Revisiting Horror Classics

Okay. So I get that “classics” is definitely in the eye of the beholder, so maybe it’s not exactly the right word, but I’ve been on a bit of a horror binge for the last while, watching movies that I’ve never seen before. I decided to start off with the originals of long running series. I watched Scream and Friday the 13th, and I’m going to move on to A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and others. Horror films have generally been something I’ve avoided, for the simple reason that I don’t enjoy being scared.

However, watching Scream was kind of eye-opening for me. The film is very meta. It’s a horror movie that acknowledges other horror movies. That actively talks about the tropes in the films, even while a killer is stalking innocent high schoolers. Once you’re looking at the formula, it no longer really packs the same punch in many of these cases. People do and say things that make absolutely no sense. Or we’re expected to believe that the killer has superhuman planning powers, to know just how to lure each victim into their web, one by one.

These movies are the film equivalent of a rollercoaster. Designed to give you some thrills and deliver mostly the same experience, time and time again. (Note that I’m not saying all horror movies are like this. The Shining is just a fantastic movie, period. But I think that’s because it was approached as a film, not a “horror movie.”) Now that I’ve finally accepted the fact that I’m a horror author, I’d really like to know some of the most famous tropes out there, to make sure I approach things using the right touch.

So Friday the 13th. The original. (Spoilers ahead, but if I’m spoiling a movie that’s more than 40 years old, that’s kind of on you.) It was . . . pretty underwhelming, honestly. The pacing was quite slow (and not in an edge-of-your-seat sort of way), and the killings were gruesome, but only briefly glimpsed. (That’s not a complaint. I don’t need there to be tons of blood in a horror movie.) But my biggest gripe was how weak the film became as soon as the murderer was revealed.

Jason’s mom.

She’s not some unusually strong mom, either. She’s a 54 year old woman in a knit sweater.

I get that you can argue a killer who looks like someone so unexpected might be more frightening than someone who really looks evil, but this isn’t that kind of a movie. This woman has gone around surprising people and attacking them with knives, arrows, and axes. And then the Last Girl Standing is facing her down and . . . really struggles to put her away. The movie lost me there. I had a hard time accepting the villain as actually threatening once she’d lost the element of surprise.

Maybe some of it is that I grew up with the Friday the 13th movies. Not that I ever saw them, but I saw posters for them. Ads on TV. Jason in a hockey mask, attacking left and right. And so I went into the movie expecting that, and . . . Jason called in sick and had his mom do the work instead.

The movie was . . . okay. Not necessarily one I’m going to revisit anytime soon, though I’ll probably give some of the sequels a shot. Because that’s the thing with this kind of movie: I wasn’t really expecting or demanding a masterpiece. I got what I wanted, more or less. Some scariness. Some jump cuts. Some startles. I’m going to have to watch a bunch more to start really being able to tell if there’s anything more to these movies than that, but judging from its Rotten Tomatoes scores, the Friday the 13th series doesn’t get better.

The OG is the only one with a fresh rating. They go down from there. And yet the franchise has definitely been successful to the point that it’s entered the canon in a way many other characters never come close. This, in turn, led me to another question: does a movie or book have to be good to be successful? I still think the answer is yes, but I also realize now that it all comes down to the definition of good. If horror movies provide good scares, does it matter that much if the plot isn’t perfect?

Not so much, it seems . . .

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