to the genre in the first place. That something is called fear.

Movies don't scare me anymore. Sure there are some small aspects of films that can freak me out such as the Final Destination series playing out on fears of death. You can also consider a monster that looks kind of creepy such as the deformed cannibals in Wrong Turn but I just never find myself having irrational fears anymore while laying in bed at night. The reason is that horror movies are no longer threatening and are now more like action movies or dramas with a fantasy element thrown in.

I'm sure part of this has to do with the fact that I have gotten older. The movies that frightened me out the most were viewed between the ages ten and fourteen. Some of the ones that stand out are A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Exorcist. I also clearly remember seeing a re-release trailer for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that scared me so bad that I didn't muster up the courage to see the movie until I was in my 20's. One other scene that had a particularly harsh impact on my young mind was the last five minutes of Friday The 13th Part 3 where Jason appears in the window of the house and runs down to the lake in all his deformed glory. This still affects me just thinking about it. In a horror fan's twisted way, I miss feeling like that.

Yes, but did Josh like the rest of this movie?

Few, if any, of today's movies have this impact anymore. If there is any impact at all, it is usually due to how "disturbing" the film can be with its depictions of torture and/or the filmmakers completely relying on the gore. While these films may have an effect in that they can make us think about how screwed up the world is, they don't necessarily terrify us out other than reminding us that there are messed-up people in the world such as serial killers and rapists. The problem is that we know that these things exist. The movies that frightened me the most in the past have been ones that play on the fear of the unknown.

The only movie in recent memory that has gotten under my skin in this way is The Blair Witch Project. The reason being that we are made to believe the situation is real and I thought the filmmakers did a fantastic job of delivering this. The trick was that the Blair Witch was a figure that obviously does not exist but rather than playing on our rational fears of killers and technological malfunctions, it plays on our irrational fears of the unknown. After watching this film, I had a sense of knowing that it was just a movie but it managed to trigger a small part of my brain to question "what if" the Blair Witch really exists. When a movie is able to do this, it has succeeded in frightening you on an irrational level. This is what makes you check the closet before going to sleep and is also what has made the possibility of camping in a remote place extremely unlikely as far as my leisure activities are concerned.

I think part of the problem is the recent surge of remakes and sequels that have been bombarding the theatres. These movies lose the fear factor because those of us that have been horror fans for a long time already know how things are going to turn out and we have already associated ourselves with the original characters. Some other things to consider are the comic relief that many of today's writers feel is necessary to break the tension as well as the fact that there are no more horror icons around to enter our nightmares. The Freddy's, Jason's, and Michael's are all heading for the retirement home and their creators all seem to have lost their nerve. Finally, poor use of CGI takes a lot of the fright away because it is pretty hard to get worked up over something that only exists on someone's hard drive.

I just want to go to the movies again and wonder what is lurking under my bed, in the woods, and in my subconscious. I want the next full moon to make me question if when the clock strikes midnight something inhuman is awakening for a night of mayhem. I want to be scared. -Josh Pasnak, 2/17/06